On Being Full

It is 1994.

The milk crate is heavier than I remember as I haul it down from a high shelf in the bedroom closet. The plastic box lands with a thump on the bedroom floor. I settle in around it on the low carpet, legs straddling the dusty contents, my back supported by the empty bed. I worry that the noise will stir the two toddlers, sleeping across the hallway underneath their 101 Dalmation comforters. I decide to jump back up, do a quick check, peeking carefully around the partially closed door, before I start what I know will be a confusing reconciliation of my past with my current situation. 

With the quiet glow of the toddler’s night light comforting me from across the hall, I lower myself back into position, perfectly matching the indent I’ve just left in the vacuumed carpet of my own bedroom. I pull out the expired college catalog and open it first. Occasionally, I blow the dust off the edges of pages. I pour through the options in the catalog, skipping the pages of majors I’ve already attempted (Political Science, Construction Management…). Overwhelmed by the options, I set the catalog aside and flip through the remaining contents, working my way through the folders like old records.

I grab a faded and torn, seaweed colored folder near the back of the crate, which carries the contents of my school past. Sprinkled among the folder’s official documents–mostly grade reports and transcripts–is a hodge-podge of artifacts: a picture of Ashley, her two year old self standing in our small garden in big work boots; my hand written “Activities-Record” from high school, jammed packed with lists of accomplishments–student body president, “most outstanding senior girl,” leadership awards, and cheerleading camps–lists used to help write my original admission letter to Chico State in 1984; the scores from my English placement test (high) and my math test (low); an old grocery list. I am not certain how this coffer full of folders is the solution to my current situation, but it somehow seems to hold a past and a future more hopeful than the constant, abusive present I’d been living in.

When we first moved to Peach Street, like every move before, I had high hopes. We packed up the contents of a two-bedroom apartment, hauled boxes down steep, concrete stairs while Nick and Ash wailed and rattled, safe from the stairs behind a baby gate. Those steep stairs and the busy street below had been a constant source of fear, particularly as 1 year-old Nick had learned to open the front door. We loaded the toddlers into car seats, boxes towering above their heads from the backseat, and drove the 40 minutes to a small farm town, where my spouse would join his family’s rice farming business. Farming felt safer, more family friendly, than the construction life we had been living. It seemed more sober. The tiny house on quiet Peach Street we pulled up to was not ours, but it had a big backyard with an old, wooden playhouse and stubborn windows that opened to the smell of lilacs.

Within days, the spouse disappeared as he always did. I mostly knew where I could find him–a quick check of any number of local bars would be easy–if I bothered to look. But my days of strapping infants, now toddlers, into their cars seats only to have my concerns confirmed were growing old. The backroads between the small town bars felt less and less safe; the roads mostly led me to an embarrassing argument in the middle of a bar, faced with a drunk spouse sitting next to some woman he had no desire to leave for a wife and crying toddlers. My home routine, away from those places, was in control: wake up alone with adorable toddlers, make homemade Playdough and go on bike rides, come home from the park and make peanut butter and jelly cut into animal shapes. As Ash and Nick played with Little Tikes and Polly Pockets, I scrubbed the abuse and fear from the house with every product under the sink; the smell of Pine-Sol, Windex, Comet, and bleach created a witchy mixture, chasing out the chaos lurking in every corner of this tiny home. After 4:00pm–the marked hour when I knew that once again he was unlikely to come home–I would feed the children, read books, and rock myself to sleep in the corner. Honestly, over the years, I stopped longing for him to come home and had learned to welcome the break from his temper and drunk confusion.

Reaching for the milk crate came after a long week of isolation. He had, once again, drained our bank account dry. I was mad at myself: I usually managed to get to the bank before him on the days I knew his binge was coming, draining the money myself. I kept the depleted funds for groceries and rent and phone bills, and far too many trips to Toys R Us in an attempt to distract Ash and Nick from the reality of our life. I returned the cash to our bank account once I knew we had a few days of stability before us. But exhaustion had kept me from loading the three of us into the car that hot, summer day and now I found myself with a past due rent, a cut off phone, and an empty gas tank. That night, as the sweet babes slumbered, the mantra in my head grew too loud to ignore…you have to get out of here, you have to get out of here, you have to get out of here. Without a phone line to the women in my family, no one could convince me to stay just a little longer, assure me things get better, or talk me through the current trauma. All short term solutions had failed– moving home with family, asking him to 1994_chicoadmissionsleave for good–I knew I had to plan for the long term escape. Old transcripts and catalog in hand, I began to match coursework completed to college majors, wiping away tears as I imagined a new future with my former, stronger, self. I wrote “English major” when the petition for admission form asked for my area of study.

I did not know that future would become this path, that I would meet the most incredible mentors the moment my foot stepped on campus, and again at Berkeley, and find other strong women who would carry this burden with me. That I would meet and marry Jeff. That I would create a way to be whole and full.


Writing for DMLCentral

Here’s a link to recent contributions for the Digital Media and Learning Hub site, DMLCentral.

Connecting Making, Designing and Composing

craft makingIn her closing keynote at FabLearn a couple years ago, Leah Buechley turned a critical eye on the maker movement. If you don’t know Buechley’s work, she is arguably one of the maker movement’s central players, founding the former High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab and inventing the LilyPad Arduino, among many other contributions. She is a champion of making, which makes her all the more thoughtful in her critiques. Buechley asks us to consider who gets to make and who is represented in the maker movement…

No Shortcuts in Course Design

prep for course designLike many of my friends and colleagues, August is the month for deep engagement in course design. If you were to shine a flashlight into this world, you would find me on a couch in the living room, hair disheveled, clothes unchanged for days, various plates and cups tossed to the floor, surrounded by books ranging from Vygotsky’s Mind in Society to Scieszka and Barnett’s Battle Bunny. I love this time of year. And, once I get started on design, it is almost impossible to stop. For me, imagining a learning environment, curating the texts, and…

Connected Learning in Teacher Education: Come Make With Us

Kira Baker DoyleA couple of years ago, I worked in the summer to build Connected Courses with some amazing colleagues. I dabbled in the work of connected learning prior to this invitation, but this was my first real attempt to put the principles into practice. Our goal with Connected Courses was, and remains, to support faculty who are “developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.” At some point in the middle of our week of building, Mimi Ito made a comment, an aside, that stuck with me…

Building Community With Peer Mentors with Keaton Kirkpatrick

mentors“The more I give my teacher-power to students and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own learning, the more they show me how to redesign my ways of teaching.” — Howard Rheingold, “Toward Peeragogy” Howard Rheingold has been a champion of peer-to-peer learning for years. Howard’s ideas are often in my head, milling about with Lev Vygotsky and social theories of learning. When I set out to design a large writing course for college freshmen, I was particularly focused on the role more capable peers would play in our writing class. In fact, I…

Rescuing Student Participation Through Digital Platforms

two students in fox masksLike many of my colleagues who think carefully about digital literacy and pedagogies, I began seriously considering the use of social media platforms in educational settings — sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr — around 2008. Despite nearly a decade of innovative uses of digital platforms in educational settings, the use of these platforms and spaces continues to be trivialized by the public and teachers alike, with cries echoing about attention spans and nostalgia for the loss of face-to-face interaction, which seem more “real.” But, to continue to dismiss digital platforms, particularly those focused on social…

Making Science: When Does Spaghetti Become a Light Ray? with Leslie Atkins Elliott

spaghetti artifactFor the past few years, we have been fortunate to work together in a scientific inquiry class. Bringing together science faculty and composition faculty makes for some lively conversations about the teaching of writing. The course is offered to future elementary school teachers who are typically non-science majors. We recently co-wrote with Irene Salter Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Science Classroom (TCPress 2016), which describes our work with these future teachers and our practices for teaching writing in science. The book lays out how we engage students in practices that mirror the…

Epic Learning: Large Class as Intentional Design

Jumbo classLast October, I gave an Ignite talk at the Digital Media and Learning Conference called “Epic Composition.” Below, I offer a more extended look at the design and structures of my “jumbo” first-year writing course at California State University, Chico. Walking into our “jumbo” first-year writing course as an outsider can be a bit intimidating. The room is packed with people: 90 students, nine writing mentors, and the instructor. Students sit in new desks: rolling chairs with a bottom “saucer” for storing backpacks, a moving tray designed for a laptop. Students have nicknamed the chairs…