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Picking My Battles Posts

Quality Time

When my sister and I were kids my mom spent a lot of time studying for her masters and then her doctorate in History. I remember wishing she would play with us more, but I don’t remember resenting her time in her office.

Now, as I work on my master’s, I follow her footsteps into my office many nights, reading until late in the evening after my lessons are planned for the next day at school. Thing2 is pretty busy forging his identity these days, so I don’t feel as much guilt about time in the office or studio as I probably should.

As I work, I know that, even though she’s been retired from teaching for over a decade now, on any given night, she’s probably in her office reading and writing articles or preparing for a guest lecture. So tonight, as I organize the evening’s notes into my binder and nitpick over reference lists, it will feel like we are actually spending some quality time together.

SuperDude 3.0

superdude.JPGI think Thing2, a.k.a SuperDude has been training me to be a teacher for his entire life.

I had mapped out my curriculum for my high school English classes for the winter. I’d planned short stories in January, before launching into a literary survey of Black History Month in February, essays in March, and National Poetry Month in April.

It was a bulletproof roadmap. It just wasn’t teenager proof.

Short story is a great way to introduce and review literary devices, as long as you have a killer short story to use for your example. Knowing my students’ love of gothic and horror themes, I started with the Grimm brothers’ version of Snow White. It’s a story almost everyone has read or heard, so I figured we could use our common knowledge of the plot to review things like theme and character.

And first teenage head came to rest on a pair of hands folded on the table on the far end of the room. Twenty minutes to go, and I was losing the crowd just as we were talking about protagonists. As I hobbled over to the table to give my potential sleeper a reference sheet, however, I noticed a Captain America badge on her backpack.

Thing1, but especially Thing2 has dragged me to and cajoled me to sit hrough dozens of viewings in theaters, on Netflix, and on DVD, of every Avengers movie made in the last eight or nine years. I will admit that more than a few of those viewings have been spent snoring or scrolling, but more than a little Avengers’ trivia has flitered into my consciousness.

In mid-hobble, I suddenly asked how many of my students had seen Avengers Infinity War. All hands went up. Had they seen the entire series? Again all hands went up. I stopped at the far table, and my student was now sitting up straight.

“Who would you say is the protagonist in Infinity War?” I asked.  A few brows furrowed, and then answers started resounding.


“No, Chris Evans! He was sooo cute!”

“Who is the character with a goal who drives the plot?” I asked.

“Thanos!” The answer was a chorus, and we began talking about plot and story arcs. We were discussing series’ themes by the time the class transition was announced, and I had to usher kids out of the room toward the next class.

As the backpack with the Captain America badge disappeared through the door, I mulled over SuperDude’s role in the success of the morning. Protagonist or antagonist, he had saved the day.



Katie the Wonder Dog and Princess Jane may come from different litters and different species, but they are sisters in almost every way.

When Katie goes out to play, Jane usually trails close behind. If I poke my head out at night to call the cats in, Jane will bide her time (Jim come right in to claim his spaces on the humans) until her big furry sister signals that she, too, might want to go in and lie front of the wood-stove.

Most nights the three of them will camp out in my office. Jim sleeps on my arms on my desk or paper recycling basket. Jane, however, often ends up on the dog bed, and I am never sure if her choice is an act of sisterly affection for the spaces where Katie has been or a little good-natured sisterly competition for the things she thinks they should both have.

I don’t know about the rest of you with sisters, but  this question’s a tossup for me.

Creative Spaces


For the last year or two I’ve returned to the drawings for what should already have been my first children’s book and blamed its delayed completion on my dissatisfaction with them. The other night as I walked into Thing2’s still-messy room that inspired the project in the first place, however, I realized my frustration wasn’t with the drawings or even with the eternally messy room. The problem with the story was, well, the story.

Thing2 recently renovated his room. He bargained its cleaning in exchange for being able to swap out his bunkbeds for a “real bed“ and a coat of paint. He used money from odd jobs to add LED light strips near his computer, turning his room into his “studio“.

The other night as I was bringing in his laundry, I realized that the room, somehow still a mess despite our bargain, is actually a temple to his creativity. His guitars are in one end of the room. My old keyboard is a table, and, while he does a fair amount of gaming, his computer is set up and used for making and editing video montages and digital music.

And it hit me. I’m not living with a slob. I’m living with an artist.

One of the longest-running ‘jokes’ of my marriage is that I, at 5’3”, can turn a 6’6” bear of a husband into a trembling bowl of pudding by merely whispering the magic words, “I have an idea.” He knows that those words can be the beginning of a new painting or post, or they can be a red-flag warning of a manic house- and life-renovating binge that could spin out of control before, half-completed, it sputters out as a room half-painted and remade or a previous, perfectly fine renovation removed to make way for the new idea. Those words, given life, have the power to turn large portions of our house into Thing2’s room, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time.

I write. I paint. Often, even though neither is my vocation, I like to consider myself an artist. Despite our inside joke and my frequent guilt about the chaos caused by my ideas, I am usually hopeful that my husband mostly enjoys living with one.

But chaos’s ugly offspring is doubt, and that doubt was playing out on the pages of the story book. The child in my story turns his room into chaos. His mother tolerates it, cleaning up after him, until she can tolerate it no more. When her best effort’s to get him to “Fix“ the space result in a bigger mess, she surrenders, rather than celebrates what the mess is.

I’m still going to police that room and my ideas. It’s one thing to fill a room in a house with sketchbooks and scraps of paper from DIY movie props, after all. It’s quite another to try to feng shui empty Doritos bags into something resembling an ambience. But, thinking about Thing2’s creativity, I realize I need to go back to my storyboard and think about how to celebrate the messy spaces and lives of budding creators of all ages.

Better than Before

The girl had received bad news for the umpteenth time in the last few months. Her sobs of despair reverberated down the hall as she asked the powers that be, “What’s the point?”

“You’re the point!“ The cosmos answered in the form of a lanky young man charged with keeping order the school. “People like you are the point, “ he repeated. “Don’t you know that you all make us better?“

I smiled as I leaned my head towards the doorway to listen from my classroom. I was on standby for hugs and comfort, but my young coworker was already working his magic. And, as he elaborated on the ways our students make us better, I thought about how Thing1 and Thing2 have done that for me every day over the last 19 years.

Just before Thing1 was born, I still didn’t have a handle on my bipolar disorder. My depressive episodes sporadically threatened jobs, and manic phases spurred spending sprees and other self-destructive behavior.

But then Thing1 happened, and I knew I had to be better.

“Every day I go home after work and think about how to be better,“ my coworker said to the girl who was now listening quietly. “You do that for all of us.“

I thought of all the ways I have tried to be better for Thing1 and Thing2 over the years. I thought of the therapy I’ve sought and the examples I’ve tried to set.

Then I thought of all the ways our students spur me to be more organized, to learn more, to be better for them. It made me smile as I thought of how no matter what we will ever do for our own kids or for the ones we take care of during the day, we will always owe them far more for every day making us a little bit better than we were the day before.

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