On the first day of 2012, I waited for the birth of my son, Alejandro. We tried everything to hasten the process: long walks, hot spicy foods, and … well, I’d rather not say here. Just know that he knew his parents loved each other very much. I had already prepared my vocals for the long nights singing him to sleep, and my body for a serious lack of sleep. Yet, nothing would prepare me for Three Kings Day, the actual last day of Christmas. No frankincense, no gold, no myrrh. Just an Epiphany that I had to live for a whole ‘nother person. So I had to become a better me.
In the earlier winter, the funniest commercial (and possibly creepiest) of the year played while I changed my son’s poopy diaper (Eww. Seriously? So gross.) The New York Giants won the championship in front of his eyes, the second time I started the year off with such such a chip, but the Victory came with my son, salsa dancing when he touched down in my arms. Soul Train‘s Don Cornelius passed and Trayvon Martin found his way on the wrong end of a gun, but the worst was yet to come at the end of the year. The Knicks’ Jeremy Lin lit up the Garden, which serves as one of the first times in a while New York City had reason to watch every single game for just one pseudo-rookie’s career. In February, I got nervous about the math state test because I missed two whole weeks of school with my kids, and my teacher evaluation report was made public, which put me in a bigger bind than necessary. How do you achieve success at success at success when reputable papers like the New York Times keep coming at your job?
Spring called. So did CNN. And the New York State Math Tests, against my wishes. And my first TED talk / public rap / homage to Rakim / science lesson (shout-outs to the good folk at TEDxNYED!) By May, I had celebrated four months of fatherhood. His face started forming, nervously wondering if he would look like me. Watching early Yankee games with my son after school, feeding him while watching Pardon the Interruption, and hearing him yell the words “Da da” made every afternoon special. I caught a stalker sometime in May, but people like Matt Metzger left a lasting impression of why we loved his writing voice so much in our blogs (rest in power, amigo).
By the time my students were ready to graduate, I was too, from a teacher leader to a teacher advocate. Netroots Nation 2012 gave me a chance to prompt Van Jones to write an essay on education, to thank Ben Jealous of the NAACP for his work around charter co-locations and NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, to convene with friends like Sabrina Stevens (thank you!), Martha Infante, and Karran Harper Royal to discuss the right wing’s plot against education. Sitting with stars, we all shine so brightly. Nativity Mission School, my middle school / alma mater, had a celebration for the closing of its doors, sadly. More importantly, my son gave me my first Daddy’s Day gift. Thank you.
In the summer, I hit Seattle, WA for the first time ever, NASA for the first time ever, and Orlando for the fourth time … ever. All the time on the road made me weary and out-of-touch. I started finishing up Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (my favorite book of the year) while Frank Ocean explained to the world what his sexuality meant. Andrew Hacker caused a stir about math, which prompted me to get my math geek on, but also made me wonder if I ought to write a math book, too. In the meantime, Gabrielle Douglas kicked the Olympics in the rear, McKayla Maroney wasn’t impressed about her own performance, and Michael Phelps smoked the competition for the most gold medals ever. George Lucas put Edutopia editor Betty Ray on a three-way conference and begged her to get me on her blogging roster (or at least that’s how I tell the story), and soon, my name also became synonymous with math. I also had time to go head-to-head with Won’t Back Down actress Viola Davis and wrote an anti-rape post, my most popular to date. (Thanks, Being Liberal!)
Before we went back to school, my colleague and friend Ms. Waldman passed away. Shalom. Shalom.
Alejandro loved the Octonauts and The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and wouldn’t settle for anything less in the fall. I was invited to partake in a protest reading (an epic incantation from Luis Rodriguez’ banned book Running) at La Casa Azul Bookstore in El Barrio / Harlem and the American Federation of Teachers put a brotha in the front row for Education Nation, a rowdy crowd intolerant of pseudo-righteous nonsense. My colleagues at the Chicago Teachers Union, including leader Karen Lewis, drank Jonah Edelman’s milkshake and protested for the right to better working conditions … and better student learning conditions.
My interview with the Examiner was a hit, and so was Junot Diaz’ This Is How You Lose Her (my second-favorite book of the year). I made it to the Greatest’s Museum in Louisville while learning science from the NSTA, too. While Mitt Romney tries to flip the Big Bird to 47% of the American public, the eugenicists lauded Stuyvesant High School for excluding a people more inclined to sports and crime. I fantasized about a time when educators would get signed to multi-million dollar contracts, but I couldn’t have imagined the effects Superstorm Sandy had on our shores, our cities, our lives, our hearts.
We prayed for those devastated. Schools provided a safe house, but even that was a tenuous relationship this year.
President Barack Obama won re-election, much to the chagrin of a good five people on my Facebook friends list (and thousands of people affected by US drones onto their countries), and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D city had everyone in a mood (so don’t kill it!). By now, my son found out how his legs worked, and held tightly to the walls, the sofa, and my fingers as he cruised through the house, driving me and Luz crazy in the process. As we approached winter, the late night diaper changes and Saturday morning Handy Manny viewings only made me love him more. He was still an infant, even if his size suggested otherwise. I imagined what it would be like picking him up from school every afternoon.
Until one afternoon, about two dozen little ones and a few adults couldn’t save themselves from a seriously ill young man, another reminder that children suffer the burden of the things we don’t do for them.
When student activist and future educator Stephanie Rivera provided this quote on her Facebook:
One year ago I was sent to the Bishop House to meet with a dean because my self-harm and alcohol abuse made me a red-flag to the Rutgers community, I left assigned to mandated counseling. Today I was asked to meet a director at the Bishop House. I left being told I was a strong candidate for 3 fellowships due to the “committed passion I have for the public good,” and they want to see me make the mark in the world I want to. Never, in a million years, did I ever think I’d be at this point today. At the point where all my day’s energy isn’t geared towards criticizing and trying to fix everything that I found wrong with myself, but instead geared towards fixing things much, much greater than myself. It still shocks me how I can look in the mirror today and not want to smash it, or have the ability to go out with my friends and eat in public without having an anxiety attack. Never. Thank you for all of those who were there from the very beginning, and those who have come into my life and continue to make the course of recovery not only one of the most meaningful journey’s of my life, but who make it even possible to carry on.
Endless love to those who continue fighting the same fight, both for a better world and the fight inside themselves.
“We all know pain, and I think that is why we strive to make this world better. I strongly believe that what has almost killed us all is a fire that burns to keep us doing what we do. “
… it just made me wonder why I stressed out so much.
When Ms. Rivera posted her quote, I almost told myself, “What the flip is wrong with me?” This year, a girl got shot by the Taliban for trying to get an education. (Fortunately, she lives.) Chicago had 500+ murders this year alone, many of them young men of color with their own secret passions for change. Thousands of people have lost their jobs this year. Hundreds have stopped looking. The homeless blend among the hipsters in NYC, so the problem stays faceless.
All I have to do is teach, get kids and teachers to believe in themselves, and … advocate for this profession. Sounds lots easier than fighting for one’s life.
Fatherhood made me realize how amazing life was in the service of others. The world kept throwing me opportunities, and I took the best of them. Sure, other areas of my life didn’t feel as successful. Before I turned 30 this year, I would have referred to them as haters. Now in my 30s, I have to thank them, for they keep testing my mettle even as they don’t know where their journeys lead them.
The only difference between them and me is that, while neither of us know where our roads lead, mine feels good. I just got this good feeling. Yeah. I just got this feeling that I never ever ever had before, no no. This unpaved road feels like mine.
Jose, who would like to thank each and every one of you for your readership. See you soon.