Recharge: Spectacular Shopping Spectator

Whenever people ask where I live, I joke that it is in the Mountain View Target. We do live so close to Target that we would frequently take our kids on walks through the store as a summer “adventure” capped off by a bag of buttery popcorn and, maybe, an Icee. I’m pretty sure that there are Target employees who could identify my children as belonging to me without knowing any of our names, and they have also probably seen some amazing temper tantrums from those days when the emergency store run was not going smoothly.

So, it should surprise no one that my family are frequent shoppers at Target during Thanksgiving sales.  After our extended, extended family dinner (at my sister-in-law’s parents’ home where they have graciously incorporated the extended families of their children’s spouses), we come home and walk over to Target to check out the scene. Over the years, this has evolved from marveling at the lines on Thursday nights to actually going in the stores when Black Friday officially creeped into Thursday night. 

But, the great irony is that I rarely buy any holiday gifts on those Target runs! We get very caught up in people watching, examining all the possible Star Wars branded merchandise you could imagine, and generally walking out with whatever food we want to assemble for the next day’s breakfast. That leads to our other favorite spectacle – late night shopping for stocking stuffers when the December days are in the 20s and we forgot to get many things. 🙂

I cannot handle the mall during the holidays – I tried to go to Valley Fair a couple of weeks ago to exchange on online purchase and it was already getting crazed for the holiday rush. After spending a solid five minutes watching a woman pose in her high fashion and very serious face in front of white Christmas trees with others crowding around for other, very different photos in the same 100 square feet of space, I hit my saturation with trying to figure out what was going on and what social media posts this spectacle was generating.  But Target at the holidays, as grouchy and crazy as it can get, that’s my jam. The fact that my son photographed the stocking aisle where someone had spelled out “Epstein did not kill himself” with the stockings is strangely comforting in a way that people in $5000 outfits in front of multi-colored trees is not. Something about the haggard, confused, yet optimistic late night shopping scene at our local Target that really makes me feel in the holiday spirit. 

Rebel: Heart to Heart

In addition to teaching English to my students, I have been a health educator for about 15 years. The stories of how that came about are complicated, but basically, when I was pregnant and then had a baby, I became the best person to talk to teenagers about why they DIDN’T want to become parents too soon. I was supremely cranky and sleep deprived, and they were the unfortunate audience to some not awesome days.

When I started, I was pretty naive but enthusiastic. I dove into a lot of resources, and was fortunate to have a lot of students MORE than willing to try to make me uncomfortable asking weird questions. I also have a very supportive boss who supported my curiosity and desire to create space for sex ed in an English class.

I was so fortunate to have learned what I did early in my parenting, because I have come across many resources that I think are invaluable for parents of kids of all ages. It requires a little bit of rebel inside you to embrace open talk about sex and sexuality with your kids, but it is worth it.  I have been fortunate to see my former students become sexual health advocates for their peers and even go into professions around health advocacy because they learned how to talk openly about sexual health and seek resources that worked for them.

As a parent, I am a huge fan of the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Program: Heart to Heart. It provides honest information in a non-confrontational, funny format to help teens and tweens understand the journey to adulthood ahead.  They do it in a way that is as non-restrictive as possible but also creates room for all parents to follow up with conversations that fit their families. It has a basic introduction to sexual reproduction that can be uncomfortable (one of my children refused to speak to me afterward because she did NOT want to grow up YET!) but scientific and, again, created space to start a conversation at home where each child was.

If you are thinking about going and have questions about my experiences going twice with two VERY different daughters, let me know! 

Read: What I’m Teaching – Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

\ I am relatively new to non-fiction, being a fiction devotee most of my life before teaching.  And while I have been teaching non-fiction to high schoolers what seems like forever, I ask a lot of people for a lot of ideas when I am looking to update curriculum. 

A good friend who is a science teacher recommended this book. When I heard the title, I had a little too much Breaking Bad on my mind and was convinced it was about meth. Did I mention that I have an almost problematic obsession with True Crime? But, after it was explained that this was, in fact, about a botanist, I realized it was probably classroom safe.

It has truly been a gift in my high school classroom. The first reaction of most students is “This is boring! Why do I care about this scientist or plants? This is not for me.” They would rather be reading about murder (I can’t blame them) and drama, but it does not take long before Jahren casts her spell and the kids get swept up.

I know, it sounds impossible that a book about a scientist and plants could be so engaging for high schoolers.  But, Jahren is ridiculously talented.  She weaves stories of her discovery of science, some epic failures in the laboratory, and her struggle with manic depression all into a beautifully written narrative of one of the most important friendships in her life.  All of this within the framework of lessons about the complex and strangely human lives of plants.

It is hard to share the story of this book without ruining the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  And that I am able to say this about a book about plants continues to shock me.  But even better is the surprise students express when they learn something from Jahren’s book or notice something about her style.  In a particularly complexly written but easy to read chapter, Jahren uses quotes that she memorized from David Copperfield BECAUSE SHE DID NOT UNDERSTAND THEM in order to describe her work as a med tech and uses them to illuminate the moments when the quotes and her life start to make sense. Or, when she sets up an analogy using roots to later show friendship roots us in unique ways.   These moments make my English teacher heart sing! When students see what she is doing, they are equally surprised and feel as brilliant as they are, scientists themselves discovering something new and interesting about another person. 

If you’ve read Lab Girl, let me know what you thought.  Or, when you read it, share some insights!

Recharge: All good plans…

As many of my friends would tell you, I am a woman with plans…. that don’t always make it to fruition on the timeline I imagine.  When I started this blog process this summer, I thought I could totally get it pulled together before school started.

Now, the first marking period has ended and I am laughing at my August self.  But this is the life of a teacher! I always overestimate what I can get done in the time I have and always see possibility to change and create things. I guess that keeps me going during tougher days.

This week, I have been thinking about small ways to recharge myself that don’t take WORK. I have always been a DOER.  It is very hard for me to rest.  I am trying to find things that don’t bring out “TYPE-A”my but rather the lower case amy. 🙂 Doing nail polish with a friend on a semi-weekly basis has been a great option.  Trying to schedule lunch with friends, even in my packed schedule, at least one every other week has also worked. 

I have also been indulging a lot in True Crime Blogs on my way to work each day.  My current addiction is The Mysterious Mr. Epstein from Wondery. It is narrated by *NOT THAT* Lindsay Graham and it is simultaneously engaging and horrifying. Granted, this may sound stressful to many people, but for me, I get energized by thinking about something new. The content is full of content challenges – every episode has a content warning at the beginning – but the storytelling is so engaging it is hard not to listen. Books can be tricky for me – if I start reading something good, I quickly jump into English Teacher mode and it becomes work rather than fun; so I end up reading a LOT of mysteries and police procedurals (do you sense a theme?!?). I have been trying to practice taking off my teacherly hat a little to read more challenging fiction, but podcasts provide a lot of the same pleasure without me immediately trying to lesson plan (but it does happen… Serial Season 1 is now a staple of my 10th grade class…)

I love things I can count on and carve small spaces into my weekly plan to make me feel more connected to my friends or the world. What do you do for a little recharge during the week? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

 

Why “theamyreilly.com”?

Well, the obvious, is when you are late to the blogging game, your relatively common name is taken. And while I love words and wordsmithing… I mean I AM an English Teacher … it was difficult to sum up just one avenue of the many interests that teaching has cultivated in my life into one tag line. So, “theamyreilly.com”.

I have been wanting to blog for a long time about many of the things I have learned about teaching teenagers reading, writing and health and then having those adorable babies I birthed grow UP into teenagers for a long time. Now that my youngest is approaching her tween years and I got some encouragement from friends, I decided it was now or never. I am gradually moving away from Facebook but I still wanted a space to talk about books and hopefully continue a dialogue about some thing I’m passionate about.

This page will include book reviews, insights into health conversations that I’ve had with teenagers and some of my favorite distractions. One of the most important things I have learned in almost two decades of teaching  is how to find time to recharge myself and be okay with a little bit of self indulgence.

What do I want for this site? 

  • I hope you find this helpful.
  • I hope you find it thoughtful
  • I hope it reminds parents that you’re not alone muddling through adolescence, again but this time as a backseat driver. 
  • I hope that my non-parent readers find something that makes them think, makes them smile or makes them wonder.

I look forward to hearing from you