Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Day 1 and the Intense Stress of Intensity

I recently submitted my first lengthy paper toward my Masters Degree. An analysis of Amazon as an organization, the paper led me to read, digest and determine the efficacy and integrity of Amazon's mission statement and vision statement. In researching I found that one of the tenants of Amazonian (yes, they really refer to themselves that way) philosophy is the belief that every day is Day 1. Day 1 is code for never lose your drive for greatness. It is a reference to always, ALWAYS, giving more than 100% in order to stay hungry. In the minds of Amazon leadership, Day 2 is the first day of mediocrity, and so the company must never move off of Day 1.

Think about Day 1: 

Day 1 of a baby entering your family - intense

Day 1 of pandemic related rules and regulations - surreal

Day 1 of a marriage - exciting

Day 1 of a divorce - mind numbing

Day 1 of a new position - energizing

Day 1 of a new house - overwhelming

Day 1 of continued life after the death of a loved one - devastating

Day 1 is unbearable, scary, mindboggling.

Day 1 is not something you would want to do everyday. Your body would not be able to handle it. The stress of Day 1 would be dangerously intense if it were to be sustained and repeated without rest. And that is what I found when I researched Amazon employees. High blood pressure, feelings of depression and an overwhelming sense of never being good enough. Those conditions are not sustainable.

Well guess what, teachers and parents...

This school year shall henceforth be known as "The Year of Day Ones". I have lost count of how many Sunday nights I have been restless with stress and angst over the next morning being the first. The first day back remotely. The first day back with hybrid. The first day back after a break, so its all remote again. The first day for my children. The first day for Cohort A. The first day for Cohort B. The first day of combining cohorts. Day 1. Day 1. Day 1. Over and over again. This level of Day-1-ness is not natural. It is not healthy. It is taking its toll on teachers and parents and students. We were not meant to maintain a high level of consistent stress. We are creatures of habit. We thrive on the known and routine. We need days 2 through 180. We need to create the middle days of habit and routine for ourselves and our students. At this point, this is quite literally a matter of self-care and social-emotional maintenance. 

Wear those comfy clothes. Chit chat with your students.

Put your hair up. Sport the sneakers.

Sit in a room full of students and just look at them for a moment of joy, and smile. 

Create the comfort of having survived Day 1 and settling in to just being. I suppose I am channeling my inner-hippie that so many folks see in me, but it has to be said...if in this series of Day 1's you can't find peace then create it.

Saturday, March 27, 2021


OK, so I am not a curser by nature. In fact, those closest to me make fun of me and relish in the moment I get so wound up that something less-than-polite slips out.  But OH MY LORD!!!!  Who the hell are these people????   Did you see this?

Education Secretary Cardona stands firm on standardized testing mandate amid criticism

Oh yes...the Washington Post...and if this was their headline, I can only imagine the headlines in the more conservative publications. We got rid of one to welcome another bureaucratic fool who has no clue what our children are enduring.

Please help me to understand. Everything I read says that he cares deeply about our children, especially those in low economic circumstances. After being selected by Biden, he was welcomed and approved by senators on both sides of the political aisle. So I see this as a good sign. But then I have to think, what the royal !$%#&???  Sorry, did I just (not really) say that? I know I didn't, haha! But that is really what my mind is thinking.

What the #@!$ is someone thinking if they even remotely consider exposing our children to standardized testing in the midst of a pandemic?  Really? What??????  Please tell me.  Because here is what I see....

My daughter Rebecca, will be trying out for Lacrosse as a sophomore without ever having any experience playing the game.  Know why? Do I really need to tell you? BECAUSE WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC!!!  Yep, they never had a season last year. And so as a 2nd year high schooler, she will be trying out and playing as a first year athlete. Because as a freshman, she was sidetracked and focused on figuring out how to live through a pandemic.

A colleague of mine is enjoying her first year of teaching. In conversation it becomes apparent that she realizes that this first year is not really a first year at fact she knows that it does not compute in the grand scheme of teaching. She has never seen a full class in person. She has never witnessed the cafeteria nonsense at lunchtime (that just made me tear up with a sense of loss), she has never been to a full faculty meeting sharing the collective exhaustion after enduring a full day of teaching. She has missed out on so much of the typical teaching experience in her first year. Know why? Do I really need to tell you? Apparently I do because our US Senators don't seem to know it...WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC!!!

My daughter Anna, a senior, will not have a typical prom, graduation ceremony or yearbook adorned with pictures of friends hanging with each other at schoolwide events.  She is silently and gracefully mourning the loss of what she thought life would look like in her last year of this chapter called school. Inside she and her classmates are wondering what the heck just happened, as are the rest of us, or at least those of us paying attention. Know why? Do I really need to tell you again? Probably not because you have a #@#!# clue! WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC!!!

So what is it about these folks in government that has helped them to avoid the pitfalls of living in the midst of a pandemic that the rest of us reading this have managed to survive? How the hell have they managed to avoid knowing that putting kids into standardized testing will be detrimental to every child???

Oh wait, Cordona, you need your statistics? Oh, I'm so sorry! Let me please vandalize and sacrifice the well-being of my children and my students so that their standardized test results, where they all are made out to be failures, can prove what we already know. Please, use my children to fund your next endeavor. I think they should all be made to suffer through the stupid #$@! tests that will do nothing more than illustrate to them, and their teachers who love them dearly and are trying to do everything to keep it all afloat, how much they have not been able to learn academic standards of math and reading and science IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC.

Just disgusting. I am sorry for those of  you who come here to be built up. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I have nothing positive to say today. This just sucks. 

***** I stepped away from the keyboard for a moment and well, I guess not having anything positive to say is not possible for me. How could it be if I am here with you??  Here is the positive. If there is any group of people who can get through this, it us...educators. Let us collectively prove again to Cordona and all those with the luxury of being clueless fools that we've got this. Our students will be whole. They will know we love them. They will get through this. Not because of politics and policies and all the government bullshit. Nope. They will persevere because we believe in them and will, as we have done all pandemic-year long, get them through this next tough time. Thank you, Cordona, for the opportunity to prove once again, that we love our students and can do anything put in our path to demonstrate to them that we believe in all that they can achieve.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Trusting The Double Yellow Line; the importance of boundaries

I remember my high school Earth Science teacher, Mr. Vitolo, talking about the risks taken every time we get into a car and drive on a road. Considering how long ago that was and how questionable my memory is, the fact that this stuck demonstrates the power of his message. He took his time to describe how ludicrous it was to trust that a painted line down the middle of the road would prohibit the oncoming traffic from careening into us. Oh, and then he went into the incredible power of the stop sign. No physical effort to make cars stop, yet we all assume its power to create a safe intersection. Let that sink in. Because it's true. And scary. Every day we trust the lines and signs on the road to keep us alive. We depend on them. We honor them and we believe that the other drivers with whom we share the road will do the same.

So how did we all learn that we don't cross that middle line in the road? Probably started when we were younger and we watched our adults driving. We observed. We maybe drew lines in the street to make a road that we traveled with our scooters and bikes, mimicking the modeling done for us by our adults. We knew the value of the painted line without anyone needing to show us the dangers involved in crossing over. It was an efficacious boundary, holding power by simply being present.

When we model boundaries for children, they learn to set healthy boundaries for themselves. When we neglect to model boundaries for children, they do not learn to set healthy boundaries for themselves. It really is that simple. What an incredible responsibility we have! How do you model boundaries with your children and students? Our culture has become foggy in the setting of boundaries. Cell phones at the table while we share dinner with others. TV on even when we are intending to give our attention to those around us. Google classroom assignments due all hours of the night or on the weekend outside of regular school hours. I can go on and on. We have muddied the waters and erased boundaries...the healthy lines in the road that are intended to keep us healthy and safe. 

And so, I implore you. Create boundaries for yourself and model them for the children who are watching you. They need to know it is OK to state their boundaries. In fact, this is what will keep them from feeling out of control. Let them see you turn off your phone and put it away for a chunk of time. Let them see you turn off "work" by leaving the computer screen. Let them be the receiver when you say "no" to getting them this or buying them that. These are opportunities to help them know and appreciate boundaries. Model for your students and children. Let them see you embrace the boundaries you set and the peace they bring you. Help them trust that their boundaries will, just as that double yellow painted line down the center of the road, keep them safe and healthy.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Choice for Clarity (glimpse into my world)

This pathetic remnant was abandoned on our kitchen counter just pleading to be the catalyst for a blog post. How could I resist? Take a look at that picture. A close look. What do you see? Well, I mean, I know you see a piece of cake. A really small piece of cake. Some might say it is a piece so small that it doesn't even make sense that someone left it in the box. Especially when you come upon the knowledge that this is the Maccaroni favorite right now, Wegman's Raspberry Crumb Cake. It is absolutely delicious, and one of the few edible items that all five kids (and their mother) agree is amazing. Even Rebecca, who is currently by far the most nutritiously conscious, can be seen enjoying this cake when it enters the house. By the way, treats such as this are purchased once a week and available only as long as we can make it last. I don't go back to buy more when it is gone. So now, with that new knowledge, tell me what you see.

With my mother's-eye, I see two possibilities.  

Possibility #1. A piece left so that the leaver didn't have to dispose of the box and deliver the knife to the sink. (a likely possibility with this crew) 


Possibility #2. A piece abandoned so that there was something left, however small, for the next person who desired a piece of this family favorite. 

Reason #1. Total disregard for others. 


Reason #2. Total other-centered thinking. 

If I wanted to, I could take the mother-perspective a bit further and attempt to surmise the goal by considering the possible 'leaver'.  Depending on the child who left it, my mind toggles between the two possibilities. Is that fair? Probably not. So I'll move on.

I am reminded of my first ever Facebook post...the moment I finally understood the purpose of that type of social media. The kids were small. It was likely about ten years ago, and it was Easter morning. I was  setting up the Easter 'baskets', which in this house were really never much more than a chocolate bunny and some jelly beans in a homemade paper mess. As I removed the chocolate bunnies from their shopping bag, it became apparent I was in trouble. One bunny had its ears broken right off its little bunny head. The question arose, "Who gets the broken bunny?" I went through each of my five children attempting to find the one that could handle having the broken ears. You know it was a crap shoot...and there was no way to win. Or was there? I'll let you sit with that for a bit while we enjoy one more story. 

A year ago, (if you've been reading my words this long I thank you!), you know that I took my kids on our first ever vacation with only one adult (me), to Boston. What you might not know is that for the duration of the trip, I suffered from excruciating pain from a tooth that I later found out was in need of a root canal. As these things often go with me, I did not begin the process of correcting the issue until much later in the year. Five dentist and endodontist visits later, I was finally sitting in the dentist chair being sized up for the molded crown when fell into my throat. No kidding...right down. The dentist was mortified. Apparently in 27 years of practice, this had never happened to him before. As he apologized profusely, I teetered between 

Option #1. Crying because I really just needed this to be done and I just swallowed the final chapter 


Option #2. Laughing because it was really quite funny. 

Outcome #1. Certainly making the dentist feel much worse for an accident that was clearly freakish in nature.


Outcome #2. Undoubtedly putting him at ease and helping him find the humor in life's mishaps. 

Before you try to figure out how this went, you need to know that just before I left for the final dentist appointment I found this.

Yep...that's a ring.  My father's wedding band. In a bag of frozen ground meat. I had lost it about a week prior and spent a crazy amount of time looking for it because it meant A LOT to me. So needless to say as I got to the dentist office I was feeling happy and grateful to have found it. (Wait? This kind of nonsense happens to all of you on a daily basis too, right? haha!) 

At every moment, in every juncture, we have a decision to make. The choice we make not only effects us, but inevitably effects those around us, positively or negatively. My One Word this year is Clarity. 

I am seeking clarity in the decisions I make. Why did I do that? What did I intend to gain or lose by my actions? How did my actions effect others? What am I not even considering that is also prey to the decisions I make? 

I am seeking clarity in the words I utilize. Did the words I chose help or hurt? Were they kind? Did they make the day better? 

I am seeking Clarity in the path of my life. Am I on the right track? Am I creating a future that will make me happy? Help my children? 

The choice is ALWAYS ours. In each of these stories described, others could have been built up or torn down. I choose to build up, and apparently so do my children. 

The cake was left for someone else to have a little taste before it was gone. "I didn't need to eat all of the last piece." was the statement made. 

As for the bunnies, I didn't choose one child to get broken ears...I chose them all. Yep, as sadistic as it seemed, I cracked all those chocolate ears and guess what, no one cried...all felt valued and equal.  

And anyone who knows me knows that I couldn't help but laugh as I felt the crown that was intended for my mouth move down my esophagus. I assured the dentist it wasn't in my windpipe, and as he breathed a sigh of relief, I cracked jokes and couldn't wait for the story it would provide. 

In the end, the choice to put others at the forefront of our words, actions and minds is always available. Leave the cake, break those bunny ears, and if you happen to swallow the crown that is intended to be cemented into your mouth today after months of appointments, drilling and pain, laugh it off. These are the gifts of choice, life and kindness that are provided to us each day. Seek Clarity, Choose Wisely. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

People Need Purpose...growing adults from the seeds of childhood

This world does not leave much room for those of us who just want to write for fun and frivolity. It seems as though no matter what nonsense goes through my mind, it never measures up to the current state of our earthly vessel, and so I need to address something more important. Maybe "address" is not the right word.  I mean, political pundits "address" what's happening in the US and the world. They look at it, analyze it, find fault and attempt to weave their ideas together to help you and me feel we know what is happening. And I am more than happy to step back while they do their job and instead write about my dog and classroom antics. But here is the thing...when events or general disregard for fellow humans occur that eat away at me, that is life telling me it is time to pay attention and get to work. This is not about any one event, but just how things seem to be right now. Here is what my mind can't let go:

Misbehavior is misbehavior. Poor choices are poor choices. Deplorable is deplorable.
There is no explanation necessary. There is no excuse possible. 
But Having Purpose Saves Lives.

When I began my teaching career, I worked for a little private school in Basking Ridge New Jersey called The Lord Stirling School. That was in 1993. Yesterday I looked it up. It is still there today and still boasting success working with students who fill their admissions application with a laundry list of indiscretions that have made attending traditional school no longer a viable option. My role in the school was to be the academic teacher to students enrolled in the automotive track in hopes to learn a trade that would help them succeed and survive beyond their high school years. I loved that job! And when I look back at it now, I have the clear 20/20 hindsight that folks like to conjure up when regarding something of the past. We were teachers. We were teaching young men who already owned a long list of police records, assaults, thievery, gang affiliations and general lack of regard for humanity. In 1993 I believed I could help them learn to find their way and succeed even while they could not imagine their life lasting longer than 22 years. I visited homes in cities such as Camden, Trenton and Irvington to name a few. I sat with mothers, and more often grandmothers, who did not know what to do to help the child they were expected to magically turn into a caring adult. 

So here is what I learned then that I can now apply to the events that seem to be happening in our world more frequently and with increased fervor. These young men I cared deeply about were not created overnight to believe thievery, assault and pushing drugs was the best avenue for their lives. As we sat playing chess, they told me of life in prison, of spitting on their dinner to ensure no one else would steal it, of random cavity "checks" by security and of family members who had given up on them. They were describing emptiness and vacancy. They were living life without purpose and as such, were willing, more than anyone I ever met since, to follow where ever they could be led in order to feel accepted and meaningful. 

I'm not making any political or societal assumptions here, or pointing any fingers. In fact, I am not even thinking of anything in particular as I write this, but rather a general funk that has taken residence in our world. People are sad. People are mislead. People lack purpose. People are desperate. People are empty. People are people. Period. But, say what you want about my naiveite, I chose back then in 1993, and I choose now, to believe that most people are good. Mislead, desperate, righteous, immature...perhaps...but good. "Every child deserves a champion." says Rita Pierson. That's true and you know it. It's not naïve to believe that's what it takes to make a difference. It's not pie in the sky to think teaching people to realize their purpose helps save lives. It's true. And that means we have work to do. If having purpose saves lives, who do you know who needs your help in creating a map to their purpose, their meaning, their vision for future? The littlest gesture can make all the difference in this world.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

And Now, a Message from Our Sponsors (Students)

This post will be a bit different. I really just have all these things floating through my mind that I think would be best shared with those in the field. Do with it what you want...maybe some pertains to you and maybe some doesn't. Maybe you are tired of hearing other people's input on how we should be doing this thing called "school" or maybe you need more insights. Maybe you are a teacher, administrator, parent or student. Wherever and whoever you are in the journey, here are some thoughts from the Maccaroni household that might help you know you are not alone, things will get better, and this is just one chapter in life.  

And Now, a Message from Our Sponsors...

Toxic Optimism is's like drinking protein drinks and muscle milk without working out. Just as consuming those haphazardly would overwhelm the sedentary body with too much extra physical whatnot, optimism that enters your mind as soundbites can overwhelm the psyche with too much extra mental whatnot. We need to be working on our optimism and positive outlook in our private meditative time in order to live in the midst of all the, "We've Got This!" and "Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day!" without losing our minds. Without putting in the effort toward optimism, sound bites such as those can actually be detrimental to our mental well-being. So be careful...if you want to believe that "All You Need is Love", be sure to nurture the tools necessary to achieve such lofty goals. Balance.

Screen Aversion is real...attending school on screen and then later needing to do all homework on screen is actually cruel to our children. I have watched my children who by the way love school, be reduced to tears by evening over the amount of time they are forced to spend in front of their computers. Please, please, please, consider that homework is OVERKILL in this computer driven educational forum during a pandemic. Really and truly, it is just unethical. In fact, if you have never heard of Intrusive Homework Disorder, read HERE. But even as true as that post is, I am coming at this from a totally different perspective these days. It is just too much! Moderation.

On-Camera Distraction is real...forcing teens to keep their cameras on when they are remote learning is like giving them a fidget spinner in their head. My daughters have told me that in the classes where they are forced to be onscreen they cannot concentrate on the lesson or the work. They are worried about how terrible they perceive themselves to appear to others, and can focus on little else. Why??? What benefit is there to having their faces on screen? I mean, I love to see my students. Don't misunderstand me. Little else makes me happier. But if I know that it is painful for them, I don't make them show their faces. Their faces showing does not mean they are paying attention. In fact to hear my personal children talk of it, it has the opposite outcome...they simply cannot learn that way. It's not disrespectful for them to be off-screen. It is not about you. It's a true distraction to them. Empathy.

Educational Inequity is real...our schools were built up and around the dominant culture of our country and our students of all races suffer as we muddle through keeping the dying system intact. Equity cannot wait for "enough time" or "the right time" or "a convenient time". Unless and until we are able to consistently consider and confront the inequities of our school system, my children and yours will not be able to move forward in the work of being good humans. Our children have the potential to change the way things are done in our country, but they need the tools of an honest education, rooted in all angles of history, in order to do this effectively. Knowledge.

Academic Anxiety is daughter, when asked what she most wanted her teachers to know, said, "that sometimes participating through the chat is the most I can do because I already have anxiety when I want to share my opinion and it's worse not knowing if my mic is going to work so the chat is actually helpful, but teachers hate it." Enough said. Flexibility

Student Stress is real...from my other children, "Please don't try to have us go to other websites when on Zoom because the computers we have aren't made for that." They went on to say that they worry their teachers think they are not participating or trying, meanwhile they are in panic mode because the computer won't support the various tabs being open. Another one said, "Please slow down. We are not in school where I can see you and hear everything." Awareness

I'd like to end by saying that my children acknowledged how difficult this is for their teachers.  After only two days participating in hybrid learning, my daughter said how much her opinions of her teachers had been altered for the better. Before meeting them in person, her teachers seemed aloof, uncaring, distracted. "They seemed they were just reciting a monologue." After watching her teachers teaching on Zoom while she was in-person in the classroom, she was amazed at how hard it must be for them to be talking with no one seemingly paying attention, the computer not always cooperating and students not responding vocally. It helped her to see it in person. Clarity

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What Do You Hope They Will Say About You? ...not waiting for a eulogy

Perhaps it's the excitement of having gone into work for the first time since March. Or perhaps it's having spent the day around people that I absolutely admire and love. Regardless, I couldn't wait for the chance to sit at this keyboard and write to you. I suspect there is a moment in every writer's life where it becomes commonplace for acquaintances to say something along the lines of, "You're not going to put this in your blog (book), are you?"  haha!  I always assure them that no...I will not. And I mean it sincerely. So here I am, not writing about any one of you beautiful people that I got to see today, and yet lovingly and genuinely writing about each and every one of you.

We are going to start this thing with the end in mind. A while ago I recall hearing someone suggest starting the school year with our mind considering that which we hope our students, parents, co-workers and administrators will be saying about us upon the end of the academic year.  So let's do that now, with this new beginning that is not really a beginning at all. I mean really, we have been working our butts off for half a school year already, but in my district, as we are starting a new phase, it has all the feels of a new beginning, a new chapter, if you will. 

*** This is important: We must keep in mind that even with all this newness, the title of the book we are writing together is still, "We Are Living Through a Pandemic" Catchy? Not at all. Accurate? Hell yes! And something we need to keep in the forefront of our minds as we try to meld ourselves into a school community in this new chapter called, "Let's Give Hybrid a Try".***

And so, let's think about this. What do you hope people say about you at the end of this chapter and this school year?  Here are some ideas for you to consider, with my not-so-subtle opinions marked next to each. 

✅She made me feel like we were connected even though we were six feet apart.

❌She taught me facts about fill in the blank with standards and curriculum.

✅She smiled at me so big just for showing up, that even her eyes smiled and danced.

❌She marked me late when I had a hard time getting to school in the morning.

✅I know she was scared too, but she made me feel safe.

✅She talked about her kids and quelling their fears, and that made me feel like she understood me.

✅She called my parents to tell them what I was doing well.

❌She gave me homework on top of all the other stresses I was carrying.

✅She showed and taught me life skills for living through a pandemic and beyond.

✅I'll never forget how she made me feel.

✅She helped other kids understand and accept me, just because she did that so easily.

❌She took attendance on time.

❌She knew how to use the smartboard with Zoom.

✅She had fun at school and that made me have fun too.

✅She made me laugh every day.

✅She must have had so much on her mind, but I saw her stop to care about other teachers and staff.

✅Her heart was on fire for others. I was lucky to be her student.

Lofty goals? You bet! And so, time to get to work on me, making sure I am healthy and happy and ready to be all that my students need me to be. We were made for this, you and me. What will be on your list in June?