My Lunar Phases

7 Sep img_0007.jpg

Saying goodbye to summer and hello to the another school year can be sharp.  Each Labor Day weekend I over plan because I don’t want to let go.  I don’t want to see my freedom dissolve.  So I go out to dinner, plan a date night, plan a pool date, plan a lunch out and keep adding to each day just so that I can feel like it’s not slipping away.  Yet, it always does.  The sun always sets and rises and time always pushes me or rather drops into reality.  The reality of 6am alarm clocks and early bed times and packed lunches and pre-made breakfasts and standing for 7 and 1/2 hours and staying positive as little 7th graders push to see if you believe in boundaries and shortened/timed lunches and exhausted evenings.  When I listen to my unyielding list of reality, I wonder why I still come back for more.  What is it about this job that makes me stay?  Am I masochistic?

My job exists in distinct phases.

Phases 1 is when I am adapting, performing, and mourning.  I’m adapting to a new principal, 120 new students, and sometimes new colleagues, and this year a new classroom even.  It’s hard.  I get exhausted and a thought bubbles inside me; one that says just leave, quit, find something else, it’s not worth it!  It’s hard.   Sleeping in and luxurious breakfasts are replaced with quick and easy breakfasts and a tight morning routine reminiscent of army soldiers.  I mourn the loss of my former students who already knew that I have boundaries, who love me for me.  I mourn the loss of my freedom.  I mourn the loss of my supportive principal.  Phase 1 is hard, softened only by brief moments of laughter with colleagues and brilliant surprising hugs from my former students who squeeze in a visit between classes and before lunch.

Phase 2 is when I am celebrating and counting towards the holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, excuse me, Winter Break.  I know breaks are coming which makes each day easy to make it through.  I know holidays are coming which makes each a little more exciting especially with 7th graders.  Watching them count down with glee is so infectious.  It is easier and fun.  I am connecting with students and we are laughing and learning and moving forward.  Phase 2 can be easy because I am still rested and Autumn’s in the air.  We are all giddy with Autumn’s infectious flavors, dreaming about love and parties and romantic experiences.

Next,  Phase 3 aka winter.  Phase 3 is filled with hard work.  Both my students and I come to work during this time because we are used to each other and let’s face it, the weather outside allows for focus inside.  It’s cold, it’s dreary but we are light, warm, and motivated.  Phase 3’s difficulty comes from shortened days and piles of work. During this time, I sometimes dream about my dream jobs in education:  working at a school whose philosophy is experiential education, opening an art space where teens can come to learn from experimentation, working for an organization that teaches teens how to grow emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, getting my yoga teacher certification, becoming a life coach.  I dream because I see how much I can accomplish within the strict rules of district curriculum and how freeing it would mean complete autonomy.  I dream because I see what my students need and am forced to limit giving them what they need.  Phase 3 frustrates and satisfies me.  It reminds me that nothing is perfect and the grass will always look greener.

Then, the finale:  Phase 4.  Oh Phase 4!  It’s hard.  It comes like a thunderstorm–without warning.  It includes daylight savings, state exams, extended periods with weeks of exams scheduled, longer evenings that tempt you to stay up later than you should, hyper-energized 7th graders.  It’s filled with “nothing left to gives” and “I don’t  cares” and “yolos”.  Making it to work seems like the most challenging task in the world during Phase 4.  Nothing matters, just that final date when it will finally be over.  Then it comes, again without warming–the goodbyes to the 120 students who now have seen you more hours than your husband in the past ten months.  It catches me off guard; all the emotions of knowing we will never laugh together or annoy each other again in this space.  Students will come to visit, but it won’t ever be like it is now in Phase 4.  Hugs, gentle, kind gifts, reminiscing about that time when ______ called Ms. C a bitch or that time when ______ tripped on the giant rug and almost tore down the SMART board projector or that time when Ms. C spent the period talking about the importance of styling your hair require Phase 4 to be lovely and awful and exhausting and delicious all at once.

Knowing the cycle doesn’t make it easier to begin Phase 1, but it does allow me the right to go through it in the exact way that I choose.  I could choose to get dragged into the school year kicking and screaming which sometimes I allow for and completely indulge.  I could choose to confidently step into the school year with patience and self care and sometimes I do that too.  Most of all I choose to begin again not to repeat the endless cycle, but to try to get better at staying kind to myself and to allow myself to become a better person.  I do it to see how much fun I can jam into each phase.  I do it to find a little more balance.  I do it to find a better idea than last year about a unit.  I do it to sculpt myself into an institution that I can be proud of.

In the end, I do it to sculpt myself into an institution that I can be proud of.

One Day!

10 Aug IMG_3070-0.JPG

Deep within me,
in a special felt basket,
Soft and lovely:
They live

Nynamma’s chicken curry,
Saturday afternoon hikes with Sam,
Riding dads green scooter barely tall enough to see above the handles

Far closer to my heart!
Far away from today!
Soft and lovely they live

The Mumbai Fish fry across from the embassy
The roadside pani puri
and kabobs
Trips to the meat market

Down in a corner of my soul
I placed them.
Oh so long ago
to quickly evolve into
red, white, and blue.

Only sometimes
do I
Pull each out
Hold and see and feel

The silent humming from the cinema right when the hero finally gets the girl
The silent tabla that awakens my soul
The warm roti from that trip to the mountains

Longing to feel
the sugar cane juice
Longing to sit
on her veranda
and be the first
to be served–

I live my comfortable, easy
Red, white, and blue

In hopes that one day,
You’ll see me
For a second
Back there
of then and now.

One day!

[My chicken fry.]

Truth or Dare

6 Aug

Dear Administrator,
You with your pointy finger
And meetings about
the ones that continued
to demoralize and devalue me, my abilities, my talents.

Dear Parents,
You with your Harvard bound children
whom I couldn’t challenge with my lowly abilities,
Who self published a novel and so, could easily do what I do for a living.

Dear Student,
You with your stubborn eyes
and heels cemented to the classroom floor.

I dare you
To continue daily not showing an ounce of bias whilst performing your craft and knowing that your own Principal doesn’t support or believe in you!

I dare you
To overcome and grow
inspite of a group of people who couldn’t understand your talent, who judged you for your last name, who came towards you with mass weapons of anger and suspicion.

I dare you!
You three,
to be me
For a day
For an hour
For a minute
And show a fraction of the grace that ripples off me when I walk down the hall!

Don’ts Weigh Me Down

31 Jul SB'14 Posh Skies

Spinach, cabbage, onion, grape tomatoes, quinoa, apple, and radish swish around our wooden salad bowl waiting for their glistening attire.  Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and honey gather into a sparkling dress.  It’s Friday evening; I’ve spent most of the day at the pool and it’s my turn to make dinner.  I mix together the vegetables and my dressing admiring the sudden shimmer.  It seems just yesterday, I never made a salad at home or ordered one at a restaurant.  They never filled me and I didn’t know how to make them matter in my life.  This was before, before I met the person who would allow me to gently change.

Three November’s ago, I met a colleague who ate mostly salads for lunch and another colleague who ate hummus and veggies.  I would look at both lunches and think, I could never do that.  I am not a salad eater.  I like food and warm, comfort food at that.  I can spend so much time labeling myself as what I can’t do or don’t do.  Just the other day I declined a tennis match because the rest of the players were “athletes” and I don’t consider myself one.  It’s so easy to tell others I’m not an athlete; I don’t eat salads.  I live immersed in a label-filled world; a world filled with “I don’t do that’s”.

What would happen if we didn’t allow our fears of not being good enough and other people’s opinions of us decide who we are and what we do?  I would like to say there few things in this world that I am not up for.  I will try most things, so why was it that I was limiting myself from playing tennis or eating delicious salads?

The thing about labels is they stick to you even as you grow up.  Till today my grandpa asks me if I like daal like I used to when I was a toddler.  Although I get frustrated at him, I do hold that sticker with pride–a foodie from birth!  I’ve become so accustomed to needing others approval in all that I do.  From where I work and what I do for a living to how I wear my hair, it’s all crap.  Getting attention for who you are, as much as I don’t like to admit it, makes me feel good.  But how important is it?  How important is it that others think I’m a beautiful, kind, talented person?  What about my opinion of myself?  What happens when you rip off a label? Will I still be me without labels?  Are all labels bad?  Do all labels limit you?

Perhaps it’s not the labels themselves, but the source that are bad.  For example, if I believe that I am an extrovert and love that about myself or that I am a super cheesy romantic at heart and find it endearing, then these beliefs can gift me confidence.  However, if I write labels about me that come from fears (False Evidence Appearing Real), then they can turn into little cancers that eat away at my ego and sanity.  Saying I don’t do something because I am afraid is saying to myself that I value others’ opinions above mine.  It’s saying to myself I’m not willing to grow and become a better person.  Small changes can make large impacts.

I used to believe salads were bland, gross, flavorless.  I used to believe they were the last American food that I would not succumb to.  Until early spring, this year, when I received an obscene quantity of greens through my CSA and finally decided it was time to attempt a salad or two.  So, I asked the same colleague how she makes her salads and dressings.  Although it seems like one day I just chose to make the change, it took years of watching her eat these salads enviously and then finally tasting one at a potluck lunch.  M shared her salad recipes or rather her salad dressing formula with me because her advice was find the veggies you love and use those.  Her dressing formula:  Acid (Lemon, orange, or vinegar) + Oil (Flavored Oils work best) + Seasoning mixes that you use to cook with (Orange ginger seasoning, etc.)= Dressing  Additionally, you could add water to cut the fat.

When we received so many salad greens and radishes and onions and beets in our CSA one Thursday, I set out to attempt my first salad and forced my palate to grow.  My salad was simple.  It included the above ingredients, but my dressing was phenomenal (Freshly squeezed orange juice, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, basil olive oil, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a tablespoons of orange ginger seasoning mix).  It was the first time I created a salad that I couldn’t wait to eat at lunch.  I remember envisioning my lunch during 3rd period the next day and salivating over it.  (Side note: teachers normally get 30 minutes of contracted lunches; however, by the time students leave the room and you get your lunch and heat it up and go to the bathroom, it’s actually a 15-20 minute lunch.)  Having a salad meant, I didn’t have to spend my lunch time waiting for it to get warm or fighting over the microwave.  Thus, this small change that I was so resistant towards for over 20 years allowed me a more relaxed lunch that day.

I live my life so easily sticking to the labels that others and myself have placed on me.  I do this without considering the freedom I would uncover by ripping even one-off.  My fear of not being good enough is a limitation that I learned early in life and it served me well as a kid; it kept me safe from embarrassment.  It does not serve me any longer.  This small change–eating and making salads–shows me that all it takes is one small change.

Friday night, I tossed a simple salad together and sat down label free for one night marinating in the bliss of a limitless me.


Strings of Control

25 Jul
Late into the night
Early in the morning
Noon when the sun is high
high above my head
I think about it!
With soft tender eyes--
The possibility
One that I spent so many years 
carefully evading
I sit on my honey-brown leather couch
And dream each day what would it be like
Will it be easy, hard, challenging, free
Exciting, calm, frustrating, exhausting?
Just then, the very moment I smile--
They fly in
like irritating bites, they sting and itch
I try to ignore each one to ensure my skin isn't broken
But they stay for days
Demanding my attention
Until I scratch 
scratch the surface
A constant reminder that I am human
and don't have control over this--
over Anything
I scratch in hopes of releasing it
yet it lingers, 
the air about me
You push 
push me to expect
To believe
And I want to
I want to see it:
The laughter, the fights, the love
The cycle complete
with Me as their puppet:
Easily pulled and easily pushed
dark, thin strings 
strings of control

A Bead, A Pearl

14 Jul
Deep inside me 
under all the layers
close to the warm core
lies a bead, a pearl sized bead

I look to it
when I'm alone
I examine each side and slant and curve
I hold it tight
I let it slip 

Deep inside me
under all the layers
close to the warm core
lies a bead

I grab it
when I'm drowning
I roll it in my palm
gently in circles
I keep it still
I let it be

Deep inside me
under all the layers
close to the warm core
lies a bead, a pearl
a pearl

A Tasting of New Perspective

10 Jul

Caracas, Venezuela.  On my top ten travel destinations for one reason:  Arepas!  The arepa is a simple flat bread made from corn flour and water, then fried in a pan.  In Venezuela, it is then cut open and stuffed like a sandwich with a variety of ingredients.  I first had an arepa for dinner in a hole in the wall restaurant with my foodie buddies JBS and EBS.  I ordered the La Jadinera arepa and ate it moaning with each bite–a habit I can’t seem to kick.  Since that first night of a $5 dinner, Caracas, the restaurant, became my favorite spot to chill between classes in the city and the first place to take all friends who visited the city.  Bobby Flay even hosted a Throwdown episode at Caracas!

Once I left the city, I missed this place so much that I taught myself how to make the arepa de Pollo and got decent at having it at home.  However, nothing came close to the arepas at Caracas.  It’s the first meal I have as soon as I arrive in New York City.  That was until last March.

Arepa de Los Muchachos at Caracas!

EBS, MWA, and I had arrived on our third annual girls trip–not knowing that this may be our last trip for a while–we planned our usual routines of rotating beds so each of us had one bed to our self for one night and each of us picked one meal that we must have no matter what.  EBS chose her usual, Genarro and I chose, Caracas.  We went for Sunday brunch early to beat the rush.

If you’ve never walked around New York early on a Sunday morning, add it to your bucket list right now!  The city is bright and silent.  Memories from last night’s parties float down from above.  Shop owners and chefs walk calmly to work.  The sidewalks seem wider than the night before and taxis line the roads in abundance.  The three of us walked toward Caracas in a nearly vacant East Village.  We arrived so early that the restaurant hadn’t even opened yet–a sign of traveling in your thirties.  So we walked around our old friend and waited.  By the time Caracas opened, my hunger had quickened.  I was so glad to be back in this comforting spot, ready to taste the familiar flavors.

A series of red flags followed which I ignored one by one because my memories were just a little stronger.  First red flag:  when EBS tried to order Venezuelan Coffee, the server gave a confused glance and reminded us that they had Blue Bottle coffee.  EBS and I exchanged a “what the fuck” look.  Second red flag:  the menu had changed and my favorites were suddenly missing!  I can be flexible–sometimes–so I ordered one new arepa Leeks Jadinera and an old favorite, de pollo.  Third red flag:  our arepas arrived looking similar to the ones that I so dearly loved for so many years.  Yet, one bite told me that this place had changed.  It was not the Caracas of my twenties.  It had grown into a larger business and this meant a change in flavors.  I ate completely disappointed.  My heart sunk and shriveled.  I had the choice of one meal and it was this mediocre one.  My attempts of being okay with the change didn’t fool anyone.  The girls tried to make it better by discussing how the owners may be working a little less now and perhaps had a better quality of life.  Maybe they can afford vacations now.  The question that lingered in the air was:  why does the quality have to go down once a restaurant expands and gets more locations?  Does financial security immediately mean lower quality/less passion for the art form?

After being really upset and having to walk it off, I began to explore this idea of becoming a successful teacher and what that means in my life today.  Has the quality of my teaching gotten poorer or have I let go of needing everything to be perfect and less uptight about the classroom?  If one of my former students sat in on one of my class today, would they hate the taste and long for the familiar taste of a Ms. C from their past?  I would like to say that the quality of my teaching has gotten better that each year I come a little closer to genuine experiential learning.  I would like to say that I have also become more successful and the two are not mutually exclusive.  But the truth is there are many things that I made a part of my job that simply aren’t anymore.  I don’t discipline students the same way.  I don’t teach my mini lessons in the same way.  And I don’t get worked up over disagreements with students or colleagues for weeks at a time becoming so obsessively anxiety ridden trying to solve the other human whom I really don’t have any control over.  So the quality of my life has definitely improved.   Not being stressed in the way I used to has also affected how my students see me.  Not to say that I’m perfect and never have a bad day or get frustrated in the classroom.  I am human.  If financial success has allowed me to grow into a better teacher, why didn’t it do the same for Caracas?Answer this question means that I have to allow myself to be open to a different perspective.

Well, perhaps the chef was not the usual chef.  Perhaps the owners are living a less stressful life by giving their chefs a bit of freedom to explore as artists.  Isn’t that what I want for my students?  I do give them way more freedom to make mistakes and yet, when this happens to me outside of the classroom, I hold in such harsh light.  When I attempt to put myself in the owners of Caracas’ shoes, I am able to see a valuable perspective.  It’s important to grow and this will bring success which allows us to create new art pieces whether it be culinary, teaching, musical, etc. Perhaps had I abandoned my need for nostalgia and opened myself to a few of the newer items on the menu, I may I found an arepa that touched my soul today instead of trying to relive my twenties.  Although the old will always be there, sometimes the new allows for a different perspective.

Watch the Bobby Flay Throwdown Below:


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