This post by Frank Nappi from The Badass Teachers Association is fantastic! I relate to it in a few ways. A long time ago, I was an educator /counselor in the Israeli army education branch (Gadna) of the IDF in 1985-1987 for my two-year service. I worked in a poor and disadvantaged rural community in the Northern Negev. Many of the children I worked with had illiterate parents with minimal grade school or no education of their own. They were some of the most warm, welcoming, caring, and generous people I’ve ever met. And they were also suspicious of me, the army, and outsiders in general. They held patriarchal, conservative, religious, and superstitious views of society. Women’s roles were defined as wives, mothers, caregivers, food makers, house cleaners–traditional, old world views that were entrenched in their lives and viewpoints which they had brought with them from the social norms of the day in various Middle Eastern countries.
They had been placed in these remote settlements, in my opinion, wrongfully set aside and marginalized by the establishment of the country. They felt ignored and for good reason. They made the best of their situation as they had no choice. One family grew flowers. One had fields of radishes. Their homes were small but very clean. They made delicious food and hung laundry on clothes lines outside.
The women seemed to work harder than the men, and they showed it in their bodies which appeared older than their ages, always serving others. They were tired, but never stopped. They always wanted the best for their children.
When I entered their homes, I was treated with respect and the well-known, Middle Eastern hospitality; immediate offers to sit down, and an abundance of food and drink placed before me in an instant. It was considered an insult to refuse and I learned quickly to always accept tea, water, a delicious pastry–something. The children I worked with ranged from elementary school to high school and beyond. I taught in classrooms, in fields, in bomb shelters, around kitchen tables, on the side of dirt roads, etc. It took a while to gain their trust. To do that, I made house calls. One house at a time, meeting the parents and grandparents, explaining why I was there. Showing them that even though I was a woman and in the army (which they generally disapproved of), that I was a decent person, that I meant no harm, that I was there to help their children. I listened to their stories.
I realized early on that the children primarily needed attention and love along with help channeling aggression and frustration. They needed me to show up and wait for our group meetings even though no one came at first. I told them when I’d be there and I waited. Eventually, they started coming. Just a few, then more, then all the kids that could. We played theater games and role played situations to help them deal with all kinds of issues and problems. I did art projects with them and we played for hours. I had a general curriculum we were expected to follow, but within that, I had a lot of flexibility to do whatever worked with my group. I made sure to follow what was prescribed to us, but I made it as fun as I could, and I often added my own topics or ways of delivery.
One of the older students was the leader and all the others followed her. She was smart, funny, cheeky, and gave me the hardest time. I started bringing a camera to my meetings and visits. I started photographing the children and showing them the pictures. Many suffered from low self-esteem, so I decided that showing them how I perceived them, how I saw their surroundings (they thought it was ugly, but I saw beauty in it), would maybe help them start seeing themselves as worthy and beautiful human beings.
It worked. It also gave me chance to hand my camera to the students themselves, and I showed them how to use the camera. A camera was not something most of them had, so it was a novelty. My father gave me one of his Nikon cameras to use. That was kind of big deal. I was always afraid it would get ruined by the sand and dust that was everywhere, but it survived just fine.
The students had a blast posing for the camera and thought it was silly that I kept telling them, Just do your thing and I’ll grab the pictures. You don’t have to pose. But pose they did. Showing off bike tricks, running, “Look what we can do!” I praised them for their strengths and abilities and offered support and help where they lacked confidence or knowledge. I often helped them with homework, never doing it for them, but tutoring and helping them arrive at their own answers. The most difficult student came around to me. She loved the camera and taking pictures. Once she accepted me and started changing her attitude, the rest followed suit.
Long after I finished my army service, I learned that she had become a photographer. It was a truly gratifying moment. I wondered if my work with her had anything to do with her choice to pursue photography. I’ll never know for sure, but it could be, and that’s enough to think about how much one person can influence another when you’re able to teach in the best possible way. No tests or punishments. Just love, attention, communication, and learning to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The information and academics followed from that and were weaved in between the games, playing, conversations about things that mattered to the students. All the topics got covered, but first the work was about building relationships. They had to trust me first. I had to meet them where they were.
As was written in The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery:
I adore Mary Oliver and her poem, “I Have Decided” (from A Thousand Mornings, Poems). When I read this (or much of her other work), I feel understood. Yes, that’s what I mean to say —what I think —what I believe —want to believe…Yes, I’m following you. This is a precise capturing of complicated thoughts and feelings distilled into what feels to me like having the best ice cream sundae with a cherry on top on a sunny day where everything is clear and you’re with your favorite people.
I love that such big ideas are expressed in so few words. There’s nothing like reading something that resonates and feels true at exactly the moment I need to receive those words. They swirl around in my head, reaching into things I need or want to think about, or work on. They inspire me and answer questions I have and raise more questions, too. Gratitude to Mary Oliver.
Again, in the unfolding of yet another epic tragedy this day, Friday, December 14, 2012. Reading in tiny bits, because I can’t tolerate and function as a good mother if I allow myself to read or watch or see too much and my job is to protect and take care of my son first, before everything or anything else. Max is home sick today. Were he at school, I might have driven over there to take him home upon hearing the news. Or I’d have resisted, telling myself, but he’s safe there. But, he’s here, so I’ve got the good fortune to know he’s OK. I’m considering homeschooling at this moment. The information isn’t palatable, it isn’t acceptable, it is too awful, too heartbreaking, too senseless, beyond understanding—-the horrifying news about Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, today. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this monumental tragedy today.
My current Facebook status:
“Our country must find a way to stop the gun insanity now. I feel like a broken record along with many other voices screaming into the wind about this for ages now. How many more of these insane, senseless, heartbreaking tragedies will occur before we stop this? This country is on a killing spree. Apparently, there is a green light and OK to gun down wolves and other helpless animals. It is apparently also acceptable in our country to gun down children in schools. The mentality and warped thinking behind both the reckless treatment of wildlife and abuse of the environment here and our citizens — is one and the same. Approximately 32 people die daily from gun violence. They die in places that never make the national news. We have to make it NOT BE OK ANYMORE FOR THIS TO HAPPEN ANYWHERE. It has to stop. The violent gun culture and bullying from the NRA and all those who are beholden to the money and greed and who have twisted the “Right to bear arms” into something completely insane, must be taken down and stopped. Our children deserve better than this. We all deserve better. And we can do better and we simply have to. But it will take large numbers of MORE people speaking up and protesting and writing letters and holding our leaders accountable. Please help be the change on this.”
Mothers and fathers holding their breath and waiting and finding out something that one doesn’t wish on an enemy; the loss of a child. The murder of children. Children. At school. The words, multiple victims. 100 rounds. Maybe more. The complete and utter insanity of our country’s gun laws; weapons of war with ridiculously easy access to anyone; the criminal, the insane, the hopeless, the angry, the mentally unstable, the killer, the one who fell through the cracks of the system. Anyone. The screaming into the wind of advocates and activists and mayors and teachers and doctors and nurses and citizens, parents and children –—screaming into the cold wind today, falling on knees, lost in grief today. Today, yesterday, and what will tomorrow bring? Monday? How does one go about breathing after this? My heart breaks and aches for the families, the community, the school, the friends and children. It is enough. It is more than enough. Can the lessons please be learned now? I demand answers from our government. I demand change. We must rise up and scream loudly together, please, it must change. It is the seventh night of Chanukah tonight. I want GUN CONTROL. Speaking of light, can our leaders please WAKE UP and see the LIGHT? It is 10 days before Christmas Eve. How about GUN CONTROL for Christmas?
Make no mistake. There is no safe place for our children in America today. There is no school or movie theater or mall or space anywhere that is safe as long as there are weapons and ammunition flowing like milk, every day, everywhere. There is a war in America. There is a war on our children in America. There is a failing mental health system. There is a glorified culture of violence, greed, power, and abuse. There are also wolves being hunted down, innocent, beautiful creatures, gunned down for no reason. It is the same mentality behind the gun control issue and the destruction of our environment and the killing of innocents—wildlife, children. It is the same forces behind both that are evil and power hungry and thoughtless and harmful to all living beings. This is the source of our downfall. It must change. We are all connected. We will all fall down together.
Mothers know that if a child is lost the mother will never recover even if she appears to. Even if “time passes.” Even if “she heals.” Mothers know that losing one’s child is likely the single worst thing that can possibly befall a human being and every mother lives with the fear that something could happen to her child for her entire life and every mother prays that she be the one to go first, as is the natural order of things. And every day, mothers send their children to school, even knowing this. But no one knows the pain of it until it happens to you, the specific mother, for whom life is over in ways that no one understands; each individual loss being unique and irreplaceable and impossible to know. A grief which makes one wish the sun could stop shining, and the moon not rise, or stars evaporate, because your world has become something that cannot be lived in anymore. To live in the pain of that loss is something every mother hopes she never has to face. How does one go on breathing after losing a child? And in this way? I don’t know. This was an elementary school. I don’t know anything anymore.
Every mother is feeling the pain and loss from afar, but the mothers who lost, we can’t even hold or comfort because they’ve just all entered into a different dimension and are on another planet now, even though here on earth, wishing perhaps to be swallowed up, wishing for death, because the pain of the loss is too great to bear.
Would there be a grace to come upon the families, the mothers of the children who have been murdered today. Oh, but we cannot take away what has been done. There is no comfort. There is no grace.
Mothers know that one child lost is too many. Mothers know that if a mother somewhere else is grieving, a mother across the planet will feel her pain and cry real tears of loss with her, a complete stranger, across the world, or next door. But we cannot stand in her place, imagining, heaven forbid, saying that, oh, there but for the grace of God go I, that it could be, heaven forbid, in my child’s school. Whether you believe in God or heaven or not, only imagining for a few minutes at a time, or we’d be collapsed on the floor and we have children we must care for. I don’t believe God has a hand in this. I believe guns and ammunition and gun laws that make no sense and a lack of mental health services are the hand in this. A shooter has a hand in this. The ones he got the guns from have a hand in this. The NRA has a hand in this. The government that won’t change the laws has a hand in this.
So we will reserve our cries for later, in bed, to cry into our pillows over the lives lost and the parents mourning their children. And, if only. If only. Maybe in the future, but that is too late for the people suffering today. All the lives shattered. When can it be enough? The pain is too great, today. It is too great the pain that has taken children away from their mothers and fathers today. And every single one of us must think of the lost children today and their parents’ suffering and imagine standing in their shoes. Then take action. Because we are all potential targets of madmen with guns and it is on all of us to demand change. If ever there was a national crisis, and a moment of reckoning, this is it.
There is no time to wait; this is not political for the sake of politics or party,
This is human survival time. This is the time to demand justice for our children and our wildlife because it is one and the same –behind the killing of children and helpless animals and the ruination of our planet —- allowing that to happen and not stopping it—it is all different shades of murder. Children and our wildlife are innocents. They are to be protected. Not gunned down. Not gunned down in fields or at school. Elementary school. Where is the mercy and the clarity and the wisdom we mothers (and so many fathers) know already? Why are our voices not heard? Who are the men who hate children so much that they must clutch their automatic weapons designed as killing machines for war and tell us they have the right to bear arms in this way? Who does this? Why the guns? When we will our nation say it must stop now? Now. Not next year. Not in six months. Now. Today. Can this be the last time? I’ve asked that before. Countless others have asked it. I doubt it will be the way things are going, even as flags are lowered, as candles are lit, as vigils held, prayers offered in the dark, circles of grief expanding. But I have this deeply held wish that it will change if we all just make enough noise about it. Or is time to leave? Is that the answer? I don’t know anymore. Other countries seem to have this worked out a lot better than we do.
This is the exact time (we are long overdue, but, oh, please, let it be NOW) for a radical change in our gun control laws. It can be done. It can be done. Let’s make it done.
Because a six year old says things like this:
“Drawing is like making your dreams come true. It’s like you’re making a story without words.”
And creates work like this:
And believes that there are safe places.
And believes home and school and the street are safe places.
I hope you’re all safe and sound after the storm. We’re OK.
I just started writing a post about the storm and after the storm. Then I saw a post and pic (see below) on Sesame Street’s Facebook page today. Since this show airs tomorrow –in the NY area, on WNET-13, it’s on at 7:00am—I’m sending this out now.
I highly recommend it for anyone with young children; anyone who may have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy or who knows someone who’s been affected; or for anyone who’s human with access to power and a TV.
As with everything Sesame Street produces, this special episode is helpful for children and grown ups alike. It touches on a range of emotions experienced by so many, but that are often difficult to express, understand, or cope with.
“On Friday, we’ll be airing a very special episode of Sesame Street.
A hurricane has swept through Sesame Street and everyone is working together to clean up the neighborhood. When Big Bird checks on his home, he is heartbroken to find that the storm has destroyed his nest. Big Bird’s friends and neighbors gather to show their support and let him know they can fix his home, but it will take time. While everyone on Sesame Street spends the next few days cleaning up and making repairs, Big Bird still has moments where he is sad, angry, and confused. His friends help him cope with his emotions by talking about what happened, drawing pictures together, and giving him lots of hugs. They also comfort Big Bird by offering him temporary places he can eat, sleep, and play. Big Bird remembers all the good times he had at his nest and realizes that once it is rebuilt, there are more good times and memories to come. Finally the day has come where most of the repairs to Big Bird’s home are done and his nest is complete. As he is about to try it out, though, the city nest inspector says it not safe, yet, because the mud isn’t dry. Big Bird is sad that he has to wait another day, but Snuffy comes to the rescue and blows the nest dry and he passes the test! Big Bird thanks everyone for being his friend and helping to rebuild his nest and his home.”
Please check your local listingsto see what time the episode “Sesame Street Gets Through a Storm” will air on PBS, at
I’m wishing everyone well: All people, animal creatures great and small, trees, homes, businesses, bridges, tunnels — everything. To all those who are working hard to keep us safe, emergency workers, police departments, hospitals, mayors, governors, electric and power companies, reporters, journalists, everyone –thank you for everything you’re doing to keep us safe up and down the East Coast.
This was the sky here yesterday afternoon. It’s getting a bit windy but is still relatively calm-ish. Birds are circling and tweeting and squirrels are scurrying about. The hatches are battened down. We’re as ready as we can be.
This is a big oak that’s on our neighbor’s property that we love and enjoy.
Max helped us set up a Command Central on our kitchen table. He’s actually quite excited and is looking forward to the potential power outage so he can use his flashlight(s). I don’t exactly share his enthusiasm for power outages, but we should be fine if we do have one.
Oy, it’s been too long! Things have been kinda nuts. Max was sick. I was sick. Work. Life. Ah, there’s never enough time in the day, never a dull moment. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover and my brain is swirling, trying to get through my daily to-do list.
I’m thinking about the campaigning, debates, and the upcoming election; how facts don’t matter but eye contact and sound bytes do; that I’m bombarded with daily emails from the PTA. I can’t keep up! I need to breathe into a paper bag. This is going out long so I hope you’ll bear with me, because I’ve got a backlog of stuff I’ve written, and I gotta hit “publish.”
In the next few weeks leading up to the election, I’ll be posting as much as I can. I’m an athieist, yet I find myself saying daily prayers as I go about my business. I figure, what can it hurt? Maybe it’ll help. I say silent ones inside my head if I’m in public. Out loud if I’m at home alone. I reference God, Allah, Jesus, and Buddha. I read books. I look up sources of reason, logic, science, art. I ask questions, attempting to discern fact from fiction. I think of higher powers. I think of the Universe. Stars. I look at trees with their multi-colored leaves falling and their strong bark trunks, in an effort to find hope there, too. I make sure the bird feeder is filled. The birds just sing, oblivious. I’m out of my mind with worry. The stakes are incredibly high.
I’m a proud bleeding heart liberal democrat. During these days, as with all stressful times, our cat, Ringo is my blood pressure reducer and general comforter. There is a creature who is alive, who gives and receives love. We take care of each other. We’re all creatures who are born here on this planet Earth first and foremost, to receive and give love.
There are, and always have been, evil forces at work. It has been so since the beginning of time. History is filled with examples of horrors inflicted by one nation or group upon others, by dictators, by men without souls. Mr. Romney (and his running mate Paul Ryan) are about as evil and scary as they come. I’m petrified for myself, my family, our country, and the world if, heaven forbid, they win. I’m waking up in cold sweats from nightmares. During the day, I get rolling chills or nausea. I’m raiding the Halloween candy daily and drinking way too much coffee.
Little side note: While helping Max fall asleep on Sunday, he was going on and on with a case for why I needed to stay with him all night and how much he loves me. He ended it with: “Ok, comment on that.” Maybe he’s watching too much MSNBC with me.
This is what I wrote following the final presidential debate on foreign policy on Monday, October 22, 2012. Thank you for reading. Stay sane by any means necessary and VOTE like your life depends on it. It does.
After the last presidential debate and last few days:
Let me see if I got this straight: According to smirk, smile, quiver, shift, stare, fake smile, shift, sweat, squirm-Romney, President Obama is responsible for the turmoil and tumult in the Middle East. Never mind thousands of years of complex history. Iran is the scariest one. Israel is a best friend forever. But there’s daylight between us.
Terror needs to be stopped and should never happen again anywhere but if it does, it’s Obama’s fault. Egypt, Syria, Libya, Lebanon–we need to make sure their Arab Spring finally blooms. Why is it taking so long over there to become “civilized?”
We don’t want to drive down a road or path to Greece (which is good because you need to fly or travel by boat to get there from here). China is a currency manipulator. Hello, Sensata, Freehold, IL, Bain-outsourcing much? Devastating more lives and yet another American town as we watch helplessly. But he’ll be tough on China.
On DAY ONE, just as soon as Romney finishes his morning coffee, er, herbal tea party blend, he’s gonna overturn The Affordable Health Care Act aka Obamacare, Roe v. Wade, “get rid of that” Planned Parenthood, and send Big Bird packing up his nest. Then he’ll call China and tell them, no more stealing patents and technology! It’s not nice to steal. Russia and Iran need a proper talking to so they know who’s boss around these here world parts. But, nevermind everything he’s ever said or voted for to date, now he’s for everything President Obama said. Really! It’s all about the moment of now. Wait a minute…now! See how that works? Ya gotta move fast to keep up with his forward /backwards / I didn’t say that /Yes, I did/ No, I didn’t – shell game.
Someone memorized names of cities, terror groups, and even pronounced Ahmadinejad’s name, but Romney sweated profusely throughout, a sure sign of a calm, collected, thoughtful public servant or commander-in-chief to be who speaks the truth. All that lying, flip-flopping, and fake condescending smiling is exhausting. This foreign policy business is hard. You try it.
Gender Equality — ooh, isn’t it exciting when Romney learns a new phrase? It’s a good idea overseas, especially for the Middle East, but here in America, we’ll implement The Whole Binders Full of Women Act which makes much more sense in that most American women would prefer to return to the 1950s, or perhaps even go back farther in time (pick your own favorite oppressive /repressive century). Life was infinitely better for everyone back then, especially for women, who loved baking apple pies all day long, dying in childbirth, tending to their God-given rape and incest children, barely surviving or not surviving their back alley abortions, or dying from cervical or breast cancer due to lack of healthcare and technology like mammograms or pap smears.
Also, women earning less or no money is great for the economy, self-esteem, and equality! That’s why so many American women are trying desperately to move to places like the Congo or Taliban ruled areas where they can be free of such things like rape, murder or Sharia law and finally can become self actualized independent human beings while washing their ragged clothing down by the banks of the blood filled, Malaria contaminated, yet also drought ridden, used to be a river shores.
At the soonest possible opportunity, we’ll get the entire Community of Nations to sit in a drum circle and sing Kumbaya for Peace. Because Peace is a good thing and Mitt really likes peace! He would really like to be President—like, a lot! Iraq was a good war. No it wasn’t. Yes, it was. We need to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely but we’ll be outta there on December 31, 2014, mark his words.
Also, climate change and energy was once again mysteriously not mentioned along with Europe, which apparently also doesn’t exist. Remember, we don’t want to become Greece, but maybe it’s OK to vacation there. Other options include buying an island (using money stolen from the Middle Class, poor and working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, and brave veterans who will not ever be mentioned out loud, but please know they’re in our hearts and prayers). Or you can keep your untaxed money (because you built it) someplace warm and sunny, like the Cayman Islands, which has beautiful marine life, too. That can be destroyed some day. Maybe start blasting or fracking there on DAY TWO. But first, the Tar Sands XL Pipeline will be fully implemented because we need to decimate that side of the continent ASAP.
Luckily, the arctic is well on it’s way to a spectacular demise so we’ve got that going for us. Polar Bears, while white and super cute on holiday greeting cards, just aren’t necessary for the growth of the economy. Also, if it takes killing a bunch of birds or irreversibly damaging our planet to get more Chinese workers earning a dollar a day, then that’s what needs to be done. It’s all about priorities. Please, people: birds, air, water, food, mountains, trees. Really? That is all extraneous fluff and there’s no line in the budget for that. Everyone knows that President Obama and all the Democrats single-handedly destroyed the economy which was in perfectly fine shape from 2000-2008. And that is why both Presidents Bush 1 and 2 are out stumping for Romney every day. They know what really happened.
Again, the economy is the number one focus and the economy stands alone and isn’t connected to any other realm, such as social or environmental justice, the needs of the people, or the health of the planet and all it’s inhabitants. Humanity and nature are entirely overrated and have no connection or interdependence! Science and math are also silly. Fact checking is a waste of time and energy. Truth is subjective and perception is reality. Souls are fully refundable and exchangeable if you’ve got a receipt. People know that the Earth is flat and God created Heaven and Earth and everything in it in a mere seven days! God built it! It says so in the Bible and that’s the truth.
Jobs, jobs, jobs! Better to ship the jobs to China like Sensata which is happening right now and is a perfect example of how Romney will lead this glorious country into the next era, which isn’t to be named yet, because it’s so bright, brimming with hope, possibility, and prosperity for him and his BFFs, that there’s no word in the vocabulary for his vision of America. It’s literally that great! Seriously, you know he was born in America, right? And he loves cars! Do you love cars? He also loves car elevators; they’re super awesome.
Bayonets, horses, and AK-47 Assault rifles are going on sale any minute now. Better stock up for the holidays! What better way to say, “I love you!” You don’t need a permit or mental health background check, just walk on up, choose your weapon, and stand your ground! You can target your fellow citizens anywhere; Schools, office buildings, movie theaters, day spas—you choose your favorite weapon and place. Now, that’s undeniable, red-blooded, American freedom, people! That’s what I call CHOICE!
Presidential lessons, voting machines, and access to the red button are now available for purchase by SuperPacs for only 1 Billion dollars! Such a bargain, considering how many people we could feed and house for that amount. Heck, you could even give Big Bird a break and let him stay around. But, never mind all that nonsense about people! Just remember, it’s all about the economy. The Romney-Ryan economy. And their plan (which we’re not privy to knowing, or hearing about in any reasonable detail), doesn’t include 99% of America. 47% of America. Just the 1% gosh darn lucky, extra hard-working, ever-sacrificing “job creators” who built this: 1%.
All words and images are copyright Elana Halberstadt 2012, except for the political memes, charts, and graphs gathered from the internet— All copyrights belong to the associated owners. The Polar Bear greeting card is copyright Kennan Ward Photography.