An Open Letter to an Audi Commercial

Dear Audi Commercial,

It is really cute how your beautiful, happy couple driving in your new insanely expensive car snubs a gluten free cupcake truck.  I really liked how the voice-over explained that Audi owners were too good for “trends”.  I think it’s just so special that you want to perpetuate the myth that anyone who is gluten free is doing so in order to be “trendy”.

Anyone who believes that sugary treats that don’t taste like a sweet version of dish detergent and don’t feel like chewing on a horse hoof are too good for them deserve to be snubbed anyway.  And how dare they walk into a restaurant and ask to order from a different menu?  Or expect a separate aisle in the grocery store?  And come on, already, what is with gluten free beer?  Like Anheuser Busch hasn’t already ruined beer anyway, now the damn gluten haters come along and start this nonsense.  In fact, I think you should have taken your commercial a step further, and had that car swerve around an EMS truck clearly carrying an undiagnosed Celiac patient whose intestines have shut down.

And to top it off, you added that absurd “Kale” truck too.  As if kale hasn’t done enough to America as it is.  What a ridiculous trend, America!  How dare you eat leafy green vegetables loaded with healthy nutrients! That truck deserved to be knocked over.  Your actors were nice to just cut it off.

So, thank you, Audi. Every Celiac in America who has to turn down Grandma’s gravy, or Oktoberfest beer, or every birthday cake at every birthday party for the rest of her life, thanks you too.  Because now, we get to explain even more to blank faces why we choose to be one of those damn trendsetters who refuses to stand out from the crowd like your Audi drivers.  Trendsetters do love to talk.

Cheers to you!

Damn Celiacs


Mama Guilt is Not What You Think

I’ve read quite a bit about “Mommy Guilt”, primarily because I’ve Googled it each time I let my daughters play on the floor while I spend hours on the computer creating lesson plans, or when I leave them right at the time they want me to read them a bedtime story to go out with friends or my husband, or even when I zone out for a minute and stare at a spot on the wall just thinking or just not thinking at all.  It plagues me every time I take time from them for something else.  It plagues me when I take time for them and ignore all that “something else”.  I can’t escape it, and apparently, I’m not the only one.

But ever since I read Tina Fey’s beautiful piece, “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter”, I find that when I think about my relationship with my own daughters, I’m often actually thinking about my relationship with my parents.  I tear up nearly every time I read it, and I can’t shake the expertly crafted image she creates when she writes–

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

I don’t read that and think about my daughters with their possible future babies–at least not yet, not while they’re still babies.  Instead, I think about my past.  I think about my own helpless little body lying on the puke green shag carpet that covered the floor of the house I grew up in, looking into the eyes of my mom and dad who made silly faces at me and wiped the poop off my leg.  I think about those moments when my toddler reaches out her hand as she walks down steps, and when my infant lays her head against my shoulder because nothing brings on sleep more than the comfy pillow of someone you love.

I think about those moments when, while conducting her experiment in independence, my three-year-old tells me (true story), “No! I don’t like you. You stink!”  And I think about those moments when I get frustrated with my adult parents–when mom won’t respond to my texts or dad wants to argue politics.  Because, I try to remind myself, once upon a time they felt the way I do about my babies, about me.  And I feel guilty that I break their heart a little bit more every time I recognize that we are separate people.  Even at thirty-two years old, I still have a hard time accepting that I don’t belong to them anymore.

When I get a guilty pang after daycare drop off, or during a plea for attention that I just can’t give, or in the midst of an elaborate scheme to eek out just one more bedtime story, I empathize with my future self by empathizing with my parents.  I feel guilty because I know I’m on borrowed time.  I will one day watch my children choose a partner and choose a lifestyle possibly different from the one I wanted for them.  I will watch them raise their own kids and get pissed at me because I try to give them advice.  Or get pissed because I didn’t raise them the way they think kids should be raised.  I will watch them make decisions that I wouldn’t choose for them, and feel the tiny heartbreak that they didn’t ask for my advice.

Ultimately, my mother would tell me, as she has many times before, Guilt is a wasted emotion.  And I know she’s right, but for right now at least, it forces me to understand that I only get this moment.  Because it won’t be long until my daughters are the ones with “Mommy Guilt” when they find themselves feeling guilty about how much they never knew they really loved me.

Hey Mama!

Today I walked into the teacher’s lounge, and delighted to find a table full of freebie snacks, exclaimed, “Mama loves some snacks!”

My colleague in the room looked around a little awkwardly, smiled oddly at me, and slunk out, clearly hoping to avoid me for a while.  The weirdest part was that I didn’t even realize what was so weird about it until about an hour later because I have been referring to myself in the third person as “mama” for so long now that I do it as a part of my inner (and outer, apparently) dialogue.

Here are some examples of thoughts I’ve had in the past twenty-four hours:

  • Ooh, belly’s growling.  Mama forgot her breakfast biscuits.
  • Hey, what’s that noise?  Is Mama’s phone ringing?  Nope, Mama’s got some chocolate in her ear.
  • After being asked a question by a student, Hmm, let Mama think about that for a minute…
  • When the afternoon blood sugar drop hits it’s, Mama tired…
  • And finally, after putting the girls to bed, Mama’s wine time!

I have been a mother now for three years, and I have just now realized that this has happened.  I have no idea how long it’s been going on, but I guess it’s weird.  It will be especially weird when I start referring to myself as “mama” out loud and not realizing it…which has apparently already begun.

What’s really interesting as I think about this now, is that somehow even in my own head, I have morphed from one whole person who eats, naps, and has the occasional conversation and glass of wine, into simply a “mama” who does those things.  When did this happen?

My daughter has recently taken to calling my husband and I by our first names because she thinks it’s funny.  We laughed at first and corrected her jovially.  Then (as toddlers tend to do) it became a funny game, and we had to start correcting her a little more sternly.  Now we shut it down right away without any kind of pretense of a joke.  This is for real–it’s a matter of respect, after all.

But is it really?  Or would my daughter have more respect for me if I let her think of me as more than “mama” and as a woman named Ashley?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not likely to seriously let her do that, but I wonder if I did, would it change the way she thinks of me?  Or the way I think of myself?  Maybe if we let our children view us as whole people instead of just their moms and dads, we might build little humans who learn to see other people, especially those who take care of them, as more than, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls it, a “single story”.  And maybe we might view ourselves in a new light too because, after all, “mama” really deserves that kind of love.

The Power of Just Shutting Up

I have spent the last two days not speaking to my creative writing class.

I’m not giving them the silent treatment; they just don’t really need me.  You would think that this would make me feel bad.  After all, if they don’t need me, then what exactly am I being paid to do?  But what has happened in room 411 these past two days is exactly what teachers should be paid to do.

I have now taught a creative writing course for a total of five years–two, many years ago, and three cumulative years now at my current school.  I have dreamed of recreating what I experienced a lifetime ago in workshop classes I took in college–the camaraderie that comes with baring one’s soul with strangers.  But after all this time, I had resigned myself to accepting something reminiscent of that world I left–the world that has become little particles of me that I carry around on my fingertips and in my hair.  Because once you have experienced what is possible in a creative writing workshop, you can’t deny its awesome power to transform everyone who walks away from it.

But I finally accepted that high school kids just can’t get there.  They’re too self-conscious, too anxious, too immature.  I thought I could just expose them to the amazing world of their own imaginations–the world they lost touch with somewhere around the time they started school–and that would be enough until they found their own voice and their own love of the written word then had a cathartic experience on some lucky poetry professor’s watch somewhere down the line.

I cannot believe how wrong I was.

I gave my students an experimental assignment–no real direction, no explicit instructions, no standards, no rubric.  I simply told them to take a song they loved and create something inspired by it.  That’s it.  I wanted to see what would happen if I just gave them the space to create, so I gave them three days to work on it.  Some of them cranked something out quickly and worked on math homework on the last day.  Some listened to music on their headphones the whole time and never wrote a word during class time.  Some sought feedback for their ideas from me and from their peers.  Some wrote, scratched it out, started over, wrote again.  Someone else might have entered my room and at first glance, thought it was a complete waste of academic time.  It did not look the way we as educators have come to believe rigor should look.

In fact, just last week a colleague pointed out that, “no offense, Ashley, but if we took away these electives, you could have another English class and all of our class numbers would be lower.”  She has a point, really.  Many of our core classes are overcrowded, and it is truly hard to reach each and every one of those 31 minds and hearts and bodies sitting in our classrooms every day.  I don’t fault her for her opinion; it’s the opinion of most people who know a thing or two about education, and even of those who know absolutely nothing about it at all.

But here is what I saw these past two days:

I saw kids come into our room, happily put cellphones away, and start sharing and responding to each others’ work without any direction from me whatsoever.  I actually had to interrupt them to take attendance.  I don’t think they even knew I was in the room.

I saw each and every student in our room show up with a piece of writing that they had spent time crafting.  No one forgot it at home.  No one had excuses about why it was incomplete.  No one asked how many points it was worth.

I saw a room full of teenagers raising their hands to comment thoughtfully on the work of their peers.  They weren’t raising their hands for me to call on them; they raised their hands to be called on by each other.

I saw one hundred percent engagement.  Every person in our room shared; every person in our room responded.  I didn’t require it.  I didn’t even ask them to do it.  They just did it because they cared about the work being done.  And they cared about work of their community, not just their own.

I saw students who had taken every AP class in the book, students who could and might go on to Ivy League colleges interact respectfully and intelligently with kids who had never set foot in an advanced class of any kind–kids who had failed classes, been labeled as “lazy”, heard every label in the book as a reason for why they just didn’t get it.  I, nor could anyone else, tell the difference between these students.  And neither could they.  Or if they could, they certainly didn’t care one way or another about it.  They respected each other as intellectual equals.

And, truly, the most amazing thing I saw was kids sharing traumatic experiences, feelings of waiting, feelings of not being good enough, feelings of distance, heartache, funny stories, imagined worlds, and images so clear and so perfectly placed that in the span of 48 hours, I lay with them in hospital beds, felt bored with them in high school classrooms, fought battles with them, desperately tried to put the pieces back together of a broken heart with them.  There was no mumbled laughter.  No awkward silences.  No one slunk out at the end of class embarrassed, hurt, or ashamed.  In fact, they bellowed, “no!!!” at the bell that ended our hour together.

So in response to the world who peeks into a classroom like the one I got the good luck to inhabit and believes it should be replaced with a core class, or more rigor, or more standards, or more assessments, or all the mores that are plopped onto kids and teachers and schools these days, I would like to politely disagree.  Instead, I would like to offer you a seat in our circle because I wish that every student and every teacher got to do every day what I got to do these last two:  Just shut up for a little while, and let kids show you what they are capable of.