Author Archives: notjustkiddingaround

Lessons Learned in Life

It all started with a Facebook post that said, “I dare you to drop the most painful words you have ever heard.”

The very first comment got me reading the comment thread. I could not stop. It felt like if people could find the courage to write down the horribly inhumane things that others have said to them, I needed to bear witness. It was not just the things that people said that were painful, it was also who said those words. It is amazing what we think we have the right to say to others. It is amazing how often we as humans do not pause before we say something. How can we not know how long words stay with us?!

At first, I wanted to write this post to bear witness to the fact that this has happened in the universe. I thought I might share some of the actual comments or at least some of the kinds of things people said, but then I thought that most people probably do not need to hear those comments. Those comments do not need to be repeated. Having them said in the first place was hideous. Plus, I think when each of us thinks about the most painful words that were ever said to us, we can come up with our own examples. Unfortunately. We do not need to see the list of all of the ways we devastate each other. We already know. We are very fortunate if we do not.

Sometimes the most painful words were just words of hard truth. Those words were said by the events of this life and this universe. In those moments, I feel so much for the person who heard those words and for the person who had to say them. Someone has to say the words for the voiceless universe. That person is brave beyond measure when they stand in the storm of grief that follows the clap of thunder in the telling moment.

Sometimes though the painful things that have been said to us rise from perhaps some of the ugliest parts of ourselves. When I posted the ugly thing that was said to me, I did not post who said that thing. I could not bear to say it out loud. It is hard enough to know that the person who I love most on the planet could say something so painful to me. It feels impossible to tell the world who said that horrible thing. Because I love that person, I do not want others who love her to hear that ugliness.

As I read each comment in the thread, I said out loud, “That is not true. That is not true. That is not true.” Again and again I shouted to the void and to the universe that you are not the ugliness that is said to you. I found myself hoping with all of my heart that I have never said anything so intensely painful to anyone else. I promised that I would try my hardest for all the rest of my days to never devastate with my words.


I opened cabinets and looked on shelves in the bedrooms of my boys. I was hunting for loose parts. I needed the loose parts to play with during my small group section of the Pre-K institute. It was day 2. It was my first time teaching the pre-K institute and I was nervous. I felt like a fraud because I had only done small bits of pre-K work with my schools but I also knew that if there was any day I could succeed at it could be a day devoted to play.

Most days feel like play to me already. I try to model play and playfulness all of the time when I am teaching. I found some old beads that my boys once loved. I found two different kinds of hair curlers that I used when my hair was much longer. I knew Jimmy had cups of screws and washers and bolts that I might add to my loose part collection. I had saved some toilet paper tubes and masking tape seemed like a good idea. I piled all of these things into a cloth basket that sat empty in my work closet.

However, as the part of the morning approached where I was supposed to facilitate play workshop, I found myself losing faith. Maybe I would just talk about play workshop and not ask teachers to practice play workshop themselves by… playing. Just before I gave up on doing, I reminded myself that trying and doing is almost always the only way to change things for real. So… play workshop.

Some break out rooms of teachers, each with their own collection of loose parts, played collaboratively even though they were each in their own virtual rectangle and in real life even more apart than that. In one room, a teacher in Brazil made a bird out of some paper clips and a strip of t-shirt. Another teacher in Colombia, used a mix of Spanish and English to describe the parts of his lizard. A teacher in Brooklyn, made a peacock with strips of ripped paper for feathers. And, one teacher from Ohio, struggled to figure out how she might make a stethoscope so that she could give each of the animals a check up. The others were saying, “Hold up what you have. We can help you think about what you might do.” And then, “Try that piece. What do you think? Could that work? Wait, try that other thing, that pink thing. Maybe that works better.”

In other rooms, teachers were not playing. They sat talking about play. Still trying to learn and grow as professionals but they were not playing. The doubt returned for me. “See,” I thought, “it is not working.” I was ready to push the close breakout rooms button, when it hit me. Maybe they did not know how to play. Maybe they needed a play mentor. I said, “Hey. Are you making a playground?” They all looked at me. “I have this table totter thing that I have been working on that kids can build and then tilt and then fall from and then rebuild.” I shared my screen so that they could watch.

There were many seconds of quiet and I thought about pushing the leave breakout room button again and then, suddenly, “I made this pond place where kids can walk and collect beautiful rocks for our park.” She shared her screen and there it was. A blue cloth spread across her table and tiny rocks sprinkled across her “pond”.

We were doing play then. Doing. It. That means that teachers would probably be more likely to do it. Play. Maybe we all just need a play mentor.

May we all find one.

I’m here if you need me.

This is How Dylan’s 5,840th day goes

I wake to the smell of coffee brewing in the machine. I can hear Dylan pour himself a cup and then the metal rattle of the fridge as he grabs, uses and replaces the cream. The trash can lid plastic thumps open and closed with Splenda wrappers.

Sometimes he remembers to offer me a cup.

Barn door to his room slides closed.

First period. “I know mom! I already logged on.”

Half way through the period, barn door slide and he says, “I’m hungry.”

I make him three eggs and a piece of toast and he heads back to his room to eat in private. Curled around his plate watching videos about raising the minimum wage and why it is crucial.

He comes for a second cup of coffee and says, “Families can not make it on minimum wage mom. Did you know that?” I am trying to follow what a teacher is saying in my meeting on the screen and I know he says more than this but I miss it. I remember to call, “Can you tell me more about the minimum wage later?”

The barn door slides closed.

Second period. He comes out to tell me how cute the dog is curled into a tight ball with his new haircut. We ooohhh and aaahhhhh together at our sweet baby. I say, “Why are you not in second period?” He answers, “I am.” I think we have different definitions of what in class means.

Barn door again.

Third period. I shout from the dining room, “Third period.” Both boys yell back, “I know.” They have been home for school for the rest of last year from March through June and all of this year. Most days the apartment feels just right but on some days, the days when people bristle with restrictions and loneliness, it is way too small.

A few minutes before fourth period Dylan emerges again and I ask if I can give him a birthday squeeze. He leans in and down. Almost 6 feet. Down to my five foot and change self. I am happy for every one of these. Today I squeeze longer and say, “I am very proud of you and I will love you forever.” He kisses my cheek and says, “I know. Me too.”

Barn door again.

A few minutes before fifth period and Dylan comes out to ask, “What’s for dinner? I’m hungry.” I answer, “Birthday dinner. Your choice.” “The diner I think,” he says. The fridge opens and Dylan heads back to the barn door with a fistful of cheese sticks. Three I think.

A few minutes after the start of sixth period, Dylan comes out of the room looking sad. This was his second birthday during Covid. He did not want a present. He could not have a party. I said, “What about a computer shopping spree in your favorite online stores?” Thoughtful face. A small head nod. “Maybe,” he says.

Barn door closing again.

Almost 6,000 days of life. So much of it these days happens behind the barn door. But at least the door keeps opening. And it opens a lot each day. I will take it with a giant grateful heart.

Emotions During Rachel’s Pre-K Institute Keynote

I feel amazed at the fact that this was the first institute that my colleagues did at the start of the pandemic. The most unlikely grade for online learning was the first group that had to imagine doing online learning. I am thinking about the feelings of those pre-K teachers who were finally starting to feel like they were in the groove with their students and then having to imagine how to reimagine school. All in an instant.

And the kids. The routine had just really started to feel like routine and then… no more routine. I am back with my boys during their first weeks of pre-K. I was working part time then so that I could spend more time with them. On the days when I was home, I would ride down the hill with them on the bus that we caught around the corner. There was often no seat and I remember teaching them how to hold onto a pole. The ride was not long and they saw it as an adventure of rumbling and strangers that smiled.

I can not imagine them doing pre-K remotely. Part of the magic of pre-K was that they were out of our house for a few hours each day and in the magical space that their teachers created for them. A child friendly backyard with willow tree play house and magical wooden bridge where kids would play zombies. The front yard was a giant garden that their little hands helped to plant and tend and that they visited through all the seasons of their pre-K years. But remote pre-K?! On a screen?!

That was the first teacher professional development that my colleagues offered at the start of the pandemic. Do you remember those first days? Not knowing how to use Zoom. Not knowing if we could connect. Feeling stunned by the idea that all of this was happening in the first place. So worried about getting sick.

Now, here I sit listening to Rachel remind us that anti-racism is the work of all teachers and especially pre-K teachers. Here I sit with teachers who have been running beautifully connected and revolutionarily playful prekindergarten classrooms. If they could do it and if those three and four year olds could do it, I feel so hopeful for all of us. We can do it. We have been doing it. Forever.

Four Saturdays in a Row of Work

I have been unable to motivate today. I have done a bit of work but I realized that my primary job was to motivate myself to rest. I did not have to work today but I did work 4 Saturdays in a row. That leaves Sunday. One day to recover and work is not enough time. The week comes and I have not spent enough time gathering myself back to myself so that I am teaching again with maximum me.

I have learned how to gather myself back to myself through momming and laundry and food shopping and soccer games. But without two days to the weekend I just do not have time to gather me and just do not have time to get groceries or clean clothes or snuggles.

It is a strange struggle because I love what I did on those Saturdays. The teaching and the learning and the connecting and the thinking and the laughing were all amazing. I feel lucky again and again that I get to do this job of teacher. I feel lucky that I get to push myself to outgrow myself with people who are always looking to do the same. To outgrow! But the struggle is really about not having enough time to recharge.

What happens is that I do not recharge and then I give everything I have the next week. So, if I was at 50% capacity at the end of week one and had only half the time to recharge, I started the new week at 75%. Then, if I end that week at 25% and I only have half the time again to recharge, I start the next week at 50%. Keep going with that math. Third week down to 0% at the end of week three and up to 25% after one day of recovery. Then down to -25% and here we are. I am at 0.

I have been unable to motivate today and the math is right on this one! I knew it.

A Day in Haiku

Laundry before work

Folding undies on the call

Check my video.

Migraine brain closing

Blood pounds in my ears and eyes

It must be raining.

Teacher video

What do they most need to hear?

Maybe just, “Good job!”

Teachers deserve more

Make writing easier plans?

Or funny stories?

Compassion fatigue

Makes us short with each other

I don’t recover.

Oldest turns sixteen

Is he bummer birthday sad?

Maybe just him now.

Dad cries from a song.

He calls to say he can’t stop.

He misses my mom.

This day seems real bad.

There’s just one more thing to tell.

The day ends this way.

Odie blasts a sneeze.

Snot flies right into my mouth.

I pee when I laugh.

St. Patrick’s Day Bash- Twice Gone Now

Jimmy awakes at the crack of dawn. He usually saves a personal day for the preparation. But, the last two St. Patrick’s Day bashes have been canceled due to Covid. So, Jimmy did not need to save a personal day because we would not have our usual crowd of anywhere between 30 to 50 people. He prepares the corned beef and he fills the pot with water and spices. The pot is so big that it has to be filled with the sink hose.

Then he heads out to work and I get ready for work and the boys start day number 1 million of virtual school. The cauldron boils on the stove for hours and the kitchen is steamy with the cooking meat. I imagine that my kitchen is growing greener, Ireland green, from the water that is condensing and rolling down the stove and the fridge. The work of making this meal and the connection that Jimmy and I get to feel to relatives and ancestors and to his parents, nourishes me.

I lift the cymbal-like lid and it drips liquid on to the floor. Odie comes rushing over to lick up the mess. He has been living in the intensity of cooking meat smell for the whole day so far. He deserves some corned beef juice at the very least.

Some relatives from Ireland message us and friends from the Hoag-Nolan clan reach out to say how much they miss the Bash. People would come to our apartment in the Bronx and we would barely fit some years. Some years, once you had your seat, you had to ask someone to get your second helping for you because there was no real way to move easily.

One year, we ordered 75 pounds of corned beef for our party and the Queens butcher I picked it up from asked me, “What restaurant do you work for?” I laughed the whole way home. No restaurant. Just my apartment.

After my work day is over, I head out to get some heads of cabbage and 5 three pound bags of potatoes. Once home, I begin the peeling. Fifteen pounds of potatoes and I work on them for 30 minutes. My cutting tool of choice is a small paring knife. My mom taught me how to peel this way when I was younger. Most people I know peel with a peeler. The knife is perhaps more risky but also more precise I think. My boys always worry that I will cut myself when I am cutting this way.

Another hour or two more of boiling and Jimmy is home. The boys want to know if they can eat now and Jimmy says, “It smells like meat in here.” He immediately clangs the cymbal lid and lifts the beef out of the spiced water with the meat fork. Before I even leave my work seat, he is taste testing. He kisses me on the cheek. Maybe it was the corned beef but it could also be me, I think. I am Irish after all. Of course he needs to kiss me.

I am secretly glad he has kissed me on the cheek. All three of them have seconds. I fish out a giant potato and some cabbage. I reheat a turkey burger left over from last night. Everyone is so happy with dinner. It still feels like a party a little. I love corned beef, cabbage and potatoes because of how it makes us all feel.

But secretly, I do not eat corned beef. I do not like it.

I Need a Nap

Being home and working makes it almost impossible for me to not take a nap at the end of my day with schools. I have trouble figuring out what I am supposed to do next and I know there is more work to do but I can not figure our how to make forward progress. This is how I felt when I was driving home from a school before the pandemic. Sometimes I would wish harder than anything to be back on public transportation. That way, someone else could drive me home and I could snooze a little.

My boys are the same. They make it through a school day and then they need a nap. They leave me notes or hold up fingers to tell me what time I should wake them up from their naps. I wonder why we all need a nap. Maybe we are so exhausted at this point that we can not recover. We need a midday sleep to make it through a whole day, to make it through the pandemic.

If you call my house around 3 o’clock on most weekdays, no one will answer. We are all covered in a blanket and we are fast asleep. The dog has gotten used to napping with us too. He has trouble sometimes deciding who he will sleep with. He usually ends up next to me in the living room. I lay down on the couch with my weighted blanket and I am asleep almost before I even have the cover pressing down on me.

I try to give myself a pep talk most days. I know that I could head out for a walk or I could dance to some music. I have already tried coffee. It is no use. I always have more work to do. But, I can feel myself growing foggy and I know that if I rest, I can keep working into the night. I have a different kind of schedule now. I have no more drive time. I can do dishes during my lunch. I make breakfast for my boys before I get on my call. I can shower 20 minutes before I start to work.

I need a nap. A little sleep is my secret to getting through these days these days. Please do not ring the phone. If you text once and we do not respond, do not try again. Wait until we text back.

We are taking a nap.

1 Second a Day

On New Years Day, I started recording one second a day. I had seen the creator of this app on a Ted Talk once and several people I know have been using the app for years. So, I am not a trail blazer or anything. However, I was intrigued by the idea that you could record one second a day and at the end of the year, you would have 365 seconds to look back on. I will have a six minute video.

And, if I keep doing this for the next 10 years, I will have a one hour video to watch. And, if I do this for the rest of the years that I plan on living (I am hoping for 48 more years at least) then I will have an almost 5 hour video to watch. Kind of cool, right?!

The first two months of these seconds have been during the pandemic. I am finding it difficult to get variety into my sec-shots. I never go anywhere really. Because I have spent so much time inside this apartment, I am finding it difficult to venture beyond it, even as I crave the variety and stimulation that can come with someplace else. I am fully vaccinated now but I am still nervous about venturing around too much. Perhaps that is because I started the pandemic with four weeks of Covid. Maybe I am still a little traumatized. It was scary.

Anyway, recently I rewatched the Ted Talk from the maker of this app. There is a part where he talks about noticing that he went through periods where he could not find anything exciting to record. There would be time when for days and days the only thing he would be recording was what was very close to home. For him, that realization motivated him to search out more excitement in his life. He started to think of days as filled with moments that are potentially one-second-film worthy.

He said that on his best days, there were many moments that were truly worth saving with a one second recording. He believed that even though he would only save one of the moments, just the act of trying to decide which one, would help him remember his days better.

So here I am, 15 days into March and when I watch my 73 second long video, I wonder what I will record for today. Half way through March, I am still very close to home and there is still not much variety to what I am recording. But, for the first time in a long time I can feel myself opening to possibility after forcing myself closed for quarantine.

I notice the little surge of hope and happiness when I let myself imagine adventure. I look forward to days in the near future where I may have several sec-shot candidates. I wonder if I will have days where I miss the quieter posts then.

Not sure but the one thing I know for sure is that I plan to be able to watch and see. Maybe you can come over and watch too. Bring the wine. Leave your mask at home.

Sunday Sounds

It is a Sunday evening and I am filled with the same melancholy that descends every Sunday night. Monday morning feels very close and I want more time for me and for what I want to do or need to do.

The dog has just leapt up on to the window sill and lands with a thud. All 65 pounds of him have landed a jump three feet straight up. A dog is barking outside on the street seven stories below but the canyon of the buildings echo it up to us. My dog is growling long and deep and slow. It is as if he is deciding whether or not to bark. He holds one long growl that ends in a burst of a bark. The dog below barks up at him and now my dog shoots four quick barks back.

A sudden burst of laughter from the other room makes me jump. My husband watches television on his headphones because he needs the volume a little loud. So when he laughs, the laughter is so much louder than he knows because he can not hear himself. I am at first a bit irritated and then I smile. I love his laugh.

Sunday evening has a lot of car and truck traffic below. I wonder if people have all extended their day just a little longer than they probably should have because… the sun. Perhaps they too are feeling the Sunday night blues.

Footsteps. Luke. Fast and heavy steps. Fridge opens with the sucking release sound of the vacuum seal. It closes again quickly with an unintentional slam and the jars in the door rattle.

Then there is some banging from my other son’s bedroom. He is in a gaming tournament and usually the banging means bad news.

The radiator in the living room just loud banged like a drum. Just one time. I know that means that it had been off all day because… the sun. Now the metal is expanding and it drum bangs every few minutes. The night is getting cold with the March wind.

Footsteps. Dylan. Heavy and slow. Sucking release of the fridge door and slight aluminum clang of a seltzer can and then the slide of his barn door. He is back in his room. I hope there is no more desk banging.

Now the dog is on his side and he is snoring. It sounds like the purring of a cat. And, because this is a post about what I hear, I can not share with you the smell that seems to be coming from him all of a sudden.

Water running in the kitchen sink and something is being washed because I can hear the interrupted flow. Not all of the dishes though because now it is done. There were more dishes than that.

Every time I shift on the couch, there is a creaking sound of plastic rubbing against the cement wall. It is the surround sound speaker that is perched on the corner of the couch. It does not deliver any tv sound but it does make a racket of creaking. I wonder why we keep that speaker that never speaks.

It is Sunday night and while I am a bit melancholy, I am also warmed by the closeness of my people, in my Bronx apartment, by my banging radiator. When I really listen to the noises, my heart quiets. Contentment sits with melancholy. The tension between the two tires me toward sleep.