Friday, December 28, 2018

Reflecting in the Sunshine

The sun rarely shines in January. But it was shining today, as we remember you.

These are the words I wrote for you a year ago, when you finally were free of the cancer and the pain. We love you, mom. Thank you for being our sunshine.

December 28, 2017

When I was about 4 years old, I knew that my dad was kind of lonely. His life had taken some unexpected turns and I think he was a bit lost. I know he dated some, because I remember a story or two about a woman named “Jugsy.” But for some strange reason, he and Jugsy didn’t really seem to pan out.

Then one day, he introduced me to this tiny woman with a radiant smile and the blackest hair I’d ever seen. She was beautiful and she was young (she was only 20, dad!) and she just glowed. She was sunshine. And my dad? He was glowing, too. And a couple of years later he married her, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t stopped smiling since the day they met.
Pure sunshine.

And this beautiful woman became my Chris. We never used the words “step-mom.” That just seemed awkward and tacky and Chris—we all know Chris—was never awkward or tacky. I was the awkward one, but she loved me like I was her own. She introduced me everywhere as her daughter. There was no further explanation. Just daughter. She would always tell everyone that I got my brains and my curly hair from her. She and I were as unlike each other as two people could be. She was tiny and cute and I was tall and awkward. She wore outfits that matched and I wore inside-out sweatshirts and ripped jeans held together with safety pins. She was jewel tones and glitter. I was goth. She cooked amazing ribs, or so I heard. I was vegetarian. She collected Precious Moments figurines. I collected tattoos. But she was proud of me and she loved me fiercely, because, to her, I was her daughter.

My two moms on my wedding day.
(It was raining. But we were glowing.)
It was only a couple of years ago when I realized that, for all of these years, the name Chris, to me, was just another name for mom. And so, after 35 or 40 years of calling her Chris, I asked her if I could call her mom...if she would mind. And she said, with so much emotion, that she would love that very much.

Because she always was, and is, and will be my mom. She is a part of me and she gave me more than I’d ever dreamed she could: she saved my dad. I actually got to tell her that, on the day before she died. I held her hand and said, “mom, I just need to say thank you. Thank you for saving my dad. Because before he met you, he was so sad. And ever since he met you? He’s been so happy. You helped him find himself, and you built a family and a life with him and you saved him, mom.” And she squeezed my hand, and she nodded, and she smiled, and she knew. She knew it, too. She saved my dad.

She was this tiny force of love and sunshine when I met her over 40 years ago and her light never went out. She was fierce. And yet she was so, so kind. And she taught everyone she met, because of how she lived, to live with strength and kindness. To love with passion and gentleness. To use glitter—and butter—often, but with decorum. To refuse to eat fish obstinately...but very politely. To listen when others are talking with focus and interest; to look them in the eye and let them know that their stories were truly important. To live and to love with passion and with joy.

Holding her granddaughter (my daughter) in the sunshine.
She made every recipe she cooked taste just a little bit better. She made every room she decorated just a little bit nicer. She made every outfit she wore just a little bit prettier. And she made every one of us just a little bit better, because that’s just who she was. She made the world a little bit nicer and we are all just a little bit better because of her influence on each of us. She was—she is—sunshine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving is...

Thanksgiving is?

An American tradition.

An oddly sanitized holiday, a mythology of pilgrims and Indians and the idolization of corn.

A time of loneliness.

We watch the commercials and parades and we go to the store, which is strangely out of both pie crust and potatoes, and we sense that there is something, some bigger thing, that we are supposed to understand and that we have somehow missed.

I have not had my own children with me for Thanksgiving in almost 10 years. This was a conscious decision...a calculated moment in front of a judge, where I had to weigh the honor due to the respective grandparents against the traditions I wished I could build. A Hallmark Thanksgiving dinner shooting butter pats to the ceiling in our napkins and drinking Grandpa's homemade cherry wine? Those memories from my own childhood would have to suffice. That Thanksgiving is a dream of nostalgia, something that could not be recreated today. My children, instead, deserved a holiday with their paternal grandpa, the one holiday he claimed, and he deserved this singular day with them. And so I would barter Thanksgiving for the next decade, in order to claim New Year's Day with my own mom, a Christmas of our own.

My Thanksgiving traditions became...running a 5K. Climbing on the roof to clean out the gutters before the horrors of winter descend. And then, going to dinner with my boyfriend, to his ex-in-laws, because that is the family we have. That is the family we have built, out of the messiness of all of our histories.

These holidays. These holidays are so messy. Fraught with what they should be, the greeting cards and mythologies of our upbringing, juxtaposed against the barbed wire of our realities. In my own childhood, we could not celebrate Christmas at Christmas, because every other year I belonged somewhere else. And so, the family Christmas was moved to New Year's Day, a day that Friend of the Court didn't value as much.

And then, decades later, in my own divorce, we were stuck attempting to somehow honor the traditions that had been set. Thanksmas? That went to his dad, celebrated on Thanksgiving Day. Christmas? That went to my mom, celebrated on New Year's Day. December 25? Every other year, celebrated with my dad in Florida...until my second mom died. And then we moved that tradition, too, because we couldn't try to pretend that a Christmas without Chris was even a Christmas.

And so, in this convoluted nonsensical explanation of the holidays, I give you this.

Thanksgiving is.

Who you choose to be with.

Who chooses to be with you.

Thanksgiving is a time of loneliness.  Thanksgiving is a time of togetherness. May you find a hand to hold, no matter what your traditions are, no matter what your family looks like.  May you find a space that feels like it means something. May you stumble upon an experience that, with time, could turn into a  tradition. May you find a space that you can claim as yours. Your family. Your safety. Your circle. Your Thanksgiving. I hope you find it. I hope you build it. I hope you make it yours. May you find your family.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Day 528 – Letter to the American People: A Parable of Two Boy Scouts. And a Guy With A Lizard.

Dear friends,
This is a true story.
Two Boy Scouts, both third graders, were volunteering at a park cleanup event. They were weeding the gardens and planting flowers and discussing the many Pokemon players wandering throughout the park. One of the people who caught their attention was a man, in his mid-twenties, with a foot-long lizard clinging to his shirt.
The boys were enthralled.
“Did you see that guy?” they whispered. “See his lizard? Check out that guy with the lizard! I wonder why he’s got a lizard with him in the park!”
One of the boys, the long-haired one, said, “Let’s go check it out! I wanna ask him about the lizard!”
A second boy shook his head adamantly. “No,” he stage-whispered. “No, we can’t go bother him. He’ll get mad. He doesn’t want to be bothered by us.” The rest of the troop held back. No one was willing to take the lead.
The long-haired boy responded, “But the guy literally has a lizard on his shirt. He is walking around the park with a giant lizard. He knows people are going to see him and want to ask questions. He wouldn’t be playing Pokemon with a lizard on his shirt in the park if he didn’t want to be noticed.”
And so the long-haired boy led the way. He went up to the lizard guy. The rest of the troop followed. “Excuse me, sir,” the long-haired boy said, “but can we see your lizard?”
The man smiled. He said, “Sure!” And he proceeded to let the boys pet the lizard while he told them all about it. The boys spent 10 minutes with the lizard guy, learning all about lizards and how to train them and feed them and hold them and exercise them.
When the boys came back to the gardening, they were chattering non-stop about the lizard guy and his lizard. “So cool!” they said. “His lizard’s name is Toothless!”
And an hour later, when they exclaimed that they had found a snake, the lizard guy overheard them. He came back over, helped them pick up the snake, and gave them another 10 minute education on garter snakes and their markings, their mating habits, their lifecycles, and how to help preserve their habitats.
This is a story about two boys, both Boy Scouts, with vastly different world views. How did they grow up to the wise old age of 9 with such different ways to function in the world? The long-haired boy is from a liberal family, raised without organized religion. The other boy is from a very conservative family, raised with strict adherence to religion. But both boys are white, middle class, with highly educated parents. Both boys have been raised with a strict moral code. Both boys have the world at their fingertips, and only need to ask.
Yet, this second boy, the conservative one, has been raised to fear. Fear the stranger. Fear the conversation. Fear the unknown. And his fear has caused him to misread situations and sense danger when none exists. He saw the lizard guy as a potential threat to be avoided. The long-haired boy, curious about everything and raised to see people as generally good and full of knowledge and experience, saw the lizard guy as an ally. An opportunity. A guy just walking his lizard, playing Pokemon in the park on a beautiful summer day.
The parable of the two Boy Scouts should give us pause.
How do we see the world? How do we see others? How do we approach them? When and why do we fear? What can we do to overcome this? And how are we raising our children?
If we live in fear of the unknown, we begin to see each other as dangerous. We avoid conversations. We avoid interactions. We live in our bubble of fear. And because of this, we will never meet the lizard guy and his lizard, Toothless. We will never learn about the garter snake and how they have babies and what they eat for lunch. We will never take the risk to talk to a stranger in the park and learn about his passions.
And we will live our lives shortchanging our own experiences.
Creating our own filter bubbles.
Afraid of the unknown.
Just think about what our lives—and our country—could be like, if we all took the opportunity and made friends with the lizard guy?
Sharon Murchie
(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Day 501 – Letter to Middle Class America: Have You Ever Been Truly Hungry?

Middle Class America: Have you ever been truly hungry?

Dear Middle Class America:

Last Friday, as our president prematurely exuberated over his jobs numbers, were you eating a solid breakfast? Did you have a roof over your head? Were your lights on? Was your A/C running? Did you then drive in your reliable car out of your middle class suburb to your middle class job? Did you curse at the traffic? Did you stop for coffee? Did you think about what it was like to work one of those minimum-wage jobs, trying to somehow make ends meet, keep the lights on, and feed your kids?

Did it occur to you that those employment numbers the president tweeted about don’t actually mean that the people working those jobs can afford to pay rent? Or go to the doctor when they’re sick? Or eat?

According to the United Way ALICE project:
Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash

Nearly 51 million households [43% of American Households] don't earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone.”

16.1 Million households in our country live in poverty. Another 34.7 million families are “ALICE”: Asset Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed.” They are gainfully employed, playing by the rules, trying to live the American Dream...and yet they don’t earn enough to support a bare-bones household budget.

The growth of our economy shouldn’t be measured by the rise and fall of the stock market. It should be measured by the ability of working Americans to afford their homes, feed their families, and keep them healthy and safe.

So, Middle Class America: as you eat your dinner tonight, flip on the lights, turn up the A/C, and ask your kids about their day...think about what it means to be hungry—really and truly hungry. Think about what it feels like to not be able to feed your kids. Think about what we need to do, as a country, to take care of our working poor.

Because our economy? It’s not working. And it won’t be working until we, as a nation, can afford to feed our families. All of them.


Sharon Murchie

(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Friday, June 1, 2018

The scream becomes a yawn...

(when we are not inspired)

I have a discussion board synthesis essay (and two meaningful comments) due in Blackboard by midnight tonight for my doctoral program.

I am not inspired.

The topic doesn’t inspire me.

The other students’ discussions don’t inspire me.

I have to write this essay.

I am looking around the room at my own students, as they write their practice timed SAT literary analysis essay.

I have my favorite Facebook teacher group (2ndaryELA) pulled up on my phone.

We teachers are all noticing the same thing: our students’ writing is not inspired. They are just phoning it in, day after day. They are passively writing mundane pieces with no voice, no passion, and very little thought. The Facebook group is lamenting the soul-crushing student essay—the one that crushes our teacher souls—the one that we read thousands of every single year.

Why don’t our students care about Paul Bogard’s “Let There Be Dark” essay enough to write passionately (in 50 minutes) about the rhetorical moves he makes?

Why must they crush our souls with their soulless discussion (written in 50 minutes) of the former US President Jimmy Carter’s Foreword to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, A Photographic Journey by Subhankar Banerjee?
They are not inspired.

The topic doesn’t inspire them.

The other students’ discussions don’t inspire them.

They have to write this essay.

Somewhere, in the maelstrom of all of this SAT and AP testing, we have lost our souls and jeopardized theirs.

The Metric lyric echoes in my head.

I desperately want to solve this problem. Find the solution. Touch the souls of my students. Get my own soul back.

But I can’t fix it tonight.

I have a discussion board synthesis essay (and two meaningful comments) due in Blackboard by midnight.

I yawn. I’ll carry on.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Day 474 – Letter to Melania: Please, Let’s Just “Be Better.”

Dear Melania,
Yesterday, speaking as a mother and as First Lady, you unveiled your “Be Best” campaign “to educate children about the many issues they are facing today.” Your speech focused on the “social, emotional, and physical health” of children, and promoted “well-being, social media use, and opioid abuse.” A grammar quick rule (for future reference) is that items in a series should use parallel construction: each item in the series should follow the same pattern. As you can see, your campaign statement promoting well-being is coherent, but promoting social media use is somewhat confusing, and promoting opioid abuse is perhaps counterintuitive. Also, “be best” isn’t an actual sentence in English.
Image from Independent
However, I know what you meant even if it isn’t what you said. So I’ll let the grammar lesson go and focus on your intentions. (And your intentions are good.) But Melania, here’s the thing: we are not ready to be [the] best quite yet. Right now, we need to simply be better.
You spoke of “social and self-awareness, positive relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” and the need to teach our children to “communicate openly with one another and instill positive feelings of mutual respect, compassion, and self-esteem.”
Melania, this is an area where we can truly be better. I might suggest that the White House is an excellent place to start. We can teach our leaders—even our President—how to build positive relationships and communicate with mutual respect and compassion. Instead of belittling, name-calling, mocking, and insulting, let’s be better. Let’s build relationships, not walls. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Imagine how much better we could be.
You also said that we need to “teach our children the difference between right and wrong.”
Melania, this is another area where we can truly be better! It is so elementary: lying is wrong. Telling the truth is right. Let’s teach our president and his followers how to tell the truth! Coercion and collusion are wrong. Cooperation and self-control are right. Think of how much better our lives could be if our leaders knew the difference between right and wrong.
You said that “when children learn positive online behaviors early on, social media can be used in productive ways and can affect positive change.” And you said, “when they are using their voices, whether verbally or online, they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”
Melania, this is brilliant! Let’s do this together! Let’s insist that our president learn positive online behaviors, use social media in productive ways, and affect positive change! If only he would choose his words wisely and speak with respect and compassion. If only he could be better. Imagine all the good he could do!
And finally, Melania, you said that successful recovery programs treat “the whole family” and infants can thrive “because parents are also given the support and tools needed to recover and succeed.” You said, “I hope that together we can be best at helping children and families find effective ways to educate themselves and support each other.”
This is an area where we could be so much better. Imagine how the children in our country could thrive, if we supported all families in their times of need. Imagine living in a country where poverty was rare, not the norm. Imagine living in a country where every family had food on the table, and where every child had a safe home and a warm bed. Imagine how our entire country could thrive if we actually took care of each other-—of everyone—and excelled in support instead of judgment.
Melania, I believe that we can be better. Imagine if we insisted that our president be better. Imagine if we demanded that our leaders be better. Imagine a country led by people who communicated with respect and compassion, knew right from wrong, and believed that, given the support and tools they needed, all families could recover and succeed.
We simply can’t begin to “be best” if we haven’t begun to be better.
Let’s demand that our country be better. Are you in?
A Mother and English Teacher

(originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Day 446 – Letter to Betsy DeVos: We Need to Talk About Standardized Testing

Dear Betsy,
Can I call you Betsy? I feel like I know you. After all, we’re from the same state. I’ve been in buildings with your name on it hundreds of times. I’ve used Amway products; I’ve taught in a charter school. Even though my entire house could fit inside your first floor bathroom, I feel like we should be able to talk woman-to-woman. After all, we want what is best for kids, right? I’m a teacher; you’re the United States Secretary of Education. We are both in it for our students, not for corporate profit. Right?
So, here’s what we need to talk about: the way I just spent my day. You see, I just spent 4 ½ hours proctoring the SAT to my students. After that, they went home. Tomorrow I will spend another 3 hours proctoring the ACT WorkKeys to my students. Then they will go home. And Thursday, I will proctor the rest of the M-Step to my students. And then they will go home.
Image from Mental Floss
Three full days. Three full days where “teaching” means reading an instruction manual on how to successfully fill in bubbles with no stray marks. Three full days where “teaching” means hoping the kids remember to eliminate the wrong answers before they choose the answer that is left so they get a high enough score that our district isn’t in danger of state takeover. Three full days where “learning” means reading incredibly boring passages, answering meaningless and out-of-context multiple choice questions, and writing an essay that serves no academic or career purpose whatsoever. Three full days where “learning” means high levels of anxiety about a gateway test that is used to keep our students out of colleges. Three full days where my students know and I know (and you’d know if you did some research) that the only thing being measured is their own socioeconomic status and the educational level of their moms.

This, of course, is only representative of the junior year of mandatory testing in our state. I haven’t even mentioned the hours we lost to “pre-administration” bubble filling, and the entire elective students lost so that they could do focused SAT prep for an entire semester. But our students are drowning in standardized tests almost every single year, K-12. 20-25 hours a yearis devoted to standardized testing; on average, students take over 100 standardized tests by the time they graduate high school. Much of the content is developmentally inappropriate. All of the content is soul-crushingly boring. And yet, our teachers and students are forced to spend days weeks months prepping for these tests, regardless of what the students really need.
What could have been taught in all of those lost hours? What could have been learned?
You recently told Oklahoma teachers who were striking for better teaching and learning conditions that they should “serve the students that are there to be served.” You told them that you, personally, “think about the kids.”
Well, I am thinking about the kids. And the only thing I get to serve them this week is more standardized tests. Tests that are meant to keep them out. Tests that are used to measure my own effectiveness as a teacher. Tests that are used at all levels to pit our schools against each other. Tests that will now be used to limit our students’ opportunity to advance to the 4th grade. Tests that measure everything but the things these students really need: safe learning environmentshigh quality and up-to-date resourcessound infrastructure, and teachers who are allowed to do the job they are highly trained and highly qualified to do: teach.
Sharon Murchie
English teacher
(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.) 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Today, I was proud to be a teacher. I was proud to watch 3000+ schools participate in a National School Walkout to protest gun violence and to commemorate the victims of school shootings.
Today, I was incredibly proud of our Bath High School students as over 200 of them walked in a silent vigil to remember lives lost from gun violence in our schools. They weren't chatting. They weren't on their phones. They weren't horsing around. Some of them were holding hands. Some of them were carrying signs. And all of them were silent. Reflective. Respectful.
There were tears, including mine.
There is fear, including mine.
These kids don't deserve to be afraid.
These kids don't deserve to be belittled for their desire to go to school in safety.
These kids don't deserve the implication that if they simply "walk up," gun violence will go away, as if these kids somehow deserve school shootings. As if being nice will eliminate school shootings.
These kids deserve to be heard. They are asking for the adults to do something.
Perhaps we could stop telling them what to do and stop talking over them for a minute and simply listen.
Perhaps we could be silent.


Day 417 – Letter to Americans Who Believe that Video Games Cause Mass Shootings

Dear Americans who think video games cause mass shootings,

I know that our country doesn’t always like to believe in science, but it’s time we stop debating this ridiculous myth and start dealing with the actual causal issues instead.
Video games do cause a lot of things. They often cause us to be more isolated; they may make us more aggressive in the short-term. They definitely cause us to waste a lot of time. They sometimes cause us to eat too much and live in our moms’ basements. They may have indirectly caused my divorce. But they do not cause teenage white males to go out and shoot up their local schools.
Let’s conduct a thought experiment.
Let’s set up a hypothetical scenario with two countries, identical in all aspects, save 2 distinct differences.
Country A gives their children unlimited access to all the video games they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want. Country A has very limited access to guns with very strict regulations.
Country B loves their guns. They fetishize their guns, they ban federal funding of research on gun violence, and they have very lax gun regulations and many loopholes. Thankfully, Country B has very limited access to violent video games.
Let’s say that this hypothetical scenario runs for 5 years.
At the end of 5 years, how many young white men in Country A wandered into their local schools and shot as many of their peers as possible? How many school shootings happened in a country with very strict gun regulations but unlimited access to all of those terrible, violent video games?
How about in Country B? How many mass shootings occurred with unfettered access to all those guns, but thankfully no violent video games to stir up any aggression?
In simple terms: If Johnny can’t play video games but can play with real guns and real bullets, how many real people could he possibly shoot?
Unregulated and fetishized access to guns does.
Sharon Murchie
(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Day 388 - Letter to Those Who Have Recently Learned that Someone They Respect Has Been Accused of Terrible Things

Dear newly aware,

At some point in our lives, we will all have to deal with the unfortunate and uncomfortable situation of learning that someone we love and admire or respect has been accused of doing terrible things. For many of us, this moment occurred when someone we admired fell from grace, whether it was Bill Cosby or Louis CK or Al Franken. For others, we’ve had to deal with learning that a parent or loved one has done terrible things. For all of us, it would be timely to learn what to do and what not to do.

As has been his M.O. throughout the last year (and throughout his entire life), President Trump has shown us exactly what NOT to do or say. When discussing disgraced top aide Rob Porter, who is credibly accused of having physically and emotionally abused his two ex-wives and a former girlfriend, President Trump made the following statement:

Image from Vox
We wish him well; he worked very hard. We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well, and it's a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent, so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job when he was at the White House.”
The President then tweeted:
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
So, as a Public Service Announcement of what NOT to say, we offer the following tutorial...
Instead of saying this: “We wish him well; he worked very hard. We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him.”
SAY THIS: “For everybody asking, I know and like [him]. I won’t defend him. This is inexcusable and he needs to address it.”
Instead of saying this: “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now.”
SAY THIS: “He wielded his power with women in messed-up ways; I could couch this with heartwarming stories of our friendship and what a great [person] he is, but that’s totally irrelevant, isn’t it? Yes, it is.”
Instead of saying this: “But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now.”
SAY THIS:  “The only people that matter right now are the victims. They are victims, and they’re victims because of something he did.”
Instead of saying this: “He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you have to talk to him about that.”
Instead of saying this: “We absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job when he was at the White House.”
SAY THIS: “It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions, no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will better. I can’t [expletive] wait to be better.”
And finally, instead of saying this: “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
SAY THIS: “Misogyny is a cancer. Harassment and abuse are that cancer metastasizing and going untreated. Stories like this being reported and printed are the first steps toward a cure.”
TL;DR: If your loved ones or those you respect and admire have been accused of misconduct, do not, under any circumstance, say anything that would ever come out of the president’s mouth. He is the prime example of what never to do or say.
In summary: We have to be better. We need to be better. WE MUST BE BETTER. We can’t [expletive] wait any longer to be better.
P.S. Special thanks to Sarah Silverman, Michael Ian Black, Adam Horovitz, and Michael Schur for their words and example.

(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)