Let’s talk about shoes

My new shoes
These are shoes I *used* to wear.

I could write about a million other, more intellectual, things, but we need to have a conversation about shoes. And we should just hashtag this #firstworldproblems right now, because in the grand scheme of things, on the heels of two major hurricanes and ongoing problems in the world, I realize this is petty.

For those of you who don’t know, I was run over by a car almost two years ago, which broke 5 bones in my foot in a way that was particularly bad. They were displaced, meaning they shifted when they broke, so realigning them required plates and screws and pins.  It was a lisfranc injury, which is bad. A year ago, I had surgery again to have those plates and screws and stuff removed. I spent a year in physical therapy. I can walk normally, which is a big deal, but my foot still hurts when I walk. It’s not as flexible as it once was. And well, shoes don’t fit quite the way they used to.

I’ll spare you the details, but basically, I was restricted to flats in the beginning and I needed a half-size larger to accommodate my foot, post-surgery.  I was gradually able to wear some low heels and have a couple of pair that are working for me. The flats, though, have either worn out, or are flat-out too big now.  I find myself having clothes that I can wear that I have no shoes that match.

Easy problem to solve one might think, but not so much.  I’m limited in the kind of shoes I can wear.  Heels over about 1.5 inches are out. Some flats are out if they have zero support or a narrow toe bed.  Not so bad, you’re thinking. Plenty of options.  Not so much.  I’ve been to many a shoe store over the last couple of weeks, looking for one or two pairs of shoes that I can make my go-to pairs.  I’m not trying to be Imelda Marcos here.  I just want some professional, reliable, comfortable shoes that will go with a wide range of things I have in my closet. I did find a great pair of higher-heeled black shoes.  They’re slightly nicer than a low-heel pair I have, and they’re comfortable.

As I’ve tried to find another pair in other colors, blue or brown or taupe, I’ve struck out.  I’ve found some possibilities, but they’re available in . . . only black.  Flat, comfortable shoes tend to be a) ugly; and b) available in black and, if you’re lucky, blue.  Very few low-heeled shoes exist in the world. Most are 2 inches or higher, which would not just hurt, but potentially damage my foot.

I’ve pored through online stores, too.  Same thing. I’ll find something that looks cute and the heel will be too high or they’ll only have it in black. Also common to find that it’s available in black and some random color like purple or floral pink or something.  It’s weird.

So, I’m frustrated.  There’s a paradox of choice in so many things, for sure. But I’m finding shoes particularly paradoxical.  It looks like there are tons of options, but that’s only if you want one color or only high heels.  I’m going to give it one more try this weekend.  The hardest thing is that sometimes I find myself wandering through a shoe store and feeling a pang of sadness/anger mixed together at my fate, that I can’t just buy any old shoe anymore.  And yeah, that kind of sucks.

The Joy of a 4-day Weekend

Thanks to both the Labor Day holiday and a bonus day off on Friday, I’m enjoyed the last day of a 4-day weekend.  I’m not going to lie, I have done some work over the weekend, but the pace has been slower and I was able to basically take Saturday off to belatedly celebrate my 23rd anniversary.  We spent an afternoon in the city, shopping, stopping by a favorite bar, and then having a good meal.  The long weekend also allowed me to catch up on some housework, get in my workouts and snuggle with the dogs. Everything fits in.

Over the summer, I often take 3- or 4-day weekends for this very reason.  They’re short enough (and include weekends where work is not expected) that I can disconnect completely. Nothing is going to fall apart in 3 or 4 days, two of which are non work days already. When I’m away longer, I feel the need to check in, though I was able to mostly disconnect the week I was in California.

I work really hard and often my work isn’t contained within a work week.  Deadlines loom, meetings take up work time, and part of my work is professional development, which I squeeze in outside the work day. A long weekend, then, often means I go back to work refreshed and ready to dig in. I’m leaving this here to remind myself that I can and should take a little extra time for myself.

What a Week

The faculty and staff came back on Monday to a week of meetings and professional development. This year, I asked for volunteers to teach workshops on whatever topics they wanted.  We ended up with a wide range of things: using our course management system, teaching with writing, differentiated instruction, Google docs, diversity in literature, and more. We had close to 30 people offer at least one session.  I saw some really amazing things.

I’ve said in this space many times before what amazing people I work with.  I’m reminded of it time and again.  The great thing about this week was that people mixed it up.  There were 4th grade teachers hanging with 11th grade history teachers.  In a PreK-12 school with some physical separation between divisions, it can be challenging for everyone to get to know each other and find opportunities to share information or even work together.  So I was happy to see that happening at least for this week.

One of my favorite moments came at the end, just yesterday.  My department put together a BreakoutEDU session for our faculty.  BreakoutEDU is like Escape the Room except instead of breaking out, you break into a box.  Because, you know, locking children in a room might be problematic from an ethical standpoint.  The idea is that it’s not only a great way to get across some content and have it stick, but also to work on collaboration and teamwork. First, there were people from every division there: two Upper School teachers, a few Lower School, and at least one Middle School.  And then, everyone really got into the clues.  They divided and conquered.  When they opened the first lock, there was a lot of cheering and joy.  Which continued lock by lock until they got into the box and found . . . another box.

This was one of our harder clues, so they worked hard first figuring out what the clue was asking, then figuring out the answer.  One of our kindergarten teachers was holding the box and kept trying the different combinations the group suggested.  After many, many tries, the box’s latch popped open and the teacher jumped and gasped with surprise.  It was the best reaction ever, and the whole room cheered!

At one point, everyone in the room had to share one thing they loved about working at our school in order to get a key.  Everyone said some very cool things and different things as they had different roles in the school.  The kindergarten teacher said that she realized over the summer that working at an all-girls’ school had made her a better woman.  I just thought that captured pretty much what a lot of us feel about our work.  We’re better people because of it.

Summer Reading Update

I read eight books this summer. By my count, there were 10 weeks of summer (starting after graduation and ending this week), so I came close to my goal of reading a book every week.  I ordered 10 books, so I have two to work through at the start of the year.  I’ve already started one of them.  I have to say it’s not only a challenge just to find the time to read, but it’s also a challenge to find the energy.  While there were a few fluff books on my list (about half were novels/memoirs), most of the books that I read are challenging, so it’s not like I can just sit back and relax with a good book. TV and social media (where I also read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles so even that can be challenging) often feel more appealing after a long day of work.

Still, I’m hopeful that I can continue to read at a reasonable pace over the school year. It’s something I find great value in and the books I read have often enriched my life over and over again.  This summer, a few stood out as books that will be with me for a while.

Algorithms to Live By, one of the more challenging books I read (written about here) has reverberated again and again over the last few weeks. I’ve used bits of what I learned from that book in both my personal and professional life and have referred back to its pages a number of times. Absolutely worth the time it took to read it.

Everybody Lies, another math-y science-y book, has also stuck with me (written about here).  It really makes you look at data and surveys much differently. What I wouldn’t give to slice and dice Google searches more locally (which I’m sure is possible, but likely takes time).

I read two memoirs (David Sedaris’ diaries and Annabelle Gurwitch’s latest).  Sedaris’ book was as delightful as always, funny and sad simultaneously.  Gurwitch’s was fun, but not as good as some of her other work.  I also read two novels set at independent schools.  I’ve always enjoyed academia fiction and I had hoped that these would be as good, just with a slightly different setting. And they were okay, but academia just lends itself better to this kind of fiction.  The eccentric characters you find in academia just make better reading.  And academia cultivates these people.

So, now I head into the new school year, mostly hoping to maintain my sanity and calm in the busyness that I know the first few weeks bring.  Reading may or may not be a part of that, but here’s hoping!

A new era begins

Yesterday, we dropped Geeky Girl off at college.  She’s doing a little pre-orientation class for the next couple of days. We’ll see her again on Thursday for orientation, but basically, life will be different from this moment on. As I mentioned in my last post, people have been asking me if I’ll miss her, if I’ll be sad, etc. So far, it hasn’t hit me yet.  She texted us last night to tell us how her first evening was–lasagna for dinner, met some fellow Game of Thrones fans, and was going to an ice cream social later.  I have a feeling we’re going to get updates like that frequently. And that’s why I’m not convinced I’ll be torn up. Maybe I’m wrong.

Additionally, I have a lot I’m going back to. My own school year starts the day after I return.  I remember when dropping Geeky Boy off, there was more of a gap, so I could feel the absence more.  I was also more worried about him than I am about Geeky Girl. They’re different kids.

It’s auspicious, perhaps, that drop off day coincided with the eclipse.  We had fun looking through kitchen equipment at the partial, and kept NASA live streaming until the eclipse was over on the west coast.  As we walked to a nearby office supply store to get notebooks, etc., we enjoyed seeing the crescent-shaped shadows on the sidewalk.  It added a fun, distracting element to the day. Geeky Girl planned everything out well.  We moved in first, checked in after (backwards from what most people did) and avoided the crowds. While Geeky Girl finished unpacking her stuff, we made a run to Target for snacks.  She’s alone in her room until Thursday as one roommate is on a camping trip, and her other roommate chose not to do the preprogram.  She’s now well stocked.

We have to entertain ourselves for the next couple of days. We wandered around the town we’re staying in for a few hours after we left campus, exploring an antique mall, city hall, ate ice cream and sushi.  Today, we might go to a museum and at some point, we want to go on a hike. The weather is indeed beautiful here. Thursday and Friday, we’ll be occupied with various orientation activities and then we head back home to begin our new era without Geeky Girl. That’s when it’s probably going to hit me.

T minus 48 hours

Day 150: First bike rideSunday morning we leave to drop off our youngest at college.  We won’t quite be empty nesters as our oldest is living at home still, but we do find ourselves now with two adult children.  I have many friends who are dropping off kids in the coming days, many for the first time.  Many are understandably very emotional about it. I haven’t had time to be. When we dropped our son off at school four years ago, it really didn’t hit me until we were driving home and it felt just empty.  That may or may not happen this time around. These things do tend to hit me at odd times.  I suspect the first time I drive to school without Geeky Girl, I’ll feel it pretty deeply.

I think I find the process more exciting than sad.  I’m proud of her for choosing to go far away from home, to take that risk and find her own way. And with the availability of so many ways to connect virtually, I know we can stay in touch.  The number of years we’ll be connected as family is greater than the years we’ve already been connected. I’ve enjoyed my own adult relationship with my parents much more than the relationship I had with them as a teen.  The control factor is gone and we can just appreciate each other as people.  I’m looking forward to that with my own kids. We’re already starting to have that relationship and it will continue to grow as they gain more and more independence and decide for themselves what their lives will be.

That said, there’s still stress for each of us that is playing out in different ways. Mr. Geeky, who hasn’t been paying as much attention to travel plans, schedules, etc., is trying to turn our travels into vacation, suggesting excursions and nice restaurants before dropping Geeky Girl off at the appointed time.  He’s trying to draw out his time with Geeky Girl, with the whole family in tact.  Geeky Girl, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be late for anything, wants to make sure she has everything she needs for her dorm room, and wants to get her independent life started asap.  In direct contrast to what her dad wants.  I am trying to follow Geeky Girl’s lead. As far as I’m concerned, it’s her show.  I’m serving as mediator and sometimes interpreter. Geeky Boy is along for the ride, but is generally taking Geeky Girl’s side–reluctantly sometimes, as he, too, is interested in the vacation aspects of our trip.  I actually had a dream that we left him at home, something I didn’t realize until we were driving around trying to find our AirBnB.  My stress is definitely subconscious. So it’s not exactly smooth sailing as each of us tries to get our individual needs met.

An adventure awaits, soon to be subsumed by the adventure that is the beginning of the school year.

The Whiplash of Being a Woman

I’m starting this post without a title, because I don’t know how to reconcile the many thoughts that are in my head about last week’s various stories about women.  The Google screed was everywhere last week, and there were responses everywhere last week, both from women in tech, women who study sex differences, and of course, bros.  The worst was David Brooks’ response. Seriously, I don’t know how something like that gets published (I’m not even going to link it; go find it yourself).

The David Brooks article put me over the edge. I seriously felt exhausted.  There is nothing more exhausting than having your very existence and experiences called into question. Having to explain again how implicit bias works, what discrimination really is, and why one might be offended to be told that your sex is biologically predisposed to not being the very thing that you are.

Thankfully, I got to spend a few hours last week with most of my old crew, the Women of Fear.  For about 5 hours, we talked about our careers, our hopes and dreams, our various health issues, our kids, our spouses, our frustrations.  We used to travel the country talking about various technologies and their potential to transform education (in the right hands and used effectively, we always emphasized), and we talked about women in the ed tech field and the lack thereof.  That evening, we didn’t talk about the Google screed much, because we’ve heard it all before. We’ve been face-to-face with the James Damore’s of the world. We’ve heard his arguments.  We’ve tried to counter them. We’ve moved into spaces where the battle is less uphill and in some cases, we’re fighting different battles.

I was so grateful for the companionship, the laughter, the respite from the real world.  There’s nothing quite like having strong female friends, something I posted to Facebook last week when I noticed my feed was filled with only women posting really smart things.  I suspect I have about equal number of men and women in my friend list, but the FB algorithm gave me only women that day. I needed it.

When I got back and plugged back in to the Internet, the top story was about Taylor Swift’s sexual assault trial.   I hope it goes her way. If you want to know what victim blaming looks like and what distrust of women’s stories looks like, read the questions the lawyer for the defendant asks.  And if you want to see how a strong woman responds, read her answers.  They’re basically a big ol’ FU.  As they should be.

It’s both exhausting and exhilarating to be a woman.  Working at an all girls’ school, I can feel the potential of all those girls, the great ways in which they’ll contribute, the friendships they’ll form that will make them stronger and more successful, the potential for them to move us forward. When I spend time with women and others who value women, I feel strengthened, ready to take on anything. My cup is filled up. These things help me deal with the exhaustion, and frankly, the worry I have for my students’ futures, my daughter’s and my own. Without these things, I might just give up.

 

Charlottesville

I couldn’t take my eyes off the coverage.  I just happened to be watching AMJoy when the first skirmishes broke out.  I took a break for a couple of hours and by the time I checked back in, the car incident had happened and they’d already declared a person dead.

I have taken to remaining fairly neutral on political issues in public.  But it’s pretty easy to condemn people who 1) believe whole groups of people are inferior because of who they are and 2) resort to violence against those who disagree with them.  I have another post on sexism that I postponed after the whole Charlottesville thing happened. They’re related, of course.  The same group of people (white guys) are fighting feminism and immigration and rights for people of color.

I get feeling anxious, even angry, because the world around you looks different than it did 20 years ago. I get feeling anxious, even angry because you can’t find a job or lost a job and can’t make ends meet. But the way you deal with that isn’t to lash out at people who look different from you. Preserving “white heritage” isn’t going to get you your job back. That ship has sailed.

And while I might feel some empathy for folks who are struggling, I feel no empathy for those who use that struggle to justify violence. I unfollowed a couple of people on Facebook today who claimed these people were just supporting history and that we should embrace that history. These are people who clearly haven’t tried to understand that history and how symbols of the confederacy are hurtful to some, how they valorize treating other human beings as property.

I must say I wasn’t surprised at what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend. Emotions were bound to run high. I’ve seen the rhetoric of many of these white nationalist people online. Violence is just part of their language. Acting on it was just the next step. I honestly don’t know how we move forward. But I know I’ll be standing up to those who want to claim that there are groups who deserve to be hurt, to even be killed. This is not okay.

Teaching and Teaching Computer Science

Via Audrey Watters, I found this EdWeek article about Code.org’s professional development workshops, designed, in theory to teach teachers Computer Science.  I wanted to dislike it.  I wanted to find fault with it, and I do, but not as much as I thought I would.  Basically, the workshop puts the teachers in the shoes of the students.  They’re given an assignment to work on with a partner. They’re not told exactly how to complete the assignment. They have to figure it out on their own.  Inevitably, many of the teachers as students get frustrated.  The workshop facilitator helps them work through the frustration, and points out that students feel this, too, and they need to appreciate that.  Eventually, everyone completes the assignment, and the key, here, is they debrief not the content of the assignment but their experience, their frustration, and how they as teachers can help their students.  As one teacher says: “‘I think we have to reframe what success means in our classes. . . . We have to tell students, ‘If you’re not struggling, if you didn’t have any issues, you probably didn’t learn anything today.'”

I like that.  I know many teachers who understand and appreciate that struggle is part of the game, but many don’t have the opportunity to really figure out how to address this, and how to get students, who often want to get to the right answer, to get past the struggle, to really understand that this is what learning is.  It’s not getting the right answer.  I like that the workshop seems to provide a space to have that conversation and come up with strategies, and I’d like to see that happen across many disciplines.

On the other hand, I recognize that some of the teachers in the room are being asked to teach Computer Science in a few weeks, and this is the extent of their training.  Mike Zamansky writes about this a lot.  I was one of those teachers when I started, though as my husband likes to remind me, I had a lot more on the ground experience than most of those teachers, but still, I had no formal training.  I get it.  Sometimes that’s where a school has to start.  Take a math teacher or English teacher who’s tech savvy and excited to learn new things, and get a CS course off the ground.  And I know, from having to hire three teachers in my CS department over the years, how hard it is to find people with CS degrees willing to teach.  Or find those with CS degrees who have the skill to teach.  My approach has been to balance the two.  Both CS and teaching can be taught, but you need people willing to learn.

Most people in the CS Ed world agree that getting enough teachers is one of our biggest challenges.  This type of professional development can be valuable as a way to get started.  One thing I tried to do, and that I would like to see more of, is Colleges and Universities willing to let teachers into CS classes without having to jump through a million hoops.  I’m lucky to have a college across the street and I’ve sat in on classes there when I can, but it’s a challenge because of schedule.  They don’t offer night classes or weekend classes.  I talked to someone at an online CS Master’s program who said I probably wouldn’t be admitted, despite my Ph.D. and 4 years of experience teaching CS.  I was looking to take one class at a time, willing to do my own catchup.  There are PostBac programs to go to med school, but not for teaching a subject you may not have majored in.  CS may be what’s on my mind, but I suspect that other subjects–math and science come to mind–might benefit from such a program.

I wasn’t going to write this

So, I have been thinking a lot lately about sexism, not the blatant kind, but the more subtle, institutionalized kind, and how hard it is to combat.  Sometimes when you try to, directly, people do not see it.  They may even think you’re crazy or being too sensitive or something along those lines.  And I wasn’t going to write this because a lot of what I have to say is pretty personal, about me and my husband and my kids.  But I’m going to because it’s not that personal and a lot of people have the same experiences.

Let’s start with household work.  This an issue I’ve been wrestling with for a long time (here, for example). I’m not a fan.  I’ve said as much many times and part of my constantly writing about it, using tricks and tools to myself to tackle chores, is my way of trying to at least come to terms with the fact that it has to be done. This summer, as I think I mentioned in an earlier post, we had a quite heated family discussion about how basic household chores weren’t getting done. The conclusion of that is we came to some agreements about who is going to do what, etc. Prior to and what led to this discussion, Geeky Boy and I got into it when he complained about the state of things.  My response was that he was welcome to pitch in any time.  I also explained that it wasn’t that I liked the state of things, but that I was making a choice to do other things besides housework.  I explained I placed more importance on reading, for example, or I might do work, instead of putting the dishes in the dishwasher instantly.   It sounds like a simple conversation, but I was more pissed than I had been in a while.

In fact, I’ve returned to this conversation a few times in my head.  I think Geeky Boy would say that he blames both Mr. Geeky and me equally for what he sees as lower household cleanliness than he would like.  But I saw it partly as a direct affront to me, as a woman, wife, and mother, whose job is house and home, regardless of whether she works outside the home.  Geeky Boy didn’t say this directly, but it was me he was getting testy with not Mr. Geeky, and I read into that.  It’s a thought I’ve had many times, and that I’ve articulated many times. If someone stops by the house to visit and it’s messy, the visitor is more likely to blame the woman than the man for its state. Here are two very different takes on this (from a man, from a low income single mother).  For the record, I know my anxiety over all this reflects my privileged status.  I would not have time for concern otherwise.

Over the last month or so, the whole family has gotten into a better place with regard to housework.  We’ve all built it into our daily routines and it’s now rare to see piles of dishes waiting to go into the dishwasher, waiting for the dishwasher to be unloaded.  But it’s still the case that I have internalized the broader caring.  It’s still the case that for things outside routine, I have to be explicit and nearly dictatorial to have someone else take on a task.  Mr. Geeky nor the children ever think to randomly clean a toilet, but I do.  Likewise, I’m more likely to clean up clutter when I see it and even organize it.  I’m not blaming them.  I’m blaming me and sexism.  In 2017, I still hold onto, however small, this idea that the home is a woman’s responsibility.

Relatedly, I’ve also been thinking about work, generally, prompted by some things with my specific work. I love my job and over the last couple of years, my new role has required me to work outside of a regular work day.  I’ve always done this, of course.  There’s been grading or planning, email to respond to, but that’s been done on my own time around other things.  Often the fact that I’m working is barely noticeable. Some of what I have to do now has an appointed time–a phone call to make or something with a deadline–or it’s a minor crisis that needs to be handled quickly and there’s no scheduling that around stuff.  And so, I’ve found myself answering a call on a Saturday or over vacation.  Or I’ve worked on something at night, getting takeout instead of cooking. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s part of my work.

I, personally, do not mind these interruptions to my personal life.  I’ve always been asked, and I’ve always said yes.  I know how to say no when I need to, and I have.  Mr. Geeky got perturbed a couple of times when these things happened, even though I’d given him a heads up every time that x was going to call or y needed to be in by a certain time, damn being the weekend or being on vacation.  I brushed it off and didn’t really engage in the issue in the moment.  I just got back to doing whatever personal thing I had been doing.  Before I go on, ask yourself if a man had done something similar, taken a call on a Saturday or finished up a report on the first day of vacation in order to get it in on time (as made-up examples), if he would get grief from society at large (I’ll concede he might from his wife).  Probably not. And in fact, I can’t even begin to count the number of times Mr. Geeky has done this, especially before he got tenure.  In fact, more recently, on our way to a family reunion, and pretty much up to the event itself, he was working on something to meet a deadline.  I drove so that he could write on his computer.  I didn’t mind at all, but when the shoe was on the other foot . . .

More broadly, I started thinking about how these two things–and many others that are pretty small like this–can add up to women deciding it’s not worth taking on hard, time-consuming work.  Women can and do feel guilty about not keeping a clean house or being there for kids.  If their husbands or others give them even indirect feedback that working during “family time” is verboten, they may decide to follow a career path that doesn’t ever require this kind of thing.  As my children are adults now, I feel less pressure on the child-rearing thing and even, to some extent on the housekeeping thing.  I like and want a clean house to reduce my own stress.  It’s a personal desire that I am trying to get my family on board with (as I think it would reduce their stress too!).

Related to these two things are the many times I’ve heard people (okay, mostly men) complain about how women don’t write, blog, participate in panels, give keynotes, etc. as much as men. I try, they say, to recruit women/read work by women, but . . . If you think about what I mentioned above, there might be a good reason for that. If, during a woman’s downtime, she’s busy managing a household, she doesn’t have time for stuff outside the workday and if she tries, she may be subtly or not so subtly discouraged from doing work in her spare time, work that would, of course, forward her career.

Both of these are unwritten rules, things embedded in the system that work against equality in the workplace and equality more generally.  We seem to still have expectations for women’s behavior and responsibilities that we don’t have for men.  And we lack an understanding about the forces at work preventing women from achieving more career-wise when that career competes for time with “traditional” female responsibilities. I’m fighting against that in myself, but it’s hard.  I sometimes catch myself weighing options and, rather than going against the grain, just caving to expectations.