Building Capacity

No, this post is not about how many people are legally allowed in a given space as determined by floor space, number of doors, and room configuration.

This post is about human capacity–the human potential–of each person within an organization. The notion of building capacity and its partner, sustainability, were introduced to me at the Tointon School and Teacher Leadership Academy, which I recently attended in Vail, Colorado.

There was not a particular presentation or session about building capacity; rather, the idea of building human potential, along with sustaining it and, hopefully, its accompanying positive results, was alluded to throughout the three days by every speaker. No single presenter stood up and told us what building capacity meant; I just had to keep inferring and refining my understanding of it as we progressed through the hours and days of learning to cultivate this in our school.

And so here I am trying to write about it, to help me solidify my understanding of this concept of building capacity.

To me, capacity is that which a human being has the potential to become, in the area of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and techniques. Building capacity is about changing, about becoming more, about distinguishing a fixed mindset and nurturing a growth mindset. Capacity can happen accidentally; but, when it is done by design–by intentionally putting into place a culture and supporting structures– it can flourish more readily and within and across a greater number of individuals. I think you’ll agree that capacity is limitless, that it is interminable.

Less concrete, but equally critical human capacities, include self-awareness, attitudes, purpose, ethics, and world views. There is also the larger collective capacity of any organization.

Perhaps the most fascinating strategy that stuck with me is asking questions rather than providing answers. If a teacher inquires about something, a school leader might ask several questions of her in return, to get her ideas and opinions, to build upon what she thinks. Then, if necessary, the leader may contribute her own perspective (note that it is not her opinion or her answer), intentionally implying that she does not have all the answers.

Likewise, the same technique can be used with students. If a student asks a question, the teacher responds by encouraging the student to talk more and formulate a response. This approach builds capacity in all members of an organization by making them feel respected and equally important and valuable.

Having permission to be innovative and autonomous – to work with purpose – also builds capacity by unleashing human potential. Teachers need opportunities for instructional inquiry (what effect will it have on achievement if I change this or implement that?) so they can improve their instructional practice.

Educators need plenty of opportunity for self-reflection as well as the time and expectation to reflect upon their teaching. Collaboration and peer coaching are highly effective means of building capacity. Teachers should know their own strengths and potential areas for growth. The latter–potential areas for growth–should not be seen as a weakness but instead as an opportunity to not only develop capacity but to experience the process and thrill of building capacity. Again, this is true with students as well.

It will probably come as no surprise that when I Googled building capacity, I came upon capacity building in nonprofit organizations and non-government organizations, capacity building in communities, how it’s defined and used in substance abuse prevention programs, and a whole host of other applications. Because trust and collaboration are two of its biggest pillars, capacity building has me thinking not only of my professional relationships and the relationships I have with students, but of my various personal relationships, too, and what I can do differently to give the gift of capacity to the people in my life.

I think you’ll agree that being mindful of capacity, and how it is developed, and how we, as individuals, can be instrumental in building it in others, is quite powerful. What have you heard of building capacity or, now that you know what it is, what does it have you thinking about?


Building Capacity

I must give credit to the 2014 Tointon: Institute for Educational Change for providing the opportunity for me and the rest of the leadership team at the school at which I teach, as well as the leadership teams of 11 other Colorado schools, to participate in the 2014 School and Teacher Leadership Academy. Bob and Betty Tointon donated an initial $3,000,000 to start the institute and an additional 25 other individuals and organizations complemented that with gifts of at least $250,000. It warms my heart to know that someone out there, a whole lot of someones, really do care about education.

From the Tointon webpage: “The Tointon Institute seeks to create effective schools through effective leadership at all levels.  Our program gives school leaders additional leadership skills to function successfully in a rapidly changing school environment while also giving them the opportunity to work with other colleagues and to gain from their experiences and expertise.  All Tointon academies provide participants with an academic and stimulating learning environment where they can reflect on their current contexts, move leadership decisions to a more conscious level and focus actions and strategies on critical issues related to school effectiveness and ultimately, to increased student achievement.  Finally, the Tointon Institute for Educational Change develops a formal and informal state networking apparatus for school leaders that has and continues to foster a sustained exchange of ideas as well as a forum in which to explore the dilemmas facing today’s school leaders.

A Perfect Night for a Hike

It was the perfect night to go hiking. The venue, the weather, the company, and a whole lot more.

My friend, Rochelle, also a teacher, took a class this past week called Teaching Environmental Science Naturally, put on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (formerly Division of Wildlife). I ran into her Friday at the pool and she was telling me all about the activities and what she had learned. She mentioned that Colorado Parks and Wildlife was going to start a bat study. They wanted to find out how many species of bats lived on the Monument.

“Oh, you’ll probably want to know this. It’s a great time to go night hiking in No Thoroughfare Canyon. Our instructors said the frogs and toads are going crazy up there right about the time it gets dark.”

“Um, yeah! We should go tonight!” I said. “Or tomorrow. Whatever works for you.”

Rochelle couldn’t go either night because she was going out-of-town. So I asked Jim and he agreed.

We grabbed some Del Taco on the way and threw it in his backpack and started hiking about 7:30. The prickly pear blooms were incredible, sporting hues I’d never seen before, especially the orange sherbet shade.

prickly pear bloom

I gazed at the canyon walls, the last of the sunshine illuminating and highlighting their tremendous height, amazed as always at the splendor of the red canyons in the Monument. And the greens. So much variety, so rich in color and life following a fairly wet spring.

no thoroughfare canyon

After about a mile we came upon the first pool created by run off. And at the first pool were two guys, wearing waders, and setting up nets.

“Hey, what are you doing?” asked Jim, in a friendly voice.

“Well, we’re going to try to catch some bats,” said the shorter of the two men, who we later found out was Dan.

“Oh, is this for the bat study?” I asked, hardly believing how lucky we were that the study Rochelle mentioned was starting tonight and happening right here, right where we happened to be.

Dan looked at me at funny. “Yes. Yes, it is.” He went on to explain how the nets worked, wanting us to know that there would be no harm to the animals.

“And you’re trying to find out how many bat species are up here on the Monument, is that right?” I asked.

“Uh, okay,” he said, cocking his head and squinting his eyes at me, “how do you know all this?”

I laughed and told him that I was a teacher and that I had a teacher friend who, not more than three hours ago, had told me about her class and what she had learned.

“Oh yeah, I spoke to that class,” he said. I noticed he was wearing a Colorado Parks and Wildlife t-shirt.

Dan and Jake

Dan and Jake were more than willing to tell us about their work in general and this study in particular. They explained what all they’d be looking for if they caught any bats and what type of information they’d record. I asked if it would be okay if we watched, if it was okay that we were in the area tonight.

“It shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t mind. You’ll just need to keep your headlamps off most of the time so the bats will come in. They usually come here to drink right around dusk.”

Jim and I went up the trail, above the first pool, and found a nice spot to have our Del Taco dinner.

del taco dinner

The moon, a 5/8 moon, made its appearance as the sun exited the scene. Right as it was getting dark, we made our way back to the first pool, the loud machine gun sounding call of the Canyon Tree Frog (it doesn’t live in trees but it has feet like most tree frogs do) and the screaming of the Woodhouse Toads ricocheting off the rocks.

moon rising

As the light extinguished, I kept my eyes on the trail. I was surprised when a frog (or perhaps a toad, they do look similar) crossed the path right in front of me and then scooted into the safety of the grass.


By the time we got back to the first pool, the guys had already captured several bats. They showed them to us beneath their headlamps. They were tiny, their furry bodies no bigger than a juvenile mouse. But then Dan gently stretched out the wings of one and we could see that the wingspan was nearly ten inches.


We observed their sharp teeth set into their tiny heads and got to touch their paper-thin wings. I tried to get my iPhone camera to cooperate, but it had trouble focusing and deciding whether to use its flash or rely on the ever-changing light of the four headlamps leaning in and lighting up the subject.

Dan and Jake shared more of their knowledge. These bats were all myotis bats, the same bats that dart about in town shortly after the sun goes down. They know of eight species of myotis bats on the Monument and about eight other species as well. Then, we thanked them and let them get back to work.

The moon was almost bright enough to light the way for us, but we didn’t want to stumble so we turned our headlights on and took the short hike back.

“What a magical evening this has been,” Jim said, walking slowly, not really wanting it to end. “Thanks for getting me out.”

“Yeah, magical is right. The hike alone would have been wonderful. Add in evening light and then an early rising moon. Perfect weather. No bugs. Our yummy Del Taco picnic. Background music of frogs and toads. And then the cherry on top–running into  the bat study and getting to see that work firsthand. Pretty much a perfect night for a hike.”


YOU People

What type of people are you? Are you downtown people? Redlands people? Near-the-North-desert people? Perhaps where you live you’d be uptown people, south side of the tracks people, or people from The Hills. Me? I’m Orchard Mesa people. If you’re not familiar with my community, you can think of me as Across the River people. Maybe you’ve never considered what type of people you are. Not quite in this sense, anyway, right? I hadn’t. Until last night.

I live just over the Fifth Street Bridge in Orchard Mesa. It’s an older neighborhood, quiet, simple. There are no sidewalks on the side streets and not many businesses, so it has a bit of a country feel to it. It’s a little run down, quirky. But it’s peaceful.

One of the things I like is seeing the Colorado River on a daily basis, walking and driving over the bridge and walking along the river path. The river is fascinating in the spring when it’s running strong and full, fueled by mountain runoff,  devouring the land that typically defines its normal path, visibly cresting from its power within.

Two evenings ago, Jim and I were driving over the bridge to my house and decided to try to get a better view of the confluence and the rapids that always form in that area in the month of May. I suggested we turn into Hilltop Liquors (now out of business) and drive behind the building. There is a good view of the Gunnison River there. But you can’t see the Colorado River all that well and it’s the Colorado that’s running wild right now, especially where it converges with the Gunnison. You need to drive north a little to get a better look at the Big C.

So that’s what we did. We drove north, back behind some other buildings that are up on the hill, not far, maybe a hundred yards. It’s basically a large gravelly area with worn out weeds and a few small structures. They may be homes or possibly storage or old business buildings. I’ve never really taken note and I wasn’t then. I had my eye on the rivers, the confluence.

Jim had his eye on a man walking toward us, a man with a beer bottle in one hand and a chihuahua on a chain in the other.

Neither of us had seen the NO TRESPASSING signs. I was checking out the river, the rapids. Jim was seeing the anger on the man’s face and in the way he strode toward us.

I stopped and got out to take a closer look. Jim kept his eye on the guy and said, “Where are you going? Get back in here.”

I took only a few steps when I saw the sign, a big sign that said PRIVATE PROPERTY. So I turned and got back into my vehicle.

I’m respectful. I’m not going to intentionally trespass on someone else’s property if I’m not welcome. And I know that whomever owns that property back there has had plenty of trespassers in the past, plenty of vagrants wanting to get to The Point, hoping to set up a temporary home on the picturesque slice of pie between the rivers at the confluence. But that was a few years ago. That area has been closed off for a while now.

As I hopped back in, I saw him. He was approaching our vehicle and he looked none too friendly.

You people!” he yelled at us. “Go back to the Redlands.”

“Calm down, man,” Jim said. “We’re not doing anything. We were just going to look at the river.”

“Go to the Redlands! Right over there!” He nodded to the bluffs on the other side of the Gunnison. “Go park in their driveways and look at the river. See if they like it. Can’t you read? It says no trespassing!”

“I’m sorry,” I yelled past Jim and out the passenger side window. “I see this big PRIVATE PROPERTY sign, but I didn’t see any others. I guess I was just looking at the river.”

It was true. I wouldn’t have driven past the liquor store if I realized it was posted no trespassing.

It didn’t matter though. What I said–my explanation, my apology–made no difference at all to this man.

“You people disgust me, you make me sick,” he continued. By now I had started driving. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk, if he was going to continue approaching us. So I circled wide around him and headed back from where we had come.

“Yeah, that’s right, you people! You go back to the Redlands!” he shouted behind us.

When we were safely out of there, Jim said, “That was weird. That really creeped me out.”

“Why?” I asked. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes it was. What was all that ‘you people’ about? ‘Go back to the Redlands?'”

“Yeah, you’re right, that was weird. Why would he think we’re from the Redlands? Are Redlands people more inclined to look at the river? To trespass? I felt like telling him, ‘Hey buddy, I live on Orchard Mesa. Same as you.'”

It concerns me that people think–not to mention speak out loud–like that, in blanket, ignorant generalizations. When he said ‘you people’–meaning you people who live in the Redlands–he was referring to thousands. What could those thousands of people possibly have in common, other than living in the Redlands? And if there is a commonality, how was he seeing it in us? The Redlands is generally thought of as an affluent area in our community, with many beautiful homes that sit along the base of the Colorado National Monument, but in truth there are all sorts of homes and all sorts of people who live out there.

Just as there are on Orchard Mesa, or in any other area of our town. Or your town.

If I didn’t live in Orchard Mesa, myself, I suppose I could shake my head at the guy and think along the lines of, oh, he’s just an Orchard Mesa hillbilly.

But that doesn’t work for me. That’s the beauty of our neighborhood, my community, the world. There are all sorts of people to be found everywhere. And we’re all different.

And there is much to be learned from all people, from any one person. And that holds true for this guy, too. I understand that he was angry at me for being on his property and he had every right to be, but did he handle it well? Was it really me who made him angry or was he angry long before we showed up?

Unbeknownst to him, he is the subject of my blog, and his thinking, his attitudes, his behavior, can teach us.

What do you take away from him?

By the way, the next evening we went to look at the river again, this time by the Blue Heron area. You know, over by the Redlands.


Somewhere under there is the beach where we land our kayaks.

Somewhere under there is the beach where we land our kayaks.

This is/was the boat ramp.

This is/was the boat ramp.

Jim watches the river. A few years ago, the river flooded and came up above this overlook.

Jim watches the river. A few years ago, the river flooded and came up above this overlook.


Can’t Stop the Teacher

Can’t stop the teacher seemed like the logical title for this little blurb. Or maybe can’t stop the parent. But the more I think about it, maybe it’s just plain old common sense. You can’t stop common sense.

It’s always been hard for me, as a teacher, to act like I’m off duty. Just as I’m sure it’s hard for off-duty police officers to ignore potential problems and citizens on the fringe of breaking the law, it’s difficult for me to let teachable moments pass by or, as it sometimes seem, to not redirect or reprimand children who need it, whether they are in my charge or not.

Today I was out walking with my dog, along the river path and back through my neighborhood. I came upon a home with a fenced yard, where three children were playing–a preschooler and two older girls around the ages of five and seven. My first thought was how nice it was that the kids were playing outside. But as I got closer, I heard the boy crying and saw that he was running away from the girls. It was a small yard and he couldn’t get very far from them. Both girls were carrying sticks and, as I walked by, I thought I saw the oldest girl throw her stick at the boy’s head. I wasn’t sure.

But then she bent over and picked up a larger stick. It looked like a piece of firewood. And as I watched, she hurled it at the boy’s head, from a distance of about ten feet. Luckily, he ducked and screamed and ran away.

“Hey!” I yelled. All three of them stopped, the girl’s mouth drooping open. Who could be yelling at her? Who was even watching her?

“You stop throwing sticks at him,” I said in my loud, firm teacher voice. “It’s dangerous and it’s mean.”

The girl said nothing, did nothing, just continued gaping at me.

I don’t know if it’s appropriate to reprimand other people’s children, especially when the kids are in their own yard. But I can’t help myself. A young child was getting tormented and no one was around. Where was the parent, the babysitter, whomever should have done this instead of me?

You can’t just turn kids loose and expect all to go well. Someone needs to be there, to parent, to teach. It’s a matter of common sense, isn’t it?

The episode reminded me of when my kids were toddlers and we went to the park and how my inner teacher/inner parent/inner common sense was impossible to control. I can’t tell you how many children, in addition to my own, I taught to not throw sand at others, to not push the younger, slower kids down the slide just to speed things along, to not walk in front of the swings. It seems I was always the teacher on recess duty, the playground police woman, the woman who wouldn’t just sit on the bench and read a book like many of the other moms seemed to be doing.


There have been times over the years when I’ve told myself to turn it off, ignore it, just walk on by. But when I did, when I did just walk on by because it was, theoretically, none of my concern, not my responsibility, not my business, I always felt bad afterward. I knew I had missed a teachable moment, even if the only lesson was that hey, people are watching you and you can’t do whatever you feel like doing. You need to be thinking and acting morally and appropriately.

So what’s your opinion? Should I just mind my own business (try to, anyway)? Do you ever get involved in situations like these? How do you feel afterward?

It Takes a Village

It was Amy’s idea to make the hats.

“I was at Wal-Mart getting poster board, mom, and I saw some plain white hats. I thought it’d be fun to get a bunch and write TEAM ADDY on them.”

Not only would it be fun to attend graduation in matching white caps, but the slogan—TEAM ADDY—was perfect.

So, using fabric markers and puffy paint, we made enough hats for Amy, me, a few friends, and the others that would be coming over from Denver—Addy’s dad, his girlfriend, and his mother.

photo 3
I wasn’t sure if the Denver group would sit with us at the ceremony, or with me, I should say, as I would encourage Amy to sit with them since she doesn’t see them as often. I couldn’t predict if they’d like the hat idea and agree to wear them. To be honest, I was surprised that Addy’s dad was taking the time off work and making the trip to attend her graduation at all. It’s not that he wasn’t proud of her, and supportive, it’s just that he’s never had any use for ceremonies.

It’s been more than six years now since the separation and almost five since the divorce became final. It was a contentious affair. In the middle of the process, the girls’ dad quit his job and moved across the state, taking a new woman/old high school girlfriend with him. And shortly after that he announced that he wanted the girls to come live with them.

I won’t get into the particulars, but the girls did live with their father for a few years. One wanted to–to give him a chance–more than the other, but they had to stick together. They’ve always stuck together. Their relationship is the heart and soul of TEAM ADDY.

Eventually, the girls made their way back to me. Their father was busy working most of the time; he always had been and that did not change once he took custody of the girls. It was his girlfriend who ended up caring for them.

Initially, I was angry. Hurt. Incredulous that the court said she would be the one to raise my daughters instead of me. But rather quickly that anger turned to gratitude and appreciation. For if she was not there, not in that household and not available all day, every day, as she was, then I’m not sure what would have become of my daughters.

She transitioned them into a new home, new schools, and through some tough teenage years. She didn’t parent exactly how I would, but she did parent. She parented my children.

It was the beginning of the teamwork. The village. On the first Mother’s Day that rolled around, I sent her a card, thanking her for all that she did for my girls, thanking her for being a good mother, explaining how grateful I was for the village.
She called me immediately upon receiving it and thanked me profusely. The team became stronger.

We became friends.

Not being their real mother, Addy didn’t feel that pressure from her to be like mom, to go through childhood and high school the way mom did it, the way mom would want you to do it. I credit her presence, and the lack of mine on a daily basis, for Addy discovering her true self—her free spirit; her hippie style; her creativity with music, writing, and art; her brash humor; the eschewal of the high school experience that I had in mind for her. The girl knows herself better than I have ever known myself. And she’s only 17.

The power of the village.


There were tough times in that household, as there are in most. There were several occasions when she was on the verge of leaving him. I prayed she would. Get out. Get a better life for yourself. She was a friend, a fellow woman. I cared about her. But I prayed harder that she would stay. Oh, please stay. Find the strength to stay. And she did. She stayed. Addy–in her honesty and boldness and love for her–told her to leave. Go to a happier place. She explained to Addy why she couldn’t leave; she loved them both and she did not think their dad could handle raising them on his own.

She stuck it out for the team.

I’ll never understand Addy’s father’s style of parenting, of loving. But I will say that he is a critical player on the team. He works hard, he earns good money, he pays his child support. He teaches different sorts of lessons. He does what needs to be done, in a business sense. He has been cordial and cooperative.

Eventually—slowly but eventually—he and I became friendly again, too.

The strength of the village.

And then there is Jim. My Jim. My Jim who is patient and understanding and embraces that I am first and foremost a mom. He loves my girls and has always been there for the three of us. Another pillar in the village.

I remember, five years ago, hoping that we would all get to the point where we could come together for graduations, weddings, births, all the important things that might come up in our daughters’ lives. I imagined us in the same room, being cordial, the anger long gone, the hurting all healed. I wondered if that could ever be a reality.

We are at that point now. And it feels good. It feels healthy.

Recently, Addy was diagnosed with depression. We’ve all been supportive and tried our best to learn more and understand better what she is going through. We’ve teamed up to figure out how to parent a teen with depression, as it is no easy task, perhaps harder even than parenting a teen without depression.

And I cannot leave out the extended family members—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—who are also on TEAM ADDY, as well as friends, teachers, coaches, bosses. The village extends beyond all understanding.

Though we split apart years ago and live in separate cities, we’re one village.

So the TEAM ADDY hats mean a lot to me. I know mine will be around for years to come.

Photo 1


Valley of Fire

Our 12-day Spring Break road trip was well-planned out well before we left town–our route, our stops, campground and hotel reservations, the hikes we’d do, and our return date. Of course, there were dozens of things we could have done along the way that fit into the theme of the trip (family bonding in the great outdoors), but most of them never even made the short list. Valley of Fire surely did not; I hadn’t even heard of the place.

Valley of Fire is a small state park in Nevada about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas along I-15. It was the one major activity that we added to our itinerary at the last minute, major meaning that we devoted almost an entire day to it and thus bumped a different hike from our plans and turned a leisurely sight-seeing drive along Scenic Highway 12 in Utah into a dead tired holy-heck-I-can’t-see-anything-because-it’s-snowing-and-blowing late night drive.

But it was worth it for sure.

Just two days earlier, I was in a hotel room on the Western Slope of the Sierra Nevada doing a little online research in search of a giant sequoia. I popped onto WordPress and found that someone I didn’t know–Daniel at National Parks [and More]–had commented on one of my posts that, if possible, we should try to incorporate Valley of Fire into our plans. A little more research and we decided to do it.

The beauty of the place struck me immediately upon passing through the entrance gate. So much so that I almost didn’t notice the ranger in a truck with flashing lights motioning for me to pull over. I explained to him that I had seen the 35 mph sign, that in fact I had set my cruise control to 35, but that it must not have stuck or it must have popped off when I came down that hill. The first part is true, but thinking back I realize that I must have pushed OFF instead of SET. I was going 48 mph, but only got a warning instead of a $308 ticket. It must have been because I at least attempted to go the speed limit.


I asked my daughters, “Do you think he’ll mind if I take a few photos while he writes the ticket?” We were already surrounded by beautiful red rock formations.



Flowers near the Visitors Center

After spending more time than expected at the Visitors Center–because of its really well-done historical and nature displays–and the gift shop, we made our way north to the White Domes hiking area. Not having adequate time to research all the hikes, I made one quick inquiry at the Visitors Center and White Domes was the hike that was recommended.

Of course, it was lovely. Most of the hike was through a slot canyon, but then it opened up and our eyes were treated to more of the stunning scenery in this park.



As with most of the hikes I do with my teenage daughters, we moved at a leisurely pace and took lots of photos.




Addy getting up close and personal with texture and color.



As I said, this park wasn’t on our agenda and we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it. There are several more hikes that I want to do. As with any state or national park, it’s important to get off the main road and into the heart of the place.


I’ve seen a lot of red rock country and I know there are several shades that qualify as red. But what I saw in the Valley of Fire was some of the most brilliant I’ve ever laid eyes on. And the various textures of the rocks were unique as well. We were there mid-day and it was downright gorgeous; but, oh, I am so going back for an extended stay so I can experience it in the evening when they say the lower light reflects all around and makes the place look like it is on fire.


I think I’ve got the Valle of Fire reflection.







My daughters were in a car accident last night. Vail Pass, 10,000 feet, Rocky Mountains. Descending into Vail. Treacherous enough even in perfect conditions. But the conditions weren’t perfect. It was snowing. Limited visibility, but the roads were fine. Nothing was sticking. My youngest, the passenger, had just texted me. Take it slow, I said. Don’t follow too closely. We aren’t, she texted back. Five minutes later I got the phone call. They came over a crest to five inches of slush on the road. Brake lights and spun out cars in front of them. They braked. Nothing. My oldest, who was driving, swerved to miss the car in front of her and instead smashed into a cement wall, buried in snow. What to do? Get out? Sit tight? And then came the semi. It braked, jack-knifed, clipped the car in front of them that my oldest swerved to missed. Drug it. Pulled the bumper off. The couple inside emerged, grabbed their baby from the back seat and went running up the hill along the interstate. A baby. Man, she could have killed that baby. She also could have been sitting there in the middle of the road, right where the semi came through, big and heavy and completely out of control. Instead, she hit the cement wall. Later, after I’d driven two hours to pick them up, to see their faces, their alive and well faces, to hug them and hold them close, their father texted. Something about how too bad she wasn’t paying attention. I said maybe she was paying attention. She had probably just saved her own life and that of her sister as well as the baby’s. He said I know. I said then you might want to tell her you know. He said I will. A smashed car, increased insurance rates, two rattled teenagers, four hours of driving for mom. But lessons learned. Invaluable experience. And another opportunity to exercise compassion, to love, to model coolheadedness, to be grateful for what wasn’t and for what is.


How to do Late Right

I had more than a few late second-graders today, Friday, April 25.

You see, it’s Class Picture Day. Due to the fact that seven students aren’t yet here, I can’t help but imagine the households of my students on the morning of Class Picture Day. Kids and parents scrambling, trying to find the best outfit. The best outfit–that one clothing item or one ensemble that everyone agreed was the cutest thing ever for that particular school year. Should be on a hanger or folded and in a drawer, right? If it’s the best clothing item?

Where did you wear it last? Has it been washed? Has anyone seen it?

Oh, never mind. Just find something that’s clean. Something not wrinkly.

Something without words on it. Our teacher said try not to wear a shirt with words on it.

Hurry, hurry, hurry and eat, we have to do your hair today. What should we do? Curl it? Curl it like you had in Aunt Jane’s wedding? Spike it? You want a mohawk? Okay! Hurry! Shoot, this is going to take a while. What time are your pictures? What? You don’t know? She didn’t tell you? Okay, never mind, just hurry.

What about my picture envelope?

What picture envelope?

The envelope. She said we have to bring the envelope and money if we want to order any. We don’t have to. Order any. But we’re going to, aren’t we? Can we? Can we?

Oh yeah, the envelope. Here it is. What? No cash in the envelope? Shoot. Where’s the checkbook? What? We’re out of checks?

What time are the pictures? I can’t believe she didn’t tell you. Did she at least say if they’re in the morning or the afternoon?

And so my little darlings enter, most of them on time, many of them oblivious to the fact that it’s Class Picture Day, looking like they do every other day (i.e., slightly disheveled but cute and oh so themselves).

I look around the room, which seems much less crowded than usual. Count. What? Eight kids absent on Class Picture Day? How can that be? What kind of class picture will we have with one-third of our class missing?

Well, start the day. Get going.

Knock. Oh, here comes someone. A rambunctious student rushes to answer the door and let her in.

It’s Julie. Nice ringlets. Fancy dress. I don’t ask why she’s late.

Okay, start the day. Get going.

Knock. It’s Robert. Oh, and Chance, too. The standard tardies. I doubt they know it’s picture day. No excuses, no reasons, just their standard arrival time, with typical bedheads in place.

Okay, start the day. Let’s get going.

Just kidding. Another figure moving outside the door. It’s Jazmyn. I hardly recognize her. Her hair, usually up in a pony tail, is let loose and flowing down to her waist. Wow. Beautiful.

A couple more trickle in, disrupting our first ten minutes of class. I’m glad to see them arriving though. For the most part, clean, well-dressed, well-groomed, envelopes flapping in hand.

But I’m having trouble starting the school day. The first 15 minutes are typically spent on opening–choosing a special helper for the day; doing calendar; reviewing vocabulary; practicing the spelling words; rehearsing math facts. We’re not going to get everything in today. With each knock, a smile for the late arrival but also some palpable frustration. I exchange “unbelieveable!” glances with the students who were here on time, just to connect with them, to say, “Can you believe these kids? Showing up late? How irresponsible!”

They think I am truly frustrated. Which I am. In a way. But not surprised. It’s not like it’s my first Class Picture Day, that’s for sure.

And then there is one last knock on the door. And in walks David. David, who just yesterday had a whole head of thick blonde hair, and who today has a fresh buzz cut. Super fresh. Like, this morning fresh. He’s flapping a money order in the air and cradling a bouquet of flowers.

“Sorry I’m late,” he mumbles. “We had to stop and get you flowers.”

“Kids!” I pause, making sure I have everyone’s undivided attention. “Now, if you’re going to be late, this is the way to do it. Bring your teacher flowers!”


Recognition and Kudos and a Big Thank You

I’ve read a lot of good blogs lately. Good because they got me thinking. Good because they answered some questions I didn’t even know I had. Good because they made me laugh or cry. Or both.

Recognition and kudos and a big thank you to:

Andrea Read America for 8 Great Literary, Book Nerd, and Storytelling Podcasts. I’ve wanted to learn more about podcasts and how to get started listening to them. While her blog didn’t go into the bare basics that I needed, it inspired me to finally get it figured out. Plus, she was helpful in answering my questions and steering me in the right direction. Since starting to blog, I’ve struggled with balancing my time between reading, writing, and exercise. After reading her blog, I feel like I can perhaps combine exercise with the intake of information.

The Belle Jar for When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option. My daughter has struggled a lot lately with her depression. I’ve written a couple posts about it and have been overwhelmed with the support I’ve gotten from family, local friends, online friends, and the blogging community. The Clocktower Sunset referred me to this particular post at The Belle Jar and, wow, what she wrote really resonates with my current understanding of what depression is and what it means to have it. And so beautifully written to boot.

We were also referred to The Bloggess, specifically her post where she talks about how depression lies. My daughter and I watched the video on this post together and, like almost everything we hear or read about this condition, it furthered our understanding.

And speaking of depression, Nerd in the Brain, who writes all sorts of fun nerdy stuff, was kind enough, with The Spectacular Blog Award: A String of Pearls, to help spread the understanding about this frustrating disorder by bringing more attention and traffic to my posts.

On a happier note, while I was in the middle of a 12-day road trip with my teenage daughters, Daniel at National Parks [and More] somehow found my blog and casually mentioned that, if possible, we should try to incorporate Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada into our trip. I looked him up and found 40 Places to See in the Western United States That Will Blow Your Mind and because of his obvious  knowledge of amazingly cool places, I trusted him and we went to Valley of Fire. Now, I just need to write about the day we spent there.

So, thank you all, and keep up the good work!

With love,

Your fellow blogger,


About a week ago, with a heavy heart and some trepidation about sharing such a personal topic, I posted The Struggle is Real. The blogging community, my family, local friends, and other online readers responded–overwhelmingly–with support, cyber hugs, words of wisdom, analogous feelings and struggles, and names of books, articles, and blogs that we should read.

One friend commented with "Depression Lies" and pointed us toward The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson.

One friend commented with “Depression Lies” and pointed us toward The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson.

I couldn’t believe the response. Not just the support, but the fact that no one seemed to think it was weird that my daughter and I wanted to share what she’s going through. So, thank you, everyone–you da bomb.

On top of her depression, my daughter was physically sick. I listened to her cough all night long, though I was sure she was sleeping through it. She emerged from her bedroom every morning for more than a week with her hand cupped below her mouth, wakened each morning by coughing up phlegm. She slept a lot and said she didn’t feel well and stay bundled up in a blanket, even on warm afternoons. She didn’t talk much at all. Of course, I thought all the latter–sleeping, bundling, silence–were related to the depression, which they were, but there was more. As it turned out, she had strep throat.

More mom guilt. First, I don’t understand her depression as well as I want to and I don’t know exactly how to help her. Worse, she was quite sick for more than a week before I took her to the doctor. And the only reason I took her was because she said to me (finally), “Hey, mom, wanna see what I’ve been dealing with for the past week?” and opened her mouth in my face, shining her cell phone on the back of her throat.

It was the most disgusting throat I’ve ever seen. Hugely swollen, bright red, coated in pus, sides almost touching, just a tiny opening.

Wow, I remember thinking, she really is sick. It’s not just a fantastic notion of her depressed imagination.

Anyway, the transformation I saw in my baby was amazing as an increased dosage of Zoloft kicked in right about the same time the Amoxicillin did. Mentally and physically healed all at once. Her vibrant self returned.

I was taking an art class after work when my phone rang. I picked up because it was her. “Mama, whatever you do, don’t eat. I’m cooking dinner.”

More like whatever else I had planned for the evening, just cancel it. Cooking dinner? Out of her bedroom? Moving around? Planning and following through with something? Inviting me, ahead of time? There was no way I was going to miss this.

I hurried home after class and found both daughters and the family dog on the couch, starting a movie, waiting for me. It just happened to be one of my favorite movies–What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? I dropped my things and sat right down. Addy said that we were having dinner in the living room. The dinner that she had made was layered dip and chips. Perfect!

I watched Addy just as much as I watched the movie. She was the happiest I’d seen her in weeks. Carefree, playing with the dog, able to sit through the entire movie without retreating to her room. My daughter is healthy and happy, I kept thinking to myself.

By the time the movie ended, it was dark. The girls were tired and said good night. “That was a fun family night,” said Amy, who I know has been concerned about her sister.

Once alone, the floodgates opened. Tears streamed down my cheeks. No wailing, no sobbing. Just silent tears. Not tears of fear or pain or frustration. Tears of relief. And they just kept coming.

I guess I was carting around a bit of stress these past few weeks. I don’t recognize it at the time. I just keep pressing on. Do what needs to be done. But then, when there’s a break in the action, it all comes out. This time, luckily, it came out as relief. Relief that my daughter is healing. Healing before things got worse, healing before something terrible happened.

In the morning, I told Addy about my tears, about how relieved I was to see her acting like her old self again, to see her happy.

“Mom, I just want to do things now. Before, I had to try to talk myself into doing the most basic things–getting up, washing a load of laundry, talking to people. It would take like a half hour to talk myself into something and I’d be exhausted before I even did it.”

I didn’t say anything. Just listened. I need to learn. Learn to understand how this disorder operates, how it affects my daughter. By understanding, perhaps I can be a better support system for her.

“There were, like, several days in there where I was convinced you and Amy hated me. I knew you didn’t. You wouldn’t do everything you do if you didn’t care about me. But, still. I had to put so much energy into telling myself that it wasn’t true.”

This comment made me remember something. “Oh! I made you something in my class.” I went and got the oil craypas water-color relief on fabric. Depression Lies, it said.

“Ha! Good one, Mom! I’ll hang it my dorm room.” She paused and I’m pretty sure she was thinking about the same thing I was:  Yep, you’re going to make it to that dorm room.

“Man, I didn’t realize how sick I was. I don’t really get it until I come out of it. I feel so liberated! I feel happier than I’ve felt in a long time!”

“Well, if wanting to cook dinner is a measure of happiness, then you’re way ahead of me,” I told her, laughing.

“Oh, Mom,” she said, “you da bomb. Dot com.”


**A special thanks to Nerd in the Brain on for reading that first post and bringing more attention to it and this important topic.





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