Archive | May, 2016

Castles Made of Tin

23 May

Like driver’s tests and many other formalities, zoning laws don’t seem to exist here. This means that you are S.O.L. if your next door neighbor decides to put a karaoke bar on the third floor of his house (true story, folks- it happened to my mother-in-law). It means you have no recourse if your neighbor is sawing through aluminum all day long. It has all kinds of potential consequences that are really, really ugly.

As with everything in life, though, there’s a bright side, too. What I love about it is that you can build whatever kind of house you damn well please. Okay, well, whatever house you can afford, but nobody’s trying to regulate it. You pay a fee to build on your land, but basically you tell them if you’re building a small house or a big house and pay accordingly. That’s it. Building a house here is the three little pigs in real life, except the materials that each person picks aren’t due to work ethic but rather to economic situation. Thus, we have neighbors with a house made of wooden boards hammered together. We have a neighbor with a mammoth house; it’s three stories, all concrete, fenced-in with concrete, including garage. We have neighbors who seem to have multiple concrete structures and yet still can’t manage (or don’t use?) an inside bathroom. I only know because I sometimes bike past the matriarch in all her nude glory bathing herself in the yard.

I got stoked to write this post because I was watching some neighbors building the other day. It only took about two or three days to get her house livable, not like the months it took us. She put up a tin house with a slanted roof (which is not common at all here- they’re almost all flat roofs). It was so fun to watch her little sisters and other random family members, all over there hammering away at some pieces of aluminum. And that’s that- for now. It’s awesome that you can throw something together pretty quickly when you need somewhere to be. Conan built a quick aluminum structure to have a place to be while our house was being built, and it was a cheap and needed home (that we continued to use as a kitchen for a good while afterwards, too). It’s sweet to see how within-reach something like shelter can be, when in the U.S. building a home is a distant, complicated, super-regulated, long-term affair. But watching this family all help to build this quick structure made it seem as if I could almost build a home for myself, too- not only Conan and all the builders, but little ole me! That feels outrageously cool to me.

house 2

our “garage”- the house Conan lived in while ours was being built

house neighbor1

Different bits of tin pieced together make for a quick home when you need it

The downside of this kind of housing is that any passing hurricane or serious earthquake will likely destroy it completely. That, and the lack of bathroom regulation, which is a health problem for all of us, are the major rain on my parade. Granted, most people have some kind of decent bathroom situation, which is enough. Maybe it’s an outdoor commode that you have to pour a bucket of water down to make it flush, but it probably goes to a septic tank. The shower might be a curtained-off area outside where you pour water on yourself in lieu of a shower, but it works just dandy in this heat. (Why can’t my neighbor get a curtain at least? Geez!) Those situations are fine, but when there’s not even a septic tank, it’s a problem- for the person living there and for the rest of us and our gardens. Oh, well, at least there’s disinfectant for fruits and vegetables.

Whatever you can get together is home, and if it’s just a temporary throw-together, at least no mortgage shark is out to take it from you. Instead of paying mortgages their whole lives, people work on improving the home that they’ve got. As Conan pointed out the other day, “Rich people are the people who finish building their houses before they need to live in them.” For everyone else, home is a work-in-progress. It’s common to see, for example, one story of a house made of concrete and a second story put together with wood or tin.

Our house continues to be a work-in-progress, too. We have two indoor bathrooms but only two out of eight of our house’s window frames have windows that you could close. (Don’t worry- the others have mosquito netting and bars.) We still need another layer of concrete and a paint job on the outside before the rain can stop seeping in when it’s windy. But our house is big, and made of concrete, and it’s ours, ours, ours. It’s a work in progress that belongs to us, and I love it!

And I love that if you have the money for paint and want to paint your house a vomiting-cosmo-cocktails pink, nobody will say a word about it. Everyone will mind their own business and let your home be your castle, no matter what it’s made of, no matter how it looks. Just like it should be.

Excess of Vitamin D (Ode to my Adopted Coast of Oaxaca)

15 May

It’s that time of year again, folks! Spring time on la costa, when I wake up at 3AM with my sheets soaked in sweat and pull myself out of bed just to go take a shower so maybe I can sleep some more. (Granted, this happens less often now that we have electricity.) My hair is a frizzy frazzled mess, thanks to the 85% humidity. The water in my shower is tepid even though we don’t have a hot water source. The baby is battling some sort of fungal diaper rash. I don’t ever actually dry off because I’m soaked in sweat again as soon as I turn off the water. But I love it! I love it! I adore my hot, sweaty, beloved, adopted costa!

I appear to be suffering from GLEE(VD) Syndrome, the opposite of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). My current disorder stands for Gringas Loving Everything due to Excess of Vitamin D. One of the side effects is inventing cheesy acronyms, so beware, folks, if you plan to travel to a tropical climate for an extended amount of time. You, too, might find yourself making up stupid names for things because you’re giddy with the realization that you are living the dream of eternal summertime.

Photo on 5-15-16 at 1.54 PM

Frizzy, sweaty, and smiling! Yipee!

My mama always said you can only complain about one season. If you’re gonna gripe about the snow, don’t talk bad about the sunshine. If you’re gonna moan about raking the leaves, don’t whine about the raging April showers and storms. Pick one season to complain about, and that’s it. You don’t get to hate everything all year long.

It’s a good policy, and it’s serving me well. When I walk back into my office in the most outrageous heat of the day at 4pm, and I’m dripping sweat and running out the door to go teach, I try to keep myself from bitching by saying something like, “I’m so glad it’s not cold out!” or “Thank goodness for this sunshine!” One of my coworkers has declared that, “This is much better than negative 40 degrees,” and I’ll be adding that to my list of things to say in the 4pm heat. Because if I only get one season to complain about, it’s winter. I loathe and despise the cold. I abhor the way cold weather and lack of sunshine seeps into my bones, all the way into my soul, sucking the joy right out of my very existence. Seriously. Winter is my arch nemesis.

Not that winter exists here in Puerto Escondido. Despite being on the coast, however, there are seasons. They’re just way more subtle than the drastic seasons in Kentucky. Sure, there are the official two seasons- rainy season and dry season. Rainy season is from May to early November, and dry season the other half of the year.

But there’s more to it than that. Like right now, we’re in the April to June ungodly humid season, the Satan-himself-is lightheaded-from-sweat-induced-water-loss season. Granted, it may rain some starting about the first of May, but it won’t actually cool anything down for more than 3 minutes. But I’m not complaining! No, siree. Sweat is good for getting those toxins out of your body, according to the internet. Some people complain they aren’t motivated to exercise when it’s this aggressively stifling in the air, but I figure you might as well exercise because even if you’re just sitting there you’re going to be sweating. It’s a lot like summer in Kentucky, which is my favorite season. This is not Kentucky, though, where I had to carry around a hoody in July because the air conditioning everywhere would nearly freeze me to death. There’s practically no A/C anywhere because it’s too expensive. One less thing to worry about!

After this, from July through the end of September, we reach the more-likely-to-rain-or-have-a-closeby-hurricane season. At that time of year, if there’s a hurricane off in the distance bringing some of its effects in, it’s liable to be cool enough for a cup of hot chocolate. (Yum!) This is when you have the Puerto equivalent of snow days. Classes might be cancelled, and even if they’re not officially cancelled, most parents won’t send their kids because the roads flood, making it too hard to get them there. (I still have to work on “snow days,” unfortunately.) Granted, roads flood temporarily pretty much anytime it rains hard, but they’re extra flooded when it rains for days on end. You try to stay home as much as possible, watching movies, making popcorn and hot chocolate. (What? Did I mention that already?) In the rainy season, it usually just gives us a shower or a storm around the time that I get off work, or a little later, and then it’s over. It’s nice and sunny again the next day- nothing like the days and weeks of gray that can happen in my city.

October and November are pretty uneventful. It’s hot and sunny (yipee) and a bit humid, with some ever-so-slight coolness from time to time. It’s nothing to write home about, but it is nice to not have to think about possible hurricanes once we’re out of the rainy season. March is another transition month, just your average hot and sunny time.

December through February is our pathetic imitation of winter. Except that that makes it sound sad and negative when really it’s f#~!ing fabulous! It reminds me of parties I had, as both a child and an adult, where we’d crank up the heat as high as it could go and wear shorts and tank tops, drinking icy drinks out of fancy straws with little umbrellas, imagining ourselves laying out on the beach. Except now I don’t have to imagine. It’s real! It’s hot and sunny on my birthday, even though I was born in sub-freezing temps. Bwahahaha!

In Puerto, my trusty hoody and some pants are as prepped as I need to be for the cold. On those days I’m stoked because I get to pull out some pair or another of awesome boots, which is the absolute only thing I appreciate about the cold (or slight chilliness, as the case may be.) Lucia is stoked to wear those pajamas that have footies and long sleeves during this season. Khalil is thrilled to not lose half his body weight in sweat every day and night. Conan’s tickled pink at being able to put a sheet over us at night (some nights). I heat up water on the stove for the kids and me to take warm showers, and there are often appropriate moments for more hot chocolate! (Seriously, guys, I’ll bring you some good Oaxacan chocolate if you’re nice to me.) And I’m thrilled that it’s- you guessed it- hot and sunny everyday, even though it’s chilly at night.


Showing off her monkey footy pajamas, which she would totally wear no matter how hot it is if we let her.

What I love most of all, though, is that I’m living the Janis Joplin song: “Summertime… and the livin’s easy…” ALL YEAR ROUND. (If you don’t know this song, you have to listen to understand just how blissful summertime listen)

I mean, year round hot and sunny means, for example, no hoarding every kind of clothing and accessories. No bibs for the baby, because we just take his clothes off to eat. We let him run around nearly nude most of the time. I don’t have to fight with Lucia to get her shoes on if she doesn’t want to- I just throw her sandals in the backpack. I don’t have to constantly be wearing layers and changing my kids’ clothes 3 times a day based on the changes in temperature within every day in Juquila. I don’t have to put on a bunch of clothing just to be able to get up to go make coffee. I don’t have to put 5 layers on a baby just to get up and make coffee. My skin doesn’t dry out from the scalding hot showers my body requires when it’s cold. I don’t feel stuck in the house, because it’s almost always a good time to go out. Besides which, my house doesn’t even have windows that close (though we do have mosquito nets on our windows), so it’s almost like I’m outside all the time anyway. I’m not constantly shoveling food into my mouth to try to store up body fat. No covering the windows in plastic.The constant sun gives me plenty of vitamin D (excess? perhaps) and prevents a lot of my grown-up acne. I ride my bike to and from work most days of the year. I can ride a bike or exercise without feeling like my lung is caving in from the cold biting wind. I can wear skirts and tank tops all the time, even to work. We don’t need a clothes dryer. I don’t live 4 months a year hunched over, scrunched up, shriveled up, trying to somehow magically make more body heat.

I could go on for days and days like this, extolling all the benefits of what others deem infernal life on the coast. Partly because, yes, truly, I love hot and sunny weather. But I also stole another of my mama’s philosophies: if you’re going to be happy, you might as well do it right now. I quit telling myself I’ll be happy once x, y, or z happens. It’s like a dear niece of Conan’s, who when she lived with us never wanted to go out because she was always waiting for the heat to lessen up. She’d say, “I’ll go just as soon as it cools down some,” even though that might be in another 6 hours, or maybe not at all. I cannot wait for the heat to lessen up to be happy, or for anything else to change in my life, or I could just be waiting the rest of my life. So thank goodness for this unrelenting sunshine! And if you really want to hear me complain, just send me back to Juquila’s perpetually cold gray mountain weather.

Dreaming Up an Education in Oaxaca

10 May


Do you think your school looks like a prison? What is your school like? Are you bored and tired of the same old things? Have you thought about having classes under the trees instead?

These were some of the brilliant, attention-grabbing ways that my first year students introduced the topic of their ideal school. Okay, maybe I fixed their grammar and tweaked them a bit so as not to plagiarize my students, but still- brilliant, right? Makes you want to keep reading, doesn’t it?

It was an apt week for me to discuss education with my students, since we also pulled our 3 year old out of preschool this week. Here in Mexico, school is mandatory from three years and up, but there’s no big authority that will come looking for us if we don’t send her to school (which is nice for us, but maybe has different implications for students who might want to go to school and can’t afford it.)

Y’all already know I was angry with the daily homework situation at my kid’s school (homework for babies?!), but then it got worse. They informed me that she was supposed to be writing her name on all her homework. She doesn’t even know her letters yet, so it seemed particularly stupid to me, and I pretty much “forgot” about doing it with her. Her teacher kept reminding her, though. Then el colmo, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was her worrying that her teacher would be mad about her coloring part of her homework that wasn’t part of the assignment. She asked me if she could color it, and I said yes, of course. But then she said, “But my teacher’s gonna say, ‘No, Lucia, that’s not the homework; don’t color that.'” And I thought, hell, no! My daughter is too young to be afraid to color on her page. There shouldn’t be any age where it’s cool for kids to be scared to express their creativity, but not-quite-four is not gonna be the age for my kid.

Meanwhile, this week’s unit in our first year English book was about education. Because my students’ teacher (yours truly) is a fanatic of alternative education, I made them try to imagine the school of their dreams. We talked about the different aspects of education- location, methods, evaluations, teachers, schedule, subjects, materials, social activities- and they got started.

It was slightly depressing seeing how basic some of the things they want are- how simple and yet so far out of their grasp. They want things like colorful classrooms, lockers, and organized sports. A couple of students dream of a large library and laboratory. They want a gym and a pool. They’d like on-campus housing, instead of everyone having to struggle to find an affordable room close by. Many expressed their dream of air conditioning in every classroom as a must-have in their dream schools, since there is crazy, constant humidity here. They want a dance class, and a handsome man. (“Just one handsome man?” I asked my student, who quickly changed her spelling.) It was frustrating that these were some of the most outlandish, alternative things that they could dream about for their education- things that are mostly a given in universities in other places.

They’re dying for more chances to have social and recreation time, in a university where there’s no kind of student activities center. In fact, here they pretty much discourage kids from having fun or getting together. If more than a couple kids are sitting out on the library steps, it’s only a matter of time before some administrator comes along and tells them to move along. There’s a little bit of grass on campus, but no one is allowed to sit or walk on it. There’s a slab of concrete and a couple rows of concrete bleachers where they can play sports (and where I play volleyball on a regular basis), but there’s nothing organized. So it wasn’t shocking to see that their ideal schools come with green areas to rest, space to relax, sports fields for their organized teams, and study areas that are social, too.


This may look prison-like, but at least these kids can sit on the grass.

The other sad thing in their paragraphs was about scheduling. Y’all might have heard me mention before that I love pretty much everything about my job, except the horrendous schedule. I work from 8AM to 1PM, then back again from 4 to 7PM. This is based on the Spanish (aka from Spain) idea of the siesta, which even the Spaniards now want to do away with because nobody actually gets to take a nap. The siesta only serves to lengthen our day, not to mention making us waste more time going home and back and/or fighting for transportation. It stinks for everybody, but it’s especially bad for the students. They don’t get to pick when their classes are, and they all have classes 7 hours a day on this schedule. On top of their class time they have homework, of course. Not only is there no time for them to have jobs (which is frowned upon anyway), there’s not even enough time for them to get a decent night’s sleep half the time. That must be why so many of them dreamed up a space to nap at their ideal school.

So of course most of them wanted a different schedule, but it only occurred to ONE of them to invent something other than the 5 days a week / 8 hours a day schedule. Many of them just dream of something like 7AM – 3PM or 8-4 because it would be so much better than our split schedule. One student wants two days without class every month. The wildest scheduling dream of all was 3 days a week of classes. That, along with the student who wanted a school in the forest or others that wanted classes not in classrooms (gasp!), were by far the most creative, outside-the-box requests for a dream school. Sigh.

Technology was another common topic amongst students. However, it didn’t occur to them to ask for a school with wifi across campus, although that’d be one of the first things I’d dream up for them. It would be uncensored too, since currently they can’t even get on Facebook or Youtube. I’m always griping in my office because our campus-wide internet censors (the hook-up kind, not wifi) won’t let me open any site that contains the word “game” (again with the anti-fun campaign around here). Let’s see you invent new review or grammar games without using the word game in your search (grumble, grumble, complain).

While most of our classrooms have a hook-up for a projector, that’s about as technologically advanced as it gets. There are a couple of computer rooms but often they are occupied for classes, and so it’s not always available to students. Thus I saw several students wanting “actualized” (up-to-date) technology, Smart boards, and tablets to replace notebooks- for conserving the environment, of course. So, okay, they might be pushing it in asking for an escalator, since there is only a maximum of two stories (and only in two of the buildings). But the rest isn’t so outrageous.


Before I started teaching here, I thought maybe students wouldn’t like English much because it is a required course that’s not about their major. But then I discovered that all of their classes are things mandated to them; they don’t get to pick any electives! Every semester they have a set schedule of classes, and that’s that. No wonder many of the students enjoy English class, even if language isn’t their favorite thing. It meets their desired criteria of having games, competitions and music, if nothing else. They can learn by playing and talking, although I can’t fulfill their dreams of not having quizzes.

Some might have exaggerated their love of English, however, by claiming they dream of “more English class” or a “special classroom for English.” (Suspected suck-ups, although I tell myself that they really do love English!). One perfectionist wrote a 5 paragraph essay (with help from a translator and someone else, which was not the purpose, but I’m a recovering perfectionist myself, so I forgive him.) Speaking of over-acheivers, one group of them wanted a special study room where only students with the highest grades would have access.

The most requested desire, though, despite all these other shortcomings, was about teachers. My sampling of students really would like some funny teachers, very intelligent teachers, more communicative teachers, no angry teachers, not bad teachers. They want teachers with more instructive materials, and “more prepared teachers,” meaning qualified (preparado in Spanish).

I was taken aback when I saw this in more than one student’s description, so I asked one of my classes if they felt like their current teachers weren’t very qualified. They said yes, they definitely felt like that about some of their teachers. Whether it’s true or not, just the fact that they feel like they’re not receiving a quality education is really disheartening. I suppose that living in the poorest state in the country, it’s hard not to be accustomed to poorly-qualified teachers. The university level doesn’t have the mafia-style union that public primary and secondary schools do, but I can see how it would be difficult to attract and keep a whole staff of amazing teachers to our small, hot and humid little town. It made me even more determined to do my best for them. I can sleep at night knowing that at least I fall into the category they asked for of friendly / not angry teachers. (I’m pretty sure I’m funny, too, but who knows if they all agree.)

I want to do more, though, for these (grown) kids, for my little kid, for all the other kids who are scared to color outside the lines. Maybe we should’ve been talking to the teacher and principal at my daughter’s school more this year instead of just thinking that our values at home would prevail. Maybe I should take my students’ paragraphs and send them to administration. It occurs to me, now that I’m writing this, that talking isn’t enough. Sending my kid to a different school isn’t enough. Trying to make fun and interesting classes for my students isn’t enough.

We’re failing our students- stifling them, turning off their joy of learning, starting at such an early age. Not just here in Southrern Oaxaca, but in so many places. Accepting this as the norm fuels inaction, and will just continue the cycle of failing our students.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about it all. I’m accepting ideas! But we all could surely be doing something more for our education systems- for the kids, and for the adults that they’ll become and the world that they’ll create.


P.S.- Just to clarify, this is a problem with the educational system, not with the schools or the teachers particularly. The school Lucia was going to is actually a really good school, but still I just don’t agree with the things that are supposed to be taught to her age group or the methodology in how schools here are teaching these tiny learners. At the university, too, I know that there are good teachers (because my students tell me about them!), and I know that there are some other really good aspects to the school. It just makes me sad seeing how little independence they have over their education, how little creativity and freedom of expression they’re allowed,  both physically and intellectually- and this university is more “liberal,” you could call it, than some others. It is definitely a systemic problem.




Hop On the Cyclone of Compassion

2 May

A friend and I were talking about our small kids this week when she brought up her concerns about the teen years ahead. There’s a lot to worry about there, especially if my kids turn into rebel teens like I was. (I know, you’re shocked, right?) A couple years ago I would’ve jumped right on that gravy train of anxiety, realizing that, geez, I hadn’t worried about any of that stuff yet, and how am I going to make sure that my kid doesn’t hook up with online predators or use heroin or forget the condoms or become obsessed with crappy pop music a la Justin Beiber! AAHHHH!

Luckily for me, as I told my friend, I’m much too worried these days about whether or not I’ll find time to hang my clean clothes on the clothesline before they mold to worry about the distant future. And okay, I might just be dealing with my anxiety a little better these days. Or I could say that being a parent has obligated me to drop my control-freakness down about 27 notches. After all, starting in pregnancy, these little monsters start teaching you that YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THEM. Nananana-boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo.

So you better work on getting some control over your reactions, because that’s all you’ve got. You can hope all you want that they don’t get hurt or killed, but the only thing you get to control is resisting your own urge to hurt and kill them when they are driving you insane. Okay, you can take measures to protect them, yes, sure, please do. But you don’t have control. It’s not enough. Even the most sheltered, protected kids can die, or become junkies, or major in philosophy in college. You just can’t make them the way you want them to be.

You can read 80 thousand books on baby sleep issues and still not be able to make your kid sleep where and when you want them to. You can try to ban them from playing dress up, like one father did to his 3 year son when I worked at a daycare for one nightmare month, but you can’t take that desire out of them if that’s what they want. You can teach them to fight peer pressure, but nothing guarantees that they’ll be able to invoke that in the mere moment when someone they think is really cool offers them a beer. Even if they can fight peer pressure, what happens when they just want to do something you don’t approve of? Even babies, even toddlers who are dying to please you because you are still like god to them- they’re not ours. They’re not something we can control, they’re not even someone whose death we can always prevent. They’re their own little being with their own fate, which we have the privilege to help watch and nurture and cultivate, but the way they grow is all theirs. It’s not mine, anyway.

I’m learning this slowly but surely, and I hope that when my kids are teens, I’ll try to keep it in mind. Yes, I’ll do everything I can to help them lay strong roots, and be my own tree for them to lean into. But when bad things happen (and they will), when they make bad decisions (and they will), when they get hurt (physically and emotionally, I’m sure), I’ll be there. And that’s all I can do.

Once I finished laughing at myself for overcoming anxiety thanks to exhaustion, this conversation got me to thinking about what IS really important to me. What do I really, really hope for my children? Knowing I don’t get to control anything for real, but knowing that we all model the best we can and cross our fingers from there, what do I dream for my kiddos? If I could wish just one thing for them, how do I hope they turn out?

Hands down, if I could pick something to gift them, it would be compassion. More than anything, I want my kids to be people that care about other people. Starting now, and including caring about everyone. I want my children to be the kind of people who don’t feel ashamed that the news is making them cry. Who wipe their tears and brush off their knees, getting up to ask how we’re going to fix this. To be people who say, “Of course your pain affects me,” to people across an ocean and those in their neighborhood, to people who look like them and people who don’t, to anyone who is hurting. I dream that my children will be people who ask, “What can I do to help?”

I hope my kids are the kid who invites the smelly, still-nose-picking-in-the-third-grade kid to their lunch table, even if they kinda don’t want to, because they know they’ll feel too sad to watch him eat by himself, and they know it’s the right thing to do. I hope my kiids keep asking, like my 3 year old already does, why don’t some people have houses? And why can’t they just come sleep at our house? I hope they turn into big people who maintain their capacity to imagine what someone else is feeling, and to question everything. I hope that they decide every day that even if they can’t solve world hunger or turn the tide on climate change or prevent domestic violence or keep racist, murdering cops out of the system or a million other things that they wish they could fix, they can still aim to be part of the solution, to not do more damage if they can help it, to be nice to everyone along the way.

I want them to be compassionate with themselves. To forgive themselves when they realize they’ve made a mistake, to try to make amends. To take care of themselves, so that they can better take care of others. To know that they’re good enough just the way they are, and still try to be better every day.

Of course there’s loads to worry about when they hit the teen years. When I think about my teen years, I am overwhelmed and a little embarrassed, remembering my raging hormones and sexual urgency, the intensity of my romantic concerns, the way that just a person’s name could make me break out sweating in anticipation. I sigh, remembering the goth phase, the punk phase, and the 18 different colors that I dyed my hair (plus that time I shaved it). I fondly still dance to the CD from my favorite punk/ska band, but shake my head at myself thinking about the senseless risk of all the times I got rides home from strangers after a show. I smoked cigarettes outside of school, I drank alcohol with friends in public restrooms, I tried several different drugs. I adopted any traveler kid passing through my city, and when I turned 18 I took off to hitchhike around Europe. It was quite a tumultuous adolescence (sorry, parents), but aren’t they all, really, to some extent or another?

When I write down all that, it sounds rather frightening. But even while I was busy getting into all this trouble, I was also doing cool stuff. I was learning to be a good friend, trying to talk friends out of suicide and drunk driving, holding friends’ hands after sexual assault. I hung out a lot with a group of activist kids, who were writing and publishing their own zine and taking action in the world. We’d do stuff like protest a Klu Klux Klan rally, go to the mall and put informational leaflets in the clothes that were made in sweatshops, march in the gay pride parade, no matter what our sexual identity. I became a peer educator at Planned Parenthood. I attended and then became a youth counselor at an alternative diversity camp for teens. I left high school at 15 to reeducate myself. I published my own zine. I wasn’t always nice to everyone, but when I wasn’t, it was due to my wild hormones and trying to defeat my self-loathing, and not because someone was different from me.

I think the coolest part about me is my constantly cultivated sense of compassion, my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes more often than not, even when it’s really, really painful. What I most love about myself, then and now still, is my ever burning desire for everyone to have justice, for everyone to have their human rights respected. I’m no Mother Teresa, I’m not Mr. Rogers, either. I’m not as amazing as this beautiful writer and activist, or even as wise and caring as my Nonna. But I am always nurturing my ability to give people, including myself, the benefit of the doubt, and to dish out the respect and care that I want for myself and my children.

I want this so desperately for my children, this cultivating compassion, because it’s such a win-win situation. If the world were full of compassionate people, there would still be hurt and suffering, but not on the scale that it is now, and not in the same systemically unjust ways that it is today. And the more I can practice compassion, the better I feel everyday. It’s often something really small, that seems inconsequential. Like the way that I see my nursing students slack and fall behind and have too many absences in my class. Instead of thinking, “Those lazy nursing students! They’re the only group that gives me such a hard time!” I decide to think, “Those poor nursing students. They must have it so much harder than the kids in the other majors. When they do show up to my class, half the time they’re sleep-deprived, or they’re starving because they don’t get a breakfast break until later in the day.” And it makes me feel better. It makes me get along with them better, because I have an open, caring attitude instead of being pissed off at them for missing my class too much. More of them make an effort to have a decent attitude in my class, even when they’re exhausted.

Compassion, caring, respect, all of these things are cycles just like the negative cycles we talk about- the cycle of violence, of abuse. Compassion can be its own powerful cyclone if we can get ourselves into the path of the storm.

So boy do I ever want that for my kids. But since we don’t get to choose how our kids will turn out, mine will probably rebel against me and turn into excessively materialistic, sedative-abusing, constantly-complaining mall rats or something. Of course, our town would have to build a mall first, so at least there’s that on my side. Meanwhile, I’ll stay in my busyness-induced state of zen, and worry about the teen years when they get here.