What’s on Your Shopping List? How About Some… Inspiration?

As the old saying goes, you never know when or where inspiration will strike. Earlier this week, it struck me at… PetSmart.

Not inspiration for a book idea. Or inspiration to adopt another cat (although I pretty much feel the urge whenever I see a homeless kitty). It was more like inspiration, along with affirmation, to keep doing what I’m doing.

Vague? It’s because what I took away was a generalized feeling; it wasn’t about doing any one particular thing. Another reason for the vagueness? Well, I hope to keep you reading!

So. I was in the check-out line at PetSmart chatting with the woman in front of me. For the sake of this post, I’ll call her Susan. Susan mentioned having a severely autistic son and we were discussing her frustration with some of his current and prior services. At some point, I mentioned being a teacher.

She said that the very best years of her son’s education were in elementary school. Susan asked where I taught and when I told her, she lit up. Big. Time.

Guess which school he had attended? You got it! Her son (and daughter) went to the same public elementary school where I now teach.

The view from my school

Susan gushed with warm, funny stories about her son’s experiences at the school. Her stories reflected his great sense of comfort and belonging with his peers, the faculty, and the administration.

Although I just joined the faculty this year and had nothing to do with her son’s experiences, the three adults that Susan mentioned still work at my school; and it made me even prouder to be their colleague.

More than anything, I felt such joy for Susan’s son. It was clear from what she relayed that his positive elementary school experiences still bolster him (and her!). That’s what I want for all kids — for school to be a source of strength.

If that wasn’t enough for me to get the warm fuzzies, Susan told me about her now college-aged daughter. In an essay for a course, her daughter, who is white, discussed how the high degree of diversity at her former elementary school has benefitted her as a person.

This woman’s takeaway from elementary school means the world to me. I believe deeply that interacting with people from various backgrounds is one of the most valuable things about school; and is one of the most promising ways for us to work toward understanding and peace in our world.

And here’s my general takeaway from my chat with Susan, something I’ve long believed as a teacher, writer, mom, and person: If we go with our gut and trust our process, which can sometimes be difficult to implement, good things come of it – and sometimes we don’t know what those things are until far down the road. Often we never find out (and that’s okay).

I told you — vague! But this “feeling” or way of living has helped guide me. And it was lovely to see it play out, albeit through other people.

I let my three colleagues know about my encounter with Susan. It felt like a rare and deep honor – confirming for them that the seeds they had planted years ago had blossomed in Susan’s children. My colleagues were delighted to hear it.

Daffodils in my yard from 366 days ago today; they’re on the verge of blooming again today.

This is why most teachers teach (and why most children’s writers write). Despite how challenging our work may be at times, we love kids and want to make some kind of positive difference in their lives — today and tomorrow.

Little did I know when I raced into PetSmart to pick up cat food that I’d leave with that happy message to deliver to my colleagues. And with all that inspiration and affirmation for me to keep plugging along.

Hey, next time you head into a store, keep your eyes and ears open. You never know what else you may pick up along with the items on your shopping list!

Until we meet again,

Amy

Writing, Teaching, and Momming: Living Three Dreams, Connected by Kids

Photo via Visualhunt.com

The day after Donald Trump was elected President on 11/8/16, America woke up to a country on the verge of a seismic shift. The next four years would bring earth-shattering change.

No. Doubt. About. It.

For many Americans — the majority, according to the popular vote — this news was shocking and devastating. Was I devastated? Yes. Was I shocked? No. Had I continued to live in my liberal bubbles of Brooklyn, Boston, and San Francisco, I probably would’ve been shocked.

But I had spent the previous 15 years living in Central Virginia which had vastly changed my view of America. On the one hand, it had challenged some stereotypes I had held of the South — partly because I’d been living in another liberal bubble, Charlottesville. This college town had shown me, first-hand, many fiercely inclusive individuals and groups.

On the other hand, it had shown me, up close and personal, a side of America that had not before been part of my Northern urban experience. Like Confederate flags waving proudly from cars rolling down the highway I take daily.

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So, that fateful morning, when I broke the news to my younger daughter, then eleven years old, she said matter-of-factly, “Well, there goes America as we know it.” She paused for a few seconds. “You know, Obama is the only President I’ve ever known.”

And that gave me pause. I felt a seismic shift within myself.

I hadn’t considered that fact. She was three years old when Barack Obama was elected. Then, as a first grader, she heard him speak in Charlottesville on his re-election campaign tour. Yeah. She had spent her preschool and elementary school years growing up in a country where the man who occupied the White House was a person of color. A highly intelligent and compassionate man who loves people including, and perhaps most of all, kids.

She, too, felt the loss and a concern for America.

Waiting on a very hot day — one hour for tickets, then another 1.5 hours before hearing President Obama speak. Miya was a trooper — and excited!

******

Once upon a time, becoming a reading teacher to kids had been a dream. And it came true. As two educators, my husband and I moved from Brooklyn to Charlottesville to buy a house and start a family. At the age of 35 years old, I left the classroom and stayed home with our girls, my next dream realized. I stayed busy taking care of the girls and the house, volunteering at their elementary school, and working on my first picture book. When it came time to commit to a career in 2014, I chose writing for kids — yet another dream.

******

When I woke up on 11/9/16, writing was still front and center. I was only 2.5 years into it, had just launched my website eight months prior, and hadn’t yet started submitting manuscripts. But suddenly, writing didn’t feel like enough.

Kids had long been at the heart of my goals, but now I felt a deep sense of urgency to be with kids — literally.

I was working hard at writing. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears, I was loving it. Yet the longer I worked at it, the more I realized that it would take a long time to publish another book… and to reach kids (and frankly, to also earn income — but that’s another blog post).

And each day that Trump continued in office as President, I sat in front of my computer screen in horror as kids were suffering at the hands of his administration. Economically disadvantaged kids. Kids of color. LGBT+ kids. Migrant kids. Kids seeking political asylum.

KIDS!

This is not to say that life had been perfect for them before — far from it — but this was a whole different ballgame. I felt helpless and, like so many other Americans, wanted to do something that would make an immediate and continuous impact.

Well, there goes America as we know it,” said my then eleven-year-old daughter. She paused for a few seconds. “You know, Obama is the only President I’ve ever known.”

******

If I had multiple published books and others under contract, I’d have continued full steam ahead. I’d be reaching kids (and earning an income), as are many children’s authors with their books and school visits. I admire and applaud their hard-won achievements and continued efforts.

While chasing my writing dream, another dream re-emerged. Without letting go of writing, I found myself wanting to step back into teaching. I pursued my recertification in VA and applied for part-time jobs. On 11/7/18, nearly two years to the date when Trump became President, I started a job as a reading teacher at a highly diverse elementary school.

It feels right to be back with kids. And to be in a community with adults who are working, day in and day out, on behalf of kids. Each morning I fill up with hope and see the possibility for a better America when I walk through the school doors.

I’m making my way back into the classroom and learning alongside my students every day. I’m eager to help them gain skills to become better readers and writers. Just as much, I hope they’ll know that I’m on their side.

Getting to know my students, as they share favorite authors and books

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Especially during this transition time, I’ve had to pace back from writing. I miss it, like I missed being with kids. I’m lucky to be able to work part-time and continue to write; I’ll do so as long as my family can afford it. Regardless, I’ll always find a way to write.

I’ve been working on a historical fiction picture book manuscript, off and on, for 1.5 years. I’ve taken it as far as I can and will be submitting it soon. Fingers crossed! Then I’ll be returning to a picture book biography manuscript that I set aside last month. Can’t wait!

******

We can carry multiple dreams in our hearts. They don’t die. They just need to be patient until it’s their turn again. Sometimes it takes a seismic shift, sometimes not.

I’m very lucky that I can pursue two dreams: teaching and writing. Wait, make that three: being a mom. Teaching, writing, and momming – for me, that’s the stuff that dreams are made of. They bring challenges, including the challenge of juggling it all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My new classroom, filled with books!

Until we meet again,

Amy