Letting my daughter see Puerto Rico’s crisis gives her access to a part of myself, herself - The Washington Post


I published an article in the On Parenting section of the The Washington Post today. The article, Letting my daughter see Puerto Rico’s crisis gives her access to a part of myself, herself, explores how Hurricane Maria and family ties from those on the island with those on the mainland, intersect.

On the day that hurricane Maria whipped toward Puerto Rico, my husband took our daughters outside to wait for the school bus. It was a breezy and pleasant autumn morning, and my 5-year-old pulled up her hoodie and turned her rosy cheeks toward the wind, sweetly asking, “Daddy, is this the hurricane that is going to take Mima away?”

Mima is what I call my grandmother, her great grandmother. I winced and assured her that no, that would not happen, and went back inside. I sat in front of the television all day, nervously tossing the remote control between my hands, watching images of swirling dark red and orange bands over the island of my birth.

I managed to get a single phone call in to Mima as the storm began to hit, and heard only panic in her voice as she screamed, the winds already too loud for her to hear me. My elderly grandmother said her goodbyes, “just in case.” Having lost her signal, I began texting my godmother, living in another city, as the eye approached her home. She answered with messages saying, “This is too strong, it will take the whole house,” and “I think the doors may go, pray for us!” before she, too, fell silent. My phone quiet, a heaviness settled in.

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Baby born during Hurricane Maria is first in four decades for Puerto Rico town - Today.com


I published an article today in Today.com. The article, Baby born during Hurricane Maria is first in four decades for Puerto Rico town, is a reporting piece on a big of joy brought forth during the tragedy of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. 

On the morning that Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the small, southwestern beach town of Cabo Rojo was witness to something miraculous. Rosemary Gutierrez Cruz, 24, gave birth to her baby boy, Rayner, the first child to be born in the town in four decades.

The story of Rayner’s precipitous birth was reported by the local newspaper La Isla Oeste. Reporter Daileen Joan Rodríguez described the treacherous situation the family found themselves in during the peak of the storm, as Gutierrez Cruz went into labor, and how police officers came to their aid.

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Inside Connecticut's Education-Funding Turmoil - The Atlantic

I published an article in the Education section of the The Atlantic today. The article, Inside Connecticut's Education-Funding Turmoil, explores the nuances of learning and working in a high needs district.

Late last summer, my family relocated from a more urban area to a small, tree-lined town in Connecticut, renowned for its great schools and colonial town center. The move meant our eldest daughter, just entering second grade, would have access to a top-rated school district. The school she attends has opened up a world of experiences: smaller classes, daily “specials” like art and music, and access to amazing cultural and enrichment activities that appeal to her curious spirit. I am buoyed by the high-achieving, cheerful school community she is a part of, but also made uneasy by how different her experience is than what is available a few towns over, in “underserved” districts such as the one I graduated from and the one my mother taught in for nearly 30 years.

Often known for its picturesque New England towns and wealth along the Gold Coast commuter line to New York City, Connecticut is a small state with one of the largest gaps between rich and poor in the country. Twenty minutes tend to separate leafy mansions from struggling inner cities, or bucolic homes from decaying industrial outposts. With income disparity has long come de facto racial segregation, acknowledged in the 1996 Sheff vs. O’Neill decision that called for the desegregation of the majority black and Latino Hartford Public School system, the district my mother served for decades.

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Nurturing the father-daughter relationship I didn’t have

I published an article in the On Parenting section of the Washington Post today. The article, "Nurturing the father-daughter relationship I didn’t have," is a personal one about father-daughter relationships. 

It was the much-anticipated school play, and there I was in the teeming auditorium, wrangling an enormous camera and a wiggly toddler next to my husband, scanning little faces for my eldest child up on stage. After curtain call, our 7-year-old daughter ran over to us, a radiant smile spread across her face. “Are you proud of me?” she beamed. “We are so proud of you, baby girl!” we exclaimed. My husband swept her up in the air, and she nuzzled her head contentedly on his chest, skinny arms draped over her daddy’s shoulders. I felt an unfamiliar kind of ease, a sense of triumph I could not quite decipher.

I remembered the little girl I once was, the child who wanted to sing and dance and play, to hear soft, encouraging words from her father. “Papi, can I have dance lessons?” I asked shyly. Singing and dancing is for whores, he said, looking at me accusingly. I lowered my head, feeling somehow ashamed of a word I did not quite comprehend. I was the same age our daughter is now, 7.

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Labors of Love: Nurturing Resistance

I published an article in the Engenderings blog of the London School of Economics today. The article, Labors of Love: Nurturing Resistance, discusses how resistance can come in small forms, especially in the case of caretakers for whom resistance can have many meanings and manifestations. 

Recent weeks have felt white hot with mourning, filled with impotence at the path laid out—a path so many of us feel embraces our tendency towards darkness, rather than nudging us towards light.

Like many, I watched the results of the presidential election as if in slow motion, and muddled through the ensuing days with a palpable heaviness, dragged down by the weight of dread, in fear for the real bodies that match the description of “certain people” derided on our screens. But the quotidian beckoned, and life moved haltingly on. My young daughters still needed lunches packed, homework checked, tucking in at night. I began weaving together conversations with my children about right and wrong, about claiming their space and their bodies, about calling injustice by its proper name, for things that are not named crave power. I taught them that Spanish, the language of their mother and mine, is still beautiful on the tongue, and that kindness can still dance on our lips.

I wanted to protect my children, to prepare them, to help them navigate what is taking place. 

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Family Travel in a Time of Fear (New York Times)

I published an article in the Well section of the The New York Times today. The article, Family Travel in a Time of Fear, discusses reactions - both my own and those of others - to a recent trip to France.

My 7-year-old daughter scampered over the cobblestones of a narrow Paris street, proudly holding a bag of fresh cherries. She had asked for them herself: “Des cerises, s’il vous plaît!” Meanwhile, a few steps away, my 4-year-old was offering her finest “Merci” to the carousel attendant collecting tokens for the next ride. She squealed every time she caught sight of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, convinced she had stepped into the pages of a “Madeline story. At that moment, my husband and I felt fortunate and happy to be in France as a family, to be able to share with our girls a place that has been formative to us.

Before we left for the trip this past summer, however, some friends and family were apprehensive. “Aren’t you worried about what could happen over there?” The implication was that travel, especially to France, was not a risk worth taking.

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Summer is the reminder that they really do grow up - The Washington Post

I published an article in the On Parenting section of the The Washington Post today. The article, Summer is the remind that they really do grow up, discusses the process of coming to terms with children developing their own lives and personalities.

A few weeks ago, I chaperoned my 7-year-old daughter’s end-of-the-year field trip to the beach. These outings are often a stressful time for all but the children — teachers and parent volunteers are inevitably running after kids who insist on wandering and getting wet, all the while worrying about losing one to a crashing wave as the children inch ever closer to the seagulls doing a delicate dance on the rock wall.

But it means a lot to my daughter, so I go. These days are a window into her world, an insight I recognize I will have less and less of as she grows out of being a little kid and becomes a person I know and love, but whose path I don’t define. The end of the school year and the change of seasons always bring with them an air of celebration and the lightness of approaching long days. But this time is also a reminder of the quickness with which the days of childhood, sometimes wished away amid the exhaustion and demands of the quotidian, pass us by. Suddenly my eldest is approaching second grade, and my youngest has completed her first year of preschool. On days like the beach trip I pause and gasp at the changes in my children, at the small ways they are evolving into the people they are meant to be.

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Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement (The Atlantic)

I published an article in the Education section of the The Atlantic today. The article, Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement, discusses the importance of engaging the entire child in the education process.

One of my children is spinning in a circle, creating a narrative about a princess as she twirls. The other is building a rocket ship out of a discarded box, attaching propellers made of cardboard and jumping in and out of her makeshift launcher. It is a snow day, and I’ve decided to let them design their own activities as I clean up and prepare a meal. My toddler becomes the spinning princess, imagining her character’s feelings and reactions. What seems like a simple story involves sequencing, character development, and empathy for the brave princess stuck in her tower. The rocket ship my first grader is working on needs a pilot and someone to devise the dimensions and scale of its frame; it also needs a story to go with it. She switches between roles and perspectives, between modes of thinking and tinkering.

This kind of experiential learning, in which children acquire knowledge by doing and via reflection on their experiences, is full of movement, imagination, and self-directed play. Yet such learning is increasingly rare in early-childhood classrooms in the U.S, where many young children spend their days sitting at tables and completing worksheets. Kindergarten and preschool in the U.S. have become more and more academic, rigorously structuring kids’ time, emphasizing assessment, drawing a firm line between “work” and “play”—and restricting kids’ physical movement. A study from the University of Virginia released earlier this year found that, compared to 1998, children today are spending far less time on self-directed learning—moving freely and doing activities that they themselves chose—and measurably more time in a passive learning environment.

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Mother Tongue and My Daughters' Spanglish (The Washington Post)

I published an article in the On Parenting section of the The Washington Post today. The article, Mother Tongue and My Daughters' Spanglish, discussing raising bilingual children and the mixing of culture and language.

My daughters are humming and making hand motions, singing “Way up in the sky, the little birds fly,” a folk song my husband grew up with, while I get them ready for bed. I don’t know the lyrics well, and I hum as they make bird wings with their hands. My 6-year-old asks, “Mama, did you sing this song when you were a little girl?” I shake my head, thinking of how small moments like this expose the breaches between my childhood and that of my daughters, the gaps between memories and places.

I did not grow up with the same lullabies as my husband, whose first language is English. I moved to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico in early elementary school and worked hard to learn English, an incomprehensibly nonintuitive language to someone whose first language is phonetic. My childhood memories are etched in Spanish, inflected with phrases and colloquialisms difficult to anchor outside of a small Caribbean island. The words of my early childhood drip with sun and warmth, fast waves emanating easily from my lips like the salsa music on my mother’s car radio. While now fluent and nearly devoid of any accent, in English, it flows through my lips distinctly and always more slowly. The pacing is simply different to my ear. My voice is lower in English, more severe. In Spanish, it is higher, nuanced and flowing. I am undoubtedly a different iteration of myself in each language.

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The invisible work (and value) of parenting

I published an article in the On Parenting section of the The Washington Post today. The article, The Invisible Work and Value of Parenting, discussing caretaking and its underappreciated importance to civil society.

“You have a PhD, and you’re freelancing and home with the kids? That must be … nice,” said the mother of a friend of my 6-year-old daughter.

The “nice” hung in the air awkwardly, familiarly. Behind the question was genuine bewilderment, curiosity, a bit of judgment, a smattering of pity. In my next breath I felt compelled to outline to her my articles, papers and chapters in progress, my latest academic presentation, the national outlets for which I write, my search for a flexible (gasp!) teaching or writing job.

Later, I questioned my first reaction, which had been to highlight all the other, “real” things for which I am responsible, for which I am paid or externally recognized, as opposed to noting the positive effects that my availability at home has had on my children. Those include mentoring my daughter one-on-one, participating in school (and after-school) activities and addressing myriad emotional and practical needs.

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The Only Girl in Her Science Camp

I published an article in the Well section of the The New York Times today. The article, The Only Girl in Her Science Camp, discusses my daughter's experience at a STEM-based summer camp.

My 7-year-old daughter has pretend space launches in our living room. She loves Tinkerbell not because she has sparkly wings, but because she is a “tinker” fairy that can fix anything. Signing her up for summer camp should be a chance to simply let her grow and explore her interests as a budding scientist or engineer. Yet we are aware that as a Latina girl who dreams of being a NASA inventor, her path is unlikely to be smooth, and the deck remains stacked against her.

Last summer, I dropped her off at “Blast Off” camp at our local arts center, where kids created projects related to science and planets. Out of 10 children with little backpacks and beaming faces, she was the only girl. I smiled at her obvious excitement as I waved goodbye, but worried about the implications of how often the gendering of interests happens in the lives of our children. She may well be the only girl in the room for years to come...

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Humanizing the Humanities: John Rassias and the Art of Teaching

I published an article in The Atlantic today, Humanizing the Humanities: John Rassias and the Art of Teaching, based on my experience with one of my long-time mentors and friends, John Rassias.

"Early in my undergraduate years at Dartmouth College, I signed up for a French theater course. I remember waiting in the auditorium with the rest of the class, a large one by the standards of our small liberal-arts school. It was a few minutes past the scheduled starting time, and everyone scanned the room looking for the professor.

Suddenly the lights dimmed and a booming voice emerged from the back of the room, growing louder while reciting a passage from Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, the classic French rewriting of Sophocles. Clad in a black cape, our professor, then in his 70s, nimbly climbed over seats and acted out the scene in the aisles, inviting giggling students to stand and become players in the unfolding scene. Finally this man, already larger than life, swept up to the stage at the front of the room and drew back his cape, delivering a breathless “Bienvenue au théâtre!” to his newly found apprentices. We broke out into applause, laughing and stunned in equal measure. This would be no ordinary French class. In John Rassias’s classroom, language was an experience of the mind and body, meant to be lived and breathed."

Living Through Death: Love at the End of Marriage (On Being - Audio & Article)

Today, On Being published my piece, Living Through Death: Love at the End of Marriage

"The sound drifts over to our bedroom like clockwork. Every night the piano plays a jaunty tune next door. It is usually the piano’s keys dancing in turn, but sometimes it is a record from the '50s, a swaying, big-band sort of music that somehow brings our little corner of the neighborhood back several decades to when these homes were built, and a marriage was just beginning. Time rewinds and restarts with each change in key.

I stop and sit each time, pulled to the window. I pause to listen and imagine the scene as the music sweeps into each corner of their home — over the graying couch in the sitting room, over the mounted family photos, over the beautiful open Bible on a wooden stand. Our elderly neighbor plays faithfully, the notes an affirmation of presence, a victory of joy, a connection maintained."


When Teachers Fear the Students They Must Protect (The Atlantic)

I published an article in The Atlantic today, When Teachers Fear the Students They Must Protect.

I had turned 18 years old two weeks prior to April 20, 1999. I was looking ahead to starting college, to setting out on my own, and to buying a prom dress—to living. While I vaguely understood that mass shootings took place, I was detached from them as a real possibility. Then the Columbine shooting occurred at a high school in Littleton, Colorado, taking away the lives of 13 innocent people. That day, the realization sunk in that death could come not despite being in school, but because of it.

Eight years and numerous mass shootings later, the Virginia Tech massacre again shook me out of complacency. On that April morning in 2007, 32 people were killed on campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, in what remains the deadliest shooting rampage by a single gunman in U.S. history. As the coverage unfolded and the cellphones of the dead infamously continued to buzz, I—a graduate student instructor in Philadelphia still new to the job—prepared to teach my own class of freshmen and sophomores, 18- and 19-year-olds who were confronting the same reality that I had faced at their age: that schools and universities, places of growth and possibility, had become fair game.


Raising a Biracial Child as a Mother of Color (The Atlantic)

I published an article in The Atlantic today, Raising a Biracial Child as a Mother of Color.

"A few months ago, I was walking home from the bus stop with my eldest daughter during the last week of kindergarten. She was lagging behind as usual, picking up sticks and shiny rocks, when she casually asked, “Mama, are the kids with browner skin more trouble? Why can some of them not read too well? Why do some people think Spanish is not good?”

In that moment, the heart that lives in my stomach jumped, and a mild nausea set in. At six years old, my now first-grade daughter is privileged, more than she understands, in ways that are painful and complicated for me to discern as both a highly educated, upper-middle-class parent, and as a woman of color who did not start out with such advantages."


What Is Success? (Ravishly.com)

I published an article today on Ravishly.comWhat Is Success?

"In the early 2000s, my husband and I earned multiple degrees at top-tier schools. During this time, we came to believe — as did many of our friends and mentors — that achievement and career trump family and geography, and that "success" is what happens when you follow job opportunities. In this archetypal scenario, you take the best (read: most prestigious) job irrespective of work-life balance, set up anywhere, and complete the upward trajectory set forth for you when you began your higher education endeavor. Surrounded by other high achievers, ‘normal’ was often internalized as climbing ever-higher rungs on an endless ladder, whereby achievement is the hallmark of purpose, of meaning, of value. To be worthwhile was to be productive in quantifiable and tangible ways. To question that ethos was a failure of one’s education and of one’s potential, particularly as a woman of high aspirations."


How Our Children Make Us Braver (Scary Mommy)

I published an article on Scary MommyHow Our Children Make Us Braver.

"Yesterday, we went to watch my eldest daughter’s vocal performance at arts camp. When the curtain opened to a packed recital hall, my heart dropped and wrapped itself somewhere around my ribcage. My daughter was in the front row, eyes wide open. I know my kid, and she was terrified.

I started preparing things to say to her should everything fall apart and she begin crying or freeze up completely. My mind was in consolation mode, figuring out how to spin what would surely be a traumatic moment into a positive learning experience. Then a remarkable thing happened. Haltingly and with trepidation, she began to perform. She sang, slowly and inaudibly at first, then more convincingly as she went along. Her little hands whirred round and round, “A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam, guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam…”


It Took Me A Decade To Realize The Actual Point Of My Marriage (YourTango.com)

I published an article today on YourTango.comIt Took Me A Decade To Realize The Actual Point Of My Marriage.

"Nearly ten years ago, my husband and I took our wedding vows in a beautifully decorated church in the humid summer heat. Nervous and fidgety, he slipped the ring on the wrong finger. Our priest tried to gently redirect him to switch fingers and save face before anyone noticed. Covering up the mistake never even occurred to him; instead, he blurted out to our guests, "It's on the wrong finger, guys. I'll fix it it!" We laughed. We breathed. And it's so important to laugh and breathe.

At the time, we were still coming up for air, learning how to make mistakes. Most of our friends were single and navigating urban dating and nascent careers..."


How I Am Forging My Own Path Through My Mid-30s (Scary Mommy - Club Mid)

I published an article on Scary Mommy - Club MidHow I Am Forging My Own Path Through My Mid-30s.

"On a bright Tuesday afternoon last month, I brought cupcakes, party hats and juice boxes to my daughter’s classroom for her sixth birthday. As we don’t have a second car, I trekked to her school with all her party supplies in a broken Radio Flyer wagon, out of breath and jiggling and turning the wheels with every bump in the road, cursing the missing screw in the handle. When I walked her home after school with what I didn’t yet know was pink frosting all over my left breast, I asked her if she had a good birthday. She bounced over the crack in the sidewalk. “I had the best birthday ever, Mama! Because you were there,” she replied, reaching out for my hand.

I looked at her broad, genuine smile and my heart leaped. I felt loved and appreciated in the work of parenting I do each day, which helped blunt the sting of uncertainty I continue to feel nearly a year after leaving my full-time job as an academic dean for freelance writing, research and time at home with our girls. I had been exhausted maintaining (not “balancing,” like a fairy on a pinpoint) a work life of increased demands with the kind of parent I wanted to be, and something had to give. While my days are now filled with many moments of grace and the fleeting touch of fingertips eager to hold me, working from home is fraught with tensions I had not anticipated. I have grown into this chosen role slowly, unveiling a fresh skin and flexibility I didn’t realize I had."


We Are Charleston: Blood On The Leaves And Blood On The Root (Ravishly.com)

I published an article today on Ravishly.comWe Are Charleston: Blood On The Leaves And Blood On The Root

"All there is . . . is numb fatigue.

I am not black, but I, too­, am tired. As a person of color in this country, from a background that may not scream Rockwell and apple pie, I am tired of explaining and trying to coherently lay out what it is to be the “other” to people who have not had the experience of having a background story, and destiny written for and about you — before you are ever met. And what it means to be a part of a group before you are recognized as a person. I am tired of trying to explain the experience of being constantly surveilled, yet barely heard or seen; of navigating a world in which your capacity and worth are too often judged by what you are presumed to be, and not necessarily what you are."