Three Words

November 26, 2012

Christmas fever has swept over our house. Cate and I love Christmas and have always gone to get our tree Thanksgiving weekend. But the fever has reached a new pitch this year because Simone is 3 1/2. Since we put the tree up on Friday, her mind has had but one focus. She wants to take the tree down so we can decorate it again. She wants to know all about Santa. She wants to “sit on the blue couch so we can snuggle and look at the Christmas tree.” She wants to read Christmas books. She falls asleep beneath the colored Christmas lights we have strung in her room. This morning, she woke up just as I was about to leave for work. The first thing she said was, “Is it Christmas yet?”

Yesterday, when I was looking for something to do with her that involved being still for a minute (her brother was napping), I asked if she wanted to watch movies of last Christmas. She eagerly agreed.

I have written on this blog before that Simone struggled with her speech. In my memory, she really exploded right around last Christmas, so I expected to see a sweet, chattery little girl. I had forgotten.

The video we have of last Christmas morning encompasses her first real reaction to Santa. She is clearly tickled and overwhelmed to have had toys magically delivered to her. She piles them to together and amazement sweeps over her face, but she does not say much of anything. The video is six minutes long and she says three word: Yeah, daddy, and thanks.

That’s it. She was two and a half and that was all she said. Instead, mostly what we get are the hand signals she had invented to communicate with us. I had almost forgotten about them. She makes a big, sweeping circle with both hands to tell us her stuffed polar bear is big and then pinches her fingers together, holds them next to her cheek, and shakes her head to tell us her polar bear is not little (this is to make sure we understand). She is getting across plenty of information and we clearly understand her, but she doesn’t say much of anything.

I wasn’t that wrong about her vocal explosion, though. In a video we took of her a little more than a month later, she uses four to six word sentences. She says more in the first ten seconds of that video than she did on the entire six minutes of the Christmas one.

It breaks my heart to see the little girl struggling to speak. It reminds me of how fragile my children – all children – are. But it also makes me extremely excited, because I will tell you right now, there is no six minute period during the day when Simone says only 30 words, much less 3, except when she is sleeping.

The best part about it is that we’ve reached a point where it is possible to have real conversations with her. To really talk to her about things. She has been struggling with the idea of when things happen (as you might notice from the first paragraph), so yesterday, we sat down for a little bit and looked at a calendar and talked about how a year passes. She still doesn’t exactly get it, but we can talk about it and she can think and tell me what she sees and what she thinks that means.

I know she understands me when I talk to her. I know her mind is working overtime to process all the new information she gets everyday. I know she hears everything because she will repeat things (sometimes things I wish she wouldn’t repeat).  And it is so nice to be able to see that. To have an exchange with her. Watching her a year ago made me remember how hard it was to have a child who could think complex thoughts, but struggled to communicate them. I am happy that her life is so much easier now that she can say what she wants to say and I’m happy that my life is so much better because I can understand her.

I have, for the last several weeks, been achingly self-conscious when writing my blog posts. It’s not that I think those posts have been bad or even that there have been that many of them, but I’ve been aware of a strain on my part. I don’t like that, so I figure the best way to surmount it is to come out with it.

Some of my students have found me on the internet.

This was bound to happen eventually. After all, this blog is and my Twitter handle is @jasonlinden. But still, it feels a little odd. I’ve typically been very open online. Until recently, this was easy because my readers were mostly a lot like me. That is, I know lots of you are somewhere between 25 and 50. You’ve got domestic lives. You go about your business a lot like I do. And so, I felt I could lay it all out. I like doing that. I like being honest because, generally speaking, I’ve always felt it hard to connect with lots of people and I have a job that requires me to hold back on certain aspects of my personality and beliefs because, frankly, they don’t fit within a classroom setting.

But that’s all a jumble now. I’ve always known that my fairly public and easy to find online presence could eventually become known at work. My approach to that has always been that it didn’t matter, or at least it shouldn’t. Because I am a person and I get to have a life outside of school. I get to talk about my political and religious beliefs, for instance, and as long as I don’t bring it into the classroom, then no one should have a reasonable complaint.

And then a couple of students found me, and I instantly felt myself pulling back. Enough of that.

I have been fortunate. The three students (as far as I know) who are following my blogs and Twitter feed are excellent students. Beyond that, they are quickly turning into really outstanding and interesting people. And honestly, I think their discovery of my online self has been good for me and for them. One of them has talked to me about how surprised she was to learn some of the things that are easily discovered about me. Indeed, a lot of sad stuff has happened to me and to my wife. It’s not something that normally comes up in school, but like everything that happens in my life, it informs the choices I make.

Understanding where other people come from, what their life-experiences are like, is never a bad thing. It has been said many times lately that the failure of our society is a failure of empathy. We don’t understand each other, and we don’t always try especially hard to gain an understanding. Well, now my students understand me. Or, at least, they understand a big part of me. What that means (or at least what it seems to mean so far) is that we have conversations as, yes, teacher and student, but also as person and person.

This makes everything better because they know now, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I am doing my best for them. That I don’t ask them to do anything unless I think they’ll get something from it. That I am human and have problems. That I am capable of understanding some of their problems and that I will listen to the ones I don’t understand and not judge them. That I care about them as students who are making strides all the time, but also as people.

I wish all my students understood that. If throwing this blog open to the world would accomplish that I might do it (no I wouldn’t, that’s terrifying), but I know it wouldn’t. And I can’t let their knowledge of this space change how I conduct myself. So yes, I will continue to write about stuff that pisses me off when the mood strikes and I will continue to occasionally swear a blue-streak through the internet and I will continue to write about education in general and my classes in specific. Because, if I don’t do that, then not only will the blog be less-interesting for my non-student readers, it would sever the connection these students have made with me.

So here we go…

Why I Voted for Jill Stein

November 8, 2012

I am thrilled to death that Barack Obama won reelection this week. I did not, however, vote for him. Here are five reasons why:

1. My vote is irrelevant. I live in Kentucky. Kentucky was going to Mitt Romney. In fact, for the second election in a row, it was the first state called for the Republicans. It doesn’t hurt that I felt pretty certain Obama was going to win.

2. Climate change. Obama is certainly no Romney (he’s not trying to build a giant pipeline, for instance), but I am extremely worried about climate change. The shit is hitting the fan on that as we speak and the US has pretty much done nothing. Republicans are so in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry it’s hard to blame Democrats too much, but this needs to be an issue. Nothing showed that like the monster storm that wrecked the East Coast last week. My kids are going to grow up dealing with this and it’s going to be a mess and I’d really appreciate it if my government could maybe, kind of spend some time worrying about it (if you are still denying climate change and man’s role therein, please pull your head out of your ass and go read a study that wasn’t sponsored by Exxon).

3. Women’s rights. President Obama’s administration decided young women under 17 need a prescription if they want to buy Plan B because otherwise they might abuse it or something. First, Plan B is freaking expensive. Second, Tylenol is more harmful in large quantities. Third, pander much? Once the Democratic party realized they needed women, they snapped back in line pretty quickly, but this was an egregious slap in the face and stunk of the idea that parents should have paternalistic control of their daughter’s virginity.

4. Civil liberties. If the government decides you have aided Al-Qaeda (and their latitude here is wide) they can lock you up forever without trial. This is not a good thing. At least, not if you believe in fair trials and due process. Those things, for the record, are part of the Constitution.

5. I am not a puppet. For most of the last four years, the Democratic party has been griping about the base and taking us for granted. I have my limits. If a party is going to so separate itself from some of my most basic values while pandering to people whose values are antithetical to mine at the same time, I am forced to conclude that this is not a party that wants m vote.

Democrats do seem to be getting the message that a lot of liberal policies (a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, etc.) are actually pretty popular. There’s a good chance they’ll get my vote back next time, but they need to show me that they care before it’s the 23rd hour of the next campaign.

Everything Is New

November 1, 2012

Last night, Simone went trick-or-treating. It was only the second time she’d gone, but it might as well have been the first.

Last year, she was only two and a bit. She had fun, certainly, and she liked that all of these people were giving her candy, but she didn’t really get it.

This year, we spent weeks hearing, “Is it How-uh-ween, yet? I want to tick-or-teat.”

Yesterday, she barely ate because she was too excited. The first thing I heard upon getting home from work was, “Can we go tick-or-teat noooowwww?” She had to wait a few more hours, but we set out shortly after six.

We stopped at Nana’s first because, of course, you have to stop at Nana’s first, and then it was off down the street and around the neighborhood. Her cardboard costume knocking awkwardly against her treat bucket. Running from house to house. But never, ever actually saying trick or treat because she is far to bashful for that. Instead, she smiled up at each person and held out her bucket. Toward the end of the night, when she was tired and it was loaded with candy, she wanted me to hold part of it with her because, “It is too heady.”

Watching Simone trick-or-treat emphasized everything I love about my daughter and everything I love about this part of childhood.

This year, she wanted to be a moon, so we cut out two big cardboard circles, painted them yellow with sparkly craters and used a ribbon to tie them over her shoulders. Almost no adults knew what she was (a pizza? a cookie?). I suspect this is because they were caught off-guard. After all, she wasn’t a ninja or a princess or a ninja-princess. She was the moon. The full moon (she specified full moon as opposed to crescent). I love that. I love that she hasn’t hit a point yet where she is overwhelmed by whatever is popular this year. I love that she is creative enough that she doesn’t limit herself to different kinds of people or even animals. In her imagination, she can be anything. Even the moon.

Simone’s creativity might be the thing I love most about her. I hope it never dies. I hope she never wants to be a ninja or a princess because that’s what everyone else is. Right now, she says she wants to be the sun next year.

We were in a pretty generous neighborhood last night and most people invited her to take a big handful of candy. At most, she took two pieces, and that was usually after some prodding.

We’ve had a few issues with sharing lately, but that is mostly because her brother is getting old enough to play with some of her toys and she doesn’t like it. Simone is not a greedy child. She never has been. If I asked her to, she’d give me half of her candy. The odds are probably better than 50-50 that sometime tonight, she’ll ask me if I want some candy.

So, yes, we have a lovely daughter and I’m very happy with the person she’s turning into. But that’s not the part I like best.

What I like best is how new everything is. Watching my child run from house to house brimming with excitement because she has never really done this before is magical. It’s so rare, as an adult, to experience something like that, but with Simone, it’s happening all the time. On a night like Halloween, it’s even better because she doesn’t know the routine. She doesn’t know how this goes. Something else wonderful could happen any moment.

In a few years, there will still be plenty of excitement and some magic, but much of the newness will have worn off. She’ll know how it goes. And at the end of the night, when she’s finished trick-or-treating and she’s staring at her pile of candy with a red nose, I’ll miss the look in her eyes that wonders, what’s next?