I Finally Get Veterans Day

I don’t remember anything about Veterans Day from my childhood. I don’t recall talking about it at school. Don’t remember knowing what a veteran was. Don’t come from a family of many vets. Can’t think of anytime before adulthood when I saw Veterans Day on the calendar or thought twice about it when I did.

And, to be honest, for most of my adulthood I didn’t pay it much attention. I’m sure I had to get beyond early adulthood, beyond those years of finishing college and starting my career, getting married and raising a family, to have the time and energy to focus on what was going on around the world. To weigh what life must be like in other countries compared to what it is like here. And to really appreciate that.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I talk to my students about how fortunate they are to live in America. We talk about our freedoms and our quality of life. We read about people who came to America looking for jobs and other opportunities. And, especially, we talk about the free education available to every child in America. I want my students to realize that not all children around the world get to go to school and that the reasons many of them cannot is because their families cannot afford it. Or that not every child has equal opportunity. I want them to treasure and embrace the free education that is available to them and to never, ever take it for granted.

But I don’t talk too much about the price that was paid for our freedom, for our way of life, for our country which much of the world envies. It’s complicated. It’s confusing. It can be too much for seven- and eight-year-olds.

But this year we had an event at our school that provided the opportunity to teach my second grade students about Veterans Day – what it means and why we celebrate it.

A teacher at our school – who is also a mother of a veteran just returned safely from Afghanistan – organized a veterans celebration on our campus. Students and staff invited relatives who currently are, or did, serve in the United States armed services. Students brought in photos of their vets and these were displayed on a big red, white, and blue Wall of Fame. The staff at our school cooked up an impressive breakfast for the 40 veterans who attended that day. Then, the veterans, easily distinguished by their uniforms, the staff, parents, and the entire student body gathered at the flag pole shortly after school started.

We all watched, solemn and serious, as two men in uniform raised the flag against the early morning light. The silence was broken with the singing of the national anthem. I couldn’t see the person who was performing, so I watched my students instead. As they double checked to make sure they had the correct hand across their chest. As they focused on keeping their eyes on the flag, just as we do each morning during the pledge. As they refrained from talking or wiggling or joining in on the singing. As my throat thickened and my left hand moved to cover, in that crucial motion, the emotion building on my countenance. Upon that final note, I let out a loud whoop, as I would at a baseball game or most other gatherings where the national anthem is sang, realizing a second too late my faux pas. Several of my students turned and looked at me, standing behind them, utter shock and disappointment on their faces. How disrespectful, Ms. Bergen.

A few days beforehand the students had carefully penned a Dear Veteran letter and I had them role play going up to a total stranger veteran, with their hand out, ready for shaking, and say, “Thank you for your service to our country.” This opportunity – to shake a veteran’s hand and present the letter they wrote – was what they all were really looking forward to.

As the flagpole ceremony ended, I brought my class around to where the veterans were lined up. They walked down the line, so obedient, so respectful, so in awe. And I watched each and every one of them approach a vet, hand out, letter ready.

And I knew then how important Veterans Day was to me.

As we walked back to our classroom, I heard one student say to her friend, “Man, that made me get tears in my eyes.” Back in class, we had a quick discussion about the emotion we felt during the ceremony. Most students concurred; they had almost teared up.

And I knew then how important Veterans Day was to them, too.

Veteran Letter 3

Veteran Letter 2

Veteran Letter 1

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!”


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…

All Dressed Up, Nowhere to Go

Me? Dress up for Halloween?

It takes a lot of creative energy, time, and money to put together a costume, and most of what was available for that for the last 10-15 years went into figuring out what my children were going to wear. So, yeah, I’m sort of in the habit to not dress up for Halloween.

Wait, wait; that’s not entirely true. Being a teacher and that I have students who start asking in September what I’m going to be, I do have a couple of easy costumes to choose from to wear on Halloween day. My favorite, of late, is what I dubbed an “ankle down” costume. It works for me because it requires no special make-up, no wig, and no special clothing. And, most important, it’s comfortable.

What is it, you ask? A pair of bumblebee slippers. When my students ask what I am, I answer with, “Two bees,” and their little faces morph from confusion to wonder to slight disappointment all within a matter of seconds.

Last year, about this time, I heard about the Zombie Prom happening at one of our trendy downtown theaters and I mentioned it to my daughter, thinking she and her friends might want to go. Much to my (initial) dismay, she suggested that I attend with them. I panicked. Wouldn’t that require hair, make-up, clothing? Interestingly, that stressed me out more than the thought of dancing and being stuck in a loud, crowded place with a bunch of young, wild, costumed strangers. She assured me that a zombie was, like, the easiest costume in the world.


My Teacher’s Allergies

My teacher has these allergies

That don’t seem like normal maladies.

Listen, and tell me, if you will,

If these behaviors make a teacher ill.

Burping and yawning, somewhat normal things,

Make my teacher’s eyeballs sting.

Say, “Excuse me” after you do it,

She’ll say, “Just stop. I’m allergic to it.”

Unpushed chairs and crooked tables

Cause a rash upon her elbows.

Dirty hands or food on your face?

Both will cause her heartbeat to race.

The drinking fountain during instruction

Will cause her tear duct’s abnormal function.

With tears streaming down her hot, red cheeks

She’ll say, “It’s my allergies; no more drinks for three weeks.”

Toys in kids’ pockets she’s not very good with.

Without your full attention joints get stiff.

And don’t dare mess with any of her stuff

Or the skin on her feet will start to get rough.

The sound of Velcro makes her sneeze,

Quibbling gives her itchy knees

Excuses, even if they’re true,

Make her ears turn black and blue.

Underwear showing, or worse, a butt crack,

Will make her allergies start to attack.

Her nose will run, her eyes will water,

Her hand on her head means she’s feeling hotter.

If on your skin you choose to write,

With my teacher it makes her throat go tight.

And don’t put those germy hands in your mouth.

She’s allergic to even the thought of filth.

No interrupting, no answering others’ questions.

These only worsen my teacher’s conditions.

Don’t pick your nose, don’t let it run,

The resulting reaction is a frightening one.

If you echo the teacher or somehow interfere

She’ll get a buzzing in her inner ear.

And jiggling or moving excessively

Will make her stomach bloat extensively.

If you raise your hand when you have a thought

And, when called upon, say, “I forgot,”

My teacher’s breathing practically stops

As all of her innards tie up in knots.

Noticing a spider on the floor

Won’t make her allergies act up more,

But if you mention it to the class

Her allergies are worse than any time in the past.

With my teacher we’ll never have opposite day.

Her hands swell when things don’t go just the right way.

Be sure not to let your zipper get stuck

Or my teacher, with her allergies, will be out of luck.

So, my teacher’s allergies… what do you think?

Will she really pour tears if you just get a drink?

Or is she just faking it day after day

To make sure we behave in a certain way?

Where I am Me


Across the threshold

Through the door

Back to reality.

I’ve been away

For just a day

To a place

Where I am me.

No obligations

Nor expectations


And agenda free.

Here I am mom,

Teacher, colleague,

Companion, neighbor,


But what am I

If none of these?


I contend.


So I step

Through this door

Back to reality.

Back to the place

Where I am known

Where I am known

As me.

Back to School from a Teacher’s Point of View

It’s Back-to-School time. I know, not because of the date on the calendar; I can just sense it. First, I’m starting to feel a bit worthless, feeling like I’m not contributing to society as I should be. I miss my work, my purpose, my colleagues, the kids. And, my body is sufficiently confused about whether it’s nap time or night-time. It’s no wonder. Summertime means goofy sleep patterns—staying up writing until 12:15, then waking suddenly at 3:10 a.m. (Is the nap over?), playing racquetball at 5:00 a.m., and then returning home to sleep some more. Yes, it’s time to get back to a regular schedule.

There are two unique things about teaching that I wish applied to all employed people. And, no, I’m not going to say June and July. More