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To Cry

She was ready for a shower. The day  long. The time stressful. The mind muted.

What was that  that Malcolm and Donaldbain said upon their father’s murder in Macbeth

Our tears are not yet brew’d/ Nor our strong sorrow/Upon the foot of motion.

Keep busy, and the emotion won’t get to you.

Shiva houses are busy places, especially when you’re not the mourner, but just the child of one. Chairs need to be rearranged, phones answered, messages taken and forwarded.  Food needs to be organized, prepared, cleared. There is no time to mourn for the mourner’s child, there is too much to be done.

But now she was home. And she was tired. And with the slowing motions of the day, the sorrow crept up and tapped on her shoulder. One minute she told it. I’ll recognize and embrace you in a moment; I’m going to shower and there I will cave. I will let you envelop me, crush me, overwhelm me. But I will be alone, and the water will soothe and mingle with my tears, so it will be ok.

She was ready for a shower and stepped into the tub. She was eager to cry. Ready for the catharsis. But the water was cold. She turned the knob; it would turn no more. The water was warm, but too cold. She was back in camp where showers were often cold and pressure low, and movement had to be fast. But she couldn’t move. She was frozen. The tears stopped, and mind blocked. Survival mode was engaged, to just get clean and out of the shower fast.

But she wanted to cry. She needed to cry. Cry away from her kids and her husband looking on sympathetically, but powerless. Urgently  she turning the knob though she knew it was futile. The water was cold. And then she cried. Not for her loss, not for her grandfather, not for the clenched fist around her heart. She cried that she couldn’t cry.

Bent over, dank clumps of hair matted her shoulders and she held herself and shivered. Tears fell, and her body shook. And she was cold. The water was cold. So cold. And she cried for her sorrow’s loss.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Family, Memoir, Writing

 

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Those Who Don’t Learn History…

I have so many childhood memories. Most of them involve me getting into trouble, or being embarrassed in some form or another. A story of my second-grade self just came up the other day while teaching. My students asked in wonderment “How do you remember that!?”. The answers simple, when you’re hurt, you don’t forget, because if you do, it might happen again.

I suppose when I think about it, I have the happy clichéd childhood memories, of sitting on our front stoop playing watermelon, and pretending that the etchings in the stones by the front of the house made a perfect hopscotch board, and playing tap tap trio, and eating ices, trading stationary and the like. They’re not individual memories though; they’re collective.

I don’t remember single times that I played elimination in front of the house. It was something we did every day. I don’t remember all savvy stationary trades I made, just that we did it often and I had a great collection. The only individual memories I have on these collective ones, are the bad one – where things went wrong – not super right. Like the time Elisheva Link bombed a ball into my belly and it hurt so much I sat out the rest of the gain and everyone laughed at my for being weak. Or the time Zahava Feller tried to trade my Lisa Frank stationary for her Snoopy reinforcements, and Miri, my sister, interfered and told her off for offering me such a bad trade. I suppose that should be a good memory, I was spared, but I remember feeling ashamed that I was almost conned, and why didn’t I know this myself.

I was recently reminded of a third grade tale – the time I returned a WAY overdue book to the Bais Yaakov libarary, and I was so afraid to tell Mrs. Florence, the librarian, because she was scary, she had a short pointy nose, blue eyes that bulges with veins, and of course the requisite high shrill of librarians. You can’t really blame a third grader for being afraid. So I put the book down on her desk, like it was any other return, and walked briskly away.

Later on in the day, there was a student messenger knocking on my classroom door. She held a note, which my teacher proceeded to read out loud. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember it, recounting what I had done, and the words “and ran away!”. My teacher read those words with much drama. I wanted to protest, to explain, and maybe deny, but I was just so embarrassed by my actions being revealed publically, not just revealed, but reprimanded, and in a way, almost mocked.

Why did they have to do that, both of them, the librarian and my teacher. What point and purpose was there for the librarian to write a dramatic note to my teacher? Address my mother, or me, or really address it, don’t just point out my wrongdoings. And why did my teacher read it aloud? What gain was there besides for just shaming me into more misbehavior.

When I was in High School, I met the librarian. I was helping out the school Chinese auction, and she was the grandmother of one of the heads. She came to “shep nachas” and put in a few tickets. I couldn’t view her as a grandmother. As a loving person. Someone who could care about someone else. I couldn’t reconcile that incident years ago, with that just being a facets of a person, or job really. It hurt me tremendously.

Most days I laugh at the story. Because it’s funny if you tell it over with the right voices and levity. But there’s a part of me that’ll never forget the eyes wide, and iced grip on the little girl’s heart when she realized that she was the subject in the note her teacher was reading.

People ask me why I teach, why I’ve always wanted to teach. I know I’m supposed to say that I love kids, and I want to share, and help them grow and all that too nice-smiley stuff, but really, most of the time, it’s that history doesn’t repeat itself.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Memoir, Teaching

 

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The Academic versus The Ego

The entire class was huddled together on the itchy patch of commercial carpet in the kindergarten classroom. Our heads craned upward, captivated, watching our teaching tell us all about the wonderful, stupendous, and incomparable letter “C”.

“Ka,” she enunciated the hard sound. “Can anyone think a word that starts with this sound?” All around me, girls raised their hands quickly.

“Candy.”

“Coat.”

I didn’t have any word, or was really sure as to the letter “c”, but they got approving smiles, along with a “Good Job”, and “Excellent”.

I just wanted attention and approval. I raised my hand high, and “oohed” the loudest.

She called on me.

I was so happy. A deep breath, wild and frantic thought for a word, any word, and I said,

“Pizza!”

She said the right thing,

“Good try, Esther, but that’s a ‘p’, not a ‘c’” and she moved onto the next kid.

But her face.

Her face, of course, told me otherwise. With lips twisted in a hidden smirk, right brow slightly raised, it plainly said,

“Seriously? A ‘p’ for a ‘c’? Moron.”

The teacher’s comment on my end-of-the-year report card read.

Esther is very withdrawn in class, it has not impacted her academic performance, but it is of concern, relative to her social interactions with her peers. We will be noting it, and keeping an eye on her progress.

I know “Lo habeishan lomed” (the bashful does not learn), but for me, I think Fiero of “Wicked” had it right when he sang, “Those who don’t try, never look foolish”.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Memoir, Writing

 

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Student of the Weak

Betonwerksteinskulptur "Lehrer-Student&qu...

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Every 3rd grade teacher has a reward system to keep the little brats in line, mine had “Student of the Week”. Thursday’s Mrs. Landau would announce who the best behaved student was for the week, and the following week, they would hold the prized position of “Student of the Week”.

The Student of the week had a lot of privileges. First, she got to sit in the second row, first seat, close to the teacher and door. She also got to run all of Mrs. Landau’s errands: go the office to pick up photocopies, get Mrs. Landau a drink of water, pass out papers and the like. Looking back, we were all just vying to be her personal slave, but back then, there wasn’t anything we wanted more.

Best of all privileges, the Student of the Week got to wear a pin with ribbons on it that read “Student of the Week”. Worn every day, all the girls in the class, grade, and anyone she’d meet in the school during the duration of her reign would know of her accomplishment, of her status.

I wanted everyone to know how great and special I was. I wanted to be Student of the Week. But it was so hard. Every week something happened that I knew would take me out of the running. Once, I came in late for recess, another time I called out. Other times, I whispered in class for my friend to give me a pencil, and then sometime, I didn’t have the right books on the right day, even if she gave us a chart telling us what we needed when. There were also those weeks that I was ok, but other girls were better than me.

Patiently, I waited my turn, waiting for the day where the sun would shine on me, and I would be among the chosen glorious.

Mrs. Landau said that every girl would have the opportunity to be Student of the Week at least once, before anyone got a second chance. So I knew, that even if I wouldn’t earn it, I’d one day, by default come into respect.  I kept a secret class list, and carefully maintained records of who was student of the week, who was still left, and when could I possibly secure my place and validity.

The weeks went by, and my name wasn’t called, but it was ok, there was still time. And then came the week where I knew I would have to be crowned, everyone else had had their moment in the sun. I behaved extra well that week, I wanted to deserve it, even though I knew it was coming to me. I kept myself in check. I didn’t push in line, I didn’t lose my place reading, I kept my desk neat, and none of my pencils rolled noisily off my desk. And on Thursday I waited for the inevitable confirmation.

It didn’t come.  

Mrs. Landau started off saying how excited she was to call this girl’s name, what a model student she was and how beautiful she conducted herself all week, and we should all learn from her. I leaned forward in my seat expectantly, so proud that I had really done it right. But then she said,

“Chani Green, come up!”

She called a different girl’s name, not mine. Not Brenda Stein. She called up a girl who had a chance early on in the year. A naturally sweet, angelic, organized, well-behaved girl. A girl who would have won have won every week if she were in the running. Won it without breaking a sweat, or giving a thought.

I slid down in my seat, embarrassed. She didn’t call me, she had ignored me, and all my efforts, passed me over. I had tried so hard, this was supposed to be my moment, but now it was another to enjoy, again. I was heartbroken, and hurt, I didn’t understand how this could have happened. I calculated correctly, there was no error, this title was supposed to be mine, except it wasn’t.

The next week, Chani Green took my seat in the second row, first seat. And she performed all of my duties. I didn’t try anymore. There was no effort to participate, to listen, to behave, to be. I was cheated out of my 3rd grade dream with no explanation.

The next year, I vowed to start fresh. I would behave, participate, be organized. I had a rough start the first week, but I was determined to make it work. On Monday of the second week of school, there was knock on my classroom door. A small girl with frizzy red hair popped her head in and requested that I come out. Puzzled, I exited the classroom, and when I looked at her, I didn’t see her large flaming hair, put was drawn to the pin on her chest, Mrs. Landau’s “Student of the Week” pin.

Mrs. Landau wanted me to erase my name that I had written in pencil (no pens allowed until 5th grade) in the back of several of my textbooks, the Student of the Week explained. She led me to stack of books and handed me an eraser.

The back staircase was cold on my bottom, where I sat erasing my name. There were other names of previous students written of the white canvas, but she called me. I was a failure of a student, I could never be a “Student of the Week” under any teacher. Having her current prized pupil pull me out of class and reprimand me on her behalf, was a slap in the face letting me know my worth.

There went my year.

And other teacher’s tried. They had their systems, their rewards, their different titles, but they were all the same to me – I never tried to be a Student of the Week again.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Memoir

 

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Teaching History: A Memoir

Statue of James Oglethorpe, founder of Augusta...

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I reviewed, I promise you. I even knew the answer, really I did. Just not when you asked me the question.

You’re looking at me, disappointed, annoyed, maybe even a little frustrated. Your wide green eyes are boring into me inquisitively, accusatorily. Your mouth is set in a firm line, and your jaw thrust forward demanding authority. I want to give you what you ask for. I prepared to give you what you wanted, but I can’t ; I just don’t remember. And all the little tricks and hints I prepared have disappeared along with my confidence and security. You hold your blue roll book in your hand, and after waiting the appropriate time, and me protesting that I really knew the answer, you shake your head and made a mark in the book. I knew it was a red minus next to my name; a minus on reflecting on me.

I knew I had a hard time remembering his name. I remember you saying it for the first time, and I giggled inside; it was funny sounding, but rolled off the tongue at the same time. I can tell you all about him; he founded the state of Georgia as a place for the “worthy poor”. After his friend died in debtors prison, he was outraged at their poor conditions and petitioned for a land to be given to rehabilitate petty criminals, people with outstanding debts. The English Parliament granted him the land of Georgia (then just known as the land below the Carolinas) not so much because they believed in his cause, but they  wanted the land inhabited to serve a buffer zone to Florida which was then under Spanish rule, and who better to inhabit it than the less worthy members of society.

See, I told you I knew everything about him, doesn’t that count for something? Just this one tiny detail ruins me in your eyes. That I’m no longer on top, invincible, brilliant. I slipped up. Once. That doesn’t mean I’m not everything you thought of me. That doesn’t negate everything I’ve done up until now.

Till today I can still vividly recall walking down the back staircase to lunch. Shaina Rochel I and  were in the front of the pack. I had a running monologue going, a review of yesterday’s history lesson. I kept getting stuck on his name. Shaina Rochel had to remind me of it at least twice. We were walking down the last staircase on ground level, ahead was one of the school entrances, on the side a door for the A floor and further down, the lunch room, with smells vegetable soup with too much lima beans and slippery macaroni wafting upward, beckoning.  I started repeating his name over and over again. I said you’d for sure call on me for this question, because I was having such a hard time with it. When I said that, I didn’t really believe it. I meant it as hyperbole. And like a bad novel, you called on me, like I said you would, and I drew a blank.

I met you at a wedding 8 years later. I reminded you of who I was. I’ve grown a lot since 7th grade. We talked about what I’ve been doing with my life, teaching, who I still kept up with from the class, and what not. You smiled and told me what a brilliant student you remember me as, but I just kept thinking about his name. What it all represented to me. And I still haven’t forgotten James Oglethorpe.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2010 in Memoir, Teaching

 

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Anticipation Dissipation

I was reflecting on my first ever date…and decided to write a short memior on the experience…enjoy.

 

I was hoping for it to be a memoir, I really wanted it to, something I could relate to my children fondly, nostalgically in years to come, but it didn’t turn out like that.

The last few minutes are the worst. I was in the back of the house just waiting, pacing. My chest ached, my stomach traveled upward and clenched and unclenched itself in varying intervals. My body would randomly freeze and then slowly unfreeze itself. I was fine, really I was.

I looked down at my shoes. I was wearing my brown Aldo cockroach killers. They made my ankles look awesome; pretty impressive with such a low heel, only two inches, nothing compared to my usual 3 ¾ inch stacked pumps.

Suddenly, I didn’t know how to walk in heels.

Why didn’t I walk out of the shoe?

How did it stay on?

How do I walk in a straight line?

What about balance?

Funny, my walk in heels is legendary, I’ve taught so many friends how to keep themselves poised, balanced, and elegant in heels, yet, I was now a pubescent 13 year old taking her first teetering steps. I could almost hear the awful grating of the heel against pavement.

What was wrong with me?

How would I not fall?

What should I do about the threshold, how high do I have to raise my foot?

Three more minutes to D-day, literally. D, meaning date, my first, EVER.

It’s the oddest thing really, because it’s just not my type. I’m the cocky confident, never-get-phased girl. I’m the girl who actually walks out of the classroom when the class agrees that if the teacher kicks one of out, we’d all leave. I’m the girl who runs up the down escalator, and stops soldiers to thank them for their service to our country. I don’t get affected by these things.

I am not a cliché-I refuse to be.

And there I was, quivering in my size 8 heels.

These things come out of nowhere. One day you’re a little girl imagining, dreaming of your first date, what you’ll wear, what you’ll say, how you’ll act, what to say, what not to say. Then there is a phone call. It can be a cousin, an aunt, a family friend, a friends mother, a professional shadchan, anyone really. In my case, it was my grandmother’s first cousin, I’m not even sure of the technical term for our relationship, something something removed. Probably. In any case, I went from girl to women in seconds; it was scary. No more fantasies, it was now an anticipated reality.

They said yes already, and for the next few days, it was just a flurry of phone calls. I heard the name, but tried not to focus on the fact that it actually represented a person. Everything sounded good, and I started to listen to what they were saying.

“He’s a budding Talmud Chacham”

“He’s brilliant”

“Very opinionated and worldly”

“Not your typical, excellent middos”

Everything I was looking for.

Maybe?

I tried his name on for size. It didn’t sound so bad, maybe even had a certain je ne sais quas.

The more information, the more I tried on.

“He’s very articulate.”

“If his family wants you, grab it”

“Finest people”

By the time my parents had given a yes, a date had been arranged and I was dressed waiting for him to arrive for our first date, we were married with five children.

The doorbell rang.

I froze.

My father calmly went to answer it; I’m his third girl and he knows the routine cold. I heard padded footsteps on the carpeted stairs.

My chest was closing in.

Breathe, I told myself.

I counted down five minutes to myself, that was enough time for my parents to interrogate him, right? I inhaled deeply and stretched my arms out in front of me. They creaked. I practiced my smile in bathroom mirror. It reflected a pale fake. It was amazing how not me I was. I took a few hesitant steps toward the dining room. In my head I was saying,

“Oh my G-d, Leah, you loser, it’s a date for G-d sake.” So much for a pep talk. My pace picked up as I put on my “confidence walk” as my friend calls it. It’s really more of a strut, and I made my entrance.

The moment I entered, and saw him sitting there awkwardly at my dining room table, our five kids were gone, and instead my vain self went Oh G-d no!

So much for the nerves, the anxiety, and anticipation.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on November 21, 2008 in Shidduchim

 

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Critique Please

 

I plan on teaching my students to write memoirs. I try to do everything I assign my students. I wrote a memoir, it’s a bit rough, let me know what you think.

Facing Myself

 

I knew she was going to call on me. I knew because everyone told me she was going to. They knew because yesterday when I was absent she had called on me to read the posuk. When she realized I wasn’t there, she had said she would call on me the next day. 

 

I sat there in my seat; it was the second to last seat in the last row closest to the windows. I was holding my breath with a sick queasy feeling in my stomach; I sat there, and waited for her to call my name. The air-conditioner protruded slightly into my desk space. I tried to focus on the knobs and switches, but I knew she was going to call on me; everything just blurred.

            I didn’t get along with her. I had a big mouth, and she, a turned up nose. She didn’t have the best complexion, so she tried to cover it up with make-up. She would put on too much foundation, and wouldn’t blend it in properly. I would snigger and point at the dark unnatural patches along her jaw line. I don’t think she liked that. She was a permanent substitute. Miss Weiss got married and moved to Israel, and we got stuck with her, Miss Fried.

            I was never good at reading Hebrew. I was never good at memorization. So when it came to memorizing the translation of the Chumish in Yiddish (another language foreign to me) I was a lost case. She knew that, so she’d threaten me with it. If I wasn’t good she’d threaten to make me read a posuk. Today she wasn’t just threatening; today it was happening. I’d be made a fool of in front of my entire class.

In truth, I wasn’t really scared of my class, but more of myself. I knew I didn’t know the material, but the teacher couldn’t be sure of that unless she tested me. I wouldn’t be proven stupid to myself until she tested me. Once I couldn’t answer her demands I’d know I was stupid, it would be confirmed. There were no more maybes, no more pretending once she called on me. I’d be stupid, and that’s what I was afraid of.

            None of my classmates thought of me as stupid. I was tops in English studies. They didn’t know how scared I was. They couldn’t feel the bile rising in my throat. I was cool. I acted like I didn’t care. The problem was, I cared too much, and this was the only way to defend myself. I tried to pull myself together. Tried to focus on the open Chumish in front of me, but she was going to call on me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“Naomi Zeigler”

            My body contracted instantly. Like it was trying to shrink and hide, make me disappear. I looked up at her, and in opposition to everything I felt, I responded very cockily.

“Yes.” I answered, more as a statement than a question. She matched my gaze and said,

“Read posuk zayin for us, please.”

She called on me, just like they said she would. Just like I knew she would eventually. She knew what she was doing to me. She knew, and enjoyed it.

I never forgave her.

 

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 9, 2008 in Teaching

 

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