10 Mar

Roly Poly

Ella: “Guess what? We got a worm, a centipede and a roly poly in our classroom.”

Me: “What’s a roly poly?” (funny word in English, rings no bells in my native language)

Ella: “Roly polies are a type of creatures that live inside the earth. They eat leaves, dead animals, dead leaves, cardboard and oh yeah they also eat newspapers. Actually, you know who their neighbors are? Ants! But they are not good neighbors. When ants want to eat them they roll inside like a ball. Then ants go away. But when frogs want to eat them, they roll into a ball, but the frogs still eat them. They have mommy and daddy roly polies and baby roly polies too. So that’s my story about roly polies, I just wanted to confuse you for a little while. Mommy! You are not paying attention, open your ears and don’t laugh! Oh, and can I have a puppy?”

29 Feb

Q & A, four year old style

After school one day…

Ella: “Mommy, we are having a Beiber party?”

Me: [holy crap, how does she know about Justin Beiber?] “What’s a Beiber party?”

Ella: “A party with lots of animals.”

Me: [huge sigh of relief]


But, a week later…

Ella: “What’s a boyfriend?”

Me: “A boy someone likes.”

Ella: “Justin Beiber is a boyfriend.”

Me: [oh no, she’s hitting puberty]


Ella: “Mommy, what’s a poem?”

Me: “Like a song or story but shorter.”

Ella: “Let’s write a poem.”

Me: [awwww, mama’s girl]


Me: “Ella if you don’t stop that, you are going to time out.”

Ella: “If you put me in time out, I know how to open the door.”

Me: […]


Me: “What did you dream last night?”

Ella: “The robbers called me garbage and Curious George came to help me, but it was very sad.”

Me: [don’t ask about dreams unless she starts it first]


Ella: “Why does Obama help poor people who need food?”

Me: [tired] “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Ella: “Because that is a nice thing to do.”


Ella: [watching a homeless man dig through trash] “What is he doing?”

Me: “He doesn’t have any money, so…”

Ella: [interrupts] “There is money inside?!”

Me: “No but maybe there are bottles and cans that he can use to make money.”

Ella: “I don’t know how to make money out of bottles and cans.”

Me: [explaining how recyclying works]

Ella: “Oh. Why don’t we just put money inside the trash can?”

Me: [...]


Me: [pointing at the bed] “Ella, go to sleep.”

Ella: “Mommy don’t point at people. That’s not very politeful.”


Me: “Can I get a hug?”
Ella: “In a minute. I’m not available.”


Other notable one-liners:

“Where does the sun go to sleep?”

“Why does the sun fall into the sea?”

“Why can’t people see inside my brain?”

“Why only grown ups get married? I don’t want to get married, I want to stay home with mommy and daddy.”

“This is so ignoring.”

“Do you want to work as a team and go get a movie from the car?”

and, for a grand finale… [calling from the bathroom] “Look, mommy, a family of poo-poos!”

10 Feb

Someone Like You…

16 Jan

Ella’s first emails

Ella got a toy pink laptop. She insisted on sitting at the desk and composing a few emails to all the people that are away:

“Draga baba (grandma), we love you so much. We are gonna ribit fish. We are gonna eat it when we come back in baba’s home. If it’s windy we can wear long sleeves. If it’s raining we can wear our rain jacket. If not we can go outside with our short sleeves and short pants. Send to baba. And mommy will tell you what does it say. And we love baba. We can come back next time. We can enjoy the fish and we can eat it and baba can teach me how the get fish. I can draw a card for baba and I can make it pretty with decorations and flowers. I love flowers and I can pick some for her. I wish I can dream about that. Well, thats it.”

“Dragi deda (grandpa), every day ja cu ici u bakinu kucu i u babinu kucu i we are gonna learn how to robit fish. And then when I grow up then I can draw stars by myself without no tracing. I love baba and baka and you so much and I’m gonna dream about stars when I go to her house. Ja necu plakati kad ja fish ribu i if I cry and I don’t want to go home, i don’t have to go in kaznu, because baba i baka say I don’t have to go to kaznus. Well sometimes I do.”

“Dragi Tata. I love Daddy and I love to play with him. And also with my cuddly teady bear and he can make shapes like axel lines. Axel lines are two lines with the circle inside and then you can cross them off an then you can paint them inside and you can make a huge huge huge huge BIG one. And he can also make numbers, he can make zero to have a show, I  mean not a show. I need zero so that I can have an extra toy to play with. I love flags also especally the one with the blue sun inside. If you fall we can have ice or if you have an auie you can have water if blood is coming out fast. OK, that’s all, Daddy, hope you come back soon. Bye”

1 Jun

R’s Laws of Life, Final Draft

Trying to Build My Broken Home

Trying to Build My Broken Home

                One day in third grade I got home. My mother was home alone. As usual I hugged and kissed her on the cheek. “Where’s dad?” I asked her. She was as quiet as a stereo on mute. I knew something was wrong. Everything was packed. I thought we had been evicted, but it was worse. My father had divorced my mom. That was the day that changed my life.

              Respect is everything to me since my father left. I respect few. I wanted the respect from the wrong people. I had respect but not the type I wanted. With no dad, I decided to associate with gangs. I was known, protected and respected. I know the gang’s law of life and I lived by them: represent, lie, and don’t snitch.

                I loved my father. When he left I cried. To forget him and my pain I started to smoke marijuana. Every night I would have nightmares that my parents abandoned me. To this day I can’t help but feel that their divorce is somehow my fault. I would always think to myself if my dad left then my mom would too. For nine years those thoughts have haunted me. They still do. Marijuana became the drug I relied on. Marijuana took me away from reality. Marijuana made me only care about my family and nothing else.

                My family is always there for me. I love them so much. Someone disrespects my family or looks at them the wrong way they get disciplined. This affected my life because it would often result in a fight. Getting into fights and smoking got in the way of my education.

                After failing the first two years of high school, I went to Peninsula High School. There I met my English teacher. Through our writing and our discussions, I started to like school again. She taught me that I was throwing my life away. Ms. Finci said I should stop doing the things I do such as smoking marijuana, getting into trouble, and hanging around the wrong crowd. I did not listen. I wanted to but I was addicted to it like a newborn to milk. Marijuana messed up my thoughts. I was sinking into a deep hole, but the love of my mom kept me moving forward.

                Since being sentenced to Camp, my attitude has changed. Months ago my laws of life were negative laws, such as drugs and gangs. I’ve learned my real laws of life: stay focused on myself, stop doing drugs, get an education, and love my family. Who I was, is a reflection of who I used to be, not who I am. I realize the choices I made were wrong. Who I am now is a young man who has made a conscious decision to exercise my free will in positive and socially responsible way. It took me five times being incarcerated to learn these new laws and I plan on living by them from now on.

13 May

“Me Time” by Tina Fey

Just started reading Tina Fey’s hilarious, easily digestible, great-to-read-in-small-bits-before-passing-out-around-9pm memoir Bossypants. Here’s one of many LMAO bits from page 243:

“Me Time”

An expert will tell you, the best thing a mom could do to be a better mom is to carve out a little time for herself. Here are some great “me time” activities you can do:

• Go to the bathroom a lot.
• Offer to empty the dishwasher.
• Take ninety-minute showers. (If you only shower every three or four days, it will be easier to get away with this.)
• Say Your going to look for a diaper crème, then go into your child’s room and just stand there until your spouse comes in and curtly says, “What are you doing?”
• Stand over the sink and eat the rest of your child’s dinner while he or she pulls at your pant leg and asks for it back.
• Try to establish that you’re the only one in your family allowed to go to the post office.
• “Sleep when your baby sleeps.” Everyone knows this classic tip, but I say why stop there? Scream when your baby screams. Take Benadryl when your baby takes Benadryl. And walk around pantless when your baby walks around pantless.
• Read! When your baby is finally down for the night, pick up a juicy book like Eat, Pray, Love or Pride and Prejudice or my personal favorite, Understanding Sleep Disorders: Narcolepsy and Apnea; A Clinical Study. Taking sometime to read each night really taught me how to feign narcolepsy when my husband asked me what my ”plan” was for taking down the Christmas tree.

Just implementing four or five of these little techniques will prove restorative and give you the energy you need to not drink until nighttime.

…and since I already take many bathroom/grocery store/dry cleaning/Target/post office breaks, take looooong showers, eat my daughter’s pizza crust and hope for any other leftovers, I’d definitely like to add reading Bossypants to the list of Me Time activities. With an adult beverage, of course.

22 Apr

Hippie Luna

on the right: springtime in san francisco...on the left: daddy and mommy and ella in mommy's belly

When deciding on the name for our then-not-yet-born baby girl, we only had one requirement – that it can be pronounced in both our languages, English and “Ours” (Croatian/Bosnian), without having to spell it out. ELLA or LUNA soon became the top two choices.

I felt so sorry for so many immigrants who had to sacrifice their given names for some generic Americanized alternative, who for expediency go as JOHN on Starbucks coffee cups, for my father who wasted half his life spelling ZELJKO to his clients (he finally changed it to a bit less complicated but just as foreign JAQUES) even for my brother whose beautifully short and uncomplicated bilingual LEO was mispronounced LEEO for most of his life until he finally put his foot down and started correcting everyone he met. All of it seemed so inconvenient and annoying, and I couldn’t imagine doing something like that to my child, or for that matter, myself.

Secretly, in my own head, there was another factor. Irrational but very real. Remembering playing on the streets in Croatia as a little kid, I also started practicing what my daughter’s name would sound like yelled out of a window. “ELLA, come home for dinner! ELLLLAAAAAAA!” had a nice music to it. There were plenty of kids whose names did not sound like they should be yelled out from windows, but nevertheless could be heard many times a day in our neighborhood: “MILOVANE, MILOVANE, MILOVANE lunch is ready! MI-LO-VA-NE” or “KONSTANZA go get some milk. KONSTANZAAAA!”  It sounded so ugly, so piercing and startling, us kids made fun of their sharp, non musical names, and their moms who could embarrass their kids by yelling it out like that.

As a writer, I was also wanting a name that looked pretty on paper, whose consonants didn’t overwhelm its vowels, whose letters looked somewhat familiar and nonthreatening, so settling on ELLA, with its soft E and A, and double L, letters that were already in my husbands name, felt homey and nostalgic. It felt right.

But, as with everything, when the reality finally hit and our baby girl was born, the decision became more complicated, dare I say, political.

On July 31st 2007 and for a few days after her birth, I was too big of a wuss to name her that mystical, hip Luna. I thought that, with a first name like that, she could only become an artist, a tarot card reader or some kind of a performer. I couldn’t quite picture my innocent, perfect infant juggling on Santa Cruz boardwalk or as a starving artist aspiring to the Broadway stage. I really didn’t think you could be a CEO, a politician or a lawyer with a name like Luna (I still don’t).

So we went with Ella, which seemed more elegant and versatile. It was chic but predictable, sophisticated yet simple. Luna became the alternate, a hidden middle name, that might one day be resurrected in “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Me” on her Facebook page.

Ironically, as our newborn-turned-three-and-a-half-year-old has grown up, she is demonstrating that she is less of an Ella (ballet, gymnastics, grace) and more of a Luna (touchy feely hippie girl).

Here are some examples of what has been coming out of Luna’s mouth lately:

  • Do you want to share with me? Yes? Ok.
  • You are hurting my feelings
  • You are not listening to my words
  • That’s not my choice
  • Are you frustrated?
  • Do you need to take a break?
  • Take a deep breath, relax
  • I need my own space
  • This is not funny. I am angry if you don’t stop laughing.
  • You have a choice. What do you want to choose?
  • You can if you want to. You don’t have to if you don’t want to
  • Take a deep breath and listen to my words
  • Sometimes I want to sometimes I don’t want to
  • Please don’t talk to me, I’m not available
  • Sometimes grown ups hit and that’s not okay. If they hit you, you can tell them to stop. Krishna’s mommy hit him. Krishna speaks Hindi like this…”hani niani nana….”
  • Hold that thought.
  • In a minute
  • Don’t do that. That’s not fair to people.
  • Why only grown ups can get married?
  • Grown ups don’t cry.
  • I’m having a lot of problems today.
  • When you take care of the planet Earthf, the Earthf takes care of you. Earthf needs to be clean so that we can all be healfthy. Earthf is really fragile.
  • Turn off the water, mommy! Take care of the Mother Earthf!
  • Nobody teach me that. I teach myself.
  • You know what I’m thinking? You don’t know what I’m thinking because I’m thinking in my brain. I have to tell you what I’m thinking because you can’t see my thoughts that are in my brain. So this is what I’m thinking…

 …and I just look at my three year old but only see her 20 year old self playing acoustic guitar, sitting cross legged in her flower dress, her hair in dreads, covering the ying and yang tattoo behind her ear…

24 Mar

Little Storyteller

Draw something

Describe your drawing

19 Feb

Love is…

Love is like air always around but you can’t see it

Love is like diarrhea, you can’t hold it in

Love is a sweet cupcake

Love is gum on the floor

Love is sunshine on a cloudy day

Love is a growing redwood tree

Love is like a river, it keeps going until it runs out of water

Love is a hug from your daughter

Love is the tiny island of hope you find in the

massive sea of despair

Love is warm chocolate milk

Love is music

Love is sacrifice and pain, but yet one of the best things in the world

To love is to feel pain

Love is like the sun on your face on a warm summer day

Love is accepting someone for who they are: good, bad, ugly, pretty. The right person will

still think the sun shines out your ass

Love is like the color of water

Love is like drugs, it’s last for a moment but fades away

Love is like hell. It kills you slowly

Love is like riding the train to get away

Love is bigger than the universe

Love is like the wind you can’t see it but you can feel it

Love is an inexplicable feeling… like a puzzle you can’t put together or figure out

The one you love is the one killing you

Love is sweet as caramel

Love is when you build your own computer

My love goes as far as my reception

Love is like time…Infinite

Love is a box of magazines

Love is a new born baby

Love is like a magnet on a refrigerator

Love is a delicious looking cupcake

Stand by me and I’ll show you what love is

Love is like build-a-bear

Love is the blood boiling to evaporate a softened soul

Love is like a game. You never know when you’re going to stop playing

Love is a fat boy who loves cake

Love is like school, it’s unavoidable

Love is like the fire, its warmth makes us feel good but if you get to close you get burned

Love is a whirlpool

Love is like the wind, it comes and goes

Love is a getaway from reality. Behind the stress and struggles, I am at peace

Love is like a warm day at the beach with the relaxing sounds of the endless waves

Love is a gamble, either you win or you lose

Love is like a sour patch kid sweet and sour

Love is the reason we’re here on earth

13 Feb

It’s ending with Bye

Every year I create a special bond with a student. I can’t help it.

It’s always the toughest kid, the one who never brings a pencil, or paper, who can’t read past fourth grade, who has never written more than a paragraph, who hates books, adults, authority, school and the law, who can sit only with his back to the wall, who doesn’t let me get close, doesn’t look me in the eye, doesn’t answer my questions, doesn’t say anything in class, but then finds me during my prep periods and spits out his story, bit by painful bit.

Every year, for ten years of teaching, I get attached to these boys-want-to-be-men, who grew up without fathers, or saw them beat their mothers. They have no role models other than their gang brothers; they know no love without fear; they see no future beyond the jail cells or borders of their neighborhoods.

And how exactly can I, the little Junior English teacher, with my required reading books, my poems, and writing assignments, help them? Just who do I think I am? And just what is it I’m trying to prove to myself? I’m sick that have to admit it, yet Hollywood movies and TV shows are full of teachers like me. I’ve become a cliché, a parody of myself – just another idealistic white teacher trying to save the poor brown kid.

Sure enough, every year, I’m heartbroken by the unhappy endings of their stories, that don’t end in passing grades, graduations, or a sober life, but a predictable scenario that looks like a movie I have seen before many times: not passing the High School Exit Exam, or flunking all class, or dropping out or jail.

It’s no different this time. R is spiraling out of control awaiting his court date in a few days. He knows his time is up again for breaking probation, for getting Fs, for cutting school, telling teachers to fuck off, refusing to give up his cell phone and not being able to give up weed.

Not knowing what else to do to reach this boy, to keep him out of trouble in the vacant afternoons on his block, I gave him a book to read, A Place to Stand, about Jimmy Santiago Baca’s teenage struggle with incarceration and illiteracy, and about poetry that helped him get through. But R returned the book a few days later, telling me that he doesn’t understand anything it says, that he gets headaches seeing the tiny font on the page, that the noise in his head overpowers the words. He admits that he can only understand it if he reads aloud, like he does when he is in class. To further try to ‘fix’ this boy, in whom I have invested so much time, patience and energy, but whose days at our school are most likely numbered, I suggested I get him that book on CD. “No, but I really want to read it. I have never read a book before.” My heart snaps again.

So instead of detaching myself from him, knowing that he will be locked up again a few days after Valentines Day, I offered to read it with him at lunch. I couldn’t help it.

So with Baca at lunch and poetry in class, we are making progress. I know that it can’t be measured in test scores. I know it can’t keep him from the street or curb his explosive anger. I know it might make no difference at all, this time, or ever.

So with R this year, I realize that maybe it’s not about him or others like him from years past, at all. Maybe it’s about me trying to give it my all, try to force the universe to turn back time so that R could make a better choice, turn left instead of right, stay home instead of going out into the night. But since I can’t do that, since I can’t stop him from making wrong decisions, and convince the judge to keep him free, I read to him. And we write. Because that’s what helps me survive this day at work, makes me feel less pain. It is always all about me.

This week, I found a poem on my desk. It was R’s, written in his best handwriting:

I’m sorry I got high
I get home and smell like weed but I still lie
I look in your eyes and you look like you want to cry
I feel bad inside that I want to die
Looking for answers so I look up to the sky
Now I got court, gots to get a tie
See friends smoking but I just pass by
Don’t care because Ima protect mines
I get locked up and do time
I’m sorry momz but I don’t drop dimes
I hate this world, provoked me to do crimes
Even if I’m caught against enemy lines
So I’m sorry momz but you son gets high
It’s the end,
so it’s ending with Bye