August 13, 2018

The Eighth Grader...

...can be a surly individual. One who can often be seen slouching in a corner under the weight of his or her own heavy sighs and slumped shoulders, too cool for school, but unsure how to walk or dress or how to simply be comfortable in their own skin. The older ones, play up their maturity and lord their attempts at coolness and popularity over the rest- those who might still throw tantrums and prefer more childish pursuits.

The boys have made their way through the magic summer and to the surprise of the girls can now actually carry on conversations that do not involve them drooling all over themselves. They are suddenly bigger, taller, some of their voices have dropped and it appears that they can now feed themselves and sit still in classrooms. The girls have found some swagger in their confidence.

The eighth grader can now play their instruments better, dribble a basketball better, uncover a truth in a novel better, understand their peers, parents, teachers and selves better

The chaos and tension of seventh grade has been replaced by cynicism and apathy for these new creatures.

The eighth grader has also changed in intellectual ways. Suddenly they can see the world beyond themselves. There are other people, countries, issues that have been enlightened and appear to be on fire. Their place in the universe has shifted from the center to one of awareness and compassion.

The eighth grade will make you work much harder to gain their trust and attention, but once you have it, they can now carry on a meaningful conversation, understand sarcasm and tell a decent joke. Their taste in music will expand, they will start to read better books and they start to understand adults in ways that are more comfortable and relatable.

The eight grader is truly on the cusp of young adulthood, and while their core is still a child the outer shell begins to grow. It is their parent and teachers job to help with the construction of this shell. Because if it is built too quickly and too thick, the eight grader loses the sparkle of middle school. They become too obsessed with growing up and being responsible and looking forward too fast and too far.

The eighth grader is a creature that needs to be looked after with care and patience. One who stands at the cross of two worlds- childhood and adulthood and this year is one of the most important years of their lives.

Looking back on my grade eight life I feel I was left alone too often to figure too many things out on my own. Eighth graders are why I teach middle school. I know what they need to ignite and burn bright.

The eighth grader needs someone to trust. Someone to guide and nudge, and lead and teach, but most importantly someone to listen.

What the eight grade needs more than anything is respect. From their parents, teachers, and friends, but most importantly this year is the year that they learn how to gather respect for themselves.

May 31, 2018


The first thing to mention, I guess, is the smell of wet grass, and how it smelled of freedom and luxurious boredom. Bahia Vista was the neighbourhood where I grew up which was made up of semi-detached town houses in which lived most of the minority population of Marin County. We were black and Vietnamese and Laotian and Iranian and Latino. Looking back I guess you would classify us as lower middle class, perhaps poor, but when I was eight, I didn’t know what other neighbourhoods looked like, and since the Bahia Vista housing complex each had a tiny bean shaped pool, and in the center of the house was a large grass field, dotted with a few climbable trees and small hills perfect for rolling contests and Star Wars Action figure worlds, I felt I was in heaven.

I am sure they watered this grass field throughout the year, but it wasn’t until the summer holiday when I noticed the sweet smell of the grass and the tiny droplets hanging on each blade from the massive sprinklers. The same sprinklers we ran through, in our swim trunks, on the way to the pool.

Sometimes we would take a day-camp trip to McNear’s Beach. This public pool was bigger and deeper than our neighbourhood pools. It was chalk fool of sun-burned bodies, all clamouring for swimming lanes and giant marco-polo games. It was overly chlorinated and I guess we didn’t know about goggles in the eighties, so our eyes burned raw as we ingested push-up pops and waited to pass the swim test to be able to play in the deep end. It was eight feet deep, which was an ocean of difference compared to the mere four-and-half foot depth of the neighbourhood pool.

June has always meant freedom to me. The beginning of summer, coconut smelling sun tan lotion, the ice cream truck, staying out passed dark, summer camps to Santa Cruz, horseback riding, time spent on rivers, the beach, sometimes lakes. Overtaking the neighbourhood. Staying up late. Watching too much TV, eating too much junk food. Everything about June is too much. It’s also the end of school, homework, rules, structure.

June is the childhood portion of the year.

It is clear that June is the best month of year. Did I mentioned that it is my birthday month? Not only that but I was born on June 21st- the summer solstice. The longest day of the year. The epitome of the previously mentioned freedom. 21 has always been my favorite number. I like seeing it on jerseys, on roulette boards and as a jack and an ace.

June is the end of school and responsibility and the start of summer. It is anticipation and countdowns followed by sweet release. These days June is also Father’s Day and our anniversary. It is the time of year we board airplanes and head home to the US to eat burritos and watch summer concerts. We take road trips and drink too much beer and eat too much corn. Peaches and cherries. We barbecue and see old friends. We rarely wear shirts and build that base tan, ready to get really dark. We stay up late and wake up late and reconnect with family and nature and books and ourselves.
Although much of what I have described is still a few weeks away, tomorrow is June 1st, and I can already feel the magic in the air. Everything feels different in June.

What are some of your favorite June rituals? What is your favourite month?Why? I am curious what my southern hemisphere friends think of June.

May 22, 2018

Ramshackle Head

"I love you more than the world can contain
In its lonely and ramshackle head"

Sufan Stevens

Some days you come home from work leaden with the weight of another batch of students of concern, but you are not calling them that anymore, so instead you worry about their overall wellness. Your afternoons and evenings becoming only the time in between work, so much so that you forget that you are living a life, raising a family, tending your own needs, maintaining a marriage.

Is this all that life is meant to be? Noticing and appreciating the in between moments? The few hours after you overcome the exhaustion and the few minuets before you succumb to it and sleep?

You wash the lunch boxes and make the next day’s lunches on auto pilot, you watch the late shows make fun of Trump as a pathway to your sanity. Who has the energy to worry about the world beyond the children in your life? You check in on the homework, hoping it’s done, but not really caring because let’s face it homework is bullshit. You work on the speech therapy words with the little one, because you are paying a small fortune for improvement.

It’s Tuesday night so you and the girls take the bus to the local restaurant for pints and pies. The sun sets on your second IPA, illuminating the sky in a blanket of violent and pink. You and the girls are talking about music based on the post you wrote yesterday. They seem to understand your point, even though the older one argues for the sake of arguing. You wonder when she will calm down and let you love her. You imagine a time- the two of you, a trail, a campfire, a conversation that doesn’t end in an argument. You hope you are doing this right. The parenting The teaching, The being a man. How can you be?

It’s hard loving two hundred kids at work, but the two at home need your attention too.

You come home and play Sufjan Stevens, slightly buzzed as the kids get ready to sleep, wondering if this is what you dreamt peace meant when you were living in the Tenderloin.
At least you have the freedom of these words, the ability to scream your insecurity into the world and await a few likes to valiant your voice. It’s a bit sad that you need it, but what do the people who do not write to release their tension do, in the solitude of their own solitude and darkness.

At least these posts make it feel like someone might hear your angst and make you feel less alone.

Later you’ll watch some TV show, this week one about spiritual awakening and a cult in Oregon, wondering if what you have gathered in life is what you need. You think back to the Rainbow Gathering and the sign that said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings have a human experience.” It feels so lame and cliche now at 43, but on that random Tuesday evening in Taos, New Mexico, it felt like a door way, a promise into something different. Something bigger.

You wonder if there is anything bigger or different in your immediate future.

Tomorrow, you will work on mundane trivial administrative tasks, the equivalent of teaching kids how to jump through hoops, because that is what the system demands of them at this time. Weren’t you supposed to be showing them how to break the system down?

You’ve been sitting in the younger one’s room for a while now, because she’s sacred of her dreams. You wish you could crawl into them with her and show her the wonder beyond the fear, but there doesn’t seem to be any room for you in there. Who knows if you would even know the way.
Not for anything, but you are grateful every night that you are healthy and sleeping in a warm safe bed. You are aware enough to know that most people cannot say the same thing. You remind yourself to get over yourself and your navel gazing petty bourgeois ennui.

You’re not sure how you ended up here, but now that you are here, you will complete the final sentence and get ready for whatever comes next.