Happy 75th, Mom!

This morning, my brother, Chet, reminded me it was Mom's birthday with a post online and he mentioned how Mom used to rearrange furniture. I wrote this essay a while back, but thought I'd share it in honor of her birthday today. Miss you, Mom!

Moving Furniture

For as long as I can remember, my mom rearranged the furniture. As a kid, I’d come home from school and find the couches and end tables on opposite sides of the room; the tv pulled out from the corner and pushed up against the wall, picture frames rehung where there had been white space before.

Weeks later, I’d find another formation, or maybe things would be moved back into their original spots. Sometimes Mom would flip flop the living room and dining room and, if I didn’t get used to them, I’d find myself running into a coffee table as I made my way to the kitchen for a glass of water. Eventually, I would get used to the new arrangement just in time for Mom to change it once again. 
Summer of 1992: photo credit Elayne or Robert Logan-Currie

As an adult, nearly every time I visited my parents’ home, Mom would have moved things around. Maybe Mom bought a new side table or lamp and this new piece would inspire a new version of the living room, dining room, or sitting room. I’d notice, and offer a compliment: “It looks so much bigger now,” or “I love how I can see the plum tree when I sit here,” or “I like the new chair.” But I never got too attached. Even if I liked a room’s set up, I knew this too would pass.

Mom’s furniture moving always kept me on my toes, but I didn’t inherit this trait. In every space where I’ve lived, the furniture has found its place and stayed there for the duration. If something didn’t fit, I got rid of it. If a space needed something new, it was purchased and put in it’s new home. Even as a mother, my kids’ room has had two arrangements: one when there was just one, and another when the second came along. Maybe this trait skipped a generation. My siblings don’t seem to have it, but my sister says my niece rearranges her bedroom every few months. Maybe my little ones will rearrange when they get older.

I never asked Mom why she moved furniture all of the time. I don’t know if there was a pattern or a cause. Did she rearrange things on days when she was unhappy, or feeling restless, or bored? Mom was rarely satisfied with the status quo. She craved constant change and was always searching for ways to make her life different and better. Shifting the furniture could make a room open up, or feel more spacious, or cozy. This could become a perfect spot to watch tv, read the paper, nap, or have a conversation. Maybe if the furniture was just right, she would be satisfied. Moving furniture might have given Mom a feeling of control over her world. She moved it to remind herself that even if she couldn’t make the church, or her husband, or her children do exactly what she wanted, she could make us sit where she wanted.

I wonder how many times Mom would have shifted the furniture in the two years since she’s been gone. I never thought it would be something I’d miss, but when I visit Dad now, the house looks pretty much the same as it did the visit before; stuck in Mom’s final arrangement. I’m sure, wherever she is, she’s ready for change, and I imagine she’s watching us and thinking about just how she would like to move things around.


2016 Year in Books

2016 was a wonderful year for reading for me. I read 15 books, (well, many, many more if you count children's books or student novels) parts of another 2, and I'm including 5 of my favorite children's books  (although my favorites aren't always my kids' favorites). Here they are, in the order I read them.

Paper Towns by John Green

I don’t like John Green. I hate his use of the term ninja in this book. I don’t like his depiction of the young girl in the book. I don’t like the token Black character or the misogynist. But the thing is, I kept reading. I finished it, and I love how he works in allusions, but this book confirmed what I thought after reading Looking for Alaska. I don’t like John Green.

Between Me and the World by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Loved this beautiful letter to Coates’ son about what it is to grow up Black in America. It echoes back to James Baldwin's "Letter to my Nephew" in A Fire Next Time. The questions about the vulnerability of the body set up a wonderful premise to help put into context, for Coates’ teen son and the rest of America, what it is like to be so separate from the American dream. This is required reading.

Room by Emma Donahough

What a devastating book. Told from a five-year-old boy’s point of view, this was not an easy read, but once the pair begin to plot their escape, I couldn’t leave them in their room. The way this mother creates a "normal" world for her son within a nightmare exposes both the triumph and tragedy of the human condition.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I have never read a book that is similar to our family in its racial make-up and in its silence. This is the story of a dead girl told from the shifting third person povs of her parents and siblings. The sentences are lovely. The plot, compelling. But what set this book apart was the mixed-race marriage and the children who tell about their small town life. There aren’t many stories like this out there and this one sings.

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

A novel set in the sea of grief that Lennie finds herself drowning in after her sister, Bailey, dies. An absent mother, a present grandmother and uncle, a patient best friend, and two handsome love interests help pull Lennie out of the water and back amongst the living. This YA book by the author of I’ll Give You the Sun is a study in grief and the lessons death can teach to help us keep living.

Every Day by David Levithan

The premise of this book is that a mysterious soul wakes up every day in a different body. It’s weird and makes for interesting challenges in terms of telling a story over time from this POV.

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Told in part using screenplay forms, I loved how engaging this narrator is.  The friendship between Greg and Earl is far more interesting than the one between Greg and Rachel. The book ending is so much better than the movie, and I don’t even know why the movie did the book so wrong.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult

This YA novel about a school shooting kept me turning pages. I didn’t care too much for the writing style, but the plot moved and although none of the characters were completely likeable, they were compelling to read about.

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

I love the magical realism and setting of this novel. He writes male and female characters with compassion and depth. His modern take on Indian life humanizes so many Native American stereotypes.

Language Lesson by Ashaki Jackson

Jackson’s poems of grief stick heavy in your throat and force you to sit with discomfort of loss. Her responses to her grandmother’s passing show there is no one way to grieve. We are all counting our losses, some more quietly than others.

Wish You Were Me by Myriam Gurba

This poet had me rolling when I heard her perform this past summer. She isn’t afraid to shock, or make you laugh, or offend. I love her unapologetic style.

Booked by Kwame Alexander 

This novel in verse is by the same author as The Crossover. The protagonist is a young soccer player struggling with his parents’ separation, and balancing school, competitive soccer, bullies, friends, and a potential girlfriend. Although the ending left many questions unanswered, I loved the vocabulary development and unique characterization.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This thriller explores a missing woman from several different narrative voices. All are women and the primary narrator’s reliability is called into question by everyone around her (including herself). I liked this much better than Gone Girl, which it is often compared to, and look forward to seeing the film version.

*Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkaway

*OK, I didn’t finish it. I was enjoying it. It’s a nonfiction account of the coach of ditch-swimming kids in Hawaii and their unlikely success.  I might go back and complete it. The topic intrigues me, but I was not in the place or brain space to finish.

*Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

I fell upon Ada Limón’s poem, “Before” during April during National Poetry Month. My writing partner, Hazel, passed on this collection where it appears and Limón's poems humble me. The language is simple, as are the forms, but her poems shine with quiet brilliance and make me want to try to write poems with such care. *Still haven’t finished reading this collection.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

I really enjoy how this author allows the protagonist to evolve over the course of this novel. Margot straddles private school social elites, her family in the Bronx, old friendships, and a new love interest with varying degrees of success until things come together at a party in the Hamptons. Definitely kept me turning the pages and wondering how Margot would navigate a complicated intersectional world. You'll have to preorder this one though. It won't be released until February. 

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I may have found a new favorite YA author. This novel takes place in the space of a day and all of the multi-universes attached. The two primary narrators are Natasha and Daniel, but the author also dips into peripheral characters, humanizing every character. This is a book that will make you believe in love and science while exploring multiracial/cultural experiences.

5 Favorite Children’s Books

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

This book had me in tears as I read it to Kiara. The illustrations are lovely and it gets to the heart of what we teach our kids with the decisions we make everyday.

The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche

This is such a beautiful book, and the depiction of this little girl in a wheelchair makes it even sweeter. The visuals and story are magical.

Thunder Boy Junior by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales

This book beautifully addresses struggles with naming and helps kids understand the unique names many indigenous Americans possess.

Lucha Libre by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein

This bilingual series is so fun to read with titles like Zapata: Colors/Colores, Counting with/Contando Con Frida, Un Elefante: Numbers/Numeros, but Lucha Libre: Anatomy/Anatomia is my favorite. We happened to meet the author’s at Children’s Book World so we even have signed editions!        

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill and Theodore Taylor

We gifted this book and I keep wishing I’d held on to it. With beautiful depictions of urban New York, we get one version of the story of how hip hop was born. 


2016 Blog Round-Up

The reason I teach: Sharpies. 
As I mentioned in my last post, I have been focusing these past few months on submitting my work out into the world. This has been an excellent challenge for me, but it means I have published fewer words here. Still, I managed to post 20 times this year. Although this is quite a bit less than last year's 33, if I'd gotten ambitious and finished the year with 12 posts for Christmas, I would have been close to the same. I didn't do that, and that's okay. Twenty posts for the year it is.

My third most read post this year was the last of my 10 posts to start the school year: Why I Keep Teaching. It's about Sharpies, and teaching, and why I keep doing this impossible work in an urban public school. Almost 200 people read this blog, and that's about the number of students I interact with every school day, so I appreciate this symmetry, and I enjoyed taking some time to write about my teaching practice.
One of my favorite books from 2015. 

In second, with just one more read, was my first post of the year: The Only Three Books I Loved This Year. My book blog for 2016 is forthcoming, but this was a much better reading year than last. This might have been because I engaged in a #ReadDiverseLit challenge, although I only wrote about three such books (even though I read more), I loved just about every book I read. Maybe my brain is finally recovering from baby-rearing, or maybe I just like books about marginalized people better than others.

But my most read blog, the post that actually ran on Shannon Colleary's popular blog The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful, and on The Huffington Post, is my Culmination Address to the Class of 2016. I wrote this after the UCLA shooting that claimed the life of a professor on campus, and kept all of my eighth grade students and teachers in a lock-down on campus. It was the toughest day in my teaching career, and a day I will always remember. And delivering a culmination address was something I'd never had the opportunity to do before, so I thank Lily Parker, our Speech and Debate coach, for pushing me into this uncomfortable space.

Ah, the Class of 2016... a good one. 
I also wrote about my experience during Black History Month, which taught me so much about privilege and being an ally, and if I added the reads to this series together, it would have made my list, but then again so would my #ReadDiverseLit posts if I added those together, so I will leave it at that.

I have lots more to say. I'm not sure if I will say it all here this year. I think I will be posting quite a bit to start off 2017, but for now, 2016 is in the books.

It has not been an easy year, but I keep hearing the words of author Colson Whitehead, the National Book Award winning author of The Underground Railroad, in my head. This has been my mantra for the last few months and I will carry them, probably, forever.

"Be kind to everybody, make art, and fight the power." 

Yes. That is what I intend to do. Thanks for reading along with me, y'all, and happy New Year!