Dogs Without Leashes

Weekly Writing Challenge: Lunch Posts

Yesterday I failed to make time to post.  My work day was crazy (in a good way), and I rushed home to get to an acupuncture appointment, during which I accidentally shifted my left leg and thought I would be paralyzed for life.  Who knew an out-of-place acupuncture needle could be so intense?!  Anyway, I ate lunch yesterday with 4 of my favorite teachers.  I find it really easy to silo myself at school.  When I make the time to eat with colleagues, I remember that I am not the only one trying to navigate the world of education. We laugh at silly things our students say, catch up on the latest district gossip, and satisfy our craving to let the f-bomb fly. Overall, a very sweet Friday lunch.

Today’s lunch takes the cake though.  My wife and I took Atticus, our dog, to the Kingston Point Dog Park.  This is one of my favorite weekend outings, and today it was just perfect.  I woke up feeling some serious anxiety, but after an hour of watching Atticus run around with his friend Oliver, I felt like a different person.  I was reminded of a Mary Oliver poem that I love so much, titled If You Are Holding This Book:

You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book you should know
that of all the sights I love in this world—
and there are plenty—very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes.

from Mary Oliver’s collection, Dog Songs

Here is Atticus, reminding me that sometimes we just need to take a breath and enjoy being off the leash.Image 




Lunchtime thoughts

Weekly Writing Challenge: Lunch Posts

I was able to have another quiet lunch today.  This week’s crazy school schedule is allowing some serious quiet time during my “free” periods (they’re never really free) and lunch. As part of the change to 2014, I committed to taking better care of my health – physical, emotional, and mental. Part of this means that when I have a quiet moment, I take the quiet moment.  My lunch period today was a quiet moment.  

I tried to let my mind wander a bit while I enjoyed my slightly-less-than-a-week-old jambalaya, but lately I find it becoming more and more difficult to let my thoughts flow freely.  I’m so busy concentrating on being all of my identities – teacher, wife, foster mother, pet-owner, board member, club advisor, etc, etc, etc – that I don’t know what moment I’m living in when a moment comes along.  Even now, as I sit down to write some thoughts about my lunch, I find myself bogged down by questions of perspective.  “Is this me in serious teacher mode? Or trying-to-be-funny mode? Maybe I should write from the perspective of a wife right now, or how about an acupuncture patient?”  Is there ever a time when we don’t wear a “hat”?

I would love some outside perspective about this.  How can we drop our various identities and be truly genuine – truly in a moment – without questioning who we are?

Thoughts?  Thanks. 

Lunch…or not.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Lunch Posts

I am a high school English teacher who also advises 10 million clubs and lives an hour and a half from school.  Yet, I gave in when a group of former students asked if they could eat lunch in my classroom every day.  7th period is the only period that I am completely free – no meetings, no duties, no obligations…but, I still said yes.  Why?  I am a pushover.  That’s just the way I am.  I don’t even try to be a hard-ass anymore.  I will also admit that it’s flattering when former students still want to spend time with me.  As a teacher, I hope to leave a good impression.  I hope that students can look back at freshman English with good feelings, and feel optimistic about their future English classes.  Unfortunately, I learned very quickly that it wasn’t nostalgia for The Odyssey that brought my kids back.  It was their interest in my former career – a grant manager for Planned Parenthood’s reproductive health education program.  I was a sex education teacher.  

I learned of their interest in my past life right away.  On the first day of our lunch bunch, Pearl, a 10th grader, said, “So Ms. Hamilton, I heard you used to talk about vaginas and stuff.”

Hmm.  Not where I saw our lunch conversations going, but ok.  I went with it. “Yup – I taught about pregnancy prevention; STD and HIV prevention; healthy relationships; stuff like that.”  I thought maybe I could turn this into a semi-teachable moment and link it back to literature…did Romeo and Juliet use a condom?!

“Great,” said Pearl, “because I have an important question.”

“Shoot,” I responded. (Oh, but if I could take it back!)

“What are anal beads?”


More silence.

The kids began whispering.  I began sweating.  “Goodbye, tenure,” I thought.  “Goodbye classroom, and bulletin boards, and Shakespeare, and a kick-ass pension.”  I was doomed.  Why?  Because in addition to being a pushover, I am a firm believer in answering teenagers questions honestly. Sex is scary enough when you know about it, but it’s even more scary when you think your first partner might come at you with something called anal beads!

So our conversations began.  I thought if I answered their questions honestly and without judgement, the novelty of talking with a teacher about sex would wear off.  How wrong I was.  Teens have so many questions about everything, but sex is the favorite topic of choice.  Some of their inquiries are funny, some are serious, some are really sad (I’ve had to make more than one referral to the guidance office), but all are very genuine.  Here are a few that stand out most:

  • After showing me a blurry image on his phone that I couldn’t make out, Tyson asked “Ms H., it’s the mole on my testicle.  What do I do about it?”
  • Pearl, always full of questions, said to me one day, “OMG Ms. Hamilton.  My boyfriend showed me his penis.  I didn’t touch it or anything, but it’s 9 inches long!  Is that big?  Is something wrong?  Does he have that disease where certain parts of your body get oversized?”
  • Chloe asked, “What is motorboating?”
  • “If lesbians like women, why do they use toys that look like penises?” (This one gave me some good food for thought.  My wife and I talked a lot about it that evening over a bottle of wine.)

Needless to say, I am thoroughly entertained every day.  I am so happy to give my kids information that they can’t access anywhere else.  The strange thing is that other teachers and parents are happy about it too.  I had one student’s mom thank me for talking with her daughter openly and honestly.  It’s a tough subject for parents to cover, and it seems like if there is another trustworthy adult answering their kids’ questions, they can concentrate on all of the bajillion other things parents have to worry about.  

Other teachers are just happy they don’t have to spend their lunches answering questions about fisting.


Love, Bones, and Fathers



I have to write about my dog right now.  I don’t care how many times pet-lovers blog about their pets, tweet about them, or include them in status updates.  I just have to do it. First of all, he is the cutest dog alive.  It’s just true.  I know EVERY person with a dog feels this way, but let’s face it: feelings aren’t facts.  The fact is, Atticus Finch is the cutest dog alive.  Look at this:



Come on!  If you are looking at this saying, “Well, ok, Atticus is cute, but my baby is definitely cuter,” you’re lying to yourself.  It’s ok if you don’t have the cutest dog in the world!  After one of many terrible college break-ups that left me feeling ugly, fat, and generally unworthy, my dad sat me down.  I was sure I was going to get the traditional dad talk.  “Beth, you’re the most beautiful, talented, funny, wonderful woman in the world.  And any man (or woman) who doesn’t see that is an idiot.”  Instead, in true Doug fashion, he said, “Beth, there are always going to be women prettier, thinner (much thinner), and smarter than you.  Get over it.”  Well then.  That pep talk didn’t help me in my state of immediate crisis, however, I thought about it a lot.  I’ve come to realize he’s right.  It’s totally fine to be second best. (Or third, fourth, tenth, hundredth, etc.)  I’m sharing this so you can internalize his advice as well – your dog just isn’t the cutest dog! Get over it!  But here’s the really good news:  your dog may be the smartest.  Atticus is not the smartest.  By a mile.  We thought giving him such an intellectual namesake would channel lots of profound energy his way, but alas.  Atticus still insists on eating cat poop.  And cat litter.  And cat pee.  And cat fur.  Not smart.  He is also very, very picky about which dogs he humps. He will only hump pit bulls and german shepherds that outweigh him by at least 50 pounds.  Often, they have metal cages over their frothing muzzles and high voltage shock collars around their tree-trunk width necks.  Definitely not smart.

However, he is DEFINITELY the cutest.  To be continued… 

The Shipyard, Part 2

One reason that Delly walked, and walked, and walked this route is because there was something  about the breeze that came in over the creek.  It skated over the water and crested the bank to the road, and if you were walking on the river side, it would surround you.  Delly felt as if it would take off every bit of the day; it would clean her of everything that settled on and in her.  Delly thought this might be the feeling swimmers got as they shot through the water of a crystal clear pool, but not being a swimmer, she wasn’t going to test the theory.  The road was bumpy and the shoulder narrow, but this was also part of the appeal.  If she had to concentrate on avoiding the cracks and holes and oncoming traffic, Delly didn’t have to think about everything else that was going on in her head.  Not that she could if she wanted to.  There was so much crowding her thoughts, there was no way she could pick through it all.  She tried occasionally, but never got far.  It was much easier to walk and avoid the violent collisions of her thoughts.

The Shipyard, Part 1

As Delly walked past the old shipyard, she couldn’t help but feel a chill race up her spine.  She had been walking the same route – from home, down Ravine Street, a right on Beel Street, and up Webster Hill back to home – for a long time now.  5, or 6 or 7 years; she couldn’t remember.  It never failed though, that feeling she got every time she passed a skeleton of an old ship.  Delly wasn’t even sure what exactly happened at the shipyard.  Although there were cars parked along the skinny street during the week, she never saw people.  Or maybe there were people, but she never noticed them.  It was hard to take her eyes off the ships that were docked along the shore.  It wasn’t as if this were a wide and well-traveled part of the river.  Actually, this wasn’t the Hudson at all.  It was a sleepy creek that met the river in Kingston.  This was part of the problem; Delly had trouble understanding how the massive, ancient ships arrived in the Creek in the first place.  Surely they weren’t functional anymore – did they get tugged in?  In all her time in Kingston, she never saw one of these ships being brought into the creek.  Their appearances in the yard were as ghostly as the shells she now looked at.