A Year in D.C.

I’m not quite sure that the cemetery they decided to rest your ashes in is actually in the center of Queens.  But standing in front of the majestic mauseoleum, I can see the Manhattan skyline. I see rows of graves on a pleasant incline, a few grand trees offering shade.  On one side of the cemetery is a Queens stuck in the past and on the other side is Queens embracing the future.  The two of you, in the center of it all.  I know you didn’t come all this way to stop here.  I know you would tell me to live.  Breathe deep and then run.  Go and don’t be afraid.

It’s coming up on a year since we left New York.  The decision to leave our life in a hectic city and try out a new, slightly less, hectic city has had it’s highs and lows.  I’m amazed at how a huge disappointment led to a year of learning, exploration, and what feels something like “Chasing the Sun” here in North Virginia/D.C.   I’ll admit, it is not the calm, wooded scene I thought we were looking for.  In fact, a few weeks after we moved here, we were visiting family in North Carolina, enjoying the silence, and hubby says, “I think we made a mistake.”

But it hasn’t been.  Not for either of us.  I gained a whole new perspective in education by working with a forward-thinking school.  It was the jolt to my teaching system that I needed.  Privileged or poor, middle schoolers are in an “all about me” stage.  I got them to see the value in their unique talents and how it makes a positive difference in the world.  

My husband left his accounting job in New York and delved into filmmaking.  Once a hobby, it is now a blossoming career.  He filmed an event recently and I asked him, “Did you enjoy it?” and he quickly responded, “I would have done it for free!”  He filmed Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center and completed a film program at George Washington University!  Makes that ping-pong table at his old office look really pathetic.  A recent comedian commented that Immigrants have 4 career choices – Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Accountant.  I get why he thought being an accountant was a good idea…ok, no I don’t.  Accounting sounds boring as hell.

And the kids?  My 4 year old is studying art techniques and swimming full time.  The 2 year old has perfected his station as Daddy’s best buddy, Mommy’s sweet angel and his Big Sister’s worst nightmare.  He studies trains and dinosaurs at length and can list creatures of the Jurassic better than he can recite his ABC’s.  They’re fine even if, for a while, they kept asking when are we going home? And why does it take so long to get to Gabby and Sophia’s house now?

As I write this, I’m not sure if we are staying or going.  We hope to be going, but still no confirmation.  Staying will be expensive – it’s no cheaper to live here than it was in New York.  In fact, it is more expensive as our kids need private education until they’re both 5!  The cost of pre-school here is somewhere up there with the cost of college tuition.  But staying would mean more learning for me and more career development for him.  Our kids…I’m not worried about keeping them home a bit longer.  I can’t see my 2 year old sitting in a classroom anyhow.

Grandma, Grandpa, I can’t say I will visit you here often because, I know you’re not here.  You’re somewhere beyond the sun, soaking in the rays, hand in hand. You’re looking at me half smiling and half laughing because you already know what will happen.  Your children all left at some point.  Two joined the Navy.  Two went home to Ecuador.  The two girls off and married.  Each and everyone came back, eventually.  Even the one uncle, the one who headed off to Texas and seemed to never come back – he’s back now.  Now! Even though you’re gone.  And I don’t think he’s leaving again.  It’s not even about New York.  Screw New York.  it’s about you.  We all just want to be near you.  Someday, I will be back too.

So what has life been like in a new city?  What’s it like to pick up and leave New York after  30+ years of living there?  The series of posts to follow will give you an idea of the ups and downs of moving your family to a new city, DC, and life outside of New York.  

Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom in the 1970’s.

I’ll be channeling Sara Bareilles as we go as she seems to be singing my soul right now.

https://youtu.be/hNkmQmh3zww?list=RDhNkmQmh3zww

Chasing the Sun – Sara Bareilles

It’s a really old city

Stuck between the dead and the living

So I thought to myself,

Sitting on a graveyard shelf

As the echo of heartbeats,

From the ground below my feet

Filled a cemetery

In the center of Queens…

You said, remember that life is

Not meant to be wasted

We can always be chasing the sun!

So fill up your lungs and just run

But always be chasing the sun!

All we can do is try

And live like we’re still alive

All we can do is try

And live like we’re still alive


***Update***

Confirmed to depart for my 1st teaching job abroad on August 3rd!

The Visa & Flight Email

I am booked for a flight to Abu Dhabi tomorrow…and I won’t be on it.  Or, at least, I think I won’t.

We received the email we should have received last year:

Congratulations, you are in Group 1, scheduled to leave on or about July 19th…

I am booked for a flight to Chicago O’Hare and then overnight to Abu Dhabi.  I am scheduled to stay at the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche – a stellar looking accommodation for a lowly teacher from New York.  Despite all this, I am taking a gamble and holding out for Qatar.

I can hear you shouting, “Go to Abu Dhabi, you Ninny!” and I’m up at nearly 2 am thinking the same thing…except:

  1. I’d be traveling alone.  I would need to go alone, apply for sponsorship for my family and then bring them over anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months down the line.
  2. I would also be heading there blind – no clue as to where we will live, which school I would be placed in to work  or who I’d be working with.
  3. I would know absolutely no one (aside from the facebook groups who are all super excited about going and I’m NOT).  I don’t like going into this already jaded!

So here I am, taking a gamble.  I don’t have a flight or visa information for my job offer in Qatar, but I’m holding out for it.  It has got to be on it’s way.  I’m checking my email more often than ever before…every 3-5 minutes if you can believe it.

I’m hoping I’ll wake up and my inbox will have the visa and flight info for my whole family to travel to Qatar at the beginning of August…less than 2 weeks away!

 

Top News Story Today: Arab Countries Cut Ties to Qatar

Each morning, I start my day with NPR news on the car radio.  Today, as if on a loop, the headlines all began with “Qatar.”  Today, as I am driving down to Richmond, VA to visit the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia to finalize more papers for working abroad, I learn that there is “tension brewing from the countries surrounding Qatar” – the country I am headed for.  Today, June 5, 2017, the same day all my authenticated paperwork arrives from the Qatar Consulate of New York…I am wondering if I will be needing all these papers at all….

My weekend started out great, thanks to Kennesha at American Teacher in Qatar.  She gave me a lot of encouraging advice and tips on life as a teacher in Qatar.  What stands out most?  Don’t listen to what they say in the news. I have a great appreciation for the free press, however, true Journalism exposes truths; money and greed twist it.  

Virginia Capitol
Monday morning, I hit the road nice and early for a nearly 2 hour drive to Richmond. I enjoy 5 minutes of Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His soft voice and soothing poems usually prepare me for a day of English Teaching. After he bids farewell with, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch,” I listen on to the news headlines. I feel like I can trust NPR as being a reliable, fair media source.  My ears perk at the mention of “Qatar” and then my thoughts begin to race as I hear the words over and over: “Several countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar… ” What does this mean?

It’s too early to tell, but am I looking at yet another dream deferred?

“It seemed like reaching for the moon” – Barbara Johns

Love Not Hate Makes America Great

I had every intention of marching today.  But the kids need to have passports done within 2 weeks.

Long story short:

  • You can only walk in for passports at 2 locations in North Virginia:  Duke Street Library and Merrifield Post Office.
  • You must have original birth certificates for children.
  • You must be prepared to wait at least 2 hours.  Duke Street Library is a much nicer location to wait.
  • You should probably not have a major event to attend like The Women’s March on Washington.

By the time we made it out of there, the March was well underway but we were tired, hungry and a lot closer to being broke until payday.  I am grateful for the fire this movement lit in my heart and millions of others.  Life for women everywhere is tough because the weight of the world lies literally on our shoulders!  As mothers, teachers, nurses and beyond!  The Mayor of DC said it best, “The women will tell you that we are more harshly criticized. We are more frequently criticized. And we are more wrongly criticized at every single level – be it the school board, be it the statehouse, or candidate for the president of the United States.”


Why I March (Or would have)

Women’s March, January 21st.

  • I am marching because teaching, a female dominated profession, is constantly under attack, under valued and underpaid.
  • I am marching because mothers are torn away from their 6-week-old babies and forced to return to work or suffer loss of income due to insufficient maternity leave.
  • I am marching because without a cure for breast cancer, too many children have lost their mothers.
  • I am marching because too many mothers have seen their sons killed for nothing more than the color of their skin. 
  • I am marching because there are families trying to survive in refugee camps while they wait for borders to open. 
  • I am marching for students who want to go to college but can’t afford it because  the Dream Act has never passed.   
  • I am marching for my students who have been mocked for their Muslim faith, dress and modesty – all things that should be cherished here in America. 
  • I am marching because I want my daughter to know the power of women who support each other and to believe she can accomplish ANYTTHING because she can. 
  • I want my son to know every woman deserves respect, to always be a gentleman, and to always help those in need. 
  • I am marching on January 21st in Washington DC. 

March with me.


My Daily NYC 5/13/16

The Notes App on my iPhone has become a sort of diary for me. Scrolling through you’ll see:

  • What teachers do all summer 7/30/16
  • Goals 2/17/16
  • Natalie’s Wedding Toast 7/30/15
  • Shopping for New Apt 3/27/14
  • Baby names 12/29/12

I never have time to write in my fancy leather bound diary. Nor any time to write in an artsy diary I purchased in France with Monet’s Sunrise on the cover. Not even a crack into the cute little owl covered journal I bought when my daughter was born. It’s a wonder I got this blog thing going!  Motherhood and teaching have very little down time. One can never be bored!

I remember being inspired to jot down “My Daily NYC” after reading a post by Trudy who blogs in Rendezvous En New York.  She described her NYC Non-negotiables for Happiness and it got me thinking of what got me through the day in NYC.

My Daily NYC 5/13/16:

  1. My Morning Coffee.  Mornings are a mad dash of chaos (6 am wake, shower, dress. 7 am wake & dress the kids.  7:20 pile everyone in the car.  7:45 drop off hubby at the A Train. 7:50 drop off kids at daycare. 7:55 search for parking.  8:05 enter work – hopefully). I usually rely on Starbucks.  They sold me on the App perks. I’d love to go to Rockaway Roasters every morning, but there is no parking lot or mobile orders.  If for some reason I can’t make it to Starbucks, I end up getting a weak brew from a deli.  Sad face.
  2. Parking Loopholes.  It is possible to drive to work in Queens, however, if I want to be on time for work, I take a semi-illegal spot at a bus stop that forces me to move my car by 1 pm or face an $85 ticket. Oh well. I need to step out of the school building for fresh air at least once a day anyway.
  3. Deli/Bodega/Bagel store for lunch. I hate packing lunch because by the time 12 noon rolls around, I might have had the type of day that requires comfort food. Sometimes I’ve had the type of day that requires a sandwich that can be inhaled in under 45 seconds. Sometimes, I just want more coffee. Still waiting for gentrification to hit Ozone Park so I can get some more options for lunch.
  4. Alternate routes. Traffic. Sucks. ALWAYS. Better to know your side streets and, if only for your sanity’s sake, take the scenic route instead of blasting your horn down Crossbay Blvd.
  5. Rockaway Beach & other NYC Parks by the water. I don’t know what I’d do without the ocean. Whether is on the boardwalk or a promenade in Brooklyn, water views add zen to our chaotic city.

The similarities and differences here in NOVA?

  1. My Morning Coffee – I am now the only one leaving the house at 6:30 am every morning (waking at 5:30) so I either brew a pot and bring my coffee or I make a stop at Starbucks (those perks add up).  Did I mention how much earlier I need to be at work?  School doesn’t start till 7:30 but we are encouraged to be in before 7 otherwise you will get stuck behind the horde of buses dropping kids off.
  2. Parking Lot.  No loopholes needed.  There’s plenty of spots and I usually take a spot right in between the exit and the front door.  One less battle to fight before you start the work day!
  3. Bring Your Own Lunch or starve.  There are no delis or bodegas on any corner in this area.  There are lots of trees!  So if I don’t pack a sandwich, salad or leftovers, I’m screwed for lunch.  Lesson learned and now I leave a few cans of Progresso in my closet at school.  We have quite the teachers lounge, unlike NYC, so I fill the fridge with salad, tomatoes, croutons and avocados for the week.  There’s even a stove if I want to whip up something (which I don’t).
  4. Alternate Routes are still necessary.  I have a pretty direct commute of 10 minutes on the Beltway, but, if there’s an accident, I jump right off and experiment with side roads.  Ok, so that’s happened once.
  5. Parks and Waterfronts are still vital to me.  I love Alexandria Waterfront and Great Falls Park.  The only difference is that you can, believe it or not, swim in the ocean in NYC.  You cannot swim in the Potomic.  It sure is pretty to look at!  I’ve become a fan of hiking and hope to do more of it over the next year.

Hiking @ Great Falls Park

NYC teachers go through so much before the day even begins! The kids don’t have it any easier – there’s no bus that picks you up on your street corner and drops you in front of the school.  Most of my kids took the crowded J train to Jamaica Ave and transferred to a crowded Q11 bus which leaves you two blocks away from the school’s entrance. Can you imagine riding the subway in 6th grade?

What are your non-negotiables?  What gets you through the day in your city?

Last car in the parking lot

I Pass

I recently passed up two job opportunities.  Here I am writing a blog all about how much I want to teach abroad and I’ve fudged-up two jobs!

The first was with a job in Jakarta.  I had all my paperwork in, final interview scheduled and a great recruiter rooting for me.  The phone started to ring at the appointed time and I hesitated.

Ring 1

The pay is very low, but there is a very low cost of living as well.  No money would be left over to put into savings.

Ring 2

This job would not help me find housing

Ring 3

This job does not provide flights for my family

Ring 4

The school is located far from the ocean

Ring 5

There is no healthcare provided for my family

I never picked up the phone.  I apologized to the recruiter later and said that I never should have agreed to interview.  This was not the right move for me and my family.

A month later, I was asked to interview with a school in Saudi Arabia.  The call came in at 5 am.  Again, I let it ring and ring and ring.  I didn’t pick up.  The school left a voicemail saying they would reschedule in another two weeks.   Are they nuts?  I wouldn’t give me a second chance.  When the call came in two weeks later, I picked up the phone.  I interviewed very briefly with a department head and Principal.  Their questions included:

How soon can you move?

What will your husband do when he comes here?

Are you ready to take on a new culture and way of life?

Ok, so these are completely valid questions, but not a single question about my teaching? Education? Educational philosophy?  I Googled the school to make sure it is a reputable place and it looks really amazing.  There are pictures of a sprawling, modern campus and high-tech classrooms. What were they looking for in me?

The recruiter asks me to submit paperwork to begin the process of applying for a visa.  As I stared at pages of paperwork, medical forms, authentication procedures…I hit a wall.

I did all of this.  It took so much time and effort.  And money.  And it all went to waste.

I replied that I would turn the papers in within a few days, but I put it off another week. Then two weeks, three weeks, a month goes by and I can’t bring myself to even print the applications.  The last email from the recruiter went unanswered.

What’s wrong with me?  Wasn’t moving abroad the point of this past year?  Yes, it has been a year since that first interview over the phone for Abu Dhabi.  I remember how confident I was as I moved through that process; phone interview, in-person interview, paperwork and more paperwork.  Running between Mineola and Midtown, Brookville to Jamaica, Queens.

I actually don’t think I have the energy to do it all again.  At least, not right now.  The process of moving abroad is not easy.  But, It’s hiring season again.  Do I keep going for it or give myself a year to mend my broken heart?  I love my new school here in Virginia.  It’s everything a teaching position should be and more.

And then I get an invitation to interview for ADEC in New York on November 14th.  Here we go again!

Mosaic District, North Virginia

Moving Still

I love reading The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez with my students. It’s the story of a Mexican Family who cross the border (illegally) and the constant moving that comes with being migrant farm workers. The main character, Panchito, struggles to learn the language and strives to balance school and helping his family.  

When the author spoke to a group of educators decades later, he thanked his teachers for seeing him through the toughest period of his life and inspiring him to keep moving forward. Every year, since hearing Jimenez speak, I’ve read his book with my students and have been amazed with their ability to connect with someone whose life is so completely different from theirs. The themes are so strong despite the vast space between time and place – social inequalities, faith, friendships lost, the family dynamic – I am still moved to tears as Panchito recites the lines from The Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”  The words have not changed but we are still fighting to see them hold true. 

In the pursuit of happiness, we have decided to keep moving. It’s not going to be the UAE but it will be a new place with new opportunities. It will allow me to grow as an educator and gain experience with the International Baccalaureate Programme-a curriculum that should make me more marketable to schools abroad. This new opportunity will allow for my kids to attend top rated schools and begin dual-language study – a program I would love for them to have in New York but couldn’t manage without jumping through a lot of hoops or first selling a kidney. 

The offer is on the table. I just need to sign, scan and return. Am I ready to leave New York?

The last chapter of the book is titled “Moving still” and we have all had these moments when we’ve worked so hard for everything to finally go right, only to have it go so wrong. But if this child and his family found the will to never give up then we all can follow through with our dreams.  I have to admit, I love the evidence of learning I receive in students’ tears and cries of “Nooo!” that follow the last words on the page. 

Formative assessment: ✔️check!

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