“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March 14 Student Walkout


Almost one month ago, one young person massacred a high school. In the weeks since, stormy debate has overtaken the media over how to best handle this going forward.

I'm not going to talk about that.

I want to shout from rooftops at all the students I ever taught who questioned me when I told them WORDS ARE POWER. I teach seventh grade. It's an age where humans are at a developmental stage  that makes them question everything, even things we know they once knew, like "Why do I have to respect the teacher?" and "What is noun?" and "Why should I be nice to everybody?"

So of course, when I'm jumping around my classroom shouting, "Reading is what the cool kids do! Words are the greatest gift we have!" they're going to call me out.

And good on them.

For real.

First, I don't mind explaining. I could talk endlessly about words (and individual letters, for that matter).

Second, let's raise humans who question the way of things. Let's raise them to examine circumstances and information and to STOP and THINK about WHY. To question:

Is there a better way for the greater good?

That is what the world needs now, and if I may be so bold, our survival always has and always will depend on it.

I was thrilled when I heard about the scheduled National School Walkout scheduled for tomorrow, March 14. All this because a wounded mass of teenagers in Parkland, Florida stepped out of the wreckage and used their words. It wasn't enough that five years ago kindergarteners were killed. That for five years, parents who should have taught their children to swim, taken their little son or daughter to Disney World, or read them Harry Potter have lived every day since December of 2012 living with the aching awareness that they were robbed of those opportunities.

The teenagers of Parkland have emerged from their tragedy strong. They have done research. They have found the right things to say, the best words, and the right things to DO to make a change. They took this on the grandest scale they could: NATIONAL. As a country, they said, let us all show each other that we are not going to allow this anymore. As a country, as our nation's students, let us walk out on the current institution and shout from the rooftops that the status quo is NOT OKAY.

It's beautiful.


More than once in the time from this plan's inception I've been told of "how each individual school is going to handle that." Um, what?

"Our school is just going to take seventeen minutes of silence so as not to disrupt learning."

"Our school will gather in the gym."

"Our school won't be participating."

*chuckle, chuckle* You're joking, right?

Okay. So, hey teenagers. America's youth. Are you out there? Can you hear me? I want you to do me a favor. Google "walkout." Google "taking a stand." You don't need to tell me what you find out. I guarantee that you're smart enough to process it and realize what I'm saying.

You are our future. Don't let the message of Parkland's survivors be muffled by adults and administrations who can't be bothered, or...what? Are afraid? I don't even know.

Teenagers of America: if you believe in Parkland's message, stand with them. Get up out of your chair, walk out of the classroom. Go down the stairs and out the door.

Stand together.

Use your actions. Use your words. THAT IS HOW IT'S DONE.

Any school, any administration, that employs punitive action against students who participate in the walkout is wrong. Stand together in the largest group you can gather.

Stand up. Walk out. Lives have been lost. Change the future.


Mary Pat Bielecki,
former teenager
former student
teacher for almost 18 years
believer in words
believer in YOU

P.S.-- Can you spot the shooter in this video?

P.P.S.--Sandy Hook Promise

Saturday, February 24, 2018

On Carrying a Gun in My Classroom

WARNING: You may hate me after this post. I'm a little scared to hit "Publish." But if you'd like to know about the reality of what so many are asking, I have to do it, and encourage you to read it.

My classroom is an energetic place, to say the least. On any given day, a student's experience is one or all of the following:

  • Jumping up and down
  • Screaming and yelling of vocabulary, life experiences, sound effects
  • Dramatic re-enactments of literature or life experiences
  • Throwing of candy to well-deserving students (they like Jolly Ranchers best--you should see when I accidentally drop one; they dive at it like a herd of Walkers in The Walking Dead)
  • Me, running around in erratic circles to hold the attention of seventh graders who hate to read, all the while bumping into things because I'm klutzy, which I accept because it further holds their attention. What's funnier than seeing your teacher trip and fall?
  • Loud music
  • Amazing and intense Powerpoints set to inspirational music
  • Leaping off of furniture
  • The Hokey Pokey
  • The Chicken Dance
  • Final Copy Day; in which my students must turn in final manuscripts of a writing piece on which they've worked for weeks and which must be free of errors lest I return it to them and mark it in my grade book as a zero until it is corrected. High tension situation right there, no exaggeration.
  • Writing Workshop, with students wearing headphones to create their own "soundtracks" or else me playing a loud "Study Playlist" to block out distractions while they work
  • Writing Workshop, in which I travel student to student through the classroom and work one-on-one with them to meet their particular needs for writing improvement. I have between 115 and 130 students year to year. I sit beside each one with a purple or green pen and mark up their drafts from beginning to end with suggestions and changes. I have conversations that include uncomfortable eye contact so they will (to any degree) absorb what I am teaching them.
  • I am an anxious person. This isn't really anyone's business because I do my job well, but for the sake of this discussion, I'll share that I do get migraines, and have, on occasion, taught through migraines accompanied by an aura (spotted vision/vision loss). 
  • I do not have enough sick days because I'm a young mother whose children are sick often. We have a lot of doctor appointments that can only be scheduled during school hours. This means I often come to school exhausted and/or not feeling the greatest. 
Due to all of the above listed items, I am not capable of operating a gun. I should not be given a gun, because in all truth, the above items will affect my judgment and ability to obtain the (presumably locked up or not-immediately-ready-to-fire) gun. I cannot be trusted to aim well for any of the reasons listed above, not least of which is the wellness factor. I will hesitate to pull the trigger because I am not confident I could attack another person, no matter the situation.

Fire me and find someone who can and will carry a gun? Okay. But know that I'm not alone in this. I am not the only teacher whose classroom looks like this and who has the same reservations. I'm willing to bet I'm in the majority, in fact. So what will we end up with? Military teaching our kids? Sacrifice the success of education (which is already a hot-button issue currently being ignored...by the way, please opt your children out of state tests since nothing has changed enough yet to make those tests effective) so that, bottom line, gun laws don't have to change? Not to mention the cost of training and arming educators. But don't worry. School districts have bottomless funds...oh, wait. They don't. Countless fantastic educators have lost their jobs in the last decade. Valuable programs and extracurriculars have been eliminated. Because schools don't have enough money to begin with.

Further, I am going to be one-hundred percent honest with you. Every year, I get to know and truly love my students. But no matter what, I love my own children more and my greatest fear is that I will die and they will grow up without me. Self-centered? Vain? Conceited? I don't care. Call me whatever you want. Bottom line? I'm an EXCELLENT TEACHER, but I will NOT sacrifice my life for anyone but my OWN FAMILY. I will follow all protocol and use logic to the best of my ability to keep students safe, but I won't be the hero on the news. I am needed elsewhere, and that will always be my priority.

Follow the success stories of so many other countries. Limit access to guns. If you're looking to teachers for guidance on this, learn from our example. If a student starts poking a classmate with a pen, a ruler, a pencil...I take the fucking thing away.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Flashback Post: More Than Magic

Flash back to...2011. Joey was 6. Knowing him now, this is even better.

My favorite thing about Joey reading is that he laughs out loud at the funny parts.

There are many things about Joey that remind me of myself. I suppose this is true for all parents, but it still surprises me because he's a boy. It's odd to see so much of yourself in someone who is so fundamentally opposite. It started when he was a newborn, and he wailed dramatically just to eat, easily comforted when he finally got what he wanted after being made to wait a whopping ten extra seconds. My mom saw this and raised her eyebrows. She looked at me knowingly and said, "Who does THAT remind me of?"

It's more pronounced now. There have always been the flickers of me in his regular actions, like when he chooses to draw with chalk instead of play catch with father. When he uses his superhero action figures to create complex storylines instead of having them battle. When he loses time watching the leaves fall from the trees, perfectly content to just sit and daydream. All of these things and more drive my husband crazy, because I guess when you wait all your life to be a father to a son, you don't conjure up the image of a happy little dreamer.

But Joey is so lovable as he is, there's no danger of wanting him to be different. And also, like everyone else in our family, he has stubbornness issues. Even if we did try to encourage him to be anything else, it wouldn't work. He'd resist us fiercely and in his totally matter-of-fact, why-are-you-bothering way.

It's the reading thing that has really spelled it out for us. Joey took to reading fast. We show him words only once or twice, and they are committed to his memory forever. I remember one day in kindergarten, my husband said, "Maybe he should be reading by now." I'm a teacher, but I teach older kids, so I had no idea. I made a face, shrugged a shoulder, and said, "I'm sure they're working on it at school," a phrase that I completely abhor as a teacher and a parent and I still can't believe it was my mentality. It just hadn't occurred to me that he could be old enough to read. "No," my husband said. "We should be doing it now."

So I started filling up Post-It notes with sight words, and then basic words, and then words that turned up in our stories that Joey asked about. We stuck the notes on our kitchen cupboards, and before long our kitchen was a rainbow of words, words, words. Everywhere. On the microwave and the refrigerator, too. And Joey knew them all.

After reading became less of a novelty and more of a, "just what he does" thing, Joey became obsessed with writing. I've always taken for granted that I'm great at spelling and figuring words out from having read so much, but I realized it had to have started somewhere even if I don't remember. We started our Post-It words over again, clearing the cupboards and making room for a new list. Joey began a story on Microsoft Word, his fingers hovering hesitantly over the keys while he struggled to recall where each letter was located. Each time he needed help spelling a word (which was all of them at first), I'd write it carefully on a Post-It and put it up where he could see it. This process only lasted a couple of weeks. After that, he didn't need the Post-Its anymore at all.

When Joey brought home his first report card, it goes without saying that his strongest performance was in Reading and English Language Arts. Art class, Literacy and Library, and Computers gave glowing compliments. He did well in his other subjects, too, but you could see from the teacher comments that his magic comes from the right side of his brain. My husband read the comments and...not quite frowning, looked puzzled. He's an accountant. He loves numbers. He loves charts, especially color-coded ones. He looked up and said slowly, "I think...this must be exactly what your report card looked like when you were in school."

Stupidly, I beamed.

For all of it, nothing fills me with as much joy as when Joey is curled in the sofa with a book or a borrowed Kindle, eyebrows furrowed, lips moving silently to the words on the page. The room is quiet, and I watch him. Suddenly, the frown of deep thought disappears, completely erased as though he is surprised by some delightful part of the story I cannot know. The corners of his mouth curve up, so like his father, his teeth showing in a grin. He closes his eyes, tips his head back, and lets out a loud and wonderful laugh. Sometimes it's accompanied by an, "Oh, man! That's hilarious!" and sometimes he just reads on. But it is wonderful to me that he has the ability to lose himself and enjoy the words so thoroughly.

For me, reading has always been magic. But my son as a reader? More. Much more.

Writing at Age 5

Reading at Age 12 (on a phone...what is this world?!)

Essential Oils and Alexa

Hello, welcome to 2018. This is my life.

At a dinner party a few weeks ago, friends of ours demonstrated the wonders of the Amazon-based smart home device Alexa. "It's not all that expensive," they said. "You should check it out."

So I did.

And then, true to my nature, I ordered it on Prime so it would come really fast. I ripped open the box, because that's always fun. And then I let it sit on my counter for two weeks. Inside my brain, I think there's a Tilt-a-Whirl. You know, the crazy carnival ride where individual cars are spinning in different directions at once while all of them are on a fast rotating wheel. I love that ride, but when that's your life...well.


It's February break in our house, so the boys are off from school. The weather is warm and rainy, and I have the windows and back door open to let in the clean fresh air. I filled my diffuser with an essential oil called Loyalty. I didn't even know I had it! It smelled amazing, and I honestly think it made me happier to be around my kids. They volunteered to help me set up our new Alexa device. I looked at their shiny eyes as they read the directions and it made me feel all lovey and grateful.

Once we got it going, I quickly deterred Joey and Noah from being, well...themselves. That sounds awful. But really, you have to understand, there's a time and a place to break out the juvenile humor of little boys. "Alexa, make a fart noise." "Alexa, what does the fox say?" (Seriously??? That was, like, so 2013!) I jumped in quickly to say, "Alexa, play my iTunes."

If you are looking to feel sentimental with your children, wait for a warm rainy day. Open your windows. Diffuse something wonderful. And turn on Five For Fighting and let your kids serenade you.

We rocked out, singing into imaginary microphones and twirling through the kitchen. We are BIG-TIME twirlers in our house. It's only annoying sometimes.

Watching Joey and Noah in that moment, I thought about my house growing up. Music has always been a huge part of my life. My dad has eclectic and oddly specific taste (he once created a mix tape entitled "Middle Charts Rock"; it was his pride and joy as mix tapes went), and it pushed all of us to develop our own quirky playlists. Now, I can't hear music without building a story in my head or jetting back in time to some almost lost memory that becomes crystal clear with lyrics I know by heart.

Once, my mother and I did a late-night shopping trip to a drug store near our house. We loved shopping there because they had great makeup and beauty products super cheap. Oh, and pantyhose! It was great...if there was a last-minute pantyhose emergency, it was all, "RUN TO VIX!" That was the store's name. Vix.

Anyway, Mom and I were shopping at Vix and had separated somewhere near the lipstick. She always gets sucked into the big center displays of novel items, where I'm more of a go-to girl. Unconcerned, I was scanning for my lipstick color (I think was called Burnished Siena) as the song switched on the speaker somewhere overhead. The store was pretty empty and the aisle shelves were high, so when "You're So Vain" came on, I felt nice and alone and comfortable singing along. As the song progressed, well...I mean, it's "You're So Vain." Surely you've been in a similar situation. I was all alone and lost in the names of lipstick colors and my Tilt-a-Whirl brain was carried away.

As I flung my arms out for the big crescendo, I did a half-twirl. And there, from out behind a giant display of glitter eye shadow, jumped my mother, also doing the dramatic half-twirl to the song's high point. We startled each other, but then burst out laughing at what was, really, a perfect mother-daughter moment. One I'll never forget.

Flash forward to today. Five For Fighting drifted away and the next song on the radio was "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." (I told you. Quirky taste. But you and I both know you're singing one of these songs right now.) Joey was dancing in place by the pantry. I bopped into the laundry room to change loads. As the song grooved into the chorus, I twirled back into the kitchen at the exact same moment that Noah twirled out of the refrigerator. We locked eyes, and, still dancing, broke into crazy laughter.

Magic. The weather's just right. The air smells amazing. Alexa is awesome, and so are my kids.

The world's a mess, and I'm a Tilt-a-Whirl, but that was a great moment.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Why is Mom yelling NOW?!

"Why is Mom yelling?!"

Or, more frequently, "Why is Mom yelling NOW?!"

Some people aren't born yellers. They're patient and calm and speak in a nice low voice all the time, even if someone sets their hair on fire. Max's preschool teacher is like that. He loves her. Hell, I love her. She's fantastic.

But me? I was born loud. I'm not ashamed. I come from loud people. It should be listed as part of our ethnicity. Polish, Italian, Irish, LOUD.

Also in that list would be emotional. This used to bother me, but I'm kind of proud of it now. You never need to worry about whether I'm being honest with you. My face is ALWAYS honest with you, no matter what my mouth is saying.

So if shit goes down, this mom is yelling. That answers that. But let's now look at a typical morning in my house, and you tell me if you can figure out why Mom is yelling NOW.

For the fourth or fifth time in a row, my four-year-old son Max woke at 4 am unable to breathe from coughing up all the gook that had settled in his chest while sleeping. All children do this at some point or another. With my older two, it was annoying, an inconvenience, but also pleasant in the way that I could pick them up and lean against the wall or sit in the rocking chair and at least half sleep while comforting them.

Max wants a shower.

Max, as a human, is relentless. So, at 4 am, I get up, take off his jammies, and put him in the shower. And then we both get steamy, our noses run, and we are wide awake.

And usually by now, so is the dog and so is my middle son Noah.

Okay, I think, I can do this. As long as I have coffee.

Making coffee is a nice easy procedure. Except the few simple steps are interrupted by I want breakfast. I have boogers. Bizzy's in the basement! No, not THAT breakfast. Hey! He took the last muffin! I wanted THAT muffin! I have boogers. Ew! He has boogers! I'm gonna puke! Uuuggghhh. Mom, I missed the toilet. Ew! He missed the toilet? Now I'm gonna puke! Did he take my muffin?

But that's not even when it gets exciting. Wait until the oldest wakes up and "can't find" whatever he needs for school. It's usually laying on the floor. Right in front of him. Because, did you know?, that's where stuff will be found when you never put it away.

By the time I got to take my first sip of coffee today, my brain was scrambled eggs. So when Max came up, two snot rivers flowing cheerfully from his nose, and said, "I'm bored," I put my coffee down, and said in my usual loud voice, "I AM HAVING A BAD DAY."

To which he responded, "Geez! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?"

*Narrow-eyed, dead-pan facial expression.* Right here.

But he is sick. He is my little sickie. His eyes are about two inches in diameter and the prettiest green you ever saw, and somehow when he is sad his eyelashes get longer and poke the top of his head, so I said, "Here. Let's do something fun."

And I got the great big bowl reserved for Halloween candy and I filled it with fresh snow from outside. We got our Play-Doh toys and a ladle and Max's mittens and BOOM! A snow day indoors.

I am awesome.

All joy and smiles until I walked away for ten seconds and he decided to add sundae sprinkles to his snow bowl.

And they spilled.


Man those suckers get some distance when they hit the floor.

So I'm vacuuming. It's cool. I love to vacuum. I break out the vacuum hose; I'm loving the sound of the sprinkles getting all sucked up.

"Mom! I'm gonna go get some superheroes to play with in the snow!"

My clever, creative boy. I'm so proud of us both, I'm dancing with the vacuum hose.

That's when I sucked up his mitten. You know...I try to be myself for one second...and guess what else? I still haven't had any coffee.

Thirty minutes later, my brand new vacuum is dismantled. The floor is a giant puddle where the snow melted. The dog is throwing up (because why not?). My arms are covered in vacuum dust. Max is bored.

"I'm going to wash my hands, and then we'll clean up," I tell him.

I enter the bathroom. I step in a lake of urine.

"I am having a BAD DAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!!!"

"Geez, Mom. Mrs. Hanley always tells me, 'Just forget about the bad thing and move on with your day.' That's what she tells me. You should try that."

Thanks. Thanks a lot. But I am covered in vacuum dust and someone else's pee.

Screw it. I'm just drinking my coffee now.

P.S.--Max is still wearing the other mitten because, he told me, he needs to keep it safe from crazy mom.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


My son Noah is nine years old now, almost ten.

He is fire and madness and drives me crazy. Everyone says he is just like me. I think he's like my brother, who was always far more trouble than I was.

Noah plays the piano. He loves crafts (to my chagrin) and magic tricks. He has a beautiful smile.

At Christmastime, I like to give each of my boys one special thing from me to them. Something they never thought of, but lets them know I notice they are special. I always hope that if it isn't obvious at first, they will take time to think of why that gift was chosen for them. Sometimes it works and is magical. But they are kids. They are boys. (Insert eye-roll here.)

This year I bought Noah the book Wonder. Many of my seventh graders did presentations on it last year (I suspect they had read it in an earlier grade but whatever) and then my nephew told my sister that reading it changed his life.

If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.

If you don't know, Wonder is the story of a boy who, due to a genetic abnormality, has facial deformities and is starting school for the first time in fifth grade. That's just a byline, of course. It's a story about people. A family. A little boy. A teenaged girl. Humans.

Noah loved it so much he put it straight in my hands and begged me to read it.

"Then we can go and see the movie, Mom," he said. "Just us."

Today was that day.

I don't usually want to see a movie right after I finish the book. It's too easy to pick out the changes and cuts, which frustrates and annoys me. I didn't expect to enjoy anything except Noah's company.

About thirty minutes in, I was crying. Hard.

Forty-five minutes in, my cheeks were pruny from the tears. This was when Noah laid his head on my shoulder. When I looked over, his eyes were shining.

At the point when my sobs became audible, a tiny little arm (because my boy is small and scrawny) reached up and wrapped awkwardly around my neck. It pulled me close to a fuzzy blond head.

My heart exploded.

Watching Wonder with my wonderful boy.

When it comes to school, Noah lives for lunch and recess and dress-down days when he can wear the t-shirt that reads in bold lettering, "Dear Teacher, It doesn't matter where you move my seat. I talk to everyone." His mouth is rarely closed and he speaks at one volume: too loud. He fights fierce and mean and is serious about getting his way. He is, in short, a pain in the ass.

But he shines, too. He lights up the dark. After all, he is made of fire.

On the ride home, I was all emotional. I looked in the rearview mirror at him and said, "Noah, I love you. You are exceptional."

"You cried almost the whole movie, Mom. I gotta say, I was pretty embarrassed."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Groundhog Day: Break the Cycle

Happy Groundhog Day!

February 2. The day made legendary by a Bill Murray movie, referenced often to indicate the repetitiveness of things that frustrate us in our lives. Cycles that we can't control or change.

A year ago, my sons (budding young thespians) became obsessed with the musical Newsies, and "Seize the Day" played over and over at full volume in my new and curtain-less (ie, echoey) house. Max, at three years old, mastered the dance moves on pieces of paper to mimic his favorite characters from the show.

Seize the day.

A phrase that began to nag at me.

At school, I jump off furniture, shouting at seventh graders to find their strengths and passions and follow them. Why would we be given talents and passion, I urged, if we are not meant to use them for some way to better the world?

And yet, I wasn't doing that myself. I was letting myself stay in a cycle that made me unhappy. Groundhog Day didn't work out for Bill Murray until he broke the cycle.

So that's exactly what I did.

One night last year during a particularly high-anxiety time for me, I lay awake. It was between two and four am, something that had become another regular (and unpleasant) pattern. My eyes were wide as my mind played the causes for my anxiety over and over again (typical of anxiety). And then, something happened.

I felt the pressure of strong, familiar arms pressing me into a huge hug. Just as when I was a little girl, a teenager, a bride, a new mom...I was instantly comforted.


"You can't be a writer unless you actually write, Lovey."

"I don't know how you do it with these crazy boys! You're a saint!"

I have to laugh at that one. We were in Florida and my boys, aged 3 and 6 at the time, kept knocking over our heavy suitcases while we waited for our ride to the airport. They'd run by in a whirlwind and the suitcases would crash down. Boom! And Grandma would dutifully stand them back up, growing more irritated each time.

"It's OK, Grandma, I got it," I kept saying. By the fifteenth or twentieth time, she threw her hands up. "You're going straight to heaven!" she'd proclaimed.

She was right about so many things. I don't know whether being a boy mom earns me a place in heaven, but I do know that she taught me that being there for my kids when they need me most is a priority at all costs.

And that your life won't be what you want unless you make it that way.

Just like I taught my seventh graders.

Just like I'm doing now.

I don't have it all figured out, but last October, for my thirty-eighth birthday, I invited my closest friends and family members to my house for a party. I made them participate in lip sync battles and dress up and dance around in my house. I stood on a ladder--in my wedding gown--and made a toast. To them. For being integral pieces of my life, of who I am, and of who I want to be.

The theme of the party was "Your life is an occasion. Rise to it." (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium)

Every day my grandparents were together, they woke early in the morning. They ate healthy breakfasts and read the newspaper. They did the crossword together. And then they'd plan out their day. For them, every day was an opportunity. Grandma would say, "What are we gonna do today, San?" and he'd start listing. And worked into everything would be a workout at the gym, a good long run down Route 5 or at the Botanical Gardens. A visit with family. Connecting with friends. Dinner with great wine.

They made every day an occasion, and because of of everything they taught me, I am, too.

Now is the time to seize the day.

I took a leave of absence from work. My family needed me.

And not just my kids. I planned a trip to Italy for our whole family.

and you made sure we knew you were with us...

but we already knew...

I fight fiercely for family. I won't let them out of my life. To the point where I give them exactly what they need for birthdays and special occasions. A picture of me.

Family first, right Grandma?

Hey Grandma? You were right. I finished my book. Because of you. 
And, well, because of me.

Thanks for the hug. I miss you, but I know you're with me every day.

And to everyone who has read this far, never forget:

YOU write your story. If it's starting to feel like Groundhog Day, break the cycle. Change the story. Write something you're proud of.

Seize the day.