Making Out: Fusion

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

About Jess

I am going to tell you about how for 35 minutes this week, I drove to work sobbing.

Had this been 15 years ago, I might have been sobbing from a lack of sleep due to having an infant and toddler with irreconcilable sleep patterns. Had this been ten years ago, I might have been sobbing because of feelings of inadequacy as a poet pursuing an MFA in a school culture that wasn’t overly welcoming to working mothers and because I had been writing poems about a difficult topic for over three years. Had this been five years ago, I might have been sobbing because I was teaching full time while pursuing post-bac secondary certification in a teacher intern program. The homework felt more demanding than my MFA work--mostly because of the math involved. However, this sobbing commute occurred on a Thursday morning, and I wasn’t sobbing from exhaustion or remorse. I was sobbing tears of gratitude.

Years and years of pursuing multiple interests while raising a family has not made for an easy path. For every article or poem that has been published, there have been cancelled plans with friends. For every success in the classroom, there have been parts of my house neglected. Currently, my sofa has holes and my laundry is never done. I am behind on getting my dogs their shots. My daughter’s orthodontist appointment has been rescheduled an embarrassment of days. I forgot when my son’s SAT exam was. Sometimes I feel as though I walk my life as a collection of fragmented selves.

Wife-self. Mother-self. Teacher-self. Writer-self. I worry that I am just selfish.

Certainly, I wonder how deserving I am of my husband who sees me in my entirety and reminds me that for all of my scattered efforts, I am at home when I am in his presence. He makes our home function when I am at my desk, frantic over another deadline, or grading stacks and stacks of student work. He often celebrates each success of mine more loudly and with greater attention than I permit myself to do. He is without a doubt a tremendous partner and this fact was front and center in my mind on the sobbing drive. As was something I never saw coming.

When I was earning my Master’s degree, the focus of my thesis--a book of poetry, was living with the inherited memory of the Holocaust. I pored over pictures collected from various archives and studied a man named Chiune Sugihara--a Japanese diplomat who saved over 3000 Lithuanian Jews from certain death. My book was eventually titled Consider Me Your Daughter. I’ve submitted it for publication a handful of times. It’s been received well and has placed a few times in various competitions. I’m very hopeful that it will be picked up for publication at some point. For the past few years though, I have channeled my poetic sensibilities into writing essays and my energies into teaching my students.

Earlier this semester, I discovered a web-based program called Rock Your World (which is a part of the Creative Visions Foundation) when I was googling activities suitable to teach a district mandated standard called "Writing for Change."

The detailed lessons and activities are phenomenal. I kept pinching myself for my luck at having stumbled upon the site . The writer in me wanted to know more about Rock Your World’s inception. I sent a note of gratitude as well as a request to speak with the writers of the media-based lessons and activities. A phone call later, I felt as though I had discovered long lost friends across the country. Tricia Baldes and Carolyn Shilinksi (the New York based Program Advisors of Rock Your World) and I immediately hit it off. They’ve developed a student-based, media-savvy curriculum centered on articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR was passed by the United Nations in 1945 largely as a result of the atrocities committed in WWII--its greatest proponent was my longtime hero, Eleanor Roosevelt.

By the end of my interview with Tricia and Carolyn, I was appointed as a Teaching Ambassador of Rock Your World. I told my students that it pays to say thank you and to pursue one’s curiosity, always. When I introduced aspects of Rock Your World to my students they became vibrant and engaged in their studies. I felt as though my instruction was becoming more meaningful and my colleagues even began to adapt supplementary material into their classes.

Okay, Burnquist, but why were you sobbing on a Thursday morning on your way to work while your daughter slept in the passenger seat?

Dear Reader, it’s because the night before my tearful drive I was invited to run a workshop instructing teachers how to incorporate Rock Your World materials into their classrooms in partnership with the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. My trip to Los Angeles will be fully funded and will occur less than a week after I attend the Associated Writers and Writing Program Conference in the same city--a trip which my principal and district generously funded. When I got off the phone with Tricia, who recommended me for the workshop, I realized that I will be visiting for the first time (and teaching) in a museum from whose archives a book was born. I will be able to visit the Sugihara statue in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. I shared this news with my family and they were wonderfully excited for me.

On the sobbing morning, before I got into the car, my son stopped me. He hugged me and said, “I’m so proud of you, mom.” And, dear reader, my selves fused. All of the various parts of me for one glorious car ride were whole and proud and satisfied. Mostly, though, I was so overcome with gratitude for living long enough to see the melding of my interests and to know that my husband and son and daughter, with me, could delight in the moment too. As the sun began to light up the valley, my daughter awoke.

Are you crying, mom?

I am.

Why?

Because I’m so happy I’ve worked so hard.

She touched my arm, fell back to sleep, and I continued on my way.