Tiny Little Earthquake

The first time I watched Isa have a gran mal seizure, she was 7 years old. It was the night before the fourth of July and we were still living in Texas. I had just returned from NYC and Isa and Elio, my 5 year old son, were sleeping in my bed with me. It may sound strange to you but my children had just begun sleeping in their own beds regularly. We slept in a family bed when they were younger and as a single mom I think it was just easier to indulge in letting them sleep with me whenever they wanted, which was most nights. Besides, bed time stories were more fun in my queen then they would have been if I had sat on the edge of one of their beds. On this particular night I had missed my kids and was happy to sleep all together in one bed again.

I woke up around 1AM to what felt like a tremor. My first thought was this must be a minor earthquake, I had experienced a few when I lived in San Francisco. I quickly realized it was actually my daughter shaking uncontrollably. I began to shake her gently and say loudly, “Isa, wake up. Are you ok? Wake up baby!” I quickly shifted thoughts again. I had several years of first aide training as a dance teacher and though I had never seen a seizure, I knew this was one. Unfortunately, I had successfully woken up Elio but not Isa. I ran to my phone, then back to the bed and calmed myself. Isa’s eyes were rolling in the back of her head, foam flowing from her mouth, her lips blue and her body contorted, stiff and shaking. I called 911 as I realized Elio had a tremendous nose bleed. I was on the phone with 911, pinching a tissue to my sons nose while rubbing my daughters back calmly reminding her to breathe.

Everything happened so quickly, although it felt like hours. Isa’s seizure ended and the ambulance eventually arrived, our place was so difficult to find. The EMTs spoke to me then tried to wake Isa up but she was unresponsive. I carried her to the ambulance where one EMT pricked her foot to check her blood sugar. Isa finally woke up crying and frightened. Just then my ex husband Eric also arrived and followed us to the hospital taking Elio in his car. The ambulance took us to Dell Children’s and then put us in a room. At the hospital they did a CatScan on Isa but couldn’t find anything.  The doctor spoke to us, and then just sent us on our way telling us to follow up with a neurologist. The next day I felt like I was walking through a bad dream and spent most of the time on the phone with doctors and my dad, who isa retired physician. Fortunately we had an amazing pediatrician who got us in to see a neurologist quickly. She set up some appointments for that week and began what has now become one in a series of sleep deprivation tests . Isa had to stay awake till midnight and get up at 6, getting no more then 5 or 6 hours of sleep. I was used to be alone through these types of things as a single mom. I had spent many nights with Elio teething or Isa sick in my arms. I used to enjoy being up alone with them in the middle of the night. It was like the world only existed for us in those moments. This was different though. It was painfully lonely and felt like the world might end any moment.

I got myself together in the morning and took Isa back to the hospital for the tests. First the EEG. They had to attach electrodes to her skull. I can’t remember but there must have been twenty or so. First she had to hyper ventilate, then they put her in front of a strobe light, and finally they let her sleep. They basically were trying to induce a seizure so they could see what type of abnormality was happening in her brain. They didn’t find anything. We went to lunch and I bought Isa a stuffed animal. It was the only thing I could think to do to cheer us both up. Honestly, her spirits were probably better then mine. Then we went back for her MRI. This one was hard. They had to strap Isa onto a bed with a neck brace type of thing to keep her from moving. The MRI machine was incredibly loud and she had to lay in a tunnel and listen to that earth shattering sound.

Isa was certainly incredibly sensitive to sounds, smells and tastes. Isa’s first grade teacher had recognized some of Isa’s sensitivities and also that she had a difficult time in social situations. Ms. Flake said Isa used to walk in circles around the playground but didn’t know how to interact with the kids.  Isa had been put in a program for a receptive expressive speech disorder and would start speech therapy the next year. I wasn’t sure how this MRI would go given Isa’s sensitivity but she was so incredibly brave. She could see me in a mirror they had set up by her face but she lay still as a mouse. Then they pulled her out of the machine and gave her a shot with a sort of dye to intensify the quality of the MRI. I think that’s when she began to cry. They put her back in the machine and she sat still again, crying. I hate thinking of that. Her helpless and me unable to go to her even though she was only a few feet away. But Isa endured and the test ended. We saw the neurologist shortly after that. They did not find anything and could not explain the seizure. We decided not to medicate Isa since there was no reason to believe she would have another seizure but I would need to monitor her closely. She always needed to wear a helmet when riding a bike, to be watched closely when swimming, and would start taking showers instead of baths.

I was on pins and needles for months, maybe the whole next year. This was the end of my first year at grad school. Fortunately, it was summer break and so I could be with Isa all the time, but eventually I would have to go back to school. I made it through the next year, and so did Isa and Elio. Everything seemed just fine. When Isa went back to her school and it seemed she had a burst of cognitive development and went from being behind the class in reading to far ahead of the class. Elio began PreK and I went back to the University.

It wasn’t until September of the following year, 14 months later, that I was woken in the middle of the night to a similar sensation. The kids still slept in my bed, although I had gotten more comfortable with having Isa out of site at moments. I imagined that I may have never known she was having a seizure if she wasn’t in the room with me. I knew what this was right away, and so I didn’t wake Elio up. I called 911 and just whispered to Isa while she seized again. My heart felt a searing pain and I held back tears. This time I would stay clam. “Just remember to breathe Isa. It’s ok, I’m here. Just breathe.” Maybe I was reminding myself to breathe. The ambulance arrived after the seizure had ended. Everything went almost exactly the same as before. This time, though, a wonderful neighbor walked past the EMTs  and asked me what he could do to help. I am sure he could see I was in shock. He said, “Let me take Elio to sleep at my house.” He picked Elio up and took him away without pause. Daniel had a son Elio’s age and they were friends. So it would just be me in the ambulance this time. The EMTs told me they had never seen someone as calm as me in this type of situation. I remember we chatted about my racing medals. Although I may have seemed calm, I was freaking out on the inside. This all felt like a horrible nightmare. Eric would meet us at the hospital. We spoke to a doctor, everything went just like the last time without any tests. The doctor told us that were was no need to go to the hospital in an ambulance if she had another seizure before we could see her doctor, unless it lasted 20 minutes. We could just wait it out and drive her ourselves. Although I know this is true, it just seems so crazy. If you watch someone having a seizure it sure feels like an emergency, but they are actually ok? I knew this before calling the ambulance this time, but I was caught off guard. I had just begun to let my guard down. It’s honestly just terrifying watching those tiny little earthquakes as they happen. It seems like an emergency in the moment, even though there is nothing to be done but wait it out.

We went back to my place. Eric stayed the night on the couch. I stayed up for a while doing some homework and heard Isa shout after about an hour. She was having a second seizure. I yelled to Eric and he called 911. I told him to hang up, remembering what the doctor said but it was too late. They called right back and had to send an ambulance. I argued with the EMT who told me I might as well take Isa in and start her on medication or I was “just going to have a lot of nights like this one.” This EMT was nothing like the last and I would be stuck with him alone in the ambulance on the ride. As suspected, we got there and there was nothing to be done. They sent us home. I remember going for a long bike ride the next day while Eric stayed with Isa. I had to get out and feel alive for a bit, but I didn’t go far.

We did the same series of tests without the MRI. More sleep deprivation studies and more feeling desperately alone in the middle of the night. This time, although they still found nothing, we decided to begin medication. It was not worth the risk that Isa would have another seizure. The doctor adjusted her dose a little over the next year. I felt Isa shaking in the night a couple of times and was told these would have been gran mal seizures if she wasn’t already on medication.

Another issue that has continually popped up at school is that Isa struggles academically. We have had many evaluations done at this point. The school labeled her as highly functional autistic while the speech therapist says she has a complicated receptive expressive speech disorder. Her old neurologist says this is all connected while her most recent neurologist(who I have fired) wanted to give her ADHD medication when I started talking about the issue. It is another story for another time but I have actually fought the public school system in Texas for neglecting her IEP at one point and won.

Isa was on her medication for 2 and a half years and it was time to ween her off to see what would happen. This was in 2013. It had been two and a half years since her last seizure and 4 since her first. We were planning a 4,800 mile road trip that included a stop at Disney World. I am not sure what I was thinking other than my kids deserved a real family vacation after my 3 years in graduate school and another year of teaching high school(which was a whole different intense story). I was determined to drive my kids alone across the country, and camp a bit along the way. So we started to ween off the medicine as we also started to drive across America. I did not know at the time that Isa should not ride rollercoasters, so we enjoyed Disney World to its fullest. They even gave us a special pass because of Isa’s seizure disorder which was like a fast pass for every ride and front row seats to each of the fireworks displays. We made it all the way to Canada where we would stay with my parents for several weeks. Isa had just finished weening off her meds and it happened again. Gran Mal Seizure number 4. By now I was used to it. I should mention here that Isa is never aware of the seizures and fortunately Elio had only seen the one. If I focus on my fear in these moments, please understand it is only with the knowledge that my children have not had that experience. The thing that sucks the most for Isa is that she just wants to be like anyone else. Isa does say she remembers having a strange dream that night where she was walking and it felt like sharp needles were pricking her feet. Then she dreamt I picked her up by her ankles and lifted her upside down.

My father is a doctor and made sure Isa was ok after the seizure. She was. There was nothing to do so we did not rush to the hospital. I called Isa’s doctor in the morning and he just said to go right back on the meds. That was 3 years ago. Since then Isa has been seizure free and we are waiting to ween her off again. The hope is that she will grow out of her seizure disorder. Last summer she took another sleep deprivation study to see if they would find anything in her EEG. They have not found anything yet. We are seeing a new neurologist this summer because I lack confidence in her most recent neurologist(we moved last year and had to change doctors).

Yesterday Isa fainted at school. I was right across the street working and got there faster then the ambulance. Although the school assumed it was a seizure and the students were frightened, she clearly just fainted. Watching someone faint is scary too and people are usually unsure of what has happened. When you see a gran mal seizure there is no question about it. I understand why they called an ambulance, I understand why the EMTs recommended she go to the emergency room in the ambulance. I drove Isa to the emergency room knowing better. After waiting 3 hours and not being seen I knew it was ok to leave. They would not have done anything anyways besides maybe test her blood sugar levels. So we head to her doctor this morning and to the new neurologist in July for another sleep deprivation test. More uncertainty, I am sure. On one hand, I am glad we have no idea what is the cause for all this. There are any number of bad things it could be that it is not. Living with uncertainly sucks though. If you ask me in person, and when I talk to Isa, everything is ok. We are truly blessed. Isa will be fine one way or another. But if you could dig into my brain or more appropriately, my heart, there is a space where fear lives. Fear of the unknown and fear that at any moment another tiny earthquake could occur.

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That Time I was Homeless, as were many of my artist friends.

I don’t look much like my mother. She is a fair skinned Puerto Rican with dark hair and dark eyes. She has a thick accent, although she’s lived in the states for 55 years. One trait that has passed down to me from my mother is her ability to downplay any obstacle or adversities she has faced. She has never mentioned struggling in an intercultural marriage in the 60’s, although I have heard her mention that people often wondered if she was our maid or babysitter. My mother grew up in a place of privilege in Puerto Rico. I also grew up in a place of privilege in white middle class America, although I always felt misplaced and misrepresented. Couldn’t people see I was different? I wanted to spend all my time on the island with our family, surrounded by Spanish speakers, hugging one another and constantly celebrating life. I also felt disdain for this middle class lifestyle. I was never attached to material things, but longed for community. It came as a surprise to my parents when I decided to pursue a career in the arts. To give up everything I once had and move to a city where I would be a nobody. They imagined I would go to medical school but that dream would not even come to fruition.

In my 20’s, I had a romantic notion of living a starving artist lifestyle. Around my 23rd birthday I decided to give up all my material possessions and move to San Francisco. I packed a few boxes of clothes and other personal necessities that I wanted to keep, then asked the mother of a close friend who was moving to California if she would store them for an indefinite amount of time. I then set out on the adventure of a lifetime. I travelled for 6 months with only a backpack that contained clothes, a sleeping bag, and a tent. First I hitched a ride with a friend of a friend in his U-Haul. He was moving to LA and needed help driving. I actually drove the U-Haul while towing a car while the guy rode with a friend in another car most of the way from Illinois to California. I took a bus from LA to San Francisco where I stayed at a youth hostel for a few weeks, working in exchange for free rent. My friends and I spent a few forgotten days in the Black Rock Desert at Burning Man Festival during that time. Then, I decided to travel to Europe by myself for 3 and a half months with no plans, just my backpack and a Eurorail Pass. I had a true adventure before returning to my parents house for Christmas.

After 6 months of staying at youth hostels, sleeping on strangers couches, and camping illegally, I finally ended up in San Francisco. For the next 6 months I would struggle to find permanent housing. Finding a job proved to be fairly simple. A friend of a friend worked as a waitress in a Middle Eastern restaurant and they were looking for bussers. They hired me right away. We bussers were the scrawny, ratty kids compared to the glamorous waitresses. I was the only female busser, and have never forgotten the boys I worked with. We would sit in the back of the restaurant and share uneaten portions of customers’ plates. Although I had a place to work and enough money to get by, I was not making enough to easily afford an apartment in San Francisco. Although technically I was homeless, I did have places to stay. There were only a few nights where I can remember not finding a place to sleep until the early hours of the morning.

I used to go to a bar, the Noc Noc, and call friends from a pay phone to see if anyone would meet me for a drink. Then I would ask if I could crash on their couch. On one of those nights no-one answered their phones. I finally walked to a friends apartment to see if maybe his roommates would let me in. No-one was home. I kicked the door in. I knew the lock had been broken recently and thought I might be able to break in. It worked, although I think I re-broke their lock.

I remember another night. I had previously been allowed to stay at a co-op but guests were not allowed to stay for more than a week. The guest bed was a bunk that lay hidden over the hallway. There was a code to get into the co-op and so one night when I couldn’t find a place to stay, I snuck in late and snuck out as soon as I heard voices in the morning. I can’t believe I wasn’t caught.

My most memorable night, though, was spent innocently with Tommy Dunn. Tommy would turn out to be one of the first responders during the 9/11 attacks when he became a fireman years later. He was a busser with me and also homeless. We were going to stay up all night at Navy Pier. I can’t remember why we never made it to the Pier but we ended up hanging out on Haight St. I remember vividly that some business man giving me a dollar. I didn’t see my situation for what it was and was shocked. It must have been around 3 AM when one of the waitresses from the restaurant where we worked walked by. She offered to let us stay on her apartment floor, as our vision of staying up all night disappeared.

In those 6 months I stayed at so many places. The most stable was a 4 bedroom apartment that was housing 11 people. We were evicted quickly. The stories I have about those 11 people could fill the pages of a novel. I also stayed in a flat with 3 older gentleman at one point. I remember a prostitute coming in with one of the men who had a nasty drug habit. I always locked my door and never came out of my room at night.

It is no surprise that when I finally found a flat that I could afford, nothing would drive me away. Not even the drive by shooting that occurred in our driveway, injuring 2 and killing one of our neighbors. Not even watching the crack heads roam up and down the street waiting for their dealers. I used a skateboard to get in and out of my neighborhood quickly and wear a mechanics suit to cover myself from head to toe and be sure not to look attractive or noticeable in any way. I lived by a set of projects and also assisted living. I was lucky to have a place to live, that was all I cared about.

Somehow, during this time I managed to start a dance company.

I never told my parents about my living situation and I never asked them for money. I never imagined it to be worth talking about. It was just my life. But, as I sit on my porch on a rainy day pondering why I left San Francisco, a city I loved with all my heart. Where I felt the most connected as a dancer and an artist. I realize that I have always downplayed that time in my life and how difficult it really was. I also think mine was a common story, though.

Internal Cultural Conflict

IMG_0383Recently a colleague of mine mentioned the “internal cultural conflict” that he experienced as someone of bicultural heritage. I was intrigued by the term and excited to find someone who I could relate to. I have spent a good amount of time recently considering my own cultural identity and how it is reflected in my physicality and my pedagogy. My identity is more wrapped in my bicultural background then in any one culture or community.

First of all, I consider myself a white woman of privilege. I grew up having everything I could possibly need, including a more than equitable education. I was a blonde, blue eyed girl and was referred to at times as Sunshine and Giggles. I was pretty I suppose and I had three wonderful older brothers who despite moments of conflict have continually showed me that there are many wonderful men in the world who consider women equals.

However, my external appearance never correctly reflected who I was. My mother is from Puerto Rico. If you do not know, that is a US territory in the Caribbean. I use to get so frustrated when people would ask when my mom immigrated here or if I was driving to Puerto Rico when I would visit my family there. My mother and I do not look anything alike as far as the tint of our skin or hair. My mom has a thick accent and is incredibly bright. I often wonder what it was like for her coming stateside in the late fifties, marrying a white man and starting a family. I wonder about her experiences today when I see people make a funny face after hearing her ask a question in her thick accent at the grocery store. I don’t think she notices. My mother has never expressed feeling that she was the victim of racial prejudice. Still, I wonder about the stories she once told me of people thinking she was the cleaning help or the babysitter. I wonder why we never spoke Spanish at home.

I am like my mother in so many ways. We down play the things that hurt us because they are not the things that we want to cultivate. We have both had great fortune in our lives. She was also in a place of privilege growing up on the island. She says so and agrees with me when we discuss how opportunities in education are set up to support those who are already in places of privilege, like us. She and I were fortunate to pursue our educations in the ways that we did.

I am Puerto Rican. I feel this so deeply. And yet I am not at all Puerto Rican. I did not grow up there. My Spanish is less then perfect. I am güera. My family who still live on the island embrace me whenever I am able to visit. But I am a visitor. I don’t deal with the traffic, the political frustrations, or daily life there. I did not grow up there.

I am not sure how I fit in stateside, either though. I have been accused of being too flirtatious with men and physically moving/dancing in a provocative manner on many occasions. I come from a Puerto Rican family that is incredibly physically affectionate and comfortable moving their bodies in more fluid ways. I hate when people misread my physical gestures but I refuse to obscure who I am.

I think this question of how I am read physically is reflective in the ways that my own dancing has been perceived. I consider myself a post modern dancer who challenges traditional hierarchies in dance but I feel I am often seen as other and pigeon holed as something not quite contemporary, perhaps leaning toward jazz or hip hop and perhaps not. Perhaps I am too athletic, too thick, or too loose. I love using dance as a platform to challenge what we perceive as fine art and to make universal social and political statements.

As a teacher I am beginning to embrace that I am a feminist with a critical pedagogy more because of my own experiences then the research I have done into Hooks, Wolf, Freire, Boal and other amazing people like them. I never understood all of the isms. I suppose because my own family was bicultural and came from different socioeconomic backgrounds, I was puzzled by racism, sexism and classism when they came up. I am not puzzled now. As a teacher I believe that it is my responsibility to open dialogue with the community I teach about the isms. I strive to challenge traditional teaching methods that support banking systems of learning and instead acknowledge the diverse learning and cultural populations we serve. I hope to promote equity in education through the arts. I have many thoughts on this subject, but I will have to share those in later posts.

Today I am simply reflecting on my own internal cultural conflict. I feel completely lucky to be bicultural. I “embrace the conflict.”

 

Joy out of Darkness

Three years ago today I was in the middle of what I will now admit was likely the most trying and darkest time of my life. My dear friend and bandmate had just passed away. It was and still is hard to express the unspoken connection I felt with my bandmate artistically. Perhaps it is because we loved playing together. I wonder if he realized that the lyrics to the sings which I wrote were all stories of the most difficult moments in my life.

Dave’s passing came in the middle of my first year teaching at the high school. I worked in an incredible challenging environment and was surrounded by unethical behavior that took a toll on me as well. Even without the issues of professionals surrounding me, I was working with a community that I deeply loved but was incredibly challenged due to issues of inequity and poverty. The result was a toxic environment where violence and verbal abuse were an everyday encounter whether personal or witnessed.

To layer even more on top of all of this, I began dating a man for a short while who turned out to have a history of violence and abusive behavior towards others. I broke it off as soon as I sensed that he was emotionally cruel, but was then stalked for a time. So, I dated another man who felt that he was supporting me through my troubled times, but was actually supporting my emotional illness. Oh yeah, and I was peri-menopausal and having all sorts of health and emotional issues because of it.

My point is not to complain. I wonder if those around me really realized how poor my emotional health had become. I had honestly had several difficult years before that, with my divorce, my daughter’s seizure disorder, graduate school. I suppose reading it reveals how overwhelmed I was at that time.

I used to tell my students who were going through incredibly troubling times, “just keep walking. It’s like you are in the middle of a storm and you are trekking through the mud. Everything seems to want to pull you down and tell you to give up and lay there. But, if you just keep walking, even though it may take some time, sooner or later you will step past the storm and into the sunlight. There will be more storms in the future, but you will always know that the sun will come back out sooner or later.” That was my mantra as well.

I was blessed enough to meet many along my path that helped ease the struggle and helped me find my inner truth and peace. I had amazing colleagues, parents and students who supported me. My children were always with me. My family spoke with me often, they were my cheerleaders. And I found a yoga practice that helped me gather my strength and clean out the negative behaviors that I was craving.

All of this is to say, that I have found myself in the sunlight. My work situation is wonderful. My colleagues are kind and talented. We all seem to get along really well and I admire them, especially my dance faculty. I never imagined that I would land a job where I was so supported and had space and time to do the work that I feel I need to do. The students I work with are lovely and talented. I get to choreograph, and focus on my teaching skills while building ties in the public school system. I have time to write about my experiences and to also work on my own dance projects. Most importantly, I have never seen my kids so happy. I feel like a real mom and I am so excited to share this adventure with them.

I have always said, I believe that everything in my life has happened for a reason, as cliche´ as that sounds. I believe that it is now my task to sort through my experiences and see what I can share to better serve the community.

Thank you so much to all of those in my world. You have been my guides.

Thoughts about my job.

We have been living in Murfreesboro for 6 months now. I can’t believe how the time has flown by. It has taken some time getting used to so much free time. I am shocked at how over worked I was when we were living in Austin. I honestly don’t know how I was able to function. I wonder if all public school teachers feel that way. I have had time to reflect and I think that if all public school teachers do feel that way, then something is incredibly wrong with our system.

I love my new job, at the university. I love my students. Most importantly, I feel like a real mom. My kids are happy and we actually enjoy spending time together. I love teaching and my colleagues are amazing and supportive.

Recently several things have come out in the open about the district I worked in for the past 3 years, involving the administration. I have not wanted to make any big statements about those things, but you can watch a little news cast about it below. Those who know me might recognize how difficult my job had become to do as a result of some of these issues.

Police launch investigation into Manor ISD fund mismanagement

I have so many thoughts about all of this, but I do not wish to vilify anyone. I am impressed with the new administration that is willing to bring these things out so publicly.

I am sad for the students who get lost in all of this misconduct. I hope that more people will stand by them and help them fight for an “equitable” education. They deserve to have a voice. They are our future, whether we embrace them as such or not.

I am sending out the kindest most supportive thoughts to those faculty and staff that have stayed at the school and are sincerely working hard to do an exceptional job. It cannot be easy.

 

Thoughts for A Public School Dance Teacher

First of all, I have been meaning to update my blog. A student of mine asked me to today. I was reflecting on my teaching experience working in a Title 1 public school and thought I would share some thoughts.

First of all let me give you a some background information about myself. I spent years teaching in both the private and public sector before working as the director and teacher at a public high school. I had a professional company in San Francisco when I was younger but had since settled down and started a family on my own. When I was much younger I was very interested in critical feminism and had studied some works by Naomi Wolf, Margeret Atwood, Helene Cixous and Bell Hooks. My work clearly reflected my idealistic desires to challenge all of our established gender and social hierarchies. I also come from a bicultural family, I am half Puerto Rican. I have always been quite comfortable around people from other cultures as I was often a bit of a cultural tourist even in my own grandparents home. While I was in college, I was a crisis intervention counselor which would definitely serve me teaching at the high school.

The community I worked in was full of children in crisis. I believe that teachers are not always well equipped in how to handle these crises. It’s hard, cause you go in wanting to do something good and it’s a bit heartbreaking sometimes when a child or young adult shares something of their personal struggles. It is important to respect and not feel sorry for these kids. No one wants pity, but we all want compassion. They have their lives and you have yours, you want to guide them in the right direction, but you don’t necessarily know what that direction is especially if you don’t know who they are. Do you even know who you are culturally and in relation to them? That’s important.

For me, the number one thing to keep in mind is that I am the outsider, and that’s ok. I went into the school wanting to learn about the people I was serving. Everything was an exploration. Everything was a project in cultural identity. My method generally involved me teaching some type of movement but having them add something to the movement that was relevant to them. The beginners were often times so afraid of being judged by their peers that they hardly moved. I had to help them believe that everything they did was amazing so they would open up.

The number one lesson I learned teaching was DON’T JUDGE. Don’t judge the kids, or their parents, or the other teachers who have different pedagogical styles then your own. It’s not my place to judge. And if I do, I will set myself apart. For me it was about becoming a part of the community. Trust was huge. Those kids did not trust anyone and neither did their parents and for good reason. I had a habit of calling three parents every Friday to tell them how much I enjoyed having their kids in my class. I always chose three different students, and the parents loved it. They were used to always getting negative phone calls from the school. I could relate to that.

I had a reputation for being that teacher that anyone could talk to. I would not advise being that teacher unless you have a strong skill set in counseling and strong ties to the social workers and counselors in your school. For me, I always let the kids know up front that I was required by law to report any fear I might have for their safety and I would have to notify someone if they were pregnant. It was important that they knew before they spoke to me that our conversations could not always be confidential. That said, the kids told me everything and that was so hard to hear sometimes. I called Child Protective Services several times a year. Mostly I listen and cared. I worked in an extreme school. Extremely taken advantage of, kids living in extreme poverty and abuse, extreme in so many ways. So, I gave a lot of hugs all the time. I was the person who walked down the hall every chance I could smiling and hugging teachers, staff and kids. I said hi to everyone. So when we were in the dance room, the kids knew it was time for business. This was when we left everything behind and danced. They could cry, fight, fall apart outside the dance room but once we were in it, they let it all go or at least tried to.

I loved using the Language Of Dance  motif notation system to explore movement as a metaphor for lived experiences. We tied action words like flexion and extension to moments in the students’ lives where they extended or became more flexible and the students created abstract dances to tell stories about their experiences. We used personal devices to explore on line work, music, and to share dance selfies and videos.

But it all came down to this, really. I just wanted to get to know them. The kids. What they were interested in. What they wanted to say. What was at the root of their anger or sadness or joy. I wanted to help them share those things through dance.

I don’t think there’s a magical lesson plan. You take all of your skills, and you plan things out, and then you walk in that door and have all that stuff in your pocket but then you listen and you get to know the kids. You see how you can serve them, what gifts you have to share that they can take and manipulate to guide themselves. At the end of the day, though, you go home. You have to remember, you are a cultural tourist in their community.

Recuperation

I have made it to Toronto and am starting to decompress. I think it will take some time for me to process the experiences of this past week. The word gratitude comes to mind.

I left my house 5 weeks ago today to cross the country, then cross the hemisphere. I have 1 week to make my way back!

One thing on my mind is that I felt called to go to Nicaraugua, and I feel there is a deeper reason for it. I really took a leep of faith in going, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision. But where do I go from here?

I feel so blessed in my life, and so challenged. I believe that evrything happens for a reason, and selfishly I want to know why. I have faith however. I am on a path and it is going somewhere.

Here are some of the photos I took with my GoPro on our trip. It doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the moment, but they are fun.

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Namaste