gifted shirt

Final tidbits

Today I finished the science recuperation exams for those who failed the term, hugged goodbyes to the Honduran staff (teared up a bit with Miss H., a beautiful woman inside and out, quién le admiro mucho), and walked my last walk home. On the way I worked on my final list of tidbit observations I’ve wanted to share.

1. Hair gel. Boys are never too young for a stylish quaff, preferably with copious amounts of hair gel. If Costco opened down here, it would sell gel in gallon tubs, because most people of the male persuasion take that shit seriously. A tornado could whip through town and rip out my pigtails, but their hair? wouldn’t budge. One rumor is that the gel is necessary to prevent the hair from getting messed up while playing football. Personally, I prefer a more dressed down hair style, but no one asked.

2. Bellies. On a hot day you will usually find men hanging out with their t-shirts pushed up so their bellies are exposed. No doubt this DIY crop top is cooler, but to my culturally biased eyes, it’s ridiculous. But, then again, if women can wear mini tops and shorts/skirts, men should have their own way of not melting from the heat.

3. Photos. More than once a parent of a child that isn’t my student has wanted a picture with me. I’ve read this happens elsewhere.

4. Selfies. OMG, folks, kids are obsessed with selfies. It’s one thing to read about it, another to experience it. I’ve never been sitting around and thought, “Wow, I really need to record myself in this moment,” but that’s all kids are thinking when they are with photographic device. I have selfied after a new haircut, while wearing a plastic bag on my head, and to upload a photo so I could virtually fit some glasses, but that’s about it. I selfie with purpose. The kids’ selfie-ism, however, is a whole ‘nuther thing and it took up much of the final hours of school and an end of year party I went to on Saturday. I kept telling my kids they were vain. (un?)Fortunately, most of them don’t know that word. That’s it, I’m old.

5. Language. When I first heard students describing another as being “blond”, I was confused. In the States, blond hair ranges from nearly white to yellow. Here, blond means any hair that isn’t black or deep brown, what we would call medium brown.

6. Fresco. “Fresco” is short for “refresco” which is “beverage”, and the only beverage that counts here is soda. It’s sold in 3 liter bottles. A party without fresco wouldn’t be worth attending. You could forget the pizza or cake or chips, but, whoa, You forgot the fresco?! Show your face here nevermore. If I’m offered coffee, I’m surprised to not be offered a side of fresco with my coffee.

7. Adult Children. Outside of school, I rarely see anyone in professional dress, as in non-denim pants, button down shirts, or dresses that don’t say party or picnic; t-shirts or company logoed polos and jeans are the standard work wear. Considering the economy here is agricultural, retail, and production based, I would hardly expect khakis, and I’m a supporter of comfort over conformity to a bizarre dress code. (Why is a tie considered formal? Does it symbolize that we are owned by someone else, like an animal? Do our uncomfortable restrictive outfits prevent us from running away?) Anyway, jeans and t-shirts, I can’t help being reminded of overgrown children.

8. Cavities. More than once the volunteers and I looked at little kid’s teeth and commented, “I’m glad those are his/her baby teeth,” because those black things will fall out and be replaced by new, whole teeth. Blame the ubiquitous fresco, cookies, and super sweet juices, and probably inattention to and inability to afford dental care (a tortillería offers free extractions). By the way, it’s ridiculous that dental care isn’t included in basic insurance or Obamacare.

This is probably my last post from this small town. Sunday I’m off to Útila to learn how to scuba dive, which I didn’t know was a thing you had to get trained for until I came here. At this moment the skies are throwing down rain, which I’m used to from Portland but actually enjoy here. Thunder and lightning (not so very frightening) make any rain so much more exciting, so worth the wet. I will miss it.

Moving on,

theresa

PS. If you are alarmed by the recent plethora of posts, fear not, travel adventures may lead to a temporary drought.

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Tire seat

Thought motes

1. Whining. Sometimes I (along with all the volunteers) am as whiny as the students. I groan when the Volunteer Coordinator reminds us about our weekly meeting, bemoan the pointlessness of our attendance when told of the monthly staff meeting, and bitch when a day off or free period is cancelled. Like my kids, I often try to shoot the messenger.

2. Plastic? I’ve been meaning to mention the love of plastic bags here. The freshness of the observation is lost after nine months, but I do recall that the eagerness to give me a plastic bag with my purchase, no matter how small and how many other plastic bags I already have, used to surprise me. Any rejection of the proffered bag is met with bewilderment. Fortunately, even the smallest bag can be reused for cut produce, like avocado or melon. Also, juice, water, and frozen juice or milk treats called topogigos are sold in knotted plastic bags. Bite off a corner and suck away.

3. Balls. One dreaded part of my job is litigating arguments between kids over stolen balls and fighting in general. If I can’t punt the role of judge to another, I dither about fairness and trust neither party to tell me the truth. Thus I chastise both and no one is satisfied that justice has been done. Is this a contributing factor to the “zero-tolerance” policy in many US schools? Where the bullied is punished for self-defense, as well as the bully?

4. Happiness. For twelve years, my primary jobs, excluding the theatre-related, and even some of them too, have put me in a position that where no one is happy to see or hear from me. A call from me or the sight of my face means that person has something he doesn’t want to. My first adult job was in bookkeeping at a medical collection agency. I took money from people who most certainly did not want to (and sometimes really couldn’t) pay. My next job was as a paralegal who had to contact clients to request a year’s worth of financial documents. And if those weren’t enough to present a solid picture to the court, the person had to supplement with another pile of paperwork. Then I had to contact these people with personal questions about their spending habits. More than one took my questions as personal attacks, despite my sugar padding efforts, my emotional tap dancing. In the theatre life, as a literary manager, I would have to reject more plays than I accepted. Now, I teach children who most definitely do not want to be taught. Please, can I just have a job making people happy?

5. No fun. Joe has been a real jerk in class lately, telling me I’m mean and bad, and whining about every bit of work he has to do. I’m afraid we’re going to end the year on a bad note.

6. Science. My favorite geeky boy told me I was the best Science teacher they’ve ever had, because I explain things so students understand. Now, how can someone not teach that way?

7. Cliques. I will not end this experience with “friends of a lifetime” à la some summer camp or group vacation brochure. Is the cliquishness among the team indicative of age or is this just how adults naturally act when forced together?

8. Ants. I look forward to living somewhere where I’m not awakened by fireworks or firecrackers exploding at 4am. Also, I will not miss the itch of ants crawling over me.

9. Sex. I’ve ended the year by teaching Sex Ed. Of course the kids (and this teacher) are counting the days until school ends, and this is my best bet at getting their attention. It’s also the only topic I feel qualified to teach (get your mind out of the gutter, because experience would mean I’d feel more qualified to teach English) because I was one of those kids in high school who went to other schools to sing about condom use and act as the good witch Sister Syphilis.

This is also my chance for a little socio-political action, to spread messages that girls will not be harmed by masturbation, despite what doctors tell women; that both parties are responsible for protection and the outcomes of sex, despite the fact single motherhood is high and 25% of pregnancies happen to women under age 16; that if someone tries to pressure you into sex as proof of love, you kick that person to the curb because they are quite obviously an asshole and you can find someone better; and, BTW, folks, Miss theresa doesn’t care who you have sex with, or how, as long as you respect yourself, respect your partner—and respect includes protection—and all parties are willing.

I’ve received such wonderful and frank questions, which I attribute to my attitude of non-judgment, but perhaps questions about threesomes and porn and masturbating with car parts are normal conversation topics at this age. I wonder at times if I’m being too direct and open—the grossed out faces on the 8th grade girls when they saw the banana condom, the distressed look on a 7th grader when I responded to her question that the first time probably will hurt, but if she is relaxed and with someone she trusts, it will be easier—and I know, at times, that what I teach is directly counter to their parents and the Church. But they ask, so I tell. And next week we’ll discuss, briefly, homosexuality, in the context of love, because how does more love in the world hurt anyone? While this was on my not-so-secret agenda, someone did ask me, in an anonymous note, if it was “bad.”

With all the grades I did an exercise to prove the point that you have sex with everyone your partner has had sex with. I choose an innocent (ha!) volunteer and informed the class that this lovely person just had unprotected sex and now has HIV, but s/he doesn’t know. She had a great time last night and decides to have more unprotected sex. So she grabs another student, who now also gets HIV, then both have sex with new partners, the disease spreads, etc., until in about four days, all 10, 14, or 17 of the kids has HIV. This lead to a 9th grade braggart assuring me he will buy condoms after school (yes, I am sooo impressed by your sexual prowess) and a shocked expression on Antonio’s face as the exercise ended. Ultimately, I’m skeptical of my overall usefulness here, but if my teaching gets these kids thinking about who they share their feeling parts with and how, then it was worth it. If it encourages my girls to be strong when they’re pressured, because they will be, and makes them less afraid of learning what they like, then it was worth it.

On a related note, the 9th graders laughed when I told them that some schools in the US don’t allow sex education teaching. All grades also enjoyed practicing safe sock wear.

10. More cats. During the Parents’ Day celebration, a 9th grader gave me an itsy bitsy quite-obviously-still-needing-its-mommy kitten, because “Miss theresa likes cats.” Now, she first tried to pawn off the kitten on the Volunteer Coordinator, so it wasn’t a gift for me specifically. Despite my protestations that I couldn’t care for this kitten, it was left on my lap and my student and her father left. Fortunately, my geeky boy loves animals and together we were able to convince his mother to let him take it home to his bunnies and birds. The kitten is doing very well.

3 weeks to go,

theresa

P.S. Today’s picture is the winning project for 7th grade. These were very popular seats.

heat

Flawed human

I present to you my last two students:

Glisa

I worry about Glisa’s future. Many of the female volunteers do. Her 12th birthday was two weeks ago, but she looks older. One could say Glisa is too pretty for Honduras, because beauty leads to attention, and that leads to to trouble. After her last speaking exam, she and I chatted about her desire to study medicine in Cuba (apparently it’s good there?). I encouraged her with a full heart, because Glisa is such a bright girl, and told her that she’d have to be strong and push aside those that would stand in her way, like guys, because guys would try. She laughed. She knew what I meant, but she’s only 12.

I’ve heard that life at home is horrific, that the busito driver has pulled up to the house and heard her younger brother being whalloped by their stepfather. Last year, if not this year, Glisa came to school with stripes. While the younger kids share these wounds with the volunteers, the older ones don’t. I haven’t seen anything and she is rarely anything but cheerful, but I have pulled her aside to tell her that she doesn’t need to give the mid-parcial grade letter to her parents if she doesn’t want to. Glisa’s grades are not the best. She’s careless. She doesn’t study. She chatters constantly, like its an addiction she can’t kick. I shudder when I see her stepfather. Glisa adores her mother.

If she would steal Isabel or John’s focus, there’s nothing Glisa couldn’t do. She radiates light and joy and curiosity. She’s the only person to pester me with questions when interested in a science topic and her hand is usually the first when I ask for opinions. She’s the only 7th grader who (still) loves Justin Bieber and didn’t vote for Antonio in the school elections (he lost). Glisa is silly, with startling moments of maturity and clarity. She would also fit in easily in the US.

Glisa has a crush on Antonio, which everyone knows and he exploits. She hugs me most mornings. She is so hungry for affection and attention. It could be the homelife, or not. It’s this hunger that makes me afraid for her, because someone will prey on it. I want to protect her in a glass shell.

Lizz

After watching me talk with Lizz during recess one day, a volunteer questioned why I dislike her so much. Ouch. Awkward, egotistical, needy, self-concious, unpopular, and hopelessly obsessed with a boy who doesn’t know of her existence, Lizz has been hit with some of the worst characteristics of adolescence. Were I a better, stronger, more compassionate person, my own recollected wounds of those years would help me be gentle with her, but I’m not that person.

Lizz lies to me, carelessly, obviously, then denies it when caught. She disobeys my request that she not hit her cousin, John, and is disqualified from a game, then asks why she didn’t get candy when her team wins. I give her candy so she’ll just leave me alone. She’ll wave me over to her desk with a hushed “Miss, I have to ask you a question,” in such a way that I assume it’s a sensitive matter, but it’s something purely mundane, such as having her homework ready to turn in and I should praise her for it being early, despite her doing it instead of taking notes. Lizz is convinced she is the smartest, exclaims “Miss!” in a shocked tone over…what, I don’t recall, but nothing shocking…expects exceptions and special attention. I ignore her when she complains of illness, because I’ve heard her wolf cry too often.

At first I was able to meet her needs with sensitivity, but now I’m short, impatient, and snap. She’s just a girl, and no one deserves that, especially from a teacher. I don’t know if she notices, but I notice, and that’s enough to wound what is left of my soul. Tara is another recipient of my exhausted, impatient self. She notices.

My imagined soul is spongy like a liver and now shriveled, with decayed spots, like the heart with atherosclerosis I showed the older kids in science. When I am less than kind, or give deserved punishments, or litigate arguments over whose ball it is or who broke the pencil sharpener, a spot appears or darkens. I suppose it will heal, but I’d rather it never appeared in the first place. Ah, the pitfalls of being a sensitive and deeply flawed human. Maybe the damage is mitigated by hugs from the school’s baby dinosaur.

I remain,

theresa

Visual of a lesson plan

The rabbits hopped all night long

Some people were wondering how I make my magic:

First off, organizing this thing called teaching, would be a heck of a lot more difficult without my wonderful teachers from the Concordia University TESL/TEFL Certificate Program. Those women are idea masters, and while I’m sure they’d look at my lesson plans and find tons of areas for improvement, including my inability to set concrete objectives, I know I’d be doing worse without having basked in their wisdom for three weeks last summer.

I have an English curriculum but my kids are so behind that I’ve barely looked at it. We started the year by reviewing the present simple (Rabbits hop. Do you hop? They do not hop.), present continuous (Those damn rabbits are hopping!), past simple (The rabbits hopped all night long.), and the past continuous (While the rabbits were hopping, the students failed to understand this tense.). That carried us through the first two parcials. Now in the fourth parcial, we’re slogging through comparisons, including similes (She is as ugly as a monkey. My feet are smellier than your feet. They are the smelliest in the world!). Along the way we’ve started and quit Holes by Louis Sachar, a wonderful book but too difficult for my little bilingualites, studied parts of speech, basic sentence structure, the paragraph burger, spent an entire term on pronouns, and are about to explore the future simple and “going to.” We will probably wrap up the year with a review of prepositions. If this were third grade, I’d feel rather accomplished!

I’ve seen others’ lesson plans and can only drool at their simplicity—“Grammar tense,” “Do stuff,” “The End.” My memory is crap, as are my improvisation skills, which years of theatre games only reinforced. My lesson plans are detailed and color coded and written in Excel so I can have everything aligned and indented just right.

I plan my week around a short list of goals, usually a grammar tense, to be practiced in reading, writing, speaking, and listening (RWSL), and a specific writing skill, like paragraphs, and build my lessons from there. Starting with the third parcial, each day of the week has a certain task or skill area we always do. For example, we start every class with a Phrase of the Day to work on pronunciation and do an activity with that week’s vocabulary. Mondays always introduce new vocabulary; Tuesdays and Thursdays include reading a short story; Wednesday, a listening activity and review of troublesome sentences from the vocabulary homework; Thursdays, Bingo; and Friday, vocabulary quiz. Well, those are the goals, anyway. Inevitably, the activities take longer than anticipated and things get shuffled around, but the outline of the ideal week saves me so many hours of wracking my brain for a variety of activities that work on all the skill areas. The first two parcials found me floundering in a sea of how to fill my all of those minutes. Now, I still flounder, but less.

As for the day to day…here’s what it looks like:

Phrase of the Day: I found a TEFL site with silly limericks. We practice a line a day and then put it together at the end of the week. Pronunciation is tricky to practice because the kids feel self-concious about speaking alone, and I can’t correct them too many times or they retreat.

Vocabulary: There are only so many activities I can do. Some activities found online look fun, but I can’t imagine my kids understanding them or cooperating, or having the resources for them. But we have a staple, including the race-to-the-wall-to-find-the-paper-with-the-correct-word-once-Miss-T-has-read-the-definition-but-do-not-attack-your-competitor game.

Grammar: Look on the internet for exciting, limited resource, kid-appropriate activities, that will also accommodate their miniature attention span. Eliminate the numerous websites that promise “exciting worksheets,” an oxymoron if ever there were one. Consider low-tech alternatives to high-tech ideas. Consider prep time. Superlatives lead to a boon of activities the kids liked, including “Best of the Class.” The kids voted that Joe is the most handsome and romantic and that Kim and Jojo are the silliest. Krissy, by a landslide, is the strongest. An ideal activity can be exploited to cover more than one skill. Writing—students had to make a correct superlative sentence for their vote to count; speaking—students had to discuss with a partner if they agreed or disagreed with the results (not that the students ever talk in English unless I’m hovering over them); writing/paragraphs—students had to write about one of the results and why they agreed or disagreed with it. Later I might copy out some of the paragraphs and use this as a How to Improve Your Paragraph study.

If I can’t find useful ideas online or in my Azar grammar book, especially for speaking, I attempt to create my own, with varying success but almost always with slips of paper with drawings or words on them that the students have to pull from a pile to utilize in some way. Some work in reality, others, only in my mental classroom. As for worksheets, the few times I’ve downloaded them from websites, they’ve been for too difficult for the students, or just really bad, so I write my own, an exercise in tedium.

Tap dancing: In general, this is how I feel as a teacher, that I have to entertain my kids every moment. Be the most interesting thing in the room, make learning inspiring and dynamic, blah blah, all the responsibility is on me. I completely agree that a teacher should try to make lessons as interesting as possible, but the kids take this one step further and expect playtime. Sometimes I get that old fart feeling akin to the “When I was a kid we walked up hill both ways to school.” Boring or not, I/we did our work. I don’t remember my classes being activity filled. I don’t remember working for parties or behavior points. Yet, that’s what I’m expected (by the kids) to do, and if I don’t, all I hear are whines of “This is so boring” or “You never let us play football.” They’re kids, I get it. I take this all too far too heart. I’m not meant to teach kids at this level. What would it be like to teach people who wanted to be there? The occasional moment I hit on something they like is such sweet relief, this happiness, that learning or no learning, I want the moment to continue. I make note of the wins and failures and hope for the best.

As the end of the year nears, it’s tempting to just phone in the lessons, give them free periods, try to avoid bumps. But, like I tell the kids, I’m mean. Yes, it’s 100F outside and in, and I still expect them to know the difference between a noun and a verb. I refuse to be sorry. (Okay, I wish I were that firm…but I’m just so tired.)

Back to the whiteboard,

theresa

Grover

Now and later

Many adults, caught in the tangled net of responsibility, look upon their childhoods or those of their own children with nostalgia. They recall childhood as easy, but I know I wouldn’t want to travel backward, except to visit moments here and there that weren’t so hard, that weren’t rife with confused emotions, intimate conflicts with friends, and tall people telling me what to do and feel and laughing with condescension at my wounds. Then kids, too, get bundled up like debris in the messy lives and emotions of their adults, whether those are parents, guardians, or teachers, people they’ve been told to follow, but who at times have no idea what they’re doing. Yet they tell their kids, Follow me, while another adult, doing something completely different, also tells their kids, Follow me. Still others are punishing their kids in order that their life won’t be followed.

Kids are told to do this now or don’t do this now for reasons they’ll understand later. They’ll get to thank some big person later. Study math now because you’ll need it later. Don’t have sex now and you’ll understand later. Too much of a kid’s life is spent in a vast later that stretches beyond comprehension, because when you’re five and those five years have seemed pretty long, the next 13+ years of later is forever. I would imagine by the time you’re in the adult-dreaded teenage years that later is a pretty sickening word, especially because you’re starting to feel more like an adult, be given adult-level responsibilities, but with none of the freedom, and are still hearing about that neverland later. You know that later is closer but still much too far.

This is me, trying to be compassionate with my students.

One of my seventh graders, KB, lives in one room with her family, her mother, her older and younger sisters, and her niece. The fathers of her sisters are semi-involved financially in their lives; hers is not. Their family relies on her mother’s part-time income and foreign support. KB is the responsible one, for her little sister and for her niece when her older sister isn’t home. She worries about too many adult things, like rent payments, because she has to. She has adult worries but not adult trust, and KB is very torn by this. Her mother gets suspicious whenever she talks to a boy in her neighborhood and has punished her upon hearing rumors of such conversations. I’ve been told about name calling and shouting over this issue. My student knows why her mother is concerned—pregnancy—but all KB wants to do is talk, and it’s unfair that she’s responsible enough to take care of her family but not move beyond the gate that closes their apartment to the street. I have heard this story many times this year.

With my oh-so-vast adult wisdom, I can see as her mother does, how talking leads to one thing and another, as it did for her mother and so many others—and too many of the others are barely older than KB—and I can understand that her mother fears most that this second daughter will create or end up in her same circumstances and is determined to lock her up and even beat her to prevent this. I can also see that KB is fiercely loyal to her mother, protective of her family, responsible as best she can be, and she honestly just wants to talk to this boy (Okay, I bet if a kiss happened, she wouldn’t mind.). But there’s no way that KB will understand that for now she gets to worry like an adult, care like an adult, but can’t be trusted like an adult. There’s too much now and later.

This is me trying to be compassionate when she fails a test and can’t help flirting with a classmate rather than take notes.

Kim is insecure and not a little goofy. She’s tall, long-limbed, and has a birthmark on her face she’s ashamed of. Rather than believe in herself, she idolizes other girls, girls I wish she wouldn’t, because they are terrible role models, girls who need good role models themselves. For a few weeks early in the school year, Kim and I had a breakthrough and she went from coloring in class to wanting to please me, which translated into her working. Now, she works and will participate more than she did at first, but if her friend isn’t working, neither is she. So I try to sit them apart, and her mother wants this as well, but Kim is shy, a little strange, and a lot of the kids don’t like her. How can I begrudge her a friendly elbow partner? She gets mad when I move her and sulks with her head on her desk. She tried to cheat on her last parcial exams. Then, after lunch, she’ll zoom around the room and stand an inch away with her lovely lopsided smile and a “Hello, Miss Theresita!” Of course it’s a joke on me, but I’m glad she’s comfortable enough with me to be that weird and, honestly, I’m quite weird. I just worry that the sparking light I see in her is going to be twisted by whomever she places her trust in and not lifted, as it needs to be, but she’s not strong enough to lift it herself. Yet.

Lately she’s been in detention a lot, for not doing her work. When she’s upset, she shuts down and it’s hard to find access. Sometimes I have to threaten her with going to the office.

Her best friend and idol, Jojo, has divorcing parents and a distant father. Too many dads are out of the picture. Jojo’s been a slippery enigma since the beginning. She has a wall a mile high, much of it fortified with insecurity. I also can’t sit her next to anyone else in class because, as I’ve said in my less compassionate moments, she gets her claws into them and brings them to the dark side, as she did with Kim. But I’ve found some chinks in her armor. If she doesn’t do her work, it’s often because she doesn’t understand, which she’s too proud to admit, and so I always thank her for her questions and invite her to ask more.

This is me trying to be compassionate when they both ignore and giggle at me and I itch to place them in hugs bordering ever so slightly on a chokehold.

This is me trying to be compassionate when Fred, mortified at being so behind, yet again cancels our tutoring session, but the fact is he shouldn’t be in seventh grade, he’s already failed once, and he continually disrupts class because he’s bored and lost. He gets by on his sweet smile.

Sometimes I have no idea if my sandwich is being buttered with bullshit. I wasn’t prepared for life in this emotional blender of compassion and adolescence. Did Jojo really not understand the homework or is that an excuse for forgetfulness? How can I blame the kids for whining when it’s over 80 degrees in our classroom with the broken fan, but I need the whiteboard for our lesson? Was the science quiz too difficult or did the kids just not study? Am I explaining this poorly or are the kids just not paying attention? I’m not proud or arrogant to enough to assume I’m always right. I dole out negative reinforcement with secret guilt, wishing the positive reinforcement were enough.

Often I forget they’re kids. It’s hard not to when they’re practically adult sized and not cuddly like the wee ones. I struggle to comprehend that they (mostly) aren’t kids like I was, who paid attention, who suffered the boredom silently, who didn’t like but understood the importance of later. I forget that my world is not their world. The other volunteers were more normal as children, or perhaps they’re just more resilient, and don’t appear to be caught in this emotional goo. I forget that inadvertent rudeness happens when you don’t know the subtleties of the language you are learning. I get impatient and sometimes unfair and too often take this all personally.

My kids are kids; they barely comprehend tomorrow, much less later. As I write this, the compassion swells into my fingertips and my weekly forecast is tinted with hope and strength. I can just see myself navigating these moments with skill and grace. I feel myself remembering childhood and the future that came much too slowly. And then…I can feel myself dreading the alarm Monday morning.

I’ll try.

Indubitably,

theresa

P.S. Grover came to Honduras with me. Despite his self-doubt, he dabbles in superheroism.

Owl a student made

New becoming

The older I get, the more meaningless my numbers become. There are fewer markers than in youth, when 5 = school, 13 = hormones, 16 = driving, and 18 = adulthood and voting for the civic-minded, and 21 = drinking. To somehow get a handle on how quickly time is passing and how slowly I am changing I calculate the distance since key events or non-events. I graduated from high school almost half my lifetime ago. I’ve known my best friend for 23 years. I met my partner in crime when I was 30. My mother gave birth to me when she was 30. Despite my age, I’ve never owned a house or car and don’t see either happening soon. I’ve never been pregnant. I’m older than many, if not most, my students’ parents. I don’t feel 35, whatever those numbers should feel like. The 3 has two little cubbies I could crawl into; the 5 has one. Neither is as pointy as the 4.

Still, if I think about my age, I piddle a little, that is to say my heart thumps, my throat squeezes tight, and then I shut down the emotional circuits, disconnect, and find a book to escape into. Despite the message of youth-obsessed culture, I know 35 is not old, and older age doesn’t have to be the sad, hopeless, decrepit, inflexible, ugly, and undesirable portrait culture paints. I haven’t reached the half-way mark of my 82 year expectancy, according to WHO. My wise mind understands that age is worthless and bears only the value I ascribe. But let me indulge and say I’m not where I’d hoped I’d be. Or, letting go of expectations, impossible predictions when I’m a small part among billions, foresight, shoulds, I’ll adjust that to I’m not where I want to be, because I don’t know where that is, and I feel the door to there shrinking. [Not to get all Dr. Seuss, but Where is There? It’s not Here. Is it Near? Should I fear the Here and There not Here?). I feel too old to be this lost and insecure, more lost than I was at 18 and without the hope I had then, that hope of Youth, and Potential, and Bright Future, to be fighting some of the same demons as at 13, like acne, and disordered eating, and depression, and self-contempt and -doubt, and loneliness, and conflict avoidance. I don’t want to be on the proverbial deathbed ruing the time I wasted disliking myself. It’s nonsense, really, more not important stuff, that time spent in dark places. I’m old enough to have the important stuff sorted by now…aren’t I?

Growing up I wasn’t told that dreams change. In school, by family, I was asked what I wanted to be, as if there were only one thing I would ever become, similar to the myth that there’s only one soulmate. There might be many, or none. Stories usually end when the protagonist has reached The Dream or found The One. Maybe it’s our desire for certainty. I want certainty. There is none. People hop from job to job, live with parents indefinitely, see retirement as a fantasy, cling to worthless college degrees for a guarantee, cling to anything for a guarantee. In The Dream, I wanted to be a Writer, but the vastness of the field—the people, their skills, their voices—and my inability to foresee my place…. Bah, that’s just a fancy way of disguising that I got scared. I wrote a problem I couldn’t solve—how to bring the garden of a story to life (figuratively)—and then lost my confidence to write my way into and out of other problems. And then the stacks of half sheets—the white space of full sheets being too intimidating—filled with snippets of plays that went nowhere got too tall and I stopped waking at 4am to write and just…stopped chasing that dream. I doubted too many of my lines. I tried replacing it with others in theatre, but that drama eventually broke my heart. It took me into its gapping maw, chewed up the juicy bits and spat out the rest. I want(ed) to be married and just a little bit famous. Now I’m in search of another dream, another becoming. Or becomings.

This new becoming is so much more difficult than the first. The first time around I had teachers encouraging me, the relative comfort of school and peers, the cradle of parental support, the promise of potential. That meaningless potential, a bottomless cup to be filled. I’ve let, my fear has let, all those people down, not that they remember. I always felt like a phony. This second time ’round I’m dream-shy, leery of the chinks in the armor, the blade of confidence duller. I’m conscious of the need for money and medical care, that I somehow must prepare for the day I won’t be able to work. I shamefully consider the income-earning potential of my dreams. I plunge my soul for new dreams and find vagueness. I explore ideas and run aground. I skim my resume for skills and come up empty. I pick up a book and hide.

I’ve never wanted to go back to my younger self. The current demons are generally kinder than the old. But I do envy my students. I envy our teenage volunteers. Unless I can carry my current knowledge, I don’t want to be that young again, but I do want what that youth represents. The clean future slate. Untarnished hopes and dreams. So much time to mess up and succeed. Ignorance of failure’s weight and how much nonsense can hide the The Path.

If age isn’t important, why am I worrying? Because one day I’ll look too old to start over at the beginning of a field. Because I’ve lived this long and tomorrow could die with nothing of note in my obituary but regrets. I censor my self-ageism. I publicly cry that you’re never too old to change. I tell myself that I will make something work one day, if I keep trying (how American of me). My public face is hopeful. It is this hope that keeps me going, despite knowing that I might not ever make anything work. It took me here. The hope and the reality play tug-of-war with miles of intestine.

My heroes are Stargirl, Ramona QuimbyYotsuba, and Black Widow of The Avengers movie. In my dreams, theresa is lithe and flits from person to person, place to place, the world a hopscotch board, making smiles. She wears sparkles. Roadblocks make her laugh. She never needs sleep. She’s probably a fairy.

ta ta,

theresa

P.S. The owl was sewn by one of my (male) students in Actividades Practicas, a.k.a. Home Ec. I liked it so much he gave it to me.