more adventures from first grade

''?Donde quieres ir?'' La maestra asks the first graders. ''You can go anywhere you want, and with anyone you want.''

''?Para yo? Yo quiero ir a Francia, con mi mamá.'' She draws a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Half the class copies her answer in the same prompt. José, however, follows his heart.

''Yo quiero ir a la Pulga.'' ''?A la Pulga?'' I ask la otra maestra, knowing the word means flea. ''Mercador de pulga,'' she clarifies. ''The Flea Market, in Pasco.''

There is the pre-schooler a co-worker told me about. My friend, a tall white 20-year-old, was asking this little boy what his name was. The boy was so shy he actually covered his face with his hand, then proceeded to remain that way throughout the entire snacktime, eating his Cheerios.

Or R, who always wants to partner with me in the ''Hola Amigo'' song in Spanish Social Studies every morning. ''How's it going, R?'' I asked. ''Not so good,'' he replied, hand on his lower back. ''Yesterday I fell off my bike and broke my back.''

There is G, who comes to school late every day with hair sticking up like he just woke up, wrapped in his mother's jacket. N, in foster care, who always talks about missing his mom, to whom I've learned to say I'm sorry, you can't hold my hand, because I know he won't let go.

Some names I have written down (from just one kindergarten class) include: August, Diamond, Unity, Kannin, Arasely, Chris C. (apparently there are two), and Tiyauna. Some spellings on third-grade posters in the hallway: ''She is dansen.'' ''The gurl is flexebo.'' ''Dicas da sun muds.'' (That's ''Because the sun moves.'') and elfelfat (for elephant).

And oh, I love these kids, but sometimes it is incredible to think how we ever learn so much.


There in the darkness where she once held my hand
I said all the wrong words just scared of another man
Up on this hilltop, lie next to me...

-the way much


''Those are the facts, Em, facts which carry neither blame nor merit. The fact was that Abby's twins were born without enough strength to survive. We tend to want to blame or praise, but life doesn't divide itself that neatly. You're going to be looking for someone to understand you, too.

...but that's not going to be enough. I've worked with a lot of artists, Em, and they all have a need that cannot be met by another human being. That's why the affairs, the one-night-stands. It takes greatness of spirit to understand that the need is not meetable, and just get on with life.''

-Certain Women, Madelaine L'Engle


why it's hard to imagine ever not working with kids

At recess today, Amber, in kindergarten, standing high up in the center of a four-way see-saw of sorts: ''Amber, should you be standing up there?''
''Don't worry,'' she tells me, pointing to lavender Crocs, ''these shoes are really sticky.''

Sirgio, who I've taken to calling Sirge (like Surge, that soda from the 90s), is one of the smallest first graders, but wears clothes that are way too big on him--huge tee-shirts, super long shorts, even those Wolverine brown hikers--he looks like a little gansta. A couple weeks ago, I was saying something to him in Spanish, and he looked at me and said in English, totally deadpan, ''I'm half-Indian.'' It was hard not to laugh. ''Be that as it may, this is still a Spanish period, and you do have a Spanish name.''

On school picture day Tuesday, Xitlalli, who looked very cute with her hair all done, got so nervous she couldn't stop crying and actually threw up.

DeMarco led the meses del año song with an A-B pattern of alternate winking eyes. Awesome.

When we were talked about what things we try our best in today, Avarie, smart but rather high-maintenance, said flatly, ''nothing.'' A couple weeks ago she fell apart, crying (sans tears) and declaring, ''my nose hurts right here,'' as she touched the skin between her upper lip and nose with the end of her finger.

Dylan, with the white-blonde bull cut, skinny wrists, and black-framed glasses, always comes to school wearing different types of head-gear: baseball cap, cowboy hat, and, when it was raining, an umbrella hat. Recently we were walking outside to the bus when Teacher Mario pointed out his pants were unbuttoned and unzipped under his huge brown jacket. ''Dylan,'' I stopped him, ''please zip up your pants.'' He insisted he could not button them, which left me the awkward job of doing it myself in the middle of the bus lines, fingers splayed like spiders so as not to touch any part of him. Ridiculous!

Then there's Diego, 7 in May but in first grade. He doesn't necessarily fit right into the public school protocol (he was in Montesorri for the past two years), but his personality, dryness, questions: I want a son just like him. Summer birthday and a little old for the grade included.

And I almost forgot! Today, some of the third graders were asking about a picture of a man's hand with leprosy. ''What is that?'' they wondered. ''It looks like Voldemort's hand.'' I briefed them on the skin disease, how it's very rare now compared to in the past. ''Oh yeah,'' a couple of them knowingly replied, ''My grandpa has that. His feet look just like that.''

So the days include a lot of me madly scribbling new Spanish words into my red notebook, high-fiving third grade boys, teaching fifth grade math lessons, first grade reading, and recess playground moderation. It's amazing the authority any person over four feet tall has out there, and the stream of reports they receive. ''Teacher, teacher, Dakota kicked Zaden.'' ''Okay Francisco, thank you for informing me. If Zaden or Dakota has a problem, they can come tell me.''

In other news, I just signed up for a Women's Carpentry: Wood Refinishing class. !Qué emocionante!


wishing to share a cup of chai with you

It's interesting how easy it is to skirt real conversation in life. I don't just mean by using email, texting, or brief messages, but I also mean in our actual interactions with each other.

T.E. once told me how rare he found real, actual conversation, you know with two people actually doing a somewhat balanced amount of sharing and listening (not just story-trading or topping!), of give and take. I remember sort of being surprised when he said that, like, well, maybe you're just too quiet or something... but I think it's true.

I think real conversation takes work, maybe more work than most of us are used to in our addiction to instant-gratuity, and I also think it's kind of scary for people, to actually open up about their lives and thoughts and questions and allow another person access and even, on some level, say. Because to really let someone in is also implicitly trusting them to judge you fairly, to not write you off if they disagree. To keep listening and practicing empathy and also telling you the truth.

We have made our own stories so cheap, resorting to them before we have practiced the long art and discipline of conversation with another person, and so ascertained him/her desirous/deserving to hear; R. told me once after dropping a big piece of hers onto a new acquaintance how she thought, ''Wait--that is a pearl! I want to be careful.''

K. was telling me Sunday about a dinner she just had with a boy. She said something about a documentary she had seen in class (in an interested, informative, curious, moved-by, sharing way), and he immediately got defensive and closed-up, like he took it personally, when she was just trying to reflect.

Why do we do that? Why do we get uncomfortable and shut down when someone says something we disagree with? Especially in a public place, I think that can feel really unsafe... when some kind of opinion is presented as the Obvious Right, and so we are afraid to publicly think differently. And I always jump to, ''Well, this conversation is just honestly lower than what I'm interested in, so I'm not anti-these people, I just don't want to participate.'' Like it's a lost cause or something.

I don't know what I'm trying to say, except that I wish I could go to some kind of group of people, of friends, who didn't show up with the assumption that everyone else feels the same way as them about things, or that trace attitude of being the Enlightened or Right one. A people who want to talk and listen and ask and share (platicar, I always think, though the google translation of that word is terrible) about faith and life and the meaning and narrative they see or long for and the questions of why and who and for what? Why are we all so afraid of this?

Both my friends who call truth by the name Jesus and my friends on the search for truth, for the divine, it's like we are all so quick to be offended, to shut down, to refuse to engage in conversation. I count myself. I think part of the reason we can't talk about politics and questions and beliefs is that we don't know how without feeling we have to establish ourselves or feel directly attacked by someone else's opinion. And sometimes we even let our opinions sound like attacks. So we talk about sports and the weather and work and gossip instead. Or we attend awkward meetings where we are in the closeted minority and so don't/can't engage and feel alone.

And why do we even have to have an opinion on so many things?

I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. To try to learn from everyone what I can. I want conversation to be more relaxed again. I don't want to live my life arrogant and enlightened and making other people feel unsafe when I say what I think. I want to live as someone who invites others to share, who listens well, who provides safety, and who tells the truth as best she can in a way that furthers conversation, the wanting.


Moving makes me feel like a first-year in college again: willing to participate in any activity / with anyone for the purpose of making friends. Cosmic midnight bowling? No problem! Whisky shots, nighttime graveyard walks, multiple coffee dates? I am down!

The nice thing is being a lot less insecure and a lot less anti-in-general than I was at 18. If you decide to be into it, anything can make you laugh, and most things can actually be pretty fun.

So I was more than happy Saturday when all these ridiculous hang-outs added up to a great hike with four other, more interesting, and less random, people. Not to mention it was in the 70s. Followed by an evening drinking tea and laughing at An Idiot Abroad.


Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around

And our love is pastured such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues strong
But it's always darkest before the dawn

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It's a final mess but it's left me so empty
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark and right at my throat
Looking for heaven, for the devil in me
Well what the hell I'm gonna let it happen to me

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out


One Thousand Gifts / Ann Voskamp

''Daily discipline is the door to full freedom, and the discipline to count to one thousand gave way to the freedom of wonder and I can't imagine not staying awake to God in the moment, the joy in the now. But awakening to joy awakens to pain.

Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don't numb themselves to really living. Pages of the gratitude journal fill endlessly. Yet I know it in the vein and the visceral: life is loss. Every day, the gnawing...

What will I lose? Health? Comfort? Hope? Eventually, I am guaranteed to lose every earthly thing I have ever possessed.

When will I lose? Today? In a few weeks? How much time have I got before the next loss?

Who will I lose? And that's definite. I will lose every single person I have ever loved. Either abruptly or eventually. All human relationships end in loss. Am I prepared for that?

Every step I take forward in my life is a loss of something in my life and I live the waiting: How and of what will I be emptied today?''