November 14, 2016

“The Other Side”

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I ran my first several marathons, I was training with a big running group in Columbus, Ohio. As I got into running, my social life came to involve fewer late weekend nights and more early morning runs. On one of those runs, someone told me that less than 1% of the U.S. population had run a marathon. I was flabbergasted – I felt like all of my friends had run a marathon. I realized then that my social circle may not have accurately represented the full diversity of the American populace.

I realized that fact again this week as I wondered how Donald Trump could have won the election. On most measures of diversity – race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender identity – I have an extremely diverse group of friends. But in terms of political preference, it turns out that I run with a pretty liberal crowd. It may come as no surprise that Peace Corps volunteers, public school teachers, and university professors of education tend to support the Democratic Party. Particularly since moving to DC, where Trump received only 4% of the vote, I mostly interact with people who share my political views. My Facebook wall was a Hillary Clinton love fest all day Tuesday: Children at the polls to witness a potentially historic moment; Susan B. Anthony’s grave covered with “I voted” stickers; friends showing off their pantsuits. I would have been hard pressed to think of more than a handful of Trump voters among my facebook friends.

As the election results came in, however, a few tentative conservative voices emerged on my social media feeds. I realized that some of the people I love most deeply were among the 60 million voters who put Trump in the White House. It’s tempting to see Trump voters as monolithically uneducated, ignorant, and racist, but the Trump voters I know personally make it clear that it’s much more complicated. I cannot begin to understand the perspective of nearly half of our nation’s voters, and I won’t try to. From my perspective, Trump is a vile human being who has sexually assaulted women, verbally attacked the family of a national hero, and mocked individuals with disabilities. His record as a businessman, which includes repeated instances of racial discrimination, taking advantage of small businesses for his own profit, and stretching the law to avoid paying taxes, is laughably inadequate experience for the leader of the free world. The policies he proposes could increase income inequality, erode civil rights, and accelerate climate change. I could go on, but I’m sure the other side could also come up with quite a few links to articles about Hillary Clinton’s faults.  Still, the fact that so many voters were able to look past any one of those facts about Donald Trump and his proposed policies – let alone all of them – shows me that we must see the world in entirely different ways.

There have been a few ideas proposed about why we see the world differently:  maybe we have different understandings of the metaphor of the nation as a family, or maybe we get our news from different sources.  Or we might just see the world differently according to which parts of the world we have each actually seen. I’ve traveled, lived, and worked in places where there are no paved roads, where schools close for weeks at a time because there is no money to pay teachers, and where babies still die of dysentery. In comparison, it is absurd to suggest that America is anything but “great” already. Some of the people who voted for Trump quite simply haven’t seen enough of the world to understand how damaging a Trump presidency could be globally – not only for Mexican and for Muslims, but also for countless people around the world who have risen out of poverty thanks to increased global trade and free exchange of ideas.

Much of the time I’ve spent living abroad has been as a citizen ambassador, on State Department-funded programs. I’m so proud to have been able to represent America for the world, to work to build connections that help people understand each other across cultures. And I’m also embarrassed that, until this election, I hadn’t given much thought to how important it might be to turn around and work to build those same connections within our own culture. Many of us who voted for Clinton quite simply haven’t seen enough of America to understand how a Trump presidency could be appealing. I probably know more about life in rural India than in rural America. The vast swathes of red in the middle of the country are indicative of just how divided our country has become – and how little I know about the country I have had the privilege to represent abroad.

For liberals like me, this may be one of the only good things to emerge from this election – the understanding that we need to engage with people in our country with deeply different viewpoints. We need to share our stories, but more importantly, we need to listen to theirs. Nothing could be greater than an America where people seek to understand the perspectives of people different from themselves.

July 13, 2016

Who you’re with

by Tabitha Kidwell

With the exception of DC, I know Paris better than any city in the world. Though I never lived there, for a year and a half I lived a short train ride away, which meant that I passed through the city almost every time I traveled or met a visitor. I have probably visited Paris 20 times, and every time I go, I do something new. Paris is surprising, delightful, and scented with perfume and baking bread. Anyone who tells you that they “didn’t care for Paris” did it wrong.

Still, one of the worst weekends of my life was on my second visit to the city. During the spring of my sophomore year of college, I studied in Le Mans, a sleepy industrial town on the TGV line an hour west of Paris, at the intersection of Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley, with none of the charm of any of those regions. One of my first weekends, two fellow Americans in the same program invited me to Paris for the weekend, and I eagerly accepted. I can’t remember, 15 years later, what went so wrong that weekend. I think it may have had something to do with them wanting to drink a lot, talk loudly, and generally fulfill stereotypes of American tourists, while I wanted to blend in and have people think I was French (which no one ever will). What I do remember about that weekend is the realization that where you are isn’t nearly as important as who you are with.

I still live by that principle when planning my trips today – for instance, on my whirlwind tour through the Midwest a few weeks ago. I was back in Paris last week, but I did not go to any museums, see any sights, or stroll along the Seine. No, this time my “something new” was seeing the suburbs, where my friend Mike Diamond has lived since being transferred to Pizza Hut’s European division earlier this year. Mike and I were actually friends beginning in middle school, when an unhealthy obsession with the X-Men and an innate disposition to try hard at school meant that we were profoundly uncool. We figured it out by senior year of high school, but there were some pretty awkward years in there. Incidentally, Mike Diamond was with me for my first trip to Paris, on a high school exchange trip that included three magical but packed days in Paris before we headed out to Brittany. This time was a little different – I met Mike’s wife and kids, accompanied them to the market, had lunch on the patio, and beat his 5-year-old in Blokus (beginner’s luck).

I took the train to Dijon that evening, where Suzi, my friend from the Peace Corps, lives.  Suzi was being visited by Meghan, our other friend from the Peace Corps, who lives in Mumbai. Actually, Suzi, her husband, and two sons were being visited by Meghan, her husband, and daughter. We went to the pool, played on the playground, watched France lose the Europe cup, had dinner on the patio, and lived normal life with Suzi and her family. At least as normal as life can be when there are eight people staying in a house made for four. Suzi told her colleagues about what we had done and they admonished her for not taking us to do anything “French.” But that wasn’t really the point. Suzi, Meghan, and I have been friends for 12 years. In the Peace Corps, we wrote weekly letters, went on beach vacations, helped each other through homesickness, met up to cook American food, and watched season 2 of The OC in an overnight binge.  In the Peace Corps, your friends become like family, so meeting their families and spending time together was more important than all the tourist locations in France (and there are a lot). I’ve been lucky to travel a lot of places, but the more places I go, the more firmly I believe what I learned all those years ago in Paris: who you are with is more important than where you are.


June 23, 2016

The Passage of Time

by Tabitha Kidwell

Summer is a sentimental time for me because it is so often a time of transition. Five years ago, I was getting ready to leave for Indonesia. I spent the “summer of fun” visiting friends, playing pub trivia, and trying to calculate how much sunscreen I would need for a year in the tropics. I was excited to leave for Indonesia, but leaving my job teaching middle school French and Spanish was one of the hardest things I have ever done. After a couple of rough years (aren’t everyone’s first years of teaching rough?), I really hit the jackpot during my fourth year of teaching. I finally felt like an effective teacher, and I had great students who mispronounced “Mlle” to call me “Mel Kidwell” (which is totally incorrect, but endearing nonetheless) and who threw me a surprise going away party when I left. I made a “teacher facebook” so I could accept them as friends, and looking at it recently, I realized that the 7th graders I left in 2011 have now graduated from high school. I shut down my teacher facebook and posted that they could all be friends with the real “Mel Kidwell.” If anyone needs to worry about the content of their facebook pages, it’s probably the kids in college! Clicking through their photos from prom and graduation, I can’t believe how much time has passed, and how quickly. Five years is forever in middle school and high school, but it has felt like nothing to me.

Five years before I left those 7th grade students, I was returning home from Madagascar. Somehow, the five years that passed between Madagascar and Indonesia seem longer than the five years between Indonesia and now. One of those years was spent teaching in France, but it was clear to me then that that year, along with my two years in the Peace Corps, were temporary interludes –rumschprega of sorts – before returning home and “becoming an adult.” And that is what I tried to do – I moved back to Columbus, Ohio, and taught in the district I had graduated from for four years. Those years feel solid, grounded, connected to my youth. I lived with my sister, in the same city as my family. I worked with some of my former teachers. I had a strong community and my life was incredibly full.

The last five years feel different. I spent two years in Indonesia, one year selling Christmas sweaters, living in India, and hiking the Camino de Santiago (in succession, not concurrently), and then two years in grad school. My life is still full, but I’ve spent a lot more time alone. I’ve spent more time lonely. A lot of my relationships have been one-on-one rather than in interconnected communities. I’ve lived away from my family and a lot of my closest friends, and haven’t seen them more than every few months or years. The past five years feel unmoored, astray. Whatever they’re connected to hasn’t yet manifested itself, but I think they’re connected to something. That summer five years ago, was a turning point in my life. I think I had realized that becoming an adult wasn’t a simple process of settling down. At least not for me. For me, it was about letting go, accepting uncertainty, being open to surprises. Sometimes that has been hard, but mostly it has been thrilling. It’s scary to not be sure of the path your life is taking. But even scarier, for me, is not starting the journey. I know what is behind me. It was good, and it will always be there. But I believe that whatever is ahead of me will outstrip my wildest imaginings.



June 10, 2016

Dream Vacation: June 2016

by Tabitha Kidwell

I spent my two weeks off between spring and summer vacation on an exciting trip through… (wait for it)… the Midwest! Since moving to DC, I have become a shameless promoter of Ohio, the Great Lakes, and all things Midwest, but if I’m really pressed, I’ll admit that the reason I love it so much is that my friends and family are there.

I started my trip by meeting my family in Erie, Pennsylvania for my brother and his fiancée’s graduation from med school. From there, I drove to Cleveland to visit Tess and Michelle, two of my college roommates. They both have new houses, 3-year old sons, and newborns. Or at least they do now – Tess gave birth to baby Millie the week before I arrived, and Michelle had baby Jonathan the day after I left. I saw both houses, blew bubbles with both toddlers, cuddled one baby, and yelled at the one still in utero to remember me the next time I visited.

From there, I drove to Detroit to visit my friend Erin, another former college roommate who also has a new house and a newborn – but no three year old. I met baby Henrik and had lunch while he napped (kinda). Despite a suspicious rattle in my car, I drove out of Detroit to go to visit my dad in Lansing. Luckily, the rattle stopped halfway to Lansing. Unluckily, my car stopped with it. It started again, but the battery light was on. By some miracle, I drove the remaining 40 minutes (apparently) on battery power because my alternator had died. This was a less-than-ideal development at the mid-point of a road trip through the Midwest, but after spending $1000 and a morning at Capitol Honda, I was good to go. They even gave me a free car wash and oil change, which helped me feel (slightly) less depressed.

I spend a couple of days in Lansing visiting my dad and my friend Jessica, who had been a fellow in Indonesia with me, then headed to Chicago to visit my step-brother Josh, sister-in-law Prutha, and their son and daughter. Arya is 18 months, and Aiden is 6 months old. I hadn’t seen Arya since her baptism last September, and hadn’t seen Aiden since he was a newborn – it was incredible to see how much both have changed! I went with Prutha, her mom, and the two kids to a Cubs day game, which mostly involved snacks and napping for the kids, and snacks and beer for the grown-ups. Then, I went with Josh and the two kids to music class, which mostly consisted of hitting drums, blowing bubbles, and clapping – for both kids and grown ups.

From Chicago, I drove 5 hours to Columbus, Ohio, the city recently described as “like living and working on Sesame Street.” Normally, I take a week or so to visit Columbus, and see different friends throughout the week, but I had to get back to Maryland for a meeting two days later. I packed in lunch, dinner, and happy hour with a few friends, but to really maximize my time, I invited all my friends with kids (and some without) over for a cookout. One baby, 3 three-year-olds, 2 kindergarteners, 5 adults, and 2 senior citizens ate hot dogs, made s’mores, and searched for crayfish in the creek behind my parents house. Actually, the baby and senior citizens didn’t do much crayfish hunting, but they made up for it by being cute and cooking, respectively.

From there, I headed back to DC, with my heart very, very full of love. For those of you keeping score at home, that makes:

1 expensive car repair
2 kindergarteners
4 toddlers
5 babies
Lots of wonderful friends and family members
1700 miles
1 very happy Tabitha

May 28, 2016

Cleaning House

by Tabitha Kidwell

After finishing the long, busy, stressful spring semester, I spent the next week doing something that would bring me incredible joy: cleaning my apartment! I realize some people would, I don’t know, relax or read a book or something. But I had been so busy all semester that I was just gradually living in more and more filth, so it was incredibly gratifying to get everything back in shape. And I didn’t just clean this time – I deep cleaned. I cleaned out the refrigerator, moved the oven to mop, vacuumed under the couch cushions, and generally got serious about eliminating grime and dust bunnies.

And I didn’t just deep clean – I also did a through sorting through of all my belongings. Even after just one year living in my apartment, and two years back in the States, I feel like I have accumulated too much stuff. I’m basically the opposite of a hoarder – I love getting rid of things, not keeping them. Last summer, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese organizational guru Marie Kondo, and was so inspired that I took notes! The idea that you could magically change your life through organization is very appealing to me. Marie Kondo suggests the “Kon-Mari” method of sorting through your things. You follow a prescribed order, first starting with the easy things like clothes (tops, bottoms, hanging clothes, etc.), then papers, then books, then household goods, etc..  You gradually increase the difficulty of parting with the items until you finally arrive at mementos. For every new category, you start by finding every item in the house and piling it on the floor. So, for tops, you take your t-shirts out of the drawers, blouses off of their hangars, sweaters off the shelf, and make a giant pile on the floor. It’s fun to see everything in a pile, but this is also important for two reasons. First, it lets you see just how many of this item you actually have.  For instance, I had a stupid number of shoes:


Seeing all the shoes you own, for instance, shows you that you can definitely afford to part with a few. Second, you have to actually put the item back in its spot, so you have to actively make the decision to keep it, rather than just glancing through your closet, pulling out a few things to give away, and calling it a day. To decide if you want to keep something, you first pick it up and hold it. Then you ask “Does this top bring me joy?” If it does, you keep it. If not, you thank it for its service and set it free to bring joy to someone else. (Meaning, you throw it away, recycle it, or put it in a box to lug to Goodwill.) The idea is that you shouldn’t keep things that don’t bring you joy, but the system broke down a bit when you come to categories like “socks” or “credit card statements.” Do these running socks bring me joy? Well, maybe not, but I really enjoy running, and I really don’t enjoy blisters, so maybe indirectly. Maybe this means I should be buying running socks that bring me joy, like really fun, fluorescent running socks. But I am brought more joy by the idea of not getting rid of perfectly serviceable running socks. The socks went back in the drawer.

So I repeated this process for literally every item in my house. Well, that isn’t true. Three separate people have asked me “Did you do it with your scarves?” I should have, in the “accessories” category, but I already knew that my scarves brought me joy. In fact, the only thing in the world that could bring me more joy than the scarves I own is the possibility of owning more scarves. It would have been foolish to pile all the scarves on the floor, then immediately hang them all up again. So the scarves got a bye.

I got rid of quite a few things, including a box of books, huge plastic tub of clothes, and quite a few trash bags of random crap. I got rid of DVDs I have kept since I was in the Peace Corps, and have never watched. I got rid of a coat with 3/4-length sleeves I have always felt silly wearing, because, what is the point of a coat with 3/4-legnth sleeves? I got rid of books from college that I have moved from apartment to apartment because you never know when I will want to read Sartre’s La Nausée again (Answer: never). I got rid of a lot of things, and I don’t think I will regret it. I thought back to all the things in my life that I have gotten rid of, and could only come up with a handful of things I regret letting go of:

First, this red dress I bought at a road-side stall in Madagascar and proceeded to wear everyday on Christmas vacation 2004:


Please disregard the back-up dancers.

Also, this Buckeye costume I sewed for my sister on Halloween 2007:

Photos - 0117

Please disregard the woman dressed as a smurf.

And lastly, this t-shirt with puffy sleeves. And the reversible shorts. And that tiny house. Actually, pretty much everything in the picture:


Don’t disregard anything here!  This is pure childhood bliss!  That wagon!  That sandbox!  That teeter-totter!

Otherwise, over the course of my life, I have worked my way through countless belongings, passed them on, and have never thought about it again. I acknowledge that it’s a first-world problem to own so many belongings that you feel stressed out about owning so many belongings. I try to combat this by buying very little to begin with, and buying used when I can (sometimes I cannot, like when I accidentally go to Target and spend my entire graduate assistant paycheck). It’s a luxury to get rid of things you may someday need because you know that you will be able to go out and buy them again. I’m really lucky to be able to buy things, not use them, and then feel joy through the act of getting rid of them. That’s a really strange thing to do, when you think about it. Nevertheless, having just the correct amount of belongings somehow makes me very happy. Its comforting to know that I have what I need, that I can keep what I love, and that I can let go of everything else. It gave me a feeling of lightness to get rid of things I don’t really need anymore. Was it life-changing magic? Probably not. Was it a fun way to spend the first week of summer break? Absolutely.

May 21, 2016

PhD: Year Two Finished!

by Tabitha Kidwell

It’s funny, isn’t it, how I haven’t posted much between the months of September and May since I started grad school two years ago? Hopefully that will change soon, because I am almost done with course work! Two years ago, 48 credit hours seemed like a huge number, but taking 10 hours a semester will get you there before you know it. I just have two online courses this summer, and that will be it! I’ll never again have to shuffle the demands of taking four classes (and teaching one). I think things will be a little easier next fall, but I am almost certainly wrong about that. Throughout the past two years, I have often thought that life would be easier – and that my to-do list would be shorter – after I finished a certain paper, got back from a conference, ended the semester, etc. It did get easier – nothing will compare to the misery of my first semester of coursework – but it never got any less busy, and my to-do list just seemed to get longer and longer.

Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to the end of coursework. More senior grad students tell me that they miss the days when classes gave more shape to their lives, but I’m really excited to be able to read what I want to read rather than what my professors assign. Coursework has given me basic research skills and a foundation in the field that I now feel able to build on independently. I’ve been focusing so much energy on finishing coursework, however, that I feel a bit like this:


I have almost made it to the end without giving much thought to what happens next. Finishing coursework simultaneously gives me a feeling of accomplishment (because now I just have to write a dissertation) and and a strong sense of impending doom (because now I just have to write a dissertation). I have been so caught up in the last four semesters of coursework that I feel like I have done nothing prepare myself for the bottomless pit that is dissertation research.

Of course, I have done more than I realize to to prepare. The whole PhD sequence is designed to prepare you and to help you take one step at a time. Once I finish coursework, I will have enough of a grounding in the field to direct my own further reading so I can write my comprehensive exams (which, in our department aren’t so much exams, as really long papers) next fall and winter. Then I’ll propose my dissertation next spring. I’ll spend the 2017-2018 school year collecting data, then the 2018-2019 school year analyzing it and writing, and then I’ll defend the dissertation in about three years. It seems like a lot to do, but so did 48 hours of coursework, and the past two years flew by. If I think about all those steps at once, it feels overwhelming, but if I think about starting to read for my comps, that seems like something I can do. Just like finishing coursework, all those milestones will pass by before I know it. Then I will feel like this:


I would say that things will be better then – less stressful, less busy – but I have learned enough from coursework to realize that that will never happen. At least, in three years, I will have a PhD to prove that I am qualified to handle all that stress!

September 10, 2015

A Baby Girl and an Old Lady

by Tabitha Kidwell

I spent Labor Day weekend home in Columbus and got to see two of my favorite people in the world – my 8-month-old niece Aria and my grandmother Nana Bets. I planned the trip mid-August because my step-brother Josh and his wife Prutha decided to bring Aria to be baptized at the family church in Grandview. Given the short notice and the holiday weekend, I didn’t fill my weekend up like I usually do – lunch with one friend, dinner with another, still enough time for drinks with someone else. My mom and step-dad, Josh, Prutha and Aria, my brother Mark and his girlfriend Allison, and I all managed to stay in a 3 bedroom house – with three dogs! In the past, when we have been home at the same time (i.e., Christmas), we all tend to keep a busy schedule. We might cross paths in the morning or meet up for dinner, but for the most part, everyone scatters, doing their own thing.

This time, though, we all hung around for hours watching Aria crawl around, babble, and try to knock glasses over. It is amazing how captivating it is to watch a tiny human do the same things that tiny humans have done since the first cave baby rolled over and put a rock in her mouth. Despite the fact that everything she’s doing has been done before, somehow it isn’t boring – it’s comforting, reassuring, heartening. Watching someone you love make sense of the world around her tells you that this baby will grow up to be like the other babies you have seen, and that future babies will do the same. It tells you that there are people in your family that don’t even exist yet, but whose existence will touch you so deeply that you will want to do nothing more than watch those people play with their own feet. It tells you that a happy family life is less about stability than it is about change – about watching people grow, learn, and become more independent.

Aria and Allison

Aria and Allison

Already a talented reader!

Already a talented reader!

Aria had a busy schedule of admirers to entertain, so I snuck off to visit Nana Bets in the afternoons. Nana Bets was one of the most unique, talented, and self-possessed women of her generation.


In the early sixties, she left an abusive marriage, making her a single mother at a time when that meant that her two young sons weren’t welcome playmates at the neighbors’. She went back to college in her late 20s to become a teacher, then got her master’s in school counseling. Even after she re-married, she continued working, and helped establish the school-counseling program in Columbus Public Schools. She and my grandfather went on road trips, ski trips, and bike trips, got their pilot’s licenses, traveled around the world, and took their grandchildren to the movies and the playground.


She was always busy – she told me many times that, like a shark, if she stopped moving, she would die.

This seems to be what happened. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year, but for years she had been relying on post-its to keep her life together. I found the worst post-it note stuck on her calendar on October 21, 2010: “Dick died.” Did she need a post-it note to remember that? Or had she just become so accustomed to writing down important information? The death of her husband of 44 years left her so overcome with grief that she couldn’t bear to see her friends or leave the house. For years, she would wake up at noon, eat cereal, watch the golf channel and Ellen DeGeneres, and get back in bed when it got dark. She gradually became less and less able to follow conversations or simple directions. She fell last spring, as evidenced by two black eyes, but had no memory of it happening. After than, she moved into a memory care unit that is supposed to be one of the best in the city, but it still feels like a hospital. She likes activity time – they have beading, root beer float hour, sing-alongs. She likes to sit with her new friend Eleanor in the sun at the end of the hallway, looping through the same conversation every 10 minutes. Sometimes I think the increased stimulation at the home is helping her – she remembers Eleanor’s name now and then, and she seems to know that she now lives on Neil Avenue – but then I am reminded that she continues to decline (Saturday night at dinner: “Pork… what animal does that come from?”).

Nana Bets’ decline has been as heartbreaking as Aria’s growth has been enchanting. I know that, at some point, their developmental paths will cross – Aria will communicate in increasingly sophisticated sentences, while Nana Bets will forget more and more words. Aria will learn to walk, run, jump, and dance; Nana Bets will eventually need help getting out of bed. We’ll get to see Aria’s personality develop – will she be funny, shy, stubborn, thoughtful? Meanwhile, the Nana Bets I once knew already emerges less and less often. Aria’s world will get bigger as Nana Bets’ shrinks. I feel so lucky to have Aria as my niece, to see all the amazing things she will do with her precious little life. At the same time, I’m so honored to have Nana Bets as my grandmother. She lived an amazing life and touched so many people. I can’t wait to see what kind of person Aria will become, but I would give anything for Nana Bets to be the person she used to be. So do I want to make time move faster or go in reverse? Ultimately, I can’t do either – all I can do is spend the time I have with the people I love.



August 30, 2015

First Day of School, Ready or Not

by Tabitha Kidwell

Tomorrow, I begin my second year of doctoral studies. As usually is the case on the last official day of summer vacation, I have a mix of emotions.

For one, I’m nervous – I’ll be teaching an undergrad class for the first time at UMD. I taught undergraduate English education majors in Indonesia, but I was able to capitalize on the fact that I was the foreign teacher, which meant that people were more likely to trust me (thanks to my status as a representative of the U.S. education system) and also forgive any mistakes I made (thanks to my status as a sometimes-clueless outsider). Now, I’m teaching undergraduates who are paying a lot of tuition for a good education. During most of the time I spent planning last week, I felt like I was about to puke. That is okay, though, because that’s is how I usually feel when preparing for a year of teaching. Most years, I can’t sleep the night before the first day of school, and that will probably be the case again tonight.

I’m also really excited – I haven’t actually taught for the past two years. 2013 was the first year that I hadn’t gone back to school – as either a teacher or a student – since I was 4 years old, and it was so hard to watch everyone else go back while I had nothing to do but shop for ugly Chirstmas sweaters. In 2014 I did go back to school, as a student, but I was so overwhelmed by the start of graduate school that I didn’t have a moment to lament the fact that I wasn’t teaching. This year, I am so glad to be back in the classroom, planning instruction, building relationships with students, and generally being of use to society. I’m teaching a class called “Teaching English Language Learners Reading and Writing in the Secondary Content Areas,” a course name I pretty much have to look up every time because the powers-that-be at UMD are trying to fit so many buzzwords into one course title. The course’s goal is to help future teachers teach reading and writing more effectively to their English language learning students, but it’s an elective class. Some students are secondary education majors (math ed, science ed, etc.) who know they will have students learning English in their future classrooms, and some are TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) minors who will go on to get an M.Ed. in our program and teach at local schools. But a lot are just taking it as an elective to fulfill their diversity requirement. My guess is that some of those students think they might go abroad and teach English for a year or two after graduation, but most of them just think a class in the college of education will be easy. Which is probably true.

Overall, though, my main emotion is relief. I am so glad that the first year of grad school is over and I have a freaking clue what is going on this year. Last year was really hard, but I grew a lot as a scholar and as a person. It is so great to look at the syllabi for the two classes I am taking and have a basic background and understanding of what we’ll be studying. For my third class, I’m doing an independent study with my advisor, working on developing a literature review I wrote last year into a publishable paper; part of my graduate assistantship is also being her research assistant on some other projects. It’s wonderful to have that good relationship and to be working together on topics I really care about. I also have a healthy amount of extra-curricular involvement, thanks to my ongoing inability to say no: I’m the student rep on the faculty department assembly (which is basically like getting invited into the teacher’s lounge – exciting in principle, but ultimately really mundane), I’m the co-chair of the department graduate student association (which mostly involves planning happy hours), and I’m the graduate student interest section co-chair for Maryland TESOL (which is really exciting because we are hosting the international conference in Baltimore this year). Also, personally, I am so grateful to feel at ease in the city, to have a good network of friends, and to know where I can buy good donuts.

Overall, I think this year will be easier than last, or at least I’m better equipped to deal with the challenges that come up (e.g., impossible reading load, compulsive need to nap). I only have to go out to campus for class Mondays and Wednesdays, and I have a better idea of how to manage my time and workload on the other days. Teaching will be a lot of work, but I think I’ll really enjoy it. It’s amazing what a big difference a few months can make – by the end of spring semester, I felt like I couldn’t do even one more thing for school. Now, I feel ready for a whole new year – or at least I will if I can get through teaching my first class without puking!

August 1, 2015


by Tabitha Kidwell

A year ago today, I moved into my house in DC. It was on the dodgier end of Columbia Heights, I had two roommates, and the place was a total disaster. I spent most of the month of August cleaning and organizing, and by the time my semester started, the place looked great! Though sharing a bathroom with two (initially) total strangers wasn’t ideal, we all got used to each other, and I came to love living there – especially my sunny bedroom and the peaceful front porch. As I was nearing the end of spring semester, however, my sister bought a new house in Colorado. After looking at her house on Redfin, a real estate listing webpage, I did a few searches to just see what was listed in DC. I searched for places in the district under $175,000 – which cut down the results real fast – and I was surprised to see that there actually were places within my then entirely hypothetical price range. I kept coming back to one listing, a little studio in a co-op in Adams Morgan, just to see if there were any status changes. After a week or so, I thought, “I’ll just go see it.” My realtor was super smooth and somehow convinced me to put in an offer – “no strings attached, you’re just holding your place” – and, almost without trying, I was under contract!

At that point, I had to start putting in some effort, because next came weeks of jumping through hoops – reviewing the co-op documents, doing the inspection, and digging up endless financial documents for my loan officer. Anyone who has bought a house knows the gauntlet you have to go through. It’s a pain in the neck, but then it’s just over. And the hustle and bustle distracts from the fact that you are preparing for the largest financial transaction of your life so far. I kept thinking I should feel stressed out or anxious, but the truth is, I felt very little emotion about the whole thing – neither positive nor negative. It just seemed like the right thing to do – a pragmatic financial decision. In the final calculation, the amount I needed for closing and the down payment was almost exactly what I had saved, my monthly mortgage payment was precisely the amount my measly graduate student stipend let me qualify for, and my HOA fees and mortgage total about $10 less than what I paid in rent. I’m not especially superstitious, but I do love synchronicity, and the fact that everything added up so nicely was comforting.

So now, I live in a nicer place, in a nicer area, with no roommates, for less than I was paying before. Seems too good to be true, but it’s helped by the fact that I used to live in a pretty crummy place in a bit of a rough area. My new neighborhood is Adams Morgan, which is full of bars and restaurants, between the green/yellow and red lines, and steps from the trails in Rock Creek Park. It’s actually only 1.3 miles from Park View, where I used to live – I basically moved the other side of Columbia Heights, and still take the metro out to campus from the same stop. It’s a 400 square feet studio, which isn’t huge, but it’s big enough for me, my books, and my bikes – in fact, I need to buy more furniture! The best part is that I have a kitchen and bathroom all to myself! I hadn’t realized how much I hated sharing a fridge and shower with two roommates until I didn’t have to any longer. My first night, I just kept looking inside my semi-empty refrigerator. I have never owned a refrigerator before! Or a stove, ceiling fan, or sink, for that matter. And certainly not a charming old clawfoot tub. But now I do. I’m a homeowner! Once I’m more settled, I’ll post pictures, but I have already learned that lots of home improvement projects come along with home ownership. That should fill the month of August again this year!

June 10, 2015

Summer of Fun 2015

by Tabitha Kidwell

Since I was 17, I haven’t spent the spring, summer, and fall in the same place – I was always coming back from living abroad, or getting ready to leave in the fall, or jetting off somewhere for the summer. I considered lots of options for the summer – going back to Deep Griha in India, visiting friends in East Africa, or popping down to South America. Ultimately, though, none of those plans sounded as exciting as just staying in DC. I didn’t really feel like doing anything. Now, I know myself well enough to know I couldn’t just do nothing. The flexibility of grad school didn’t agree with my type-A nature, so I learned how important it is to have a routine to follow. I had big plans – I had even typed up a weekly “Summer of Fun” checklist – to limit myself to doing three productive things a day before moving on to mandated relaxation. One of those three things needed to be doing a 4-hour scoring session online for the TOEIC and TOEFL speaking exams so that I could pay my rent, but the other two things could be things like working on the research I’m doing with my advisor, going for a run, cleaning the bathroom, paying my bills, etc. Once I’d done my 3 things, I was going to turn off my computer, shut off from work, and relax on the porch or at the pool. It was going to be glorious. I even had a hashtag: #summeroffun2015

And then I accidently got a job. It just fell in my lap, and it was so perfect I couldn’t turn it down. The English Language Fellow program, which is the program that sent me to Indonesia, is administered by an office at Georgetown, and they sent an e-mail out to the alumni network about a temporary position assisting with the interview and placement process. The person needed be local to DC (check), available for the summer only (check), and be able to navigate the state department’s acronym alphabet soup (CCDC – check check double check). Also, they were paying a ton of money. So that was all pretty perfect for me! The only problem was, they wanted someone fulltime, and I already had commitments on campus 1-2 days a week most weeks. I e-mailed the director and said I’d be interested, but could only commit to 3 days a week. She did some checking, maybe waited in vain for other impoverished graduate students in the DC area to send their resumés, and e-mailed back to say that would be fine.

So, just like that, I have started my first ever 9-5 office job. I was worried that it would be really stressful to have to work all day long when I had been looking forward to a summer of relaxation. What I didn’t realize, having basically only ever worked full-time as a teacher, is what it actually is like to work a 9-5 office job. IT IS THE EASIEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Okay, that may not be true, but it just doesn’t compare to the minute-to-minute stress level of a teacher. Even if you’re not an especially stressed-out teacher, you’re on from the minute you walk through the door in the morning until the moment you leave (probably later than you’d like to) in the afternoon. At a desk job, you can take a break, get more coffee, or go to the bathroom whenever you want. You can fully digest your lunch before getting back to business. When you tell your computer to do something, it does it without talking back or rolling its eyes. You don’t even have to plan a carefully calibrated combination of competition and coercion to get it to do it’s work! It’s amazing! Of course, I am essentially working an entry-level job – I spend all day doing interviews and application reviews. It’s a series of time-consuming but fairly simple tasks. If I were 23, I would probably say something like “this just isn’t challenging me.” But I don’t want to be challenged! I just want to complete cognitively undemanding tasks and have someone give me money in return. As far as I can tell, that is the deal I have signed up for, and so far it’s going great.

So summer of fun 2015 is a little different than originally planned, but I think it is probably for the best. For one thing, I am making more money reviewing all these applications than I would have scoring speaking tests. And I leave work with a sense of accomplishment and the clear understanding that, after 8 hours in front of a computer, I do not need to do any more work, which is good for an overachiever like myself. And it turns out, there are a lot of hours outside of 9-5! So get ready – #summeroffun2015 is just getting started!