Tag Archives: role models

Three Little Boys

It seems as though everyone is posting about the attacks at the Boston Marathon yesterday. Most of us can’t erase the images, and the unfolding events, from our minds. What I will remember the most when I think about this day are three young children–all boys, all strangers.

Patriot’s Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts. If you live here, it’s a significant date on the calendar. Patriots Day marks an unofficial start to spring, the beginning of a week of school vacation, an opportunity to reflect on the intellectual and philosophical spirit and emerging national identity that heralded  the Revolutionary War, and a chance to celebrate two beloved athletic events: a Red Sox home game, and the Boston Marathon, which ends less than a mile from Fenway Park.

I’m a marathon runner myself. I’ve covered those 26.2 miles on foot many times, and crossed the finish line in front of the Boston Public Library twice. As many people have written in the past two days, the Marathon has become not only a premiere international race, but also an individual and collective social action effort. Many of the runners making their way down Boylston Street at the time of the explosions had entered the race to end cancer,  AIDS,  homelessness, hunger, and other medical and social causes. They were not  celebrity athletes; they were the “regular” people who find time to train on weekends, early in the mornings, and late in the day. They slogged through the snowy streets this winter, building up their stamina. They sent letters and posted pledge sheets, collecting donations in the name of loved ones. They stood at the starting line on the main street of Hopkinton yesterday morning, exhilarated and a little anxious as they thought about the next four hours of their day.

Most of the spectators standing along those four blocks had been there for hours. They had seen the champions speed past. Now they were watching the 9- and 10-minute milers in their final push to the blue and gold marker painted on the street. They cheered, calling out last words of encouragement, sharing the moment of personal victory for each of those people, enjoying a crisp spring day–that is the spirit of this marathon.

Some of the folks  along those last few blocks–Hereford, Gloucester, and Fairfield Streets– made their way into the Marathon scene after leaving the baseball game, which had just ended. The Husband and I were in the midst of that  group. We had enjoyed a spectacular day watching our team from a pair of terrific seats above the first base line. Part of the joy of the game was provided by our seatmates–a little boy named David and his father. Although we had never met, we all subscribed to the commonly accepted assumption that anyone who shares your row at Fenway is, at least for those few hours, a friend. David is a first-grader. He has the face of countless children who fall in love with baseball for both the joy of the game and the mystique of the ball park. David’s father and I talked a bit between innings and during the slow moments. We expressed our shared devotion to our sons. The dad agreed with me completely when I said that The Boy is my most important investment. We discussed schools, vacations, and family values. David ate a hot dog, sipped on a large soda in a commemorative cup, and smiled shyly when I asked him questions. He kept track of the pitching changes, the outs, and the batting order.

When the game ended, The Husband and I decided that our best plan was to walk from Fenway through the Back Bay and over the bridge into Cambridge, where we would take the Red Line to the commuter train back to our home in the suburbs. In order to execute that plan, we had to get across the Marathon course at Beacon Street. Runners were streaming past us, with a little more than half a mile to go to the finish line.  We stopped for a few minutes to watch them before joining the throngs that were descending into the subway station at Kenmore Square. I held onto The Husband’s coat sleeve to keep from getting separated from him as we made our way through the crowded tunnel under the street and out to the other side. Not long after we had begun our walk across the bridge, we heard the first blast. It was about four blocks behind us. A huge cloud of white-gray smoke rose above the buildings. Everyone stopped and turned to look. People offered their first ideas: a commemorative cannon, a traffic accident, an exploding manhole cover, a burst gas pipe…then the second bomb went off. More smoke drifted up. At that moment, we knew something was wrong. Within minutes, sirens sounded from every direction. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and motorcycles screamed past us. For several minutes, we stood on the bridge watching, although there was really nothing to see. We checked Twitter, news websites, and e-mail. Then we walked on, looking for a place that we could see a TV.

We entered one of the MIT bar/restaurants just as the first camera coverage was being aired. The place wasn’t very crowded, so we were able to find a seat. The bartender turned up the volume on the television and as the reports came in, everyone stopped talking to watch and listen. Those images–dazed runners, spectators covered in blood, emergency responders pushing wheelchairs and gurneys–were almost impossible to process. We had been right there. We had heard the blasts. We were still less than a mile away.

More and more people began to fill the restaurant. Many of them had been walking back from the game, or from watching the race. They had also heard the explosions and wanted to get more information. I turned around to see a little boy with his eyes wide and his mouth open, staring at the screen. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. I’m sure he had come in with an adult, but there was no one standing with him. I said, “are you OK, watching this??” He looked at me for a few seconds and nodded his head. “This looks really scary, doesn’t it?” I continued. “You know, there are a lot of grownups over there helping everyone. They’ll take care of the people who are hurt.” I didn’t know what else to say.

A few hours later, The Husband and I were safely back at home, still trying to absorb the events and watching more news. When it was revealed that one of the lives lost had been that of an eight-year-old boy, my heart sank even more than it had earlier in the day. A little boy with his family, enjoying one of the great, wholesome, community-wide celebrations in our city. A little kid, watching people accomplish their personal goals, modeling perseverance, motivation, and the human spirit.

Three little boys, surrounded by adults. What did David and his father talk about when they found out that this horror occurred a few minutes after the baseball game ended? What did that child in the bar think, and who else helped him make sense what he had seen on television? What happens to a family literally shattered on a street in the midst of a civic celebration that suddenly turns into a war zone?

I can’t stop thinking of the poem that Nikki Giovanni wrote in the aftermath of September 11. It’s called “Desperate Acts.”

Its not easy to understand

Why angry men commit
Desperate acts

Its not easy to understand
How some dreams become
Nightmares

Those who wish
And those who need
Often feel alone

Its easy to strike back
But hard to understand

She’s right. It isn’t easy to understand. But we need to teach about understanding. For David, for the little boy in the bar, for the children who knew the child who died. We are the grownups. We are their grownups.

Coming Unraveled

Did you know that the words ravel and unravel mean the same thing? Merriam-Webster explains that they are both transitive verbs that relate to the process of separating the strands or threads in a woven material. When I checked the dictionary before I started this post, I was hoping  and expecting that ravel meant the opposite of unravel. Part of my interest was poetic; I wanted the perfect label for the topic of this post. Also, though, it just seemed right and logical that if one word starts with un-, it should mean the opposite of the root word that follows the prefix. Once again, the English language baffles us.

I wanted a word that means “pull together.” I hoped that ravel was the correct one. The best word for my reflections today is probably knit, which is ironic, because I can’t. Knit, that is. But the word carries so many relevant connotations that I’m going to leave it there. It’s the metaphor I want, after all.

About five years ago, my friend Carol made me a pair of socks. They are among the most treasured gifts anyone has ever given me. Part of their value certainly rests in the fact that Carol died, too soon and too young, more than a year ago. But whenever I wear those socks, they bring her right back. I love those socks because the best gifts we can ever give are the ones that show how well we know someone. Carol and I worked together for ten years. We shared stories about our sons, recipes for stews, risotto, breads, and fresh vegetables. We knew each other’s favorite books. We shared our own special bond around the change of seasons in New England, choosing the date and temperature when we would start, or stop, wearing socks for the year. My soft, colorful, warm wool pair were a recognition of my Friday footwear: Dansko clogs in purple or orange leather, fuschia felt, or bright blue suede. Carol was a clog-wearer, too, and she loved my bold end-of-week choices.

Carol was an avid knitter. She could transform  a skein of yarn into practically anything. She was the go-to guru at our school whenever anyone was having trouble with a stitch gauge, a color selection, or a pattern choice. She was there for all of us who a needed a companion for a late afternoon of needlework or quiet talk. She held onto secrets, provided wise advice, and made us laugh. I am not the only one who misses her every day. She was one of the strands that held our community together. If you are a part of a group that is bound by someone like Carol, you know how lucky you are.

In my extended family, my dad is one of those strands. As his generation ages, his role has become more evident to him and to everyone else. My father grew up in a time and a place where his best friends were also his first cousins. They spent their childhoods in each other’s living rooms and backyards, played high school sports together, swam together at the beach all summer, engaged in who-knows-what-kinds of mischief, served as each other’s best men and as the godfathers of their respective children. They  played golf, went to college sports events,  met for Wednesday breakfasts, and lately, have sat in hospital rooms. Gradually, they are leaving us. One of those guys, Neal, died last week. My father was with him 20 minutes before he passed. On his way home, my dad took three calls on his mobile phone. His was the first voice that Neal’s eldest son, daughter, and sister needed to hear as they processed their loss.

My son, The Boy, was with my parents for the weekend before Neal died. He saw my dad preparing for the imminent news, and he felt the depth of my father’s grief. When Neal died that Tuesday, The Boy said, “I have to call Papa.” He understood what it meant for my father to be that strand.

We are all bound to other people. We need those connections, and we make the ties stronger as we grow together. Those socks that Carol made–they are made of one strand of yarn. One single thread.

Carpe Diem

When I grow up, I want to be like my mother-in-law.

Really. No mother-in-law jokes here in our house (The Husband and I both got lucky in that regard. My mom is pretty great, too). Continue reading

Abundance

I haven’t posted in awhile. Life’s been busy, in the way that most people’s lives get filled with last-minute events, daily obligations, and–oh, yeah–Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. I had planned to write about Thanksgiving. I thought of describing our wonderful feast, the warmth and comfort of surrounding ourselves with a crowd of our favorite people, the sparkling table, and the fun of creating new culinary treats from all the leftovers. Continue reading

One-word optimism

Take any negative sentence about yourself, or  one of your important relationships, and then add the word “yet.” Remove hyperbolic words like “never” or “always.” Sometimes you need to do a bit of grammatical tweaking, but notice what happens: Continue reading

Of mice and marriage

The mice are back. You’d think that with the warm weather and the enormous amount of edible biomass available to them outdoors, they’d much prefer to make their nests under the porch or over in the wood pile. I’m not sure what is so appealing about the wall spaces in my house, but then, I’m not a mouse.

I’m amazed by the amount of noise a 2-ounce creature can generate when it starts scratching around inside the walls. Equally amazing is the fact that The Husband cannot hear it at all. (OK, actually that part isn’t really amazing.)

Anyway, there we were getting ready to go to sleep the other night, reading (him) and doing the crossword puzzle (me).  In the late-night quiet, the sound was unmistakable: skritch, skritch, skritch. It was also coming directly out of my closet. I had left a shopping bag from Bloomingdale’s in there a couple of days before, and this noise was most definitely being made by a small critter scuffling up against the side of the tissue-filled paper tote.

“Can you hear that?” I asked. “Hear what?” he responded.

“There’s a mouse in the closet.”

“It’s probably just in the wall.”

“It’s not in the wall; it’s definitely in the closet.”

Being a guy, and not having any concern about the basket filled with pashminas or the many shoes that might become nesting spots for the unwelcome creature, The Husband promptly turned off his light, rolled onto his side, and began to snore. I returned to the puzzle, gave up after a few minutes, turned off my light, and tried to ignore the sounds coming from my closet. It was no use. I got out of bed, went into the kitchen and got the really big flashlight. My plan was to shine the light into the closet, scare the beastie out of there, shoo it into the hallway, and close the bedroom door. After five minutes of light-shining, no little beady eyes appeared. At this point, The Husband groggily joined the party.

“Go look under the sink and see if there’s a mousetrap. I’ll set it for you if you can find it.”

Back into the kitchen I went, found the trap and summoned my trusty hunter.

Here’s the scene no one ever imagines while they’re standing in front of God and Man making their wedding vows:

It’s 12:30 am. A middle aged couple (Wait–make that one middle-aged man and his Role Model wife) are in their kitchen on a warm June night, barely dressed. She is holding a very large flashlight. He is using a toothpick to blend brown rice and organic peanut butter with a toothpick; this is the bait that will be spread  onto a waiting mousetrap. Outside, a car passes by, its headlights glowing through the windows. The wife begins laughing so hard that tears come into her eyes. “What do you think that driver was thinking when he saw us in here?” she asks.

And there, my friends, is the Zen of fourteen years of marriage: preparing a healthy last meal for a small brown pest.

PS–the mouse never re-appeared.

A love letter to my profession

My 25th college reunion was last weekend. I didn’t go, but the event prompted an amazing string of Facebook messages with three of my closest friends from those days. Although we are spread all over the USA and into the Middle East, we’ve been able to reconnect electronically, which has been an unexpected gift. I’m sure I’ll post about the joys of social media sometime soon. Tonight I want to write about what it means to be a teacher and a feminist.

I went to a high-powered college during the Reagan ’80s. It was the era of Greed, the era of Jane Fonda, and the era of Sandra Day O’Connor making history. Women were seizing power everywhere. When I began my freshman year in 1981, I intended to become an international economist. I planned to work for the World Bank and help save struggling countries. A year later, I found myself teaching English to children from Central America as part of a social action project, and my fate was sealed. If you really want to change the world, start with the children. 25 years after graduating, I can look back with gratitude from the middle of my journey as an educator.

When I decided to become a teacher, my acquaintances were dismissive. “You’re wasting your potential” was a common refrain. Many of my classmates went immediately into graduate programs in law, medicine or business. Others joined the Foreign Service, or started partnership tracks at Big 8 accounting firms (that was way before ENRON and the demise of Arthur Andersen. But I digress…). Social status and success were firmly attached to earning potential. Against those measures, teachers were low on the approval scales.

Over the years, I have earned a couple of other degrees and moved past the classroom, but never out of schools. I want to say right here that teaching is one of the most empowering opportunities for women, and that power is why I continue to do this work. My female graduate students have heard this soapbox speech before, and I continue to give it each year.

When my mother was a college student in the early 1960s, the “nice girls” got jobs as teachers and nurses, or maybe as secretaries. The girls who were willing to forego marriage became the pioneers in more male-dominated careers. Teaching and nursing were seen as the helping professions; the jobs that were appropriate for young wives and mothers. Those jobs generally kept women fairly close to their homes. The pay was not large, but most of the teachers and nurses were married; their husbands provided the “serious” income for their families (Think about it: In a way, hetero-sexist society has subsidized the teaching profession). Many women took time off from work when their children were little. Those were the infant days of the feminist movement. Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, the year I was born. “The problem that has no name” became the catch phrase for many young suburban mothers, and they encouraged their daughters to follow paths that they had not taken.

Out of that desire to expand their horizons, many women rejected safe choices and opened doors for my generation. When I became a teacher in the mid 1980s, it was in part to reclaim something–to reshape it for a new era. Teaching is still a profession dominated by women, and I am proud to be among them. It is one of the only jobs I know where I can form strong relationships with women who are 20 years younger than I am, 20 years older than I am, and everyone in between. I don’t know where else I could have found so many mentors, and where I would have had the opportunity to share my experiences with others.

There is a long way to go. Salaries need to increase. Professional status needs to be enhanced. Policies about accountability and educational standards need to be addressed. The great Brazilian educator and activist Paolo Freire wrote in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.”

This type of empowered reflection is at the heart of my work. It defines the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people I want to educate.