Monday, August 7, 2017

Go Play!

I banished the kids outside on Saturday. They'd been on their tablets for too long, faces stuck in Youtube. As soon as they unplugged, the complaining started.

Mom? I'm bored.
Mom? What should I do?
Mom? I don't know what to play.

I closed the sliding door in their face and told them, "Go. Play."

As I cleaned the kitchen, I happened to glance out the window into our backyard. My ten-year-old twins Jacob and Emma were lying in the hammock. With notebooks and pencils! They were talking and writing and talking some more.

Well, you know this English teacher mama was just so pleased. I imagined the stories they were creating. Probably making heart maps, right? Or maybe they were writing poems about the neighbor's dog, or, you know, Nature. Or maybe they were sketching, and then they were going to write about those sketches later.

I smiled to myself, so proud that getting them to unplug had led to this development. About 15 minutes later they migrated to the back porch. I headed out there with my book and peeked over Emma's shoulder to see what was in the notebook.

What I saw had me rolling my eyes.

It said: Ideas for U Tube Vids

Ugh. What?  That is it. We're getting rid of the tablets. I'm putting them into Luddite training. They are so addicted to those screens. 

While this internal rant was happening, I had an ear cocked to their conversation. Suddenly, I realized that my inner monologue needed to shut up and listen. Because they were being smart. Smarter than I gave them credit for.

"Oh, we should do one of those videos where we tell people they can ask us questions in the comments. Those are always funny," Emma said, adding it to her list in her notebook.

Jacob nodded, adding "But nothing too personal." He wrote the idea in his notebook too. They had a handful of possibilities on their list, many based on things they enjoyed watching.

On the next page, they were generating a list of the things they didn't like about Youtube. Here they were noting features of Youtube, and limitations that annoy them. They were doing such a close reading of Youtube as a genre, and that list was informing how they might make their own channel and generate content.

As I watched them write ideas in their notebooks I realized that this is what I hope for our writers, for the creators in our classrooms. My kids were immersed in mentor texts, considering audience and purpose and tone. They were making choices about form and content and purpose.

They were creating. On their own.

I was embarrassed to think about how my first instinct when watching them out of the window was to ascribe to them the kind of writing I like to do, the writing I'm good at. I was disappointed that I'd been so quick to dismiss their ideas when I first heard them talking.

I realized too that my kids first chafed at the idea of having to figure something out on their own. They wanted me to give them the answers, to direct their thinking. But what they ended coming up with was so much more genuine and engaging than anything I could have thought of.

And as I reflected on my reactions as a parent, I shifted to think about myself as a teacher. How often do I do this in my own classrooms?

As I move into a new school year, this is my goal. I'm a literacy coach now and in this role I'm supporting other teachers reflect and plan and grow. I want to get students doing more of this in our classrooms, not just in backyards and playgrounds and maker-spaces. I want to give kids time to mess around. To think about the world they live in and consider ways in which they can contribute to the conversations they're already a part of. I want students to make choices about topics, about genre, about craft, about delivery. I want to empower them to see themselves not just as consumers, but also creators.

And then I want us to get out of the way.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Love Letter to OWP

I'm sitting in my soon-to-be-someone-else's office today working while my 10-year old twins are at Youth Writing Camp. That feels like a full-circle kind of thing, since I started working at the Ohio Writing Project right after those big kids were born, when I needed still to be connected to education.

And so I came home, back to the place where I learned how to be a teacher. To the place where really, I grew up. To where I learned to see myself as an Educator, a Writer, a Collaborator, a Researcher. Back to the place that taught me to take risks, and honored my voice and path.

I came back to OWP. And now, as I take a step away from my role here to try something new, I can't help but think of all the ways this house has built me.

OWP: Where We're From

We are from the first day of class, pulling desks into U-shapes,
making name tags and introductions,
pulling out Writer's Notebooks, waiting to be filled.

We are from writing beside students, reading with them,
making our learning visible,
unpacking what we do every step of the way.

We are from exit slips and one-word notecards,
from Heart Maps and quickwrites,
from finding our querencia and taking Writer's Dates.

We are from Mary Fuller and Max Morenberg,
visionaries, lighthouses, nudgers,
whose long gone voices I hear echoing through us all.

We are from the teachers who led the way --
Romano and Daiker, Holly and Jean,
Linda and Beth and Helane,
We are from Monica: the heartbeat of it all.

We are from Anderson and Kittle,
from Marchetti and Heard,
Lyon, Lane and Glover.
From Fletcher and Wilhelm,
all who came to our home, filling our toolboxes.

We are from
skype chats and twitter chats,
a library brimming with resources
with too many authors to list,
whose shoulders are broad and strong.

We are from the words on the page,
the whispers in the conferences,
the digital posts and the post-it notes.
We are from notes after every single presentation,
slips of treasure.

We are from mentor texts, grammar lessons,
and too many ideas to ever actually implement.
We are from reflection, and action research ,
from "yeah-buts" and "you should write about that".

We are from summers spent driving the long roads to Oxford,
and walks to the Duck Pond.
We are from Bachelor Hall and the VOA,
from weekend workshops and Saturday treasures.
We are from classrooms and listservs,
and tweets and hugs.

We are from being teachers,
to teachers who write,
to writers who teach.

* with many thanks to George Ella Lyon, one of my first writing mentors,
in a looooooong line of mentors I've met since 2001.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Grandma Wolford

Marge and Justin
My Grandma Wolford passed away this morning. She was 92, and lived a wonderful life, so it's an odd mixture of sadness and pain for my dad, but relief for Grandma that I feel this morning.

She was a force of nature, that Marge. She had lots of opinions and wasn't quiet about them. She was also quite charming and loved to meet new people.

Marge loved to sing and would hum the tune of anything, even the pop songs on the radio. She loved my Grandpa Justin for her whole life. Their picture still hangs on the wall of her room at the Judson Palmer home and that is how they'll look in my memory for the rest of my life. When they were young Grandma loved to go dancing and I have always loved those pictures of them cutting a rug.

Grandma Marge, Uncle Arthur, Aunt Patty
Grandma grew up in the country with her Norwegian mom, farmer dad and her two sisters and brother. When the surviving siblings and all of their off-spring are in a room together, the memories of life on a farm flow. It was a different time and it always reminds me how important it is to preserve those memories.

My favorite memories of Grandma involve swimming at her house. She and my grandpa had an awesome pool, screened in, with a slide and a volleyball net. We spent most of our early childhood swimming at that house. I learned how to swim there when my dad threw me in the deep end. Emily lost a tooth in the shallow end. We'd watch Uncle Kevin and his friends in awe as they played volleyball and were just cool.

Grandma was never a very good gift-giver (one year I got shoelaces. Another Bible stories on VHS...even though we didn't have a VCR yet). But when our baby sister Katie was born, she took Emily and I to the mall and let us pick out Cabbage Patch dolls. She also let us get our ears pierced and it was one of the most special days of my 10-year-old life.

Grandma always had a collection of books for us to read (both my grandmothers were awesome at this). She ordered the Sweet Pickles series to keep at her house and we wore those books out. There was a wooden bookshelf in the guest room and that was always the first place I would go when we visited.

Grandma also loved to read, the steamier the romance novel, the better. I remember driving to Florida with her one year when I was 12 and she had a huge bag of books in the backseat. I began to pilfer her stash and I think I might have become a woman on that trip. I definitely learned some things about heaving bosoms and ripping bodices from Grandma's stash of books.

My Aunt Tari was with Grandma when it happened. My hometown's hospital plays a lullaby chime every time a baby is born and within a few minutes of Marge slipping away, Tari heard the lullaby: a reminder of the cycle of life, in all its pain and beauty and fullness. 

I can picture Marge right now, humming that lullaby and finally dancing with Grandpa Justin.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Taking a Walk With a Sea Lion

A sea lion followed me this morning.
Or maybe I followed him.
We traveled parallel paths,
him playing in the waves,
me dipping my toes in the surf.
We moved together for half a mile,
maybe more.

I first saw him lying in the sand,
ahead of me,
as if maybe he was waiting.
As I got closer,
he scooched back into the ocean,
where he belonged.

I'm also scooching home,
back where I belong.

But, first, I'll take a walk with a sea lion.

Friday, March 31, 2017

3.31.17 #sol17

No rooms at the inns,
Still miles to go.
How did we not make a reservation?

We stock up on Mt. Dew,
Put the kids to bed in the van.
We decide to drive through the night.

We'll end the trip how we started,
At 3 am.
Yawning, cramped necks, but grateful.

So I blog on my phone (it's the last day! I can't miss!)
Then I'll get some sleep,
Readying for my shift in the drivers seat.

And tomorrow, maybe, I'll write about the adventure.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

3.30.17 #sol17 Six Word Memoirs: Vacation

Tonight is the last night of our week vacation in Florida. We head home tomorrow and while I'm so sad, I'm ready to be home (now if only we could skip the 15 hour drive...). In reflecting on our trip, I decided to write about our time using the six word memoir, one of my favorite types of writing. 

Six Word Memoirs About Florida 2017: 

Lazy mornings. Full days. Tired feet.

Siblings bond, fight, make up. Repeat.

Take a video! No. Make memories.

Marveling at good fortune. Blessings abound.

Wrestling with conscience about Sea World.

First half: delicious. Second half: fast.

Restored, recharged, reconnected. Ready for home.

Trying to create candids; best spontaneous.

See the wonder in their eyes.

So very tired. So much laundry.

Letters in sky sum it up.

Today at the pool someone had hired a sky writer to write Thank U.
Captures how I'm feeling tonight. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

3.29.17 #sol17 To the Guys at the Table Next to Us...

Dear Guys at the Table Next to Us,

I saw your face as you watched the women walk past. I noticed the ladies too. I know. They were fat. Like, really fat.

They were fat, and their shorts were short. They were showing a lot of flesh, overflowing their waistlines, their shirtsleeves.

I tried not to judge their bodies -- I know they probably do enough of that on their own (or maybe not, and that would be freaking awesome). I reminded myself how hard it is to be overweight in this world. To wear shorts. To wear a bathing suit in public. I'm a little overweight and I dread having to wear a bathing suit. They were a lot overweight, and so I presumed (maybe incorrectly) that it's just freaking hard.

And then I saw your faces. Your rude, disgusting faces. You, the goateed one, saw them first. You grimaced and then nudged your buddy. "Look at that," you said, just like you probably do when you see a hot girl, but the sneer on your face made your connotation clear.

Your buddy turned around, noticed them walking away, and he shook his head. Like he had the right to judge these women and their bodies. Shook his head as if to say, "what are they doing here?"

I felt white hot anger. I felt protective of these women, even though I couldn't pick them out of a crowd. How dare you?

And then I noticed: your daughters sitting next to you. Young women. Tiny bodies, not yet formed. They chattered away, seemingly impervious to what just happened, but I know they soaked it in, because that's what our kids do. They are watching us always. Is this the world you want for your daughters? A world where men feel entitled to comment on their bodies?

Stop doing that.

Stop telling women how they should look in order to make you happy.

Stop it.
Right now.


That curvy chick at the table next shooting you daggers whose husband didn't want her to start a fight


I wanted to march my curvy ass over there and say something. But what? What could I have said that would have made a difference? And if I'm being honest, I felt self-conscious. What would they say about my body? But, I've been thinking about it all day long. I wish I had stood up for those women, for all of us.

I'm tired of being silent to be polite. I'm tired of watching men make judgements about our bodies, about our clothes, about our beings. And I'm tired of us doing it to each other too, if I'm being honest.


We must stand up and speak.