Friday, September 28, 2007

Casting Call

Four weeks ago today our hero broke his leg. So it was therefore time to remove the cast and do an x-ray or two to see how things were progressing. Among other things, that was good news because the old cast wasn't smelling so fresh. Removal was a ticklish process but JT was generally amused. So far, so good.

But after the cast came off, his leg hurt. As in, made my boy cry hurt. Probably that was the result of things suddenly feeling very different and the stretching of muscles that had been held in a rigid position for a while. A few x-rays were snapped and then the word came down: things are coming along nicely. Time for a walking cast.

The new cast is to be a little heavier and sturdier than the last. As Dr. T pointed out, "you'll be kind of rough on my cast if the last one is any indication." And the new cast could have a color. JT enjoyed a lollipop and reviewed his options.

He went with a subtle red. Now, in addition to the fact that you can hear him coming from a mile away, you can see him coming as well.

Real Life Conversations at School

The backstory: I teach at an independent school and there is a dress code. No blue jeans, no sweatpants, no t-shirts with slogans, no baseball caps, and that sort of thing. As befits a school working hard to maintain a strong community, the faculty also adhere to the dress code. Because the result fills my classroom with nicely clad teenagers, I am a big fan of the dress code.

Naturally, the dress code occasionally generates complaints and among the most frequent is the girls' lament that they cannot wear flip flops to school. Invariably, as spring approaches and the temperature climbs above 50 degrees, you'll see a bunch of girls with cold, blue toes wearing a pair of banned flip flops......a very cold way to celebrate the coming of spring and challenge authority. Demerits are passed around and the Assistant Principal issues a stern warning that flip flops aren't allowed. Life quickly returns to normal.

And every once in a while, usually as a fundraiser for a good cause, we get a dress down day. We have one today; the first of the school year. There are usually some guidelines for dressing down and in my homeroom yesterday we were discussing those instructions when the following conversation ensued:

Me: Can we wear flip flops?

Student L: No. But we can wear sweatpants.

Student K: If we can't wear flip flops, what will we wear with our sweatpants?

Me (bursting into laughter): Doesn't the wearing of sweatpants mean that it's cool outside, thus no need for flip flops?

Apparently not, suggesting that I am hopelessly out-of-touch with the fashion world that is teenaged America. But I wasn't afraid to defy the flip flop ban.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We've Got Mail

The silver lining to the cloud that is a broken leg has been mail. When you are 7 years old, getting something in the mail is a very big deal. JT's gotten a number of get well cards in the mailbox at home (and he reads them carefully all by himself before he shares them with me). His Aunty KO and cousins sent a card, scary pirate stickers, and gift cards for ice cream and toys (that there is a kid double play). And today, my college roommate M and her children (M and M) sent a package with books. Packages are the ultimate mail.......and to receive one is a major jackpot. He's pictured here with his new Magic Treehouse books, most delighted to learn that people far away in California are worried about him and his leg.

Clearly, the bum leg isn't holding him back.

So thanks to all of you who have kindly thought of my boy and sent him mail. Your good cheer has made several of our days brighter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Indian Summer

We are having a patch of glorious weather ----- warm sunny days in the 70s (and sometimes a little warmer) and nights in the 50s. I've taken a walk on campus nearly every day in the past week, to feel the sun warm my head and to see the trees and appreciate the end of summer and the coming of fall. At night, I open my bedroom window and tuck under my soft quilt, enjoying just a touch of the coming chill. I cut the grass today and realized that the end of the mowing season is soon to be upon me. I've spent some time thinking about the bulbs that I will plant in a few weeks and I've fallen asleep these cool evenings with visions of iris, daffodils, tulips, and lilies in my imagination.

But the biggest sign that a change is coming has come from my garden, where the last of the summer tomatoes have been picked. I've cut the final blooms of my striped zinnias. The pumpkin vine has yielded the first of the miniature pumpkins that JT and I planted last spring. I find something to love about every season, but I especially enjoy the all-too-brief period just before the seasonal change is fully upon us.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

The backstory: this is a conversation the boy and I had on Back to School Night.

Mama: How do you like my shoes?

JT: They are black.

Mama: Yes. And they tell the parents of my students, "Don't mess with Ms. Sassafras."

JT: No. They tell the parents that you won't be able to run very fast.

Apparently SOMEONE doubts the practicality of my black clogs.

At least Tiger is impressed.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hi, My Name is.......

When I first meet someone, I want to know that they have a good and kind heart. Lots of other things matter, of course, but for me that is at the center of it all. So when I am meeting someone for the first time, the fact that I am a caring person is the first thing I seek to establish. It's like I'm saying, "Hi, my name is Stacy, and I am a nice person." Last week was Back to School night at my school. In seven minutes for each classroom period, I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the parents of my students, to explain the courses I am teaching, and basically to begin to make a connection. I find it extremely nerve-wracking.

This is my 14th year as a teacher, and my 6th year at this school, so it's not as if I lack experience at this task. And both the parents and I want to make a good impression, so I probably shouldn't worry as much as I do. In meeting the parents, I follow the same basic principle that I apply in my classroom. The first thing I want to establish with my students is the fact that I care about them. I want them to know how much they matter to me. To help them know how much I care, I introduce myself each year by disclosing personal information. I tell them different things each year. This year, I told them about my son, the fact that I have lived in 4 states, and I told them about the things that I like to do with my free time (reading, gardening, cooking). I believe that students will take greater risks for a teacher whom they trust and for a teacher whom they believe cares about them. So I work very hard to foster that relationship early on, so that they will work hard for me all year long.

With the parents, it's a little more complicated. I want them to know that I care about their children. And I want them to understand that I will spend the year pushing their child to be a confident, independent learner. This year, I'm teaching seniors, juniors, and frosh students and so I remind the parents that in one, two, or four years, their child will be sitting in a college classroom. The folks and pushy Ms. Sassafras will not be there, and so the students must be able to get the job done on their own. I remind them that the measure of our success is not the receipt of a high school diploma, but, rather, a successful college experience.

This week, I'll be on the other side of the desk, as I attend Back to School night for the lower school and hear from my child's teacher. And as a parent, I want to know that she cares about my child. I've already met her and she's terrific. With good humor and kindness, she has helped JT to navigate the second grade with a broken leg. But most importantly, he thinks that she hung the moon. So she's met the test I apply to my relationship with my students: I believe that she cares about my son.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

Since there is no longer anyone else in the house who loves me and therefore must put up with my crap, JT occasionally finds himself involved in conversations with the needy side of his mama. The bonus here is that he is absolutely honest (i.e. don't ask him if your bootie looks too big in that skirt; he's liable to say yes) so if he says you look good, you probably do. Of course, you're still dealing with a 7 year old and so "good" is relative here. A few days ago we had a conversation about my hair, which I felt was in need of a haircut.

Mama: What do you think? Should I cut my hair?

JT: Well you have more hair than me.

Mama: I know. How does it look? Should I cut it?

JT (sighing): Mama? I'll never understand girls.

Mama: Well, son, we have that in common.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shut Up and Eat Your Pop Tart

A few years ago, while my sister's eldest child C sat eating waffles in the family kitchen, he began to ask his mom pressing questions about where babies come from. KO handled the awkward moment and then relayed the story to me by saying that what she really wanted to tell C was "shut up and eat your waffles." Since then, "shut up and eat your waffles" has been our family code for those awkward parenting discussions about where babies come from, how bodies work, and all the rest of that nonsense.

At 7:05 am Wednesday morning I had my own "shut up and eat your waffles" moment. As JT idly ate his pop tart, I flew through the house collecting our lunchboxes and backpacks. As I walked through the living room, my son said, "I have a question. How do you get a baby to grow inside you? Do you just tell God that you want one?"

I skidded to a stop, poured myself an extra cup of coffee, and answered the question. The backstory is essential here: JT is the product of a two-mom family and thus was conceived using donor sperm. Quite obviously, this makes explanations of where babies come from just a little more complicated.

So I explained about the sperm and the egg making a baby. I told him who brings what to the party ("mamas have eggs and dads have sperm," I said) and then I explained that a doctor gave me the sperm for my egg. The boy is smart and the obvious question hung in the air just a moment before he expressed it: "where did the doctor get the sperm?"

I took a gulp of coffee and then said that a nice man gave the doctor some sperm to help someone make a baby to love. JT nodded: this made sense to him. "Did you know the helper guy?" he asked.

"No," I said, "but I know some things about him: he was tall and liked to go camping and study science."

We talked about another little boy he knows who has two moms like JT. And I was out of the danger zone. Or so I thought until JT asked, "Hey! Does this mean that I have a dad?"

"No," I said. "A dad is someone you know; who lives with you and helps to take care of you."

"Okay," he said.

And then he went back to eating his pop tart. I'm off the hook. For now.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Programming Note

On Saturday afternoon, JT returned from a visit with Lisa. As soon as she was out the door, he announced to me that her cable television options are not nearly as good as the ones at our house.

"She only has two good channels. Our house is much better, Mama," he told me.

God I love that boy.

PS: This is my 501st posting. Not sure what that means, but it seems worth noting.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I collect antique dishes. Dish collecting is an interest I got from my mother; the antique part is just my twist on that tradition. When there is a special occasion at my house I get out my Jewel Tea dishes. The first pieces in my collection (a large bowl, a baking dish and a salad bowl) were well-worn and came from my grandmother. I love them because of that connection. They remind me of being at her home, drinking Coke out of fancy glasses, staying up late, playing endless games of cards, and feeling very grown-up. Over the years I've acquired additional pieces as gifts. Others I've purchased at auctions and antique stores. They aren't fancy dishes, and maybe they are a little homely. But I love them.

The story behind Jewel Tea is one of the reasons I love them so much. Starting in the early 20th century, the Jewel Tea company employed door-to-door salesmen all over the nation and they sold dry goods (and tea). Customers earned premium stamps for their purchase and with those stamps could get bonuses, including these dishes made by Hall Superior dish company. Over the years, Hall Superior made more and more special pieces for Jewel Tea and thus a collector's paradise was born. There are innumerable dishes in the collection ---- custard cups, sauce bowls, plates of all sizes. You name it and Hall made it.

My grandmother remembered that her mother bought things from the Jewel Tea salesman in the 1930s because he had a lot of children and she worried they didn't have enough to eat. There's always plenty to eat at my house, of course. But I never forget that act of kindness by a woman a few generations away from me, yet still present at my supper table whenever I set out my Jewel Tea dishes.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I remember the very first watch that I received. It was a Timex and it had a blue leather strap and a silver face with a sweeping second hand. I admired it in the display case at Gemco. My mother gave it to me when I was in the 5th grade. And I wore it all the time. Because, I was 10 and had places to be. People to meet. Important appointments to keep.

I think that I probably wore the watch because it made me feel like a grown up. So it's pretty ironic that in the past year, when I have had constant reminders that I must be the grown up, I have given up my watch. The first reason to abandon the watch was practical: it had come from my ex, and was a reminder of her (and her absolute slavery to time) hanging on my wrist. Ergo, it had to go. Half-heartedly, I looked for a new watch. But a new watch was expensive and my old watch was still working just fine, so I couldn't summon the will to spend the money. Instead, I started to leave off wearing the watch.

And I discovered that I rather liked my now unfettered wrist. From a practical point of view, there is a clock in every room in my home, in my car, in my classroom, and I have a cell phone and lap top with me most of the time. If I need to know the time, I need only check. And having to actively look to learn the time made me aware of time in a whole new way.

I no longer rush to go places. I'm not late, I'm just more strategic about planning my time. I like the freedom of doing things when I am ready to do them, not because the clock is directing my actions. And without a watch, I don't check the progress of time. If I am not enjoying something and I can, I leave. Or stop doing it. If I can't control time (say, when I'm waiting at the doctor's office), it doesn't do me any good to check its progress.

In the school year my watch-free wrist helps me to remember the ease and relaxed pace of summer. And when you're a single mama, any reminder of time unbound is a good thing. I think that life in this nation is far too rushed and busy anyway. I question whether all that go-go-go is a good thing. Mostly, I think it's not. So I plan to continue my timeless ways.

You should give it a try.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Poverty? What's that?

John Edwards is seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency. He's a modern populist whose consistent message is that poverty is a problem in this nation. He talks about issues of economic and social class and he offers up real solutions to the growing divide between the wealthy and poor in America.

Edwards is not afraid to outline his policies with specifics and details. He calls for better labor laws, meaningful childcare assistance for the working poor, preschool for the nation's children, greater worker safety laws, credit and saving opportunities for the nation's workforce, and an end to the predatory lending practices of credit card companies. He calls for programs to promote family literacy and good parenting and nutrition help for young children. He has a real program for universal healthcare. There's a lot more on his website. More than any other candidate in this race, Democrat or Republican, Edwards has been willing to outline specific plans to solve national problems. He's not afraid to try innovative ideas; he recognizes that some ideas will not succeed. But he proposes that failure will teach us how to get policies that will succeed. He's bold and thoughtful.

And nobody really seems to give a damn.

It's not that Americans deny the problems of the poor or even that Americans deny that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. But lack of denial is not the same thing as agreeing that we must do something about the problem. That is a step this nation isn't particularly willing to take. And so Edwards speaks eloquently about the problems of poverty and opportunity in the United States. People listen and nod and smile politely. But they don't plan to do anything about the problem.

The bottom line for the Edwards campaign is that his message isn't getting traction. Until or unless it does, he won't get the Democratic nomination. That's a shame because John Edwards has something very important to say. And we need to listen.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

The backstory: Nickelodean Kids Challenge is a kids program which shows kids taking charge of their life and making healthy eating and exercise choices.

JT: Mama, I want to watch Nickelodean Kids Challenge and eat a big bowl of potato chips.

Mama: My work here is done, my sarcastic friend.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


The prompt over at Sunday Scribblings is "writing." I believe that the key to good writing is good reading. I have been a voracious reader since I first learned to read. I feel most satisfied with life when I have a stack of books to read, just waiting for me to immerse myself in another world. The things that I read inform my world view, influence my style, and get me to think in new and innovative ways. I like to talk about what I am reading and I often like to write about what I am reading. So in this way, reading and writing are intimately connected in my mind.

Writing is a big part of my life, important to the way I express and understand myself and a big part of what I do for a living. I am a teacher and this necessarily means that I read my student's writing and work to help them improve their mastery of their thoughts and ideas. Because I teach history and government, I am particularly focused on good analytical writing. I always explain to my students that their goal is to describe and explain something (a fact, an idea, a political or historical development) and then to explain why it matters.

I think that is basically the approach I take to my own writing. I write about something that has happened to me or something that I am feeling and then I try to figure out why it happened; why I feel this way. And even if the meaning of the experience or the event is not explicitly clear, I approach it with an eye toward the "why." For example, I like to occasionally record real-life conversations with JT, my family, and my students. I place those conversations on my blog and think of them like a snapshot of a moment in my life. I don't analyze them explicitly on the blog, but strung together they show a lot about me: my sense of humor, my world view, the daily events of life that give my world meaning. In the end, my own writing is a reflection of the history of my thoughts and my life. And since I am a history teacher, that seems particularly fitting.

Friday, September 07, 2007


I've always felt lucky in the baby I brought into the world more than 7 years ago. He's strong, resilient, and kind (not to mention his good looks and excellent sense of humor). And this week, as we ended summer and returned to the regularly scheduled programming that is school, I've felt particularly lucky in this boy of mine. That's all the more surprising because my 7 year old returned to school with a broken leg, no small hurdle to manage.

Fittingly for a child whose first name is Jefferson, my boy has a strong independent streak. It was evident from the moment he was born and, with the exception of his early opposition to the taking of naps, it's been a terrific blessing. He walked at 9 months and talked at 12 and has been unstoppable ever since, taking care of himself and looking out for me along the way. And the broken leg provides another case in point: when the doc in the ER said that JT would be wearing a leg cast for 10 weeks, the first thing that JT asked me was, "how will I do my chores?" That there is a good kid.

In the past 7 days, he has learned to walk on crutches (with a grace and speed that is impressive), figured out how to get up and down the stairs, gotten himself to and from the bathroom (and that isn't as easy as you might think when you have a big cast), and learned again how to dress himself, this time with a left leg out of commission. This morning, he used his crutch to grab his shoe, slide it across the living room, and then put it on the good foot. Though he can't run outside or ride his bike (two of his most favorite things), he's not engaged in a pity party (I would have thrown a big one if it was me). He's an impressive figure, this boy of mine.

I've always felt lucky to have him. But the broken leg proves it: when I gave birth to Jefferson Taylor, it was a jackpot.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First Day of School

I am a product of public education. I went to public elementary, middle, and high school. I am a proud graduate of a public university (Go Bruins!). I am the child of a (now retired) public school teacher; my sister teaches at a public high school and my nephews go to school in that district. I am a good liberal who happily pays her property taxes and always votes in favor of public education. I believe that good education for all children is the foundation of a successful democratic society.

I am a teacher and the parent of a school-age child. I teach at an independent school and my son goes to school there. When people first learn this about me, they make all sorts of assumptions about what it means. Foremost among these is the conclusion that I am a snob, a person who doesn't believe in public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm a proud public school graduate. I believe that there are some amazing public schools in this nation. But I also believe that public education in America is failing the children who need it the most. When America's upper middle class moves to the towns and neighborhoods with the "good schools" they are admitting the fact that the system is unequal and not serving the needs of all of America's children. Like me, they don't want to subject their child to a poor education.

The No Child Left Behind system, which forces children to take tests to prove that they are learning, is not the answer. All over the nation, schools are cutting back on gym, art, music, social science, and science so that they can spend more time on the reading and math that will be measured by standardized tests. I understand why the public is demanding "proof" of our schools' success. But I question just what that proof is. One snapshot score for a child who is nervous about taking a test will not measure our success or our failure. Nothing is that simple. Add to that the fact that many of these children are poor, hungry, and without healthcare and it's no wonder that many of our public schools are straining to fulfill their obligations.

Educational success is a magical combination of knowledge, imagination, a thirst to know more and a belief that ideas can change the world. I know it when I see it. And I see it in my school; the school to which I entrust my son and where other parents have given me the opportunity to teach and grow with their child. Tomorrow as I greet my classes, I will tell them that they are lucky to be in this school and that I am lucky to be able to teach them. I truly believe that and my students will know it every day that we are together.

I wish that every child and every teacher in America could feel that way.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reason Engaged

I've just finished reading Al Gore's book The Assault on Reason. It's an impressive work, with loads of food for thought. In my mind, the most engaging argument that Gore makes is his discussion of the role of television in our republic. Gore's fundamental argument is that television has replaced the written word of newspapers and magazines as a forum for civic discussion and engagement. Gore believes this is a dangerous development for our nation. And the reason is that television, and the tv news especially, is not about engagement of citizens. TV provides information (much of it of dubious quality) and we listen and absorb. But there is no dialog between the television and the viewer or between the citizens themselves, watching their televisions in isolation.

The result is deadly for a democracy: the loss of civic engagement. Gore finds hope in the internet and it's exchange of ideas. And he writes of the blog world that, "By posting their ideas online, bloggers are reclaiming the tradition of our Founders of making their reflections on the national stage of affairs publicly available."


I don't watch a lot of television and I never watch tv news. It's a deliberate choice on my part. I do watch the Daily Show (as do my teenage students) because its style of editorial commentary is so engaging (and funny). I read Newsweek every week. I listen to several hours of NPR programming every day. I read newspapers on line and I follow a number of political blogs. And, of course, I write about some of my political views on my own blog. Each year, I face a classroom of students seeking to be well-informed; eager to be engaged. But I share Gore's fear that these pockets of citizenry are becoming increasingly rare, sucked into the vortex of disenchantment and disengagement in the political world. I'll be taking Gore's message into my classroom this fall.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fan Club

JT is just beginning to discover that when you bust your leg everyone pays attention to you. This morning saw a steady parade of neighbors to sign and admire his cast. I can only imagine what kind of rock star status he will enjoy when he starts school on Thursday.

He's getting quite proficient with his crutches (he still calls them crotches and I'll take my humor where I can get it) ----- including a booty-shaking dance that is most impressive.

And this is JT abed, just waiting for the cats to join the fun.

So far, so good.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


After a full day of eating cupcakes from M and a few minutes of crutches practice while D looked on, JT was tired last night. He went to sleep easily and I was relieved. But he awoke a little after 10 pm and was clearly in pain. He cried and was inconsolable for over an hour before he finally fell back asleep and stayed that way.

I've heard plenty of people say that one of the good things about being a single mama is that you get to make all the decisions. That's true and it is sometimes easier to just make the parental call, sans negotiation with another parent.

But the power to decide what to do is a solitary and lonely power when your baby is crying and in pain. And that's when I miss the help and love of another parent. With a partner, you may have to negotiate differences in decision-making, but you also have a companion when the going gets rough. I've said this before but I was reminded of its truth again last night. When my partner and I and JT were a family of three, I felt invincible. There was nothing we couldn't handle. But as a two-some of a mama and a boy, I feel like I'm on less stable footing.

Especially now that JT has broken his leg.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Peg Leg Boy and his Mama

Well, it's not exactly a peg leg. But it is a broken leg.

On Friday evening, JT was riding bikes on a trail with his friend M and M's mom. He had on sneakers and his helmet, he wasn't messing around, he just had a second of bad luck and his bike slid. His legs twisted and his left leg immediately bore the brunt of the fall.

An off-duty policeman and some park maintenance workers came immediately to the rescue with ice and a ride home for the boys and their bikes (3 cheers for Branchburg). By the time I got there, JT was in pretty good spirits but still refused to walk on his left leg.

Uh oh.

My boy is tough. So if he says something hurts, it's best to take that seriously. A few hours later the ER doc confirmed what I had already figured out. Broken tibia. A clean break, two-thirds of the way down from his knee, far from the growth plate. As broken legs go, this one can be fixed and made as good as new. And though JT didn't really complain, the doctor said that the pain was great enough to require some pain relief on an IV drip. So, with a silly grin on his face, he slipped in and out of sleep while they prepared his cast. At one point he announced that his beloved bike was "a nasty, rusted claptrap." I think that was the morphine talking.

It is a full-leg cast. No walking for the next two weeks, until we can see that the bone is growing back. He has crutches (which he calls crotches........yeah it's funny) and in a few days, he'll give those a try. Once bone begins to grow back, he'll get a walking cast. The doctor can't be entirely sure, but it looks like he'll be wearing a cast for the next ten weeks.

Have I mentioned that school starts on Thursday and I have a three-story house with the playroom at the very top of the house? I expect that this may be a bit of a challenge. I can carry him up and down the stairs and he's a trooper so I expect that soon enough we'll be laughing about this.

JT is already planning on how to incorporate his cast into his Halloween costume. Happily, being 7 means all sorts of positive thinking and that's a really awesome thing to behold.

Project Tree: September 1

There is a beautiful, stately old tree in my backyard, likely planted when the house was first built in 1930. It reaches tall and wide and it shades the back deck and at least a third of the back yard. It's really the beauty of my yard and a source of constant wonder to me. For the next year, I will mark the life of old man tree by taking its picture and writing about it on the 1st of every month.

Visit on the 1st of next month to see how my tree has changed.