Graveyards: How We Remember or Forget


Graveyard is a strange compound word. Grave, as an adjective, means serious, solemn, sedate. The Oxford English Dictionary, one of those sources that is never wrong, says that grave actually started as an adjective:

Origin: Late 15th century (originally of a wound in the sense ‘severe, serious’): from Old French grave or Latin gravis ‘heavy, serious’ (

This means that someone took “grave” meaning serious and applied it to a place to store the dead.

Then, take “yard.” Obviously we aren’t referring to three feet. Yard in this case is a grassy place to play, relax, enjoy. I’m thinking of tiny baseball games enclosed by a chainlink fence with my sister and our neighborhood friends, our dog Nike serving as our only fan.

So we put those together and get graveyard. A serious grassy place to play, relax, and enjoy. Seems antithetical, right? Woman, I love English (this is something new I’m doing. I so often say “Man, I…” Time to change it to “Woman, I….” right?”)


Graveyards are fascinating. I remember driving through rural North Carolina on the way to Kyle’s place in OBX and seeing several tiny graveyards which must have been part of plantations at some point. There they sit. Undisturbed by roads and cars and the present. And who is there lying under that oak tree for eternity? Does anyone know anymore? And if no one does know who is there, how do we–we who disturb everything, disrupt anything to get what we want in this very moment–how do we manage to respect that one thing? Sometimes I think our society has a reverence for the dead that we do not apply to the living.

My aunts, sister, and I were walking near my Aunt Colleen’s house in Brentwood, Tennessee a couple of years ago. We saw Lady Antebellum’s house and the most green, rolling, peaceful hills this side of the Mississip. And then in the yard of another gorgeous home was a graveyard. It looked like a great spot to spend eternity. The owner was actually trimming the lawn as we walked by. He told us about his graveyard which was over 100 years old. He knew a little about the people who were interned there and seemed eager to tell us about them. It was like an old friend out front, or a few old friends, I guess.

According to Keith Eggener, author of Cemeteries, the modern day “memorial parks” as we know them didn’t exist in the US until after 1831. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts marked the shift from tiny rural and churchyard cemeteries to large, sprawling burial grounds.

In an article in The Atlantic Eggener says, “Burial isn’t just about celebrating the dead. It’s about containing the dead—keeping them out of the realm of the living, which is why cemeteries were removed from cities. We would like to go into their world when it’s convenient for us. Look at themes in popular culture, at how often the worlds of the living and dead intersect and how disastrous that often is. Think of zombie movies—havoc usually ensues.”

Containing the dead makes me feel a little sad until I remember the whole “we hold them in our hearts” deal, something in which I believe strongly.

When I was in high school long-term-main-squeeze, Tyler, worked for his grandfather’s company which was specifically responsible for landscaping and maintenance of Jewish graveyards in Baltimore. Tyler would trim around stones and mow lawns, spending his summers with Baltimore’s Jewish deceased population. He had a keen eye for recognizing Jewish last names and stories of his coworkers getting prostitutes during their lunch breaks. I remember thinking that I wanted to meet him at work for my own exploration. That was the first time I realized that graveyards were organized by ethnicities. But I get it now. Of course in a world where we segregate obsessively, we’d continue that segregation into the afterlife.

Gram lived in a Polish neighborhood growing up, of course she’d be buried with the Polish people who’d remain her neighbors forever. At Holy Rosary Cemetery in Dundalk there’s an American flag, a Maryland flag, and a Polish flag. Aside from the Polish flags, each last name is like its own little Polish flag. Unknown consonant combinations, amazing letter series I couldn’t pretend to guess and slews of Josephs, Walters, Annas, and Anthonys. Fake flowers abound and tumbleweeds are cloth petals and the occasional ribbon uprooted by weather.

Holy Rosary is literally 50 shades of gray, a few brown and splashes of orange and red fall-themed flowers for those who’ve had recent visitors. Some stones are sinking and breaking. Engravings worn away, angels with arms outstretched, and so many Marys and Jesuses. I wonder where the atheists go. Some dead are remembered most notably as soldiers–a name, birthdate, death date, and the title of a war. What they called you, when you arrived, when you left, and when you fought. Hm.

Some graves have photos on them–these are my favorite. I stop and picture the stiff images being together and in love and living in their little Polish sect of Baltimore.


Gram’s parents’ markers are there next to where she’s buried (no stone yet). Her mom and dad’s last name is among the simplest around: Lutz, but only because they changed their last name when her dad couldn’t get work in the Baltimore shipyards with the uber-Polish “Lucskowski.” This was the most personal graveyard visit I’d ever done. I didn’t really know what to do so I defaulted to what I’d do when she was alive. I sat down on the ground next to her and I talked. It was kind of beautiful and I was grateful no one was around. I caught her up on a few things and told her how much we miss her and maybe if I closed my eyes and squeezed my face muscles, I could have imagined I was sitting on her living room floor like four months ago. I know I’ll be back. There really was a sort of peace there and a closeness I felt that I don’t necessarily get when I talk to her in my head elsewhere.


Graves of Gram (left) and her mom and dad.

I recently listened to a podcast about Trump SoHo, a building in Manhattan. During its planning stages, the remains of 190 enslaved people and free African Americans were found buried under what was once Spring Street Presbyterian Church, a congregation of abolitionists that welcomed African Americans and apparently, gave their congregants a place to bury their dead as well. Obviously, a fight ensued (read: Trump was involved). What resulted, though, was a celebration of these people, who were disturbed in their eternal rest, and their reburial in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

I get the dilemma. We want to honor the dead but when does it end? I mean graveyards: people are dying to get in there! (Sorry.) Every minute there are more people to bury, intern, lay to rest for…ever? When does the space run out? I’ve heard that the largest wastes of space are golf courses and graveyards. Maybe we should combine the two and create half as much waste. Am I kidding? I don’t know.

At Pere Lachaise in Paris there are over one million people interned. As Chas and I wandered its walkways we saw Jim Morrisson, whose dad allegedly did not want his body and sent it back to Paris where he had died. We saw stones for tiny French babies buried way too soon. We stood in front of Oscar Wilde and several victims of the November 2015 terrorist attack on the Bataclan Concert Hall. People who would have never known one another in life are now together for much longer than any of them lived. Pere Lachaise is a breathtaking place (and I do not mean that as a pun, though it would be a good one). The beauty and variety of those graves made me want to spend the whole day there.

I’ve loved many graveyards in my time. In New Orleans, graves are all above ground because the city is below or at sea level. Walking around a graveyard in NOLA is like walking among the tombs.

One right on Roland Ave. in Hampden gets an awesome view of the city. It’s the best place in Hampden to watch a sunset–there among the dead who probably put this little neighborhood on the map. Some graves have shiny surfaces and sharply cut names and years, others are so faded you can’t make out who’s down there.

Poe’s grave near University of Maryland, Baltimore is another site to behold. Some stones are nearly at 45 degree angles with the ground. And Poe’s marker is massive, more prominent than he ever was in life.


Poe’s ghost. Poe’s grave.

In Richmond the Hollywood Cemetery is adequately spooky. It’s a stacked masterpiece with terraces and gorgeousness but also Jefferson Davis and several people on the wrong side of history.

In Hof, Iceland–population 20–there are white crosses jutting out from soft ground in front of the tiniest little church. The Icelandic names–something to behold in their own right–are the only thing that differentiates the markers.



Graveyard in Hof, Iceland. Population 20. 


On Naxos, a Greek island of the Cyclades, in a tiny mountain-carved town called Apeiranthos we walked around a graveyard where photos were the norm. This little town was quite literally made of marble. Its people seemed like they too were carved there and there they’d remain. And each of its graves had a photo. I guess in such a small place, as long as there’s a visual, everyone really could be remembered.





Then there are the downtown graveyards of Philly and Boston where the brains of our nation’s founders sit shriveling. These spots are walkable history lessons. Graveyards can be multi-purpose if you embrace all aspects. There are also those whose graves have never been marked. Many never will be. Unknown soldiers, the poor of the past, who knows, maybe the poor of the present? Henrietta Lacks whose cells launched cancer research world-wide died in 1951 and only received a tombstone in 2010. Well-used but forgotten, now remembered.

The thing is, I will not even watch a commercial for a horror movie. But the edge-of-creepiness, gravity, spiritual closeness I can get in a graveyard, that I could do all day. Don’t get it twisted, I’m out of there well before dark.

I won’t pretend to know the solution to the space-suckers that cemeteries are. I imagine we eventually will have no real option but cremation and tiny markers. There are environmentally friendly options that allow the earth just to suck grave markers in after a generation or two. Or maybe the future people in their silver suits will send dead bodies off into space for eternity or just bury us on Jupiter or some planet we haven’t even heard of yet (we could call it Cemetron). I can see all of these options being fought tooth and nail, and skull and femur. And I’m pretty glad it’s not necessarily my problem, at least on a large scale. So I’ll keep visiting graveyards of those I don’t know, and maybe more often, those I do know. I’ll say silent vigils for youngest ones and smile at those who had full lives. I’ll sit and ponder all that these places are. Memories of lives, markers of deaths, places to be remembered and forgotten and stored. And I’ll hope that the people I’m walking over have other reasons to be recalled in the world outside those gates, like Gram has.

IMG_9858 2

This is one way Gram will be remembered. My cousin Ben had these made for our entire family. It was a phrase Gram said to us while she was in hospice. We celebrated her last night at Thanksgiving and Ben handed out these bracelets. ❤

Yes You Can

Motivation is a slippery little bugger. The evidence of Planet Earth’s motivation can be found in geysers. I mean how does the earth produce a large spit of water every 5 minutes through a random hole in the southwest quadrant of Iceland? Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Planet Earth and hope it continues to exist for generations to come (hope but also act). If a geyser can do this at regular intervals, then whatever you’re pondering doing right now (unless it’s violent or destructive)…yes, you can.

People seek motivation from YouTube videos, uplifting quotes, page-a-day calendars, classroom posters, emojis, New Year’s Resolutions, and in some cases, drugs. For my book club this month (What up, ladies!?) I am reading How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell. In the memoir, Marnell becomes addicted to prescription pills and describes this experience in clever ways, with way too many exclamation points. Also, as the reader, you really grow to hate her vehemently.

She says, “Here’s a life lesson for you kids: it’s much easier to go through something upsetting when you’re on drugs. The more intense the drug, the more you forget your problems! It’s basic science, really.”

For Marnell, school was not easy–the drudgery, the work, the expectations, the deadlines–but with Ritalin and then Adderall, she transforms into a straight A student, and eventually becomes addicted, strung out, pregnant by accident, and so on.

Motivation is something that just escapes some people. For many, it is the cause of the way they are raised or the environment they are born into. Maybe those around them are unmotivated, no one tells them they can do more, or they are raised–in all likelihood by accident–to believe stagnation or laziness are the only way. This is part of the job of a teacher–to foster motivation. We must get kids hooked on motivation and its results. Much easier said than done.

Comedian John Mulaney says, “Percentage wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them, and so much fun not to do them—especially when you were supposed to do them. In terms of instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.” He goes on to compliment the audience for making it to his show, saying that he’s surprised they even made it there tonight. I feel this too, many times. But, when I push myself to say yes and to do things, I hardly ever regret it. Doing is almost always better than not doing–even when you require several naps a week like I do.

Every weekend Chas and I go back and forth about his “Meter.” The Chas Meter is a measurement of how much motivation Chas has to complete tasks. He builds his meter by doing things like playing Call of Duty or watching his “stories.” I am often beholden to the Chas Meter because if I want him to do something he perceives as a chore, I need to wait until he has built up the Meter. I think Chas is actually pretty typical in this way, although I don’t think most people have a name for their meters or maybe even recognize that they need to do something they view as relaxing before doing something they view as a chore. Chas has an incredible aptitude for travel planning, saving our state from disasters, cooking, and even the occasional run; it’s the things he perceives as chores that I, given enough time, actually enjoy.

With a few exceptions due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, obsessive teenage relationships, the tumultuous ends of those obsessive teenage relationships, and a couple miscellaneous events, I’ve pretty much always been a motivated person. I love completing tasks.

My Saturdays are like my masterpieces. While getting ready for whatever is going on Saturday night, I can gaze at a spotless kitchen, Comet-lined toilets, drawers full of fresh-smelling and neatly folded clothes, a sweaty yoga outfit in the hamper, a baked good on the stove, freshly waxed armpits, and maybe a few envelopes ready to go out with the mail and I feel fulfilled. I have usually plowed through several podcast eps all the while and trust, I am ready to tell you all about the stories. I was #blessed with parents who gave me a sense of “You can do whatever you put your mind to” but also, I think I was born this way. I’m just kind of lucky. My mom told a story at my wedding that when I was 5, I marched around at the start of a kindergarten presentation telling all of my classmates where to stand and demanded their compliance. I didn’t say motivation always wins you friends.

Will Ferrell

A lack of motivation can result in a lot of destructive behaviors: wasting hours watching trash TV or worse, Molly Ringwald movies you’ve seen too many times, eating junk food you don’t need or even really want, and idle wandering that gets you no where. That’s where we get the posters.

ChallengeExcellence FishMotivation

Last month at jury duty, I saw the following poster. If jail time were not a legitimate threat I would have taken a photo of the poster in the jury duty waiting room. Since when should we be motivated to work together by a giant construction partially created by forced labor?


The thing about motivational posters and word art in general is that we see these messages all the time but we probably never really see them. Do you ever see “Live Laugh Love” on your wall and say, “Ohhhh great! I was going to Die, Cry, and Hate but now….!” Maybe I sound like a cynic but I do think motivation should be more intrinsic than a canvas from Marshall’s (not hating on Marshall’s). So to flip my cynicism on it’s cynical head, I would be in favor of the following poster.

do epic shit

Have you ever heard of someone reading a motivational poster and changing his/her life? I’m about to nearly disprove my own theory with an example not from a poster but from a motivational video.  In 1977, Rick Hoyt was in a wheelchair and told his father, Rick Hoyt, that he wanted to do a 5-mile race to benefit a lacrosse player. Dick agreed to push Rick in his chair in the race. They were instantly hooked. Together they completed over 1,000 races.

When Dave Slomkowski saw a video of Rick and Dick, he caught their motivation. Out of this, he created Athletes Serving Athletes with the goal of getting kids with disabilities from Baltimore City out in races. I know of ASA because my mom and my friends Diana and Pilar were among the very first WingWomen in 2007 when Dave launched the nonprofit. Dave has grown this group to huge proportions since the days of Mom and Diana trying to help a kid into a non-ADA-port-a-potty 10 years ago. Dave did a full Iron Man in Boulder, Colorado with James, one of my mom’s former students from William S. Baer School. The last time I saw James one of the first things he said was, “We crushed Boulder!” If you’ve ever seen an ASA pair or group during a race, you too may have caught some motivation from them.

Another strange, albeit common, source of motivation is New Year’s Day. When I used to be very YMCA-loyal, Mr. Jerry and I used to chuckle at what he calls the RPs. The Resolution People. After three weeks of January, the RPs are an endangered species, though. So in terms of motivation, it seems like their follow-through in my tiny sampling is quite weak. In addition to unrealistic resolutions, there are lots of reasons people can be unmotivated.

I wish I knew the secret for how to motivate people. It’s simply not a one fits all situation. But if we can convince people that the juice is worth the squeeze, if I can show kids that efforts really do pay off, if people can just see that it feels good to accomplish something as a result of hard work, I think motivation would be more popular. For now, maybe encouragement is the best we can do. That, and a bombardment of word art signs, little notes, videos, quotes, hugs, posters of the Great Wall of China, and all the rest. When you don’t know what motivates someone, I guess you have to try it all. This stuff too! And stop and smell the geysers. Actually, don’t. They smell like poopy feet.


At CorePower, a lot of teachers say, “Yes you can!” especially in the middle of the core exercises. And honestly if you keep telling yourself that, you really can. This posture was 10 years in the making. (Note: the feet in this picture are NOT poopy.)



Let There B More Love

Baltimore Heart


In early May 2015, my friend Caitlin and I ran a half marathon in Ocean City, Maryland. I’ve run a lot of these things but this one was memorable for a few reasons. It was Caitlin’s first half marathon and her husband Mike dropped us off on Assateague Island at 7 a.m. for the start of the race. It was flat and gorgeous and way too cold for May. And, I took an oddly hard stance that I doubt one stranger from Philadelphia will ever forget.

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Here’s Cait and I in post-race euphoria.

If you’re a Baltimorean or just a person who sometimes turns on the nightly news, you know that the Baltimore Uprising that followed Freddie Grey’s death in police custody occurred on April 27, 2015, just a week before this race (maybe you don’t know the exact date but I will never forget it). I’ve seen and heard a lot in Baltimore in my 29 years but April 27th, 2015 was absolutely the scariest. It’s way too complicated to get into the 5 Ws and 1 H of that day but it was hard. I remember working on eggplant parm with Chas and suddenly he was running out the door and driving to MEMA where he’d more or less remain for a straight month afterward. I remember driving down St. Paul St., a main artery and a street on which I used to live and looking up to meet the eyes of a National Guardsman sitting in an actual tank. Pharmacies sat smashed and pillaged behind wooden boards instead of windows. Law enforcement seemed like they were everywhere for that time. And activists continued to protest. Our mayor fumbled. Our council-people swept streets. It was straight up confusing.

But there were signs of hope. Businesses and schools sent up banners reading “ONE BALTIMORE” and “BALTIMORE STRONG.” This song which makes me cry every time I’ve watched and listened, followed a little while later, released by Living Classrooms Foundation. Plus, I had found out 3 days before the Uprising that I would be at LMCJ the next school year–a goal I’d been working toward for a long time. Baltimore City would be my employer and I could truly be in a position to help the kids who were from the same city as I am. Nothing could keep us down. We’d bounce back.

When I approached Mile 10 of my race and our path began encroaching The Ocean City Boardwalk, I found myself swapping places with a man wearing a Philadelphia Marathon T-shirt. I passed him. He passed me. Repeat. Repeat. Just as we crested The Boardwalk and a large crowd too, he zoomed past me and said, “Ya still back there?” Oh yes, yes I was still back there.

I shot my 5’2 frame forward, maybe clipped his elbow (made that up but it sounds badass), and yelled, “Yea I’m still here! ‘Cause you’re from Philly and I’m from Baltimore and Baltimore doesn’t give up!” I took off like the lunatic I am. I ran my 13th mile in about 7:13 (I usually run about 8-8:30 miles in a half marathon and I’m nearly certain I get slower at the end). I couldn’t yell that to this man and a crowd of people and not completely smoke him.


Those arms in the air were for the guy from Philly…if he was close enough to see them.

So I’m a nut. And I love Baltimore.

But this time, rather than rant and rave and tell you why it’s so underrated and unnecessarily hated, I will give you some options for making it even better. People love to complain and bemoan Baltimore and say, “Oh what will we do?” Well, do something then. Don’t complain if you won’t act. And once you act, I bet you’ll automatically stop complaining anyway. If you’re not in Baltimore, I am sure there are similar opportunities where you are. So let’s just make the world better. And these are more practical than the way I focused on in this post.

My admissions are many: I have not tried all of these things, I am not trying to tell you what to do (but I kinda am), I am by no means all-knowing, I did as much research as I had time for (and I had three loads of laundry to fold before my basketball game), and I am not seeking a pat on the back or innocent assumptions that I am a mayoral candidate (not that mayors are required to be saints, amIright, Mary?) or Mother Teresa wanna-be. Selfishly, I just want to get people out there and acting on this place that I love.

I added some helpful hashtags so that you can target your interests. Full disclosure: WordPress lets me track “clicks” on the links I include so I will know if my readers actually clicked.

  1. #quick Nancy’s concept of Trash Ministry is genius. Picking up trash anywhere is not just helpful to prevent that shit from ending up in the Harbor or the Chesapeake Bay, it shows other people that someone cares about this place. It sets an example. It’s an action and a call to action. I like this kind with the rounded, suction-cup-like ends. It’s easier to pick up light things like cigarette butts and straws than just a serrated rubber edge. Mom, you can weigh in when you comment.
  2. #superimpactful This is a bit of a jump from picking up trash but mentoring is incredibly important. The YMCA offers a free membership for people who mentor two hours per week. It’s called Reach & Rise Mentoring. If the youth scare you, bother you, frustrate you, then help them. (Or don’t complain. Too harsh?) Other mentoring opportunities include: Boys and Girls Club and Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood. 
  3. #diverseopportunities The YMCA actually has a bunch of opportunities for community engagement including Togetherhood, a group my neighbors are part of. They painted the hallways at LMCJ over the summer.
  4. #greenbutalsopatient Get Baltimore City to plant a tree near your house. The website says “BE PATIENT…” ha! Baltimoreans know patience better than anyone.
  5.  #asylumseekers There are so many creative ways you can help asylum seekers in Baltimore. See AWE’s website for information, or ask me for ideas.
  6. #endbmorehunger The Maryland Food Bank provides food to families in their neighborhoods and even via schools’ pantries. They offer three-hour volunteer shifts for sorting food, working in their kitchen, and some office work.
  7. #allgirlsschool #shamelessplug Lillie May (the school where I work) is courting competent volunteers, too. Email me for information.
  8. #instantandpainless When you use Amazon, yes I am assuming you use Amazon because Jeff Bezos owns us all, there is an option to go to instead of regular When you use instead, you can select ANY nonprofit and tiny bits of your sale will support that organization. If you want to support LMCJ, choose “Girls Charter School, Inc.” or select any of the other million charities that deserve our love.
  9. #granolasinthecardoor Baltimore is full of people with cardboard signs. Just keep granola bars in the car door pocket. I offer those over money. First off, I don’t have much money but I can always give a granola bar. I buy the Giant brand in bulk and at the very least, I am telling that person that someone cares, even if it’s in a tiny way.
  10. #alltheanimals The MDSPCA has the cutest volunteer opportunities. I can barely handle it. This image is from their website.  volunteer-types-MDSPCA


    This angel came from the SPCA in Hampden, for example.

  11. #creativerecycling Although I think AWE should get lots of the things you want to give away, there are a ton of really cool recycling programs in Baltimore (again, probably every other city too). You have stuff you don’t need? There’s a way for it to be re-used.
    • #cellphones House of Ruth accepts unlocked, used cell phones to give to their clients who are victims of domestic abuse.
    • #microwaves House of Ruth also has a great Wish List for their most needed items including small microwave ovens (Jesse), school uniforms, and bedding.
    • #recycleChas’sPS4pleaseandotherthings This list is incredibly comprehensive. It includes ideas, information, websites, and contact information for where to donate items from batteries to bikes, from VHS tapes to the very video game system on which Chas will not stop playing Call of Duty WWII. (Note: they do not accept skis.)
    • #recyclecyles (I just made that up–I like it!) Today I met with a guidance counselor from Digital Harbor High School where they have a Bike Club. The club members refurbish bikes that are found in landfills or donated to the school. They fix them and sell some to earn shipping costs to send the rest to small villages in Africa. I mean damn.
    • #momsorganic Mom’s has the crunchiest recycling section and sometimes they recycle things like jeans to turn them into environmentally-friendly insulation (didn’t make that up).

Whatever you do, pay kindness forward. This city, this world need some serious love.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank



Dear Young Lady


Teenage-hood…go in like a lamb.


…Come out like a red-faced lion.

Dear Young Lady,

Being a teenager is so confusing. If I knew a way to skip it, I would share my tricks with you. If I knew a way to make it completely smooth and simple, I’d be famous. If I could make you happy all the time, they’d pay me a lot more money than they do.

When you’re a teenager, everything is the worst or if it’s not the worst it’s the best or it’s both at the same time, like what causes you to laugh and cry simultaneously or what stretches a rainbow over a highway. Your frontal lobe is just screaming and most of you couldn’t point to that part of your head if I asked you to. Your hormones are like a whitewater rafting course and you might not even really understand what hormones are yet.

I was a ridiculous 13 year old, too. I was quiet and terrified and still trying to pass off my best tops from Limited Too as cool. I had a boyfriend whom I didn’t really know how to talk to. He made me so nervous that sometimes I just ignored him out of sheer terror. My pediatrician prescribed a face wash for my acne that burned my skin. I had to walk around around all pink, exposed and raw-faced. When my mom let me get my eyebrows waxed, the wax did not like the face wash and they teamed up and took it out on me. I got cut from sports teams I thought I should have made. I was placed in remedial classes where I did all of the talking and answered all of the questions–not a great way to make friends–but it helped me come out of my raw, pink, protective shell. And I say and admit all of that to tell you that I understand that being 13 seems an impossible task and 14 is no cake walk either. (The cakewalk was originally a 19th-century dance, invented by African-Americans in the antebellum South. It was intended to satirize the stiff ballroom promenades of white plantation owners, who favored the rigidly formal dances of European high-society. Source: Wikipedia.) On that note: don’t use Wikipedia.

But, barring any terrible tragedies, you will make it through. And on the other side of 13, you will be better for having lived it.

The thing is, hon, you loved me when you were 11, you liked me enough when you were 12. I was young and fun and smiley and caring. And now, I still try to be those things but you just think I’m obnoxious and evil and mocking and I “get too smart.” I’m sure that if I were you, I’d think that too–that’s what I need to remember: you are 13 and you (partially) cannot help it. Your body is doing weird things that smell and feel weird and can look awkward. Exponents are confusing. Why are they so small? Outer space is infinite. But what does that even mean? Shakespeare died 400 years ago. Does what they speak in England still count as English? I know your world is expanding rapidly and vapidly and it’s scary. You’ve got one leg under a Princess Elsa comforter and the other walking toward the open car door of an older boy. That’s what scares the hell out of me.

You’re a child. But adult things are happening to you. I know you don’t know what to do but you don’t know you don’t know what to do. You know?

Your brain is turnt up right now! It wants to make connections and learn new things. In your teen years, your brain is ultra responsive which sounds amazing. But it’s also a little freaky. New experiences seem like they’re glowing with potential and possibility–because they are. That goes for the good ones and the bad ones. Boys, alcohol, drugs–the bad ones–are calling to you like sirens yelling across your ocean of confusion.

The part of your brain that governs your judgment isn’t fully connected yet. You don’t have enough “white matter” which allows nerves to send signals throughout your brain. White matter is developing every day but in the mean time, you are still making decisions every day, whether you’re ready to make them or not. And some of these decisions have consequences that stick around.

So why am I telling you about you? I’m telling you about you for a lot of reasons.

I know you didn’t mean it when you told me to get out of your face. You spoke too soon when you said “Ms. Eby you don’t know how to help people be better.” While I wish you’d thought twice before you blurted out the f word across the room and I’d hoped you had already knew not to skip class, I get it. You are a human-in-progress. And sometimes, I will be a casualty of that–I will do that for you.

When I see you make the same mistake again and again with the same group of friends who only bring you down, I just want to scream at you. Instead, I pull you side with no one else around. I ask you, “Why did you go to 7-11 with those boys instead of coming to community crew?” You tell me that you’re not sure, that you knew better, but I already knew you knew better because we had this conversation yesterday, and Monday, also Thursday, and last week too.

Those mornings when I ask you how you’re doing and you pretend like I am not talking at all, let alone to you, I know you don’t know where to place your emotions. So you place them on me. I’ll hold them for you and hope that I am modeling for you how to be. Maybe someday you will be that emotional foam for someone else–all inanimate absorption. You will see that you shouldn’t take things too personally. That other peoples’ actions are not always about you. They know not what they do. They mean not what they say.

If I call your guardian to keep her in the loop, I want you to someday realize that I’m doing that for you. She and I are a team. We are Team You. I hope someday you know that I involve her because I know you do your best knowing that you’re being watched. You succeed when we communicate with you and also about you. I write down time stamps for when you arrive at school because she needs to know you took the shortest point from A to B. She needs to know you’re not wandering the streets of Baltimore like so many do. And I need the validation that someone else is out there watching you and caring for you and hoping for you.

When you succeed, when you raise your grade, when you win an award, when you write a poem, when you say “Ms. Eby, guess what?,” when you smile at me and just say “Good morning,” I know I am doing something right because you are doing something right. When you thrive, I thrive. If you only knew what your success means to me and to your other teachers, if you could walk around in our brains and our hearts, you’d understand. You’d get why we work all Sunday. You’d understand why we are on the verge of tears when you cut us down. You’d know how much you matter to us. You’d have the most dramatic eureka moment. For now, all we have are our words and our actions. So I will keep doing what I’m doing because you matter to me.

Thanks for reminding me what it’s like to be 13. I think I’d suppressed it 16 years ago. But I remember now. And I’m pretty sure you’re going to be okay. Someday, please call me and tell me, “Thanks for not giving up on me.”

You’re welcome,

Mrs. Eby