Ciao

21 Jun

I’m not going to lie to you. Today sucks.

This morning we said goodbye to our Italian daughter.

We spent almost a half a year preparing for the arrival of our exchange daughter, Emma. We prepped her on what clothes to bring, finished our guest room, and talked with our children about what changes may come from adding a teenager into our family. We watched orientation videos on the emotional stages our exchange student may experience while acclimating to her time in the United States and we role played how we would handle hypothetical misunderstandings. When she finally did arrive here in late of August of last year, I felt thoroughly prepared for any possible scenario that may have arisen during her exchange year. It turns out that I was prepared for her arrival and for her stay, but nothing has prepared me for how difficult it would be to watch her go.

When she left this morning, she left with a piece of my heart.

Let me be clear. I understand that I am not actually her mother. I’m not under any delusions that I played a role in the actual parenting or shaping of her person. Her real parents did an amazing job on that front long before she stepped foot on American soil. But I have comforted her, held her, encouraged her, advised her, and freaking loved the crap out her these last ten months. She is not my daughter by blood. I know this. But I love her like one of my own.

Hosting Emma has been one of the best choices we’ve ever made as a family. I’m not sure any of us realized how quickly we would bond and how deep our bond would be. So even though we all left the airport sobbing messes and I’ve been walking around with a box of Kleenex all afternoon, I have no regrets about being a host family. The fact that we’re all feeling her absence so profoundly speaks to the truth of the connections that we made in our time together. The memories we’ve made together, and the relationship that we’ll have with Emma for the rest of our lives are well worth any sadness we may be feeling now.

The word ciao, like aloha, means both hello and goodbye. I think this is appropriate because this may be goodbye to our year of living with Emma, but it is also hello to the rest of my life with her as my daughter overseas.

So ciao for now, my beautiful Emma. Our lives are better now that you’re in them, and you will forever have a home with us. I love you.
-Your Host Mum-

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On Choices and Sacrifice

10 Feb

Over the last couple of years I have had several conversations with women around my own age about how to maintain a sense of “self” amidst jobs, husbands, kids, friends, etc. The fact that this topic came up more than once in completely isolated and unrelated incidents speaks to the ubiquity of this quandary. (Side note: I don’t think that this issue is necessarily unique to women my own age, or even just women, but that’s another topic to explore entirely.) In each and every one of these conversations I maintained, adamantly, that a woman does not have to give up her self for the sake of her family, her job, or any other outside force. It is, I said, essential to a woman’s happiness that she does not do this, or it will be felt by those that she’s those she’s sacrificing for, thus rendering the self-sacrifice useless. I said these things, and I meant them. But then I thought about myself, about my life, and I wondered if I at all practiced what I was preaching.

In my mind I am an intelligent and cultured individual who spends her free time playing the violin and learning world languages, when I’m not working on my newest novel or catching up on my literature, all the while keeping up with the latest and greatest on this Golden Age of Television. That is the person that I want to be. In reality, I am a working mother of three who has maybe an hour of time each evening to not only have “me time” but also spend time with my husband, catch up on emails, schedule doctor appointments, and the list goes on and on. The truth is that on most nights I choose to just sit and watch TV because it’s nice to relax and just be.

So, does that make me a hypocrite? Have I actually been sacrificing for my family all along without actually intending to? I spent a lot of time thinking long and hard about this, and ultimately I decided that the answer is no. I don’t feel like I’m making self-sacrifices for my family. I chose to have my family, and spending time doing things with them and for them isn’t a sacrifice. My family is my favorite part of my life. My sense of self hasn’t been lost because of my family; my sense of self has grown because of them.

That being said, when it comes down to it, there are only so many hours in a day to realistically do the things I want to do. Choices do have to be made, and I have to admit, the choices I was making weren’t doing much to turn me into the cultured person I wanted to be. So I made a conscious choice in 2017 to change this and add some variety to what I did in the hours of free time I did have. Specifically, I decided to read more. Books were my first love, and I never feel more like myself than when I’m reading.

I read thirteen books in 2017. Twelve of them were new to me, and one was an old friend. I didn’t quite meet my reading goal, and thirteen is nowhere near where I once was, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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In 2018 my plan is to keep on with this progress. I was recently interviewed by my school’s newspaper and they asked me my New Year’s Resolution. I told them I wanted to read and write more. It’s taken me a month to actually get around to finishing this blog post, so I’m not sure how I’ll do overall on the writing front. But, I’m trying, which for me is the best choice I could possibly make.

 

 

Do Me a Favor

6 Nov

If you’re reading this right now, odds are that you know me. At very least you’ve read my blog before and you’re curious about why I’m blogging now, after ten months of radio silence. The fact is, I need you to do me a favor.

Tomorrow, November 7th, residents in the Anoka-Hennepin School District will have the opportunity to vote on the district’s Fit for the Future referendum. It would be easy for me to copy and paste facts from the district’s website about the referendum onto this blog post. If I did that, though, all I’d be doing is giving you abstract facts and figures. If you work or have a child in the district, then you’ve already gotten a bijillion numerous phone calls and emails with those facts and figures. I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

Instead, I’d like to tell you about why this referendum matters to me.

In case you don’t know, I teach in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. The building that I teach in is filled to maximum capacity. We have more teachers than we do classrooms. This means that we have several teachers that travel throughout the day either by pushing a cart through our crowded hallways, or by lugging carry-on sized luggage and stacks of milk crates full of materials. This is an inconvenience for them to be sure. That would be bad enough on its own, but an unfortunate side effect of this situation is that in order for these teachers to teach, they must displace another teacher from his/her classroom. I am one of these displaced teachers. All of us involved in this rotation of rooms lose valuable time each day hauling supplies, running back to rooms we forgot things in, re-logging into computers, and sifting through hurriedly-gathered-to-make-room-for-the-next-class stacks of papers. Doing all of these things takes away instruction time from our students, and invaluable minutes off of our prep periods. Best practice dictates that students have learning targets posted for them, organized and clearly labeled spaces for late work/missing assignments/materials/etc., start-up work on the board ready to go, and exit directions in place. These aspects of best practice are difficult to achieve when you’re not in the room before your students, and they’re impossible if you’re one of the unfortunate teachers without a room to call your own. Is this constant changing of rooms a pain in the ass? You betcha. It also adds unnecessary stress to a job that’s already undeniably tough.

If this referendum passes, an addition will be built on to my school. This would eliminate the portable building at my school, providing a much more secure environment for all students and staff. This would be a win unto itself. The icing on the cake is that it would also provide much needed classrooms for us teachers. So, please, get out and vote yes tomorrow.

But ok, let’s pretend for a second that you don’t care about me as a person. Maybe you don’t give hoot about my job-related safety or stress level. Perhaps then, just maybe, you care about my children.

You know, these guys.

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Right now, the school Child #1 attends has more children in its attendance area than is safe to have in the school. Kindergarteners that are supposed to go to his school are bussed an extra 30 minutes each day to a different school because there is simply not enough room where they are supposed to go. These kindergarteners are separated from their siblings and neighborhood friends. If this referendum does not pass, this will happen to more than just kindergarteners. It could happen to my son. If growth in my area continues, it could happen to all of my children.

If this referendum passes, however, a new school will be built just across from my neighborhood. My children would be walkers to a brand new, clean, shiny, technology-filled school that can actually fit them. Some people in my family have already asked what my children want for Christmas. It’s this. A new school. A brighter future.

It’s easy to think of voting and politics as theoretical things that perhaps don’t impact our day-to-day lives all that much. I guarantee you that this vote will impact my every single day. For most homeowners in the district, the referendum will cost them about $11.00/month. (Okay, so maybe I did decide to throw in some good old district-provided facts. Sue me). You can impact my every single day for the price of two Starbucks beverages. My every day will be better, and the average checking account won’t even feel the difference.

So please, please, please, do me a favor. Vote yes tomorrow. If you’re not in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, then encourage all those you know in the district to get out and vote. If you don’t vote, then you can’t make a difference. This will make a difference. It will make a difference to me, and it will make a difference to my kids. So if you like me, even a little, get your butts to the polls. I’ll owe you one.

Over/Underrated 2016 – Part One

18 Jan

2016. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a year most people aren’t sorry to say goodbye to. 2016 took Prince from Minnesota, Snape from Hogwarts, and Princess Leia from a galaxy far, far, away. 2016 was the year of Zika, Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis, and He Who Must Not Be Named. On a personal note, 2016 was the year that brought me my daughter, and for that I am thankful. In a year where an escape from reality was all too needed, I am also thankful for another year that had more to love than to hate in popular culture. That being said, it wasn’t all roses. There were still enough entertainment flops too large to simply go un-ridiculed. And for that, dear readers, you have us. That’s right, folks, I said “us.” Rejoice, because once again my bestie Brooklyn is here to impress with her razor sharp wit and scathing snark. Our entries may be a bit laissez faire this year (read: we’ll write when we bloody well can), but I promise our reviews of the best and worst of 2016 will be worth waiting for. So, better late than never, I bring you Over/Underrated 2016.

Overrated

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

–Andrea (@prettyandink)

Warning: Contains mild spoilers

Let me start by saying that nobody, and I mean nobody, was more excited about the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie than I was. As an fervent fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I was not at all mad about the idea of a spin-off franchise. With a screenplay by Jo herself, Eddie Redmayne leading a talented cast, and my desperate Harry Potter withdrawal, I was having a real Joey Tribbiani “What’s not to like?” moment.

Still, when I look at the movie objectively rather than as a blind-with-loyalty fan, Fantastic Beasts just doesn’t hold up cinematically. Yes, it was visually stunning. Yes, the Niffler was cute af. And yes, that Bowtruckle was the most adorbs tree-like-creature onscreen since Baby Groot. All this was fine, the acting was fine, and the overall story was, well, slightly-less-than-fine. Therein lies the problem.

While each Harry Potter book/film can stand alone as an entertaining story, there is a clear overarching storyline at the forefront of each installment that ties them all together. Fantastic Beasts tells us from the opening newspaper sequence that anti-Wizard movements are gaining traction and Grindelwald is at large, but at the end of the film Newt’s role in regards to anti-Wizardry or Grindelwald’s plans is still a giant question mark.  

It’s obvious that the makers of Fantastic Beasts were banking hard core on movie-goers being satisfied with a seemingly endless menagerie of magical creatures being paraded on screen. If you happen to be one of those people that doesn’t find animals, real or magical, to be either cute or entertaining (like a certain friend of mine), then Fantastic Beasts doesn’t really have a cinematic leg to stand on.

What makes this so disappointing is that the possibilities for the Fantastic Beasts franchise were literally endless. Moving the context of the wizarding world from the U.K. to the U.S. opened countless creative doors for the Fantastic Beasts team. Sadly, there was nothing more than a magical creature behind each one. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a disappointingly lackluster start to what had the potential to be a fantastic (see what I did there?) reincarnation of a truly magical (oops, I did it it again) world.

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Underrated

Insecure

–Brook (@brooklynhofstad)

I was talking recently with a friend of mine about the show Insecure. This is a friend whom I find generally more informed than I in regards to all things political and the current state of our country. I’m going to say the same thing here that I said to her: “Even  though I am not a black woman, and I cannot begin to comprehend what it means to be a black woman in today’s society, I like Insecure because I find relatable.”

Not that a show has to be relatable to be likeable. It doesn’t. However, I’m at a time in my life where a lot of programming is supposedly about my life. Young(ish) professional(ish) woman making her way in the world. Ups and downs with friends and family members. Mishaps in love and dating. Pressure to get married. Pressure to have a family. We’ve ALL seen that show. I’m Hannah Horvath without the neuroses. I’m Carrie Bradshaw without the Manolos (well…if you want to get technical, I am a Miranda, but I digress…). So, it helps if when I look at the characters, I see myself instead of some caricature-ized version of myself that Lena Dunham thinks I am.

When I look at the girls on Girls, I don’t see myself. Not even close. When I watch SATC, I see what I would be if I had unrealistic budget constraints. But when I watch Insecure, I see myself. I see my relationships. I see my struggles.

The title literally says it all. Who can honestly say that they have never felt insecure?

Anyone who has ever set up an online dating profile can relate to Molly’s seemingly endless string of dates that are complete and total duds, myself included, but that’s an entirely different post.

Anyone who has ever said something about someone and instantly regretted it can relate to Issa when she sings about Molly’s broken…well…you know…

Issa Rae created a show that elevated modern black female narratives on television. Her show revolves around a strong female friendship. Her show casts a more sympathetic light on the oft vilified unemployed black man. And she did it in eight emotional, funny episodes.

Insecure seems to be the little engine that flew under the radar on HBO this year. Up against heavy hitters like Westworld, it’s understandable that there wasn’t a ton of buzz about the show, but it got picked up for a second season, nonetheless.

Insecure has proven itself to be a worthy successor of shows like Living Single, and hints at being capable of delivering characters and stories reminiscent of HBO’s glory days.

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Processing & Moving Forward

9 Nov

I have been trying all day to process the results of last night’s presidential election and I haven’t gotten very far. I write this now as a way to try to work through my racing and jumbled thoughts.

Let me start by saying that I’m not generally a politically active person. I have my values and my belief systems, sure, but I’m not an active campaigner. Furthermore, I’m admittedly very undereducated in terms of politics, economics, foreign affairs, and basically anything unrelated to popular culture or the literary world. I’m nearly positive that anything I say in this blog entry has already been said by more educated and eloquent people than myself, but it’s cathartic for me to say them my own way.

I’ve spent more time than is healthy reading the election-related posts and comments of friends, family, and acquaintances on social media. From what I can tell, it seems that most of those who voted for Trump did so because they are Republicans. They have conservative beliefs and therefore voted for the man representing the conservative party.

I’ve read several posts that say something along the lines of, “We didn’t vote for racism or bigotry; we voted because we want to change __insert cause-of-choice here__.” Here’s the thing though, darlings. You may have been voting for Trump because you want to change taxes, or immigration policy, or whatever else you felt you were fighting for. But, you were also voting for a racist, a sexist, and a bigot. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I can empathize with how frustrating it must have been to feel like the only way to get the change you (those who voted for Trump) want, to show what you believe in, was to vote for such a horrible person. What an awful situation your political party put you in. Still, try as I might, I cannot reach any sort of understanding as to how those beliefs you hold are more important than the message electing Trump has sent to your fellow man, and more important than the message electing Trump has sent to your children.

Allowing Trump to have such a position of power sends a clear message that blatant racism is excusable. That mocking the disabled is defensible. That thinking of women as the lesser sex is acceptable. That sexual assault is tolerable. I do not care for a second that this isn’t the message most Republicans were intending to send when they cast their votes. This is the message being received nonetheless.

This morning I looked at my three beautiful children and shed real tears for their futures. There is so much unknown in the days, months, and years ahead. I think of the implications a president like Trump can have on the futures of my children if they are LGBTQ+, or if they fall in love with an immigrant. I think of the implication a president like Trump can have on the opportunities available to my daughter if he continues to keep patching that glass ceiling.

I’m doing my best to remind myself that social change is always slow, and that forward progress is still possible in spite of our president-elect. I am taking comfort in checks and balances, and I’m finding hope in the progressive nature of the millennials that made it to the polls (although am disturbed by the number of millennials that didn’t).

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Trump being elected disturbs me greatly as a white woman. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain his election has caused to Muslims, immigrants, those who are disabled, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color. I’m going to echo the sentiments of many when I say that I love you, and I will continue to fight for you.

I’m going to do my best to make peace with my friends and family who voted for a man who would oppress so many. I’ve never been one to let my relationships be based solely on political likeness, but this time around it’s personal. That’s a hard pill to swallow. I cannot understand your choice, but I will not let it define how I think of you. America would not be the great nation it is if not for our freedom to think and speak differently from one another. I must remember this. What’s important now is that we come together as one to move past this election and on to bettering the future of our country.

In a few short weeks I return to school where I teach a beautifully diverse group of middle school students. As I think about returning to work and supporting my students in a post-election atmosphere, articles like this one from the Huffington Post are helpful.

Also helpful is the knowledge that tolerance and love are core values in my home, and because of that I know there is potential for a better world at the hands of my children. I’m not sure where the image below that’s been circulating the interwebs has come from, but it’s a nice reminder that change begins at home.

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The next four years will go by, for better or for worse. America will continue to move forward, and now that I’ve gotten this all off my chest, so will I.

Lost Pet Anxiety (aka I Miss My Cat)

25 Oct

UPDATE: Three days after originally posting this blog, Cat showed up at our house completely unharmed, albeit a few pounds lighter. YAY!

It has been one week and one day since our adorable and, apparently, stupid cat leapt over our dog and ran into the dark and foggy outdoors. One week and one day, and there’s still no sign of her.

I spent the first five days of Hazel’s absence in a bit of denial. I was feeling pretty confident that she would come home. We had done, literally, every single thing suggested to us by the humane society, the microchip company, lost cat organizations, friends, and Twitter strangers. With all of these steps taken, why wouldn’t she come home?

But then she didn’t come home.

This whole situation has me feeling anxious, all the time. I check out the windows routinely, obsessively, and compulsively. I jump at even the slightest sound from outside. To say her loss is stressing me out is a gross understatement. I’m not accustomed to situations where there’s nothing more I can do. Usually if I try harder or devote more time I can get the results I’m shooting for. Short of spending entire days wandering our neighborhood shaking a treat bag (which isn’t exactly realistic), I can’t think of anything else I can or should be doing to bring Hazel home. I hate it.

I think what I hate most are the unanswered questions. Is she truly lost, such that she can’t find her way back home? Or does she remember where home is and just doesn’t want to come back? Did she get taken in by a nice family that for inexplicable reasons hasn’t checked with the local animal shelter to make sure she’s not already someone’s pet? Did she pledge her undying loyalty to a gang of feral cats? Or, is it the other option that I try to pretend isn’t a real possibility?

Enough people have shared with me stories of cats that have been gone for weeks before turning up at home that I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I just can’t wrap my mind around her being gone for good. So I’m going to continue to leave the garage door open a tiny crack. I’m going to continue to drive 2 mph through my neighborhood like I’m planning a crime. And yes, I’m going to continue to shake a tupperware of cat food out my window as I drive that ridiculously slow speed.

In the meantime, if you live near me, please keep your eyes peeled. If you don’t live near me, please keep your fingers crossed. We miss our kitty.

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Mom Guilt

12 Oct

This past Sunday when bestie was over we somehow got on the topic of Mom Guilt.

Mom Guilt is a special brand of guilt reserved for mothers who are doing their best to do it all. It’s feeling guilty when you tell your toddler he can’t play outside because you have to stay inside and feed the baby. It’s feeling guilty when you let your baby cry for ten minutes while you finish your shower. It’s feeling guilty when you let your children watch more television than you know is good for them so that you can do the dishes. It’s feeling guilty when you neglect the dishes so that you can take the time to write for the first time in months.

Now, I don’t presume to speak on behalf of all mothers, but I have spoken to enough of my mom friends to know that most experience at least some Mom Guilt on a semi-regular basis.

I’ve been experiencing higher than average levels of Mom Guilt these past few weeks. I know that logically this is to be expected given the recent addition of Child #3 to our family. I keep telling myself that it’s normal for things to fall behind and priorities to shift while we adjust to life as a family of five. I tell myself this, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

I’m doing my best to turn my life into a spinoff of an improv game I once played. Instead of adding, “yes, and…” to the end of each of my sentences, though, I’m adding an, “and that’s okay” to the end of each of my admissions of guilt.

Yes, Child #2 hasn’t had a ton of Vitamin D lately, and that’s okay. Yes, Child #3 had to scream bloody murder in order for me to shave my armpits, and that’s okay. You get the idea.

It’s okay because I’m doing the best I can. As much as I’ve prayed to the gods for superpowers or, even better, my very-belated Hogwarts letter, I sadly remain a mere human, and a muggle at that.

I’m not perfect. Even on my best days, there are still going to be dirty bottles on the counter and unfolded laundry in the dryer. There are going to be times when my household obligations don’t get my attention because of time spent with my children and vice versa. This doesn’t make me a failure as a mother, or as a spouse (side note: Spouse Guilt is another beast, entirely). It makes me normal.

I need to do better at reminding myself that at the end of each exhausting day [How long until babies sleep through the night, again? No, seriously, I can’t remember.] my children go to bed with all their basic needs met. Even better, they are (usually) happy, and at least somewhat clean. Most importantly, they are loved, and that is more than okay.