I’m a worrier by nature — or maybe by nurture since I’m the oldest of my siblings and things when I was growing up weren’t always calm and idyllic. It doesn’t really matter why — only that I worry so others don’t have to. You’re welcome.
But I worry over really stupid things (like did I make enough veggies for dinner to make sure the family doesn’t get scurvy?). I don’t need big, consequential things to make me lose sleep. So you can imagine, after this week of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and the repeal of DACA, what my week has been like. I can nap easily — just give me a comfy couch and out I go — but that deep sleep of children and teenagers? Don’t make me laugh.
This week, my younger daughter had her senior portraits taken. This time, I knew what to expect and so I was able to calm my angst. Unfortunately, once I saw her under the photographer’s gentle lights with that black drape over her shoulders — and later when she wore a generic cap and gown and held a pretend diploma — I was kind of surprised by how quickly my tears surfaced. The photographer looked at me and asked, “Is this one your baby?” There must be tell-tale tears over which child you might be crying over. I miss the older one like crazy — but I cannot imagine not having either one in the house next year. The quiet will keep me up at night.
I know, because this week has been particularly quiet. My husband is traveling on business and the dog, a lab, who only loves my husband, had to go to doggy care because he also gets insomnia when Husband is away. He’ll wake me several times a night just to sniff the air in the backyard, convinced I’ve hidden his owner out there. My own insomnia is bad enough; I just can’t deal with Toby’s too.
Thankfully, this morning, my husband is flying home from Japan. He’s on the plane now, as I write. I’m at my kitchen table, with my cup of coffee, spread out and comfy. He’s crammed in a middle seat, eating plastic food off of plastic plates. I’m just glad he’s on his way home, at least back into our time zone. For a week, I wasn’t sure if I was texting him in the middle of the night or interrupting an important meeting. It felt like we were in alternate universes and I didn’t care for it. North Korea did its best to convince Husband’s company that it wasn’t safe to send them overseas by lobbing missals over Japan, but business is business you know. I was just a wee bit snarky even as I tried to be cool with him going. We both knew I’d have no other choice but to deal.
My older daughter goes to school in Bozeman, MT, which is technically safe from all the devastating fires (yeah, the fires that no one seems to be reporting on much even though Mother Nature has lost her mind — or Climate Change has finally had its say — and there are bigger fish to fry). But she called the other night, after day 2 of smoke-induced migraines, telling me that the sun had been a brilliant chalky-pastel red that day. The way she described it was like something out of a sci-fi novel. So not natural. It didn’t give me warm fuzzy feelings. According to Daughter, Big Sky Montana is, right now, looking a lot like a winter-gray-sky New Jersey — but instead of cloud cover, it’s a thick layer of smoke that’s settled in. They need rain or snow desperately — but they could also use a little help. Too bad the Feds are busy in Texas and Florida — and firefighters in neighboring states are busy fighting their own burning forests.
And Florida! I never realized how many friends I have living in Florida. Facebook makes it feel like they’re down the block. Some have chosen to evacuate, to get away from Irma’s wrath, while others have chosen to stay and hunker down. Between cable news and friends’ frantic posts, I know that the anticipation for this monster storm is huge. That must be why the phrase “the calm before the storm” carries such a punch — the fear knocks you for a loop even before the punch has landed in your gut. I had started thinking that living in earthquake-land was better since it removed the pummeling anticipation, but then . . .
MEXICO! I heard about their 8.1 earthquake just before midnight and spent the whole night worrying about friends and family of friends who live in Mexico. A better sense of geography and where towns are located might have helped calm me, but I didn’t feel better until the sun came up and I could contact folks to find out that they were ok. I mentioned the earthquake to my 7th graders, and one girl’s reaction — her eyes sprung wide open — will haunt me for a long time. She has family in Mexico but hadn’t heard yet about the earthquake. I did my best to calm her, even while knowing that I had no idea what I was talking about. Recognizing a fellow-worrier, I knew that calming her until she really needed to worry is key to having enough energy for all the worrying you might have to do. See how complicated this worrying thing is?
Finally — the president’s repeal of DACA didn’t worry me so much as tear my heart apart. DACA recipients are my neighbors, my students, my friends. I immediately took to Facebook and Twitter, knowing that my voice — my sphere of influence — is tiny compared to the need. That didn’t stop me. I lashed out — I responded with both anger and love. Mostly, I lost more sleep.
Where I have the most influence isn’t in the world of power and politics (although I wish I could shake things up with a tweet or a postcard). Where I have the most influence is at home with my family (ok — maybe not so much anymore since both my girls are well into their teenage, who-needs-mom years) and in my classroom, with my 7th graders.
And that’s when a tiny twist of fate and an alignment of the stars (the ones my daughter can’t see right now in Montana) brought the real world and my curriculum in sync. This Monday, one of my two classes will be lucky enough to take a short walk to the Public Library where we will watch as people from nine different countries take the oath of Citizenship to call this place home. The kids will then gift a flower and a “welcome home” card to each of the new citizens. Since I can only take one class to the naturalization ceremony, the other class will be watching two films in our multi-purpose room, complete with popcorn and chips (of course!). The first short film is “4.1 Miles” about Syrian refugees landing on the the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos and the other, a story on 60 Minutes about the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” After their respective experiences, each class will pen a letter to the other about what they learned and what they felt about their experiences. The following day, we’ll start reading an excerpt from “Barrio Boy” about a Mexican boy who enters an American classroom as a newcomer, not understanding English. Imagine.
All of these experiences will focus on the question of what it’s like to leave one’s home and end up in a foreign land. Why do people leave their homes? Why do they choose another? What’s it like when you don’t share the new culture or even the language? What responsibilities do the rest of us bear in helping others? How do we live out our values in the world, especially when times get tough?
I lose sleep over all of these issues, but most particularly in how I can better prepare my students to take over some day. Because seriously — they are my greatest hope for this weary world. They’re the ones who will listen to Mother Nature and take the bold steps to coax her back from pushing us all over the edge.
For now . . . I’m going to take a nap. World, please don’t do anything rash while I’m asleep.