Friday, October 30, 2009

She Blinded Me with Science

“Night creatures calling, the dead start to walk in their masquerade

There's no escaping the jaws of the alien this time

(They're open wide)”

Rod Temperton, Song “Thriller”, Michael Jackson

My suspicions that the high school Science department had been requesting me were confirmed when I subbed yesterday. I was addressed on the letter from the AP Biology teacher, along with a note, “Thanks for subbing again.” In addition, my name was already on the board when I came into the classroom. It felt good that I was considered a competent substitute, but is that an oxymoron or is it more like being a big fish in a little, odd pond?

As expected, the day was fairly easy. The students were editing one another’s lab reports, which should've taken at least forty-five minutes of the one-hour-and-twenty-minute block. Here and there, the students needed cajoling to stop chatting. When they were finished, they had other work to complete. While some worked away for the entire block, the ones that didn’t made me concerned that they were beginning to see me as a pushover, so I made sure to make the rounds with greater frequency. I didn’t want to tarnish my good reputation, so the school would keep calling me for work.

That said, I was disappointed to be working today because my son had a class breakfast, but I didn’t want to take myself off the sub list because I’d worked so little last week, and besides, my husband could go. Then I had to worry that I’d get a job that I couldn’t walk or ride to, since my husband would need the car to drive to the breakfast. When the inevitable call came, it was for the high school, which meant I could ride my bike, so I was relieved that I didn't have to scramble to borrow a friend’s car.

My children’s (politically correct) school has a ban on Halloween costumes, but the high school encourages students to dress up, with a long list of exceptions that were posted and announced this week: no masks, no weapons, nothing offensive, and so on. Upon arriving at the school, two teachers had orange and black striped tights and another was dressed up as Santa Claus. A science teacher came as a tsetse fly, and showed students pictures of the diseases she could cause. Of the costume-clad students, I spied a flapper, a banana, a police officer, a soldier, Frankenstein, Super Girl, and a goddess. I could tell it was going to be a fun day. Last year, I wore a Rosie the Riveter costume, but normally a pumpkin t-shirt was as dressed up as I got. My feeling is that the kids are bouncing off the walls as it is, without reminding them it’s Halloween each time they look at you.

I didn’t expect the “Honors” (ie: regular) classes in Chemistry to be calm today, and apparently, neither did the teacher. She wrote:

They may be a bit excited because Halloween is

approaching. They have worked hard and are mostly ready

for the midterm, so they can afford to have a somewhat

relaxed day. If it is getting too noisy and some students

seem to be having a hard time working you can make an

appeal for more quiet on behalf of the students who are


The teacher had a prep first period, so I could have made the breakfast after all. Second period I’d be co-teaching an AP class, but the last two periods I’d have my own classes. Then I realized that when school ended at 2:30, I’d have my bike, so I wouldn’t make it to my children’s school in time. My poor kids, by association, have an unpredictable schedule. If they had their way, I’d be a stay-at-home mother to cater to their every need. But when I called my son, he was fine with it and told me that everyone loved the frittata I’d made, so I felt better.

Throughout out the day, I saw several students smeared with blood, a female chef with a micro mini (which would be impractical and maybe even dangerous for cooking. She was surprised that several people asked her, “Have they kicked you out yet?”), Little Red Riding HOOD (she emphasized that last word) with garters, a Goth/butterfly/bat type with skeleton accents, Dorothy, a nurse (again, dressed much sexier than the job requires), two hockey players (pretending to fight), a bumblebee, Waldo of Where’s Waldo fame, a gypsy, Donald Duck, a doctor (who felt confident enough in his abilities that he took a fellow student’s pulse during class), an ‘80s chick decked out in neon green with a side-ponytail, Peter Pan, Tigger (worn by a tall male), two Pilgrims, a white Rosterfarian, a blind referee (complete with walking stick), and various zombies and ghouls.

My classroom was located in a stairwell on the second floor, with the stairs only heading up, but not down. I found the room at the other end of an aquarium-muraled cave, and realized that this cluster of classrooms in the stairwell connected to the other stairwell. I was more confused by the layout than ever. The AP Chem class had quite a few of the students I'd subbed for in the AP Bio class yesterday. One was kind enough to warn me that third and fourth period classes are, “bad”, causing the Michael Jackson song of the same name to be in my head for the rest of the day.

The co-teacher twice blinded the students with science. Her first trick: taking a clear liquid “water” and pouring it into a vial so it became purple “grape juice”; next into a glass so it became yellow “lemonade”; and into a soda can, where it became bubbly; then into a glass so it became white “milk”; and lastly into a glass so it became pink “Pepto Bismol”. The students cheered. Her next trick was to pour hydrogen peroxide into a beaker of green-dyed detergent; next she placed the beaker into a jack-o-lantern, poured a catalyst into the beaker, and then placed the top onto the pumpkin. Quickly, the eyes and mouth of the pumpkin began to spew foam, and when she lit a match near in the foam, it glowed. The students gasped. A History teacher just can’t compete.

After what the students said, I wondered if the following classes would be bad. The third period students were great – I only had to walk around periodically to keep voices down and cell phones away. Fourth period behaved just as well, though they were a little noisy, but what should I expect last period on the Friday before Halloween? And my (now) favorite student ever told me I look like Holly Hunter. In both classes, I knew a few students from my old school and my children’s school, so there was a nice camaraderie. It turned out that the costumes were scarier than the students.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Slug Paradise

“And she laughed

And she cried

She damn near died

On the day it rained forever”

Song “The Day it Rained Forever” by Eurythmics

I was to report to the Inclusion School again yesterday. I’m beginning to think that High School Science and this Inclusion School have been requesting me. Although it was rainy, I decided to straighten my hair anyway. Rain is my kryptonite, but I told myself that I could keep it covered while I rushed to and from the school, so it should be fine. I had read somewhere regarding a study about curly-haired versus straight-haired people, that curly q’d women were considered flighty compared with their smoother-locked counterparts. Secretly always coveting smooth hair, I got my hair cut into a bob with bangs, and began using a flat iron this past February, hoping I would appear more professional. My own unscientific research has reached an identical conclusion to that of the study.

I put on my chic (in my mind, anyway) gray cap, opened the umbrella, and rushed into the car. On the way, and actually, quite near the school, a Cambridge Public Works truck meandered before me, loudspeakers blaring, “Street Cleaning No Parking on the Even-Numbered Side. You Will Be Tagged and Towed.” I chuckled over the accent – pahking. Then panic hit me – street cleaning! Not only would looking for a spot make me late, but… my hair. As I write this, I am aware of how vain I sound. Luckily for me (and my hair), the school is in a residential location, so I got a spot easily, just a block from the building. If only I could afford to live in that neighborhood.

I entered a quiet, well-organized third-grade classroom, already filled with three instructors: Lead, Shadow for an autistic child, and Student Teacher. I would be filling in for the Special Ed. teacher. Even though I could never get a full-time position here (except for building substitute), because it was only K-5, I enjoyed the time spent in the school; it was bright, with an upbeat staff, and a real commitment to Inclusion.

Two students required their own checklists for staying on task, being quiet, and acting respectful during each subject. The girl did better than the boy, who, after eating two (yes, two, which is 400 calories) sugary Pop Tarts during snack, became out of control during the next class; Math. The girl fell asleep a couple of times during Math, so maybe the boy should’ve shared one of his Pop Tarts with her. It was a slow day for me, going from group-to-group or student-to-student, when help or refocus was required. But after Health at the end of the previous school day, I was happy to have slow, because slow meant easy.

During Science class, a group of outside teachers came in to teach about habitats. One of these mad women announced that we would be going outside to collect specimens, to later be drawn by the students. Didn’t she know it was raining? Not only did she know, but she was ecstatic because it meant that worms would rise to the surface of the soil. So, I tucked my hair into my cap, willing it not to frizz, and we all grudgingly (at least the non-Science teachers) trudged into the rain, to look under rocks and logs for millipedes, rolly pollies, worms, beetles, spiders, and other creepy creatures around the playground. The students enthusiastically scrounged and studied, while the non-scientist adults stepped back, shivering in the damp. The poor Student Teacher hadn’t even brought a coat. When Pop Tart student rolled over a large rock, revealing an army of slugs, the Science teacher declared, “It’s a slug paradise!”

When we returned to the classroom, the students sketched their finds, safely secured in transparent plastic boxes. When the class was finished, the Science teachers promised to release the icky insects back to their habitats outside of the school. Icky is my word.

At lunchtime, the announcements announced that each classroom could decide if they wanted indoor or outdoor recess. Indoors, please say indoors. When the time came, I tucked my hair, which was looking worse for wear, into my cap, and pulled my hood string tight around my face to endure another fifteen-minutes of chill and mist. As the students screeched, chased, hula hooped, and tossed balls around, I couldn’t look at any of the logs or rocks in the same way. Who knew that this city could be crawling with so many bugs? I had thought that was a bonus of city-life; the downside being vermin; mice and rats, which is why we have a cat.

The day went quickly after recess. During the last ten minutes, the students were given free time, and one of the girls used this time to make me a picture of an enormous head of what I think is a bear. She wrote, “To Ms. M” and signed her name. I always give the students a choice of saying Ms. Milstein or Ms. M, since it’s usually just for a day, and since I can’t learn all of their names that quickly, they don’t have to memorize mine. It’s nice to know that even for one day, I could make a positive impact in the kids’ lives.

When I came home, I had a message that I’d be back at the high school for eleventh-grade AP Biology the next day. It was the same cluster of classes I’d already taught twice this year. I knew that in-between walking around and making sure they were working, I’d have time to read and write. And the entire day would be spent indoors.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ill Health

“The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all children as if they were variants of the same individual, and thus to feel justified in teaching them the same subjects in the same ways.”

- Harvard Gardner

Yesterday morning, I was called to teach Health at the Freshman Academy. Although I was feeling ill, the last thing I wanted to do was say I was sick, so I agreed to take the job. So far, I had taught twenty-eight different grades and subjects, so I thought I’d done everything. What on earth would I be expected to do in a Health class?

I tried to stretch my mind back to the Health classes I’d taken. My first memory was from Junior High, learning how to do CPR on the blonde dummy that reeked of an alcohol-based disinfectant. My second memory from that class was when we placed anonymous questions about sex into a coffee can. I recall my middle-aged Health teacher acting quite classy, considering one of the questions had something to do with wondering about the taste of a certain bodily fluid. She said, “I assume it would be bitter.” Shocked that she’s answered the question, my friends and I speculated whether or not she was speaking from experience. Other than that, I can’t remember anything else.

I know that High School health was mandatory, but I only sort of remember viewing old black and white films about health, unless I’m recalling my Driver’s Ed class, which was held in the same room one summer. I also remember being forced to watch an anti-smoking video during after school detention (same room again) when I was caught smoking at the entrance of the school parking lot. I probably did it to protest that they’d done away with our smoking section. That was the only time I’d received detention in my entire school career, though that might have had more to do with luck than goodness.

I hadn’t even known that teachers taught Health in Cambridge. During elementary school, the students periodically receive pamphlets from “The Great Body Shop”, and I remember a music tape that my son brought home from kindergarten encouraging a healthy lifestyle (“Doctor Smartstuff, That’s Me,” were actually lyrics of one of the songs). In fifth-grade, the kids take “Know Your Body”, often at the same time they’re subjected to ballroom dancing. (There was always one boy who cried to his mother about having to dance with girls, causing a call from said fretful mother). And once, when I was subbing a middle school Science class, a woman came in to teach a unit on Health. Just like “Know Your Body”, she was young (enough to relate to the students, I’m sure the administrators hoped), not a Cambridge teacher – rather, hired by some company offering this service to the school district. I caught her last day with the students, when she let them place anonymous questions in a box (deja vu). The woman didn’t answer the questions if she thought they weren’t real, which were quite a few of them, I think.

Maybe going down memory lane wasn’t a good idea, because I was dreading this job more and more. I arrived at the school twenty-five minutes early. There were no plans in the mailbox. When I was handed the attendance, it looked like I was teaching all day, until the secretary explained that the teacher had black days and silver days – I was teaching on a black day. I tried to read no symbolism in this. When I reached the classroom, the door was locked, so I returned to the office just in time to overhear the secretary talking to the Health teacher on the phone. The plans were being sent via e-mail to the other Health teacher, and I should just… wait in the classroom. So I did, until fifteen minutes after the starting bell rang. In the meantime, the students just sat and talked quietly, and I perused the room. There were several hokey inspirational quotes about behavior and success, along with posters about fitness, and pictures of the brain. Maybe it wouldn’t be a sex class after all.

The other Health teacher arrived, harried, and with barely a word, handed the papers to me, and went on her way. The plans were pretty close to the instructions on the board from the previous (silver) day. They had to write about something that they excelled at in their journal, and then share with their group. After that, they had to take a survey to find out what type of learner they were (auditory, visual, and tactile kinetic), and write a paragraph about their learning type. Lastly, they were to read four pages in a book that explained: education is the key to success. The homework required them to take an on-line survey and print the results, and (of course) some kids didn’t have computers, while others didn’t have printers. Hey, I’m just a sub – I didn’t come up with the assignment. Although there was some balking and talking here and there, the students did their work, even helping some of the ESL or LD students with their reading-aloud.

Next I had homeroom.

A seemingly nice female student came up to me and asked, “Are you the sub today?”

I replied, “Yes.”

She said, “I have you fourth period. The students are terrible.”

Oh, great - something to look forward to.

As the day wore on, my energy level decreased, while my throat pain increased. By the time that fourth-period block came, I didn’t know if I could muster the persona required for a difficult group. In fact, I was feeling so sick that I’d made a doctor’s appointment during a break, certain it was strep (It wasn’t).

Fourth period, while not the easiest group, wasn’t as bad as I’d been warned. The principal visited for a time, but the students were quiet then, so I don’t think it was me. He talked to a table of boys about their gripes with the Freshman Academy, which were numerous:

“Why can’t we leave school grounds during lunch?”

“I don’t feel like I’m a part of the regular high school.”

“This school is lame.”

While the discussion continued, I skirted the groups, helping students tally points to determine their learning styles. Once the principal left, as more and more people finished the assignment, the room became rowdy, but at that point, I was happy if they kept the windows closed and didn’t all try to use the bathroom at once. I was relieved when the day was over, so I could make my doctor appointment to check on my health.

That evening, I reflected on the fact that the students were learning about their learning strengths. Normally, that’s a privilege for educators, and the good ones use that knowledge to vary their lessons in order to reach all of their students. Always suspecting that I was a visual learner, I checked my “Learning Style Inventory”, and confirmed my suspicions. Wouldn’t that be a great tool for students to be told at an early age? Maybe that would be too much for them to grasp at a young age, but hopefully knowing it ninth-grade would make them utilize their strengths in the years to come. Learning something like that in Health class certainly would’ve made an impression on me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To Post or Not to Post

“A blog is in many ways a continuing conversation.” – Andrew Sullivan

I’ve spent many hours preoccupied with this blog since I set it up on September 6th. I appreciate having a platform to vent, and if Twitter allows too few words and facebook doesn’t provide a large enough audience, the World Wide Web is a good place to begin. But sometimes I worry that my blogging time is replacing hours that could be spent on more practical endeavors: writing my new manuscript, submitting any number of other manuscripts, editing an old manuscript, reading, catching up with friends and family (though if they read my blog, I’m catching them up), cleaning, cooking, and so on. If I’m going to keep at it, I have to ask myself, why do I have a blog?

  1. To write a little every day.
  2. To motivate myself.
  3. In hope that others will motivate me.
  4. To reach out to other writers.
  5. To reach out to other teachers, especially substitute teachers.
  6. In case some editor stumbles onto my blog, realizes how fabulous I am, offers me a contract to write something, and I live happily ever after in a rainbow-hued world where unicorn spit cures all disease.
  7. Why not?

To write a little every day. Not only is it a good exercise, but also it forces me to write something other than fiction, summaries, and query letters. Previously, I’d write in bursts, edit for a time, submit, and then take a break from writing. If I’m going to perfect my craft, writing each day will help to that end. Also, I’m writing small pieces, rather than 40,000-70,000 word manuscripts, so each piece needs to be crisp. It’s been a worthy challenge to be concise, and I’ve had fun making plays on words. Posts require a different way for me to look at writing, which will ultimately benefit me as a writer.

To motivate myself. I’m attempting to motivate myself on many fronts. Not only am I trying to keep myself from giving up on writing and submitting, but I’m also encouraging myself to not get too demoralized about the few job prospects and the zero job offers. The fact that my paying job is something I don’t love, and I can write about it, makes it feel less demoralizing. Sometimes.

In hope that others will motivate me. This is two-fold. First, thinking that I have an audience (albeit, a small one), means that I have to keep posting. Second, an encouraging comment here and there, or a compliment about a post, whether written or verbal, is a good ego booster. If people are willing to follow my blog or even admit to reading it, even if they’re not official followers, then I feel there’s worth in posting.

To reach out to other writers. I’ve done that in many different ways: attending conferences, working with a manuscript exchange partner, and joining writing organizations. But since I began blogging, I’ve found a couple of good writer’s blogs, which I’ve joined. I hope aspiring and writers find me as well. The writing community is more supportive than I’d ever imagined. Not only can unpublished writers commiserate, but published writers and editors have offered helpful tips as well. I’ve found blogs that have taught me how to promote my blog and sites that have assisted me in appearing on the first page of search engines (I won’t mention how much time these feats have taken, which is one of the reasons I began questioning my blogging-time in the first place).

To reach out to other teachers. Although my list has mostly spoken of writing (Probably because I write more than I teach these days), my blog is called, Substitute Teacher’s Saga after all. My goal is to become a full-time Social Studies teacher, which is more realistic than becoming a published writer who gets paid enough that I don’t have to teach. But being an educator is a huge part of who I am, so at the very least, I’d still want to speak at schools. The communication aspect of teaching and writing are intertwined. It’s no surprise that many children’s book writers were teachers. I find it surprising when a writer isn’t an engaging public speaker.

Okay, hopefully number six isn't that impossible.

Why not? Exactly. Starting this blog got me writing for an education website. As long as I don’t let this blog become another distraction, like surfing the Internet in order to avoid what I really should be doing, then I’ll keep at it, at least as long as I have followers, official or unofficial. For, if I write into cyberspace, but there’s nobody wants to read it, have I really written anything worth writing at all? That’s the question I ask about myself about all my writing. It hasn’t stopped me, so far.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Being Plagued

"Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings… …it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”

- Essay, “On Being Ill” by Virginia Woolf (1926)

I haven’t worked since last Monday. I feel like I’m at an AA meeting, admitting an alcohol addiction. One of the days without work was my fault, since I took off to spend time with a friend visiting from out of town, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, I woke up at my favorite time, 05:25AM, but no calls came. Now it’s Monday again, and still no phone call.

How to best utilize my time? I’m under the weather, so I’m feeling uninspired to do anything at all, even to post on my blog. Illness seems to suck the life out of creativity, just as it zaps energy. I’ve been fighting whatever this is on and off since last Wednesday (I’m sure it’s no coincidence that last Monday was spent subbing a bunch of runny-nosed second graders). When I feel well, I’m productive mentally and physically, but when I’m not, then I’m not good for much. Last night, with my throat and stomach bothering me, I tossed and turned - only intermittently succumbing to sleep. Although I need to work, I was glad that I didn’t have to trudge to some job, somewhere in my weary state. I’m currently making a mental list of what I want to accomplish today, which will include purchasing more medicine.

Calling in sick as a Daily Substitute seems ludicrous. If I’m the second line of defense when a teacher calls in sick, what happens when I can’t show up? There are other subs in the pool, but what if they’re sick too? Swine flu became a part of our consciousness shortly after I began subbing. Each time I worked for a teacher who was not doing professional development, the students would immediately ask if their teacher had swine flu. My response has always been, “I hope not, since I’m touching all the germy items in the classroom,” and “Let’s not start rumors.” As far as I know, I’ve never subbed for anyone with swine flu, and I’m sure I’d know because I’d be called for a longer period than a day or two. But I’ve subbed in plenty of schools that have had cases of swine flu among staff and students.

Swine flu had changed how Cambridge schools operate. Hand sanitizer is in abundant supply in every classroom and even in the cafeteria. The younger children line up to wash their hands before snack and lunch. In my daughter’s classroom, the handshake with the teacher at the end of the day has been replaced with a fist bump. Untold memos and e-mails have been sent to parents regarding prevention. It seems that the added precautions must be working because there have been no large amounts of infected people in any Cambridge school, like there have been in other places, so far. Knock on wood. This is good, because the vaccines are taking a long time to reach Massachusetts.

As a college student, I learned about the Bubonic Plague/Black Death of the Middle Ages and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Which began as a small flu in 1917). I also read, The Plague by Albert Camus. At the time, those studies felt incomprehensible, as if we could be immune from such chaos and death in our modern world. I often think of my readings on the subject as I hear the debate swoop through the media and everyday conversation. People’s resistance to immunizations and talk of government conspiracies, as well as transferring of misinformation about how vaccinations are made, plague me. The legacy of the American mistrust of the British government (and thus, any government) does not always serve us well, especially when it comes to healthcare. I choose to have faith that the American government and scientists want what’s best for us (Not to die) and are handling it in the most efficient way possible. And my family is on the wait list for the H1N1 vaccine.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brace Myself

"At fourteen you don't need sickness or death for tragedy." Jessamyn West

"The troubles of adolescence eventually all go away - it's just like a really long, bad cold." Dawn Ruelas

A good chunk of today was spent with my family undergoing a marathon block of dentist appointments. While my husband and daughter were spending a rainy morning at her soccer game, my son and I, along with my son's friend (who had to be dragged along with us, since his mother didn’t get him at the agreed upon hour), walked briskly in the drizzle to make it to the dentist on time. When we were done, my husband and daughter joined us to take their turns.

I saw the hygienist first, so my son could spend time with his friend (But I really wanted to get it over with). Enduring the cleaning was easier with the barrage of corny jokes I was subjected to:

“What has cities, but no buildings; forests, but no trees; rivers, but no

waters? A map.”

I was admonished for being a Social Studies teacher and not knowing


“What was the pirate’s wife’s name and nickname? Eileen and Peg.”

Get it? I lean? I missed that one, but I got Peg.

"What's a pirate's favorite element? Arginine."

Do pirates even have favorite elements?

“What was the snake’s favorite subject in school? Hissssstory.”

Of course.

All of this fun reminded me of when I used to visit my orthodontist. My initials were TB, for Theresa Brown, and every time, Dr. Schwartz would say, “TB, or not TB: that is the question.” Who knew that you could learn about geography, pirates, science, history, and Shakespeare from the people who take care of your teeth?

I was happy to know that I had no new cavities, which wasn’t unusual, since I'd inherited my maternal grandmother’s strong enamel. But I also inherited my father’s small mouth; making x-rays an ordeal because the plates dig into the roof of my mouth. Three years up again already? At my previous dentist’s office, my appointment occurred the dental hygienist’s first day, ever. He took an inordinate amount of x-rays, all which came out blurry, so the dentist had to do each one over again. Double the discomfort and extra exposure to radiation? Win and win.

A small mouth is also a curse for tooth spacing. When my eleven-year-old son finished his appointment, I heard the phrase I’ve been long-expecting, “It’s time for you son to get braces.” Both of my children inherited my small mouth, with their baby teeth tightly packed together, so I knew it was only a matter of time before they'd lost enough teeth to get braces. I’m just hoping they inherited my strong enamel, since I have few cavities. I planned to make the orthodontist appointment as soon as possible, so my son would have them on and off as soon as possible. I'm hoping his teeth are straightened by the time he's really interested in girls, so it will be one less thing for him to be self-conscious about.

My braces were installed when I was thirteen-years-old, which I don’t recommend. Somehow, my sister got her braces at age ten, and they were removed at age thirteen. Wearing braces from ages thirteen to sixteen is not an ideal time, since I was already going through an awkward phase that had begun when my adult teeth came in, gigantic for my small head. Add frizzy hair (before mousse, good styling gel, and flatirons), being skinny as a stick, and… you get the picture. The consequences of those horrible three years lasted many years beyond. No matter how much we grow into our new bodies and figure out how to put forward our best selves, inside of us lurks our gawky teenage selves.

When I write teenage characters, I always make them attractive. Whatever their problems, it’s never their appearance. I’ve delved the depths of many personal painful experiences for inspiration, but never my superficial flaws. Maybe one of these days, I’ll explore those ungainly years, if I dare.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Multitasking Morning

“The brain is a lot like a computer. You may have several screens open on your desktop, but you’re able to think about only one at a time.”

- William Stixrud, PhD, Neuropsychologist from, The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing it All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Krenshaw.*

I, at times, have been a master multitasker. With phone in hand, perusing a cookbook, and stirring a pot of sauce, all the while making sure my baby, securely strapped in a Baby Bjorn didn’t get scalded. If I’ve accomplished keeping up with a conversation and a recipe without managing to burn the sauce or the baby, then what can’t I do all at once? That’s what I asked myself this morning, when my wireless Internet connection was slow. I kept popping open windows on Safari when I got impatient. Since I didn’t get called to sub today, and our guest visiting for the last couple of days had just left, I decided to be uber-productive.

My first window was opened to check on my blog that I just connected to facebook. I began this endeavor because the magazine, “Writer’s Digest” had a blog, suggesting it as a way to get more blog traffic. ** But I had to nag my facebook “friends” to verify me, and in the process, fourteen of them became followers. Some have now overlapped, following my blog from two places, which I hoped wouldn’t cause overlapping post notifications. Now I have some new followers, but they’re not listed as such on the original blog, nor do their comments appear there. So now I have two blogs to check, though my posts are the same. If facebook can pull my blog, why can’t my blog pull the facebook content?

The second window was opened to look for jobs on the Boston Globe website. Since loading that page was also as slow as molasses, I opened a third window to check if the Cambridge Public Schools added anything new. A Building Substitute position opened at the school that’s a hybrid of regular and Montessori classes. I’ve never subbed anything but Montessori there, so I didn’t know what the upper-grades were like, though I suspected they were challenging. I was sure that the job would be less than fulfilling, but what choice did I have? With my track record, they probably wouldn’t call me for an interview anyway, I hoped… or not.

While I contemplated whether or not to apply, or rather, tried to rally in order to apply, I opened a fourth window, because I wanted to continue reading tips from a, “Writer’s Digest” article I had begun to started. While reading said tips, a book, Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton was referenced, along with an option to read an excerpt. *** Why not? I clicked on the link, which opened a fifth-window.

What was going on with that first window? No new followers. Anything new on my original blog page? I typed in the address. While that was loading, I decided to check the second window. No new jobs, as expected, so I entered my e-mail address, to open mail that had a phone number of a person I was supposed to call for an article on Montessori I was writing for While that was searching, I went over to the book excerpt window, which had a lot of good advice. Should I buy the book? I went back to my third window, to check out the book on It had a high number of stars and positive reviews. Maybe I should order it. What else was on my wishlist to add to the order, to get free shipping on orders over $25? But, I’d better look at that Cambridge job before I forgot about it. I needed to revise my resume with the particulars of the position. Which window was it? The third? I had closed it, so I opened another. But I didn’t want to forget about the book order. Wait; did I remember to try another keyword when I was looking for jobs at the Boston Globe? I had done “Social Studies”, but not “History”. I also realized that I’d lost track of the “Writer’s Digest” blog after I clicked the link. What happened to that window?

Those windows became my life in a laptop. I was trying to keep up with my blog, get a job, and learn how to be a better writer, all the while, laundry was calling my name and ground meat was sitting in the sink, waiting to be spiced and mixed. Suddenly, I realized I was an unemployed writer of a blog (that was sort of two, now) and an educational website, an underemployed teacher, and a mediocre homemaker.

All of this, while listening to my iPod.

*Quote from:



Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Place Like Home

“I’m an alien I’m a legal Alien

I’m an Englishman in New York”

Gordon Sumner, Song “Englishman in New York” Sting

The more I’ve moved, the less each place feels like home. In my years, I have moved nine times, but I was only old enough to remember eight of them. The longest I’ve ever lived in one place was ten years, from ages nine to nineteen. The biggest cluster of moves, were in the first years after I got married, but then we settled. October 15th was my eight-year anniversary of living in Cambridge, with only one move on the same street, about four blocks down, in this period, and I’ve lived at my present location for six-and-a-half years.

It’s not just the number of times I’ve changed residences, but how different each neighborhood is that causes that unsettled feeling. Every place has had its positives (well, maybe not Centereach, NY) and negatives. I loved Queens, NY as a child because it was a city, where I had more freedom and there were people who hung out on their stoops, making the streets lively. Then my family moved to Long Island, and I was happy to have open spaces and beaches, but I noticed how similar everyone was, in comparison to my previous block that will filled with Koreans, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans. It certainly was quieter, which was nice for my father, but less festive for me. And instead of complaining about loud music and neighbors, suburbanites complain about barking dogs late at night or lawnmowers early in the morning. Every place has its drawbacks.

After I got married, my husband and I moved to Queens, though to a different neighborhood than during my childhood. Those two years were probably my favorite, so far. We had easy access to Manhattan, great restaurants, and fruit-vegetable stands. I ate well (And gained ten pounds). But I missed the beach, and the scent of city air didn’t compare; many summer weekends were spent in the suburbs to enjoy the things that we didn’t have in the city. I also wished we’d had more money at the time, so we could’ve taken advantage of our location even more.

Cambridge, MA has been a nice fit for our values and lifestyle, though my accent stuck out like a sore thumb, so I’ve worked on getting rid of my aw’s, as in dawg. And I miss New York pizza – New Yorkers know what I mean. I’ve been burned too many times by well-meaning non-New Yorkers who say they agree with me, except for a particular pizza place they recommend. They’re always wrong. There’s also not enough greenery in any cities, no matter how much they provide. When I visit my father in Maine, I also miss the open spaces, but being able to walk a lot, including over the bridge to Boston, has been a great bonus. The cities are small enough that we’re near the Boston Garden to see the Celtics, and in walking distance to see the Red Sox at Fenway.

The only person who’s conflicted about living in Cambridge is my son. We moved when he was three-years-old, and he’s never fully recovered from the upheaval. The day after we arrived, he sat on our living room floor in shock, absentmindedly pushing a truck back and forth, while staring into space. Many times, he cried over his loss of his beloved beaches. When we visit Long Island or Maine, my son waxes poetic over everything those places have that Cambridge does not. He’s so steadfast in his assertion, that when we visited Philadelphia this summer, he said it was a better city than Boston or Cambridge. When I tried to point out some of the negatives, he wouldn’t hear of it. My daughter, however, is a Cambridge girl through and through, including absorbing the accent (She says cah instead of car). Of the four of us, she’s never lived anywhere else.

Like my son, I miss Long Island too. I haven’t visited in two months, which makes me homesick. Most of our family still lives there, and I also miss friends – especially ones I’ve recently reconnected with thanks to facebook and my high school reunion. Culturally, it’s foreign, yet familiar. Moving away made me see it in a different way. I spent most of my life there, so even though I don’t love everything about it, Long Island is more like home to me than anywhere else.

The small differences between states or towns cannot compare to people who leave their own country to live in another. My husband’s scientist friends have come from as far away as England, France, Egypt, Togo, Macedonia, Greece, Chile, Columbia, and India. Their transitions must have been enormous.

When I visited Paris two years ago, I glimpsed at another kind of life that created a longing for something I didn’t know I wanted. I was attracted to its historical buildings and beauty; so different from the United States. And the food was incredible. When I was a child, my mother made me eat marrow because I was skinny and sickly, but it didn’t compare to the marrow I got to spread on buttered toast in Paris. Their white meat chicken in France tastes like dark meat in America. Even the simplest dishes possessed depth, and I could thrive on just cheese, bread, and wine. Best was that all the sightseeing made me drop five pounds! I know I’m not brave enough to move that far away, leaving family and friends behind, but I do my own waxing poetic over my experiences there. And I’ve added Paris to the list of places that have felt like home, but not quite.