Category Archives: Lorena’s Chunks

To the Lady at Costco

To the lady at Costco who told me to place my child in the shopping basket as there were too many “germs,” I say:

Do you EVEN know my child? Have you any idea what she will do if I try to pick her up and place her in the damn shopping cart?? Do you DARE think that I did not already ponder the idea of putting her in there? Jesus lady, I know there are “germs,” I know her wandering about the store is not wise, I know she is in everybody’s way, but I am DESPERATE.

I am in this friggin store to get badly needed stuff like DIAPERS and WIPES. And I need to do this as fast as possible before more people like you cram up this hole and start misbehaving as you all make a beeline to the toilet paper. I refuse to be held back by my screaming toddler who will raise such hell that you would dial CPS so fast that I would find myself being interviewed by a social worker that is wearing an ill fitting suit in a brown color and whose breath smells. Oh no, not today. Today I am on fire and I will get the DIAPERS and WIPES and walk out of this Costco like a champion. And with toddler in tow. And no tears in sight.

So to you lady I say, you get in the DAMN shopping cart if you are so worried about “germs.” You get in there and don’t tell me where to put my kid because I know what that kid is capable of doing when she don’t like something and I am not having it. Today is my day and if my kid wants to wander beside the shopping cart instead of sitting in it, I am FINE with that because she is not crying or screaming or kicking or throwing her head back like she is having a seizure. THAT scene would raise so much more attention and would make me feel more guilty than your stinky remark. I have had enough “I am a bad mom” moments to know that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and right now I just gotta get my stuff and get out of this Costco without suffering any toddler tantrums.

So unless you want to try putting my kid in the shopping basket to keep her away from “germs” I suggest you not SAY ANYTHING to this desperate parent about where to put her kid.

When she is having a good day, I will gladly place her in the shopping cart. Thank you.

The Implications of a Milkshake

In the Classroom: My feet tap nervously on the tiled floor.  My mind is on cognitive overload and I have the feeling of wanting to throw up.  I wish for an interruption; a fire drill, a phone call to the room, an announcement over the school’s speakers, a yellow slip saying I have to  go to the office because my mom is picking me up early, just ANYTHING to get me out of the current activity we are doing.

I look at the picture on my desk.  It is covered in plastic so that the teacher can torture another child with it the following year.  It is a fancy glass, curvy with white liquid.  On top is a mountain kind of looking thing, white and perfectly done with a red cherry on top.  I have already figured out that the white liquid is milk so I know it comes from a cow.  I know this because even though I may not know enough English, I have had many interactions with milk: I pour it on my cereal every morning, my mom uses it to make a delicious breakfast we call “arroz con leche” (rice with milk), my dad loves to pour it over hot yams, my brothers and I put some into coffee to make it so yummy, I always have to grab a little carton of it for lunch and the carton has the word ‘milk’ in bright red, capital letters so without anyone telling me, I already know that “leche” is milk.

I know all this, but I still don’t know what category this picture belongs to.  And soon it will be my turn to go up, in front of the entire class, and stick this thing into its food group.  But I can’t figure it out.  There are six groups up on the board, each represented with a different color.  The teacher put the names of each group on a bright label, but that is all and I don’t know all the words. I already used my Spanish to help me know that fruit is “fruta” and vegetables are “vegetales.” But the other four are a big mystery and I just can’t make sense of them.  One label says, ‘Bread, pasta, potatoes.’ I have never seen or heard those words and so far it is empty.  Another says ‘Meat, fish and alternatives,’ and it already has a picture of what looks like a naked chicken all plucked and hunkered over.  I am guessing that is the place to put things that come from animals, but I am not sure.  The yellow group says, ‘Cheese and dairy.’ A student put a picture of a block of yellow in it.  What is that? I scramble through my mind, trying to think of my family’s once a week visits to the grocery store.  Had I seen anything like that? Did we ever eat something that looked like a yellow block? I didn’t think so.  The last group was small but it had an extremely long label, ‘Fats, oils and confectionaries.’

“Lorena!” the teacher hollered my name and it threw me out of my long chain of desperate thinking.  Time was up.

With my heart hammering in my throat and my legs feeling like gelatin, I pushed away from my desk as if it was pulling me back, and slowly made my way to the board.  My sweaty, nervous hands began to tug at the picture, folding the corners.

“Don’t do that!” admonished the teacher.

His reprimand accompanied with his glare that I was getting all too familiar with, only made me feel small and to wish I could run away.  But I was stuck and my feet made their own decision to move me closer to the board.

The gaze of 20 something pairs of eyes on my back was tangible.  I couldn’t see my classmates, but I knew they were all watching.  I took another frantic look over the food groups pleading for a miracle.  None came.  No interruptions either.  With hesitant hands, I quickly jabbed the picture next to the naked chicken.  Milk came from cows and cows were an animal and this group had an animal in it.

The class burst into laughter.  Did they think I was being funny?  Or was this like all those other times when they laughed AT me, thinking, ‘jeez this girl knows NOTHING!’  I swallowed the hard lump of my heart in my throat, snatched the picture back and slapped it on the bottom group: Bread, pasta, potatoes.  More laughter, uncontrollable this time.  The teacher immediately stepped in, but first he shot me another glare.

Teaching Implications: No child, not even language learners or children of a different race, are empty vessels.  They come to the classroom having had experiences AND language that they can use to make sense of what is happening within the classroom walls.  We need to know our students, all of them, so we are familiar with who they are because they are people too. Let’s tap into their experiences, their knowledge, and most of all their language instead of thinking they know nothing.

Develop a community where students support and learn from each other.  We are not the only teachers in the room.  And our behavior is used by students as a model of how they should respond to each other.  Glare at a child and the students will take your cue as a sign of how this student deserves to be treated.  So they pick up on your glares and other body language and begin to treat the student in a similar fashion, often in worse ways.

Allow students to talk.  Establish your expectations for partner talk routines and group work.  What would have happened had I just been allowed to talk to one of my classmates about the picture in my hands?

We take for granted how much we teach with words, spoken words.  It doesn’t take too much time (especially now when we can easily search with Google images) to get visuals and incorporate them into lessons.  We can even make quick sketches in the moment to support new vocabulary.

Lifelong Implications: I am certain we all have nuggets of memories from our early school days.  There are many different reasons of why we cling to those memories.

This memory tugs at me quite often.  Because of it, I now see how in the preceding years of school I put my efforts towards fading into the classroom walls and becoming invisible.  I was not the student with a hand raised or the student who wanted to be table monitor much less line leader.  And if ever I was called on by the teacher, my face would first turn bright red and it always made my stomach go upside down and then I would barely mumble something out.  This still happens.

I was suddenly embarrassed by my family and our culture.  I had witnessed firsthand how everything I knew and was familiar with was not validated in school.  So what if we had milk in our house? The way we used it didn’t count in school.  Apparently all our visits to the grocery store didn’t matter because we didn’t buy yellow cheese in yellow blocks (ours was white and came in a wheel shape and we crumbled it over enchiladas, beans, and lots of over foods).  And our language wasn’t helpful.  Actually my first language got in the way of me learning.  All of this came to my realization from that milkshake.  And it has taken many years (honestly I am still working on it) to undo the damage and embrace who I am (Mexican culture and all) and to see how beautiful Spanish is and that it is a language worthy of knowing.

Lastly, I am so afraid of getting up in front of people.  After that moment, I recall almost dying every time I had to do a presentation or a report or a speech or whatever other confounded project teachers made up to get students to show their learning. I remember many sleepless nights as I lay worrying in bed.  Would they laugh at me, would they think I was dumb?

Just Forget It

The New Year is well underway, so make sure to get off on the right foot by forgetting about these items.  Just forget it!

10.  All the people that you slept with (or not) last year

9. The amount of times that you did not blog in 2017

8. The time you overpaid for some thing at the grocery store, by the way, toss the receipt

7. All previous attempts to lose weight

6. The evenings when you concluded a healthy salad dinner with a big slice of (insert flavor here) _____ cake with ice cream, whip cream, chocolate drizzle, cherry, banana on top while downing it with a (insert flavor here) ____ milkshake

5. Any and all cashiers who never ask about your day or you or how it’s going

4. The series of days you committed to watching an HBO series that went nowhere (the main character wasn’t ever dead and the mom was the real mom all along)

3. All mornings when you woke up crying…because you didn’t want to go to work!

2. Promises, promises, promises – do you EVEN remember what you promised? It’s to your benefit to forget them

1. Your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions

Caught!

I was staring at my teacher plan book.  Admiring the blue lined boxes that indicated days and subject areas.  I took such joy in filling it in and seeing what the week would look like.  I was completely lost in it, still trying to see what I could do for Wednesday afternoon and what could get plugged in for Thursday morning.

Suddenly my classroom door opened.  I just heard the click of the knob turning and in walked the district personnel, four of them.  A whopping four DISTRICT people.  They entered in a line, fake smiles plastered on their faces because they always said, “smile when you walk in to the room, no matter what you see happening, just smile.” Then they each took a position at the back of the class, leaned against the counter, and held their precious papers close to their chests, still radiating those fake smiles but already I could see in their eyes the disappointment of walking in to the room and NOT witnessing any teaching going on.

I scrambled out of my desk, nearly knocking over my chair, heart starting to race, lump in throat forming and beads of sweat already on my hairline.  I looked wildly around for that damn book.  Jesus where was it?  Oh, I knew they were seeing this, but there was no way to hide it. Where the hell did I leave that thing?  I glanced back at my desk, nothing there aside from my mess of papers, confiscated toys (the ones I bothered to collect), water bottles, pens, erasers, more papers from the students, my beautiful plan book and hand sanitizer.

My eyes flew to the shelf beneath the whiteboard.  Giant TE’s were nestled in there with their bright spiral bound cardboard covers showing.  I saw the orange, yellow, and blue spirals, large enough to tear up and wear as bracelets, but nowhere was that small book with the black spiral. Now my palms were sweating, my heart was drumming in my throat that had entirely closed from the lump in it and I could feel the heat on my face letting me know my cheeks were turning the color of a bright cherry. I stole a glance at the district people still leaning against the counter, now making it very obvious that they were judging the class walls, no fake smiles anymore.  I wish I could just tell them that I meant to update the student work that still bore September dates and that the pumpkin decorations would get put away soon, I just hadn’t had enough time to get to it.  But talking to them was a cardinal sin, it was prohibited, it would mean breaking all protocol for a district visit.  THEY were not to be talked to.

I was certain that five painful minutes had passed since they’d entered and so far all they had seen was the teacher scrambling about the front of the room.  Dammit, I knew it was here somewhere. Eyes swiveling in every direction, I neared the easel overloaded with old charts, some dated from the previous school year (that was on my list to be removed too). I eyed the basket beneath it, crammed with markers, papers, whiteboard erasers, more papers (why was there so much paper everywhere?) but no sign of that stupid, freaking, damn book.  I was about to cave in and ask the students if one of them had seen it – they always could tell me where to find things – just as my eye saw the bloody thing behind the easel, opened up to the last lesson that I probably taught.  My heart settled back into my chest and a smile crept on my lips as I saw that I had even put post it notes into the book, well that would impress them.  I lifted it up off the shelf and was momentarily surprised to see a layer of dust slide off it.

“Ok, boys and girls come to the carpet and sit down,” I announced as I saw my third graders look up at me from their reading books. They slowly started moving and were soon seated in front of me.  I took the chair near the easel and flipped through the book to find the next lesson. As my eyes searched for where to start, I said, “Ok, so boys and girls, we have been doing a lot of writing…ummm we worked on our stories…”

“You mean small moments?” a student chimed in.

“Yes, our small moments,” I agreed. The damn thing was hard to navigate, I was still flipping pages.  Weren’t these district people leaving soon?  Didn’t they have a torrent of work to do at their offices? Then I saw a beacon of hope, the title of the lesson! I could figure it out from that. I launched into what I thought was spectacular teaching of writing.  And soon enough, as if they had seen what they needed to see, the district people left the room, single file, fake smiles back on their faces.  As the door slowly clicked back into place, I heaved a sigh.  One of utter relief.  I leaned back in the chair, drained from the maddening adrenaline rush. A small laugh nearly escaped from within me.  I closed the book, I was not losing this thing again. I knew exactly where I would put it.  Dismissing the children from the carpet, I tossed the book with its black spiral onto my desk to lay among the stash of papers.

 

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I am in the middle of preparing sweet potatoes and recalling why I stopped eating them.  They are hella hard to slice and dice.  Seriously, you need an electric drill to cut one up – or could it be that all my knives are dull?

With the sweet potatoes in the oven and the smell of the bell peppers that I mixed in with the potatoes infusing the air, I thought back to Laura’s words.  “Finding your voice.” How lucky that children get to hear that phrase for a writing class.  Even though I am an adult, may I attend?  You see, no one told me as a child that I should find my voice, well no one even told me that I had one to start with. Here’s what I did have:

I sit at a desk, the kind very like the ones in the Peanuts cartoon.  The wooden seat is connected to the desk and the top of the desk opens so you can sneak all kinds of non-school stuff into the space beneath.  There is a little cradle for my yellow pencil and a crisp, white sheet of binder paper is in front of me.  The teacher is talking.  I hear his voice, but I don’t know enough English to know what exactly he is saying.

He’s old, white tufts of hair poke out of his head.  His large, thick glasses give him the appearance of an owl, but they don’t hide his eyes that often glare at me.  He’s wearing what he always seems to wear: plaid shirt in boring colors of brown, red, black and brown slacks with brown shoes that have little laces.  Because I’m lost in examining this aged man and looking over the details of his clothing, trying to imagine what he is like outside of the classroom, I miss the directions.  It wouldn’t have helped me to pay attention anyway.  The words would have just floated over my head. Without any images, I grasped nothing.  Without having the chance to talk to a classmate, I understood nothing.

As I move my eyes away from the brown shoes with the little laces tied neatly, I see that all the students are furiously writing on their sheets of paper.  I can almost hear the soft scratching of the lead on the page.  I see Emily, the girl with the longest blond hair in class, scrawling on her paper, her face intense, her skinny legs crossed in the way that she always did when she was in absolute concentration. Or maybe she just really had to use the bathroom.

Panic! I see everyone writing, but about what?  In a useless attempt that I know won’t work, I try to peer over Sam’s hunched back to get a glimpse of his paper, to see what he is doing. His back is too big and I can’t even see his arms.  More panic.  I want to be a good student, I try to follow directions, I want to please the teacher and make him smile the way I see he smiles when Emily talks.  My efforts have only gifted me glares and snickers so far.

I focus back on my sheet of paper.  I have to write something.  I start by slowing etching out the letters in my name.  Then I take three minutes to lay out the letters of my last name.  Five more minutes to write the date as neat as I have ever written it.  I glance around, hoping that something has changed, but the room is still silent with all the students hunkered over their papers, their hands flying over the page. I look at everyone, all in the same position.  I notice the obvious that I noticed on the first day I walked into the room: everyone has a backpack tucked into the bowl that is beneath the wooden seat.   Backpacks of beautiful colors, yellow, bright red, sky blue, pink. I look under my seat.  It is empty. My family can’t afford a backpack for me.

The beeping oven brings me to the present.  Aaahhh, the smell of bell peppers.  I take the tray out of the oven and poke the sweet potatoes.  Perfectly soft. I know they are violently hot, but I can’t resist.  I stab one with a fork and bring it to my mouth.  Yup super hell hot.    But even through the heat, I savor the mix of the sweet with the tang of the bell pepper.  So good.