“You are the Second One on my Love List.”

I found this letter in Aliana’s backpack during the last week of school:

My first question was, “Who in the heck is Steve?”

My second question was, “What is a love street, and why is he saying that you are the second one on it?”

I tried to ask these questions as calmly as possible. I explained to her that when you are seven, you are friends with everyone, but you don’t have “boyfriends” until you are much older. 

And then I paused to silently reflect on the fact that I actually had a “boyfriend” in both kindergarten and in second grade. (There must not have been any cute boys in my first grade class). 

My kindergarten boyfriend gave me a ring as a gift. When I showed it to my mom, she told me it looked too expensive to keep and that I needed to give it back to him the next day. When I told my boyfriend that my mom wouldn’t let me keep it, he confessed that he got it from his mom’s jewelry box, but that she “didn’t care.” I forced him to take it back, though, because I knew my own mother would be walking me to his house to discuss the ring with his family if I didn’t get rid of it. If my mom would have been the swearing type–she’s totally not–but if she had been, her motto would have been, “Do no harm, but take no sh**.”

Anywho, my second grade boyfriend wrote me a note and asked me to “go” with him. I said yes, and I thought he was going to hold my hand at the end of the year skating party until he chickened out. Then he moved to Florida. 

And then not a single boy expressed interest in me until the age of fifteen. Talk about a dry spell.

So I’ve tried to chill out about this letter I found, while simultaneously using it as an opportunity to talk to her about how important it is TO NOT SPEAK ABOUT BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND STUFF UNTIL I FIGURE OUT HOW TO OWN AND OPERATE A HANDGUN TO KEEP THE BOYS OFF MY PROPERTY UNTIL SHE’S 18. 

Just kidding; I’m a pacifist. 

But on a serious note, this stuff makes my head spin. It really does. Like my brain says, “This is way too freaking young to be talking about this.” 

But, then I remember that this very topic–like many others–is one that I want her to first talk about with ME, her mother. Not the kid up the street. Not some random adult from church. Not an acquaintance or even friend of the family–FROM ME. Because I’m the mama bear and I am the one who will be raising her and modeling for her how to have healthy relationships. 

So back to Steve. Freaking Steve.

Aliana proceeded to explain to me that Steve is a friend from YMCA Daycare and that when he wrote the sentence, “You are the second one on my love st.,” he was trying to tell her that she is the second one on his love LIST. Some freaking love list. 

“Love list? There’s such a thing as a love list?” I asked her.

And then I started having flashbacks to middle school when we would play MASH on notebook paper and list three boys we liked, and then three cars, and a bunch of other crap. 

So this love list is maybe kinda like MASH. 

But I got down on eye level with her, and this is what I said:

“You know that when we talk about loving each other in elementary school, we talk about loving each other as friends. There’s no boyfriend/girlfriend stuff. Got it?”

“Got it,” she said.

“But furthermore, when you ARE old enough to have a boy like you and he tells you that he loves you, but that you are number two on ‘his list,’ you need to say, ‘Oh I’m not number two, honey, because I’m removing myself as an option on this so-called list.’ Aliana, when it comes to love, remember this: never be someone’s number two. You don’t rank people or love.”

By this time, she was walking into the living room to turn on PBS Kids. She didn’t get it. And then I realized I was kinda saying that message to my own damn self.

When it comes to love, there is no number two. There is no list. Did you hear that, Emily? There is no number two. 


Sweatbands and Naturalizer Flats

So I’m here at my parents’ house in Kokomo, lying in the same bed I slept in twenty years ago in high school. I keep looking at this God-awful photo of me, propped up against the wall, from twenty years ago.

Looks like a Sears catalogue pic. Like I would never naturally pose that way, slinging my Naturalizer flats over my shoulder.

And now that I’m thinking about it–Naturalizer flats for a high school student??? I have cooler shoes now, and I’m 38. Why did I even NEED Naturalizer flats–those are for people who are on their feet all day, and need to dress up. I probably just wore them to church or something.

All this talk about clothing reminds me of something that happened when I was teaching middle school for a year in Lexington, and all the students had a very strict dress code, which were basically school uniforms. I wasn’t very good at enforcing it, though. In fact, when I was hired to teach there, nobody mentioned the dress code to me. On the first day of school, as students were entering the building, I thought to myself, “Wow these kids all look really nice.” My second thought was, “Man, they are dressed a lot alike. Is this the Twilight Zone?” until my teaching partner mentioned there was a dress code.

I don’t even think I actually looked at the dress code policy until nine weeks into the school year. I was too concerned about my lesson plans and adjusting to teaching kids who had hormones and tried passing notes and cried at the drop of the hat. Enforcing the dress code was not at the top of my priority list.

So one day, a couple of my kids were wearing sweatbands on their wrists and around their heads (which apparently was a dress code violation), and the assistant principal walked by my classroom.

“Why are you guys wearing sweatbands? Is Mrs. Polanco working you guys that hard? Are you reading and writing so much that you’re breaking out into a sweat?” she asked them.

“Yes,” said Alejandro.

And for a minute, I was really proud, because I WAS working these kids hard. These were kids who had fallen through the cracks. Alejandro had been retained TWO times, which infuriated me, since he was now 14 and was in classes with 11 year olds. He was in sixth grade and could barely read–and I was determined to change that.

But everyone else seemed more worried about making sure the kids were wearing the “by the book” dress code.

Now don’t get me wrong here… I’m not saying I disagree with dress codes or school uniforms. What I’m saying is that when we get more concerned about making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, than we are about the quality of instruction our kids are receiving–that’s a problem. And that was how I felt that day. Why aren’t you coming in here to observe ME teaching? I’m the critical factor here. I’m the one who is giving these kids instruction everyday–instruction that can make or break them. Come and watch ME. Give me feedback, because my role is important here.

What’s also important is that you try this recipe I made up. Well I took several recipes and adjusted them to make my own. It’s not a Thanksgiving recipe, so sorry about that, but haven’t you already figured out what you’re making for Thanksgiving anyways?

Sausage, Kale, and Potato Soup


1 T. Olive oil or whatever oil you use
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, chopped (I used Aidells chicken sausage) … You can remove casings, but I didn’t because I didn’t have time for that crap
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5 cups chicken broth or stock
1 pound potatoes, diced and peeled
3 cups kale
1/4 cup half and half

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes.
Stir in garlic, onion, oregano, basil and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions have become translucent, about 2-3 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Stir in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir in kale until it begins to wilt, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in half and half until heated through, about 1 minute; season with salt and pepper to taste.