What Does it Mean? The story of an ellipsis

. . . 

Is it just ’cause it looks cool?

It’s for your family, right?  You, your husband, your son.  Three of you.

Oh my god, how long have you had that?  I just noticed it.

What does it mean?

I get asked these questions on a semi-regular basis.  I got my little tattoo just over one year ago; it was a gift to myself and a reminder of hard-learned lessons.

Usually, I simply tell my curious questioners, “It’s an ellipsis.  You know, the dot-dot-dot in punctuation?”

They respond, “Oh!  I didn’t know it had a name.”  Sometimes, they add, “What does it mean?”

“It’s my reminder to pause.”

I usually leave it at that.  Because the rest of the story isn’t something you usually tell a perfect stranger, and quite honestly most of those strangers are pretty satisfied just to know what the dots mean.  It doesn’t change that there is a rest of the story, however.

In April 2016, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation, stemming from postpartum depression.  It was horrifying; I was ashamed, I was scared, and I was desperate.  That was the beginning of my healing journey, because it turns out that postpartum depression wasn’t my only struggle.  In the following months, I took drastic steps in my mental health recovery.  That is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that it was long and hard-won.  I had to face fears I desperately wanted to ignore, and I had to let myself experience nearly debilitating emotional pain in order to move forward.

I learned valuable skills.  The ability to pause, for example.  Mindfulness, the art of staying present, is the kind of thing that is so simple to explain but so incredibly difficult to practice.  It is literally just keeping your mind entirely on what is happening in reality in your present.  It’s not obsessing over the thoughts in your head, or clinging to the memory of something painful; it’s figuratively grabbing hold of the present and staring it in the face with your full attention.  It has been said that depression happens when you focus too much on the past, and anxiety is when you focus too much on the future.  Mindfulness is a medicine for the extreme anxiety that I battle on a regular basis.

I had to learn that pain isn’t permanent.  Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.  I could choose to recognize my pain for what it was, and recognize that it wasn’t permanent.  Life marches forward without your permission, and pain moves too if you let it.

I also had to learn “No.”  It’s a simple word, but a hard word.  I commit myself too often to too much and I wear myself thin.  My hospitalization forced me to find ways to self-soothe, to self-care, to self-appreciate.  Often, this included saying, “No” to extra obligations, “No” to unfinished projects, and “No” to perfection.

Move forward I did, and heal I did, and heal I continue to do.

Which is where my tattoo comes in.

Have you heard of the semi colon project? In sum, it’s about suicide awareness, using the semi colon as its symbol.  In punctuation, a semi colon functions as a place where the author could end the sentence, but decides to keep going.  The sentence isn’t over yet.  Your life isn’t over yet.  Get it?

My tattoo is in homage of that.  In punctuation, an elipsis, also known as dot-dot-dot or [ . . . ], represents one of three things:

  1. a pause
  2. a trailing off, with an implication that there is more information
  3. a way to omit unnecessary information when quoting material

As such, my tattoo is my own personal reminder of three things:

  1. Pause.  Breathe.  Remain mindful, especially when anxiety arises. Mindfulness = medicine.
  2. Things go on, always.  My life went on when I was convinced that it wouldn’t.  My pain moved on, even when I thought it was permanent.
  3. Omit the unnecessary.  Say no when you need to, and get rid of the extra.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it’s my perfect metaphor.  Every day it reminds me and strengthens me.

Not Another Birth Story

I was kind of iffy on the power of visualization before I gave birth.  I mean, just because I imagine something doesn’t make it so, right?  That’s a load of hooey.

Of course, when my due date came and went without fanfare, I started getting desperate.  The last weeks of pregnancy are just terrible.  Like, I cannot adequately get across the encompassing discomfort, coupled with the looming question: “Is this it?”  Seriously, I found myself googling the most ridiculous things.  “Is ankle pain a sign of labor?”

Fun fact: everything is a sign of labor, which means nothing is a sign of labor.

My baby was due on December 19.  When the 19th passed, and then the 20th, and then the 21st, a Christmas baby became a real possibility. I got very nervous, very frustrated, and extremely desperate.

And then… I couldn’t be any of those things.  Sometime late on December 21, it occurred to me that I couldn’t control when my labor happened.  I don’t know why it took so long for this little thought to surface.  I mean, I was doing everything I could: I drank pineapple smoothies by the gallon.  I had my membranes swiped.  I was doing yoga and timing Braxton Hicks and begging my husband to get it on with me.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

I had to consciously choose to relax and let it all go.  It finally occurred to me that I couldn’t control this, no matter how much I wanted to puppet every bit of it – you don’t get to decide when you go into labor.  Well, pitocin can decide that for you, but I wasn’t there yet.

Me, on December 22. I spent soooo much time in that rocking chair watching Netflix on that TV.

December 22 I found myself relaxed in a way I hadn’t in weeks.  I put finishing touches on the nursery.  I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my latest Netflix binge.  I felt more energized than I had in a while, which still wasn’t much.  That night, to get out of the house, Husband and I went to P F Chang’s, my favoritest restaurant.  As I squeezed my butt into that booth, scarfing down all my favorites like hot and sour soup and lettuce wraps, I mentally timed contractions between bites.

Fun fact about pregnancy: contractions do not mean labor.  What the hell, right? In fact, a woman can experience contractions for literally months before real labor happens.  Most of these obnoxious quote, unquote contractions are called Braxton Hicks contractions, which are basically fake contractions.  They don’t particularly hurt, they are at worst mildly uncomfortable.  The whole belly goes hard, as though “practicing” for the real deal.  Of course, those fake contractions start to come on harder and get closer together before labor.

The 4-1-1 rule helps a woman know if she’s in labor.  When the contractions come every FOUR minutes for ONE hour and the contractions are ONE minute in length, then maybe you might be in labor.  If not, suck it up buttercup.

During dinner, my contractions were six minutes apart, lasting roughly 4o seconds.

I didn’t tell my husband.  Why worry him, right?  Besides, if I could keep eating, then it probably wasn’t “real” labor, right?

At home, my contractions were five minutes apart, lasting 40-50 seconds.  What the hell, I thought.  I had just eaten my body weight in Chinese food and I was tired.  If it was “real” labor, I wouldn’t be able to sleep through it, right?  So I went to bed.

I managed to completely underestimate my sleeping ability.  If sleeping were a sport, I could compete on a national scale.  I can sleep through anything.  Earlier this year, I literally slept through an earthquake.  It’s a gift, really.  Both the husband and the dog snore like it’s a competition.  Doesn’t bother me.  I am also not hindered by location: futons, floor, cars, airplane, I can sleep on anything.  And sleep right through it all I will.

I cannot, however, sleep through pregnancy peeing.  I woke up on December 23 at 1:00 am, and had to pee.  Story of a pregnant girl’s life.  Three steps from my bed, I felt a sort of tearing sensation on my left abdomen.  Could it be…? Thirty seconds on the toilet confirmed it–my water broke.  Gushes of reddish water came out of me.  I got up and called over my husband.  I didn’t realize that water just keeps coming.  Yeah, those clothes and the bed sheet were eventually thrown out.

While Husband flew into activity, I noticed that the contractions of the Chinese restaurant were clearly NOT the contractions of 1:00 in the morning post water-breakage.  They started pretty immediately and there were definitely harder than all the Braxton Hicks I had felt.

The plan was to labor at home for as long as possible.  Stay in a safe spot, avoid being sent home from the hospital (literally my worst fear about labor *insert hindsight eye roll*).  I sat in the rocking chair and focused on breathing through the contractions.  Husband, meanwhile, was doing the anxious things that husbands do when the wife is definitely in labor.  Packed the car, made phone calls, and generally freaked the fuck out.

The contractions quickly intensified, like really quickly intensified.  They went from, “Okay, I can do this,” to “Holy shit what is my body doing” in about 10 minutes.  Right along with that intensity, my anxiety climbed.  Stories of women forced to give birth at home danced through my head.  On the phone, the midwife said to stay at home as long as I was comfortable, which didn’t last long.  Particularly when I started vomiting.

Yeah.  Vomiting.  Apparently some women react to the extreme pain of labor by blowing chunks.  There went my Chinese food.  Over and over and over… Every time I had a contraction, I puked.  No one had prepared me for this possibility, the throwing up, so I basically decided I was done.  Less than an hour after waking up and experiencing water breakage, I demanded we go to the hospital.

Husband didn’t argue.  Protip: never argue with a woman in labor.

I held to Husband as we walked haltingly to the car.  It was very cold, and snow was starting to fall, so he insisted I walk through the contractions.  Like I was even thinking about the cold.  In retrospect, I feel like a damn Amazon warrior for walking through contractions.  Never mind that I was clinging to Husband with one arm and a pot of vomit in the other.  In the car that I started to realize the severity of the pain.  I mean, I knew it was bad.  What I realized in the car is that it was so bad I was basically losing awareness.  When I would come out of a contraction, I’d look out the car window into the snow-dusted streets and I had no recollection of the last several blocks–the pain blocked my ability to comprehend events around me.  Like, damn.  That’s painful.

At some point during the car ride, mid-contraction, Husband asked, “Are you hot or cold?”  I was thoroughly irritated.  In a sounder mind, I might have punched him.  Protip: only ask a woman in labor yes or no questions.  The kind of questions that she can either nod or shake her head at.

The roads were empty of people but coated in snow.  The hospital was so bare it almost looked closed.  We were met at the door by security.  They offered me a wheelchair, which I gratefully took.  It felt like a movie-moment: a security guard wheeling the cringing pregnant lady to labor and delivery.  Rest assured, that was the only movie-moment of this whole affair.  On the third floor, a nurse made me stand on a scale before she directed me to a room.  I resisted the urge to call her a nasty word.  Who makes a pregnant woman stand on a scale?  Whatever.  I made it all the way to the door frame before literally vomiting on the floor.  I was so embarrassed, but unable to apologize, already conserving my energy for the next wave of contractions.  I just shuffled into the bathroom and followed a different nurse’s orders to change.

From here, things are somewhat of a blur.  I remember pieces but everything is fragmented, broken, I assume, by the contractions.  Husband later liked to described it as an “endorphin hole,” where I was basically unreachable.  The contraction would rise up, overtake every part of me and consume me, and when it receded I could communicate like a normal human.  Well, an exhausted somewhat terrified human in the midst of child labor.

The birth plan I had written months before specifically stated SEVEN pain management techniques before I wrote the words, “I am not opposed to an epidural, but I would like to wait as long as possible.”

Literally the birth plan text

I never even tried those seven other methods. I asked for the epidural within half an hour of getting to the hospital.  Why beeline for the epidural after alllllllllll the careful planning?  Let me explain.  After literally puking on the hospital floor, I sat on the toilet of the hospital bathroom, naked, holding a new puke bag and my brain piped up:  “Remind me again why we don’t want the epidural?  Like, what is the benefit of fully experiencing this debilitating pain?” And then I puked into the stupid bag.  “Literally, why opt out?  So you can tell people that you did all this without an epidural?  You know there’s not an award, right?  Seriously are bragging rights really worth this shit?” I puked again.  “Fuck that!”  Husband was surprised.  The nurses were surprised.  Husband quietly suggested one of my seven planned “natural” techniques.  I not-so-nicely told him to can it.

After wrapping me in the barest of hospitals gowns, the nurse directed me into bed.  THE bed.  The one in the movies.  The one that moves in all the different ways, with the stirrups and the nice warm sheets.  The quiet little nurse informed me that she needed 30 minutes of continuous monitoring and 30 minutes of an IV before I could get my epidural.  Thirty minutes until that sweet, sweet pain relief.

Of course the word “continuous” means “without stopping.”  My thirty minutes kept getting pushed back because I kept vomiting, which made me lurch forward, and off came all the monitoring equipment. Which the nurse would try to put back on before the next wave of nausea materialized.  And because I had been vomiting for a good hour at least, I was incredibly dehydrated, which meant that my IV line couldn’t get in.  My quiet little hospital room started to fill with nurses as they stuck my arm once… three times… five times…. New nurses kept coming in.  Each one made a special point to tell me her name.  Like, really?  I’m vomiting my guts out while breathing through unmediated contractions, I don’t give a shit about your name.  At one point, six nurses surrounded my bed, poking my arm and calmly discussing the options.  Purple-green bruises popped up on my arms.  Meanwhile, I’m STILL throwing up and breathing my way through contractions.  The labor and delivery nurse kept trying to coach my breath.  “In through your nose, out through your mouth.”  Which really pissed me off because I was doing the breathing from my damn labor class.  But every time I made up my mind to slap her, someone would stick my arm or I would hurl.

An hour (more? less? time is strange when you’re in that much pain) later, I’m still vomiting, the IV isn’t in, which means pain relief is still far away, I start to feel panicky.  The L&D nurse is contradicting what I learned in labor class about breathing, so I started to lose control of my breathing.

Basically, I started to lose my mind.

Which is really the last thing that a woman in labor wants.  You already feel like your body is moving without you, so the few things you do have control over (like your breath and your thoughts) are really precious.  So pain, plus vomiting, plus anger at this stupid nurse, PLUS I can’t fricking talk to her because the pain is so bad annnnnnnnnnd I had all the ingredients for…


A panic attack.

I am no stranger to panic attacks.  I have experienced those frightening little suckers since adolescence and they are NOT something to be taken lightly.  My main go-to for a panic attack is to crouch into a dark little room (AKA a closet) and breathe it out.  Usually with lots of tears.  Yeah, not happening when I am in bed surrounded by nurses trying to get an IV into my damn arm, contractions coming on top of each other, and my belly wrapped in equipment.

I started to feel extremely claustrophobic and overwhelmed, the pain started to feel unbearable.  Bad things were happening.  Very bad things.  But how do you tell everyone to shut up so you can have a panic attack?  You don’t.  I lay back in bed and imagined the horror of a panic attack in labor.  My breath quickened, my pulse started to pick up, my fists clenched.

At literally the best possible moment, right as a panic attack started to become a very real possibility, the door swung open and my midwife walked in the room.

I cannot sing the praises of midwifery accurately.  My group of midwives had led me through pregnancy in a way that made me feel like a fertile goddess.  They helped me feel confident and educated, answered every stupid question and assuaged all our ridiculous (and sometimes extremely valid) fears.

Jenn the Midwife hit my room with a wave of calm, she sauntered in and silently demanded the room to calm down with just her strut and her eye balls.  The hospital would have knelt before her had she demanded.  In she walked, right past my anxious Husband and the congregating nurses, straight to my bedside.  In her cold but so comforting hands, she took one of my hands and she started speaking.

To this day, I have zero recollection of what she said.  I remember only her tone–firm, calm, confident, real.  Somehow, in a couple sentences, she restored my confidence in myself.  I felt calm and secure and in charge but also cared for.  She coached me through the ensuing contraction, her attentive and loving focus on me, and then Jenn the Midwife took over the room.

The IV got in.  Anti-nausea and anti-anxiety meds were administered.  The extra nurses cleared out.  A soft man came and administered an epidural.  My fears about the epidural had long been replaced with an overwhelming desire for pain relief.  Finally, someone got a hand up me and checked. I  was 6 centimeters dilated.  Six centimeters is a long way to go in just a couple hours.  It was no wonder I was overwhelmed.  As the epidural kicked in, I was instructed to rest and relax.  Apparently, people can nap while in labor.  Nurses changed shifts.  I listened to music.  The pain hung around me.  Occasionally I would have to breathe through a contraction, but it was no longer all-consuming, penetrating everything.

God bless the epidural.

I thought about the baby a lot, through all of this.  He brought me a great deal of comfort.  Not because he was the “prize” at the finish line (I detest that turn of phrase in regards to labor) but rather, he and I were in this together.  I was not alone, nor was my pain for naught: every contraction we were both working towards meeting.  I mean, I knew him–I grew him.  We had been communicating for 9 months, by touch and by energy.  But now we would look each other in the eye, see each other, hold each other.  I imagined every contraction pushing him down, widening the cervix.  Despite the pain, I refused to fight the contractions; instead, I channeled them.  I focused my attention and my energy towards working with those contractions, I leaned into them, I let them overtake my body but not my mind and I embraced them.  Of course, all of this was a whole lot easier since I wasn’t throwing up or getting coached by an idiot nurse.

Around this time, as I focused on relaxing, my best friend Michelle came.   I’ve known Michelle since high school.  Where I am a straight-laced rule-follower, Michelle is a sort of nomadic hippie who literally lives life on highlines in the air.  I remember talking to her through sleepy blinks, describing what had happened so far.  She seemed uncomfortable at first.  I wondered vaguely if she was disappointed in me for getting the epidural, she’s definitely in favor of the natural side of life.  Occasionally, a contraction would break through my haze and I would have to breathe through it.  I had discovered that holding a hand was helpful.  It made me feel less alone, and it gave me something to focus on.  I grabbed Michelle’s hand.  That seemed to give her a purpose and she embraced the supportive role.

Which had really been her role from the beginning.  She was one of the first people I told about my pregnancy.  I occasionally waffled with the idea of her presence at my delivery, however.  It’s an extremely intimate event.  Bonding.  Of course my husband was there, but should someone else be there?

A note about Husband.  He’s a bit of a sideline in my mind for this event, but he was present.  And he was his best self, as best as he could be.  But the simple truth is this: Blood freaks him out.  Pain freaks him out.  He wanted (and I know he wanted) to be as supportive as possible, but he was also becoming a dad and totally unsure of how to support me.  So he did it as he knew how to do it: he controlled the environment (who could be in the room), he did all the contacting (so that I wouldn’t have to worry about anything outside my hospital room), and he had EXPLICIT orders to leave the room if he started to panic or get woozy.

Michelle was my back-up plan.  Michelle was to take over Husband’s role should he freak out.  In his heightened state of protection, Husband double-checked to make sure Michelle could be “allowed” in the room.  Nervous, I said yes, with the caveat that I could change my mind.  I never did, although she would have been gracious.  Thank goodness for Michelle.  She offered the perfect counterbalance to Husband–where he was a sort of masculine anxiety (in a terribly loving way, of course) she was a feminine calm.  They complemented each other, both provided two sides to what I needed.

The urge to push came far sooner than expected.  Around 9:00 am (remember my water broke at like 1:00 am) the contractions broke through the epidural barrier and I felt myself “leaning into” them.

Some women describe pushing as “a relief.”  I hated it.  Hated.  It.  Like, I literally remember laying there between contractions, staring at the ceiling, thinking, “Okay, I’m done.  Let’s go home.”  Of course, that’s not how labor works, and I was too exhausted between contractions to actually say anything, but damn.  If I could’ve sat up and walked out, I think I would have tried.

Determined (and painfully aware that there wasn’t any going back), I worked to channel the pushing and not fight it.  Jenn the Midwife coached me.  I clung to her words desperately, hanging on them and soaking them up like my survival depended on it.  It wasn’t like the movies–no screaming, no cursing.  Lots of careful breathing and low moaning, encouraging words, and a marked increase of movement and activity in the room.  I ignored almost everything.  I focused on listening to my body, on implementing Jenn’s instructions, on breathing.  Michelle, who held my hand and massaged my leg, kept saying, “You’re so brave.”  I didn’t feel brave.  I felt strong, though.

Due to the pain and exhaustion, I was unable to communicate more than a nod or a word.  My labor and delivery nurse moved my leg.  For some reason completely lost to me now (was I pushing the leg into her? Maybe?) I really liked the feeling of my leg held like she had it.  When she went to put it back down, I meant to say, “Hey, could you keep doing that?  It feels nice and is really helpful.”  Except, I didn’t have the energy for all that so instead I sat up and pointed and said, “No!”  She held my leg for the rest of the delivery.  At one point, between pushes, I overheard Michelle and Husband debating eye color.  One said he would have green eyes.  The other thought grey or hazel.  I wanted to tell them, “Blue!  They’ll be blue!”  I didn’t have the strength to speak.

I knew things were picking up when people starting saying, “There he is” and when Husband started gasping.  He stood by my head, a hand in my hair, and he counted with Jenn the Midwife.  I found all of those things extremely annoying, but I didn’t have the strength to say, “Knock it off!”  My baby boy was getting close; we all knew it.

And then… the urge to push ceased.  I leaned back, chest heaving.  Everyone was silent.  My rest in between stretched double, then triple its normal amount.  “This is a big one,” the delivery nurse said.  The room held its breath.  I lay on my back and panted.

The push contraction, when it came, was dizzying.  And then, all at once, Jenn the Midwife said, “Molly, look down.”  I did.  And there he was.

Everything fell away.  Everything.  There were no nurses, no hospital, no sound.  I reached out for that baby, that naked, blood-coated baby, and pulled him to me.  I felt a small pop as I did so, but I only had eyes and focus for that beautiful baby.  He started crying.  My heart fell into little pieces: crying meant life.  He was alive and breathing and here.

“Hello, beautiful,” I said.  Then I said it again and again.  Slowly, the crying calmed and he blinked those big eyes open and looked directly at me.  He had the darkest blue eyes.  Beautiful, alert eyes.  My heart assembled itself larger and softer and it ached with all the love.  My beautiful child, my son.

Dimly, I became aware of the activity of the room.  There was talk about blood and the nurses kept asking me to adjust and move so they could look at these big patches of blood on my gown and the hospital sheets.  When did those get there?  It seemed like a lot of people were in the room with us.

Ten minutes into holding and talking to my perfect baby, a nurse told me that they needed to take him.  She spoke softly and reassuringly and insisted that it was just to be sure, that there was nothing to worry about.  I said it was fine, as long as Husband could be with the baby the whole time.

Then the room cleared.  Just me and Michelle, and Jenn the Midwife and a nurse.  Jenn the Midwife stitched me up (not as horrifying as it sounds after you’ve just pushed out a baby and you’re still under the epidural) while Michelle talked to distract me.  I was shockingly okay without my baby there.  I mean, I missed him, I wanted to be with him, but I wanted him to be healthy more than anything.

I later learned that his cord had ruptured on delivery–an extremely rare occurrence (none of the nurses, midwife, or pediatricians had seen it before) and it resulted in quite a lot of blood loss to my son.  Luckily, Jenn the Midwife was on top of it and clamped the cord before too much was lost, but his blood pressure sky rocketed, prompting a visit to the NICU where they ran some blood tests to ensure his health.  There, Husband loved on him, holding his hand and talking to him.


After I was stitched up and Jenn the Midwife had shown Michelle and me the placenta (soooooo cool, by the way) I started to get anxious to see my child again.  I just… missed him.  How can you miss something you literally just met?  Nurses and Husband ran back and forth to give me updates, so I knew he was stable and interactive, they were just running tests.  My mother in law preceded him when they brought him back.  She gave me a hug and said something, but over her shoulder I could see him being brought into the room.  All I wanted was to hold him.  The mother in law moved, they handed me my baby, and literally the entire world was perfect.

Of course, the “fun” had only began, but it was my beginning.  And in that moment, I was thrilled.IMG_1329

The Whiteboard Set-Up

As the first weeks of school get rolling, a common teacher blog post is the classroom set up.  I love reading all the set up stories, instructions, and creative ideas (I really do,) BUT… I find so little of it useful to me.  At my last school, teachers were very limited to what they could physically do to the classroom.  I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t add to or change the furniture in any way, and I was just barely allowed to hang up posters.  The system gave the school a uniform and professional appearance, but left me itching to add a personal touch.

Uniform, Professional
Uniform, Professional (And insane bright light at the end of the day, sorry about that.)

Hence, the whiteboard set up.

Almost every classroom has a whiteboard.  Mine had two: one behind the projector screen (which I rarely used, because projector) and another up front and clear.  The set-up I used (still use, actually,) worked extremely well for me – so much so that my colleagues asked where I had gotten my materials and if the students liked it.  You are welcome to modify and make use of it for your classroom.  I find that this set up is helpful to the students and myself, appeases administration demands, costs nothing, and looks great.

The purpose:

This is another way to give your students (and your admin) a very clear purpose for the day.  It’s about organization and consistency.  It’s about state standards.  It’s about flow and expectations.

The materials:

  • Colorful whiteboard markers
  • An eraser
  • Magnetic strips or colored tape (I used 12 inch strips and lined them up)
  • Whatever else you deem important (for me, that’s some colorful/relevant paper posters)

The sections:

The white board areas

  • 7th grade week ahead
  • 8th grade week ahead
  • Journal prompts (or whatever else you would like to call/decorate your weeks)
  • The daily agenda
  • The assorted area (that blank space in the upper left)

7th and 8th grade week ahead:

Week ahead from August

Using your tape or magnetic strips, divide out two (or however many classes you teach) vertical sections of board.  Yes, I do recommend using something physical to divide it.  Drawn lines will work, but the physical separation of something they can’t slyly erase helps the students mentally divide the sections.  Students are… special like that.

Most schools now require teachers to post their daily objective or a state standard focus.  I post one for every day, starting on Monday.  Administration sees I am following the rules and students see the purpose and goal of what we are learning. I used used the SWBAT form (Students Will Be Able To), which I talked about with my students.  Currently, I use “I can” statements, because admin likes that phrasing. By posting it for the whole week, students can look ahead and feel like all is planned and I, the teacher, can stay on topic.

Helpful hint: Color code.  On my board, homework always shows up in black (it’s the easiest to read; none of that “I couldn’t see it from back here”).  Make your own color code.  Do students need certain materials on certain days?  Do you have a weekly quiz?  This is especially helpful for students with an IEP or 504, as the colors provide a sort of built-in organization.

Journal Prompts:

I use my journal prompts on the left to mark out the days of the week (made by this fabulous friend from whom I am always stealing things,) but you can use your own way to indicate days.  Again, I highly recommend something tangible, not written in dry erase.  It really helps add that sense of physical separation.  Plus, do you really want to be writing “Monday, Tuesday…” every week?

The daily agenda:

I am a firm believer in the daily agenda.  Not only do certain students like to see what we are doing all class period, it helps me.  You know how it is: you get rolling, a discussion happens, then you’ve forgotten to take roll and announce that really important administration thing.  By posting the agenda, I keep myself on track (and if I don’t, you can bet the students will).

I always write the homework here too, so students are never interrupting class to ask, “Do we have homework?”

The daily agenda and the assorted section

The assorted area:

This one varies based on what you need.  The only trick is: it shouldn’t be a working area.  It should be semi-permanent (like the rest of the board).

Right now I’ve got the TRIBES learning communities agreements up there (thanks again, to that great friend,) but that’s just for a couple weeks as I reinforce these agreements.  The first week of school I wrote the class schedule.  Next week, the class is learning about something called alpha and beta goals, so I’ll write Mrs. M’s beta goals up there.

The full picture (Yes, I know 7th and 8th grade are the same this week. It worked out that way.)

I usually do my entire board in one sweep before school starts on Monday, then add little changes as the week goes.  Administration loves it because they can see I have a purpose behind every day.  I love it because, frankly, it appeals to my aesthetic nature and it adds personal touch to an otherwise uniform room.  The students love it because it gives them vital information and has a consistency that I know they crave.

I have used this format in all three classrooms I’ve taught in, including summer school in a room I didn’t even have a desk drawer.  It works everywhere.

I couldn’t find a picture, but I took a still from a video that was used for a class project.  In the background, you can see this set up.  Looks nice, works nice.


{This post originally appeared on SecondaryDreamTream.  I have edited for clarity and added based on experience.}

What Teachers Do During Summer Break

Lounge.  You know that first Sunday you have off in a while, where you don’t get out of bed if you can help it? And you DEFINITELY don’t get out of your PJ’s, even if you leave the house?  Yeah, that was the first 3-5 days of summer.  Exhausted, burnt out, and a little bit pissed off over the last-minute shit shows of the year, I mostly watched Friends on Neflix.

Life saying.

Every household chore.  When you’re grading 60 final essays and trying to decide the best way to keep the fleeting attention of teenagers, your fridge fills up with take out boxes, your bathtub gets a ring, and the carpet grows it’s own wig.  Those situations become REALLY obvious when you’re at home those first 3-5 lounge days.

Me, when I finally take a look around my pigsty – I mean, house.

Reconnect with the family.  I don’t think I saw my son during the last week of school.  Seriously, between the tests, and the grading, and the sheer drama of it all, I was up early and home late. If by some miracle I made it home, all I wanted to do was crash.  He was surprised to see me when summer started – like, “you’re still around?”  I kid, but it definitely felt like this some days.

Cram ALL THE FUN into summer.  Vacations, stay-cations, all the home projects, and all those things you SAY you want to do (the zoo, that new aquarium, a play, one of the museums you hear so much about.)  Yeah, those things don’t get done during the school year.  Let’s go people, gotta have some fun RIGHT NOW.

My poor toddler.

Professional Development.  I think it’s hard for any teacher to really, truly “put away” teaching for a whole summer.  I’m currently reading three different teaching books (teaching books, I’ve got another three ‘fun’ titles,) keeping up to date on teacher blogs and online communities, and researching how in the hell I’m going to get my master’s.  We want to get better at what we do.

Figure out how to make more money.  The statistics vary (A LOT, by time and by state,) but roughly half of all teachers work a second job over the summer.  I worked summer school.  I know others who do private lessons or tutoring.  Some go for retail.  Bartending is a common one, I know another who worked for Kohl’s.

Survive the nightmares.  When I was in school, I had test nightmares: show up for a test you’ve never studied for.  When I was in theatre, I had theatre nightmares: on stage for a play I’ve never rehearsed, usually in my underwear.  When I waited tables, I had restaurant nightmares: too many tables, angry customers, no food.  Now I have teaching nightmares: it’s the first day of school and I have nothing planned, and I may or may not be wearing clothes.

Plan next year.  You cannot show up on the first day of school and just “wing it.”  Seriously, I dare you. I’m not just talking about the lesson plan, although that takes up an inordinate amount of time. You have to plan your discipline process and your curriculum (long and short term goals/materials/tests.) You have to design your room layout and count your school supplies.  If you’re a new teacher, this process takes longer.  If you’re working in a new building, or with a new grade, or with a different administrator, ALL of these things take additional planning. Trust me, the 2.5 days you get in August before students show up… it’s just not enough time to fully get the job done.

Painfully Accurate


Suck it up and go back and do it all over again (hopefully a little bit better, because that’s the point, isn’t it?)  But for now, I’m trying (TRYING) to enjoy this little slice of break.

How to Survive Pregnant Teaching

Snacks.  Everywhere.  All the time.

My favorite line of all time: “You’re tired?  I’m growing a human inside of me.  Wake up.”

Tell students you’re pregnant.  I’m an advocate of telling students sooner rather than later.  I remember as freshmen in high school, we constantly wondered if our English teacher was pregnant.  For the whole year.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense in retrospect but teenagers are idiots.  I told students that story as a lead in to “By the way, I am pregnant.  Yes, this belly has a baby in it.”

Make best friends with the teacher nearest you.  You will need to pee ALL THE TIME.  So find that teacher nearest you, suck up like your life depends on it (because your pants definitely do depend on it,) and work out a system.  I would knock on the neighbor teacher’s door with a thumb’s up.  That was my signal: “I am peeing, make sure no one dies.”

Don’t pretend like it’s not there.  It is there.

Milk that shit.  I worked with middle school kids; this tactic may not work as well for my current high school kids, but I would connect rules to the pregnancy.  It’s human nature to feel for the pregnant lady.  “Class, please put your backpacks under your chairs.  I currently cannot see my feet.  Do you really want to be the one whose backpack tripped the pregnant lady?” All those backpacks went right away.  “Class, can you move this stack of books?  I can’t lift it.”  Books moved so fast it was unbelievable.

Make sure that you can teach the occasional lesson from your desk.  Some days, you are not going to want to walk.  Prior to pregnancy, I often wouldn’t sit at my desk until the day was over. During the pregnancy, I had trouble walking just to the blackboard.  “Elaina, could you write today’s date on the board?”  Boom.

Don’t answer any questions you don’t want to.  No joke, a student asked me, “Are you going to breastfeed?”  To be fair, I know this student had an infant sister, so I do not think there was anything inherently creepy about this question. I was still not going to answer it, however.  Instead, I gave him (yes, it was a boy) a death glare.  He didn’t understand why he shouldn’t ask, but he walked away.

Loose clothes are your best friend.  There comes a point during late pregnancy when your little kicks become BIG kicks and they are visible.  There is no quicker way to derail a lesson than a student shouting, “Woah, your belly is moving!”

Make it funny.  I got a sudden charlie horse mid-lesson and bent over very quickly.  I also probably yelped.  Dead silence.  When I looked up, my little middle school kids were watching me in terror.  “Are you in labor?” One of them finally asked.  I burst into laughter, explained, then we all laughed.  I also had to reassure them that if I went into labor, it wouldn’t look like that and I was DEFINITELY not having the baby inside the school.  Apparently some students feared that.

DON’T TELL THEM THE BABY’S NAME.  Kids are cruel.  It’s already hard enough to find the right name, since that AH-MAZING name “Wyatt” was that pain in the ass kid that one time.  Kids will always tell you exactly what they think or who they know with that name.  They will also ask you if you will name the baby after them; some ask jokingly, and some do not.

Remember: you’ll get through this.  And for realz, it’s worse to be a teacher and a parent of a newborn anyway.  You’ll survive though.  We all did.



Motherhood Destroyed Me

Like many women, I have wanted to be a Mommy since I was a tiny little child.  I had a baby doll, Baby Lisa, that I would coddle and hold and pretend feed and clothe and soothe.  I played house constantly.  To a certain extent, I played Mommy to my little sister from the time she was born (much to my sister’s dismay).  I felt that “Mommy” was born into me.

Mormonism reinforced my conviction, because in Mormonland, there is no greater calling than to being a mother.  Well, for women anyway.  I babysat constantly, I took all the Red Cross courses, I listened attentively every Sunday and Tuesday as we young women were carefully taught how to care for our husbands and children (and never ourselves, obviously).  The few times women are mentioned in the LDS’ scriptures canon, it is often as mothers.  I took motherhood very seriously.  I looked forward to having my own little tow-headed children, just like me, and I often thought of them.

I was married at nineteen, but unlike many Mormon couples, we resisted the urge to have a child immediately.  I have great respect for the young families that choose this, I can’t imagine how hard it would have been.  We simply decided it wasn’t for us – yet.  We knew we wanted to have kids.

At the tail end of my University studies, I stopped taking daily birth control for medical reasons.  And we just never really replaced it.  We “sort of” attempted other methods, but we weren’t consistent.

So of course, I got pregnant.

I was nervous as hell and thrilled and excited and worried.  Most of my worries were financial in nature.  I found out I was pregnant during student teaching, which meant that I would have the baby halfway through my first year as a teacher.  I worried about the finances, I worried about my doctor, I worried about baby supplies and labor and daycare.

In short, I worried about trivialities.  I know that now.

What I didn’t know was how much motherhood would thoroughly and completely change me.

And not in the way I anticipated.

And not always in a good way.

Yeah, my body is different.  My hips are wider, there’s a paunch in my midsection that doesn’t seem to go away, my old jeans don’t fit right.  And my boobs sag.  I hate that.  But that’s the kind of stuff I had anticipated.

Society tells mothers that their lives totally change.  And mothers-to-be anticipate that, we really do.  But there’s no way to describe it, no way to fully expect the life-altering and permanent shift in all aspects of your life.

How do I put it… My identity has forever been adjusted.


When I made “big” choices before, I could undo the choice.  My major in college, where I lived, even my marriage.  I could back out of those things (not that I wanted to) but I could.

There’s no backing out of being a mom.  There’s no “control-alt-delete.”  He’s here.  My baby boy is here.  He is mine, but more importantly I am his.

He doesn’t have another Mommy.  Yes, he has plenty of people who love him and take care of him.  But I am his Mommy.  I cannot be replaced.  I can barely be substituted for the brief periods of time.

Do you know how much pressure that is?  If you have kids, nod your head.  If you don’t, you have no clue.  I say that with love and a tad of jealousy.  I thought I knew what it would be like.  I am “on call” always.  There is no clocking out.  There is no unplugging.  He is always, always, always in the back of my mind, even if I am not with him.  This tiny human, who I desperately love, is almost entirely dependent on me to provide the right experiences and nutrition and safety and education and… everything.

Let me say that again.


I can’t escape it.  I can’t undo it.  And it will never end.

Yes, one day he will grow up enough to leave me.  And that day will break my heart, but it will not be the end.  Because I will always worry about him and fret over him.  Even if he is not in my house, he is still my son and I still will feel (reasonably) responsible for him.

Everything.  Forever.

And sometimes, I hate that.

I am forever destroyed.  I am not the person I was before I had him.  I never will be.  And you know what?  I sometimes miss that person, the pre-baby Molly.  Setting aside my post-partum depression, and the hell my marriage went through, I cannot go back to carefree living.  My hobbies are not the same.  I struggle to find time for me.  The things I love, yoga and reading and writing and lately slack-lining, have to take a backseat to motherhood.  Even when I do have time for those things, or for a night out, the mom guilt is real and palpable.

It’s a new and daily struggle and one I do not often appreciate.

When I was a little girl, I could put Baby Lisa down and go do something else.  Not something to better my fake parenting skills, just something else.  When I was babysitting, I went home to my own bed with little more responsibility than tomorrow’s math homework.  Motherhood destroyed the person that I knew.  Sometimes I like this new person.  If I am being honest though, I am just getting to know her, and like most early relationships, it’s still a little touch-and-go.

Why I have Mad Respect for Elementary teachers

What high school teachers do:

Try to encourage some critical thought, grit their teeth for an hour if the students are being twerps, and send them out of the room at the end of the period.

What elementary teachers do:

Teach literally every subject to the same exact group of young-uns for the entire day MEANWHILE taking care of their physical needs like wiping noses and tying shoes.

Like, at least if my kids suck, I only have to endure them every other day for about a semester.

Elementary school teachers have to deal with them ALL DAY for a YEAR.


Mothering is by far my least favorite part about teaching.  I love my students, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely worry about them.  But I don’t pick up after them, I can be very harsh with them, and I generally do not feel responsible for their overall emotional well-being although I do try to be sensitive to it.  El Ed teachers mother the shit out of their kids.  Well, from my perspective they do,  and I admire the hell out of them for that.

Also, they teach THE ENTIRE DAY.  Right now I am teaching summer school and it is literally seven straight hours of material. It is THE WORST.  During a regular school year, I teach six different classes the exact same lesson in a row.  El Ed teachers have to plan materials for an entire fucking day, AND it has to be interesting; attention spans of eight year olds are about the same as goldfish.

And here’s my big one: they literally teach children to read and count.  El Ed teachers are the basis upon which all society is built.  How the hell does someone teach a person to read?  I have a degree in English and I basically have no idea how to do this.  Like, I have been able to read for so long that I don’t remember what it was like to not read.  At least I can remember a time when I didn’t know the meaning of the word “metaphor.”  I can relate to that.  I can find a way to teach that lesson.  Teach a kid to read?  Nope.  Blows my damn mind.

Sure, you say.  But what if a kid cusses you out? Little kids don’t do that.

1: They totally do that.  Have you ever met an inner city teacher?

2: Want to know what I do when a kid cusses me out?  (Yes, it’s happened.)  I do this: “Go to student services.”  That’s it.  I tell them to leave my room and later I write a referral and I let someone else deal with it.  If they refuse to leave (also happened,) then I call the student resource officer.  It is literally not my problem.

Okay fine, you say.  But you’re teaching complicated topics that require more learning.

No, no I’m really not.  I like to think I am, I do.  I like to think that I am teaching this beautiful word of Shakespeare to the bright and receiving minds that will take it far and away and do glorious things with it, but here’s the thing: if you put in an effort and turn everything in, you will pass my class.  That’s that.  It’s not complicated. Like most things in life, it’s mostly about showing up, putting in a half-assed effort and getting your paycheck, I mean… grade.

But highschoolers deal with bigger problems.

Yes they do.  Sex and drugs and drama, oh my! But, are those problems MY problems?  Definitely not.  See above: literally all I have to do is put up with them for a couple hours at most.  Otherwise, not my problem.  El Ed teachers have to put up with minuscule details alllllllll day and actually act like that splinter is really tragic.

Elementary Ed teachers, you are the salt of the earth.  I cannot sing your praises enough.