black m&m

Have you ever reached a point you knew you had to stop trying so hard and call it quits?
The feeling nags me time to time but it’s when I’m under a lot of a stress with my mind flying to keep track of all the things I need to get done for my class. Because of the stress, I know I cannot let myself cave. But I wonder – what if I’m just not meant for this path?

For Halloween, the Kindergarten team of teachers decided we should dress up as M&Ms. I am a part of this team, but it wasn’t my idea and one I wasn’t too eager about. The costume entailed a colored shirt with a printed m and a matching tutu to wear on tights. Not the cutest outfit I had in mind, but it was definitely kid friendly so I went along with it.
The idea was to form a rainbow with our m&m colors. But one teacher was enamored by the special edition lime green m&m. Blue, red and purple were quickly chosen. I pondered about pink – then settled on black. I already had a black tutu from wearing my basic cat costume during my college years.

Somehow being the black m&m resembled my soul today. The students were frisky with excitement and I was the warden, constantly reminding structure could not be overruled. My mom has a saying – if you give a finger, they take an arm. I wanted my kids to have fun but to remember they are professional scholars at all times. During their mini parade around the school, under the eyes of many eager parents waiting to photograph their children, my class’s flair in grooving ceased. Back in the classroom they grew restless, but a stare from me or Ella and they were silenced.
It was just too much. My students were all so cute in their costumes and how excited they were, but Ella and I didn’t get prep the last two days. When our gym teacher called out sick yesterday, we were the last to know as we scrambled up a quick activity to engage our students. After school we had a literacy meeting and a swim team to coach. Our prep today was diminished to discuss achievement levels with our school psychologist in hope to address some of our students’ academic needs better. Once again we had an impromptu meeting about how to input report grades…which was discussed in yesterday’s meeting.
Not a second to ourselves with the list growing longer of demands, I realized I didn’t want this to be my whole life.
Some people work for the money and others work because they enjoy what they do. I realized I’m somewhere in between. As everyone, I need the money and even if I won’t go as far as to stay I love it, I do like teaching. But I don’t want my job defining me.

I’ve heard the staff room talk; teachers have personal lives they cultivate with special attention and hard work. In the end though, they don’t question themselves if they belong elsewhere. I define myself as many things – dreamer, lover, writer – but the teacher label is tricky. I am proud to be a teacher; the school has given me a set of a hundred of my own business cards to showcase my career and I love giving them out. But the frustration doesn’t disappear about the amount of work I bring home.
In the beginning it encroached on a lot. Just when I am getting into the swing of spending more family time, I realized I haven’t been writing. So easily overlooked and dismissed – like the way I awkwardly stood at the edge of the kindergarten teacher group picture and no one told me to scooch in more – I have realized that I’d rather the spotlight be on my description of myself as a writer than a teacher. That’s really who I’d rather be.

How can I stand in front of my class and tell them anything is possible and pursue their dreams when I chase a job to turn it into a passion?
Words are home to me. Not necessarily to speak them, but writing words – out in the open here or covertly – is my sanctuary when the bubbling cauldron of life bubbles over and scalds me. It’s the only part that brings me joy as I teach my students how to read and write. So for the time being, I hope to inspire them now so they will love expression and imagination even more when they are older.

Because with words on a pamphlet or a book or a menu, they can be any color of the m&m and not be the odd one out. The words inside of me and around me carry me, the lightness stripping my darkness.

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ephemeral letter 2

October 31, 2012

Dear Charlie,

Today’s the day everyone gets a chance to be who they want to be. Display their dark side, reveal their desires, or even be silly. All around me there are kittens and Satan’s spawns and guys trying to be girls.
I just want to be normal.
It started like this, over a month ago, at the school pep rally.
As I made my way to the bleachers, cutting through the hordes of peers walking in groups of sheep, slowly, I just felt impatient to find my best friends, Chit and JP. But as I climbed the bleachers, with random eyes on me instead of them, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
But I refused to let it show. If someone wants to judge me, I’ll give them something to “judge” me by.
My mother’s response to my impudence is don’t be so proud. “It only ruined your father’s life,” she reminds me. “Because of his unwillingness to meet his partners halfway, he lost his company job. Now all he has to show for his pride is a part-time job and frustration that he takes out on us.”
“I refuse to give in to what people expect of me. I am me. Take it or leave it.”
My mother just shakes her head, as if she’s disappointed in me. “That’s not how the real world works.”
It’s always my classmates who remind me. We sit right next to each other in classes one after another, forty-two minutes each, five days a week, for nearly twenty-six weeks, but aside from polite acknowledgment, there seems to be little to say. What could have been is not what it is now and it never will be.
I sat by myself, in the corner of the bleachers, out of anyone’s direct line of vision. A few teachers clustered by me, as if feeling bad to see a student sitting by herself. But I wasn’t there.
Last year, the soccer coach had announced Scott as the VIP player of the team who had led the boys to victory at the GMCs. Named as captain, when he ran across the track in front of the bleachers, he caught my eye and smiled. And when he had to volley a tennis ball, he made sure it landed in my lap.
I was sitting on the bleachers, pretending not to care, slipping back into my memories, when Nicky caught sight of me and worked on convincing me to sit on the top bleachers with her.
“Come, please, please?” Nicky asked. “Come with us! It’ll be fun!”
“I’m kinda scared of heights,” I told her.
“I’ll hold your hand! I promise to make sure nothing happens to you!”
But when it was time to go, and all the students clamored to their feet, I was left standing by myself. I guess there’s something about me that makes people leave.

Love,
Forgotten

ephemeral

October 30, 2012

Dear Charlie,

I got all your letters.
I know they weren’t meant for me. I found them in Mrs. Miller’s attic. I was rummaging for something to borrow to wear to the seventies dance. I didn’t end up going though. I read your letters instead.
I wish I’d met Mrs. Miller’s daughter. You entrusted her with so much of your life. She must have been very trustworthy. I can’t ask Mrs. Miller. She can’t say her daughter’s name without sobbing over the tragedy. The good are stolen first. I want to comfort her; I want to tell her her daughter’s soul was needed in a parallel universe but my mother threatens to wash out my mouth with soap when I talk like this. She doesn’t get where I get these novel ideas from.
I’m not quite sure either. I guess I just have a lot of thinking time by myself. I was hoping I could share some with you.
I don’t want a response. Just – someone who will listen.
I’ve accepted that I’m not special or talented. I’m just an average girl in academics who is too shy to participate in clubs. I like to write though. I like to capture trivial moments because I think they all add up to a bigger effect. I hope one day my voice will be heard.

Love,
Opening Up

 

cliff diving

i dropped my ring in
the ten feet deep pool
on purpose. the din of
children in lessons and
critiquing bystanding parents
too loud, i jumped into the pool
only after i changed into my suit
as to not stir alarm. down and down
i went, six feet was a struggle
my ears popped at seven, my lungs
screamed at eight. resurfacing for
deep breath i tried again, i had to
retrieve my ring finger gem but
really i sought the water to choke
off sound, the gentle bubbles effacing
what everyone else needed
all i wanted was gills to swim away

sacrifice

as this month comes to a close
i amount myself by what i
have not accomplished
at a reading i compare myself
my style to his published record
forced to reevaluate my passion
as hobby, i wonder if sufficing at
duty will be enough fire for my heart

loner girl crumbled

I cried in school today. Of course, I managed to walk quickly to the bathroom to sob. I didn’t want to scar my students, but most of all I didn’t want the other teachers to know.

It’s easier to journal then share aloud how I feel. It started when I was thirteen and my parents found out I had a crush. At the time, it was the dawn of  rampant usage of technology among teens, so naturally my parents hacked into my Facebook account to protect their baby. They read my messages. They disapproved.

I think in retrospect they would have handled things differently, at least my mother. But my parents had a hard time accepting I was growing up and inadvertently shamed me for having feelings. Despite learning about it in health class, it would take me years to accept it was normal for the emergence of desires during puberty to wonder what it would be like to kiss a boy and dream about falling in love.

There’s a specific moment I realized I could never open up to my parents: I was twirling a sour cream and onion potato chip between my fingers contemplating whether to bite it or shove it whole in my mouth. But my mother saw me seating listlessly on the couch and demanded to know if I was thinking about boys instead of my homework. Her disapproving tone warned me my father would not tolerate “this kind of behavior”. An only child, learning that I couldn’t turn to my parents was hard. Turning to friends was no better; enduring teasing and smoochy faces was not what I wanted. Liking a boy suddenly became a weakness and it wasn’t long before caring in general made me too vulnerable. I did the worst thing possible: I bottled up.

That’s truly when loner girl cemented. Before then I was just a shy but friendly girl. By the end of middle school, I was eager to be ignited too ready to spit fire. All the sadness was masked by arrogant pride and anger. No one saw me cry.

Except the bathroom mirror. The bathrooms change, but mirrors always show the same broken girl with red eyes. When I saw her today, I curled up in a corner stall. In high school, when I felt like I wasn’t connecting with my peers I would eat my lunch in a bathroom stall.  Even at 22, I felt like I was 15 unable to do anything right and saw no point in making the effort.

Today it was because of guided reading. A tricky subject to teach to begin with, preparing myself with texts, videos and following my lesson plans to the exact detail had been benefiting me for the past few weeks. I was beginning to get in the groove of teaching pre-reading concepts to my scholars such as reading left to right and one word gets one tap while reading. Then this week I started using pattern books so the scholars could recognize the same words at the end (I read all by myself. I play all by myself. I clean all by myself) and attempt beginning to read by themselves.

It was a disaster. Naturally so, it was only their third time trying to read by themselves. Some of them managed to repeat “all by myself” on every page but could not identify the patterns. Others said “all my self” or tapped “myself” twice – which is also understandable as by and my sound similar and they are familiar with my as one word. But the rush to make the scholars learn in the twenty minutes before the next group and the looming literacy exam in four weeks, the scores of which would be used to evaluate my functioning as a teacher, made the bud of determined focus bloom into overwhelmed frustration. I pointed at the words, I repeated the words, I told them the pattern. As my scholars’ confused faces did not change, I felt my joy slipping as I wondered aloud if I was speaking in Mandarin.

The clock ticked 11:59 AM and it was time to transition to the cafeteria. I let Ella handle it as I escaped to the bathroom, the only place I could hide for a few minutes. My sobs shaky, I was grateful no one walked in. My mind scrambled to think of any other job I could if I quit teaching. I was unhappy. But I had to keep up with the schedule, so I gathered myself up enough to heat up my lunch in the staff workroom not making eye contact with anyone. Ella noticed and waited until we were alone in our classroom to ask me what was wrong.

I didn’t want to tell her. But I knew I had to talk to someone. Crumbling, I admitted how I felt like an awful teacher. She assured me that it was normal, guided reading was always a hot mess when new concepts were presented to the kids. “There is no perfect way to teach guided reading, but we can all work to get better at it. Don’t worry, four weeks is plenty of time for them to learn.”

The weight still has not lifted. Baby-sitting kids is not the same as teaching kids. There are goals set by the state that need to be met, a result that shows mental growth. When it’s so easy for me to cave into thinking about quitting, I know my students feel the same way with bigger books and activity challenges.

More than anything, I want to teach them to conquer that. I may have cried, but I got up knowing I had a job to do. It’s grit I want to share with my scholars in accompaniment with knowledge, but I do believe grit and curiosity go hand in hand. When my scholars grow up, I want them to be able to open up and talk about their feelings. I want them to know it’s okay to admit their weaknesses and make goals to work on them. I still have more work to do to be the best version of myself. I want my scholars to be better than me. Guided reading can stay rocky; if I can impart some emotional intelligence wisdom upon them I will know I have made a small difference.

A Cat Named Shitty

On a weekend, I was supposed to be testing out my theory of how to flash fix my cold, I found myself running errands with my love. To cross a to do off the list, I found myself in a stinky little apartment so my love could stop in to complete a project with his group mates. With time being of essence, even though I tagged along, I tried to make myself scarce so they could focus at task at hand of physics experiment of coils.

I utilized my time to catch up with friends via text. So focused I was, I jumped at a slinking brush up against my legs. To my delight, I found myself in the presence of a beautiful wispy black cat. I bent down to scratch the feline’s head, his fur silky soft; the cat immediately took a liking to my petting. He curved his head under my hand to make sure my fingers kneaded all the little crevices he wanted massaged. When I stood up to check on the progress of the project, the cat jumped up on the chair next to me to bump his head gently in my side to regain my attention. I fell in love with the cat then.

Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted a puppy. Mostly because if I had to choose an animal that described my personality it would be a puppy: energetic and silly and bounding until exhaustion takes it toll and I want to cradle my head in the crook of my love’s shoulder and chest. But for the first time, I found myself considering what it would be like to have a cat whose eyes gleamed with need for attention. I’d be more than happy to give the cat all my affection.

My love paused in his work to ask me what I thought of Shitty. Confused, I stared at him for an explanation as his groupmates continued deliberately as to not to be delayed by the relaying of old news. “Shitty – that’s the cat’s name,” he said. “Because the cat is never cleaned. Can’t you smell the reeking odor?”

Now, when I’d first stepped into the little hovel, I’d noticed the distinct cat pee on furniture smell, but my delight over meeting a small creature who enjoyed the attention I was giving him made the detail minuscule. The cat was simply too sleek not to pet! Yet, my love told me in seriousness that I was not allowed to touch him because of the cat germs I now had on my hand. Aghast at the reaction to the cat, I remained stroking the cat’s back. What an awful name, poor Shitty!

Shitty must have heard the tone in my love’s voice; as if to prove him wrong, he jumped away from me to slink between the legs of the group mates and headbutt them to get their attention. To the cat’s disappointment, there was no heed given. For all the love he showed, he got none in return and he slunked back to me. “See?” my love was quick to point out. “He’s so shitty he left you when you were the only who cared to touch his gross self.”

I choose not to see it that way. I think Shitty wanted to show the boys he was more than a stinkball, he had a heart of a humankind lover!

The project ended. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Shitty as I was nudged toward the door. “I’m not holding your hand until you wash it,” my love declared. Annoyed I taunted almost touching him to watch him squirm. In the end, he naturally took my hand to tug me along to cross the street quickly through traffic – before of course dropping my hand like a hot potato.

When I was young, I believed it: black cats are bad luck. Somewhere over the years between realizing there is perfection in imperfections and branding myself as a rebel, I have stopped letting life dictate what is bad luck.
In America black cats are the highest number among strays simply because of their color denoting faulty. It breaks my heart how an inane ideology can take such a precedence that it leaves innocent animals abandoned.
In Japan, black cats are good luck. It’s all in the perception.
When I finally “grow up” – since apparently at 22 I’m still a baby – and move out, I will welcome a black cat into the already reserved space in my heart. Pixiebat, the name’s been decided.
I’ll just have to make sure I take good care of my cat so my love will hold my hand and Pixie’s paw.