Monday, December 08, 2003

"Having a Baby Changes Everything."

Awww. What a sweet sentiment, Johnson & Johnson. You just gave me warm fuzzies, for real. For real y'all. The ad's freaking powerful. Rolly-polly arms splashing in the bath suds . . . accompanied by a background track not unlike George from "It's a Wonderful Life," a deep-toned paternal figure telling us a bedtime story: "Who'd have thought that short and bald was her type?"

In a different segment a pop with his two little ones is having "boys night in." The baby boy is mesmerized by a glossy frog. He touches it, pressing down with his index finger. The frog lets him. "A night with the boys" . . .

These ads shock me. They take me aback in a minute's swoop. So I say to my girlfriend/sister B, "Have you seen the Johnson & Johnson ads?" And we become caught up together, eyes lit, smiling.

In 1980 the Haley family was the first in our neighborhood, The Four Seasons, to get divorced. A few months later the Robbins joined us. I was eight years old, ripe for all the many influences that tell a girl what the world is all about. Somewhere within that decade Oprah rose up from local news to syndication. When I was a senior at Reagan High School I was thoroughly involved in a group called, PALS, kids who befriended elementary and junior high kids for the fun of it (to be role models and tutors). I remember a short-term gig in those days at one of those high schools where they send teenage mothers. We sat around in a cirlce utterly uncomfortable because we didn't know each other and we were supposed to talk--about babies? About chemistry? Friday nights?

From the time I was eight I have been immersed in a world that breeds the "I." What does it mean to be self actualized? Are you co-dependent? You can be anything you want to be. Try it, you might like it. Save it. Give it up.

"Promise me you won't get married until you're twenty-five," my mom said to me when dear Crysta was getting hitched. I was all giddy with the bridal tea, the dresses, the flowers, the romance. "Yes, yes. Of course, mother. Are you kidding. You know me."

There is something there. It is nascent and old as time. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian Coalition. It has nothing to do with drawing lines. I feel it in those ads! Jeez, and it's not my clock a-ticking. It's about what is lost when we indulge in the "I" as a way of life.

Oy-vey. Those women on 20/20 who feel misled because they've been on the career track for ten to fifteen years and nobody ever told them that their fertility factory couldn't produce as long as they needed it to by treadmilling a few extra minutes each week (and the Internet dating bonanza, I don't even want to go there). It's all connected, folks. Believe me.

So what do you think is missing? Johnson & Johnson thinks they know. Babies. "Having a baby changes everything." There's no disclaimer, no personal testimonies to bolster the claim. It's black & white, a close-up shot, one angle, one view, plain. For the first time in my life someone is telling me to have a baby. I am a thirty-one year old woman. I repeat: For the first time in my life someone is telling me to have a baby. If I were living in the 1880's, I wouldn't be spunky. I'd be 15 years past prime. But we're so much more clever than they were. We can do anything. My fertility factory will keep producing. If not, I can make something happen with a dish and some goo. It's perfectly okay to do whatever you want for as long as you want to do it.

So, I am such an interested participant in Generation X. We make it happen. No limits. I love us. And here we are in our thirties. Life is changing around us. Many of my friends have just found themselves past the action that one tends to get when in their twenties. Now the action is creeping. My friends are humbled, and I like them a little bit better because now they have one more angle of life that is teaching them about who they are. Most, well, all of them want one thing. A partner. But my Gen X peeps are so inculcated into the "I" generation, that they can't say it, "I want to get married." They can't say it.

We have been taught that in marriage you sacrifice your potential (professionally and personally). Marriage is a limitaion. We're the no-limit cadre. Singular. Strong. Aware. We have been stretching ourselves across hostels and institutions of higher education for years, exploring and indulging in life as a vocation.

Oh my God, please make it stop! Well, something finally is. And how do I know? Those ads.

Those ads are spectacular.

We have just crossed the threshhold of a new era. It's just the beginning. You may not notice it for awhile to come. It's an era of community, of back-to-the-basics, of home and family. It's been building for a time, this cooking frenzy is telling. People are thrilled by making something with their hands and tasting it. Is it an awakening? Well, we never really have one of those here in dear America. We just swing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

New York City Crime Like 1968

And here I thought Vermont was retro. But what are we going to do about the Sharpie Bandit Graffiti Artist? He's out there, willy nilly, first with the black chisel tip and then with the blue.

Monday, November 24, 2003

In the spirit of the season I was watching my good friend, Bobby Flay, the other morning make a brunch of Bloody Mary, coconut cake, and corn muffin grilled with a slather of fresh blueberry butter. He was talking to me as he went along and struck up a conversation about his three favorite things in life.

Ah yes, three favorite things, one honorable mention allowed. So Bobby loves cooking, eating, and dancing best, with a dash of drinking on top.

The following day I was walking with my new good friend, Erin, and we discussed. She popped her answers out, badgering me: "C'mon, c'mon. Just say whatever comes to mind!" (so demanding, this new friend) I'm a contemplater.

Sistra's list:
uno--food and drink, but cooking, eating, and drinking with others, not just a potato sitting there staring at me from across the deli.
due--language, everything you could scoop up about it, hearing it, speaking it, writing it, reading it, thinking about it, and so on.
trois--lovely, unbeatable, mother nature. can't beat it with a stick.

honorable mention--musica, raised on it in so many ways, styx and kiss posters like papier-mache, spinning with mommy in the living room to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, sitting in front of my dad's stereo system, listening to Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones, and my flava as a little girl--Barry Manilow.

Tell it people. Talk to me.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

note from teacher: never say a phrase like, "it's easy street."

Sunday, November 09, 2003

A game of pool is going on. The room is a dingy garage with plywood walls, a locals' bar. At the table, a tall gentleman joins our game. We introduce ourselves with a handshake and exchange of names. And then he and I go off to our respective gentlemen's and ladies' rooms. I hear dialogue when I close the door. It's just him. No one else there. He is singing at first. And then his tone changes. Gay in a homophobic world. He is angry.

I can't shake it today. It was like one of those funhouse rooms with the mirrored walls. There are all these slices of you, of the others, and you can't leave so easily. You have to stay there in the confusion for awhile. I was hearing these secrets, and so easily we came back out into the open, same as before.

It's not so good to hide things, I think. Maybe the slices of you grow more plenty when you do that. If that chap wanted to sit down with me and have a conversation about alienation and his feelings, I might do it. I can't say for sure, but you have to give people a chance to take the bad things away.

Monday, November 03, 2003

it's easy street

Two months in and the prediction is partially true: this school year is much better, but I was wrong about it being physically and emotionally draining. It's easy street.

Now what am I supposed to do with that? I spend as much time as I can noticing the child--catching fireflies on the carpet is one of my favorite glimpses, wiggling loose teeth and being so proud of the blood, not being able to possibly be the last one touched in a game of tag, all the tattling, being vulnerable to the hundreds of opportunities for praise and reprimand each day, tears, bright wide eyes, holding hands, kindness, tenderness, dear little people.

Within the first three weeks of school, Lacey pushed me to reach another child he wanted to fight. This was in front of the class, and purposely done to test the boundaries. This child tries to be away from the crowd, prides himself in not being duped by teachers' ways to motivate kids to do what they want--okay, bribery. He's preteen at ten, has older cousins. You know the type. But after several weeks, I now feel close to Lacey.

I've befriended him and made inroads through letting him know I'm checking up on him. He knows I care, I suppose, and has found a little more security from that. Progress like this so quickly amazes me. I was sure he couldn't care less. I was sure he knew, like I, that I'm a wimp of a teacher. But that's my internal speak, my doubt that the children really don't see, no matter how perceptive I believe them to be. This is part of the second-year teacher curve--what I'm supposed to be doing with what I've got.

I've said many times that I don't know how to teach children. I absolve myself when I use that statement, but also humble myself so that perhaps some learning will permeate my teacher persona. There's language to every professional culture. "Community building" was big when I was with the Lutherans. As long as you used the language to build messages and then delivered them, you were doing okay. With teaching there's the oral, the behavioral, and beyond that, showing all the aspects of your own humanity.

Lacey remains the most problematic student in 4-320. He continues to test me, and Ms. G too. He constantly needs to know that we can in fact make him abide. For people who have this need, the burden shifts to those around them. It's rooted in something I have not yet identified. But it has something to do with a security that is missing within. I like Lacey. I like them all. I really do.

The word from fourth grade . . .
Sistra Teach

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Hola amigos. I'm on holiday in fair Towson, Maryland. Last night we journeyed toward the Chesapeake, had a look at it in the night sky while driving over the 4-mile stretch of the Bay Bridge. Me likes water, even when it's grey.

This time has been relaxed, up to eleven people in the house at one time, shuffling between 3 floors and an outside deck. It's these holiday moments that make me remember how much I love stuffing myself into a house full of friends.

After I turned about twelve or thirteen, my stepmom's parents left Kerrville and built themselves a house in the Piney Woods near Quitman, Texas. They had both grown up there, driving in old Ford pickups and learning about life from railroad tracks and picking rows of whatever crop was up each year. They are part of the old breed of Texas working-class Democrats. Grandparents as Democrats, yes, they do still exist. But they also use misnomers when referring to the Black and the Proud. So, these grandparents built themselves a home right next to an itty bitty lake, calm, murky teal water with perch and trout. Wild pigs have gained force on their land over the years. It can be downright dangerous to take a stroll these days, so they say. I've never seen any of these "pigs." But the grandparents, who have four girls, ten grandchildren, and two great-grand children didn't want any more stuffing of people in their new house. So, they built a bunkhouse out back. It's one room; well, it's a trailor with a bathroom. The room is probably 15 x 9, and it sleeps about 16. Perfect! Bunkbeds, a television, hot water, and a porch surrounded by fallen needles, still moist and fragrant.

Bunking in back woods or Towson, Maryland, either one will do this weekend.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Girl Kicks

Little girls like to giggle.
Chocalate milk bubbles,
holding hands,
catching fireflies on the carpet made out of white lint fuzz.

Big girls like little things.
Ping, a Corduroy panda
with beans in his bottom that squish.

Little girls like to mind.
Showing off little lady ways--
Stand tall.
Rules to follow.
A slight dip and turn of the hip.

Big girls like pretty things.
Dots on frocks,
paints on toes,
poems by cummings shared together on the train.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003


I had lunch with Jeffrena today. She is nine years old. Me gusta Jeffrena. She wears her hair high on her head in a little top-knot that looks like a poodle puff. Today she added a Chinese hair stick with several little blue tassels of beads draping off the top--tre chic.

As the class was lining up for lunch, Jeffrena refused to take her place. What I've taken to doing lately with these little moments of protest (or inability to control bodily outbursts like slapping ones neighbor) is telling the child to walk next to me at the end of the line. I take his or her hand, and we go along nicely together.

Somehow this and a brief conversation outside the lunchroom after the rest of the class had been settled wasn't enough to settle my little Jeffrena. So I took the opportunity to invite her to join me at the "Conference Table" in our room for lunch.

She told me all her troubles, how Lacey sneezed on her, twice, how Itima wants to beat her up, how Lorna doesn't want to be her friend anymore. Most of the trouble centers around the idea that no one wants to be her friend. Luz says she walks too slow on the line. So, I asked, "Did you try to walk a little faster? Maybe Luz doesn't want to get in trouble." This is when Jeffrena says that if she walks fast she might have an asthma attack--that it happened to her one time when she and her aunt were hurrying somewhere. Jeffrena is a slow walker, I've noticed this about her. She's cautious. So I talked to her for a long time about how scary it is to have asthma attacks. She told me that one time in class she felt one coming on and cried a little, but it didn't happen. She didn't tell anyone. I told her that that was brave. Then she told me that she tried to explain why she walks slow to some of the girls, but they didn't care.

The gist of the talk was for little Jeffrena to focus on the positive--those children who do want to be her friend, rather than those who cause her angst, and even if it is only one friend, that that is her blessing. She went on again about this child and that, but I quietly repeated my words and told her to think about them. After school she hugged me and said she was glad she had someone to talk to. I'm very glad I had someone to talk to too.

Ms. Haley

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

first day online in the new place . . .

It's been a long stretch of homelessness--depending on friends, or just simply traveling around for freedom. But now it's back to setting up house again. Thinking back, this is the seventh place I've had since graduating college. Seven homes in eight years, sounds like a lot, but three were squeezed into a period of 6 months. This new home comes with a new roommate and two family members down the street. It also comes with a lovely park, Central Park. It also comes with a pee-stained, graffitied elevator. Overall, the good outweighs the bad here. We're overstuffed with stuff. The Colonel (roommate's mom) did us right with window treatments, swags, pics in assorted arrangments, even a new threshhold for the kitchen entry where none had been put in. We, I, feel taken care of in this home, surrounded by stuff.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Do you hear them? School bells, friends. Year two, day 1, Monday, September 8, 2003. My post: fourth grade inclusion, which means the class will consist of half special education students (some who will have physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, others with emotional problems, others with learning disabilities), and general education students who have been identified to require more than the regular classroom environment provides. Two teachers work with these students at all times, one special education and one general education teacher. The class also has a general para-professional, and some individual students have their own para-professional assigned to accompany and assist them each day. (A para is like an assistant teacher.)

As Monday begins, my environment will be made up of 5 adults and 17 students, quite a change from one teacher to twenty-some-odd students, quite a relief for me.

I am one of the lucky ones at P.S. "She's Going Back to That School!" Ms. D, my principal, chose me to co-teach with Ms. G. Ms. G is a real teacher. Even in the midst of Mary J. Blige's kind of "drama," she maintains herself in her own foundation of what it is to educate children--a combination of the self-knowledge she has gained working as a teacher for 10 years, and the desire to understand curriculum and how students best learn it. Ms. D has come to think of Ms. G in the capacity of teacher trainer. She chose me to learn from her. It is a luxury, friends. Especially since I have never been trained, just plopped down into one of the thousands of schools across the country caught in a black hole of low performance, and doused in societal dysfunction, "where teachers can't teach and children can't learn." I heard that one at the Dean rally--some politician from Brooklyn going for the line. (Dean didn't speak in sound bites, though. He spoke in detail. He is thoughtful.)

Even with this spot, the year will not be easy. It will be hard. It will be physically and emotionally draining. But this year I hope the stretch derives in more instances from learning how to teach rather than how to keep the masses from busting out the doors. I love these children. That has carried me through and gives them some stability, but they need more. They need chances.

Pronto (soon), as my friend likes to say.
Sistra Teach

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

From Friday, July 18th through Friday, July 25th, I spent time driving out west with buddy Steve. Out west is a little vague, but that's the way I see it. Here are some memories from that time.

The Coyote and the Cloud Wall--

After leaving the Black Hills of far western South Dakota late Saturday afternoon, we headed toward Sheridan, Wyoming, targeting as far into Montana as we could get. The sun crept downward that evening, but the air cooled quickly--relief from the beating sun of The Badlands, experienced earlier that day. We drove with windows down and sun roof open, beginning a stretch of narrower, windier I-90. The cd player deserved a break, so we searched the stations and settled upon country. KYTI--the Coyote--played a mixture of today's and yesterday's hits. They weren't lying. Merle Haggard lulled me into western dreamland, singing "Big City". Just passed Sheridan, out the western window sat a cloud wall. The lights dim, the sky blushing pink and deep purple, almost black, an opaque wall of cloud touched the ground and spanned a width that looked about as big as a sheet draping down from some sleepy giant's quarters. In it were bursts of lightening--a self-contained orchestra, curtained, but so lively that its energy could not be contained.

The Stars at Night . . .

The first night that we camped I was excited to spend part of the evening viewing the stars. Late that night, after lanterns shut off and campers found their way inside their tents, Steve and I sunk down in our canvas chairs, rested our feet on the picnic table, and tilted back. After about 5 to 10 minutes our eyes dialated enough to unmask the cosmos zinging along. It was bright, vivid, active. There were thousands of stars. So much was moving up there. Of course we began counting the shooting stars. We got to about seven before the game wore off and the glow set in--the warmth of things far away, unknown, greater.

The Glacier and the Flat Head--

These are places, not things. A place is something that holds wisdom, available for us to take whenever and however we need. Glacier is a national park in northwestern Montana, and Flathead is a lake found down the road, south from there. But I came to know them in reverse order.

Water that takes on shades of blue that remind you of gemstones often keeps you looking at it for long periods of time. Flathead Lake is sapphire blue. Aged, deep, and miles long it seemed to tell me about continuity. Neighboring this place are mountains, shaped through the centuries by the freezing and thawing of ice on glaciers. The mountains are craggy, dark, and sometimes snow tipped--stark colors bordered by a sea of deep green pines. Movement and change abound in this place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

okay, since i can't get anyone else to enter the contest (you know who you are), it's time to announce the winner. fanfare.

1st prize goes to: Josua
(this would look good on a resume under "special skills.")

thanks to all entrants!

* * * * * * * *

quote of the day

excerpt from "The Cool Passion of Dr. Dean," Time, August 11, 2003.

Being a burnout got old after a year, and Dean decided his life could take one of three paths. He could teach, as he had done for three months at a junior high school in inner-city New Haven, Conn., near Yale. He could be a doctor. Or he could take 'the path of least resistance' and go to Wall Street. He quickly dismissed teaching as 'too hard . . . There were a lot of kids with enormous numbers of needs, and I couldn't meet them all.'

umm . . . preach it, Dr. Dean.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

"What do Great Sports Triumphs Show us About Ourselves?" essays

by Josua (pronounced HO-swah)

Maybe not quite an essay, but at least a couple paragraphs...

The sports world is now usually seen with a dollar sign attached. It is about winning, but that winning is measured against the cost; “Of course the Yankees won, with their $160 million payroll.” “He’s the MVP of the league, but isn’t worth $25 million a year.” “I loved going to the game, but what about those $7 beers?” We have transformed our perception of the sports world to include the home run and the home wrecker, which are both judged against their per annum salary. But there also are times when a sports event or a sports figure transcends the associated monetary moniker. And this is when we see ourselves in sports. Whether performing or watching, our hearts race, our muscles flex, our minds sharpen, and our passion for the moment peaks. We extend, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and stretch our limits to feel new feelings and to inhale the excitement of the event.

What does a great sports triumph show us about ourselves? (Patronize me a little here, because I might sound like an NFL pre-game promo, but I’m still very serious.) That hope is not in vain. That commitment is rewarded. That each of us has the ability within us, somewhere, to achieve goals and reach places we have forgotten exist. We exalt and idolize sports triumphs because they epitomize what we strive or at least dream to be; the best…and not in comparison to others, but the “best we can be”. It is easy to mock what I am saying, because often sports are over-hyped and basically Hollywood recreations at their best/worst. And it is easy to cynically bash my enthusiasm for a sports event or lifestyle that some deem completely unnecessary or unfulfilling. But when I think about the essence of a victory after taking away the glitz and the glamour, it is one of the purest forms of achievement. Not just physical, not just mental, but absolutely emotional.

I could go on to other aspects of these lovely v-style essay questions right now, but I think I won’t. Maybe later. Hasta pronto.

by Sistra

What got me going on this little endeavor was indeed an article about Lance. I like to take a result or an emotion and work at understanding all its components. The force, one tangible being the newest Nike "Can't tell a joke . . ." commercial, generated by Lance's cycling has become something that we want to touch or wear like a banner. It has become something for which to stand behind. And I wonder how physical exertion in competition leads us to that end, as humans, because we all know this goes back to our dear friends and models, the Romans. But, as I think on it, the physical expenditure need not necessarily require competition to become something to exalt. Think of the climbers of Mount Everest. There is the part of us, driven to burn energy at ever-more-challenging levels. Okay, plenty of sedentary folks exist. I've even heard the virtures of a sedentary life be exalted as well. But even the sedentary may, often do, take pleasure in being the spectator of such wondrous human achievements as Mount Everest climbs and 5-time Tour de France championships.

The thing that I am most interested in is the question: how does the physical extend the mental. When I run, I need more air. If I stop, it will be easier to breathe. But I lose something. My legs are no longer pushing off the ground in strides. Perhaps that doesn't sound fun, but who of you as a kid didn't try to see if you could leap from stone to stone across a creekbed, or simply swing as high as the sky? Mentally we are problem solvers, survivors, and communicators. When I am running, I am repeating a motion over and over. The same muscles are responding. The response is gratifying; the exertion is gratifying. The stretch, stretching to connect with a ball flying through the air, or stretching to reach a blurry endpoint marked through sweaty eyes, or stretching to hold muscles in a planted position tied to the ground, is gratifying. The physical is forever distinct from the tangle in the mind. It is clear and pure and felt. It is singular and present tense. It is something we strive for mentally, but can never achieve because the mental is past, past-perfect, present-perfect, and future tense. It is neverending, even in sleep. Through the physical we push through our own thoughts to find a respite that teaches us about ourselves.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Indefatigable is such a cool word. Who's indefatigable? Lance Armstrong, according to the wires. He effing did it again, and I love him for it despite so-called linebreaking during an actor's strike. It's good to have principles whereby to define your life (jefe), but sistra also has her own little principles.

What do great sports triumphs show us about ourselves?

How does the physical extend the mental apsects of ourselves?

And, how does the spectator differ from the participant?

Enough thought-provoking questions for you? I fondly remember a little E S S A Y
C O N T E S T sponsored by the people at Punch it, Chewy last summer regarding "What Baseball Means to Me."

Any takers on a N E W E S S A Y C O N T E S T for this summer season? If so, please post. I'll be working on my own composition on the matter.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

test scores

Dates seem to be one of the stand out features of the blog spot. June 3, 2003. And then January 11, just prior, skipping stones through life.

So, today the state told me which of my students may continue progressing through their lives and which may not. At this point I'm down to 17. Nine will go on. Eight will not. Of those eight, 3 are on grade level presently, meaning those who are not functioning within the system set up to educate them, well, they're still not functioning after the stellar year we've had in Class 603.

Teachers received their scores in a schoolwide meeting. I received mine in class after an incident. By now you know the definition of an incident. No need to describe. The lecture from the AP (this time Miss P--no more Mr. S) went a little something like this. "Some of you will go on. But there are those of you who will stay right here, choosing to throw away your education. You laugh now and you're having fun. But some day you're going to be 18, and people won't find you funny then. Then you will just be slow. You won't be going anywhere, and eventually you will become a burden to society. People will be forced to support you, and people don't like that very much."

By the end of Ms. P's very effective speech my frustration had welled up. I looked down at the paper and counted nine names. Half of the class. Half failed. All the hours, all the stupid charts I made. All those moments attempting to gain quiet so that we could just simply go through the directions, so that they could have a sliver of the concepts and make an attempt at learning them. September through June. So much of my energy to the cause of Izaiah, Jamaal, Rachel, LaShonda, Angie, Sade, Desmond, Khadim, Synard, Sheena, Destini, Shawn, Qiyana, Jonathan, Vernett, Bernard, Sayyed.

Tears started coming out. I thought of trying to stop them. But that seemed like effort that I didn't want to give. I wanted to give up. Then I just wanted to cry. So I did. I stopped and announced all the names of those who failed. My AP said I should do this publicly unless I objected. My compass was kiddywampus, so I just went ahead and read out the names.

My compass is back. I know that tomorrow is a new day and that we've got work to do, that it's fine to have an emotional let down to bad news, but that after you experience it, it's time to pick things up and get back to business. That's what I plan on telling my kids tomorrow. I plan on pairing them up -- a buddy for those who will need their portfolio work to pass them. Seems proactive and positive. But there's this other part of me that is churning because I'm angry at this whole experiment in public education for these particular children. Half pass. Half fail. It's just not okay with me. I'm seeing them slip as children. They have free will and they make their choices. But they are children with spirit and ability. They can accomplish something in the world, and they're slipping.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

It's a new year! Always uplifting if only for a moment. I am rather uplifted of late. Things began to shift about a week ago. I watched The Lord of the Rings and got swept up in the melodrama of Froto's perseverance. Yes, Froto, yes! I wish I'd never found the ring either!! I wish I'd never found Sayyed and Silvester and Jamall, or that they had found me. But it happened. And now all that's left for me to do is to decide what I will do with what I've got.

So as you've probably gathered, I remain in my post. My Assistant Principal, three cluster teachers, two second grade teachers and one fifth grade teacher have left. Things are shaking, but they are also settling.

I'm off to see 25th Hour, so I must be brief. But I think it's time for a new look to this site. I'm not feeling very orange. Hip hip hooray (I hear out in the distance).