In Our Dreams

Today should have been my first day of teaching in 2015.  My kids should have been returning to their elementary classrooms with tales of holiday gatherings and showing off their wearable holiday gifts.  Instead, we were 3000 miles from home saying goodbye to my grandfather who passed away the week before Christmas.

The death wasn’t a surprise.  I wrote about his failing health last November.  And the last two weeks have really been a combined family reunion-vacation-funeral trip.  The majority of my very large family is in California, and we get out her so seldom that even when we’re here for a difficult event like this, there are many new memories to be made at the same time.  And of course my children are just six and seven years old; two weeks of grieving just isn’t in the cards given their youth.

Last weekend, my dad and his wife hosted a small gathering of friends, including some of my high school friends.  They’ll typically do this during our visits so we can see a bunch of friends and family at once.  During the festivities while I was catching up with friends, one of my dad’s neighbors leaned over to me and said, “Does anyone even miss your grandfather?”  I was a little taken aback by the comment, and after a deep breath, I assured him that my grandfather was missed deeply.  The neighbor just shrugged his shoulders and gestured to the room, as if to suggest that he certainly couldn’t tell given the context.

Today, a few dozen family and friends gathered at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery for veterans where my grandfather’s ashes are being interred.  As my immediate family of four headed toward the outdoor pavilion where the military send off would take place, I fought back the tears and held my son tightly to my shoulders.  My daughter was walking with my husband, and after looking at me, she said to my husband, “Poppy, why aren’t you sad?”

“I am sad,” he told her.

“You don’t look sad,” she replied.

“People show sadness in different ways.  You can’t always tell how people feel based on the way they look,” he explained.

And this was definitely a sad occasion.  My grandfather as a great and amazing man, and I’m so proud to have been a part of his family and a benefactor of his parenting–both directly and through his son, my dad.  Prior to the ceremony, my kids were fighting like normal, which means just shy of bodily harm.  I counted to ten and dropped down to their level.

“This is a really hard day for Daddy, and I really need you and Poppy here with me.  If you can’t behave, Poppy will have to take you out, and I can’t do this by myself.  I’m really sad and having the three of you near me helps me feel better.  Do you understand?”  They nodded silently, and a few minutes later in the car, my daughter was complaining that her brother was looking at her funny.  I wasn’t sure they’d make it, and I worried I wouldn’t be ready to forgive them for being so young any time soon.

Then during the ceremony, my daughter clung to me while the volley shots were fired, and she brought my hand to her face lovingly while “Taps” was played.  When we were seated for the few short words shared about my grandfather’s life, my son climbed into my lap and hugged me as tightly as he ever has.  The entire thing was overwhelming for me–saying goodbye to my grandfather, hearing some of the wonderful memories about him, the majesty of a military funeral, and feeling the loving pressure of my family so close to me.  When it was over, I turned to my son with tears in my eyes and saw my emotional state mirrored in his own.  Through his own tears, he said, “I’m just so sad Daddy.”  We held each other and just cried for a bit before he shared some of his tiny hugs with his great-grandmother and my dad.

My aunt had printed up my grandfather’s obituary with a few color photos on it.  My daughter noticed something she thought might cheer up her brother: “That’s you in the picture!”  We looked, and sure enough, the photo of my grandad had been cropped from a photo with my son.  We could just make out the corner of my son’s short afro in the bottom of the frame.  He smiled, proud to feel so permanently connected his great-grandfather.

In the car, we all talked a bit about our feelings.  My son told us, “I’m just so sad because I used to dream about my great-grandfather all the time, and now I can’t do that any more.”

“Of course you can buddy.  That’s where he’ll live forever.  When you miss him and you want to see him, you can do it in your dreams.”  This apparently made an impression on him, because during the reception he mustered the strength to get up in front of the crowd and say so into the microphone.

I can count the number of times my son met my grandfather on one hand, yet he feels connected to him in this totally tangible way.  I’m sure it’s got something to do with his status as an adoptee, like he’s subconsciously clinging to the things that validate his permanence in this family.  And that’s something that my grandfather did for him.  The two of them are separated by 82 years in age, but it’s comforting to see the impact his presence had on the next generation of this family.

It’s something I’m sure I’ll talk over with my grandpa in my dreams tonight.

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Why Blog?

After sleeping for barely four hours last night on the Red Eye home, I’m not sure I have the stamina for a full post tonight, but I’m determined to continue with day 11 of NaBloPoMo.  Instead, I’ll follow up yesterday’s post on my childhood home with a journal entry that I wrote the last day I was in that house:

Mom died six days ago.  This has easily been the most difficult week of my life.  Yes it’s cliche, but I still can’t believe she’s gone.  There is this terrible mixture of pain and anger and grief and relief that is just so hard to cope with.  I’m sitting at her dining room table as I write this.  Her house has been mostly emptied by the family.  The realtor will do the rest.  I fly back to Boston tomorrow and I so totally fear my return to “normal life.”  For the past week my time has been filled with making arrangements for the services and the estate that I’ve only had time for minor breakdowns here and there.  But at home it’s going to be a different story.  I fear that the grief will wash over me and take up permanent residence.  Deep down I know that permanency is not really a reality, but I do know it’s going to be very difficult.

I bought this journal this morning because over the past two days while going through my mom’s house with the family we found three of her own journals.  As difficult as it was to read through them, it gave me tremendous insight into who she was and how her mind operated.  The biggest thing was how she reacted to issues in her relationships with my dad.  I see so much of her in me, and that was an aspect of her life I really wasn’t privy to as it was happening.  Anyhow, I do want there to be similar records of me and my thoughts for my family, so I’m going to try to journal a lot more.  My goal is ten minutes a day, but we’ll see how that goes when I’m home and there are papers to grade and the baby is crying!  I used to journal a lot when I was a kid, but this somehow will be different.  I just hope it helps sort out my thoughts most of all.

Okay, first off all, I need to get over the fact that I sound like a maudlin teenager; all that’s missing is the “Dear Diary” opening.  (I was 30 when I wrote this.)  Still, I wasn’t writing with the idea that anyone would ever read it, so I’ll cut myself some slack.

I remember sitting at that table writing that entry and thinking it would be the last time I’d ever be in that house again, and I thought I had written more about that feeling.  Instead when I look back now, I see that the loss was still so raw and the pain too fresh; I worried about life without her in it, especially since I had spent the past few years so hyper-focused on her disease.  Now, years later, I still feel her loss as strongly as ever, but the distance allows me a bit more clarity to think shift the focus a bit, which I think results in posts like yesterday.  What I do like about looking back at this journal entry is the idea I had of committing these happenings in my life to some sort of written record.  And I’m positive that goes beyond mere ego.  Personally, I want my kids to have the same feeling of understanding I had in reading my mom’s journals; when they’re older, these posts will give them an authentic accounting of the experiences that influenced our parenting choices.  Publicly, these posts share aspects of my life and my family’s lives with the people in our social circles who I think should know all of this, the stuff that for whatever reason I’ve never had an opportunity to detail to those people.  Then beyond those people who actually know us in real life, detailing our experiences helps some people know they’re not alone.  And perhaps this will elicit some empathy in us all, particularly the understanding that, as the amazing Elaine Stritch often said, “We all have our bag of rocks.”

If you don’t know who she is, you aren’t living.

My Childhood Home

I drove by my childhood home today.  I only get back to California every few years or so these days, and in the years since my mother’s death and the sale of that house, part of my pilgrimage to the Golden State typically involves a drive by check in on the old house.  It’s not a remarkable house by any means, but it was the house I grew up in so it maintains a special place in the nostalgia of my past.

My parents split up when I was in my mid-20s as a result of my mother’s drinking.  My dad found Al-Anon, and my mother found that rock bottom wasn’t actually rock bottom.  My mom was supposed to be sobering up, so when she seemed to be subconsciously flaunting her cup full of vodka, my dad moved out, leaving her alone in the house.  After that, things quickly deteriorated.  Although they both tried half-heartedly for a reconciliation, my mom’s disease made it very clear that there was no way the marriage would survive.  My dad bought a new house, took half the furniture, and moved on with his life.  And my mom withered away in the house that once helped raise a family.

During that year after the break up and prior to the official divorce, my mom spent Christmas in rehab.  I had gone out there for Thanksgiving, and my parents came together for a pseudo-family holiday, but when I spent the following day shopping with my dad, I came home to a mother who could barely stand up.  She was so drunk that she could barely speak, and when I finally called her on it, she broke into hysterics, crying, “Please move back home!”  The next day, she agreed to go to rehab.  I got her checked in before I went back to Massachusetts, and I was there waiting for her when she got out.  We went out for a special dinner that night, and she ordered the steak with a wine reduction sauce.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“Oh please, all the alcohol cooks out.”

I ignored the obvious signs and left a few days later.  We talked on the phone regularly, and she did a great job hiding from me that she was still drinking.  My uncle found her one day a few weeks later passed out in her bedroom.  He walked out, vowing never to find her like that again.  Part of my mom’s exit strategy from rehab was that she enter a halfway house if she fell off the wagon, something the social worker wanted her to do anyway when leaving and something my mother was vehemently opposed to.  She simply wanted to go home.  The three of us signed a totally-not-legal contract agreeing that we would try it my mom’s way, and if she failed, she’d try it the social worker’s way.

After the incident with my uncle, I worked as hard as I could from 3000 miles away to get my mom into the halfway house she promised she’d go to.  She wasn’t ready to stop drinking though, and rather than admit that, she convinced me that she was attending an out patient rehab program at the local hospital.  For the next several months, she lied to me about the days she hadn’t actually spent at the hospital, making up stories about working with counselors and other addicts to kick her disease.  At the time, gay marriage had just become the law of the land in Massachusetts, and I was admittedly too preoccupied planning my wedding that summer to question the validity of her story.

When the truth did finally come out, it was only a few weeks before the wedding.  I didn’t know if I could stand to have my mother at what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life after she had been lying to me so blatantly for months.  “Well, I’m coming to Boston even if you don’t let me in,” she said.  “I have my airline tickets, and I’ll just sit on the curb outside while you two get married.”  In the end, I yielded, and I made sure she knew that I had informed the staff at the wedding venue to escort her out if she was seen drinking.  Thankfully she made it through the day totally sober, and because of that, it really was the happiest day of my life.

Then she went home and things got worse.  She got into more than one car accident, and spent a few weekends in jail to serve time on a DUI.  For our next trip to California, I chose to stay with my dad.  We visited my mom, and the house was in shambles.  She’d accumulated several pets over the previous year, including a big Maine Coon cat, two Golden Retrievers, and a canary.  All of the animals were getting fat, and the smell of pet urine hung in the air.  My mom had never replaced the furniture my dad took with him, and the house was starting to look like a drug flop house.  It literally brought me to tears.  I vowed to my husband that I wouldn’t set foot in that house again while my mom was sick.

During the next few trips, the standard protocol became meeting my mom at a restaurant for lunch.  She usually took a cab, and had the driver keep the meter running while we ate.  The year before she died, we took a trip to California with our new baby daughter.  I wanted my mother to meet her new granddaughter so badly, but I couldn’t bring our baby into that house.

When my mom stepped out of the cab at the agreed upon restaurant, I was shocked by how frail she looked.  She couldn’t walk on her own and took steps so gingerly that it was clear she could barely stand up straight.  She wasn’t drunk, but she wasn’t herself.  Her hair was thin and sickly, and her hands shook uncontrollably.  She was 57.

A few months later, I couldn’t get a hold of her on the phone and sent local police to check on her.  They found her barely responsive and called an ambulance.  She spent a few hallucinogenic weeks in the hospital while they weaned her off the alcohol, and then we transferred her to a skilled nursing facility where she would hopefully regain her strength.  I was flying back and forth from Massachusetts to California to make these arrangements, including going to court to become my mother’s conservator, and I spent hours on the phone each day when I was home on the East Coast.  Some neighbors had agreed to take the animals, and I finally prepped myself to re-enter the house.

It wasn’t pretty.  It was clear that my mom had been living in some pretty awful conditions.  It wasn’t the type of squalor you see on an episode of Hoarders, but the evidence of the animals run amok was still there and I could tell that my mom spent just about every hour of the day plopped on the sofa in front of the television.  I cleaned up a little bit, finding strength in the reality that my mom would likely never return to this house.  The plan at that time was that if my mom got better, we’d move her to Massachusetts.  It was still very difficult being in that house, but it seemed like we’d hit rock bottom finally, and maybe the house would finally return to the happy childhood home it once was for me.

Then a few weeks later, she was gone.  She had a medical emergency that sent her to the hospital, and she faded incredibly quickly after that.  Thankfully, when I got the call in Massachusetts that things were falling apart and that I needed to get on a plane, her brothers came to her side so she wouldn’t be alone.  I bought a plane ticket and headed to Logan Airport.  I was in the parking lot when my uncle called me to tell my mother was dead.

My husband, my aunt, and my dad helped me go through the house.  We packed up what little there was and divided things into piles: one for shipping to our house in Massachusetts and the other, far larger pile, for donation.  I spent the next week or so planning and executing the funeral and tying up loose ends.  I found a realtor who would take on cleaning the house up and getting it ready for sale, and I prepared for my return trip to my new home where my husband and daughter were waiting.

The day I was scheduled to fly home–to my new home on the East Coast–I sat in the house where I grew up, the house where my parents’ marriage fell apart, the house where my mother slowly drank herself to death.  I couldn’t believe I would never again set foot in this house without being invited in by a stranger, and I savored the moment in tears.

It’s been nearly seven years since that day, and I still feel a pull towards that house whenever I’m in town.  I need to see it, and when I drive by, I secretly hope to see some happy family playing in the front yard so that I can know that someone’s new story is being written there.  I’ve never seen anyone there, but the house looks great, well manicured yard, great paint job.  Some day, I plan on knocking on the door with my own kids so that I can politely ask the new owners if I can show my children my old bedroom.  Maybe that’s creepy, or maybe it’s just what people who come from broken homes do to show their kids where they come from.

Bad Signal

Another short post tonight because I’m exhausted yet determined to continue my NaBloPoMo streak with day ten.  This one is inspired by the Daily Post‘s prompt for those struggling with a NaBloPoMo topic.  The prompt is as follows:

Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Who is it from, and what is this about?

When I thought about this prompt, I immediately jumped to the current state of my grandfather’s health.  Being three thousand miles away, it’s hard to know how good or bad things are, and to a certain extent, I’ve been receiving versions of this fictional voicemail message for the past year or so.  Different family members are at different stages of acceptance in dealing with his prospects for recovery, and I’ve often felt the need to wade through cryptic Facebook posts and overly optimistic prognoses, as well as the occasional complete radio silence.

Thankfully last week, my cousin called me directly and clarified the obscured versions of what had been sent across country so many times before.  “You need to come see him, and you need to come alone.  The kids shouldn’t see him like this.”  She prepped me for what to expect, but what she didn’t reveal is how instrumental she’s been in ensuring he has been comfortable in his extreme state of need.  She’s been spending nearly every waking hour at his bedside, finessing the nurses so that he receives the best care they have to offer, and even ensuring our grandmother is eating well and exercising.  I’ve only been here two days, yet every family member that’s come to visit our grandpa can’t help but remark how amazing my cousin is for doing what she’s doing.

Every family needs someone like this, someone pragmatic and grounded in stressful situations who can deal with what needs to happen without being anchored by the petty politics of family feuds.  Someone who doesn’t care who’s pissed off for being left off the group text message that went out or who failed to notify everyone of his arrival time, and someone who has the tremendous humility to accept praise with a shrug of the shoulders, suggesting that anyone would do what she’s doing, even though no one is.

So tonight, I’m thankful that our family has that person, someone who in this particular situation would never leave a garbled voicemail ending with “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.”

So Long, Farewell (sung in anger)

I just said goodbye to my kids before leaving them for the next five days.  When I told them I was leaving to visit my sick grandfather, their great-grandfather, my son burst into tears.  His reaction surprised me, frankly; the two of us butt heads constantly, and I thought he might actually be titillated by the idea of spending some Daddy-free time with his far more forgiving Poppy.  “I don’t want you go,” he cried, as he slobbered all over my shirt.  For some reason when he’s really upset, the mouth controls that keep saliva from spilling out cease functioning.  I patted him gently on the back, trying not to get too grossed out by the mucous connecting my clothing to his face.  Once he calmed down, we had a chat about what was wrong with my grandfather and why I needed to go see him now.  I asked them if they could make a card for him, and they both bounded upstairs to do so, my son still quietly crying.

Today, I gave the babysitter the morning off so that I could get the kids ready for breakfast and walk them to school before heading to the airport.  Our sitter usually gets here around 6:45 am, and she tells me that every day, the minute my car pulls out of the driveway, the kids are clomping downstairs ready to start their day.  The few times that I’m home in the morning, they sleep in.  Late.  It’s like the sound of my Highlander driving away elicits some Pavlovian response, awakening their consciousness, and without that sound today, they slept in until 8:00.  This gave us only about forty minutes to get them fed, dressed, and out the door.

Thankfully they’re old enough to dress themselves, and today my son came down in shorts and a t-shirt.  I reminded him that we live in New England and it will be about forty degrees today, and he said he didn’t care.  I decided long ago that this was a battle not worth fighting (after losing many, many such battles), so I just shrugged and told him that if that’s what he wanted to wear, it was fine with me.  I made some omelets and toast, and the two kids sat down to eat.

Meal times aren’t the easiest for me when we have something else that needs to get done.  Whether it’s after-dinner homework or an afternoon departure for an activity after lunch, I sit there thinking, “Eat faster children.  We have things to do.”  I am a notoriously fast eater, and even when we have time for a leisurely meal, I tend to finish my food a good fifteen minutes before the rest of the family.  I’ve also got these mild-OCD tendencies, and sitting there doing nothing while everyone else is eating tends to drive me a little crazy when I know there are three other things I can cross off my to-do list in that time.  I’ve been working on these neuroses though, and I’ve been pretty successful at sitting down and enjoying family meal time.

This morning was not one of those times however.  I’m missing school today and Monday, and grades are due Monday morning.  I still have 25 essays to grade, and now that everything is online, I’m feeling a bit stressed about being on a plane for seven hours today without Internet access.  Once I get to California, I don’t know when I’ll find the time to sit down and grade this stuff, so I’m kind of freaking out internally.  I did speak with my principal yesterday about the possibility of not having grades done in time, and he was gracious about it given the circumstances, but even with that extension, it’s just not the type of person I am to sit back and relax with that option.

So during breakfast this morning, several minutes after I’d finished my Chobani yogurt, the children were still slowly eating their eggs and talking about this and that.  I decided that I could very easily sneak into the next room, grade a paper, and then check in on them before scooting out to get another paper done.  I looked at the clock.  8:20.  With this method, I could probably crank out a good three papers, maybe four.

This of course wasn’t the best plan.  Yes, I graded four papers over the next twenty minutes, but the kids were nowhere near ready to go at 8:35, just five minutes before they are officially supposed to be out the door.  We instituted a check system a few months ago with our sitter, and leaving the house by 8:40 is one of three checks they get, and the checks dictate their weekly allowance and other special privileges like family movie night.  At 8:35, my daughter was getting ready to go, and at the same time it became clear to me that my son wasn’t going to finish his breakfast any time soon.  I’ll save our struggles with his eating habits for another time, but I slowly erupted inside, secretly mad at myself for not more closely monitoring their progress.

“Just swallow your food and then clean up the disaster area around your chair.”  My husband and I constantly marvel at how our son can make a mess out of the smallest meal, even a snack like a single carrot, and this was a full breakfast so the floor contained about a third of the food originally on his plate.  Still, I didn’t have to ask him to clean it up with such a harsh tone.  He started to look sad, and I went in for the kill.  “I don’t know if you’re going to get that check now.  You might get an X.  There’s only four minutes left.”  He started crying while he swept up the food.  And I didn’t stop.  “You better hurry up and get your shoes on.  We still need to brush your teeth and comb your hair.  I don’t think there’s any way we’re getting out by 8:40.”

Our daughter, sensing the oncoming blow up, got herself ready and stepped out onto the porch.  “I’m ready Daddy!” she called.

“I’ll be right there as soon as your brother decides he’s going to get serious about leaving,” I called as I quickly brushed his teeth with him.  As soon as he rinsed out his mouth, he’d had enough.  He ran into the living room and curled up in a ball on the sofa crying.

Well, I’d succeeded in breaking him down.  Why did I do that?  Why do I all too often do that?

I followed the normal operating procedure in our house, and I went to him to apologize.  I calmed him down, wiped up the snot from his face, and I explained that I was feeling very nervous about my trip and I was taking it out on him unfairly.  But he had already moved beyond all sense of logic.

“You made me late!”

Uh, no. This type of blaming tends to make me forget that I am the adult and he is only six.

“No, I didn’t.  I’m perfectly willing to admit that I was mean and not supportive, but you made yourself late.  I gave you lots of warnings, and you didn’t heed them.”  Granted, they were warnings from the other room while I was grading a paper on my computer, but they were warnings nonetheless.

He wouldn’t let it go.  By now it was 8:45.

“Listen, I love you very much.  Sometimes we make mistakes.  All of us.  I made a mistake by being mean to you, and you made a mistake by not watching the time and listening to my suggestions to hurry up.  All we can do is learn from them and hope that we don’t make the same mistakes next time.”

I finally got him calmed down enough so we could head out the door, and we walked the one block to school in silence, him clinging to my waist and holding my arm tight around his shoulders.  We said our goodbyes on the corner, and I told them they could call me any time they wanted while I was away.

These interactions with my son have gotten better over the years, believe it or not.  My husband is incredibly supportive in helping diffuse these situations, and I have good friends that help talk me off the ledges when I feel like the only thing I’m succeeding at is sending my kids into a lifetime of therapy.  Still, these episodes pain me every time they happen, and they hurt even more when we’re acting perfectly normal in public and people say things like, “You’re such a great dad.” When I hear that, all I can think about are the times I’m deliberately mean to him.  In the end, I hope that the realistic display of how I work through difficult emotions and the careful and caring debriefing that happens after the fact can only help my kids understand me and themselves as they grow older.

Finding Support while Screaming

A jumbled and scattered day six NaBloPoMo post as I prepare for a difficult weekend…

I’m traveling from the East Coast to the West tomorrow to visit my very ill grandfather, so today was a blur of coordinating schedules and figuring out who would be where when while I’m away.  We’re a six hour flight or drive away from any extended family members that might be able to swoop in and help my husband as he solo-parents for the next few days.  This means that we have to rely heavily on friends, many of whom have their own families to support.  Thankfully, we have some wonderful people in our lives that have agreed to help out.  Another same-sex parenting couple is carting our daughter all over town on Saturday from soccer games to birthday parties; these dear friends are a two mom family with a baby of their own, and more than once they’ve taken our daughter for some all-female bonding time, and she relishes having some time away from the three men in her house.  She often says, “Even the cats are boys!”  These two amazing women are even hosting our daughter for a sleepover tomorrow night to make things a little easier on my husband.  Then we have a great neighbor, a great mom herself who graduated twin girls from high school last spring, who has agreed to be our stand in at the kids’ “observation day” dance class on Monday.

Without these people, people who are honestly like family to our kids, we’d never be able to do what we do, at least not without a lot more screaming.  And that’s something I already have my fill of.  The other day, our daughter had to write down her family’s individual “special talents” for a Girl Scout activity.  She identified her brother as a great dancer, her other dad as a great singer, and herself as a great pianist.  I asked her what I was good at, and she said, “Screaming?”  With some gentle coaxing, she settled on soccer, something in which I have no real skill.  (They saw me kick a ball once really far and now forever more I will be the ultimate soccer player.)

While I’m dealing with the additional stress in my life that my grandfather’s sickness is causing, particularly because I’m so far away from him and from the family members that I want so badly to help support in person, I’ll allow myself a little extra leniency when it comes to screaming.  And maybe, if I always make time to calm down and apologize and explain the source of my feelings, my family might forgive me too.

Where I’m From

Day five of NaBloPoMo and I’m barely hanging on by a string.  I just booked a flight cross country this weekend to visit my ailing grandfather, and I just finished making arrangements for child coverage for my husband while I’m gone.  Now it’s way too late, and if I wait much longer I’ll miss my day five window.  So in honor of the many phone calls to California tonight and the cross referencing of which flight will get me where when and the plaintive calls to friends who are just like family to us to see who can take the kids to soccer and dance and back again–an evening that’s been focused entirely on family, both the one three feet away and the one 3000 miles away–I thought I’d post a poem I’ve written for my professional work in racial identity development.  My co-teacher and I ran a session tonight for 20+ educators, and we asked them to write a similar poem, following Linda Christensen’s fantastic suggestions.  The idea is to help educators locate themselves in order to better help students navigate these often difficult paths, and it’s something I’ve done for myself and with my high school students to great success.

I’m no poet, that’s certain.  But I took a crack at the poem a few years ago, and I retool it every now and then before sharing it with students; and it’s at least something that I think represents many of the aspects of “where I’m from.”  Here’s the current incarnation:

I Am From

I am from Saturday night poker games,
eggs purchased in crates,
and broken English laughter.
I am from bami and poffertjes
and fist fights with many, many cousins
to “godverdomme” and “Tante” and “Om.”
I am from “Oma” and “Opa,” too.

I am from a stranger of a father,
broken memories from my mother,
an overly logical engineer,
and knowing too much about
alcohol and drugs.

I am from questioning my feelings,
wondering “will they still love me?”
and “maybe it’s a just a phase”
and “what’s wrong with me?”

I am from new families created
By everything but blood
With the strongest of ties
That will never be broken.

I am from a complicated history that
begins on an island,
travels over many seas,
and stumbles through the United States
and back
that ends with me.