Saturday, May 31, 2008

Last Call

Yesterday was the last day of classes in the upper school. There are still final exams, the prom, and graduation to be celebrated, but classes have ended. All week there has been excitement in the halls and it bursts out on Friday. We have Honors Convocation, which is an awards ceremony that features broad smiles (and dressed up teenagers). It's a nice way to start the end of the year.

I always enjoy the last week, and not just because summer vacation beckons. For me, the last week is a reminder to stop and appreciate the progress and accomplishment of the year. One of the best things about teaching is that as my students change I can truly see the accomplishments ---- the improved analytical skills; the better-written paragraph; a greater level of interest; a little more self-awareness.

The last week features all of that and some winding down. We linger over conversations, aware that though many of us will be back in September, it will be in different combinations. So there is something bittersweet in it all. This year's 2nd period will not be the same as next year's and in the last week, I take some time to appreciate what I've enjoyed about the year.

From the moment a student walks in the door of our school, whether in the 9th grade or the 1st, it's understood that one day they will leave. My job is to do part of the work to make that happen; so that when they walk out our door they are ready to succeed elsewhere. It's an interesting job in that way, because the projects are evolving all the time.

And I guess that's the challenge and joy of teaching. The work is always in flux; always in progress. Like the students themselves, things change. The lesson that was perfect last year doesn't go well this year. The best-laid plans are discarded because the students have far more questions about the Vietnam War (or whatever topic) than I expect. The Democratic primary doesn't end when I think that it will. A fellow teacher (who also writes about teaching) has pointed out that it's an art and a science. I couldn't agree more and I would add that the art and the science are incredibly demanding, often in unpredicatble ways.

So I am always glad for the break. I think that it's necessary. All of us need some rest and relaxation; a chance to refresh our energy for the exciting and enjoyable challenges (both predictable and unpredictable) that September will inevitably bring.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Field Trip

The 2nd grade is taking a field trip to the shore today and JT is terribly excited. Last night, we reviewed the things he needed to pack. And by review, I mean he recited the list several times. Several. Then we set out the bag, ready for the morning adventure. He needed to be at school by 8 am sharp and though we are always at school before 8 am sharp, he drilled that into my head as well. Clearly, I am the weak link in the system.
By agreement last night, I was to awaken him at 6:50 this morning; we would leave for school at 7:20 (it's a 15 minute drive.....but we'd leave nothing to chance). He woke himself up at 6:45 and immediately commenced to panic. We need to leave in 5 minutes! Hurry, hurry, hurry! But I reminded him that the departure time was 7:20, so we were still in fine shape. I was reminded of my childhood years, best summed up by my father repeatedly encouraging me to "hustle."

JT is a rather experienced outdoorsman, so from his waterproof sunshade hat to his Keen sandals, his canteen and his quick-dry shorts, he is all set.
Update: much joy upon return from the trip. He has lots of shells and he found $1 on the bus. The picture doesn't quite show it well, but the sandals are wet and sandy. And so is the boy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Currently occupying first place in the race to be my favorite food.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


After a perfect spring weekend, Tuesday brought some heat and humidity. When JT came to find me after school he had a hot, sweaty head. As far as the boy is concerned, that can only mean one thing: if it's hot, then he'll be playing in the backyard sprinkler. So he completed his homework with great speed, pulled on his tie-dye swimsuit, and hit the lawn for a nice romp in the cold water.
Sometimes old-fashioned fun is the best kind of fun.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Split Personality

When the kittens look like this, I love them unconditionally.
But when I awaken at 3 am because of a full-scale attack on my feet, unconditional love quickly becomes survival of the fittest. First, I play dead and lie still. The attack stops ---- briefly ----- and then resumes, either because they do not care that I am dead or because they are not fooled. Either way, my toes are at risk. 10 minutes later I realize that playing dead in your own bed is not conducive to actually sleeping in your own bed. So I quickly re-arrange my feet, in hopes the cats will be deterred. Ha. The attack continues. I lie there wondering where I last saw the spray bottle (cats hate being sprayed in the face with water and it's our fail safe method for staying safe). Then I remember that the water bottle is up in the playroom, keeping the gladiators safe. No relief is in sight. Now I've been awake for 20 minutes, so I take a trip to the bathroom. I return to find both cats curled up in the warm spot I recently occupied. I stand there, now next to my bed, instead of in it, and suggest that I am the boss of them.

They stretch and yawn as if to say, "WHATEVER." So I gently climb back into bed, trying not disturb the sleeping cats. And as I fall back asleep, certain facts must be faced: they are actually the boss of me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


One of the best things about having an 8 year old boy is that he can still find magic in simple things. One of those magical things is springtime carnivals here in my corner of New Jersey. It's become a tradition for JT and I to attend the local carnivals. We go on a school night (which feels hedonistic) and with a plan to eat junk for our supper (carnivals rarely feature fresh fruit and veggies). Our first carnival of the year was a few weeks ago; we arrived just after 6 pm and there was a hint of possible rain in the air. But JT just pulled up his hood and, as we set off across the grass he caught my hand and said, "let's do this thing, Mama." It's easier to find happiness when there's a little boy holding your hand.

We walked through the tiny carnival to check out our options. I'm not a fan of the scary upside down rides at local events like these, but that's okay with JT, who can find plenty of fun on the Indiana Jones jungle gym, the big slide, and the Ferris wheel.
He tried everything with a broad smile on his face. I typically stand by the side and watch as JT takes on the challenge; my pleasure comes from his excitement. But when the time comes to ride the Ferris wheel, that's some fun that we share.
For me, the Ferris wheel is the most magical part of a carnival. The lights shine brightly in the dusk. I love the feel of the ride as it comes around and I have a brief view of the entire carnival for just a moment before I slip downward, only to swing back up and around to see it all again. I love that the Ferris wheel is our special thing; I like that JT sees one and looks to me to share it with him. It brings me happy satisfaction to have those sorts of traditions in our life together.
We had your standard carnival supper ---- cheese fries and funnel cake. JT balanced it out with some cotton candy for dessert. The arrival of the carnival season is a sure sign that summer is just around the corner. And when you are an 8 year old boy (not to mention his very tired mama), that's a very happy thought.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


JT likes to wear hoody sweatshirts. Once that hood goes up; it stays up even if the climate doesn't demand it. So it was that I found him the other afternoon, all hooded up and intently playing a game on the computer.

He's UniTaylor, though I do not believe he harbors any anarchist tendencies.

Friday, May 23, 2008

New York City

I've had reason to be in New York City the last two days and I've had a wonderful time, exploring the city's historical immigrant neighborhoods with some students and a fellow teacher. I like the city because of its fascinating history, beautiful architecture, cultural offerings and its sometimes glorious beauty.

But New York City has a dark and dirty side, which this picture made on the subway platform yesterday morning pretty well sums up for me.

You see this sort of display all over the place in NYC and it reminds me that it's terribly hard for large cities to actually be communities where people take care of one another and their common spaces. I'll no doubt have more to say on this, but for now it seems this picture pretty well sums it up.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Golden Rule

I read a great deal. I read books; I read magazines; and I read a lot of different things online. As a matter of course, I read things that I like; things that challenge my brain. If I don't like it; if I'm not challenged, I don't read it. It's a simple formula, but not one that other people follow. I know this for a lot of reasons, most notably the discussions that I sometimes read on a blog called dooce.

Dooce is wildly popular and in the 4 years since I've been reading her, she's gotten a good deal of what, for lack of a better description, I would call hate mail. I know this because she occasionally blogs about it. And those postings are some of my favorites because I get to see just how f#@*ed up my fellow internet citizens are. It's not like dooce is mandatory reading, right? You can go to her website and read her stuff. Or not. It's your call. So if you don't like her, why read? In my world, I don't read things by people whose views or ideas I don't enjoy. But to not like her, to continue to read her stuff, and then to write and tell her how much you don't like her.....well, that's some seriously weird cognitive dissonance some people seem to actively cultivate.

It's made me wonder about who reads what I write. I assume that the people who read what I write are people who either know me and like me or don't know me but like what I write. I further assume that it's a small community of people who send me happy thoughts when they read my drivel. I never assume that anyone at my blog wishes me ill, because, naively, I guess, I just don't operate that way.

I'm not sure where these thoughts are headed. But I have learned (and am still learning) that the only person I can control is myself. And I try very, very hard to be the sort of person who leaves the world a little better than when she found it. Not a lot better (though that would be nice, wouldn't it?). But a little better. Certainly no worse. It's all I can really do. And I guess that it's my moral code: treat others as you would wish to be treated.

I know that everyone is not like that. But here in my incredibly tiny corner of the internet, that's my humble goal. I hope that I'm not alone in this goal. In fact, I don't think that I am alone. If you're here to share in the joy and sorrow (and occasional humor) of my tiny little life, thank you. Because this blog has been a really, really good thing for me in the last two years, and a huge part of that has been the kindness of friends and strangers that has flowed my way because of this place. But if you're here to be mean-spirited and unkind in thought or comment, may I politely ask that you take your ill will elsewhere? You're not helpful.

Carry on.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


It must be said of me that I don't respond well when my hand is forced. Some choices in my life of late have been foisted upon me. And while many of my friends and family, the people whom I love and whom I know love me back, keep telling me that these changes are okay, that they may even be for the best, I just don't know this to be true.

And this feeling in my heart leads me straight to a stream of personal doubt. And we're not talking some tiny little droplets of doubt; we're talking a cascade. There are so many overwhelming doubts that I come to doubt everything that I think I know; everything that I think I believe; and everything that I think I want.

And then I come into the living room and see his face. In his green hoodie; practicing what he calls his "thoughtful look" and I know this one very important thing: I love him so much that sometimes it feels as if he holds my heart in his hands. And he is so lovely and so wonderful that even after eight years I can hardly believe the incredible luck that makes him mine to love. But he is. He's my boy and I am his mama. At least I know that.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thumbs Up for Family Day

Every year in May the Lower School celebrates Family Day. It's a celebration by and for the students ---- their art fills the gallery and they sing and perform gym routines. Families bring picnics and in the afternoon there is a blow-up slide (that's the piece de resistance) as well as Italian ice and lots of kid-friendly activities.

If the weather were warm and dry, we'd be outside in the lush spring, with the woods and green fields around us. But we had no such luck this year. Despite the rain, there were families a-plenty and that's really the most important thing about the day. As you scan the crowd, you can see the children scanning back, looking for their parents and grandparents and then smiling a proud smile when they see their loved ones.

The gym show is always my favorite. Until you've watched 4 year olds perform synchronized somersaults, you haven't really lived. JT knows how much I enjoy the gym show and has been reporting back about the gym routine for weeks. He felt that the 3 year olds would be a disappointment.....I don't think he realizes how far being tiny and cute can take performers. He was suitably impressed by the jump-roping 3rd and 4th graders. And when he got up yesterday morning he drew me a map with instructions about where I should sit to get the best view of the 1st and 2nd grade gym drills. I knew I had done well when he spied me in the gym and gave me a thumbs up sign.
In the afternoon, the kids got to decorate their colored t-shirts. The theme of the day was "When I Grow Up" and that was the challenge for shirt decorators. JT went to the table and got right to work. He wrote "ARTIST" across the front of his shirt and then drew pictures. There are many things that I love about JT's school but none is more important to me than their commitment to the whole child. From weekly art class in the studio, to gym, music, library, computers, and foreign language, the school shows JT that his imagination and creativity is important. That emphasis reaps dividends now as his imagination flourishes and it sows them for a future when my son will be anything that he wants to be.
Maybe an artist?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thoughts on Gardening

For as long as I can remember, my gardener father has read a magazine called Organic Gardening . Actually, he unfailingly calls it Orgasmic Gardening, a pun I didn't figure out until I was much older (yes, I come by it naturally). As with any reading material lying about the house while I was growing up, I read it cover-to-cover. Many of my gardening tricks are the outcome of that early exposure to my father's approach to caring for his land. Since my son plays in our yard and we plan to eat the things grown in our garden, I'm pretty careful about the chemicals I permit out back.

With regard to the garden, my weed control program is to spread newspapers around the plants and then cover the newspaper with wood mulch. It helps the garden to look neat and works pretty well to control the weeds until the plants are big enough to take charge themselves. It's also a good way to water the garden more efficiently and improve drainage in the soil. In the fall when I pull out the dead plants, I turn the soil and it benefits from the organic remains of my weed control program. Last fall, I had also intended to further improve the soil with the leaves from my yard, letting them stew all winter and then turning them into the garden soil in the spring.

But last fall found me caring for a boy with a broken leg and so my garden nourishment plan was abandoned. Embarrassing confession: though I got the leaves segregated into one area of the back yard, I didn't get them picked up. Last weekend, as part of my spring yard beautification project, I finally pulled together the remains of the fall leaves ---- I had an abundant supply. The smell and appearance of this organic mess persuaded me that my garden could still benefit from the compost.
So, rather than dispose of the rich mix, I spread it in my young garden between the plants. It looks tidy, and I rather like that in a garden. And it should help the plants to flourish. JT, who provided stick-armed escort service for the transport of the leaves, was suitably impressed by my ingenuity.
In a few weeks, I will weed and turn the soil and see how the project worked. I may very well end up using the newspapers and mulch method of weed control on top of this. But for now I am very pleased with my clever method of fertilizing my garden.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

JT has recently taken to announcing that he needs to "twinkle." As in, "I'm going twinkle." I think that he means tinkle, but I just can't correct this error because it makes me laugh so damned much.

And frankly, I'm just happy that he's twinkling in the house and not in the front yard. Given his mama, it's worth being concerned.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Signs I Teach at Prep School

For weeks now my U.S. History class has been bragging about student X's impersonation of FDR. Finally, today I heard the beginnings of the FDR speech. It was as impressive as they had claimed and I couldn't help but be charmed by teenagers excited by the recitation of a speech first made more than 60 years ago.

If these kids knew how charming I find them, my boat would be sunk.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Though he was exceptionally good natured and informative, I would rather have not spent Mother's Day afternoon with Walter.

Walter is a tow truck driver and we were spending time together because my car made a horrible clunking sound ----- as I was driving 60 mph ----- and soon after that, acceleration and steering became optional. I pulled in the parking lot of a mall (yet another reason to be glad that Jersey is over run with them), called Triple A, popped into the bookstore to get a little something to read, and 40 minutes later, made friends with Walter the Tow Truck Dude. He carried my car over to the Saturn dealer.

He thinks it's the tie rod. I'm inclined to be hopeful that's the case since, well, other explanations seem considerably more costly. My friend sb came and got me so I could finish the grocery shopping I had been on my way to complete.

And then I came home and re-acquainted myself with my friend Captain Jack.

After all, I won't be driving anytime soon.

Update: Saturn called around 10:30 am to report that a bolt from a previous repair had not been tightened. It has now been tightened and my car is ready to go. No charge for the repair since, ummmmm, they screwed up.


To review: lefty-loosely; righty-tighty.

All's well that ends well, I think.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Lately, I've been thinking about the gross commercialization that Mother's Day has come to represent in American society. When Anna Jarvis founded Mother's Day 100 years ago, she hoped that mothers would receive a day of rest and letters from their children. But on this Sunday, my e-mail in-box is filled with inducements to honor Mom (by purchasing a gift, of course). When I'm at the mall, everywhere I turn there are reminders to "Remember mom." My Newsweek magazine featured a guide to (expensive!) Mother's Day gifts and the admonition that Mom wants a gift; she doesn't just want a card.

Now I'm no opponent of materialism (and I have the flip flop collection to prove it). I like receiving a gift as much as the next person. But I didn't become a Mama for the additional holiday. And I imagine that all these inducements to "remember Mom" must be difficult for those whose mothers are gone. All of this got me thinking less about Mother's Day as a gift-getting opportunity and more about the gifts of motherhood.

My first Mother's Day was special because I had wanted to be a mama for so long and my life felt perfect on that day. JT was 3 months old and he laughed for the first time. The sound of your child's genuine laughter is a sound that you can't hear often enough. I will forever remember the sheer joy of that moment. And that baby's chuckle heralded more mama joys to follow: the day JT first said my name, the sound of his voice saying he loved me, the development of his sense of humor. To me, those are the true gifts of motherhood.

They can't be bought in a store or manufactured by a commercial enterprise. They just happen, often unpredictably. Always welcomed.

And the most magical part of being a mother is that those moments can happen all of the time. The last few weeks have reminded me again of this lesson. JT and I have made a transition so that at bedtime, after I read a chapter to him, I leave his room and he reads to himself for 20 minutes. That task complete, he turns off his light and then calls downstairs to me. The script is the same every night: "I'm going to bed now. I love you Mama," he calls to me.

I love this new routine and appreciate it all the more because, like every stage in my son's life, it's likely to be fleeting. Though single motherhood is sometimes overwhelming and occasionally painfully lonely, that daily "I love you" is always a moment of true joy. And that is the real gift of motherhood.

Thanks to my friend sb for taking a picture of the boy and me.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

That Whole Apple and Tree Thing

On Friday afternoon, JT joined me while we waited for the nice people at Saturn to fix our car (it's excellent to have those antilock brakes back). Friday afternoon in the car repair waiting room is no one's idea of a good time, but JT was a total trooper. He enjoyed a healthy snack --- a chocolate donut and a can of ginger ale --- and checked out the new cars. And then we got out our books and sat side by side and read. For two hours. So just in case there was any question about the baby I brought home from the hospital, well......NO worries on that front I think.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Garden Talk

I'm experimenting with blogger this morning and, if the experiment succeeds, this post will come up at 11:11 am on Friday morning, though it was written much earlier. If it fails, well........the free world will remain free, I expect.

It took me a little longer than I had hoped, but as of this week my garden is now completely planted. Joining my little fruit trees are two different hot peppers, 2 types of squash, some bell peppers, and three types of tomatoes (Roma, beefy, and an heirloom yellow). I have cilantro, basil, oregano, and some lavender. Rounding things out is some early harvest lettuce. It's a series of small plants now, but all that will change soon enough.

I planted three rows of zinnias. If only I had remembered to wear my new garden gloves, I probably wouldn't have split open my thumb (though the tattoo bandaid is a conversation starter for my students).

We had a nice gentle rain the first night after the planting was complete. I consider that a good omen. For the next two months I'll water and weed, mulch and nourish. And by July there will be plenty of fresh produce at my table, as well as a generous bouquet of flowers. The garden won't just feed my family, it will feed my soul. And these days that's a much-needed thing.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Morning Glory

The only thing better than a morning cuddle with Tiger the cat........ when your mama makes freshly baked blueberry muffins for your breakfast. On a school day. Just because you are her favorite boy.
But before you type up that, "oh, how sweet" comment, please note the fact that when JT saw the strawberries on his plate he said, "What is this, some kind of poison?"

Apparently, we don't share the same commitment to adding fruits to our diet.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Henna Gang

Last week a school, there was a henna artist on campus. I've always admired henna art on other women and so I signed up. In fact, a bunch of women at my school got a bit of the bindi. We're like a henna gang on campus. It looks a lot like a tattoo when the henna is freshly drawn on (though there is no pain involved). Mine wraps around my left wrist.
Five days later, mine still looks great and I have to admit that I like it a great deal. For the first time in my life I can see how people get one tattoo, and then another, and another..........

For now I'm sticking with the henna. But the temptation to do more is great.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Shirtless Edition

The backstory: Next year, when JT will be in the third grade, the dress code ratchets up and he will be required to tuck in his shirt. He is not thrilled by this prospect (he generally prefers that his clothes float around him, but not exactly touch his person). Apparently, he has a plan for dealing with the onerous shirt-tucking requirement.

JT: I know what I'll do when I have to tuck in my shirt next year.

Mama: Maybe tuck it in?

JT: No. I just won't wear a shirt. Then there will be nothing to tuck in.

Mama: You don't think that might be a problem?

JT: Nope. No shirt. No problem. It's as simple as that.

It might be a long year.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Composition of Learning

When I was a student, I worked hardest for the teachers who seemed to care the most about me. I still remember how much I wanted to please my 4th grade teacher, who pushed me to new levels because she cared. I also remember the 12th grade teacher who played favorites. I didn't work as hard for her because it felt like she didn't value all of her students. As a teacher, I try to make sure that every student in my classroom knows that they matter to me. I know that they will work harder because they know that I'm watching. I want to be sure they know that I care. Though it's a lesson I learned some time ago as a teacher, it's also a lesson I'm learning again from a new point of view: that of a parent.
Each week, 2nd grade homework requires that JT use the week's spelling words to write sentences. He usually relishes the creative challenge and we both enjoy this homework assignment. But the best part comes after he's written and checked his sentences for the week. Then, we look at the sentences written for the previous week and read the comments that his teacher has written. A few weeks back, JT wrote, "Chip would rather starve than eat garlic" (garlic was the spelling word). And Mrs. W wrote under the sentence, "Please pass me that garlic so I can put it on my pizza!! Yum!"

His composition book is filled with these sorts of exchanges. Mrs. W's comments are a combination of funny and thoughtful and they reveal both her sense of humor and her sense of my son. He respects and likes Mrs. W; those comments are part of the reason why. She knows him well and clearly enjoys what she does. And via her comments in his composition book, she lets JT know that she cares about him and about how much he is learning. Her comments tell him that she values the effort he puts into the task before him.

As a teacher myself, I appreciate the time and care that goes into the responses Mrs. W writes in the composition book. I do the same thing for my students; I read their work and truly think about it. Frankly, it's one of the most important things that I do ---- this exchange that a student and I have via their schoolwork. Lately, as I read JT's composition book, I realize Mrs. W and I are about the same business: pushing our students to do their very best. We want them to truly know how much they mean to us. And from that very solid foundation, we are confident that success will follow.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Letter S

Regular readers know that I have become obsessed with fabric letters. The result of this (unhealthy?) obsession is that I now own a handful of t-shirts with the letter 'S' on them.

Naturally, people see me and then ask what the letter 'S' stands for. I could go for the obvious, of course: Stacy, Sassafras, Sassy.......but it's much more like me to suggest other words. And so, in the last week, I have variously claimed that the 'S' stands for:

Sarcastic (duh)

Stupid (a word not permitted in Sassafras House, so it's feels naughty to say it)

Somnolent (I like the sound of the word, though the fact is that it won't happen unless I have some Tylenol PM on board)

Smart (in the event that I'm not stupid)

Salacious (look it up)

Superdelegate (I was pretty proud of that: I do teach government, after all)

And then I received an e-mail which used the word surly. I'd forgotten what a delightfully descriptive word that is. So that's my current response. Surly.

I like it.

Update: The photo shows the 'S' backwards but in real life it doesn't have that mirror effect. I think.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May 1st

On the 1st of each month, I've been taking a picture of the big tree in my backyard.

In the past month, as spring unfurled in the surrounding garden, the tree began to join in the celebration. At first, it had dark red buds. They have fallen all over the backyard and now the tree has small dark green leaves that will slowly grow bigger in the coming month. On this chilly morning, I could sit outside and drink my cup of coffee as the sun shone through the branches. But within the month those leaves will grow and shade the back deck and a good portion of the backyard. I'm looking forward to sitting outside under the shade of the tree. But on this cool morning, the sun was welcome.