Saturday, July 4, 2020

(Happy?) Fourth of July

Up and down my Facebook feed, there are pictures and memes and Bitmojis declaring "Happy Fourth of July!  God bless America!".

I want to join in those greetings.  I really do.  It is the Fourth of July, and I do want God to bless America.  

But I'm not particularly happy.  Profoundly grateful, yes, but not happy.

I am so very grateful today for the health of my family, and access to medical care at our point of need.  I have a roof over my head, clean water to drink, a working vehicle with a tank of gas, a job with a fairly stable guarantee of income.  I have a spouse who loves me without abuse.  Our children received a decent education, and attend(ed) college.  I have debts, but God willing that I keep my health and my job, I have reasonable assurance I will pay them off.  There will be burgers and hot dogs on the grill today, and there's plenty of food in our pantry.  I have all of my basic needs met, and then some.    

I am grateful, and unhappy.  We have leaders who waffled on decisions that could have lessened the impact of our pandemic crisis, and people who just refuse to listen to science, and now our local ICUs are reaching capacity.  Yes, I have access to healthcare, but if I end up sick and hospitalized, it will not only be a health crisis, but a financial one.  

I am unhappy because once again, there is mounting evidence of interference in the essential act of our democratic system--voting--from within our own country and beyond.

I am unhappy because even though people are screaming in righteous anger and frustration due to injustices based on skin color and sexual orientation, there are those in power and in the general populace who are arguing to keep the systems in place that perpetuate those injustices.

I am unhappy because there are people who still think that all it takes to make it in this great country of ours is grit and determination, when it really takes much more than that.  Not one of us is a "self-made man"; our place in life is determined not only by our own efforts, but by wealth or lack of it, opportunity or lack of it, and assistance or lack of it--and much of that is influenced by race and gender.  A little bit of luck doesn't hurt, either.  

I am unhappy because too often I think of myself and my own wants, and forget others' needs.  I am consumed by consumerism, to my own detriment (refer back to aforementioned debt).  I have allowed outside influences to tell me what will make me happy, what determines a successful life, what makes me worthy and others not-so. I've given myself a no-spend challenge for the month, to jump off of the consumer hamster-wheel and redefine wants versus needs. 

Part of my "celebration" of this Fourth of July will be reading two books:  How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.  

I am grateful that I live in a country that allows protest, allows those authors to be published, allows me to write these words without fear of reprisal.  I am grateful that my basic needs are met so that I have the brain-space to contemplate these issues.  

I just wish I could be happier about it all.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Rethinking reader engagement

I am a librarian.  Connecting readers with books, interacting with students during read-alouds, prompting discussions on genres, teaching students how to navigate databases and cite sources--it's what I do.  I enjoy my job so much that when I am in my library, these responsibilities feel like privileges.  Seven years in, and I still pinch myself sometimes, grateful that I found my niche.

Library lessons didn't stop in March; they went online.  I helped students find books to read--but only the ones who asked.  It would have taken a lot of digital detective work to hunt down which of my 1250 students was aimlessly wandering our virtual aisles of ebooks without checking anything out.  I did read-alouds--but they were pre-recorded, no faces looking back at me, no vibe to prompt where I should pause and interact.  I had a few virtual read-alouds and discussions with classes and book clubs--but they were stilted due to technology restraints.  I provided links to databases and password sheets, offered personalized screencasts to help students navigate online--but I wasn't there looking over their shoulder to point out details, encourage them to dig further, remind them where the citation tools were located.

There's a very good chance that at least part of my job will be virtual in the fall.  There are some details that are absolutes, such as quarantining book returns for 72 hours before making them available again, and disinfecting the library in between classes.  That's assuming that we'll have students checking out books and receiving in-person, socially distanced lessons.  Education has veered toward collaboration as a standard, but we'll have to learn how to teach elementary students to do so in a virtual setting.

I will be on a different campus next year, faced with the task of building relationships with a new group of readers.  But will I be able to adequately do my job, especially for the readers who need this relationship the most?  I'll spend the rest of my summer thinking about it.      

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Out with a whimper while life is a bang

I didn't write last week, and it felt like skipping a workout.

The words were there, but they were all jumbled up in my head, swirling with emotion, mixed with selfish, civic, global intents. I am 
navigating a career transition, while
contemplating my white privilege, while
hurting for people of color, while
concerned about rising pandemic numbers.

My focus is scattered.  I am
walking and enjoying birdsong, then
reading How to Be An Antiracist, then
dreaming about library renovations, then
watching the news, then
processing library books, then
ordering fashionable face masks, then
reading funny kidlit, then
bemoaning the mess I've brought home.

My motivation and energy levels vacillate from one day to the next, one hour at a time.  There is so much to do, which means so much to avoid.  I am
napping more,
playing computer solitaire more,
shopping more,
eating more,
scrolling Facebook.

I sit at home whimpering, while life is banging loudly around me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tuesday Slice: First encounters

I grew up as a white military BRAT, the minority in countries around the world.
My parents were never the ugly Americans.
Any division in the ranks seemed to be officer versus enlisted.

Racial epithets were not part of my childhood home.
Sesame Street and Mr Rogers depicted a rainbow of people on TV.
I was only two in '68, shielded in my youth from that dark year.

An avid reader, I learned the words in print, recoiled at their use.
Heard the first aloud in college, walking the dorm halls with my roommate's little brother.
"Why's that white girl holding on to that little n*'s hand?"

I couldn't say anything to that girl in the presence of a four-year-old, just kept walking.

I dated a man with distinguished parents, a doctor and a lawyer, former military.
Didn't occur to me that his black skin mattered, until my family met him.
It was then I learned that the absence of epithets doesn't mean the absence of racism.

I have friends these days, distinguished in their own rights, who are followed in stores.
Pulled over in their cars in their own neighborhoods.
Afraid for their children who have done nothing wrong, but may be attacked anyway.

I have never been more aware of my privilege than in the last two weeks.
If I have been silent, it's only because I have been listening.
I pray those in positions of power are hearing with their hearts.

We know better.  We need to do better.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Big decision, new beginning

Life in quarantine was moving along.  End-of-school-year plans were being made, speculations about next year discussed lightly but without much purpose with so much unknown.  

On April 30th, my plans were turned upside down.  My neighborhood school librarian announced her retirement, a year or three earlier than I expected.  The school where I picked up and dropped off my children for eleven years, taught and interned for another three years while I worked on my library degree, was in need of a librarian for next year.

I was in shock for the next three days.  I weighed the pros and cons of applying with the library services director, trusted friends, colleagues in other Title I schools.  Other than the hectic pace of serving 1250 students at my upper-SES campus, I love my current job.  My administrators, staff, and assistant are amazingly supportive of my library program, as are the parents and students.  I am completely happy where I am.

And so I wrestled with this for two solid weeks, even as I applied for the position and went through a rigorous interview process.  Even as I was offered the job, and said yes.  Even as I announced, through my tears, my acceptance to my principal and our leadership team.

There are things I'm giving up by taking this job.  I'll miss daily visits (if we ever get those back) with my wonderful coworkers and students I've grown to know over the last seven years, these people who have taught me how to be a librarian.  I'll miss my wonderful assistant, who does her job so well that I can't claim to be her manager.  On a practical note, I'm giving up a spacious library that's only twelve years old, with windows on either side to view the mountain laurels and let in the sunshine, with an adult-sized bathroom tucked into the corner.  My neighborhood school was built in 1977; the library is small, completely enclosed by hallways in the center of the building, with no windows or natural light--and the bathroom is around the corner.

But...I will be gaining a fresh start, a chance to change my perspective, to focus anew on my "why" for being a librarian.  To pay back a little of what this school did for me and my children in their formative years.  To take what I've learned at an upper-SES school and figure out how to make it happen at a Title I campus.  To encourage another learning community to use and love the library as much as I do.  The three-minute commute and smaller campus--550 students--are pluses, too.
I've already received a very warm welcome from my "new" campus.  May I serve them well.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tuesday Slice: The eyes have had it

Dual laptop screens light up at oh-seven-thirty-a-m
Emails to read and respond
Presentations to record and tweak
Numbers to check, accounts to balance

Virtual meetings of ten, twenty, one hundred
The faces get tinier as the numbers grow
Straining to see who's talking
This one frozen, that one glitchy

I take breaks every hour, away from screens
A load of laundry here, a walk around the block there
A three minute solo dance party in the living room
A short trip to the bathroom to reapply lipstick

The timeouts help.....but by oh-four-thirty-p-m or so
The eyes have had it
And not even a book can hold their gaze long.

As a school librarian, I (like most teachers, I imagine) am not used to staring at laptop screens all day.  My eyes are usually focused on students filling a learning space or up close asking for a book, focused on a teacher's face a foot away or the pages of a picture book at arm's length.  I even purchased blue screen reading glasses; they help a little, but can't seem to erase the exhaustion of "close reading" all day long.  Summer break will be a break for my eyes!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Juxtaposition

Like planets aligning, celebrations will be juxtaposed this coming weekend.  My youngest, my second-born will turn twenty-two on Saturday.  Sunday we celebrate Mother's Day.

This has only happened three times before:  the weekend of his birth, 2009, 2015.  The next time it will happen will be in 2026.

I remember the coincidence in 1998 with a smile because of chocolate-covered strawberries.  I had been gestationally diabetic during pregnancy, and rule-follower that I am, had very little chocolate during my last trimester--we're talking three M&Ms each Wednesday, just to cure the craving.  My postpartum bloodwork announcing my normal bloodsugar coincided with the delivery of a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries from a local candy manufacturer, gifted to every woman in the hospital giving birth that weekend, in honor of Mother's Day.  I ate eight of them before leaving the hospital on Tuesday.

There are celebrations I didn't want to combine.  My firstborn's due date fell just four days before our December wedding anniversary, and I hoped they didn't match--how romantic is throwing a child's birthday party?  Fortunately, she complied....unfortunately, a bit too well, arriving on Labor Day instead. Yes, we all recognized the irony at the time.  She has had a Labor Day birthday three times since, and will have another next year.

But how can I deny the connection between my children's births and Mother's Day?  After all, I wouldn't be a mother if it weren't for the gifts of their arrivals.  Because of my son's timing, we get to co-celebrate every so often.  It happened the year after he was born and twice more since; it will happen again next year. I really don't mind.  His birthday, as well as his sister's,  always make me pause and remember what an amazing experience becoming a mother has been, and will continue to be.

Happy Mother's Day to all who celebrate this Sunday!