Friday, December 30, 2011

The Christmas Crunch

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Every year I resolve to glide through Christmas like Mary Bailey herself--elegance and grace under pressure, wearing pearls and pumps to boot. Instead, I find myself galumphing around Target on December 23rd dressed like a refugee and beating myself up for waiting 'til the last minute for thisthat'ntheotherthang.

But this year was a little different. And I think part of that was due to trying out some new traditions, instead of stubbornly sticking with the old. (It also helped immensely that we were staying put this year. Last year's cross-country trek with a 3-year-old and a feverish infant was just the merriest little sprig of Christmas joy that anyone could hope for!)

1) Secret Santa
Years ago, my mom suggested to my (then) family of four that we should do a pollyanna. "WHAAAT!?!" we all screamed and raged, like she had suggested sacrificing the cat for Christmas dinner. "HOW DARE YOU, CHRISTMAS CRAPPER!!!????" But after a few years, it seemed to make sense (a mortgage and two kids will do that to you.) And soon after, NR's family followed suit. So instead of trying to figure out the perfect present for Cousin Cathy whom you see (maybe) once a year, we receive *one* person to shop for, an agreed-upon budget, and a list of helpful ideas for gifts. Headaches and guessing games averted. Thank you, Baby Jesus.

2) Planning Ahead
On December 26th of last year, the Teege started composing this year's Christmas list. By December 3rd of this year, we called it a day and decided it was time for Santa to get down to business. We asked my folks to babysit on a Saturday evening and attacked Toys 'R Us with a very specific, very researched list in hand. (And guess what--most of the Black Friday deals were still on. So there really is no reason to get up at 2 a.m. and fight all the other wacky jacks in line at the big box stores.) By the end of the night, Santa was all done, and we could calm down a bit for the rest of December. Plus, we made it into a date night by starting off with a dinner at Maggiano's. New tradition? Definitely.

3) Mass in the City
A few years back, my sister invited us to Christmas Eve Mass at St. Joseph's University for something different. It was beautiful (and of course, being presided over by a Jesuit, entertaining AND meaningful.) We thought it would be nice to go again, but they only had an 8 p.m. service...kind of impossible with rugrats. So we decided to try the Children's Mass at Old St. Joe's Church in downtown Philly. The church was gorgeous, the music adorable (the Children's Choir sang), and we got to sit right next to the nativity scene, which my children are obsessed with. Kelly kept wrestling herself out of NR's arms to stomp right up to the manger and proclaim "BABYJESUSBABYJESUSBABYJESUS!" while Teege asked where Baby Jesus' menorah was (perfectly valid question). On the way home, we listened to Christmas carols and got to see Boathouse Row all lit up on the Schuykill. Perfect way to end the day before scurrying off to bed.

4) Macy's Light Show
When I was a young pup, my city-born-and-raised dad was all about jetting around downtown on public transportation, taking me to his old haunts (a favorite trip was going to the magic shop at the Bourse, with a quick stop for nonpareils at the candy store.) I feel like I've failed so far at showing NR and the kids the same sights, so I suggested taking the train down to Macy's one day to see the annual Christmas Light Show and Dickens Village. Well, the train wasn't working (so we paid $30 to park) and the line for Dickens turned out to be 45 minutes, but it was still a fun, new thing for our little family to try, and it's on the agenda for next year as well.

Don't get me wrong...I love old traditions as much as the next gal. But I also think it's important, when you start your own family, to branch out and try new ones as well.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a blessed 2012 to all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Curtain Falls...

...on my latest theatrical adventure, "Sorry, Wrong Number" at Celebration Theater in Lansdowne.

This was the first production I've done *not* pregnant since The Exonerated back at The Attic in '06. I played Mrs. Stephenson, a haughty invalid who overhears a murder plot, and spends the rest of the play trying to get everyone and anyone to listen to her. It was a tremendous amount of fun playing a b*tch, and quite an acting challenge since I am bedbound for the entire play. I'm usually all about the business when acting--stalking around the stage, rearranging props, doing whatever I can to communicate nonverbally. So it was interesting to just use my voice, upper body, and anything within arm's reach to create a character.

I also LOVED the space we performed in--the Twentieth Century Club in Lansdowne. I grew up in this lovely little borough, so I just adored driving "back home" the past three months. The 20CC itself, a beautiful historic building built at the turn of the (last) century, was actually the site for our reception back in '02. And long before that, my dad and I did a magic show on the same stage. I got scolded for shirking my magical assistant duties and sitting on pumpkins during the show. (I was probably about 4...but still.)

I find it so important--ESPECIALLY as a mom and a teacher--to do something that feeds the creative spirit now and again. Meeting new peeps and playing make believe for a spell has certainly done the trick...and now I'm ready and renewed for the onslaught of holiday craziness just around the corner.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

St. Connie

Last Saturday was the Feast of the Little Flower--St. Theresa. I don't often remember feast days of the saints, but this one was particularly special.

Freshman year of high school, I joined our parish CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). I hadn't attended the parish grade school, so I was a bit apprehensive about hanging out with a bunch of weird do-gooders I didn't know every Sunday night. But my mom had grown up in the parish, and wanted me to feel the same sense of community she had. In fact, many of her classmates' kids were members.

So I showed up--reluctantly--and was suprised by the mix of kids there. Preps in penny loafers sat alongside metalheads in Metallica shirts. It was overseen by a truly awesome priest, Fr. Groarke, who just "got" kids. (And no, there was nothing suspicious or weird about him, nor have there ever been any "complaints." He was just a truly awesome guy.) We did the usual youth group stuff--retreats, "lock-ins," service projects, the works--and the highlight was an annual weekend convention at the Valley Forge Sheraton. Picture a bunch of crazy Catholic kids running rampant from ballroom to ballroom...mildly chaperoned by guitar-wielding college students, the token "cool" priests, and mostly frazzled moms. Good times!

I made some great friends in the group--two in particular. Amy was a goofy artsy type a year ahead of me. We started walking to school together...much to the surprised delight of our moms, whom we found out had also walked together twenty years before, even meeting up at the same corner. Through her I met Chris, a sweet but terrifically sarcastic guy who shared my passion for music and theater. We wound up doing Summer Stage together, which pretty much bonds you for life. He was also EVERYONE'S prom date (his nice nature + tall stature being two key factors.)

The CYO kids generally bounced between Amy's house (where we would bake cookies and play on her dad's motorized chair that could zoom up the stairs) and Chris' (where we watched the very first season of "The Real World." I know, I was a huge hellraiser in high school.) Chris' saintly mom, Connie, always welcomed us with hugs, thoughtful questions, and the nicest compliments. She immediately made you feel like you were the only person in the room. "Oh, St. Connie," my mom would sigh whenever I raved about her. "She was always everyone's mom in the neighborhood when we were growing up. Looks like she's still at it."

After high school, everyone went their separate ways. But I would still see St. Connie at church and around the neighborhood. Every time, she would put her delicate hand on my shoulder and inquire about my life with a "Oh, hon..." And a few weeks after my wedding, she gave me the nicest compliment out of anyone. "That was such a neat wedding, hon," she said softly. "Exactly what a wedding SHOULD be. I've told so many people about it."

Every time I saw Connie, I immediately felt peaceful. She just exuded a quiet, lovely grace. It's not something you can learn or strive for. You just have it. She had it.

Two weeks ago, she lost her battle with cancer.

On Saturday, St. Philomena's was PACKED with people. Fr. Groarke returned to say the funeral Mass, and it was he that reminded us of the feast day. "Connie WAS our Little Flower," he reflected. "You are all here because of that little lady--that little flower that touched you in some way." As she was brought out of the church (to "How Can I Keep From Singing?"--a perfect choice), he led us all in a round of applause.

It was the most beautiful send-off for somebody who always led the applause for others.

Rest in Peace, Saint Connie.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You know New York, You need New York... know you need unique New York...

So goes one of my favorite tongue twister warm-ups when I teach acting.

Seven years ago, I had the excellent fortune of teaching at an amazing school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. I was assigned a banged-up group of juniors with a terrible reputation for being difficult, unruly, and just generally annoying. Not only did I have the joy of teaching all of these juniors Brit Lit, I also had to teach them Speech. Plus I had a junior advisory group. I couldn't escape.

I forged through the year, determined to keep my head above water, and forced myself to like them. But a funny thing happened on the way to June...I fell in love with them. They just barged on in to my heart and made themselves at home. I came to know each of them, quirks and all, and just enjoy them immensely. Together, we marched through "Macbeth," built houses in Kentucky, West Virginia and Belize, served together in Camden, laughed together in the Commons, and cried together on retreats. I also managed to guilt many of them into taking a risk and performing onstage for the first time. And by the time graduation came two years later, they chose to dedicate their yearbook to me--still one of the greatest honors I have EVER received as a teacher.

So when an invitation to their 5-year reunion appeared in the mail, NR and I decided to return to the Big Apple--our first time back there together in several years. We booked our Bolt Bus tickets, left the kids with the grandparents, and scored a stay with a Jesuit friend of ours who lives around the corner from Carnegie Hall.

He urged us to walk up to the reunion. "Thirty blocks!?" I balked and whined, hoping for a taxi. But my frugal beloved pointed out what a nice night it was, so off we went.

And it was nice. Our favorite part was strolling through the Mall in Central Park--a place we had never gone. In fact, we realized how many "New York" things we had never done in the NINE years we worked up there. State of Liberty, Shake Shack, skating in Wollman Rink...oh, we did our share of touristy stuff during our JV years, but it petered out once we started working for real. Because, honestly, who wanted to wander through the Met when you had a stack of papers to grade in your tote bag? Who wanted to ride the swans when we had grocery shopping to do?

So it was a real treat to just savor and enjoy a city that has meant so much to us.

As we wandered through the Mall together--no tote bags or kids in tow, no chores hanging over our heads--we passed by several wedding parties having their picture taken. As we approach our ninth anniversary, it was a beautiful reminder of all we've been through together...and where it all began.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Ago.

What a decade it's been.

This anniversary is always a tough one. For years, I was in New York on September 11, so the entire city took on a tone of haunted reverence and quiet thanksgiving. We all took a collective deep breath together, it seemed.

Now I'm in PA. And while people are certainly reflective and reverent, it's a little different. (For example, my school puts up a huge memorial in the cafeteria with giant photos of the towers in flames, Fr. Judge being carried from the ashes, etc. For me, it's too much. It's too painful.)

So I'll just share my story here, for those of you who read this.

On Friday, 9/7/01, I took the "E" train down to the WTC as I often did after school. I bought myself a smoothie and glanced up at those two testaments to capitalism--catching myself, as I often did in my early twenties, having a "New York" moment. Feeling like an ant, but like an ant that counted in the great scheme of things. I was here. I was doing it. Frank Sinatra would be proud.

The next night, my roommates and I went out to toast a new job. As we walked towards the Jersey City waterfront, we gazed in awe. "Look at the Twin Towers," Amanda sighed. "I mean, we live here! Can you believe it?"

That was the last time we would ever see them.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny--a perfectly gorgeous day. As I stood in the Grove Street PATH station, the WTC train pulled up. It was packed to the gills. I usually got a seat on the 33rd Street train, so I opted to wait. This was at 7:45 a.m.

When I arrived at school (56th & 1st), my colleagues were marching in a circle holding picket signs. "Oh crap," I thought. "Here we go." Our union, the Lay Faculty Association, had finally decided to go on strike. I joined in with my friends and started thinking about how to rearrange my lessons for the week. My freshmen were starting that day, so I felt a little bad for them. What a way to start high school!

Pretty soon, news reporters started arriving to cover the strike. The girls were hanging out the windows, cheering us on and throwing down Starbursts. One of the Spanish teachers started singing, "Pagame, pagame mucho..."

One of the reporters got a call while she was interviewing us. I heard something about "World Trade Center" and "plane." As quickly as the newspeople arrived, they vanished.

"World Trade Center," another teacher said. "My husband has a meeting down there this morning."

I saw our union liaison, Vinny, pacing and talking on his cell. He looked up, his face ashen. He summoned us over. "A plane went into the World Trade Center. The Pentagon has also been hit. They think there's another one heading for the White House."

I started panting. Like a dog. My mind couldn't process it. Were we under attack? My lungs couldn't fill up with enough air--I just kept panting and gasping.

Our principal came out and asked us to put down our picket signs. "We need your help inside," she explained. Without a word, we threw down the signs and entered the building.

I went up to my classroom. A handful of girls were watching "The Net," starring Sandra Bullock, while a stranger sat at my desk. They had no idea.

The upperclassmen, however, must have gotten wind. Within minutes, chaos erupted in the halls. The bell rang to switch classes, and only a few girls came into my room. "Ladies, let's pray, okay? There...was an accident downtown...a plane hit...the towers...and we think it was on purpose."

They stared at me. I stared back, and then started the Sign of the Cross. What the hell else could I do?

Out in the hallways, sobbing and screaming. I looked outside. Jeff, one of my colleagues was racing towards the stairs. "What's happening?" I yelled. He stared at me. "The towers. They're gone."

I stared back. "What?"

"Gone. Fallen."

The panting started again. Gone? I had just seen them two days ago.

My students, overhearing, asked if they could call home. "Of course," I said, and let them go to the office (where, of course, everyone was running.)

Downtown. Nick was downtown. On the Lower East Side, but still...

I ran down the hall to where I knew one of the Holy Child girls would be. Holy Child was the sister school of Nativity, where Nick taught, and several of the graduates came to Cathedral for high school (where I taught.) My plan was to gather those girls and bring them downtown, since I knew where they lived. (Remember, these were the days before emergency evacuation plans. We had never counted on this.)

The first classroom I entered was full of freshmen. Some idiot substitute had turned on the television, which was just a screen of smoke. I looked away and told her I was taking some of the girls home.

"Um, who ARE you?" she asked snidely.

"I'm their teacher."

"Oh, one of the teachers ON STRIKE?"

I pushed past her and beckoned to the girls. They followed me, and together we found their classmates. "Miss, what are we doing?"

"Going home."


Before we left, I stopped into the finance office to call Nativity. A math teacher had just hung up with her brother, who worked in the towers. She was sobbing uncontrollably. "He said...people were jumping out of windows...I told him to go home, just go home..."

We went outside. For some reason I thought we could catch the M15 bus. But once we started walking, it became clear we would be doing just that for a long time.

Straight down 1st Avenue, in the middle of the brilliant blue sky (God, it was a gorgeous day), we saw a large cloud of black smoke.

"Miss, what's that?"

"Um...I think it's a steam cloud or something. Hey, do you girls want to get a soda?"

We went into a little pizza shop and I bought the girls some Cokes. We chatted about their summer, how excited they were for high school, which Nativity boys they thought were cute. To this day, I am so thankful for these girls and the selfish distraction they provided me with. I had no time to freak out or panic. I had to be Miss Kelly.

Somewhere in the twenties, my old high school friend Dan came out of a pub. It was a truly bizarre, random meetup. We hugged and delighted in the happy coincidence. The girls giggled and said they were going to tell Nick. I haven't seen him since.

The further downtown we got, the more our awareness of what had happened grew. SWAT teams grew in number. People walked by us covered in ash and clutching masks. Police barricades started blocking the streets. I continued to distract the girls (and myself) by asking about their families and where they lived.

Around Thompson Square Park, where most of the girls lived, we parted ways. I finally made my way to Nativity, and Nick. The boys had all gone home.

We went back to his apartment on 4th Street. His roommates were gathered in the common room, watching the coverage on TV. Until then, I really had no idea what had happened. I swore I was watching an action movie. This couldn't be real.

Exhausted, I took a nap while Nick and his roommates went to donate blood. I woke up, vaguely remembering this horrific nightmare I'd had. Then I smelled the smoke. And that's when the tears started.

Nick had returned. The hospitals didn't need any blood. We thought that was great news at the time. It wasn't.

That night, we went up on the roof. No sounds but sirens. Horribly eerie for the city that never slept.

Two days later, we returned to work. By that point, the photos of missing people had started appearing in subway stations, on walls of hospitals, throughout the entire city. Within a few weeks, they would turn into memorials.

My faculty gathered in the theater before school to figure out what to do. We were shaken to the core, terrified, and heartbroken. How could we face our students? So many of them had lost family, friends, and neighbors. What could we do?

Teach, as it turns out.

My first period was senior Drama. The girls entered somberly, sat down, and stared at me expectantly.

I took a deep breath. "Okay, ladies. I'm going to give you a choice. If you need to talk, debrief, or just collect your thoughts, we can. Or, I have a whole lesson prepared on Classical Greek Drama. Your choice."

After a pause, one of the girls said, "I don't know about everyone else, but if I talk or think about it one more second, I'll go crazy. Let's just get on with it."

Another girl said, "Yeah, let's just learn something."

And so we did.

God, did we ever learn something.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Magic Up Our Sleeve

If I ever become a superhero (according to my 4-year-old, it's possible!), my origin story would begin here...with a close-up of a bearded, bespectacled man clutching a microphone, counting to three, and shushing an audience full of wide-eyed kiddies.

When I was about four years old, my parents started bringing me to the children's shows at Upper Darby Summer Stage. Every show began with the theme song, "Magic Up Our Sleeve," followed by the founder Harry Dietzler (insert bearded bespectacled man) urging us to count to three to turn off the lights and start the show.

When I was ten, I was finally able to join the Apprentice Program. I took daily classes in acting, improv, dance, music, and speech. I expected to only embrace dance, but was surprised by how much I enjoyed the other classes as well. I especially liked improv--the idea of flying without a net and diving into the unexpected. It taught me how to take risks and bounce back from failure or disappointment.

From there, I did five years of Children's Theater (playing everything from a dwarf to a mermaid) and five years of Mainstage (where my biggest role was Wife #5 in "Joseph"). There were lots of laughs (endless games of "Freeze Frame" in a sizzling courtyard), lots of tears (usually when I didn't get a part I desperately wanted), and of course lots of drama (both onstage and off.) But there were also lots of pleasant surprises--new friends, finding out I was kind of good at Shakespeare, and when Tina Fey (yup, she worked there during college) named me Summer Stager of the Week for IMPROVISING to cover a mistake during "Hans Christian Anderson."

Harry was kind enough to let me join the staff right out of high school, in a variety of roles: intern, assistant choreographer, stage manager, storytelling teacher. I found that as much as I loved performing, I loved sparking that desire in young people even more. When I was 21, he blessed me with the Big Kahuna--my very own Children's Theater show to direct. (It was "Sleeping Beauty," and it was freaking adorable.)

I then took a nine year hiatus during my time in JC. But every summer, I managed to meander back to good ol' Summer Stage to catch a show or just say hi. And when we returned to PA in '07, Harry welcomed me right back. I now teach acting and improv to the Apprentices, and can't believe that I get paid for such a fun, rewarding job.

On our last day of class, I always have a little reflection with the kiddies--asking what surprised them about the past few weeks, and what they will remember. Our kids come from a huge array of backgrounds (seriously, if you want to see a cross-section of every ethnicity and socioeconomic status, stop by Summer Stage. It's an unbelievable testament to arts education as the great bridge builder.) Yet across the board, the answers are always the same:

"All the friends I made."
"How much fun we had."
And my fave...
"That it's okay to be weird."

It's hard to explain this special program to people who haven't experienced it. " it's like a theater camp?"

Um...sort of.

Someone once said, "your talents are God's gifts to you. What you do with those talents are your gifts to God."

Summer Stage teaches children to find their gifts, but even better, how to use them for the greater good.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Clang Clang Clang went the trolley...

I love the trolley. Is that gross?

I'm a big fan of public transportation in general. I will take two trains and a bus if it will keep me off the highway. (Anyone who's ever ridden shotgun with me will understand. I'm a Nervous Nellie behind the wheel...and Distracted Donna if someone's in the passenger seat.) While living in Jersey City, I would sing the praises of the PATH to anyone who would listen. "It's clean! It's quick! It's cheap! I get to NYU in 10 minutes! It only smells a little in the summer...!"

But here in Philly we have the trolley. Growing up, most of my high school friends didn't get their licenses until after graduation, since we could just hop on the trolley to visit each other or go to the Springfield Mall. Yeah, it smelled kind of funky, and the conductors were less than pleasant, but it was cheap, convenient, and got you where you needed to go.

And now we have a trolley stop right down the street. If I worked in the city, it would be a dream commute. (In fact, when the houses on our block were built back in the 30s, most residents commuted into the city...which explains our narrow street/shared driveways/teensy garages.) Two years ago, at the height of my son's "Thomas the Tank Engine" obsession, we spent many an evening sitting at the stop and waiting for the trolleys to pass.

SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) has recently been overhauling the tracks and stations, so our stop is now shiny and new (and lacking that lovely urine aroma.) So yesterday, we took a little trip on the trolley into Media (America's first "fair trade town"), had some burgers at Zac's, wandered around Ten Thousand Villages, and came back in time for naps. KG wasn't too impressed (she just wanted to run up and down the aisles, and Mean Mommy wouldn't allow it), but Teege loved it--announcing "WE'RE ON AN ADVENTURE!" to the other passengers and narrating everything that we saw (through a four-year-old's eyes, a creek becomes a river, some trees become a forest, and a group of stores becomes "a cool city.")

Don't get me wrong--I sure like my comfy Corolla. But for a touch of nostalgia and quality time with the fam, the trolley fits the bill.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Superhero Camp!

I cannot sing the praises of The Creative Living Room highly enough.

For the kid's third birthday, I wanted to do something special...particularly because his little sister was almost done cooking, and life as he (and we) knew it would never be the same. (Little did any of us know what a blessing KG would be...I was just wracked with guilt over how Teege would deal with sharing us. Who knew that he would become the best big brother ever?) We toyed with the idea of the usual "bounce house" places, but our Teege is a little on the shy side, and those places can be kind of alarming.

So I checked out TCLR, a lovely little place in Swarthmore, which offers all kinds of arts classes for children and adults. Allison, the teaching artist, custom-designed a dinosaur party for Teege. She led them through an hour and a half of music, creative drama, art projects, and games. We topped it off with pizza in their art room and cupcakes that my sister and I had baked. People still talk about was kind of amazing. :)

When KG was born, I took her to their "Goo-Goo Gang" classes--a morning of music and activities for newborns, with an important dose of mommy-bonding. There were also "special guests": a baby sign-language expert, Reiki practitioner, infant masseuse, etc. One of the other moms started teaching an adult ballet class at TCLR (see earlier post), which kicked my butt in the best way possible this past year.

During the summer, most classes are on hiatus, so they offer a bouquet of week-long camps with various themes--Princesses, Music & Art, Animals, Greek Myths, Pirates & Mermaids, you name it. Teege just finished a week at Superhero Camp, and loved every second of it. They created their own superhero identities on the first day (he was "Starfish Man," with the power of the sea!), did super yoga, had super snacks (i.e. blueberry power smoothies), told stories, made up songs, went on a field trip to the local police station (to visit the REAL supers), and had a scavenger hunt on the last day looking for the "Litter Caper."

This place ROCKS.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Pool Yourself Together

I'm sitting in what has become my unofficial uniform of the summer--gold Old Navy flip flops and a slightly damp 2-piece bathing suit (modest tankini and skirted bottom, a favorite choice post-pregnancy). Out back, three beach towels are flung over the clothesline. It's official--we're a pool fam.

Oh dear Lord no, we haven't achieved Clark Griswold's dearly held dream of a pool in the backyard. We joined the local swim club this year.

The DH was a bit skeptical when I first broached the subject several years ago. To a born-and-bred Cali boy, the whole concept was a bit puzzling (especially since the Pacific Ocean was just a few blocks away.) Add to that a significant chunk of change required for membership, and one can understand my beloved's apprehension.

But our new neighbors urged us to join the waiting list when we moved to the 'hood, and "Mare" (the mayor of the block who called everyone "hon") offered to be our sponsor. So when our name came up this year, we plunged right in.

And it has been FABULOUS.

The swim club has become our favorite place to go when the kids are rammy, we feel imprisoned by the air conditioning, or we just want to escape for a bit. Since we don't go "downdashore" (unlike most Delco/Philly peeps, we're trekking up to Maine in August), it's so nice to just take a quick dip, catch some rays, and be back by lunchtime. It's even served as a pick-me-up when we're tired or just "meh" (i.e. last month I received some pretty disappointing news, and instead of moping around the house, we packed up the kids and jumped in the pool.)

No better cure for the summertime blues than a little sun and chlorine. :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fasting from Facebook

Several years ago, I was writing for an online magazine (which, sadly, folded due to this crummy financial fiasco we're in). One of my blog entries, entitled "Why I <3 FB," was a big fat valentine to my latest obsession--ye olde Facebook. I think my basic gist was how wonderful it was to reconnect with old friends, stay in touch without having to commit to a long-winded phone call, how funny is that this person knows that person and my-oh-my how flat is our world, blahblahblah.

That was then.

What once began as a fun little distraction during the Writers' Strike became a sick obsession. True, I never let myself enter the world of FarmVille or MafiaWars (or Bejeweled Blitz or CafeWorld or anything else that the "Hide" button was invented for). But I started to stalk. And compare. And despair.

And judge.

It's one thing to bump into an old friend or distant relative at the store, play the catch up game, glance politely at their cell-phone pix of offspring or the new house, and go your separate ways feeling congenial and happily surprised by the run-in. It's another to be swamped by their (often ill-informed) politics, their (embarrassing and cringe-worthy) attempts at humor, their (usually inane) minute-by-minute account of their day, their (AFFIRM MY BRILLIANT PARENTING/FABULOUS LIFESTYLE/CHOICE OF PARTNER!) parade of photos.

Oh, believe me, I am NOT innocent. But I found myself competing with and getting enraged by people that, in real life, I could care less about. On the other hand, I discovered more than I ever needed to know about people I actually liked...which sort of dampened my affinity for them, in some cases.

So, despite my very mixed feelings about Catholicism this year (see: most recent Grand Jury Report down here in Philly), I decided to play along and give up FB for Lent. I granted myself access on Sundays; after all, I don't have everyone's email accounts anymore, so there were times I genuinely had log on to set up a play date or find out where my next Book Club meeting was taking place (and more on my fabulous BC in a future blog!)

And I found...immense freedom and joy. I'm not exaggerating. Instead of comparing my life to everyone else's, I lived it. Instead of documenting every second of my children's development, I reveled in it. And instead of crowing to the world how much I love my husband, I told him.

Tomorrow is Easter. And I may just stick to this happy new habit.

Now off to play Easter Bunny...and I am going to actively fight the urge to splash pictures of my brilliant baskets all over FB!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

If You Can't Take The Heat, Get Your *** Outta the Classroom

Much has been said about this Natalie Munroe, a teacher at Central Bucks (a local high school here in PA). She was suspended with pay for blogging about how her students were "lazy whiners" (and that was probably the nicest thing she said about them in the rant.)

Two camps have formed--one which vilifies her for attacking her students, one which applauds her for "telling it like it is."

As a fellow teacher, my initial reaction was sympathy and fear. I certainly understand what a frustrating job we have. I also have a FB account and (obviously) a blog, both of which I treat with extreme caution.


When I did a little digging (and, granted, I don't work with this woman, I've never seen her teach, I have no knowledge of the school community of Central Bucks), I found that she's only been teaching since 2006. In one of her blogs, she writes about how "the students get worse and worse every year." Honey...four and a half years and you're already talking like one of those burned out 30-year-veterans bitterly chugging coffee in the faculty room? Not okay.

Second...EVERYTHING you post online is public. EVERYTHING. And as a teacher, sorry, but you relinquish (to a certain extent) your right to free speech. You are expected to model appropriate behavior, both in and out of the classroom (and now in cyberspace). When I was a younger teacher, my students constantly hounded me for info about my private life. While some of my easily flattered colleagues gladly volunteered such details, I would joke "Oh, I just crawl under my desk every afternoon and grade papers until you guys come back the next morning." They did NOT need to know what I did (even though it was hardly scintillating.) It just wasn't their business! I remember once mentioning that I liked the Cure, and a student perked up and said, "Wow, you have like this whole secret life!" Um, no...I just don't use the classroom as my personal sounding board.

Third...what I've read of Ms. Munroe's posts are dishearteningly negative and mean-spirited. One of the first requirements of teaching should be liking kids--quirks and all. I've certainly had disagreements with students, or personality differences, but I have honestly cared for each and every one of my students over the past thirteen years. They have inspired, challenged, and intrigued me. I miss them terribly when they graduate. One of the best things about FB has been the ability to see former students grow into amazing young women and men...and I'm humbled to think I had a tiny part in their journey. True, I've never taught in public school, and I'm sure there are challenges I've never dreamed of in that realm. But what I do know that wherever I've taught--from downtown Jersey City to the Upper East Side to bucolic Chester County--is that kids are kids, and need to be heard, loved and supported. That means different things, depending on the individual. It could mean a quiet conversation after school, providing a forum for them to shine, or numerous emails/calls home to a parent. But it is our job as teachers to find out what will work, and try our best. And if it doesn't work, you make peace with it and get on with your life. Maybe you complain with your colleagues in the break room, or hash it out over happy hour. But you do NOT blast the kids in a public forum.

I hope Ms. Munroe can learn from this experience and become a better teacher because of it. Or maybe it's time for her to move on.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Just me and you, Mommy..."

Back in September (has it been that long since I've blogged? Um, yes. Suffice it to say that my return to work, a.k.a. leaving Kelly Bells, was much harder than expected, and I spent a lot of nights wallowing in self-pity, regret, and Oreos rather than working it out through my blog. But I digress...), I decided to sign the Teege up for a sports class. I thought hey, he likes to run around like a maniac, why not? Could be fun!

Or could be a colossal waste of money and negative energy.

Teege was much more interested in sitting on basketballs and announcing "I AM IRON MAN!" instead of shooting hoops or making a soccer goal. Which would have been fine...but he was the ONLY ONE. The other kids, egged on by psychotic soccer moms-in-training, tore around the gym performing their drills with manic precision. Teege would wander around aimlessly, bellowing "I'M THIRSTY" and wind up in my lap.

After suffering the hairy eyeballs from the other moms and getting upset beyond reason that Teege wasn't exactly loving it, NR and I decided to quit. The kid is three, for God's sakes. But how else to keep him away from the TV on Saturdays?

That's when we decided to start "dating."

Several years ago I attended Speak Up, a forum for teens, teachers, and parents to discuss drugs, pressure, sex, all that good stuff. At the closing address, one dad recommended "dating" your children. You can't just ignore your kids and then expect them to magically abide by your rules. Instead, dating can lay a healthy foundation for mutual respect, open communication, and ultimately (hopefully) positive behavior and good choices. So he suggested spending quality one-on-one time with your kid whenever possible--beyond just showing up at their games or required school events.

So on Saturdays, Nick and I rotate "date time" with the Teege. One of us will take him out for something special, without the other parent or Kelly. Sometimes it's an actual event--like a children's theater show, a Home Depot kids workshop (he's produced a picture frame, spice rack, and battery organizer), or a movie. Other times it's simply lunch at McDonald's, or hanging out in the kids' section at Borders for a while.

Teege absolutely loves it, and we do too. When we tell him what our special outing is going to be that day, his face lights up, and he'll say, "Just me and you, Mommy (or Daddy)?" At bedtime, he'll often want to talk about whatever we did, and when we'll get to do it again.

I know once he gets older and activities start to litter the schedule, these times may be limited. But I sure hope it's "just me and Teege" for as long as possible.