Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Here is an excerpt from Shauna Niequist's book, Bread and Wine, an amazing read. I borrowed it from a friend and was immediately addicted; she writes directly to me, or at least it feels that way. This part of the book is from her chapter entitled "Hungry." It resonated with me, and, if this topic is something that you've had in your life, I hope it touches you too. 

Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host of The Splendid Table, says there are two kinds of people in the world: people who wake up thinking about what to have for supper and people who don't. I am in the first camp, certainly. But it took me about twenty years to say that out loud. 

I've always been hungry. Always. I remember being hungry as a small child, as an adolescent girl, as an adult, and just after I locate those feelings and memories of hunger, in my peripheral vision another thing buzzes up, like a flash of heat or pain: shame. Hunger, then shame. Hunger, then shame. Always hungry, always ashamed.

I have always been on the round side of average, sometimes the very round side and sometimes just a little round. I was a round-faced, chubby baby, a little girl with soft, puffy cheeks, a teenager who longed to be skinny and never was, who routinely threw all her pants on the floor and glared at them like enemies. A woman who still longs to be skinny and never is, and who still, from time to time, throws all her pants on the floor and glares at them like enemies. After all these years, the heaviest thing isn't the number on the scale but the weight of the shame I've carried all these years - too big, too big, too big. 

I've always wanted to be thinner, and I've always loved to eat, and I felt betrayed by my appetites. Why couldn't I be one of those people who forgets to eat? Or who can't eat a bite when she's stressed or sad? When I'm stressed or sad, I eat like a truffle pig, hoping that great mouthfuls of food will make me feel tethered to something, grounded, safe. And I eat when I'm happy too - when the table is full of people I love, when we're celebrating.

My appetite is strong, powerful, precise, but for years and years, I tried to pretend I couldn't hear it screaming in my ears. It wasn't ladylike. It wasn't proper. So I pretended I wasn't hungry, pretended I'd already eaten, murmured something about not caring one way or the other, because I was afraid that my appetites would get the best of me, that they would expose my wild and powerful hunger. 


Part of being a Christian means practicing grace in all sorts of big and small daily ways, and my body gives me the opportunity to demonstrate grace, or to make peace with imperfection every time I see myself in the mirror. On my best days, I practice grace and patience with myself, knowing that I can't extend grace and patience if I haven't tasted it. 

I used to think the goal was to get over things - to deal with them once and for all, to snap an issue closed like slamming a locker door, washing my hands of it forever and always. What I know now after all these years is that there are some things you don't get over, some things you just make friends with at a certain point, because they've been following you around like a stray dog for years. That's how this is for me. I've been catastrophizing about my weight since I was six. I've lost the pounds and gained them, made and abandoned plans and promises, cried tears of frustration, pinched the backs of my upper arms with a hatred that scares me. 

And through all that, I've made friends and fallen in love, gotten married and become a mother. I've written and traveled and stayed up late with people I love. I've walked on the beach and on glittering city city streets. I've kissed my baby's cheeks and danced with my husband and laughed till I cried with my best friends, and through all that it didn't really matter that I was heavier than I wanted to be.

The extra pounds didn't matter, as I look back, but the shame that came with those extra pounds was like an infectious disease. That's what I remember. And so these days, my mind and heart are focused less on the pounds and more on what it means to live without shame, to exchange that heavy and corrosive self-loathing for courage and freedom and gratitude. Some days I do just that, and some days I don't, and that seems to be just exactly how life is. 

Back to Lynne Rossetto Kasper. I wake up in the morning and I think about dinner. I think about the food and th epeople and the things we might discover about life and about each other. I think about the sizzle of oil in a pan and the smell of rosemary released with a knife cut. And it could be that that's how God made me the moment I was born, and it could be that that's how God made me along the way as I've given up years of secrecy and denial and embarrassment. It doesn't matter at this point. What matters is that one of the ways we grow up is by declaring what we love.

I love the table. I love food and what it means and what it does and how it feels in my hands. And that might be healthy, and it might be a reaction to a world that would love me more if I starved myself, and it's probably always going to be a mix of the two. In any case, it's morning and I'm hungry. Which is not the same as weak or addicted or shameful. I'm hungry. And I'm thinking about dinner, not just tonight, but the next night and the next. There are two kinds of people, and I'm tired of pretending I'm the other. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014


It's amazing what a good night of sleep can do for a girl. I finally slept in today and it has done volumes for my happiness. This week…this month…has been pretty rough on this first grade teacher. School has been an extra dose of crazy and I can't seem to find my footing. I've been waking up just a little unhappy these days (I blame YOU, evil Chicago winter of 2014) and finally, finally, I woke up today feeling like my old, optimistic, carefree self. I'm taking time to reflect on the good things that are going on in my little world. Here is what I am currently doing in February of 2014.

My front steps. 

Georgia and I together at the Art Institute.  

Loving: My latest visit to the Art Institute, thanks to Brian's agreement to go with me. I haven't been there since last spring, and I've missed the place immensely. It was cool to go through the museum with an American History expert, as he commented on his favorites and why he thought certain pieces were interesting historically. I, of course, relied on the impressionists, my old faithfuls, for my must-sees of the day. I'll be back soon for sure. 

Reading: Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. I was missing the nonfiction genre, particularly Dillard's version of nonfiction, from my college days and decided to order this book. I've only read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek before this, but this collection has not disappointed. She makes the world come alive in a way that I can't believe. It's really beautiful writing and I wish one day that I could write with even a fraction of her descriptive power. Short stories are good for the soul. 

Watching: Sherlock. Holy cow. We just finished the whole series and I feel terrible for the fans who got into it at the beginning, because they had to wait two whole years between each season. It's a show like I've never seen before: each season is three episodes long, and each episode is about 90 minutes. The producers are basically creating a movie trilogy for each season. Beyond the cool format, this show has some of the best writing and characterization you can find. It is suspenseful, quick, interesting, hilarious, exciting, and human all at once. They adapt the original books into a modern day setting really creatively. Plus, it's on Netflix. Perf. 

Anticipating: My second half marathon. It's coming up in June. One of the best feelings of my life was completing my first one last July - it's funny how something that seemed impossible to me when I saw it on paper became completely doable with a few months of practice. As of now I can run for 3 miles at an acceptable pace. I clearly have some work to do, but I'm excited to get back off of the treadmill and on those long runs again. 

Listening To: The Frozen Soundtrack…obviously. That goes without saying. But on another note, (pun intended) I have been streaming Van Morrison more and more on Spotify, thanks to a certain guy's influence on my musical taste. I'm digging it. 

Planning: Well, I suppose this is sort of obvious, but wedding planning is well underway! Things like engagement shoots, save-the-dates, DJs, tastings, and salons are all being booked. It's funny, because I always thought this time of wedding planning would be stressful and slightly overwhelming, but so far we've agreed on what we want and are just happy to get closer to real life together! I'm sure as we get closer the crazies will start to settle in, but right here, a few months out, it's been a great ride so far. 

Working On: My mad cooking skillz. If you know the guy I am marrying, you know why I'm working on this. My mother is an excellent cook, as is Brian's mom, so I have a lot to live up to. Lately I've tried pork chops, homemade pizzas, chicken with angel hair, and salmon fillets. I'm happy to accept any ideas for new recipes to try, as long as someone with minimal talent can execute them. (I am referring to myself here.) 

Wishing For: SPRING SPRING SPRING SPRING SPRING SPRING SPRING. Did I make that clear? This winter has been crazy, but I can see hints here and there of days when some of the snow melts,  a few glimmers of sunshine peek through, and the anticipation is killing me. Spring means all sorts of things: trips to Boston, bridal showers (still seems surreal that I'll be attending my own shower), apartment hunting, and running outside. Oh how I can not wait to run outside. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Fountain

I have hardly read such a beautiful thing in my life. From Sunday morning:

If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge.

In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from the fountain, and from no other.

- John Calvin

Thursday, February 13, 2014

On Having a Thick Skin

Want to know one thing I've learned from this past year and a half in the classroom in Chicago? 

Well, I've learned more than one thing.


But one thing that's on my mind lately has been a really big lesson. It's in bold letters on my mental "Things I Have Learned" list. 

I have learned that 1) You need a thick skin to survive this crazy world and 2) I will never have a thick enough skin to survive this crazy world and that 3) Maybe I'm okay with that. 

Let me explain. Someone very recently made a bold comment to me. It was a bold comment about me. It was particularly about my classroom. Now, let me tell you, I have been observed, critiqued, and evaluated so much in the last 18 months that I'm not sure many others can top this experience. I've been given feedback and reflected on my teaching practices until I turned blue. Those are fine and good things. I've had criticism of all kinds: rude, kind, exhaustive, unhelpful, thoughtful, constructive, and confusing alike. I don't mind criticism, in and of itself, when it comes to my teaching. In fact, most of the time I welcome it. Heck, most of the time I ASK for it. You have an idea that will make my classroom a better place for my kids? Let's hear it - because then I want to make that change now. I'm telling you that I've been through the ringer so that you understand, in a small way, the thick skin I have built up when it comes to taking criticism. 

Back to that bold comment. I was told by someone, in a professional setting, something that made me think of having a thick skin. I have a thick skin because if I let every heartbreaking story actually break my heart, I would cry all day and never get to the business of teaching. If every time a student walked in late without having eaten breakfast sent me down to the lunch ladies begging for extra food, then I would spend every day running the halls until 10:00 before we got to reading books or solving math problems. I've found that I need a thick skin to survive the day. But, really, when it comes down to it, I'm a big faker, because those heartbreaking stories actually do break my heart. I just have to become a great actor for them and keep on keeping on as best I can. But again, I digress. Back to the comment. 

The comment that was made to me had to do with a classroom observation. This individual overheard one student being rude to another while they were working independently. And this person asked me what I thought about students being mean to one another in my classroom. I responded by saying I model kind language and continually reinforce why we need to love one another, but six-year-old children who are sponges in a world where a lot of the words they hear on a daily basis are not nice, nor loving, will have a tendency to spit those back out in their own usage. Knowing that kids are mean to one another doesn't make me happy, in fact it does break my heart, but in the reality of their lives, I understand that it happens. No matter where you're from, you will hear children saying mean things to one another. Kids are mean sometimes. I hate it. But it is true. And I want to keep trying to change that. 

In response, I was told that I was making excuses for the behaviors described in my classroom. I was told that it was on me to control the language in my classroom. I was told that I don't believe in my kids. I was told that maybe I should consider my foundational beliefs in the work that I'm doing. 

Now. That thick skin. That thick skin that I have? The one that helps me brush off the craziness all around me so that I can keep on teaching? Keep pushing through? 

It's not thick enough for comments like that. 

To be told that I don't have a belief in my kids? To be told that I don't have a belief in the work I'm doing? 

I'll never have a skin thick enough for that. 

I kept a professional appearance and tone to finish the conversation, but as I walked away, learned that weird paradox about thick skin. I do have to have blinders on sometimes, just to keep us all moving ahead, looking forward, and learning more. I do state the realities of the harsh world that's left for my kids and look it in the face and show up to work every day and teach in that world anyway. But, at the same time, my heart does break every day. I do believe with all my heart in my kids. I am affected by every single story and hurtful word and missed breakfast. So when someone insinuates that I'm not grounded in some pretty passionate foundational beliefs, it tumbles me down completely. If only I had a thicker skin for comments like that. If only I could let that go and mindlessly move on to my next objective so that I can take on more responsibility and check my next box. 

Or maybe not. I don't want to be like that at all. I don't think I ever could. I don't think I'll ever be okay with anyone thinking I don't believe in my kids or believe in what I'm doing. 

So it's a funny thing, that thick skin. You can't survive without it. But your soul can't survive with it. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

GReat friends and GReat weddings.

The title is a play on the fact that I spent last weekend in GR, Grand Rapids, and the fact that I was reminded, yet again, how blessed I have been in this life of mine with wonderful people whom I have the honor to call friends.

Ann Marie is a girl that goes back to 2004 in the life of Anna Gesch. She was the cool one who, halfway through freshman year, decided to start inviting me to the cool kid hangouts, in my Kohls brand jeans and all. She's the girl who spent so many weekends laughing and sticking together through the weird years of being the age of 15, 16, 17, and 18. She's the girl who wanted to meet my college friends and introduce me to hers. She's the one who understood my obsession with History and Literature and Poems and taking really good-looking notes in high school. She's the friend who made being a nerd okay, dare I say it, even cool, and helping me to be a smart girl who was unashamed of her intelligence.  Ann Marie is the girl who can sympathize with my love of G2 pens more than maybe any other human on this earth. That seems like a weird thing to make just a friend into a great friend, but it makes complete sense to me.

She met Justin sophomore year in college and the rest is history. He is sweet, smart, understanding, and perfect for Ann. Their wedding was on a quiet, beautiful, and snowy Saturday at a music hall in Grand Rapids. I got to reconnect with the high school crew and introduce them to Brian as we celebrated one of my favorite girls. Isn't it funny how when you see the people you love in such a state of bliss, you also somehow just can't help the happiness from pouring down?




Monday, February 3, 2014

Stuff Students Say: January Edition

So I'm 3 days late. I have to explain: I was all set to post this on Friday the 31st of January, but alas, the lake-effect snow in Michigan forced me to drive up early for what was supposed to be a Saturday drive up to Grand Rapids for my girl Ann Marie's wedding. Brian and I ended up going up to GR straight after school on Friday and had the privilege to be hosted by none other than Liz VanDrunen. She's the best, people. The best. But anyway, because of that, you get your quotes 3 days late. I hope you're excited because this batch is worth the wait. 

Ms. Gesch I wish you had a kid and then she could come sit in the classroom with me and be my buddy. 

After I told my kids that I got engaged over Christmas break...
So you pregnant Ms. Gesch?
Me: No, I'm engaged. That means that I'm going to be married soon. 
But then you have a baby in your stomach?
Me: No, I am not going to have a baby. I am going to get married. That means I'll have a husband. 
I still think that means you got kids. 

Students were asked to use their sight words in a sentence. One of my favorite kids, asked to use the word "but" in a sentence, yelled out proudly:
I have a big butt.

I am going to make these squirrels out the window sing again and again.

After I spoke with a parent about a field trip permission slip.
Student: Were you talking to my mama on the phone just now? What did she say about me? Is she going to whoop me now when I get home?

After reading a biography about MLKJ…
So Martin Luther was a principal? In a school? 

To a student who came to school after missing a day:
Me: Were you sick yesterday? We missed you! 
Student: Nah I wasn't sick. My mom just forgot to wash my uniform so she said forget it.

Student: Ms. Gesch you love God?
Me: Yes I do.
Student: I knew it. Me too. Do you know that Satan has power? But God has more power than the devil so it's all gonna be okay. 

During our Monday share of what happened over the weekend:
Over the weekend I had a dream that I was running from a lot of turkeys who were trying to eat me.

Student: Over the weekend I watched Black Men 3. 
Me: Do you mean Men in Black 3?
Student: Oh yeah, that's it. 

Ms. Gesch I love you so much I'm going to buy you White Castle tomorrow. 

Student 1: If I had 100 dollars I would buy juice. 
Student 2: If I had 100 dollars I would spend it on a girl. 

Me: Does anyone know what the word comprehension means?
Student: It's a state!
Me: I think you might be thinking of California.
Student: Well then my mom's been lying.