Monday, June 29, 2009
Today I went to lunch with my grandmother, two brothers, and the kid and the talked turned quickly to Michael Jackson. I mean, he was a HUGE part of our childhood, especially for my older brother and me. I have been resisting the urge to write about Mike, because I'm sure, by now you've read every tribute, seen every video, and pulled out ever LP, CD, or MP3 of his music you've ever owned. But talking to my brother today brought it all back.
Michael Jackson is a LEGEND!
Michael Jackson's music indelibly scored much of my childhood. My bother and I reminisced about acting out the "Thriller" video--we'd put on the LP, he'd deepen his voice to mimic Vincent Price, and I'd tackle the dance moves. Around '85, my bro had a red leather, multi-zippered jacket, just like Mike. We thought it was so cool when we spotted it at the swap meet and BOTH begged our dad to buy it, pleeeeeaaasssseeee. Although my mother was very strict about what kind of music we could listen to, just about the only secular music we didn't have to sneak in the house was MJ. My mom made an exception only for him (Prince was way too much for my young ears), and we all crowded around the TV, super excited, when "Remember the Times" premiered on NBC.
As we talked, I realized just how BIG Michael Jackson was to all of us. My brother--mid 30s--was still able to tell me the songs from "Captain EO", a film we saw EVERY time we went to Disneyland (which was a lot). He was still able to tell me the ending of the video "Bad," and reminded me that "Smotth Criminal" had a super extended version that stared Joe Pesci. Our conversation made me really, really want to watch, "Moonwalker," a film that took viewers through MJ's career. I watched "Moonwalker" so many times I knew all the words & all of MJ's dance moves. My aunt had the movie and we'd watch it every time my dad dropped us off at her house. I called my aunt to see if she still had a copy, she didn't, but thank goodness for YouTube!
In honor of Michael, I want to share my favorite clip with you. Enjoy!
What is your favorite Michael Jackson memory?
What's your favorite song?
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 5:49 PM 6 comments
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Today my son and I were enjoying the freedom of our summer break and decided to walk to the bookstore. Since I’m trying to get the munchkin ready for preschool, I choose to use our walk as a teachable moment about colors. As we passed some flowers growing in someone’s yard, I asked him to name the colors.
“Purple mom! Das purple!”
“Good, and that one?” I said pointing to a white flower.
“That one’s white,” I said.
“White,” he repeated.
Then he said something that caught me off guard.
“What’s her color?”
My son pointed to a fair-skinned Latina that passed us on the street, and I didn’t really know how to answer. “What’s her color mommy?” He asked again, a little annoyed I didn’t answer him the first time. Silence. I was silent. I mean, how do you break down race and ethnicity to a three year old?
“She’s wearing black…her shirt and pants are black,” I scrambled to answer him somehow.
“Oh,” he said and kept walking.
Our walk to the bookstore and our conversation made me think about the influence, or rather lack of influence, race and ethnicity have on little kids. They are not born knowing or recognizing any differences between themselves and others—we teach them that. They are not aware of any of the cultural connotations, prejudices, and stigmas attached to different ethnicities—that’s all us. So how do we talk to our kids about the diverse world in which we live in such a way that teaches them to appreciate everyone’s uniqueness?
Every since Obama was elected, people have been talking about “post-racial” America, an America that has finally shed its racial prejudice and has achieved a sense of colorblindness. Honestly, I don’t buy it. Sure, America has elected a Black man as the president, but that doesn’t mean we are over our history of systematic racial oppression. Just when we’re ready to say we’re “post-racial,” racism rears it’s ugly head in the form of Rush Limbaugh, or the elderly man shooting up the holocaust museum, or some other lurking presence forcing us to take a long look in the mirror and confront this country’s racially divisive past (hello hollow slavery apology). Despite all of our strides, we have not moved beyond race…and shouldn’t’ have to.
In order to live peacefully as a body politic, you do not have to pretend our differences do not exist. We do not have to blind ourselves to our cultural, racial, and ethnic markers that help make up who we are---we should celebrate them. Pretending something doesn’t exist, is still pretending.
When I think of the blood of my ancestors—the Africans brought here so long ago, my Native American great-grandmother, my Belizean grandmother, my southern mama—each of these things, have shaped me into the woman I am. To sweep that aside under the guise of colorblindness would be akin to suicide. It would mean I’d have to give up myself in order to fit in. And that’s not a choice I’m willing to make.
No, in order to truly ascend above our past, we don’t have to be post-racial, we need to be ourselves.
And be okay with that.
Parents, how do you talk to your kids about race?
Do you believe we are in a “post-racial” America?
Or is that even a good thing?
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 9:13 PM 8 comments
Friday, June 19, 2009
I can finally breathe.
The school year has taken its last, long winding turn into the summer sun. The kids are gone. The grades are in. The room is packed up (well, not really), and I can finally relax.
This year seemed to last FOREVER. Longer even than my previous years teaching. Now that I have time to look back and reflect on how it went, I’m longing for a “do-over.”
My students were more than a handful this year, they were like a duffel bag of firecrackers, each full of their own opinion, swagger, and hormonally driven angst. I had to fight some of them every step of the way just so they’d see that what we did in that room was valuable. Some battles I won, some, I was beaten down, but at the end of the day I hope each of my students walked away with at least ONE lesson learned.
The last month or so of school, we read the novel, Monster, by Walter Dean Myers. In the novel, a sixteen-year-old boy was on trial for murder. I knew my students would be interested in the novel—strictly on the subject matter alone—but I didn’t know they’d LOVE it. To date, three books are “missing,” stolen by someone itching to take this masterpiece home with them. A stolen book, in a class full of self-proclaimed non-readers, is the highest compliment. So I was pleased not only that many of them told me, “that story is dope Miss,” but also because they could see themselves between the pages. For once they saw themselves and a world that looked like theirs reflected in a book. And that made my heart smile. To see them so deeply engrossed in the book, they yelled when we had to stop, lifted my spirits. But it also made me wonder how differently the year might have gone had I included more books like these in my class? Would they have listened more? Would they have tried harder? Would they have not gotten into that fight? These are the questions I struggle with as I run this year back through my mind over and over again.
If I could do this year over again (and lords knows, I don’t wanna!) I’d pick better books. I’d focus on building a family, before we building perfect sentences, and I’d make sure to celebrate their every achievements—no matter how small. If I had it to do over again, I’d be their biggest cheerleader and critic, pulling no punches and not just pacifying them because I’m tired, or not into it, or feeling lazy to fight. If I had to do over again, I’d work a little smarter, not harder, saving my energy for what really counts—them.
This year is officially over, so there’s no going back. What I can do, however, is think about the issues, my battles and victories and do better next school year. Even though today is over, everyday offers you an opportunity to do it over.
What do you wish you could do over?
How will you improve on what you did today to make tomorrow truly GREAT?
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 5:38 PM 6 comments
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I'm a restless soul. What can I say? I'm a Gemini. Sometimes I get so absorbed in a project or idea and I'm working on it like a maniac till like 3 or 4 in the morning, and other times, I don't give it a second thought. That's how I was with this blog. I blog in spurts, but I know I should do better (have you noticed? I've been trying!). I know that I have certain goals in life. I want to write, but I hardly carve out enough time to just sit down and do it. That must change.
I stumbled upon Aliya King's blog the other day, and it came at the right time. You see, she's a writer/journalist and she doles out TONS of great advice/inspiration to those of us starting out in the writing game. Although I'm not starting out, I did go to school for this, I haven't taken advantage of every opportunity I've had. When I think back at where I could have been had I hustled a bit harder, I want to kick myself. But as my mother always says, there's no sense crying over spilled milk, so I'm moving forward.
Although it looks like I'll really be jobless come June 30th, I'm not worried. Through a short twitter discussion with my girl, Mdot, I realize this is just giving me the space to SEIZE the opportunities I've been neglecting. I want to write, and now with more time on my hands (sans job & with unemployment check in hand), I'll have time to write. I've been talking about releasing a collection of poetry for YEARS, and have just never done the work. I have the poems, sitting, waiting, but I haven't put them together. I will work on pulling it together this summer. I'm also going to see what I can get into on the web. I've already made contact with a few popular sites to do guest pieces, and to my surprise, they're open. So I'm going to roll with it. Even though it would be SO easy, I'm not going to complain about losing my job. Instead, I'm going to be open to all the opportunities that will come my way, and embrace them.
What have you been neglecting that you REALLY want to do?
When are you going to stop wanting to do it, and just do it?
(let's encourage each other!)
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 5:50 PM 10 comments
Monday, June 08, 2009
“Where's the munchkin?” She asked looking around for my son, who is usually attached to my leg, especially when in the company of people he doesn’t see a lot.
“He’s outside in the jumper,” I smiled and pointed toward the backyard.
“He's Baaaaaad!” she chuckled and walked off saying something about my son being cute.
I was taken aback. Her words stung my ears while I tried to brush aside her comment. Bad? My munchkin?
My son isn’t bad. He’s very active. At three he loves Thomas the train, Curious George, running, jumping, playing, his mommy, picking up rocks or bugs, kicking a ball, building sand castles, going to the park, any kind of truck, and eating strawberries…not in that order. He loves life, has a smile that can at once break and heal your heart, and he asks a million questions.
A few months ago I heard Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, on This American Life. He spoke about his program, which aims to end poverty in Harlem by educating kids from birth through college. His program boasts amazing results. Most of the students in his charter schools score at or above grade level and many have gone on to attend college. Although his programs are phenomenal, what blew my mind was the Baby College program. Baby College teaches parents, mostly poor and Black and Latino, to rethink how to parent. The program starts even before the baby is born. They discuss brain development, types of non-physical discipline, and having high expectations for your kids.
In the episode of This American Life, they discussed a study that tracked the dramatic differences between the number of encouraging words upper middle-class parents, and their poorer counterpoints, spoke to their children. The differences were stark. The well-off parents, on average, encouraged their children 500,000 times by the age of 3, and only discouraged them 80,000 times. Conversely, poorer children heard only 80,000 encouragements and 200,000 discouragements by the time they were toddlers. Which brings me back to the woman’s comments about my son.
This woman so easily brushed my son off as “bad” because he’s not always quiet, has his own mind, and likes to see what’s around him. I suppose, in her mind, he’s "bad" because I don’t beat him into stick-still submission. At three, my son shouldn’t be afraid of me, shouldn’t be afraid to learn about his environment, or move. His job isn’t to stick so closely by my side that he can’t do anything else. At three, he should be learning all that he can about the world around him so that he can grow into a well-rounded adult. I think many of us forget (or don’t know) that a child’s brain develops through exploration and being able to discover their world. Does that mean they’ll always explore quietly and in the ways that we’d want them to? No. But does that make it wrong? Definitely not.
Her comments also made me think of my students. I wonder, how many of their parents have continuously told them they were bad, or stupid, or crazy. I’m sure many of them have heard these words so many times it has become some sort of sub-conscious mantra. Today, I was in a parent conference, and my student’s mom threatened to “knock her teeth out” and “slap the shit out of her” on about four occasions. Clearly this mother believed heavily in “spare the rod, spoil the child,” but is it working? Is this little girl the best and brightest student I’ve encountered this year? No, she’s failing, and perhaps part of the reason lies in the messages she gets from home.
I know that I can’t control what others say about my son, but I can control how he is treated at home. Let’s face it, my son has enough strikes against him: he’s a young black manchild who’s father is incarcerated. My job, however, is to nurture him in such a way that he grows up strong and proud and loved.
How do you show your kids you love them?
Do your encouraging words outweigh your criticisms?
*listen to the episode of This American Life mentioned in this post here.
*Find out more about The Harlem Children's Zone
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 8:33 PM 9 comments
Thursday, June 04, 2009
It's almost here. The end of the school year is only 10 days away! I wish I could fast forward two weeks, but alas, life doesn't work that way. This year has seemed to have lasted forever. Even though the end of the year will most likely bring the end of my job , I'm still so excited. I'm looking forward to the rest, relaxation, and the promise summer brings.
Last Sunday, as I was watching reruns of Girlfriends, I starting thinking of what I'd like to do this summer. One thing that kept popping into my head over and over again was taking a road trip. Those of you who follow my tweets know I asked for advice about road tripping on the west coast. But ever since I first thought about it, it's been on my mind nonstop. Maybe it's the seemingly extra long length of this school year that has me primed to get away or perhaps it's the emotionally draining group of students I've had this year, but I know I need to get out of LA for a bit.
Apparently, I'm not alone. Every travel site I've been to lately has been talking about "The Great American Road Trip." Growing up, we never really went on road trips, unless you can count Las Vegas. But I never fancied the idea of riding in the car for hours on end, staring at the brown, bare landscape outside my window. But as I age, I'm starting to be a little more appreciative of the world outside my window.
This summer, I want to hop in my car and drive the kid up the California Coast. It's a short enough trip that I can get where I want in a day. Hopefully, the shortness of the drive (4 hours) will help me avoid the wrath of a 3-year old and his tantrum. We'll see, but I'm willing to chance it to see something different and have some fun.
What are your favorite road trip memories? What trips do you still want to take?
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:55 PM 6 comments
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Today we had a faculty meeting after school, which aimed to inform us more about the budget cuts, new info from the district, and securing our teaching positions for the fall. As many of you know, as of June 30th, I won't have a teaching position with the district unless they find some money and resend the layoff notices. Until now I have been very lackadaisical about our state's and our country's fiscal crisis. Yes, I'm worried about being unemployed, long term, but I haven't been stressing about it. What can I say? I'm blessed to not allow things stress me out too much, even when everyone around me is going crazy. But today, after Governor Schwarzenegger's speech, and hearing of the drastic cuts he wants to make to our social services and education programs, I'm terrified.
According to the LA Times, the Governor's plan would trigger "a dismantling of the state's CalWorks program, which serves more than 500,000 poor families with children, as well as the elimination of Healthy Families, which provides medical coverage to 928,000 children and teens." Moreover, the Governor's proposed cuts "would save $909 million by eliminating prisoners' substance-abuse counseling, vocational training and educational programs, and commuting the sentences of nonviolent offenders a year early."
Once again, the state's neediest residents--mainly poor women and children--will be deeply effected by the proposed budget cuts. I am always amazed that in the midst of any fiscal crisis, when people are in need the most, states scramble to cut services aimed to help people who really need it. Most people hearing the news about California's budget issues have the luxury of watching from the side lines, shaking their head at the loss of jobs and benefits of millions. But it effects me, tremendously. For too long my state and my school district have mismanaged funds, spent beyond their means, and haven't operated with the future in mind. The chickens of fiscal irresponsibility have come home to roost.
For once, I am scared. I'm afraid that my state which houses the 8th largest economy IN THE WORLD, will fail, not only forcing out state into insolvency, but also further tanking the whole US economy. And then where will we be? Fewer social services to depend on, less jobs to go around, less hope, less opportunity. The Golden State's sheen has definitely dulled, and for once, I'm really considering jumping ship before it's too late.
Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:43 PM 3 comments