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?

The Struggle is Real

“Oh my God, are you filing your nails?”

The stylish guy behind the counter at BC Surf & Sport looked up from his casual slouch. “First I bit them, now I’m smoothing them down.”

Not missing a beat, my teenage daughter continued. “So, is that, like, your personal nail file or do you all share it?” Two other young male employees, looking just as hip as the first, had sauntered over to join the conversation with this outgoing, plenty-hip-herself potential customer.

“Oh, no, it’s the shop file. We have to fight over who gets to use it.” All three of the guys chuckled.

“I hear ya,” said my daughter. “The struggle is real.”

The struggle is real? What an odd thing to say. Perhaps it was a trendy phrase among the young and cool, something I hadn’t yet heard my daughters use around the house.

The thing is, the struggle is real.

My teenager has had a rough couple of weeks. She’s a senior and will graduate in May. That is, if she can muster the will to get out of bed in the morning; if she can trick herself into believing that it’s worth it to go to class, to finish her assignments, complete the required service learning hours and supplementary reflection paper, to graduate because she has a future that’s worth living; if she can dispel the anxiety that obliterates her days when she’s forced to think about what’s coming next–a summer job, leaving for college, a lifetime of expectations to be capable, competent, optimistic, and excited about life.

For her, the struggle is real.


I try to understand. I try to hide my dismay and disappointment when I find her hunkered down in bed when she should have been up an hour ago for school, when I get yet another automated call from the school reporting her random absences, when she says she’ll take care of timely business later because she just can’t deal with things right now. I try to suppress my natural parenting instinct of taking away privileges or at least letting natural consequences play out – as would be effective with most teenagers – for some of the things she does and doesn’t do.

But what good is it to take away her car, her means of getting to school? Sure, she could ride the bus, and that would be the perfect consequence for most teens who have trouble getting to school on time when driving themselves, but for her, having to ride the bus, as a senior, would be another good reason to stay in bed. And the joy of driving, of being independent, is probably the main thing that’s getting her to leave the house these days. Grounding doesn’t make sense when what I really want to see happening is her going out more and interacting with the world and spending time with friends. And should I cut back on her already minimal weekly spending money when doing so might result in her being more anxious, less hopeful?

The struggle is real.

Luckily, my daughter makes fairly good choices within the confines of her disorder. Her depression has not resulted in any run-ins with the law. She is not failing her classes. Like she says, she’s got healthy ways of coping, her music, drawing, art. She always finds the time and plenty of humor and love for her sister. She is open about her depression and willing to explain what she’s going through for those of us who don’t get it, who can’t possibly imagine not embracing each new day and what the future has to offer. These past few weeks, as she’s mourned her childhood and confronts her future, she’s felt more anxious and out of control than ever.

I’m always fighting myself.

I don’t feel like I’m on my own team.

I have my coping mechanisms in place – playing guitar, drawing, writing, walking – and I have plenty of time to do those things now, but what about when I go to college? I’ll be so much busier. How will I find the time to calm myself down? I’m already freaking out about it.

I know I miss some classes, but you have to understand that, for me, going to most of them is a huge accomplishment being that I can barely get out of bed.

Every time I’m happy, I feel like I’m just faking it. I know who I really am, that the bad feelings are going to come back.

I feel like you deserve a better daughter. You should have a smart daughter, someone who gets really good grades.

I’m so afraid this is hereditary and I’m going to give it to my kids. I don’t want them to suffer. I’m keeping a journal so that when they become teens I can look back on my writing and hopefully remember and be able to help them get through it.

I listen. I see her tears. I feel the bubble wrap in which she’s encased herself, that protective layer that keeps her safe, but simultaneously keeps me from her. I’ve helped her get a diagnosis, medication, counseling. And yet I cannot give her what it is I truly want to – optimism.

She’s going to have to discover that on her own. And find a way to let optimism rule.

And I cannot give myself the one thing that would help me to understand her better, that would allow me to more thoroughly accept and support her. I cannot give myself depression. And for this, I sometimes feel guilty.

The struggle is real.

For both of us, and for so many more out there, it’s real.


The Swing

Her little girl

In the swing

Curious, energetic, bright

She pushes her

Learn, move, create

Harder, faster, higher

And the girl smiles.

Her daughter

In the swing

Inquisitive, assiduous, gifted

She teaches her to pump

Push, produce, live,

Harder, faster, higher

And the girl does.

Her teenager

In the swing

Introspective, lackadaisical, artsy

She watches her change paths

Grow, change, become herself

Twisting, slowing, nearly stopping

And the girl cries.

This young woman

In the swing

Discovering who she is

She watches as she

Looks up, beholds the sky

And resolves to pump again.


Lead Yourself Not Into Homelessness

My daughter, the senior, spent the snow day doing homework. It’s an activity I rarely see her engaged in. In fact, seeing her on the couch, laptop on lap, books and papers spread about her… it almost threw me for a loop.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to pass my classes, one essay at a time.”

“Oh. Awesome. I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah, and mama, do you want to help me with some extra credit?”

“Sure. Love to.”

“Okay, read this and do it.” She handed me a letter on goldenrod.

Dear Precious Parents of AP Literature Students,

As you doubtless realize from all the weeping and wailing about the house, we are reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hmmm, I haven’t heard any weeping and wailing. At least not about Shakespeare. I wondered if my daughter was aware that her class was reading Hamlet.Ms Childs

As the mother of three former seniors, I know how desperately you want your senior to graduate and get out into that wide world out there.

God, I love this woman, I thought. She’s reading my mind! My daughter liked her, too. She even made a ceramic whistle of her persona in art class.

So, here’s the deal. In Act I, scene iii, Polonius provides advice to his son Laertes as Laertes is about to leave for France. Here, there was a paragraph of advice in Shakespearean, a paragraph that I started reading, happily, thinking that now that I was 47, I might get Shakespeare, I might like it. After a few sentences, I was withering, no, cringing. I finished reading it, then summarized to myself: okay, so that was some advice. Yeah. Moving on.

Emulate Polonius by giving your student the benefit of your parental wisdom in one of the approved forms below.

There were several options, the most appealing, to me, being to email the advice I have for my daughter to this teacher, to let her know that my daughter I did the assignment.

I am providing you a platform to dispense advice about life, college, reality, the wide world out there, or whatever you see fit. The burden of this assignment rests upon the shoulders of your offspring who should make an appointment to interview you, asking advice about a major decision.

Yes! This will force her to listen to me. I believed this assignment was God’s answer to my prayers of the last several months. Prayers about that fine line, the fine line of holding your child’s hand and making sure everything gets completed, correctly, and turned in, and just leaving it all up to her. Though I am concerned about whether she’s going to get all of her credits, whether she’s going to complete her service learning hours, and that she is not working up to her potential, I concluded, after much praying, that I must go with the latter. I must leave her to her own devices and let her learn from her mistakes, her struggles, and her many successes as well.

And that is where we’re at. Where we’ve been for the past six weeks. And now there are only three weeks left in this semester.

The advice may be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. You may provide advice from personal experience, family precedents, or literature. By doing so, you may earn up to 50 test points for your student in AP Lit.

This sounded fun, so I got on it right away, and this is what I came up with.

My daughter who art in your senior year,

Hallowed be my advice.

Your future comes,

Your childhood be done,

On Earth as in my mind.

Give us today your best effort.

Forgive me my high expectations

As I forgive you your mediocrity these past few years.

Lead yourself not into homelessness

But deliver yourself into prosperity.

For your grades,

Your graduation and your future are yours

Now and forever.


A mom

I don’t know why I went with The Lord’s Prayer format. Maybe because God’s been involved with this whole thing, because the assignment is a gift from him. I hope no one finds it offensive. My daughter listened to it and laughed. And, I pray, she’ll do something with it.

I’ll keep you posted on that graduation thing…

7:11 p.m. on 12/3/13

This evening between 6:32 p.m.and 8:19 p.m. I was catching up with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in several weeks. We talked nonstop about relationships–with men, kids, friends, extended family–and about budgets–the choices we make and living within our means.

Prior to meeting up with her I was shopping with my youngest teenager. She will be participating in the next step of the Rotary Youth Exchange application process, which is a weekend-long event this coming weekend. Nice clothes are required, something other than jeans, baggy sweaters, and Vans. She will be judged (literally) from the moment she walks into the hotel on Friday evening until she leaves on Sunday afternoon. So we were shopping for dress pants, skirts, blouses, sweaters or blazers, appropriate shoes, tights, and other accessories.

As I went in to meet my friend, I got a text from Jim. Didja get Amers all decked out for this weekend? I quickly texted him back. Yes! A couple hundred dollars and two hours later.

As I visited with my friend, I checked my phone a few times, keeping an eye on the time, and making sure that my daughters didn’t need me for anything. My friend reads my blog and she knew that 7:11 was the next Moment in Time. “I wonder what we’ll be talking about at 7:11?” she asked.  “I better make sure it’s nothing too personal!”

“Oh, don’t worry. What we’re talking about won’t necessarily correlate with what I end up writing. I won’t know the significance of the moment until I sit down and write about it.”

At one point, when I looked at my phone, it was 6:51 and the screen on my phone was blank–no new texts or Facebook messages. The next 7.11time I checked, it was 7:21. 7:11 had come and gone. It would be easy enough to recall what we’d been discussing at 7:11. But when I looked at my phone that second time, at 7:21, there was a text on the screen, from Jim, a continuation of the conversation we’d been having about the shopping. I realized the text probably came in around 7:11.

Sweet! I’ve heard that raising children is expensive. I’m glad that you are making that experience PRICELESS.

(Yes, he’s a gem.)

My friend had been talking about whether she could realistically afford an upcoming trip and Jim had been commenting about the cost of raising children.

As I write this, I realize that at 7:11 p.m. on 12/3/13 I, myself, was not particularly concerned about money. I don’t want to imply that I don’t have a monthly budget to stick to (I do) or that I don’t find the cost of children overwhelming (I do). It’s just that at that moment on that day, my money issues were not on my mind. And though a budget is something I tend to daily, I do not have to worry, daily, about where the next meal is coming from or whether I can put gas in the car.

And I’ll tell you why. It’s because my ex-husband works hard and pays a respectable amount of child support. He pays it unfailingly every month and I rely on it to provide my daughters with more than the basic shelter, food, and clothing. My daughter would not have gotten the three dressy outfits she needed if it weren’t for child support. Heck, she wouldn’t even be applying to be a foreign exchange student. Nor would she be on the swim team or have taken the driver’s education course or have a smart phone with a data plan. And my other daughter? Probably no choir. No phone. No car. No weekend trip to look at colleges. And, a really scary thought–probably no college if it weren’t for her father who’s been tucking away money for her education.

Yes, our lives, especially theirs, would be quite a bit different if it weren’t for the monetary contributions made by their father.

I have a teaching career and, with 23 years experience and two advanced degrees, make a decent salary. But it would not be enough to raise the girls on, if that’s all we had.

Well, I shouldn’t say that. There are parents out there raising their kids on much less. My heart goes out to them. I know they have to make tough choices every day.

Jim implied in his text that I was ensuring that my daughters’ upbringing was priceless, that they have some opportunities to experience some things that many other kids do not. He’s right. I am. They do.

But it’s not me who’s “making that experience PRICELESS” in the literal sense. It’s their father.

Sure, I do the legwork and the running around and the organizing. I contribute the time, the energy, the love. But it’s because of him that a lot of this stuff can happen financially.

At 7:11 p.m. on 12/3/13, or around then, a kind and thoughtful text was sent to me,  a text that got me thinking about something. I am grateful, so, so grateful for the support that my girls receive from their father. He may not do things as I would, he may not be as involved in their lives as I’d like him to be, but he does support his daughters in the way that works best for him.

So this moment, 7:11 on 12/3/13, is dedicated to my friend and daughters and significant other and a father. And, of course, to PRICELESS moments.


A Moment in Time is a shared blogging experience, where writers document and share their stories from the same moment on the same day. The day and time for the next A Moment in Time is posted by Randee every few days in such a way that you’ll have a heads up on the exact moment to which you need to attend and focus on and, if it’s significant in some way, write about and add to the list.

To read others’ moments in time:

The Gift of a Day

Beep, beep, beep. I had set my alarm for 4:30, mostly to get up and check the weather.Snow 1

It was raining when I went to bed and was supposed to turn to snow overnight.

If it didn’t look too bad outside, I would get up and go swim laps. If it did look bad, I’d go back to sleep for a while.

There was a soft glow coming from the living room. The white lights of the Christmas tree. The same soft glow was just beyond my bedroom window curtains. The white Christmas lights running along the front side of my house.

I pulled the curtains aside and peered outside. Snow. About three inches. And still coming down. Sleet-like.

I turned alarm number two on – 6:00 a.m. Alarm number two was the lazy alarm or, for today, the bad-weather-can’t-really-be-expected-to-get-up-and-exercise alarm.

Back into bed. I wrapped my down comforter around me like a sleeping bag. Oh, what a feeling.

And then visions of accidents started dancing in my head.

Not me. I’ve been driving in this stuff for decades. Not my vehicle. It’s a big SUV with four-wheel drive.

My daughter's tiny 1990 Honda CRX, covered in snow.

My daughter’s tiny 1990 Honda CRX, covered in snow.

My daughter. Seventeen, and responsible for getting both her and her younger sister to school. In her tiny, old Honda CRX. With no experience driving on roads like these other than once last winter.

I had talked to her last night about quadrupling her stopping distance. Her response was, “Yeah. Yeah, mom, I know.” Actually, you don’t know. No one knows, really, until you smash into the back of the car in front of you. Or, you slide right on through an intersection because you didn’t start braking a half a block ahead of time. That’s when you get it, when you say, “Oh, so that’s what my mom was trying to tell me.”

Maybe I would just drive them to school. The thing was, Addy had to work after school so she’d need her vehicle to get there.

The other thing was, she needed the experience. Even if it resulted in a wrecked car, she had to learn at some point how to drive in such conditions.

Back and forth, back and forth. Drive them and keep them safe or send them out into the snowy, slippery world?

Just one of many fine lines to walk as a parent.

I wasn’t getting back to sleep. I wasn’t enjoying my last hour in my cozy bed.

And then my phone rang. My cell phone. Right there on my night stand. 5:23 a.m.

The call was coming from a number in my contacts and I recognized the name. A colleague of mine. It could only mean one thing…


I quickly called the next teacher on the telephone tree, texted my daughters to not get up, and then, no, though the stress had run out of me like a bucket of the melted white stuff, I did not snuggle in and go back to sleep. I was wide awake, celebrating the gift of a day, embracing it, joy emanating from me like the glow from the Christmas tree just beyond my bedroom door.

The gift of a day. A free day. No obligations whatsoever. There’s nothing quite like it.

Haiku of Wisdom

Wisdom is to give

Laughing gas to the mother

Not just the daughter.


No mother would choose

To sit there, in her right mind,

Listening, watching.


The doctor pokes, prods

At the giant hidden teeth

Just out of his sight.


The daughter groans, laughs

Her head still, but legs writhing,

Numb mouth, hearing ears.


The mother, undrugged,

Counts extracted wisdom teeth,

Writhes herself, then sighs.


This was written for The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Haiku Catchoo!

“In this week’s creative writing challenge, we’ll step toward verse to try our hand at writing haikus. Haikus are a great way to warm up to your writing projects. The short form, combined with simple line and syllable constraints, helps you to work your mind in a new way, as you embrace brevity in a bid to create vivid imagery.”

Parent Letter for Exchange Student Application

When my youngest told me, a few months back, that she wanted to go to France as a foreign exchange student next year, I didn’t panic. I knew it would be a long process and, by leaving it up to her to find out what she had to do to make it happen, I would know if she was really serious about the idea.

She talked to a counselor at school, contacted the agency that arranges the exchanges, and, with interviews happening on Monday (this Monday!), worked all weekend on her ten-page application. I had to contribute a letter that would serve to introduce my daughter to the host agency and families. Since this was much of the writing I did today, I thought I’d share it on my blog.

November 3, 2013

To the club and families who will host Amelia –

Thank you, thank you for all the care, time, energy, and teaching you will provide for Amelia while she is in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. We are both looking forward to an amazing experience for her.

You will quickly discover that Amelia is a happy and easy-going young lady. She wakes up ready to embrace each day and wants to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. During her first year in high school, she joined the softball team, the swim team, and the lacrosse team, the latter of which she had never played. She hadn’t even watched the sport before! She is appreciative of the people in her life who care for her—her family, her friends, her teachers and coaches. She demonstrates her appreciation with an unwavering positive attitude and by helping out whenever she can. She is a real leader with her group of friends—organizing sleepovers, hikes, river floats, costumes—and manages the details to make things happen. She laughs and smiles and tries to make everything fun and put others at ease. She is reliable, predictable, respectful, responsible.  I like that Amelia does her homework at the kitchen table and visits with me while I work in the kitchen and that we always have good conversations in the car. It is always a pleasure to have her around.

Amelia has always been socially and emotionally mature for her age. She is tolerant and even-tempered. She wants to understand different points of views, different cultures, different beliefs. It seems she can always understand and, on top of that, appreciate the decisions I make as a parent in regards to her—how much money she can have, where she can go and how late she can stay out, why she needs to clean her room, and the few instances when I have had to impose consequences or take away a privilege. The only times that I see Amelia get frustrated are when issues arise in her group of friends and things aren’t as harmonious as they once were and therefore could be. I have also seen her disheartened when she doesn’t do as well as her peers in sports. She makes good decisions and appreciates others’ points of view, so disagreements and discipline are a rarity with her. She is nearly always a complete joy.

I have seen Amelia go after a lot of things in life, even if she knows they will be challenging. She takes some hard classes in school and has to balance time for lots of homework, sports practice, and time with family and friends. When classes get difficult, she talks to the teachers and finds out what she can do about it. This past spring she suffered a concussion and had to navigate the confusing process of how to finish up her classes for the year when she wasn’t able to attend full days or concentrate on school work. It was challenging in that each teacher wanted to handle it differently. She had to be proactive and assertive and, in the end, her grades did not suffer much at all. Also, last spring, Amelia went through challenging lifeguard training and then worked as a guard and swim instructor during the summer. It was a high stress job and she was one of the youngest employees, but she did great. Amelia does not avoid conflict—she will talk to her teachers, me, or her friends when there is an obvious issue—but she also does not create it. She just isn’t that type of person.

As I mentioned earlier, Amelia is quite mature for her age. She worked all summer and saved her earnings and rarely asks me for spending money. She takes care of all of her homework on her own, only asking for help when she truly does not understand something. She is the type to get an entire group of people organized, including who’s driving, how many can fit in each vehicle, departure times, and all of those sorts of details, and then just run it by me to make sure it’s okay. Essentially, she does what I feel that I, as a mother, should do. At age 11, Amelia wanted to live with her father “to give him a chance” and was not one bit afraid to leave her mom. A few years later, she thought it would be best to live with me again and did not show a single fear in leaving her friends and starting over in a new school. To her, it was an opportunity, an adventure. When she mentioned being an exchange student, I told her to check into it, learn what it takes, and get going with the process. This was my way of determining if she was serious about doing this. That’s exactly what she did, with really no assistance from me. There is no question about it, Amelia is independent.

I am proud of Amelia for embracing life to the fullest. She tries many things at school—hard courses, sports, student activities. She also enjoys our community and participates in all sorts of events. She notices beauty around her—nature, city scenes, children—and captures it all in pictures or is sure to comment about it. Amelia asks questions about things she doesn’t fully understand, such as politics, articles she might see in the newspaper, or ideas she is learning about in school. She is curious and interested and appreciative and because of this I really enjoy her company.

Though I will miss her dearly, I hope that Amelia has the opportunity to be an exchange student, mainly because this is what she wants to do. This is her idea, she is trying to make it happen, and if it does, I know that alone—the fact that she was able to bring it to fruition—will be just as gratifying as the actual experience will be. Also, Amy loves her French classes and wants the opportunity to learn the language on a whole other level.

It will be easy to have Amelia in your home. She is quiet around the house and respectful of others and shared living spaces. She will truly be grateful for anything you do for her and will return your kindness with positivity and respect and by not being burdensome in any way whatsoever.


Randee Bergen

Hats Off to My Parents

I am just home from two days of parent-teacher conferences and am exhausted but satisfied.

Satisfied with my students’ progress.

Satisfied with the families in our community.

Satisfied with the parenting I see and the way this generation of kids is being raised.

I know we often hear otherwise.

We hear about kids who aren’t proficient.

Kids who don’t meet the standards.

We hear of families struggling financially.

We hear of divorce.

We hear of parents who don’t spend quality time with their children.

Yet they do.

I see it happening.

I witness that most of these parents are doing the best they can.

And that their best is far better than what you typically hear about.

I’m proud of my parents.


Keep Calm and Nap On

I come home to a quiet house. Too quiet. The dog’s asleep on my bed. As always. The girls must be out somewhere. Maybe they went shopping after school.

I go about my usual after-school activities—get a snack, finish reading the morning paper, and do a few household chores.

Still no girls. They’ve been out of school for nearly two hours. I text them both. No response from either. More

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