Monday, December 17, 2012


What is there to say?

As a parent, I have cried numerous times over the weekend. Picking up my son's dinosaurs and Legos, thinking of the toys those children left behind. Sharing chocolate-chip pancakes with my kiddoes on Saturday morning, thinking of the weekend those children never woke up to. Singing "I Won't Grow Up" from "Peter Pan" with my daughter, thinking of those children who will, indeed, never grow up.

As a teacher, I was shaken to the core on my commute this morning. I replayed numerous nightmare scenarios in my mind, imagining all the points of entry a gunman would have into our school. Mentally plotting out hiding spots for my students in the various classrooms and spaces I teach in. Thinking of what I would possibly to say to them in such a situation. What I did tell them this morning was that I would protect them by any means necessary; that they would be safe.

As a citizen, I am outraged. There are so many questions, which will never be answered. What was Adam's motive? Why an elementary school? Why did his mother have all those guns? Why is it so easy to buy a weapon (and multiple ones at that)? Why don't the mentally ill have better access to health care?

And the worst...why did God allow this to happen?

As we enter into the holiday season, I am not seeking any answers. Instead, I am fully embracing and welcoming the usual Christmas craziness. I will not complain. I will not get stressed. I will accept life for the big beautiful mess that it is, and I will squeeze my precious children very tightly through it all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Wishing Your Life Away

LOVE Park in Philadelphia, which is right next to my school, has been transformed into "Christmas Village." Basically it's a winter wonderland of vendors--some selling cool stuff (authentic Russian nesting dolls, hand-dipped chocolate-covered fruit), and most selling crap (Philly snowglobes, Liberty Bell mugs).

I am obsessed. I walk through every day and have to buy something: a cone of roasted cashews, a lavender sachet for my Secret Santa, you name it. But something caught my eye the other day that not only caused me to stop for a moment, but gave me something to ponder the whole ride home until bedtime.

There is a "Wishing Wall" set up at the entrance (you can see it on the left in the pic above). For $4, you buy an ornament, write your "wish" on it, and hang it on the wall for all to see. ($1 goes to the Make-A-Wish foundation.)

I paused for a while and read all of the ornaments. Some were hilarious ("TO MEET ONE DIRECTION PLEEEEZZZZ!"); others were painfully poignant ("for mom to beat cancer"). All, however, naturally had a sense of longing, hope, and faith.

I started thinking about what my wish would be for this year. Obviously there are the usual general wishes for the common good (peace, joy, etc.). But personal wishes?
I was happily stumped. All of my wishes have come true.

At the risk of sounding's true. I have an amazing husband, two beautiful kidlets, a happy home life, good friends, a job I love, health...everyone I love seems to be in a good place.

Is it just age, I wondered? Am I just more content, at 36, then I was 10 or 15 years ago?

So I did a little experiment on the way home. I tried to think back to the year 1997--a year that profoundly changed my life, for a number of reasons--to see what exactly I would have wished for, had there been a "Wishing Wall" in my life that Christmas... find a job that fits my professional and personal needs be home with my baby girl
2009...that TJ will adjust well to his new brother or sister start acting again not miss Loyola (and our lives in NYC/Jersey City) so dreadfully
2006...for a healthy baby know what "the next step" should be find peace in my new job get out of the city be home in PA for Christmas be with my fiancee during the holidays know what the future holds be a better teacher fall in love be a better person

It's kind of an interesting view your life through the lens of desire, and observe how those hopes changed (or were exceeded beyond your wildest imagination!).

I couldn't ask for anything else this Christmas. I am truly blessed. So I guess my wish this year is related to to channel this joy and contentment into somehow paying it forward.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sowing my (Quaker) oats

I'm teaching at a Quaker school this year. On the one hand, it's like coming home--I attended a Quaker middle school, so I was used to Meeting for Worship, striving for simplicity, "peaceful resolution to conflicts" and all that jazz.

However, just like going from attending a Jesuit school to teaching in one, I'm finding that when you preach, what you practice suddenly makes a lot more sense--simply by virtue of the fact that you're constantly examining your mindset in the classroom. How do I impart Quaker values to my students? How do I exhibit these values myself? How do they imbue my teaching?

One of the main principles of the Society of Friends is finding "that of God in everyone." Easy to say, tough to do. But at one of our first new faculty orientations, a speaker told us, "You were all brought here because of the light we saw in you. It is our hope and expectation that you will strive to find the same light in the students you teach." A veteran teacher shared that when she approaches a difficult parent-teacher conference, she often reminds herself of this challenge. "I try to remember that these parents are honestly doing the very best they can with what they have," she said. "Maybe I don't agree, but that's not for me to judge. It's my job to find a way to work within that framework."

Us newbies recently gathered again, with a month or so of school under our belts, to check in and discuss how we saw Quakerism being played out here. I shared what struck me about a recent faculty meeting. We were discussing some senior boys who were being, well...typical senior boys. The conversation started getting a bit heated, but our director stepped in with a challenge: "I hear what you all are saying. But I need to ask you all to look for the good in these young men as well. Let's try to find what will work for them, to make them the best versions of themselves they can be." There was an audible silence in the room, as everyone took a breath and reminded themselves to find the light in these boys. And the process of actively looking through a new lens, I have seen some glimmers since.

It's a good reminder to look for the light in others not just at a cozy little Quaker school, but in the real world as well. Honestly, isn't everyone doing the best they can with what they have? That may not fit our definition of "best," but who are we to judge?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 Years Ago.

Last year, I finally wrote down my memories of 9/11 and the days immediately after. Today, in the spirit of healing and peace, I share an email I wrote the weekend after the attacks:

"My boyfriend lives on the Lower East Side, about 3 miles from the Trade Center. On his roof, he has what used to be a breathtaking view--the entire NYC skyline. Unfortunately, the prevailing image these days is the smoke coiling through the sky.

We went on the roof Friday night at 7 with one little candle. After fighting the breeze, we finally managed to keep it lit. Surveying the other rooftops and street below, it appeared that we were the only ones who had received the vigil e-mail.

But a few people must have seen us up there, because we slowly started seeing others gather on their roofs. We all smiled and nodded at each other--unheard of in New York.

The waiters and chefs from the Middle Eastern restaurant across the street even stopped serving for a few moments, to step outside and bow their heads. It was a beautiful sight.

Later that evening, we were walking by Bryant Park in midtown. A shrine had been set up with hundreds of candles, but Thursday's rain had evidently put them all out. A young man hurrying by (no one ever strolls in New York) stopped, paused to look at the darkened shrine, and took out his lighter. He spent about 15 minutes patiently lighting and relighting the candles.

Bryant Park was to have hosted "Fashion Week" last week--there were tents and runways set up for the event. It has been transformed into a volunteer recruiting/supply drop-off center. I've also seen many bars/restaurants with "Emergency Supply Drop-Off" signs in their windows.

On Sunday, our church in Chelsea was filled to capacity. People actually sat in the aisles and stood in the back for the entire 2-hour service.

During the homily, the priest said it's easy to ask, "Where was God on Tuesday?"

I certainly can't answer that. But after seeing events like the ones I've described, the generosity of my students in giving of their time and supplies for the victims, and the hundreds of collection centers and shelters springing up in Manhattan, a city that once seemed so cold and unfriendly, in just a few short days...I can certainly say I've seen the face of God a thousand times over."

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Last Wednesday, I woke up to a beautiful summer morning, anxious to start my new job downtown. I kissed my family goodbye and strolled down the block to my easy new commute--a trolley and el ride into the heart of Center City.

Little did I know how quickly life would change in just a few hours.

After a pleasant morning of meeting my new colleagues, learning about Quakerism, and enjoying a fabulous lunch at Marathon, I strolled through Love Park towards the el station. I pulled out my phone to see that my aunt had called (who lives down the street from me). "Don, it's Aunt Marilyn. I have Rocco, but please call me back. It's an emergency."


Upon returning her call, I found out that our neighbor's house (which is attached to ours) had caught on fire. I texted Nick, my dad, my other neighbors, anyone I could think of who might be able to beat me home. It was the longest ride of my life.

When I finally got off, I was greeted by fire engines, cop cars, and the sickening smell of smoke--a smell which triggered horrible flashbacks to another sunny September day many years ago. My neighbor Sandi (whose house had caught fire) hugged me, sobbing and apologizing. She had simply put on a Crock Pot and gone out for a few hours. Their house was now completely destroyed.

Piecing together the story from others, here is what happened. A neighbor heard Rocco and another dog barking like he had never heard before. When he looked outside, he saw smoke pouring out of Sandi's air conditioner. He called 911 just as an off-duty cop was driving up our street and saw the same thing. My aunt immediately notified the cops that we had a dog, and they got in through a window to rescue him. They said there was so much smoke and soot in our house they couldn't see the poor little guy.

My dad and aunt escorted me past the insurance adjusters, who were already swarming like vultures. We walked through the house, which reeked of smoke and was covered in soot. Immediately my eyes started burning and my throat closed up. I tried to pull myself together to call our insurance company, who said they could probably get someone out "a week from Thursday." !?! As Nick dealt with them from his cell phone across town, I was asked to sit down with some amazing Red Cross volunteers who gave me some advice (get Rocco to the vet, wash any clothes you can with dish soap), and provided us with a debit card to get some groceries and toiletries--since we were NOT to return to the house to inhabit anytime soon.

A restoration company showed up and told us to take out 2 weeks' worth of clothing which they would do a rush cleaning job on. 2 weeks...? That seemed a little extreme, but we grabbed what we could and set off to camp out at my parents for the night.

In the interim, we traveled down to North Carolina for a wedding--and while the wedding was absolutely gorgeous and wonderful, getting there and back was a nightmare due to insane flight delays. Teege and Kelly were troopers, but it took a toll on all of us after an already crazy week.

We didn't get back until 9:30 Monday night (oh, and we were all starting school the next day), so we stayed at my folks' one more night. The next evening, we moved into the lovely Residence Inn in Berwyn, which is geographically inconvenient but clean and quiet. We also get a hot breakfast every day, which helps a lot. The kids keep calling it "an inventure."

Family and friends have been great--dropping off extra clothes for the kids, care packages, dinner and playdates--and both of our schools have been extremely supportive. Still, we're terribly homesick and anxious to just be back in our home, which won't be for another week at this point while the restoration crew does their thing (air scrubbers, sanitizing everything, washing ALL of our clotes/curtains/linens/etc., replacing carpets, repainting, etc., etc., etc.)

In the midst of all the stress, we keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are. So we have a smelly house for a few weeks. So we'll have to deal with construction next door for the next 6-8 months. So we had to take TJ's first day of kindergarten picture in a hotel instead of outside our house. So what. We didn't lose anything--or, more importantly, anyone. Nobody did.

We just can't wait to get back home.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Oh boy.
There used to hang a poster in my classroom that stated "Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone." I have always, always encouraged my students to speak their minds and speak them well--and that everyone has a right to be heard, if not agreed with. For example, my parents are pretty conservative, and I tend to lean left in most of my philosophies. But I love my parents, and they love me, and we just sort of agree to disagree. We listen to each other, and often tease each other for our differences of opinions, but ultimately know that we digress. And that's OKAY.
So when Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, first stood up for what he believed in by stating his opinion against gay marriage, I thought fine. While I completely disagree with him, he's entitled to his beliefs. It's not like he was preventing homosexuals from working in his restaurants or buying his food. My refusing to eat his delicious food is not going to change his mind.
But then I find that he has given quite a bit of money to blatantly anti-gay organizations. Now this was a different matter. I CAN choose to put my money where my mouth is--and as a supporter of marriage equality AND tolerance, I can say no more Chick-Fil-A for my family. (And I LOVE their food.)
There has been a great deal of name-calling and fighting in the land of FB on this matter. (FB, for all its wonderful ways of connecting people, unfortunately has also brought out the armchair activist and passive-aggressive politico in many of us.) Lots of right-wing fire and brimstone spouting a la: "you think you can bring down a righteous Christian organization by not eating their chicken nuggets? HEE-HAW in yo' devil-courtin' face!" Likewise, my liberal friends are calling Dan Cathy all kinds of nasty names.
Well, I don't expect to bring down this organization. Nor will I picket outside their restaurants or post nasty memes on my FB wall. But I learned from a young age that you can choose which businesses you can support, simply based on principle. My parents boycotted Breyer's Ice Cream and Scott paper products for years, after the companies were sold and taken over by corporations that fired many of their longtime local employees. My dad had taught the sons of some of these workers in Chester, so in a quiet show of support, our family stopped buying these products. Similarly, when my husband was coaching basketball in New York, he refused to let his boys play in a Nike tournament due to their sweatshop practices (and calmly explained to the boys his reasons.)
We make choices every day about what kind of people we want to be, and what we want our children to be. My parents taught me a quiet, personal, respectful way to protest in the form of boycotting. I will do the same for my kids, too. And in this case, I believe the truly CHRISTIAN principle of loving our brothers and sisters is not being supported by Mr. Cathy.
But I sure will miss those addictive little chicken nuggets. :(

Monday, July 23, 2012

The 900-lb. Gorilla

Can all the good a man does in his lifetime be erased by one bad decision?
That's the question I keep pondering throughout this entire Penn State debacle. Early yesterday morning, the bronze statue of Joe Paterno was dismantled. There was much debate over the fate of this sculpture. Some editorials in the Inquirer suggested leaving the statue, but turning his head the other way--to signify his apparent indifference to the Sandusky scandal. Others suggested adding a small figure of a weeping boy. But the university president ultimately chose to remove the figure completely, stating that its presence was ultimately divisive.
I have no problem with this for several reasons. One, I'm not entirely sure why anyone deserves a statue while they're still living--it seems like premature canonization (and I couldn't help but think "golden calf" every time I saw this image.) Second, as a mother and educator, I say good riddance. This man, while not a perpetrator himself, certainly seemed to hide one for quite some time--thus putting dozens of children in harm's way.
What gets me is the slightly disturbing reaction from PSU alums. Now, I am not an alum myself, so I don't completely understand/appreciate the reverence people feel for this institution and man. But I read one account of a woman weeping and wailing, "The outside world doesn't understand what we're feeling. Our hearts are breaking."
You want to talk hearts breaking? May I point you towards the twenty young men whose innocence and childhoods were stolen from them? The mothers who are ruing the day they ever let their sons near Jerry Sandusky, thinking they had found a strong father figure? The countless other victims of abuse who will always remain silent, out of fear, shame, or despair?
I'm aware that JoePa was a dedicated coach, teacher, philanthropist, etc. I feel awful for his wife and children, and the legacy that is now left in ruins. But I also feel that it is dangerous to let anyone--no matter how much good they do--rise to such a position of power that they start to feel and act as though they are infallible. We are all human; no one is above reproach.
And the saddest part matter how many people are fired, how many penalties the NCAA imposes, or how many times JoePa's name and image are erased from buildings or plaques, none of this will take back what Jerry Sandusky did to those children.
Now THAT breaks MY heart.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring Break, Baby!!

I am coming off a blissful, slightly indulgent 11-day spring break. My break did not align with NR's this year, which meant it also did not align with the kiddies. And while I was extremely jealous that he got to spend a whole week at home with them, I guiltily admit that I loved, Loved, LOVED having so much time to myself.

The first half was a whirlwind of "ohmigodthekidsarenthomewhatallcanigetdone?" Allow me to take stock of what I got done--if for no other reason to see it in print and congratulate myself:

1) Cleaning. While we have broken down and hired (gulp) a cleaning woman to help us out once a month, our very small house gets dirty in about three seconds. Legos, crumbs, and half-eaten doggie chews seem to self-reproduce overnight. And it must be the Irishwoman in me that gets a sick pleasure out of snapping on the rubber gloves and furiously attacking the toilet.

2) Readying the house for Easter. I get that annoying "Family Fun" magazine each month, which crows about "ridiculously easy!" crafts and goodies that require an engineering degree and certificate from Le Cordon Bleu to execute successfully. So when the holidays approach, I am elated if I can at least throw up a new (ready-made) wreath on the door, change the garden flag, and scatter some cheesy crap on the mantel. This year, I was bound and determined to put up some damn paper Easter eggs in the window. You know, the kind every teacher usually hangs up? Well, they are nowhere to be found these days. NR kindly tracked down some spring-related window clings for me...meekly apologizing that they weren't exactly "Easter". Whatever. I got the baskets ready which, truth be told, were probably 60% for the children and 40% for NR and I to devour after they go to bed.

3) Grading for two days straight. Like, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., x2. Take THAT, jerks who smugly surmise "how NICE it must be to get ALL THOSE DAYS OFF."

4) Editing my wardrobe. After 2 pregnancies, I had clothes in 3 different sizes and still a few maternity items floating around. Not to mention questionable purchases of old, such as the size 14 jeans I bought in a weepy, sleep-deprived haze from the Jersey City Target 2 weeks after birthing TJ, because "well that's JUST how my body LOOKS now, I GUESS!!!", and a funkadelic retro turtleneck that used to be my "paaarty" college...fourteen years ago. I managed to cull 3 trash bags worth of stuff. You're welcome, Purple Heart.

5) Braving the crickets and cleaning out the basement. Bad mommy threw out 2 bags of toys. Nope, did not donate. Nope, did not post on Freecycle. Threw. Out. I doubt very much that even the neediest child would have any use for an armless Green Lantern procured from a Happy Meal 3 years ago.

Once that was said and done, I got to "do me" (isn't that what the kids are saying these days? Or at least the Kardashian Banshees?). I got my haircut. Got a FACIAL. Did some shopping. Baked 2 loaves of banana bread. Took a yoga class.

But best of all, I got to really revel in being a mommy. Because I was rested, focused, and recharged, I had the energy each night to play with them, read a million stories, and ENJOY the bedtime routines (instead of rushing through them because of the work hanging over my head, or the exhaustion/stress I'm battling.)

There are numerous blogs being posted all over FB--mommy confessionals, I guess you would call them--about what a bad job they think they're doing, and how they're trying to be okay with that. So I guess this is confessional too, of a sort. I got to stay home for a week and take care of myself and my home. But dammit if that didn't recharge my mommy batteries as well.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

"Garnet and Gray, we hail today..."

Just two years ago, I was writing about the closing of North Catholic, the scrappy little school in northeast Philly that I student taught at.

Never, ever did I think I would be writing a similar post about my own alma mater.

The Archdiocese of Philly just announced its plans to close 44 grade schools and 4 high schools--Archbishop Prendergast High School for Girls being one of them.

Now, I didn't LOVE high school. I had a pretty okay experience. I wasn't a standout in any way; I found my happy little niche with the choir and theater kids, excelled in English and Spanish, limped along in Math and Science, feigned enthusiasm at the pep rallies, had some great teachers (my junior English teacher, who actually made Beowulf palatable) and some pretty awful ones (one of whom spent the better part of sophomore History dishing dirt on her fellow teachers and telling us about the gun she kept in her glove compartment), and made some great friends that I am still close with today.

But there were things that made Prendie special, and that is what makes me sad--that other girls won't get to experience that. "Music on the Stairs" signaled the official start of Christmas break. The choir would gather on the grand staircase of the main entrance to school, and serenade the students with Christmas carols as they left for vacation. The month before graduation, you could "kiss a senior goodbye" by sending them a Hershey Kiss candy-gram (and being a girls' school, it was just a cute little tradition instead of something fraught with romantic drama and angst). And we were blessed with a gorgeous chapel--basically the size of a small church--which had served the children of St. Vincent's Orphanage, the original residents of the building. My friend Erin and I started attending the lunchtime Communion services senior year, and it provided a blessed few moments of peace and serenity in the midst of the usual high school nonsense. (I would also pop into the chapel alone on occasion when I just needed some quiet. For a teenager, this haven of sacred silence was literally a Godsend.)

And finally, the bell tower was the Holy Grail for bad-asses--strictly off-limits, and punishable by suspension if caught trespassing. The day before graduation, my friends Jenn, Trish and myself managed to climb up and paint our initials on the wall. I ran home and breathlessly confessed to my mom, a fellow Prendie alum, about our sordid crime. She feigned anger, and then quietly gave me a high five when my dad wasn't looking.

High school definitely wasn't the best time of my life. But it was pretty good, all things considered. I wore my garnet and gray uniform with a sheepish pride, and my heart swelled with mixed emotions on graduation day when we sang our alma mater for the final time: "Garnet and Gray we hail today, girls of Prendergast High..."

And now, girls who have had this tradition in their families for generations will have to find a new home. There are options, sure. But I know I was happy to share this bond with my sister, mom, and godmother, and also know how much I took it for granted. Prendie stood like a stalwart beacon on the hill at Lansdowne Avenue and Garrett Road; I just always assumed it would be around. As did thousands of families who are now wondering where their children will go next fall. As did 1700 teachers in the Archdiocese, who are painfully uncertain what will become of their jobs come spring.

It's a strange time for the Church. There is no choice but to downsize and consolidate; I get it. But I do hope it remembers that "pro-life" means "ALL life," and that they do everything within their power to help these families and teachers who have sacrificed so much for Catholic education.