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!

 

Amor Eterno

She lived for 104 years.

She saw the world transform – from the mountains of Ecuador to the peaks of New York City buildings.  From radio to the television screen sizes.  She lived so many different lives – a daughter, sister, a Mother of 6, and the wife of a man who dreamed of coming to America.  She was a seamstress in New York City as so many immigrant women were.  She was strong enough to keep going, despite the small apartment, the rough subways, and the language barrier.

She is America, my Grandmother and the matriarch of our family.  She had a way of making 3 small pots of food feed everyone who came to visit – her 6 children, 11 grandchildren and, eventually, 15 great grandchildren and even 2 great-great- grandchildren!  Her biggest fan, Luis, my grandfather, always got the 1st plate. She and my Grandfather founded a family whose story breaks cultural barriers and defines what it means to be an American.  We define what it means to be a New Yorker.

But I only know the part where I came in.  The part where I know for certain that I am my Grandmother’s favorite.  How do I know this?  Because I am the one my cousins would get to ask permission to go places.  Like, if we wanted to go to the park, they’d pay me with quarters to go ask Grandma.

“She likes you, you ask.”

“She’s Grandma.  She likes all of us….”

“No, no, she likes you most because you read a lot.  You’re ‘responsible.'”

The funny thing is that I never really learned how to speak Spanish fluently.  And my Grandmother never learned to speak English at all.  Our conversations were a special type of Spanglish on both ends.

“Quiero vas a la park”

“Que?”

“The park”

“Al parque?  Si, si, via con cuidado. Before I could run off to the bunch hiding on the porch, she’d laugh and say, “Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”

Off we would go, my cousins Stephanie and Omar and my sister Lisa.   Off to the park 2 blocks away, up the steep hill and stairs of death, in Woodside, Queens, New York.  We’d get Omar to push all us girls on the tire swing, we’d run like mad children, chasing each other with sticks.  We would stay there forever, but I swear we could hear her calling us to come home from 2 city blocks away.

At Grandma’s house, we would eat what she made or starve because there was no ordering out or frozen options.  Rice, beans, chicken.  Rice, soup, bread.  Rice, beans, steak.  Rice, beans, fish.  No matter what, it would always taste delicious.  I didn’t like red meat or fish at the time, but when Grandma made it, I ate it.  It had a unequivocal flavor, not even my own mother could replicate.  At the end of every meal, we would walk our plates to the sink, give her a kiss and say, “Gracias Abuelita.”  I usually called her Grandma, but after a meal, this was the tradition.  Always kiss the chef!

We would beg to sleep over Grandma’s house.  Admittedly, not because we wanted to spend more time with her, but because we wanted to hang out with our cousins.  Grandma would put us all to bed around 8 pm.  Earlier if she could, but 8 pm, when the sun was still shining through the large windows of her big yellow house on a corner in Queens.  We would just about fall asleep when we would hear the tune of Mister Softee, the ice cream truck, coming down the block.

“Ask her if we can get ice cream.”

“Quiero Ice Cream.”

“Que? Helado?”

“Si.”

“Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”
I’m pretty sure the change in the tone of her voice signified that we should all get back to sleep…but I didn’t understand her at all when she yelled.  My Spanish was selective. Luckily, Grandpa would intercept and hand us all a dollar so we could all get ice cream. Mister Softee would stop right in front of their house and we’d make our purchases and hang out on the brick porch steps with the white aluminum awning.  We’d tell jokes, 


Eventually we’d get back to sleep on her plastic covered couches covered with her flowery sheets.

There are a few phrases I could exchange with Grandma, but mostly it was about “Escuela.”

“Te gusta Escuela?”

“Si, Grandma.”

“Esta bien.” and she might carry on a few minutes with words that I’m sure meant, “Getting an education is important.  Make sure you study.”

“Si, Grandma.”

She’d chuckle again and again  saying, “La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”

As she and Grandpa would leave our house, she’d secretly slip me $5, $10, $20 to spend. Actually, I’m sure she meant for me to save it, but I never did.

They both came to visit us where ever we were.  In North Carolina, In Hawaii.  In Hempstead.  In my many apartments/houses.  But when Grandpa passed away in 2010, she stopped leaving the house.  She was 96 at the time and she’d say over and over, “Everyone is gone.  I want to be with them.” or something to that effect.

But she just kept going.  She kept cooking, cleaning, and sitting by her window, watching who came in and out of the house.

Until the second week of June, when she started to complain of pain in her stomach.  They took her to the hospital and the doctors said there was a tumor.  But she’s too old to have surgery.  They sent her home with a Hospice nurse and said it could be days, even weeks.

I left Virginia for New York on Thursday, the day they sent her home.  I walked into the room and my mom told her it was me.  Her only true ailment up until this point was her eyesight.

“La Nina Nancy…” she sang, slowly, and then continued on in Spanish

“She says she’s dying.” my Mom translated.

I held her hand.  She was so thin.  So tiny.

Everyone left at that moment.  Uncle Luis went to get her water.  Uncle Santiago went to answer the phone.  The kids went off to play.

And she spoke to me.  But I couldn’t understand what she was saying.  I held her hand and listened.  But I had no response.  I figured I would find a few words to say to her tomorrow.  I said, “I love you.”

And she passed the next day.

We kissed her good-bye before they took her away.  “Gracias Abuelita.”

Omar, Stephanie, Lisa and I hugged each other a little bit harder and broke down in each other’s arms.  We each took turns trying to console Uncle Luis, who took care of her every day since Grandpa died.

Eventually I made it outside to the backyard and I watched the children play.  They didn’t really have any idea what had happened.  Most of them won’t remember her at all.   But there they were, running up and down the side of the house like we once did.  Riding on a little Fisher Price horse on wheels that used to belong to Omar.  Kicking the ball out into the street and waiting for a kind stranger to return it as they walked by.  Asking for ice cream when the truck came by.

I looked up at the Yellow House my Grandfather bought so many years ago and how so many of us were lucky enough to feel like this is home, thanks to her.

I made a video using all the pictures we could find of her, but we didn’t have many of her younger years.  We played it at the funeral home and now the song, “Amor Eterno,” is forever etched in my brain.  I would have liked to find photos of her as a young girl, long before any of us came along.  But there just aren’t any.  Just a headshot of her with my Grandpa, smiling and leaning on each other.  I don’t know what year it is from, but they’re both young.  There’s the one of them both by the fence that used to surround the house.  Another of her by the train when my Mom was very young.  Maybe we’ll find more in Ecuador.


Gracias Abuelita for the beautiful home you made, the love you gave us all and the bravery you had for venturing into the unknown in hopes of giving your children the best life possible.

This is Not the End

If there is a reason for everything, then there is a reason why I didn’t go to Abu Dhabi last year. Actually, I think there’s quite a few reasons why. but that’s a post for another day.

The 4.5 hours to NYC

4/10/17

I’m in NYC finishing up some more papers for authentication. This process is painful.

Hubby took the bus here 3 weeks ago to get some papers authenticated. Unfortunately, we missed the part where you you need a new letter from your university that certifies that you’ve

  • Competed your degree in person and not online
  • Dates you attended
  • The university’s credentials

And a lot more that I can’t think of right now. Fortunately, Queens College came through in time for spring break so here I am!  I’m grateful for being able to spend more time with my family and have the week off. 

But this is no Bahamas vacation.

This is running up and down the steps of Queens County Clerk’s office on Sutphin Blvd,

Racing past the crowds with laundry carts to the J train,

And standing on the filthy train platforms on my way to 123 William Street.

I’m leaning into shops wafting with flavorful food

And dodging piles of stinking trash on the sidewalks.

I miss New York, but these streets really are mean.  

It will all pay off. It has to!


Update

5/16/17

All that running in around in NYC and paperwork is still not complete!!! I’ve still got to go back to New York because most of my papers are mostly New York State Documents, they must be authenticated by the Qatar Consulate in NEW YORK.  I’m still waiting for the FBI Clearance on official paper rather than the digital copy that will show the same information!!!

Time is running out and I’ve got people in all directions asking,

“So when are you going to know?”

“Will you stay or will you go?”

“We are still awaiting documents…”

Arghhh!

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If I Could Stay

Kagan Strategies:  Get the kids moving and fully engaged.

A group of newer teachers went all the way to Texas to attend a conference on how to use timers, numbered seats, color coordinated seating charts, and spinners to randomly choose kids to participate.  I love the refresher…but my, oh my, how I’ve wasted all this time teaching when I could instead package everything teachers have already been doing for centuries in a pretty little book.

My desk full of books, bears and Starbucks cards

I am grateful for this opportunity to teach outside of New York.  It feels good to be treated like a human by administrators.  The staff looks out for each other.  It’s nice to have parents show their appreciation with books, candy and Starbucks.  It’s been really nice having small comforts like a kitchen in the lounge, birthday lunches and Teacher Work from Home Days.  The professional development opportunities have been meaningful and considerate of our time.

And kids are really kids.  I’ve got tons of sweet ones, bright stars, goofy jokesters and a few who make the day feel long,   What I am truly grateful for is this chance to see the stark difference between the haves and have-nots. The inequalities are simple, yet, vast.

1) The Copy Machine:  After running off copies of a packet, I sat in the lounge stapling them together.  One of the English teachers on my team walked in and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Stapling…”

“But the copy machine does that!”

“Really?”

She walked in another time while I was correlating copies and burst out laughing.

The next day before starting our Content Team meeting, she said, “We are starting today with a copy machine tutorial for Nancy.”

I explained how I made it through 14 years without a copy machine.  In New York, the teachers pooled together money to buy a copy machine and maintain it.  I didn’t think I could afford the “Copy Machine Membership” so I used a high-power printer and bought recycled ink to make copies when necessary.  I got the printer and paper through a grant. The Ink cost about $50 per year.

2) Field Trips:  We took the entire 7th grade on a trip to the Newseum in DC this past week. Over $5000 was spent on 8 luxury buses for a quick 30 minute ride. Students toured the museum with parent chaperones while I monitored the whole thing.  We passed out vouchers for students to eat $13 of whatever they wanted from the cafe and then watched as they broke out $20’s for ice cream, coffee, and trinkets at the gift shop.  Several teachers that came along spent the day relaxing in the cafeteria, reading magazines because we had more than enough chaperones. I spent the day running up and down 6 floors of exhibits checking on all 15 groups of 11.  Ok, running down 6 flights and taking the elevator up…

In New York, transportation on trips is via yellow buses that sometimes cancelled at the last minute. There were never enough chaperones, so the morning of each trip was usually me begging an administrator to allow an aide to come along so we wouldn’t have to cancel.

Then there were the black plastic bags my students would show up with.  They were usually full of junk food (chips, soda, and maybe a bagel).   We would bring the free lunch they were entitled to on every trip, but no one ever wanted to eat it.  So I’d have the buses drop us off at Burger King, 3 blocks away from school.  They’d scrounge up all they could for dollar menu fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.

Most of our trips were either free or under $12 or we wouldn’t get enough students who could afford to go.  I miss their grateful little faces after every trip.  Not a lot of teachers would do the work required to take them out.

Miss my NYC Kids

3) Parent involvement:  in Ozone Park, I remember sitting at my desk for hours on parent/teacher conference night, waiting for someone to stop in.  But so many parents don’t speak English and many more don’t work 9-5 hours in the city that never sleeps.

Here, they don’t even schedule a parent/teacher conference night because parents are in the school all the time.  I walk into picture day and there are parents all over the place.  I walk into the book fair and there are parents all over the place.  Our trips have both moms and dads volunteering.  On Valentine’s Day, I had several “candy-grams” from kind families.  For Christmas, I made a huge wishlist that parents and students kindly fulfilled.  The community has an extremely positive relationship with the school.

Based on the number of  parent emails and conferences requested because Timmy’s progress report was not favorable so let’s ask the teacher what she’s doing wrong…I’d say parent schedules are much more flexible around here.

I don’t miss the torture of standardized tests and data collection that pervades the school environment in New York.  It exists in Virginia, but it’s way more relaxed and up to the teacher to design and use it.

If I could stay, I’d be very happy.  I could teach another 15 years in this environment.  But this principal is set to retire in a few more years.  I’ve never met anyone like her.  She sets the tone for success, kindness, and work-place happiness.  And she’s from New York! Can we make more principals like this please?

My Fellow English Teacher and I on the terrace of the Newseum in DC
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In the Last Hour of 2016

Would it be too cliche to say that 2016 was a roller coaster of a year?  It’s a good thing I like a thrilling roller coaster!

The High Point:  Realizing I Could Leave

I graduated my 9th middle school class in New York City – and walked right out of the school building with them.  I loved my years as a teacher in New York City Public Schools, but this needed to be my last year with them.  For now.  Perhaps the political climate will change.  Perhaps there will be more focus on the teaching of children and not the accountability of a product.  All the joy I felt teaching my classes got swept away with the pressures from Administration, Common Core, Standardized Tests and Buzz Words.  I was so fortunate to be hired by a community that placed little value on tests and more value on engagement of students.  Stepping away has allowed me to grow and focus on areas of teaching that were not possible in New York – collaboration with other teachers, project based learning and educational technology that got stuck behind the “Crime Scene” tape in NYC.  It’s amazing what can be done when you have the freedom to just teach!

My desk

Bulletin board behind my desk

The Low Point:  I’m Still Leaving

I’m quite a bit further from family and friends than I was before and it’s challenging.  So many have come to visit, which always makes for a great time.  But it’s tough not spending every Friday night at my Mom’s house with my sisters and all the kids.  It’s odd not having someone to dial up and go out for sushi on a whim.  Baby Z sometimes says, “I miss my old house.” and even Baby D will cry, “I want to go home.”  Where will home be when we’re done traveling abroad?  Are we being fair to them by going so far away from family?

Best part about moving away? VISITORS!

2017: Live Life

This is not much of a resolution but here goes:  Keep working on being the best version of myself I can be.  The best mom I can be, the best wife I can be, the best daughter, sister, cousin, friend etc.  Stay healthy.  Be kind.  Be welcoming.  See the world.

I don’t know if I should be as proud as I am of myself for all that I’ve accomplished, but I am.  I have a family, a career, and dreams. I’ve got a few people reading my blog too!

Happy 2017!

Categories nyc

In the City of Sinners and Saints; Salt and Sugarcane

While sitting down for our second taste of Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans, I got the email:

Greetings from Qatar!

I’m sorry it has taken this long to put your offer together and appreciate your patience.  I believe that you have the qualifications and experience that is needed … and that you will be a good fit in our school with our staff.  

I almost choked on the pound of sugar sitting atop my diamond shaped donut – “I have a serious offer from Qatar!” I yell my husband.

We really wanted this.  After Abu Dhabi left us high and dry as the desert last June, we couldn’t get excited over their second offer.  But Qatar is a real step in the right direction as far as starting a career teaching abroad.  I can see myself there for several years, rather than an obligatory two.  Their IB Program is closer to what I am looking for as far as teaching style and philosophy.  My own children will be able to attend their schools and get a true global experience!

Which is why we were in New Orleans.

What are you going to do with two kids in New Orleans?  

Most people bawked at the idea of bringing two small children to the City of Sinners and Saints.  But I am usually after a different perspective and since we can’t really afford a flight for four to another continent, we might as well make the most of this one.  New Orleans offers so much history and culture shaped from around the world.

Ride the St. Charles Streetcar!

We were fortunate to arrive on an extremely rainy Sunday.  I believe it washed the streets clean enough for us to push a stroller down Bourbon Street over the next week.  On our first day, we took the kids to Jackson Square and rode a streetcar to Mardi Gras World. While the tour of parade floats seemed tedious for toddlers, making a mask full of glitter was a great craft for the kids!

At the Presbetyre Museum, we saw an exhibit on the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I sometimes want to say I experienced my own “Katrina” with Hurricane Sandy, but really, nothing compares to this type of devastation.  We were displaced, but not our entire community.  The similarities are the lack of attention given to those who need it most.  Their VA is just now opening, 15 years later!  Hospitals, schools, and programs that support the poor are still struggling to rebuild!   Anyhow, the exhibit takes you through experiencing the storm, artifacts collected in the rubble and stories of those who were lost.

The most notable experience on this trip was a visit to the Whitney Plantation.  We saw several plantation tours advertised, but this seemed like the most worthwhile.  The Whitney Plantation tells the story of life on a sugarcane plantation through the eyes of slave children.  It is a chilling tribute to the thousands of children who died while enslaved on these plantations.  These are stories you would never find in a text book at school.

We walked through a memorial dedicated to thousands of lost children. I became transfixed by a stature of an angel holding a baby in her hands.  It symbolized the children who died at birth…even those who were miscarriages.  There are records kept of each child, named and unnamed.  Records kept by slave owners, not to memorialize them, but for inventory. Each child was property and a dead child was property lost; a tax write-off.  I was frozen for quite a while at this particular memorial garden.


We toured slave quarters and a slave jail.  There were beautiful life-like statues of children throughout the grounds; in the aisles of the church, on the porch of their shacks and by the slave master’s bed.  Zara tried talking to them because they were exactly her height!

With every experience on this trip, the kids picked up at least 20 new words.  The cuisine were heavy, salty, brackish; the Mississippi River was brown, muddy, murky; and the beignets were just “too yummy.”

Beignets & Coffee @ Cafe Du Monde

The highlight for Baby D was riding the St. Charles Streetcar at night and seeing the classic homes lit up with Christmas lights.  The highlight for Lady Z was making the Mardi Gras mask and eating beignets!  For me, it was the Whitney Plantation and Geisha Sushi (really good sushi!).  For Hubby, it was most likely a catfish and grits meal at Ruby Slipper and an “American Pickers” marathon on TV!  We don’t have cable at home, so the oddest shows are like gold! The Louisiana Children’s Museum was also perfect for our little ones!  They loved serving food in the kid sized restaurant and shopping in the kid-sized supermarket!

We’re in for more adventures, ladies and gentleman!  Perhaps on the other side of the world?

Standing where we couldn’t have 150 years ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Friday, the streets were foul smelling and filthy.

 

 

 

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