Thursday, December 31, 2015

Good riddance, 2015

Good-by, 2015, and good riddance. I am relieved to be shed of you.

Good-by to all the grief that came in this year—the deaths of two beloved cousins, the anger and fear of a cancer diagnosis in someone I cherish, the stress-related illnesses that attacked two loved ones with a vengeance. Go away. Expecto patronum! I hereby summon the patronus that will block and defeat you. (For anyone wondering, I have no doubt that my patronus is a California black bear.)

Good riddance to the first semester of my last year of teaching (well, in three more weeks). I thought you would be great. You sucked. Hit the road.

And let me bid a fond and highly sarcastic farewell to the words of a parent, a teacher and an administrator who suggested, at various times about three separate students, that the student in question would be more successful in a male teacher’s classroom. Yeah? I’ve got your male teacher right here, pal. Do you really think genitals and hormones make a difference in managing that spoiled child’s behavior? Bite me.

Good-by to all the lost days I spent on the couch, first with pneumonia, then with C. Diff. You may be lost forever, but I can still make up the time in productivity in the new year, so go ahead, slip away. I refuse to obsess on you.

And as of this day, a huge and heartfelt good riddance to the worst publishing company in the history of the planet. Our contract has expired, thank heavens, and I can now take back the rights to my book, my author persona, my destiny as the independent publisher of my own work. Adios, you greedy bastards. May a class action lawsuit find its way to you soon.

Hallelujah. The countdown begins!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

To the daughter of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik

You are still a baby, just six months old, but my own daughter and I have already discussed your plight.

At this writing, you are temporarily in foster care, having been taken from your family on the day… on the day your parents died.

But your aunt and uncle have pledged their love and commitment to you, and they are doing everything necessary to reunite you with your family so that they can raise you as their own child, keeping you, as your aunt stated, from ever knowing the truth, if they can.

Is that even possible? Your parents made choices that resulted in their deaths—and the deaths of many others. Will this truth follow you, haunt you, all your life? For now, you are innocent, blissfully unaware of the grief and sadness surrounding you and your surviving family. But as you grow and learn, will your aunt and uncle be able to shield you from those who may seek to punish you for the acts of your parents by piercing your heart with the knowledge of those violent and bloody moments on December 2, 2015? It may be impossible.

But how are you culpable? You are not. You are simply an innocent child, your heart a pristine vessel untouched by those who would taint it with fear and hate.

And this is why our hearts—mine, my daughter’s—this is why our hearts hurt for you. Because there is anger and hate on the side your parents chose… and anger and hate on the side which opposes them. No one will win.

No one will win.

No one can. This is not a war of territory or boundaries, or even a war of oppression, though some will say it is. This is a war based solely on fear.

Some will say I am too sympathetic. Others will say I am not sympathetic enough. My words will be interpreted according to the reader’s predetermined mindset. Do you see? There can be no logical reasoning here, no resolution reached after thoughtful consideration of the facts on both sides. Because with all our centuries of accumulated knowledge, we have failed to establish a world that moves forward based on love and mutual exchange. We have created a world entrenched in rhetoric and based on greed and jealousy.

I see little to indicate that this world will change much by the time you are old enough to understand it. Indeed, I see only a worsening of our fear, our greed, our jealousy in the coming years, because few are willing—as yet—to say enough is enough, to blink, as the expression goes, in this stand-off, to back down and give ground and ask, “How can we make peace between us?” Perhaps—and I realize this is much to hope for—perhaps it will be your generation that turns the tide. Perhaps, in learning of your parents’ deeds, you will be the first to say enough is enough.
Or perhaps you will never know any of it. If your aunt is successful in keeping you from this history, you may never know any of it, and your life can be lived without the burden of knowing the events of that day. I would envy you that oblivion.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Eulogy for Danny Fiocchi

I grew up in California, and my cousin Danny grew up in Illinois, so we hardly knew each other. He came out for a visit when we were little kids, but neither of us remember much about that time. I loved his mom, my Aunt Betty. She was my father's sister, and when Dad was dying, she came out to spend some time with us, with him, to say her last tearful good-byes and try to put a good face on losing him. She was kind, caring and nurturing—everything my own mother was not, and I always wished that fate had allowed me to grow up as her daughter.

It was Aunt Betty I wrote to when I was in my mid-forties and wanted some insight into my father. Since I'd been a young child when he died, I knew little about his character apart from the sketchy criticisms Mom would make if I asked her. I wanted to hear about him from someone else's perspective, so I wrote Aunt Betty and asked her what kind of a man my father was.

Many months later I received a large envelope in the mail which contained a letter, photographs, copies of newspaper clippings and an audio CD of Aunt Betty and my dad's brother, Maurice, being interviewed by my cousin Mick about my dad. The information they sent was an introduction to the father I'd never known, and after sifting through all of it for hours, I wept that I had not had the chance to know him better. Turns out he was a pretty good man, all things considered.

Thus began a renewed friendship with my cousins, especially Danny, that grew as the years went on. Via mail, email and, eventually, Facebook, we introduced our families to each other, our children and our grandchildren. But Danny resisted the cyber world, so a couple of times a year, he would call me or I would call him, and now I wish I had a recording of every one of those calls. Somehow, we talked as old friends, even though we'd missed sharing a majority of our lives. And somehow he knew—whether consciously or not—that his time on this earth would be limited. We never chatted about mundane things, though occasionally he would ask about the weather on the mountain where I lived, and I would sometimes wonder how much snow they were getting in comparison. Mostly, we talked about the growth and development of our own psyches. We longed to be good parents and beloved grandparents, but we both were all too conscious of our own flaws. So I encouraged him, reminding him often that his role in the family was to keep everyone connected (a role he took quite seriously), and he would remind me that my role was to write, as that was the gift I'd been given.

And we talked about our mortality. He told me long ago that he was ready to go because we both found the world to be a harsh place. "But I got too many people who depend on me," he would say, and when his grandchildren were born, he found a renewed vibrancy and determination to be around to guide them around the pitfalls of life.

For the past few years, every time I would return from my annual trip to Missouri, he would call and let me know he knew I'd been "close enough to drive to Illinois." In the summer of 2014, I promised him I would not return to Missouri again without coming to see him, which I did this past summer. By then he had already been diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life some short months later. But what a reunion. I had not been in the physical presence of my cousins for fifty years. But we embraced as good friends, and we spent our time together laughing and teasing, just as I remember our times together when we were kids. And despite his rapidly progressing illness, Danny was his usual jovial, loving self.

To say that this man was one-of-a-kind would be an understatement. I have never known anyone like him, and my bond with him began in our first phone conversation as adults, when he told me he loved me unconditionally, without really knowing anything about me as a person. I knew he was sincere, and his love and encouragement have kept me moving forward, kept me putting fingers to the keyboard (yes, cousin, I know you're still checking up on me) for the past fifteen years. Because of him, I will push past the writer's block and the dysphoria and the discouragement, and I will continue to write. Because I want to make Danny Fiocchi proud of me. I want to honor his unconditional love for me.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Eulogy for Jean Thompson

Jean at sixteen

On Sunday, September 20th, my cousin, Jean Thompson, passed away.

Jean grew up in Kansas, and I grew up in California. I didn't even know she existed until I was in my late 40's, doing research for Tainted Legacy, and Alice Lee (Zangaro) suggested I call her for information on the Williams family, telling me that we were probably related. We were, but I didn't know that until Jean kindly sent me pages and pages of the Williams genealogy. I had some trepidation about calling her at first, but she was immediately kind, open and embracing—characteristics which she apparently extended to most folks throughout her life, regardless of how she met them.

It seems strange to acknowledge that I never met her in person. After we connected, we spoke every few months by telephone; whenever I had an hour or so to spare on a Sunday and needed to laugh, I would call her. Because she and my grandmother grew up in the same geographical region (although Jean was much, much younger), she reminded me of Grandma Lila every time we spoke, using such expressions as "I'm not a-gonna do it" (something she stated emphatically to the doctor who told her to quit smoking) and adding that elusive "r" to "warsh, as in, "We had to warsh up the floor after Murphy brought us a bird this mornin'." Murphy was her black cat.

Like all the women in the Williams line, including my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Jean might have seemed simple in her speech and demeanor, but she was highly sophisticated in her intellect and insight into the human condition. Our conversations always began with light-hearted, jovial humor, but at some point we would begin to talk about our kids and grandkids, and she amazed me with what she understood about human behavior. Truly, she was an old soul with unfathomable wisdom.

Beyond that, the attribute most characteristic of her was the love she exuded for everyone, and I mean everyone. She adored her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren—and everyone associated with them. Although she'd never spoken to any of my kids or grandkids, she asked about them often when we talked. At the end of every conversation, we always engaged in a gentle competition to see who could out-love the other. ("I love you a million." "Times ten! Ha ha ha!" "I love you to the moon and back!") Jean always won.

When she passed, the outpouring on her Facebook page was extraordinary. People are still posting notes of love and remembrance all these weeks later. She is deeply and daily missed by her family. She is certainly missed by me. And she will be missed by all those great-grands who grow up without her influence. But she has left a legacy in the way she has raised her children, and they will now step up to be those who readily love and embrace others as she did, a great heirloom to treasure from a truly great lady.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What it's like teaching high school, Part 4

In a Facebook post in September, I mentioned that a very shy boy I'd taught as a freshman returned, now in his junior year, to say hello, and to tell me that life had gotten better, that he talks more now. In response, I received this comment from Donny Rios, a student from class of—2004, perhaps:

S. Kay Murphy, my fav teacher ever! The effect you had on me is everlasting. Because of you and your class my junior year I fell in love with writing. I write songs for a living because of you, my enormous interest in pursuing law school can be traced back to your class. To this day I still talk about the lessons you've taught me and also that damn red balloon movie lol. You have touched many lives and I have always promised myself that if I were ever to win some award or give a thank you speech somewhere I would include you. If that doesn't happen just know that you helped mold me into who I am today.

Are there words to express how deeply his heartfelt sentiment touched me?

For days afterward, Donny's comment floated before my teary eyes as I stood in front of this year's crop of potential poets, songwriters and attorneys. And then something even more miraculous happened.

In anticipation of retirement and downsizing, I have been slowly working through my files, discarding reams of unnecessary paper. A few days after Donny posted his comment, I began to sift through some poems I'd written years ago, evoking memories in the same way paging through a photo album might. And then, BAM. I pulled out a poem entitled "Reading Billy Collins," with a dedication to Donny Rios.

Oh my gosh, I remembered writing the poem but hadn't remembered who inspired it. The flood of memories became a torrent—days we spent in class, me ranting about the beauty of words, my students dutifully resisting anything that threatened a commitment to deep reading. For me, it is always akin to convincing a five-year-old that salad, with all its green foliage, is really tasty. I suggest, nudge, wheedle and plead until they just try a little of it, just to see if they might someday develop an appetite for it. At times—very, very rare times—they do.

Donny Rios did. How incredibly validating for me—especially in this final year of teaching. And then to find this poem, which not only mentions Donny but mentions retirement as well, written all those years ago... I can only say that this special blessing was brought to us today by the Universe. Oh, and thank you. I can certainly say thank you.

Now if you don't mind reading a little further, here is that poem:

Reading Billy Collins
S. Kay Murphy
for Donny Rios

I shake my head from side to side
Chuckling as I turn the page.

Occasionally I don't move on
To the next poem because
I want to savor the one on my tongue.

"How can you sit around and read books of poetry?" my students ask.
"Because he writes about what he is in love with," I tell them,
"and they are the same things that I am in love with."

The hush that follows is familiar;
They are afraid that I will be swept
Over the edge once again with my ranting.

"Like what?" 

The lone voice in the crowd
Is the brown-eyed boy, Donny,
Who hated poetry in September but now in May
Has admitted openly that he loves Robert Frost.

(Can I retire now? Are there accolades that teachers earn for such an achievement as this? A Purple Heart from the President with his warm handshake and a salute, accompanied by an honorable discharge, a hard-earned respite at long last from gum on the desks, phone calls from D grade parents and the ten thousandth essay on Hamlet?)

I digress
As I am wont to do while teaching,
Often choosing to lead my students down
The other path in that yellow wood.

"Mice!" I proclaim, "Dead brown mice!
Dogs! Dreams! Words like they are people! And readers as if they are words!
John Keats! And tea! Billy Collins drinks tea!"

By now I am shouting in my jubilation,
And they are convinced of my lunacy at last.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What it's like teaching high school, Part 3

Today was one of those absolutely golden days of teaching wherein a band geek stepped up to be a hero, we caught a bad guy, and I made two proud mothers cry. Oh--and we spent some time with our favorite reptilian visitor, Houdini--but that part of the day is strictly off the record. Here's how it all went down in a nutshell:

Per. 1 & 2: My Honors freshmen read the short story, "The Interlopers," and carefully picked out the standard elements of short fiction--protagonist, conflict, climax, etc. Steve, who never volunteers to answer questions, raised his hand today--and BINGO!--gave a spot-on explanation of the conflict. (Two men who hate each other are trapped under a fallen tree on a winter night, side by side.) Nice. Rosa (who, by the way, was told by another teacher to leave the Honors program because if she didn't she'd "struggle all year," which prompted a great conversation with my students about grit) gave us the tiny detail that led us to the greatest irony in the story: the two protagonists each pray that harm will come to the other--and their prayers are answered. (**SPOILER ALERT** Both men die in the end.)

Per. 3: For the last ten minutes of class, the kids paired up to drill each other in preparation for tomorrow's quiz. After class, Very Sweet Band Geek Boy (hereinafter known as VSBGB) approached me privately to let me know another boy in class had been boasting about taking a smartphone that didn't belong to him. He didn't intend to return it (he explained to several students around him) and had already removed the SIM card. "It's making me feel bad," VSBGB said. "Like I'm alone in the world" (meaning no one else in the group of students cared about the person who would by now be terribly missing his or her phone). I told VSBGB I would take care of it, and I did, giving a proctor all the pertinent information, who promptly headed off to interrogate the culprit. I mean suspect. (Innocent until... yeah, right, we had him dead to rights, cell phone in hand.)

Per. 4 is my conference/lunch period. New Boy to College Prep earned an A+ on last week's quiz, answering every question flawlessly and with "Repeat after me!" precision, so I decided to call his mama and let her know that he was settling in nicely and that I'd like to recommend him for Honors next year. She promptly began to cry, explaining that she and her husband had just today returned home from an out-of-state trip because her husband's grandmother had died. The family was in mourning. "I have neglected him for three weeks," she said tearfully. "His older brother has been taking care of him. We were so worried about them...." It comforted her to know that her boy continued his life, status quo, in her absence. She planned to reward him upon his return from school. Nice. I also took a minute to leave a voicemail for the mother of VSBGB, thinking she would be proud of her boy, too. I didn't tell her why, but asked her to call me when she could.

Per. 5: Just as I began to teach my unruly fifth period, a teacher's aid from another classroom (an adult, not a student TA) rushed in to show me her iPhone--oh yes! the one the Naughty Boy had nabbed! It had been recovered! He had, in fact, removed the SIM card (which was recovered). He had also removed the case and thrown it in a dumpster. It was a wallet case--with all her credit cards and drivers license in it. That was recovered, too, and yes, the cards were all accounted for. She was over-the-moon happy and thanked me profusely. I explained it was VSBGB (and we agreed to keep his super-hero identity a secret, lest the Naughty Boy swear out a personal vendetta against him).

Per. 6: I suppose we always need balance in life--from heroes and villains to comic relief--so the Journalism class was pleased to see Katie show up with her bag full of tegu. (A tegu is a very large, very exotic lizard.) She's had Houdini since she was a freshman, and she has brought him to school nearly every day, at first hidden beneath her beanie (when he weighed a pound or two), then curled in the bottom of a cloth bag that looks like it would hold a bundle of PE clothes. Houdini is huge now--over three feet in length--and an absolutely beautiful mini-dinosaur. The young journalists gathered 'round, and Katie told them all about the care and feeding of a tegu. She's part of the Zoo-Bot club on campus, so sometimes it's actually legit for Houdini to be on campus. Today, though, she just came by so I could see how much he's grown. (NOTE: I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention this to my boss. He's a bit touchous about critters in the classroom. Ahem.)

After school, since I hadn't heard from the mother of VSBGB, I called his dad. Papa was very, very proud (and convinced, as I was, that Boy would come home from school and when asked about what transpired in his day would respond "not much" in typical teen fashion. "Did you call my wife?" Proud Papa asked. I let him know I hadn't received a return call. Just as I was getting in the truck to leave campus, my cell phone rang. When I told Mother of VSBGB that her boy had been quite the hero, she immediately began to cry. She was so choked up, she could hardly speak. "We've never had a teacher call to tell us something nice," she said, echoing what her husband had said. "We're just so proud of him and we love him  so much." How could you not? He's very sweet. AND a band geek. AND a young man with empathy who saw something and decided to say something. Super-hero.

I have fewer than 150 days left to teach. May each day hold such tiny golden gifts as these. I will treasure them forever.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Open Letter to the School Board of Upland USD

I have been employed by Upland USD as a teacher of English for the past thirteen years. In this letter, I do not presume to speak for the other teachers in the district; my opinions are solely my own, though they may be shared.

Formerly I worked for the Jurupa Unified School District. I began my teaching career there, and I loved my job. I taught English, Journalism and Yearbook, and by the time I left I was making close to $90,000 a year. I took a $12,000 a year pay cut to come to teach in Upland. You may wonder why. (Certainly my friends and family members did.)

It would take far too much column space here to attempt to unravel all the turbulent events of the mid to late 1990's in that district. Suffice it to say, it all began over money. Teachers faced a situation similar to the impasse we have now in Upland. Attendance at school board meetings rose dramatically and tempers rose accordingly. Teachers rallied and carried signs, bought slogan-printed t-shirts, got the community involved. People took sides. Administrators who were sympathetic were transferred punitively, and that's when things really became an ugly mess of name-calling and shaming. (For all the gory details, look for stories archived in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Riverside Press Enterprise.)

Through all that mess, I continued to teach. I loved my students, and I loved my colleagues. I showed up for work every day ready to teach, to encourage, to support, and I waited for resolution, for the dust to settle. Sadly, it never did. Oh, eventually the district offered a salary increase that was acceptable and teachers ratified a contract. But the damage was done. Bitterness and resentment remained, permeating every classroom. It felt like a marriage that is irreparably damaged by anger and infidelity. And then the turnover of administrators began as the district hired principal after principal in a desperate attempt to find someone who could shore up sagging test scores (which had plunged right along with teacher morale). Nothing worked. The pervasive negative attitude coupled with a principal who felt no qualms in making profoundly hurtful and sexist statements caused me to look elsewhere for work.

I will never forget my first year working for Upland USD. I was welcomed repeatedly by everyone from administrators to the maintenance crew. New teachers were given constant support, and as I met my colleagues, I found people who still had that zeal to make a difference in the lives of the kids they taught. Everyone smiled. Not so now.

Do the teachers currently employed by Upland USD deserve a raise? Absolutely. I could go on and on about how hard we work and what we sacrifice; please don't think any of us have forgotten about buying our own copy paper and yes, buying our own toilet paper when we were asked to conserve a few brief years ago.

But there is now something at stake here that is greater than money, and that is virtue, specifically, the virtues of dignity and mutual respect. These were the virtues that were beaten down and destroyed by angry activists on both sides in Jurupa Valley. It took that district a decade to recover.

I did not come to Upland because of the salary schedule. I chose Upland because of the school district's reputation. Friends told me Upland was a district steeped in teacher support, professional regard and civility, and these are exactly the traits I found here. I would implore you not to allow these traits to be further eroded by the salary dispute. What we stand to lose in teacher morale and support for our students will be a very great sum to forfeit, I assure you, and, once lost, could take years to recover.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wood Shop

I suppose this post could be the sequel to "If You Teach a Girl to Fish." The guy pictured above wearing safety glasses and using a circular saw is my buddy Doug, literally the aider of damsels in distress (because that day when I called him, his response was, "Any time I have the opportunity to aid a damsel in distress, I'll take it").

Four years ago I bought a beautiful, custom built drafting table on I'd been looking for just the right drafting table for years, and when I saw this one, I fell in love. I drove to Apple Valley, plunked down $200, and carted it away in my truck. The following winter I wrote The Dogs Who Saved Me while sitting at that table every afternoon. Problem was, though, it was just a few inches too tall, so I could never quite get comfortable sitting on a stool or standing up.

Two weeks ago when I had a new floor put in the family room, I called Doug and asked if he would come over and help me move furniture back in place so I could function in my house again. This prompted his damsel in distress response, and he appeared an hour or so later, helping me not only with the furniture but the TV and computer as well.

The drafting table had been moved to the patio during the flooring job, and when Doug asked if I wanted to bring it in, I explained my issue with the height and asked him if he thought it would be feasible to just chop a few inches off the legs. This time his response was "Get a taller stool."

In the end, though, he went home and returned with a saw, a router, a fancy ruler and some other fascinating stuff, and went to work.

I will confess here how envious I was as I watched him. When I mentioned something about the "boy skills" he possessed, he referenced his experience with Wood Shop in junior high, and that hurt just a little. I had asked counselors in both junior high and high school to put me in wood shop or auto shop classes but was told those were "all boy" classes. Times are different now, of course, and girls are certainly not discouraged from taking vocational education classes at the high school where I teach, and I'm glad for that. I love wood, and the idea of having both the skill and tools to build something lasting is a very compelling one to me. Alas, I'm relegated now to standing on the sidelines and watching.  Hmm. Perhaps a wood working class might be placed on the agenda as an activity after retirement.

Less than an hour after Doug began, we were carrying the drafting table back to its spot by the window in the family room. We set it down, and I shook it. Absolutely amazingly stable. No wobble. Ahhhh, the perfect workspace.

When I'm writing, I often do so with a notebook open and also the internet open as well, especially if I'm working on a blog post. (In this post already, I've double-checked my accuracy on "circular saw" and "router," and I grabbed the link to the previous post.) The drafting table gives me lots of space for all that plus room to stick a lamp and a few pencils and a cup of tea. And a cat, on occasion. I have illustrated some of this in the photo below (sans cat). A removable sheet of glass covers the surface of the table, so I can place things under it—such as the outline of the children's book series I'm currently working on.

Having the table just right is a small thing in the larger scheme of my life. But... workspace to a writer is much like a classroom is to a teacher; you kinda need a place for all your books and pencils and stuff.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Atticus Finch is not a real person. He is a character in a novel. While he may be multifaceted and dynamic as a character, he is that and only that—a character, comprised of the requisite parts given him by Harper Lee when she wrote the consummate American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird and also when she wrote the first draft of that novel, which is now known as Go Set a Watchman.

For in fact, that is exactly what Go Set a Watchman is—a first draft, the initial disorganized and somewhat plotless musings of a slightly younger Harper Lee than the one who wrote Mockingbird. Miss Lee's publisher, HarperCollins, has done the business of promoting Watchman as if it were an entirely separate novel—because that is what their identity is; they are a business. As much as we would like to think of publishing houses as being run by noble, educated persons who are nearly super-heroes in their defense of great literature, the truth is, HarperCollins is a business organized for the purpose of making money. Lots and lots of money.

And so it seems they have done with Watchman. (It is currently number one in literature/classics on Amazon.) But while they touted this book as 'a new novel by Harper Lee,' those good folks know exactly what this is; it is the first pages of a novel written by a young college student who thought she might like to write about the South, her hometown, and her father. In Watchman, she characterizes Atticus as having caved to the agenda of the racists of his town. In Mockingbird, he stands against such folk. Which Atticus best reflects Amasa Coleman Lee, Harper's real-life father? Who can say, and we will never know, as our beloved Miss Lee, always reticent to give interviews, is now beyond the point of discussing either novel.

When I wrote Tainted Legacy, a book about my great-grandmother, Bertha Gifford, who is now vilified as a serial killer, I wrote the original draft to fit the current True Crime genre. After long discussions with a publisher who read that original draft, however, I decided to rewrite the book as a memoir. Now it is a book that I am quite proud of, as it reflects a wider scope of Bertha's story (which is also my grandmother's story and my mother's and mine as well). In the same way, I believe Harper Lee had similar discussions about her first go at a novel, and she came away with some ideas about how she wanted to change her portrayal of this character, Atticus Finch, and the town of Maycomb... and herself. Thus she produced the much beloved work we know today as Mockingbird. If only she'd had the presence of mind to toss that first manuscript in the incinerator... as I have done with my first attempt.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Letter to Myself as a First Year Teacher

I posted this particular piece one year ago, but since so many of my friends will kick off the school year in new teaching positions. Best wishes to those who have the courage to stand boldly before their students and endeavor to guide with patience and love.

There is a video online of teachers reading letters they wrote to themselves as first year teachers. I found their words touching, amusing, inspirational and powerful. So I decided to try to write my own. It has taken me all summer long to finish, but here it is:

Dear thirty-five-year-old Kay,
On this first day, you're thinking you might be too old to begin teaching. I'm looking at you from this vantage point of sixty, and I'm laughing.
I also see that you are proud and thrilled to be teaching in this brand new classroom with white boards which you are thinking are so cool and high tech, but girl, just wait. Somebody out there is working on this thing called a Smart Board. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
You should know that your carefully crafted yet coded lecture on this first day of school about not allowing "hate speech" in your classroom will become far more bold as time goes on and far less necessary. The time will come—yes, within your lifetime—when your LGBT students will be safely out and no longer in need of your protection.
You do not know this yet, but the kids who are about to swagger through the door, looking at you sideways and pretending disinterest, are actually watching every move you make, hearing every word you utter and weighing it, making judgments from the first seconds in your room as to whether you are trustworthy and kind or someone to be feared. Yes, they will seem puffed up, but they are really just frightened little bear cubs, standing on their hind legs, trying to appear large and intimidating. Inside they fear being called out and embarrassed by you or their classmates. Your first duty always is to help them feel safe. But don't be afraid to look them in the eye; for good or for bad, there is power in every word you say to them.
This year, you will make friends with the school librarian who will later be the best teacher-bud you will ever have. Hold onto this friendship as if it were the holy grail. Donna will keep you sane through all the craziness, anger, laughter and tears that are heading your way like a speeding locomotive.
At the end of the school year, take a picture of each class and keep those photos in an album in your room. You'll want to pull them out and reminisce over them when your former students stop by. And they will stop by.
Warning: Next year you'll have a student named Tabitha J. You will ask Miss J. no less than fifty times in 180 days to "Please step outside" so you can reiterate a lecture you're sick of giving and she's sick of hearing about how to behave appropriately in a classroom. She will be the bane of your work time existence for the entire year. Just wait. Eight years later, on a quiet afternoon, the phone will ring, and it will be Miss J., calling to let you know she is now a college student working toward the goal of being a teacher "just like you" and to thank you for never giving up on her, thus beginning a legacy of naughty kids who will return, year after year, to thank you for caring about them as individuals despite their dismal grades in your class.
Your experience with Miss J. will also introduce you to one of the few aspects of your job you genuinely dislike, which is dealing with self-absorbed, unreasonable, ignorant parents. You should know now that throughout the whole of your career, you will be cussed out and threatened far more by parents than you will be by kids. When that happens, just let it go. Head for the gym or go for a run or walk the dogs, and as the sun goes down, let the conversation disappear into the wind.
Oh, and that advice your university professor gave you about never hugging the kids? Throw that out the window. When they need a hug, hug them. But be prepared; they will break your heart with stories of family tragedy. There will be a boy whose father shot his mother and then shot himself—in front of the boy. Don't worry about teaching him anything. Just love him. Seven years later you will hear your name called in a Petsmart parking lot and there he will be, this boy who battled all the demons a boy can face in high school, smiling and hugging you and telling you that he is in his third year of college now, looking forward to finishing his degree.
So don't worry. Your heart will be broken often and just as often it will be mended by the daily laughter and love that will fill your classroom from top to bottom, more so with every year that you teach. Because with every year, you will love them more. In fact, there will come a day—September 11, 2001, to be precise—when you will begin to tell all your students every day that you love them.
Be ready to learn. Because yes, going into this gig, you've already raised four kids of your own, and you've got heaps of fancy book smarts. But your students will teach you volumes every year in every subject from fairness to fashion, including which music you "should" listen to. And they'll be right.
Despite your best efforts, you're going to make mistakes, just as you did with your own kids. When you do, forgive yourself quickly. Self-evaluation is great. Self-criticism is toxic. Be a role model; apologize when necessary, then move on.
Don't forget what your mentor, Dr. Hubert, told you about teaching: Learn to pat yourself on the back, because administration will have no idea what a great job you're doing in your classroom. But don't worry; the kids know, and they will always make you feel appreciated.
Most important of all, never get swept up in the current tide of educational trend. Rather be guided in your teaching by the beacon of warmest light, which is the love in your heart.
Oh—remember what you're mama said, too: Stand up straight. And lose those girlie shoes with heels; you'll be walking miles every day just around your own classroom.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

If you teach a girl to fish....

In a recent phone conversation with my buddy Doug, I whined to him about all the projects I still want to tackle before school starts again, one of which being the repair of one of the “rainbirds” in my sprinkler system. His directions for fixing it went something like this:

     “Uhhhmmm, I think ya gotta yank that sucker outa the ground, then take it to Home Depot and tell ‘em ya need one just like it, then come back and slap the new sucker in.”

It may not be glaringly obvious from his articulate instruction, but Doug is an engineer. He teaches that subject plus photography at the same high school where I teach. What he was getting at, though, was that it wouldn’t make sense to try to repair the mechanism. Replacing the entire sprinkler head was required.

Sigh. This is a job I’ve never done before, and I’ve never watched anyone do it (which is how I learned to change a tire, replace a kitchen faucet and swap out a toilet, all of which I have done by myself). But with a return to work looming in the near future, I decided today to simply see how far I could get on the project before really screwing it up.

Before I began, I left water from the hose trickling around the sprinkler head while I ate breakfast so it would be a bit easier to dig out the sod and so the job would be a bit less dusty. Lord knows my poor lawn could use an extra drink of water.

Then I began. It took less than five minutes to dig down around the sprinkler. I thought I might have to dig a pretty deep hole in order to spin the thing around to unscrew it, but the blessed saint who installed the system had put an elbow joint there, so as I began to rotate the head, the joint pulled up to a ninety degree angle, and removing the broken part was easy peasy.

Not long after moving into this house, it was with great good fortune that I had found, in the side yard, three perfectly good sprinkler heads. I left them there for a rainy day. Wait—wrong metaphor. All that is to say, I skipped Doug’s middle step of heading off to Home Depot because I already had the replacement part (times 3).

I rinsed mud and debris off the connecting joint, screwed the new sprinkler head back on, secured Purrl in the house because she’d been outside helping me as she always does, and turned the system on to see if it worked.

I stood for a moment, savoring my monumental triumph. (I would have whooped and cheered loudly, but it would have set my neighbor’s dog into fits of barking, and they have a new baby, so I kept it to a whispered “Yes!!!

Positioning the sprinkler in the hole, pushing the soil back in and replacing the sod took about two minutes. To be honest, the entire project could have been accomplished in about ten minutes had I not stopped to take photos, thus documenting the process for Doug.

Who, by the way, was very proud of me—but never doubted that I could do it. And just let me say here how much I appreciate guy friends who teach me life skills instead of simply offering to do the job for me. Doug’s a nice guy. Had I asked him, he would have come over in a heartbeat and done it for me. He assumed I would want to do it myself unless I absolutely couldn’t. As a badass independent woman, I have to say I like that in a man.

Moral of the story: Teach a girl to fish, and ever after she’ll not only keep herself busy when you take her fishing, but you can sit back, have a beer, and let her go at it. Ok, maybe that moral doesn’t exactly apply to this story, but I do like to imagine the scenario. It’s kinda romantic.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What it's like teaching high school: Part 3

This post is long overdue. I meant to write about this in June, but there was, you know, pneumonia... and C. Diff... and hives... but then Missouri to help me forget all of that (and now it occurs to me I should probably write something about this year's trip to my favorite place in the Universe).

Then today I was prompted by an email in my work inbox from one of my freshmen. (Yes, it's summer break, and no, I'm not currently teaching.) Why was she emailing her last year's English teacher mid-summer? To ask me what "scent" I would like because she's making "a homemade sugar scrub" and wanted to make some for me, too. Yeah, so, these situations always make me chuckle at the folks who remark that it must be "so hard" teaching high school. Why yes, yes it is. I had to sit there and think for several minutes about how this sixty-one-year-old tomboy was going to respond to a fifteen-year-old who clearly has the superior education when it comes to cosmetics.

[Oh time out right here; I have to go wash the chocolate off my fingers. More about that in a sec.]

Anyway, what I intended to write back in June was just this: I often get thank you gifts at the end of the school year, tokens of appreciation from moms who are grateful I never snapped and killed their rowdy boys or sassy girls. Usually it's something like a Starbucks gift card (thank you!) or a bar of dark chocolate (because I beat it into my students' heads all year long that I love dark chocolate). I did get some nice dark chocolate truffles this year from one of my Honors freshmen (thus the need to go wash my hands because of course thinking about them made me have to eat one). What made the gift lovely, though, was the note the student attached:

Ms. Murphy, I bought these because I love you, not for bribery. ["not for bribery" was very carefully lined through but still readable--the gift was delivered before final exam grades were posted.] Anyways you're a great teacher who made my freshman year enjoyable. Have an awesome summer. I'll miss your sarcasm. Love, Thu N. [heart icon]

Please note the correct use of "you're" in this brief missive. Also the correct placement of commas after "Murphy" and "you." It makes my heart burst with pride. (When I asked my Honors classes at the end of the year what most stood out to them as something they had learned in my class, several immediately and enthusiastically responded, "Learning where the commas go!") In all seriousness, Thu was an absolute joy to have in class, and not because she's a hard working Honors kid (though she is that). She came in smiling every day, and her delighted laughter when someone said or did something goofy was infectious.

Erica, on the newspaper staff, gave me a thank you note as well. In it, she says, "Thank you for "another great year of Journalism." She'll be the editor-in-chief next year, with all the stress and responsibility that will come along with the title, so maybe she won't thank me next June. But she'll be damn great as EIC.

In all, I received five personal notes at the end of the year, and that is the point of this post. Teenagers aren't always sitting around with their heads bent over their phones, their thumbs flying as they send text after text. It is not all that unusual for them to exhibit behavior that is both gracious and humbling. Sometimes they actually sit down with a jelly pen and a piece of paper (or a sticky note) and express their heartfelt appreciation for someone whom they feel has helped them a little along the way.

These artifacts will be treasured, of course, in my folder kept solely to hold such mementos. I suspect I will look at them often in my retirement and smile again at the wonder of great kids.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Am Cait

“The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.”

This quote by novelist Armistead Maupin was the epigram (if a television show can boast such a literary device) displayed at the beginning of the premiere episode of “I Am Cait,” the new reality series featuring the life and trials of Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner. I must agree; if we were all honest with each other about our fears and our foibles, there would be a lot less hatred and a lot more compassion in our society. But we are taught to follow the norm or pay the price in isolation, so we do. (Because isolation, for some, can be crushing. Consider the example of Richard Cory.)

But occasionally someone happens along like Rosa Parks or Harvey Milk who happens to have extraordinary courage, a person who refuses to bend under society’s pressure and risks being broken by it in order to bring about change. Say what you will about Caitlyn Jenner (and certainly her critics have felt this is a no-holds-barred scenario), her willingness to sit in front of a camera and apply lipstick after having been one of the studliest creatures in Olympic history makes her one ballsy dame in my book.

Those nasty critics have said that her motivation for doing the reality series is fame and money. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Fame? You’re kidding me, right? Ahem, blogger-in-your-twenties, do some homework. This gal already has more than a modicum of notoriety. Money? I want to say the wealth is there, but what do I know? Transitional surgeries are expensive, that I do know. But considering the Jenner we’ve known and loved for years, the lover, the dreamer, the Olympian, I tend to believe her statement that she wants to do good in the world, to reach out to those who struggle in darkness, those who do not have the freedom yet to be who they are openly.

In watching the first episode last night, my greatest concern was for Esther, Caitlyn’s mother. Clearly she loves her child. If my son came to me and said, ‘Mom, all my life I’ve really been, in my heart, female,’ what would I say? How would I react? Pretty sure the same way I did when he came out to me when he was fifteen. ‘Ok. Whatev. I love you.’ But then, I have always been privileged to have had gay and trans friends, even before it was cool for straight people to have gay and trans friends. For sixty-five years, Esther has had a son named Bruce—and for forty of those years, he has been her famous son Bruce. Now he is asking that she change her pronouns, call him “Caitlyn.” It’s a tough transition. And change is always scary, even for the best and bravest of us.

Esther’s bottom line? ‘I love him… that’s not going to change.’ Yes, Mama Jenner, props to you. It brought to mind conversations I had with one of my dearest friends when her daughter emerged as transgender and decided to transition. “Cathy” would become “Lee,” and his mother was nothing less than excited for him and one hundred percent supportive. But Lee’s dad was a staunch conservative, and so I worried and fretted along with my friend over what his reaction would be—needlessly, it turned out. His bottom line was the same as Esther’s: ‘I love my child. That’s not going to change, no matter what.’ And his sentiment has been born out over the years; he and his son have a great relationship.

I have no doubt this will happen for Caitlyn and Esther, and I hope we see their mother-daughter relationship solidify as the series goes on. I doubt that I will watch every episode. As a somewhat ‘gender fluid’ individual myself, I am not interested in Caitlyn’s wardrobe choices or hair accessories or nail color or make-up. But I am definitely interested in her motivation, which I believe is a sincere one. As a high school teacher and a supporter of the LGBTQ community, I am thrilled that this series is out there. Trust me: Across the country, there are teenagers who have shut themselves away from others because of their grief at not being able to live outwardly as they truly perceive themselves inwardly. For them to see a big strong man transition into a big strong (but no less sexy) woman is a tremendous advancement in our society. So thank you, Caitlyn Jenner, for providing, once again, a healthy, positive role model.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Back to Baldy

Last week The Grandson (Ben) asked if I would take him and his girlfriend hiking in Mt Baldy, something we hadn't done in a year or so. Ben is twenty now, will be twenty-one in October, and yes, he still hikes with me (aka "Nana"). How blessed am I? Miraculously.

Yesterday the stars aligned so that we could take that hike. Unfortunately, The Goddess Diana (Ben's girlfriend) was off on a family trip to Northern California, so she was unable to accompany us (though the two exchanged text messages and photos throughout the day as she explored the Monterey Bay Aquarium and he the mountain, so they shared each other's experiences in a lovely 21st Century way).

I had some reservations about this hike. With work, writing, an ankle injury and the past spring's pneumonia, I haven't been able to hike since last summer when I enjoyed long walks in Baldy with Sgt. Thomas Tibbs. My exercise lately has consisted of walking him, doing yoga a few times a week, and constant weeding in the garden. I didn't know how my legs would hold up, so I didn't know how far I'd be able to go. I told Ben as much, but he was game for anything, mostly because he can find adventure anywhere, and partly because he'd been promised lunch afterward at Mt Baldy Lodge.

If you've read this far, dear reader, you may be wondering how that hike went, and I must say I'm eager to show you. (Teaser: I'll share a link to a very short video later in the post.) But... will you indulge me for just a moment while I reflect upon the words of William Wordsworth in his classic poem, "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"? These are the opening lines:

Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a sweet inland murmur. --Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
Which on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

Certainly it has not been five years, but the poet's excitement at revisiting a place which has carried significant meaning for him is something with which I can identify. I had deeply missed hearing the waters of San Antonio Creek "rolling from their mountain springs" and the serenity of that connection of "the landscape with the quiet of the sky." And I love that mountain because it has been, for twenty years now, one of my favorite places of "deep seclusion."

One of the themes which runs through Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" poem is that Nature is immutable. In other words, you can leave a mountain for a year or five years or twenty and return to find everything--trees, boulders, streams--in place where you left them so long ago. It's one of the magical aspects about hiking in the forest (although there is the potential for that aspect to inflict profound boredom on others if you keep repeating, "Oh my gosh! I love this tree! I've been passing this same tree on the trail for twenty years now!" and other such statements of joy and familiarity with those who haven't shared the same experience).

But back to that glorious hike in sun-dappled shade along the still-running (despite the drought) creek: Yes, we had a lovely time. We walked farther than I had anticipated I'd be able to go, Ben patiently waiting for me each time I stopped to catch my breath or greet an old tree-friend. Ever the explorer, he found multiple treasures in beautiful stones and sturdy walking sticks, and along the way we had those great moments of spontaneous conversation one can only indulge in when one passes into a mystical realm which holds no cell phone service. We took copious photos and videos, with Ben continuing my education in How to Use an iPhone 6. Later, when I had returned to the luxury of home wi-fi, I deftly uploaded pictures to Facebook and videos to YouTube. (To see and hear the "waters, rolling from their mountain springs," click here and here.)

If I can leave you with any parting thought, dear reader, it is this one: Get yourself up to the mountains or into the woods or the forest. Find a place in which you are surrounded by Nature (so much so that there is no cell service, preferably) and just breathe in the cool air and the soft breeze, and let the music of birdsong replace every other sound in your head, even if it is just for a few brief moments of tranquility.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


As I write this, it is late for me—after 10:30p.m. I am sitting on the floor, my laptop wobbling on my crossed legs. Actually, I am not sitting on the floor directly; I'm sitting on Sgt. Thomas Tibb's dog bed, which is on the floor next to the couch. When he is really, really frightened, he leaves his sanctuary in my office to curl as close to the couch as he can get. Tonight he is so terrified by the ongoing explosions outside, I crawl down onto the floor to sit next to him, and this boy who never offers his affection curls against my knee, panting, every muscle in his body tense as he waits for the next bomb to go off.

My neighbors have been detonating illegal fireworks—cherry bombs and M80s—for weeks in the run-up to the Fourth of July. The antics begin every evening around 8:00 and continue for a couple of hours. As I write this it is Saturday night, and I guess we're into overtime on blowing things up because it's the weekend. Thomas and I endured the same routine last year—from June until a week or so after July 4th—only last year he would not stay in the house. He was so frightened, the only place he felt safe was in the back seat of my truck. So for all those weeks, I never went anywhere at night unless I rode with someone else so that he would have a safe place to hide. This year, he has at least recovered from his First Life enough to stay inside with me, for the most part. I have taken to sleeping on the couch, though, because as long as I am close, he will at least lie still (instead of pacing, panting and drooling as he did last year).

Tonight he is exhausted, having been in this state of hyper-vigilance for hours, but just as his head begins to droop against my thigh, another boom resounds through the neighborhood, and his head jerks up as his tongue lolls out with his panting, drops of saliva dripping onto his blanket.

I will stay here with him until it is over, until he can finally relax and sleep. We're buds. I've got his back, just as he had mine some weeks ago.

It's still hard for me to believe how far this dog has come from the emotionally broken shell he was when I brought him home just over a year ago. In January, I posted about his progress. In March, he added a new trick to his exuberant joy by including a complete 360 degree spin to the ecstatic figure eights he races when I come home from work each day. What a difference from the days when I would have to go find him where he was hiding in the side yard and put him on a leash to bring him inside against his will.

In April, I became suddenly and seriously ill with pneumonia. I spent the first horrible days coughing and moaning on the couch, and since I was stuck at home, I left the back slider open—just in case Thomas decided to join me. This has been one of his idiosyncrasies; though he had become comfortable trotting in the door at night to go to bed inside, he still preferred to be outside during the day. Until I became sick. On the second day of my couch incarceration, he came inside of his own volition after I'd had a particular violent coughing episode. I know that he was checking on me, and it nearly made me cry. He curled up nearby, and eventually we napped together that day, initiating a habit that continued, day after day, even when I returned to work. Because it took so long to recover, I was exhausted by the end of each work day, so I left campus as soon as I could, returning home to sleep for hours before dinner. All I had to do was call Thom after he'd finished his happy dance in the yard. We would both adjourn to the office where I would collapse on the spare bed and he would curl next to it. To hear him sighing contentedly as I drifted off contributed, I'm sure, to my healing.

But lest he receive all the credit, I must include this part of the story: The antibiotic regimen that cured my lungs destroyed my intestines, and despite my best efforts (yogurt every day without fail), I ended up with an excruciating case of C. Diff. In the first, horrific days of that onslaught, I was often doubled over in agonizing pain. During one such bout, as I gasped and sobbed, Purrl suddenly appeared, jumped onto the counter next to me, then slowly, carefully climbed onto my back as I sat hunched over, clutching my abdomen. I started to tell her to get down, but realized she was offering comfort in the only way she knew how. She laid down quietly on my back and stayed there until I finally calmed down and my breathing returned to normal. Then she just as carefully stood up, stepped up to the counter and jumped down to the floor again.

For Purrl, this is her reciprocation for my similar attention to her in February when she suddenly became gravely ill. I spent hours just sitting next to her then, stroking her fur and willing her to pull through. Her illness lasted a week, but she finally rallied. And she has recovered in a big way; before her illness, she weighed in at twelve pounds. Now she is a voluptuous fifteen pounds, and I have had to cut back on her bedtime treats. She still loves Thomas with all her heart, and he still just tolerates her for my sake, but I know he's starting to come around.

What would I do without these two plus Sugar Plum, who now on these warm nights instead of cuddling against me stretches her body the length of my arm so she can sleep with her head resting on my hand? They do depend on me for food and shelter and safety, but we depend on each other for comfort and care. So this time spent on the couch—or on the floor, as I am now—with Thomas is no great sacrifice. My good boy deserves it. And as I type these last words, his head is finally resting on his blanket. The terror from the explosions has subsided, and he sleeps... as I will soon as well.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Some thoughts on Mother's Day 2015

For the uninitiated: Mother's Day can never be the same again once you lose your mom.

For a multitude of reasons, mostly because we were hard-wired differently as individuals, my mother and I never had a close relationship. We just couldn't. But in her later years, we learned to be friends. I called her often just to tell her little things—stories about my cat or the wildlife outside or comments on my blog or what my kids were up to. While she was alive, our Mother's Day celebrations always centered around her. After she passed away, my children's focus became me, which is something I'm never comfortable with. I just don't think I did a good enough job to warrant all the praise and attention.

Still... I know I did do a couple of things right. My son was fifteen when he told me he was gay. He knew he could and that this would not be an issue for me because I never hesitated to let my kids know I have gay friends, and we talked openly about all things, including both gender and sexual orientation. We are also an integrated family, with several races combined, so that my kids grew up seeing people as people instead of people as colors. I have watched my adult kids now pass on this openness and tolerance to their own children, and it has made my heart nearly burst at times to see how comfortable my grandchildren are with people in all their shades and nuances. My oldest grandson will be twenty-one in October. (Yes, young Ben, whom I have blogged about in the past, is now a college student.) I swear this boy loves everyone in the world, regardless of shape, size, color, orientation or capacity to love back.

To celebrate Mother's Day, my son bought tickets to the Drag Queen World Series yesterday, hosted by Life Group LA, a charity which works hard to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, education, acceptance and support "for those infected and affected by HIV." The event itself was hilariously entertaining—drag queens playing softball with a tennis ball but taking the game very, very seriously (and no, no one was in heels; that's how serious this was), two drag queen announcers who composed a lovely combination of sweet but naughty impromptu commentary. (Admittedly, there was a lot of material here—gay guys, bats, balls, swinging, getting on base, etc., etc., etc.) The best part for me was just being there with my son, my daughter, her husband and the two teen granddaughters, laughing with them, realizing how much the world has changed in my lifetime... though apparently not enough. We saw one of my son's friends there. We'll call him Jason. Although drag isn't really his thing, as he explained, he had come because he believed in the work the group was doing, and he wanted to support that. He told us that last year he had worked the event as a volunteer, but this year he just wanted to watch so he could enjoy the fun. Later my son called to say that Jason had left a long post on Facebook about the event, mentioning that he had invited his mother... but his mom wouldn't come. It wasn't "her thing." "But I'm her son, and shouldn't I be her thing?" he went on to say. Yes, sweetheart, yes, you should be your mom's everything.

I made innumerable mistakes in raising my kids. But I tried to put them first in every decision I made about our future because I wanted them to have the chance to have something more than I had when I was a kid. And I wanted them to always feel loved, no matter what. Mamas, we can't give them everything. But one thing we can do is make damn sure they know we love them, just as they are. For all the "Jasons" out there whose mamas aren't equipped to offer you the love, support and acceptance you need, I wish I could just scoop you up and hug you. Be patient with your mom. She's trying to do her best with the resources she has. This is what I had to learn about my own mom. This is how we found our common ground in the last years of her life. I'm so glad we did. I'm really just so glad we did.