Oh the Thinks That We Think

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Last night I babysat my little friend D, who is almost four.  (Last March I took care of D for three days while her parents were in the hospital having her little brother, W.  You can read about my great pseudo-parenting skills here and my less-great, thoroughly-exhausted pseudo-parenting skills here.)

In the middle of an edge-of-your-seat game of “hall ball” (a.k.a. rolling a ball back and forth in the hallway), D stopped and said, “I have a story in my backpack!”  Then she trotted off to get it.

The “story” consisted of D’s words, written in the handwriting of her daycare teacher.  It was more of a poem than a story, if you want to nit-pick.  It touched on the idea of ducks, briefly mentioned the dinosaur museum, and had a persistent refrain of “I want my mommy”.  It was very good.  The story-poem ended with, “These are all the thinks I had in the middle of the night.”

How beautiful is that?  The thinks I had in the middle of the night. 

When D’s parents came home, after she was asleep, I showed them the story and they were able to fill in some of the blanks.  D recently went to the dinosaur museum; she had a lot of questions there about what happens when you die; she often remembers when her mommy and W went on a trip and D missed them.  And, most relevant of all, D’s dad told me that the night before I babysat, D woke up several times, unexplainably inconsolable.

Well, no wonder.  She had all these thinks, some of them pretty hefty ones, and no way to deal with them at two o’clock in the morning.

I also have a lot of thinks in the middle of the night.  Some are brilliant, some are bothersome, some are just plain weird.  Most of my thinks happen in those small moments just before sleep arrives, when my brain is powering off and shutting down all the applications still running.  During this process, it finds things that haven’t been properly dealt with and sends out alert notifications.  This thought has not been saved.  Discard it?  I think for a moment, then often rouse myself to scribble the idea on the notepad by my bed before allowing my brain to power down completely.  Sometimes the alert is more urgent.  You’ve placed a large amount of information on the clipboard.  Are you sure you want to delete it?  These are the nights when I either have to get up and write—really write, not just scribble—or else toss and turn for the next few hours as I try to convince myself that I don’t need to write those thinks down.

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This was my scribbled post-it note from last night. Yes, that says “Saved By the Bell” and yes, I can actually read the rest of it, but I won’t because it wasn’t one of my more brilliant “thinks”.

When I don’t want any notifications, when I just want to sleep and not have any thinks about anything, I upload a meaningless task for my brain to do instead.  Last night, to keep myself from writing this blog post in my head, I tried to think of a kind of bird that started with every letter of the alphabet.  Albatross, Blue jay, Cardinal, Duck… I skipped Q and fell asleep somewhere around T, but I do remember thinking Turtledove just before I drifted off.

I am an adult (for the most part) and I have adapted coping mechanisms for dealing with the thinks in the middle of the night—I have a pad and pen on my nightstand, and an unending list of nouns to alphabetize—but even I still struggle sometimes.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to be three years old and awake in the middle of the night, with all the thinks of your whole world bearing down on you and no way to adequately communicate them.

I’m happy D’s teacher helped her put her thinks to paper.  That girl’s going to be a writer someday.

Your Parents Don’t Want Me to Know That

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Amazing Artwork by Carie Juettner

 

Your Right To Privacy Has Been Revoked

These days, we are constantly cautioned against revealing too much of our personal information online. Be careful what you share on Twitter. Don’t post your home address on your Facebook page. Never give your social security number to a stranger. Blah, blah, blah.

The way I see it, anyone who has a child has already given up their right to privacy anyway, so what does it really matter? Seriously, if you are considering having kids and currently have a nifty little “Pros and Cons of Procreation” t-chart on the fridge, go ahead and jot this down in the cons column: Kids tell people everything. I know, because I was their teacher.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s just the little ones that blurt out embarrassing snippets from home. Nope. I taught seventh graders. That’s right—your offspring are just as likely to reveal your dirty little secrets at age twelve as they are at two, and what’s worse is they’re more articulate. (Well, most of them.)

OMG!  TMI!  LOL!

Over the course of my middle school teaching years, I developed a line that became useful in handling awkward conversations with students. Whenever a girl or boy shared something about home that was shocking, embarrassing, or disturbing (while not being illegal, abusive, or counselor-worthy), I simply responded with, “Honey, your mom/dad probably doesn’t want me to know that.” This would cause a brief look of wonder or enlightenment to cross the child’s face before they either blushed and hurried away or shrugged their shoulders and continued to prattle on about their family’s strange ways.  (Parents out there, consider this right now: Which type of child do YOU have?)

Comments which warranted my cautionary mantra included, but are not limited to, the following:

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Super Grover
  • Boy – “My mom gets so mad in the car. She’s always flipping people off and cussing them out. The thing is though, SHE’S the bad driver.”
  • Girl (pointing to the Grover stuffed animal on my shelf) – “Hey! My mom sleeps with one of those.”
  • Boy – “My parents got divorced because my dad was my mom’s boss and she didn’t like him telling her what to do all day.”
  • Girl (upon receiving a note that she’s leaving school for a dentist appointment) -“Oh, I’m not really going to the dentist. My mom’s taking me to get my nails done for the Taylor Swift concert tonight.”
  • Boy – “My mom can’t pick me up today. She’s getting a new tattoo on her butt.”
  • Girl – “Whenever my dad gets a bad sunburn, he peels off all the dead skin and eats it.”

(Ok, yes, if you are keeping track, there are a lot more embarrassing details shared about moms than about dads. However, the dad one is by far the most disgusting.)

Dear Carie, How Can I Prevent My Child From Embarrassing Me At School?

The good news is, there are ways to keep your kids from airing all your dirty laundry in public. Simply never swear, never lie, never fall down, never speed, and, for goodness sake, never peel off your skin and eat it in front of your children. Just lead a perfect life and you have nothing to worry about.

 

[To read more stories from my teaching career, check out my Teaching Stories page.]

The Writing Life

My Quote Table
My Quote Table

I am a writer.

It took me a while to be able to say that without cringing or feeling sheepish or following it up with, “Well sort of.”  But now I can own it, in all its vague, not-yet-fully-formed glory.

Two years ago this week, I sat down in my principal’s office at the school where I’d been teaching for eight years and told her I was leaving education.  The last day of school would be my last last day.  I was going to be a writer.  I finished out my last few months of teaching with one eye on my students and one eye on my idealistic future, on the journal of ideas I’d made and the scenes I’d typed during my lunch period for the young adult novel I wanted to write.  When that final bell rang in June and I’d cleaned out my classroom, an expanse of time and freedom and creativity unknown before stretched out in front of me.  I felt both ecstatic and guilty over my good fortune, wondering if I deserved this gift.

The first three months of my new life were spent less in writing and more in reorganizing.  I shifted closet space to accommodate the boxes of teaching materials that I probably didn’t need anymore but was not ready to discard, turned my office into a writing space that I hoped would both inspire and calm, and created a daily schedule for my time. (When you’ve lived your life according to bells for thirteen years, you crave the structure of a time table.)  But the hardest shift to make was what to call myself.  Teacher had not just been my profession; for more than a decade, it was my identity.

Those first few months after leaving the classroom, I labeled myself in many ways—“teacher” (accidentally, when caught off guard, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks when I realized it wasn’t true anymore), “writer” (which brought a different kind of embarrassment—one of phony claims and pretentiousness), “between jobs” (this just made me roll my eyes, it sounded so falsely down-and-out), and “taking some time off” (which seemed to suggest that I might be mentally unstable—was I?).  I managed to stop just short of telling people I was “finding myself” but that might have been the truest answer at the time.  I was finding myself.  And there were pieces of me in some very surprising places.

When I embarked on my writing adventure, I was sure that finishing my YA novel would be my first priority, but in the summer after I left the classroom, I found myself writing poems and making long lists of story ideas and posting to my blog.  I had a lot of conflicting feelings that I needed to work through about leaving teaching, and my blog became an outlet for them.  I still get a lump in my throat when I read “Subconscious Healing”, which I wrote in July of 2012.  It shows so much about what I was going through, more than I even realized at the time.

I knew I was veering off my set path, but I was ok with it.  I told my husband that this was my summer vacation and I would get serious about my novel again at the end of August, when I would normally be going back to work.  Then, on August 31, 2012, I woke up early, jumped out of bed, ran to my computer, and typed for the next two hours.  But what I wrote had nothing to do with my YA book.  It turned out to be the beginning of a horror novel that would consume all my attention for the next four months before sliding sluggishly into that swamp of “stuck”.  My own private slush pile.

Still, that one unfinished and unexpected horror story led to more pieces that I did finish.  Now, after publishing four short stories in that genre, it seems I may have a talent for the creepy stuff, a talent that unnerves my husband and amuses my family.  These days, no one knows quite what to expect of me.  I think they’re all just waiting to see what I’ll do next.

So what will that be?  I’ll tell you my plans and, even though I’m ten days late, let’s go ahead and call them resolutions.  This year I hope to:

  • Finish that young adult novel that I started more than two years ago.
  • Continue to work on my poetry and horror stories when time permits.
  • Begin writing some of my teaching stories before it’s too late and they slip from my memory.
  • Work on building a platform for my writing.

I’ve already started on all of these.  Back in November, I knocked out 50,000 words of my YA book during NaNoWriMo.  Since then it’s been marinating, waiting for me to come back to it, which I plan to do next month.  In the first week of the new year I submitted some poems and flash fiction pieces for publication.  Fly, my darlings!  Fly!  Fly!  I also wrote down (finally, after carrying it in my memory for fourteen years) one of my favorite teaching stories.  You can read it here.  If you’re squeamish, you might want to sit down first.

And, today, I worked on goal number four.  I created this sweet new blog space from which to share my writing life with the world.

I’ve got nothing against The Black Cat Diaries.  I’ve loved that little blog and will probably still post to it now and again.  But when I started that blog, I was still a teacher, not a writer.  I mean, I was a writer, because I was writing, but I didn’t feel like one.  Now, finally, I do.  I am a writer.  I know it.  I accept it.  And, through this forum, I want to share my writing experience with you.

Now that you know my goals for 2014, you can help keep me on track.  But… I hope you’ll still let me stray a little bit now and then.  After all, there may be a few more pieces of myself that I need to find.

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