Browse Category by Travel

Posts about our travelling family circus.


I’m here! I’m alive! I’m sorry I haven’t been posting.

I had such grand designs of writing about our arrival.  Then the actual arrival came and it’s been a whirlwind.  I haven’t had any time to sit down and reflect–much to my dismay.

There is so much I want to say and record.

Then I remember Anne Lamott’s one inch picture frame.

So here’s what I can see through a one inch picture frame when I think about flying to Brazil with 3 small children:

On the flight from Cincinnati to Newark we realized we had left their tablets back at my parents’ house.  This was a major blow, akin to Oedipus’s tragic fall.  In our packing hubris, we forgot to get the tablets.  The kids cried.  We gave them our phones.  All was well in the land of 21st century problems.

Matilda fell asleep in the stroller in our layover in Newark.  This was a blessing to all because she was becoming insanely tired and cranky.  When we boarded our flight from Newark to Brazil, I looked back as we walked dow the aisle and couldn’t find Matilda.  Calvin ran back and found her curled up on one of the first seats, asleep again.  She was so tired she decided to plunk down on the first available seat.  It’s hard to explain to an sleepy 3 year old that we have assigned seats and those aren’t them.  We finally got her to our row and she fell back to sleep on my lap.

Everett, on the other hand, was wide awake.  At 10 pm.  This is a kid who goes to bed at 7:30 every night.  We strapped him into his carseat for take off, he was super tired.  But there was a delayed connecting flight, so we had to wait take off until those passengers arrived.  All that kid wanted was to sleep, but all the lights were still on in the cabin.  He cried and cried.

10 seconds after take off, he fell asleep.  He slept most of the night.  Calvin and Matilda slept curled up like kittens on our row of three.  They slept on me, on the window, on each other.  Restless kittens is more accurate.  Pigs in a barn?  Not sure the right simile.

I got about 90 minutes.  Too much responsibility and dry airplane air.

We landed.  We survived.  We were tired.

Okay, that’s all I got.  I didn’t proofread (no time, don’t judge).


Burning a House Down in Slow Motion

Today is the big day!  Tonight we board a plane and wake up in Brazil tomorrow morning.  This is my last post about selling our house and all our stuff.  I’m getting a little tired of talking about it, too.  From here on out, I document this adventure.  

I watched a house burn in slow motion. 

We sold everything we owned except for what we could fit into 20 suitcases.  The bureaucracy in Brazil is such that getting a shipment of furniture and boxes can be very expensive and take 6-9 months.  So, our school pays the extra bag fees and furnishes our apartment.

So for our last 6 months in Nashville, we burned it all down.  Everything in our 4 bed, 3 bath bungalow had to go.  But, as opposed to an actual fire that eats up your whole house in a a night, I had time and I got to choose.  I set aside the things to keep: the mandolin came off its hook on the wall and went into its case.  It will be going in the overhead bin on the plane.  Our wedding photo albums and the kids’ hospital bracelets and the clay owl creation from camp have been packed into boxes for my mom’s basement.  I fished out the baggie of baby teeth from the drawer in the bathroom.  I almost threw it in the keep box, but then I felt like that was a bit nuts, so I stuck them back in the bathroom drawer.  I’ll sleep on it and decide, I thought.

But almost everything had to go.  If I had to guess, we got rid of 95% of our possessions.  The ugly hand-me-down chair that I tried to sew a slipcover for, gone.  The ironing board and the rack that held it on the wall, gone.  The martini shaker made out of a mason jar, gone.

Many things we sold online, still more of it went to Goodwill.  My in-laws came into town and we asked them to bring their pick-up truck to haul off more big things.  As my husband and father-in-law were getting ready to carry a load to the dump and Goodwill, I grabbed a framed IKEA print right off the wall as I walked by and added it to the bed of the truck.  Mismatched winter gloves were gone.  Tiny toddler sandals that lost their matches, gone as well.

Another way to look at it is that it’s a little bit like dying before I’ve died.  This is what someone would have to do with my stuff if I died.  They’d have to sift through each thing individually, deciding if it was useful or sentimental.  What about the giant cup of pens?  What about the awards I won in middle school?  The stained glass rooster?  But I’m not dead, and I get to do it.  Or rather, I have to do it.

It’s exhausting.  It takes an hour to go through a shelf with 30 books on it, asking myself if I love this book enough to put it in a suitcase to Brazil (Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, yes) or enough to put it in a box in my mom’s basement in Cincinnati (Speak with my teaching notes in it, yes.)  I feel terrible deciding the fate of books I’ve loved so much.  Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist was such an amazing book.  But it doesn’t make the cut for our 20 suitcases, and it doesn’t make sense in a basement in Ohio.  I’m a fat Roman emperor holding a thumb up or down to the poor soul in the ring.  I’d love to just stop and not have to make all these decisions.

But I can’t stop, because we had to burn this all to the ground by the end of June.

It’s the decisions.  So many tiny decisions that pile up.  Everything needs a decision.  The two opened packages of solo cups?  Plastic disposable cocktail weenie forks?  A stack of handmade ceramic appetizer plates my sister-in-law gave us for Christmas?

It’s the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up on steroids.  The Life Changing Magic of Throwing it all Away, no tidying needed.

For David, the challenge was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs.  All seven seasons on crappy DVDs with terrible disc menus: bad graphics and cheesy, looping music.  He’s having a hard time getting rid of them.

Buffy was his joy and first binge-watch during college and beyond.  He joined the Buffistas, a web forum for fans of the show, and met many friends that way.  We watched those DVDs together early in our relationship.  One of our closest friends in Nashville is a Buffista who responded when David posted that we were moving there.

Throwing Buffy away feels hard, so he wonders aloud if anyone would want them.

No, I say.  No one wants 15-year-old DVDs.  Oh, and there’s 28 of them.  It’s a real commitment to take those on.

It feels like our stuff is alive and somehow we hurt them with this treatment.  They judge us and glare from their Goodwill garbage bags by the front door.

But a few weeks after verbally confirming that Buffy needs to get thrown away, we actually get around to doing it.  We slide all 28 DVDs out of the DVD binder where they were stored and put them in a garbage bag.  On top of the Buff DVDs we throw in old couch pillows that no longer have slip covers, school binders and binder dividers, old scrapbooking stickers.

(Remember those giant DVD binders that were our pride and joy in the ‘00s?  We curated our entire collection, painstakingly tucking all the booklets behind each DVD.  Yeah, that had to go too.)

Before I put them in the garbage bag, I take a photo of the Buffy DVDs fanned out across the floor.  I thanked them for their joy, and I posted the photo on Facebook.

The next day, I get a ping on my phone telling me I have a Facebook message.  A friend from high school who lives in Salt Lake City wants to know if I’d be willing to ship her the DVDs.

I thought the bag had already made it out to the garbage can, and I wasn’t about to go dumpster diving in for the discs.  I told her I was sorry.

And then I noticed a garbage bag in the corner our closet.  I could see through the plastic that the DVDs were at the bottom.  I fished them out, wiped off the goo from a half eaten Nutragrain bar, and we popped the DVDs in a box to Utah.

One gladiator was spared the tiger.


I Dreamt We Owned a Donkey

I dreamt we owned a donkey.  We kept it in our backyard, fenced into a home-made pen.  But I kept forgetting to buy hay to feed it (is that even what you feed donkeys?) and so it would bust through its rickety fence and eat our grass, braying mournfully.

I the dream, I kept looking out the window and seeing the donkey.  Then I would suddenly remember that I needed to find a new home for the donkey before we moved to Brazil.  That would lead me back to remembering that I needed to feed the donkey, and I’d yet again forgotten to buy hay.

The feeling of shame and guilt was palpable.  The feeling that I had taken on the responsibility of a living thing and now I was shirking it.  Worse, the dream donkey was suffering because of me.

This dream is really about my dog.  I adopted Django the week after finishing my first year of teaching.  It was my first full-time job and I had some disposable income and an apartment in Brooklyn that allowed pets.  I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I’d wanted a dog for a long time.  In the first week in July, I had two months of limitless free time ahead of me.

I rode the Long Island Rail Road out to the North Shore Animal League.  I walked through the grown dog room and the puppy room, but didn’t find a dog that felt right for me.  Finally I wandered into the recovering puppy room.  I saw a little black and white dog barking and rolling around happily on his back.  I took this as a good sign.  Other puppies cowered, shivering in the back of their cages.

A volunteer stepped forward and asked if I had any questions.

“What’s on that tag around his neck?”

“Let me see,” the volunteer said as she opened the cage and pulled him out.  “Vomiting, diarrhea, upper respiratory infection, heart murmur,” my eyes were wide at this point, “and anorexia.”

“Dogs can have anorexia?”

“But he’s recovering from all of these things!” she said quickly.  “He’s taking medication and is expected to make a full recovery.”

The volunteer had put the puppy in my arms, and I’m sure my face was going through that car wash of love and hesitation.

“Do you want me to bring out a vet tech to talk to you?” she asked.

I nodded.  The vet tech emerged to reassure me that the head cold and puking were treated with medication that they would give me to take home so I could finish the course.  The heart murmur wasn’t uncommon and would probably clear up on its own.

“And the anorexia?”

It turned out he had been brought from a kill shelter in Virginia to this no-kill shelter on Long Island.  He’d been through quite a bit, and it made sense that he was not interested in eating.  If he was adopted and loved on—the theory went—he would start eating again.

I adopted that fixer-upper puppy.  You may have read the story in my “Agridoce” post about carrying him home in a cat box only to drop the box on the subway platform.  I thought I’d paralyzed him, but he was just stretching.  His legs are fully functional.   

6 months later, I met the man who would become my husband.  A few months after that, we moved in together.  2 years later we moved to Nashville pregnant with our first child, and we bought a house with a fenced-in backyard for Django.

Calvin was born that December.  The daily walks with Django ground to a halt.  The belly rubs and couch snuggles were replaced by baby bouncing and rocking marathons.  In a haze of sleep deprivation, I lost my temper and snapped at Django when he shook and the clang of his tags woke the baby up after I’d spent an hour bouncing him to sleep.

Django tucked tail and slinked out of the room, and henceforth decamped to the opposite end of the house.

The baby became a toddler and a baby sister joined him.  The sister became a toddler and another baby came home from the hospital.

Django looked at me with mild surprise and a little disdain.  Another one?

I will admit that I’d grown weary of being a dog owner.  No one prepared me for this.  I thoughts babies and dogs were soulmates (mine were not) and I wasn’t warned about how I’d feel about my dog after having a bunch of tiny humans to care for.

When my sister-in-law, Amanda, got pregnant, I confessed that I was struggling with balancing the kids and Django.  I warned her she might feel that way about her dog, Sadie.

“I’ve always had dogs,” she said.  “We’re dog people and we’ll always have dogs.”

But when her twins turned two, she had arrived to a similar place.  I felt a sense of relief in the camaraderie.  Maybe I wasn’t just a jerk dog owner and flunky mom.

“I’m not a good dog mom anymore,” Amanda said.  She just didn’t have time for all the things she used to do with Sadie.  Yes, Sadie was still loved and had food and vet care, but, like Django, she didn’t have the life she used to.

That’s exactly it.  I knew I wasn’t a great dog owner anymore.  I didn’t have much more to give after my kids went to sleep.  I was touched out.  I wanted time for myself, rather than time caring for the needs of another living thing.

Django is 10 now.  Over the past few years, when we talked about international teaching jobs, Django had been a factor holding us back.    

Last fall, when we started really looking at jobs, David again asked me about Django.

“We’ll find him a new home,” I said.  “It happens.  Sometimes you have to find your dog a new place to live.”

He was too old for 15 hours in the belly of a plane.  Add in apartment life and we really couldn’t take him.  It’s hard to confess this, but I felt relief that we wouldn’t be dog owners anymore.  I can say all of those reasons, but this just feels like the right thing for us and him.  I need a break from the mournful braying in my mental backyard.

I took pictures of Django and posted them on social media, asking if anyone wanted to adopt a very smart, very calm dog.  Within the hour, I got a call from Amanda in Minnesota.  Sadie had died the year before, and as she heard we were moving and not going to take Django, she’d talked with her husband and agreed that they would take him.   

But this is the dream I’m having about the donkey.  I am so worried about Django.  I’m exhausted by caring for him, but it weighs on me.  He’s my responsibility.  I’m looking forward to not being a dog owner, not because I don’t love my dog, but because it’s hard to look my crappy dog parenting in the face every day.  I’m ready to release that guilt.

And yet, my third child who is still just a toddler loved Django (Dado was one of his first words) and he hollers “Dog!” with joy when people walk their dogs in front of our house.  Hello again, guilt.

Another layer of worry is that my sister-in-law has a cat and Django is terrified of cats.  Back in New York, a little bodega cat on W. 106th street named Dinghy used to pop out of milk crates on the sidewalk and charge Django, spitting and hissing.  I’m worried about Django living in fear of the very sweet cat.  The donkey of guilt is braying in the backyard.

I forgot to take Amanda Django’s records when we dropped him off with her on Easter weekend.  I got out a big manila envelope and went through all the paperwork I had in a filebox.  The things on top were the most recent.  Shot records, a teeth cleaning.  Behind the Tennessee records were the ones from Manhattan, and Brooklyn before that.  At the very bottom of the stack I found Django’s original adoption papers.  I sat on the floor of the dining room and cried.

It’s June now, and I get regular texts from Amanda with photos of Django.  My nieces dress him up in bows and draw his portrait in chalk on the sidewalk.  He’s slipped out of their backyard a few times (he loves a jaunt about the neighborhood) but the neighbors found him and brought him back.  Django is even warming to the cat.

I don’t know what the resolution is.  Am I a bad person for adopting a dog and then having three kids and moving away?  Or, have I given my two nieces fun memories with a sweet dog?  Does Django even remember me or understand distance or time or guilt?  Maybe this one doesn’t resolve, it just ends, but at least the dog doesn’t die.



 David is doing Portuguese Duolingo on his phone.  A word that keeps popping up is amargo.  Bitter.  He can never remember if amargo is sour or bitter.

Amargo is bitter,” I said.  “There’s another word that means sour.  It’s something kind of like that ama…ami…something.”

I looked it up: agrioAgrio is sour, but oddly, the word for bittersweet in Portuguese is agridoce, a contraction of sour and sweet, rather than bitter and sweet.  It’s the same in Spanish–agridulce.

Bittersweet is my predominant emotion right now.  Everything I do thrills me, but there’s a hum of melancholy underneath it.  For example, I feel giddy with accomplishment when I lug an trunk up 3 flights of stairs to a colleague’s office.  I drop off the trunk and walk back across campus with $20 in my pocket and a sinking sense of loss in my stomach.

I bought that trunk at the Target in Brooklyn shortly after I moved into my studio apartment in Park Slope.  The apartment was tiny, but it was my first apartment all to myself.  Rent alone ate up one of my two paychecks each month, and left me very little to work with when two thirds of my other paycheck went to my student loans from NYU.  Still, I loved my tiny apartment with a brick wall on one side.  It was so compact that I could sit on my couch and put my feet up on my bed. 

When I moved in, I didn’t have a coffee table.  Unlike Manhattan, Brooklyn had a Target, which felt like a good enough justification of my choice to move there.  The day after I moved in, I rode the subway to the Target on Atlantic Avenue and bought the dark-brown woven sweetgrass trunk.  I put a tray on top, and I stored my extra sheets inside it.

I was happy with my purchase, but everything in New York City exacts a price, so I had to carry the trunk home on the subway, sweating and huffing.  Stuffed inside it was a new quilt for my bed and other Target impulse knick-knacks.  By the time I got to my 4th floor apartment and set the trunk in front of my couch, I was swearing and my hands were blistered.

A few weeks later, I got a puppy.  It was the summer after my first year of teaching and I had two months of summer break ahead of me.  I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I’d always wanted a dog.  I rode the Long Island Rail Road out to the North Shore Animal League.  None of the grown dogs seemed like a good fit, and the puppies had almost all been claimed.  I wandered into the sick room for recovering puppies and found a little black and white guy rolling around happily in his cage.  I was told he was recovering from a dizzying list of ailments: upper respiratory infection, vomiting, diarrhea, a heart murmur, and anorexia.  I signed the papers, waited for them to call my reference, and the adoption was approved.  Papers signed, I asked the vet tech about how to get the 10 pound border collie mix home to Brooklyn.  “Most people drive here,” the woman said.  I had taken the train.  When I told her this, she offered me the boxes that they send cats home in, and I loaded my puppy in.

During the train-ride through Long Island, I decided to name him Django, after Django Reinhardt, the 1930s jazz guitarist who escaped the Nazis and lost a bunch of fingers.  Despite this, he was still the best guitarist of his age.  I transferred from the LIRR to the subway, and rode to my stop in Park Slope.  When I stepped onto the platform, I tripped on my own feet, and the box went tumbling out of my arms.  It landed with a thud on the concrete.  “Oh god!” I screamed.  I scooped the box up, ran up the stairs and down the 5 blocks to my apartment.  I raced up to the fourth floor and set the box down and opened it.  Django emerged, dragging his back legs behind him. “I broke his legs!” I screamed.  Then he yawned and stood up, on all his legs.  He had just been stretching in that bendy puppy way.  His fall onto the subway platform left no lasting effects.

In that first week, Django chewed on the corner of the sweetgrass trunk from Target, and I practiced my firm, dog-mother “No!”  It worked, and he didn’t chew it anymore.  After he’d overcome his anorexia and finished his meds, he started running crazed circles around the coffee table in a fit of puppy glee.

In 2011, we left New York carrying with us our bed, the trunk, and tons of books.  I was five months pregnant with our first baby, and we bought a bungalow with a fenced backyard.  Django ran in the backyard and the trunk served a variety of purposes over the past seven years, from holding blankets and rarely used winter sweaters, to the Halloween costumes of our first child, our second, and our third.  This spring, as we began shedding belongings for this move, I opened the trunk and gave away the old Halloween costumes and the sweaters–definitely superfluous in Brazil.  Now empty, I carried the trunk out to my car, and emailed the faculty advertising a $20 trunk.

The next day at school, as I set the trunk in my colleague’s office, I felt a pang. I almost told her I’d changed my mind–I couldn’t sell it.  My ten year old dog had chewed that corner as a puppy, then run hyper laps around it.  6 months after I adopted Django, my boyfriend and I kicked our feet up onto it on our magical fourth date.  (Reader, I married him.)  What will I do without that trunk?

It’s taken six months to understand, but I’ve learned that what matters is the memories, not the trunk.  I’m not giving away the memories.  I’ll always have those.  Isn’t it good I had that trunk when I did?  That it served me so well?

Thank you, trunk.

Goodbye, trunk.

Teaching, Travel, Writing

Almost Alumnae Speech

Today was the “Almost Alumnae Luncheon” at my school.  Graduating seniors and mothers/special friends are invited to a lunch each year.  There’s a student speaker, a faculty speaker, and a mother/alumna speaker.  I was asked to be the faculty speaker.  It was such an honor, and I want to share the text of my speech below.

(A quick note before my speech.  Amy Grant is an alum of Harpeth Hall and she graciously performed three songs and played her acoustic guitar after the speeches.  It was a moving performance that filled my soul in a way I didn’t realize I needed.  When she came up to sing and started strumming and setting her capo, she said, “Meg, I wish I’d had you as a teacher.”  I died.  I am dead.  Amy. Grant.  You can write that on my tombstone.  “Here lies Meg, Amy Grant gave her a shout out.”)

Here is the text of my speech:

Good afternoon.  I am so honored to have been asked to speak to you today.  In my high school, senior speeches happened at the end of the year, at a time much like this when regular class content was finished, and graduation was still a week or two away.  Seniors met in a large room, and we took turns going up and giving a speech to our class. It was a chance to process, to remember and to say goodbye. Teachers were also allowed to give speeches, and I’ve been waiting, hoping that someday I might get a turn to speak as my teachers did.  And how fitting that I too am in something of a senior year at Harpeth Hall. I’m in a similar position to you, preparing to leave the home I’ve known for seven years. I am poised on the lip of a new adventure, about to speak myself into the world, to utter a new existence for myself, just as you are.  

Perhaps you are feeling a lot of pressure for the next four years.  Someone might have told you that college was the best 4 years of their life.  With no disrespect to the lovely memories of those folks, I’ve always been bothered by that.  My best years will be behind me at 22?

I’m not here to say that college is not wonderful, magical, special.  It can be. Certainly, it’s the first time you will take off into the world alone.  But it is not the only time this will ever happen, it is just the first time.  It is the beginning of beginnings, one of many fresh starts that you will be granted during your tenure on this earth.  My adventure teaching in Brazil next year should serve as a tangible reminder of that. And as a person lucky enough to have had more than one new beginning, I have a few words of advice to share–as much a reminder to myself as lessons for you.  

First, embrace impatience.  Anyone can tell you to be patient, serene and calm.  But I want you to be impatient.  Chill is overrated.  You’re excited for this new chapter to start.  You want the rest of your life to start now!

Good, I say.  Be hungry. Want it.  Then, use that impatience as fuel to learn, to grow, to move somewhere new.  

In 2011, I’d been living in New York City for 6 years going to grad school and then teaching.  But I was impatient to leave. A teaching job in the upper school at Harpeth Hall popped up in the listings. I was hungry for a new beginning.  

After embracing impatience, my second piece of advice is to be foolhardy.  Not foolish, mind you, but foolhardy.  To be foolhardy is to be bold, and recklessly so.  Chase those goals with confidence. Sit at the table, even when you don’t know anyone; knock on the big door; raise your hand in a crowded room; bite off more than you can chew.

Who was I to apply to Harpeth Hall?  I didn’t know anyone, I lived in another state, I was only in my 4th year of teaching.   I had a million reasons not to apply. But I wanted to teach at a place like this. So I was impatient and dashed in with a foolhardy confidence.  

Then, I showed up.  Show up–that’s my next piece of advice.   Showing up is more than going to class. Showing up in your own life can be incredibly hard.  It feels easier to run, to hide.  To cancel or to sit out. It’s easier to come up with an excuse, to find a distraction.  Showing up for yourself is harder than it seems.

We spend too much time waiting for perfect conditions.  I’ll write that book when I have the time or the perfect idea.  I’ll apply for that job when my resume has exactly the right things on it.  When I have the courage to move to another country, I’ll do it.

My secret is that I’m not brave, or honestly even ready.  But, being impatient and bold and showing up is what brought me here.  After a phone interview with Ms. Powers for the upper school English job, they flew me to Nashville to interview and teach a lesson.  I still thought my chances were slim. Who was I? Some public school teacher from New York with a theater degree. But I showed up. And I poured all of me into it.  

After 2 agonizing weeks of waiting, the call came in that I got the job.   

So, you’re going to let yourself be impatient and foolhardy, you’ll show up even when you aren’t ready, even if you’re scared.  Then I want you to listen. Pay attention. So, cliche, right? A teacher telling you to pay attention! Let me tell you something about adults.  The path to getting where we are now may seem so inevitable when you see us up here. But in the beginning and the middle of the story that leads to this moment, the ending was anything but certain.  The path doesn’t go in a straight line. You’ve got to pay attention to the signs along the way.  

Some of you may know this about me, but I was a STEM kid.  In addition to theater and the humanities, I took advanced math, and I even doubled up in higher level chem and bio in senior year.  And in high school I needed an answer when people asked what I wanted to be. I was good at bio and chem and I didn’t really love physics, I liked working with kids, so… pediatrician.  I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re good at STEM and like working with people, right?

So, I went to college hungry and impatient.  In freshman year, I showed up and volunteered at the children’s hospital, and worked in a research lab. I took all the math and science classes, and I got straight A’s.  

Then, near the end of freshman year, I was sitting in my chemistry class, looking to the world like the ideal student.  But in my head, I couldn’t make myself care about it anymore. I was miserable. I was so unhappy. I had been steaming forward with such vigor toward med school, doing everything I was supposed to do.  And yet, when I paid attention, the signs around me were so clear. I paid attention to the truth, deep down, that this path wasn’t right for me anymore. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it.

So, what now?  What was my life going to be?  I felt a deep sense of despair, something akin to a major break-up.  Despite the despair, I dropped my biology major and pre-med focus. Theater was the other thing I loved doing, so I turned my impatient energy toward a career on the stage.  I went abroad during my junior year to London, and I studied Shakespeare and classical acting all day. From 9 am to 6 pm, I immersed myself in theater.

And then, second semester…you may have a sense of where this is going…I was miserable.  In March, when the cast list was posted for the play, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care what part I got.  I’d never felt that way before. But I listened to that feeling.

I came home that summer and regrouped.  I got an education internship at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.  That summer, teaching kids about Shakespeare, I felt a happiness and fulfillment that–finally–lasted.  

It may sound totally obvious now, seeing me standing here, that I was destined to be a teacher.  But as a 21-year-old, I had no idea. Even though I realized education was a good fit, it would take a year of graduate school for me to realize that teaching English was where I belonged.  

So I want you to pay attention.  Forgive yourself if the career or field you picked perhaps as far back as elementary school doesn’t end up being the one you land on.  It’s not bad to admit you don’t love it like you thought you would. It’s not quitting to follow where you are most happy. And you don’t have to do something just because you are good at it.  

My husband, David, likes to quote a math teacher who says, “Find what you love.  Do more of that.”

You might find that the thing you love was not the thing you were known for being good at at Harpeth Hall.  College is a new beginning so that you can start anew.  You are not a fixed person.   And you will not always be the person your parents and classmates thought you were while you were here.  When I won the English award in high school, my mom said after the assembly, “I thought you weren’t good at English.”  Going to college and then into the world let me see myself beyond the lens of my parents and high school peers. It’s good to get out and see yourself more clearly.  

So, pay attention.  Find what you love. Do more of that.  Listen to mentors and professors when they compliment and encourage you.  Try to silence the voices that tell you that you aren’t “that” kid. The kid who’s good at [blank].  Trust that you don’t know yet exactly what kind of person you are. Trust that you are still forming.  I’m 35 and I have three kids and I still see so much change happening in my life. I’m still forming. I hope it is ever thus.  

Be impatient.  Be foolhardy. Show up.  Pay attention. Find what you love, do more of that.  

It’s what brought me to be standing on this stage, after the seven most formative years of my teaching.  Like you, Harpeth Hall has been an incredible education for me. I have learned things here that I never imagined.  I have accomplished things I couldn’t have done had it not been for this place and the people in it. And now I will take those gifts that this beauty on the hill gave me, and I will, as poet Thomas Lux says:

boil and boil, render
  it down and distill,
  that for which there is no
  other use at all, boil it down, down,
  then stir it with rosewater, that
  which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
  which you smear on your lips

And go forth
  to plant as many kisses upon the world
  as the world can bear!


Thank you.



For our upcoming move to Brazil in July, we are only taking 15 suitcases.  No furniture, no shipments.  For all five of us, just clothes, books, toys and kitchen items that will fit in suitcases on the plane.  Since November, we’ve been selling, donating, and giving our stuff away, preparing to eventually shed 95% of the contents of our house. 

As each weekend approaches, I start to peer into cabinets and closets. I find an excuse to go survey the basement crawl space. I’m making mental lists: the mitre saw, the Halloween decorations. The old coolers, the potty training toilet, the roasting pan and the ice cream maker. On Saturday morning, my hands are positively itching, and when the baby goes down for his nap, I throw on sneakers and head down into the crawl space.

Like a classic southern crawl space, it doesn’t literally require me to crawl, but it has unfinished dirt walls, exposed beams and a dirt floor. It has some patches of concrete poured onto the ground, but it’s basically a dirt room under my house. The walls show the red Tennessee clay that holds up our 1935 bungalow. I can see where tree roots were severed to dig the foundation, probably done by hand by someone grateful for job digging foundation holes after the Depression. And like a slowly-decomposing work of art, the dirt walls continuously shed a dermis of dust and dirt onto everything down there. The longer something has been sitting in the crawl space, the thicker the layer of red dust.

The dust is a way to date oblivion.

It’s creepy down there. The stairs are rattly and there are strange cricket-spider creatures. I inevitably track dirty footprints around the house when I emerge. But I also love it. That crawl space is living. It’s walls are slowly crumbling, dust to dust. It is the pull of entropy on my house, a measure of the passage of time. I don’t have the energy or desire to go down there and sweep up the dirt that mounds at the base of the earthen walls, but I could. I could fight the decomposition, or at least tidy it up. It would always win, though. And it’s just a room for storage. No one sees it but us. So we feel free to hide things in it, usually things we want to pretend don’t exist. It’s a room of decisions deferred. There’s the antique wood rocking chair that I rocked my firstborn in. I broke the caning on the back of the chair within the first few months. Perhaps I was rocking too vigorously, jamming my shoulder blades back too hard in my first-time-mom agony and exhaustion. Either way, the back split and so it went into the basement.

There’s the cable box we never connected and the landline phone for the line we canceled. The only people who called it were my dad and telemarketers. My fins and snorkeling mask are down there along with my scuba certification. Two camera tripods, even though I no longer own a camera. There’s a gourd that’s been painted to look like Santa. Baking dishes from dead grandmothers’ kitchens. Empty file folders. Ice skates and roller blades. This whole basement ages me. I don’t roller blade or scuba dive anymore. Honestly, my children might want those items before I ever get a chance to use them again.

It could be called the Kingdom of Might down there. I might need that landline again. I might want to rollerblade again some day. I might find someone who can re-cane that rocking chair.

No. No I won’t. I know that for sure now. It’s amazing to clear away all that might clutter. Now I focus on can. I can finish my next novel. I can move to South America in July. I can go blow bubbles outside with my kids instead of reorganizing all the crap I’m storing in the crawl space. And now that I’ve given away the rollerblades and the mitre saw and the empty folders, I am no longer burdened with the weight of all the things I might be doing, all the things clamoring for my attention.

I know now what deserves my attention. My family. My teaching. Travel. My writing. I don’t need a mitre saw or a snorkel. Those are not the things I wish I was doing. I want to be writing. Or reading a new book, or playing Memory with my kids.

And I can.

Teaching, Travel

In the bowels of bureaucracy

In the past 6 months, we have gotten: new passports, new drivers licenses, TSA precheck, Global Entry, FBI background checks, and Brazilian visas.

Applying for our Brazilian work visas was by far the hardest part.  We had to go through a process called apostille, which is basically an internationally recognized certification of documents that is recognized by other countries.  You have to get a document notarized by a notary, then certified by the county clerk, then apostilled by the secretary of the state you live in (not the national Secretary of State).  That’s three confusing government buildings and their correspondingly obscure parking lots.

But we did it!  After we had all of these documents apostilled, we mailed them to Brazil and eventually our visas were approved.  Then more paper work (and FBI background checks), and we sent all of that to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta.  It’s a little scary to put your passports and your kids’ birth certificates into a mailbox.  But they got there, our visas were affixed, and they got back to us safely.

Everyone loves to have an opinion about bureaucracy, but I have a few thoughts of my own, now that I’ve spent some time navigating multiple levels within two national governments.

The Tennessee county clerk and secretary of state offices were clean, well run and easy to navigate.  People were kind and moved with efficiency.  I kept asking about where to go for an apostille like I didn’t quite believe it was a real thing (it is) and every time they knew exactly what I needed and how to give it to me.  It was also cheap, costing only 80 bucks to get 10 documents done.

The harder thing to apostille was our NYU and Columbia transcripts.  We have to submit those for our work visas because we are applying for a work visa as someone “highly qualified.”  We aren’t in NY state anymore, so we paid a company $150 (each, for David and me) to go get our transcripts and have them apostilled (notary –> county clerk –> secretary of state) and then mailed to us in Tennessee.

Oh, and once our visas were approved, and we mailed our passports to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta, we had to include $1,450 in money orders .  Yes, $290 each for our visas.

I told a co-worker in a professional development session on mindfulness that we are becoming immigrants to another country.  That’s how Brazil sees us, and it’s correct.  But it’s a strange thing to think about as someone with an American passport, and may strike some as surprising.  She asked me how it felt to be an immigrant to another country.  That’s an interesting question.

First, it’s made me feel even more compassion for immigrants to the US.  We have a company guiding us through this and doing some of it on our behalf and it is still hard.  And I have 2 degrees, a solid income, and a support system.  The school in Brazil is reimbursing us for all visa-related expenses.  This is so hard in the best of circumstances.  And not the kind of thing you enter into lightly.

Second, I feel so lucky that I happened to be born in Ohio and was able to have the opportunities that led another country to consider me “highly qualified.”  It was the luck of the draw that I was well educated and was able to get 2 degrees from great universities and 11 years of teaching experience.  If I’d been born elsewhere, it’s likely that as a woman I would not have been educated or offered those same opportunities.  I’m very, very lucky.

And yet here I am leaving it.  That’s not lost on me.  I’m a very privileged immigrant with a passport to a country that exists and that I can return to and making a living in.  I’m not destitute or desperate.  I think about the images of bombed out buildings and people fleeing Syria.  They don’t have the luxury of smooth bureaucracy and duplicate copies of all their vital documents.

I feel fortunate to have bureaucracy.  Yes, the DMV took an hour and a half, but I got a license.  I have ID.  I can show someone who I am.  How many millions of refugees don’t have any records like that?  How many people live without documents?  Maybe these documents are lovely and this bureaucracy is a sign of privilege.  If so, I’ll take my labyrinthine hallways and always-full parking lots, if I get what I need at the end.

Teaching, Travel


The Griswolds have big news!  In July 2018, we are making a big international move.  Below is something I’ve written and shared with my students and colleagues at my current school.  NB: All of the seniors at my school give a speech during their senior year.  I’ve been here seven years, so I’ve heard roughly 700 speeches.  I decided that as I am moving on to my next chapter, it was fitting to write my own “senior” speech.

This semester I’ve been teaching my students about the Hero’s Journey.  Developed by Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey is a way to describe the pattern of stories throughout different cultures and eras.  Even across oceans and millennia, there is a pattern to the stories that we humans tell, and Joseph Campbell studied it and described its features.

The first stage is the hero in their normal world.  The status quo.  But something happens: an inciting incident occurs, and the hero receives the call to adventure.  It’s the moment that turns a regular day into an extraordinary one, one that kicks off a journey that takes the hero far from home.  

How fitting that just as I’m teaching this story structure, I write to share with you that the Griswolds are heeding the call to adventure.  In July we will be moving as a family to São Paulo, Brazil to teach at The Graded School, an American International School.  

Many of you know that I grew up overseas with my family.  When I was 10 we moved from Cincinnati to Mexico City, and at the end of 6th grade, we moved to Caracas,Venezuela, where I lived until I graduated from high school.  I attended an international school in Caracas where 27 languages were spoken.  I became fluent in Spanish and conversational in Portuguese.  And I always thought that some day my life would lead me back to an international life.  

Now that our oldest, Calvin, has started Kindergarten, we started thinking about the educational experience we want for him.  We also started to think about the next adventure and challenge for us as educators.  Now that our family is complete, the time feels right to set off.  

But none of this would be possible if it hadn’t been for Harpeth Hall.  When we moved here in 2011 from New York, I thought seriously about leaving the profession.  I was coming from 4 challenging years of teaching in New York City public and charter schools.  I was approaching burn-out.  Borders Bookstore had just declared bankruptcy and I thought, “Well, there went my back up plan!”  

I was so lucky to get hired to teach at this amazing institution.  Far from burning out, I reached new heights as an educator because of Harpeth Hall.  Collaborating and learning with my amazing English department colleagues was a transformative experience.  Their experience and expertise, their commitment to the students, their reflection and openness on their own teaching: these things inspired and uplifted me.  I became the educator I was always meant to be because of Harpeth Hall.  I learned not just from my department, but from all of the faculty and staff.  I learned about what a team of people can do when they are all united to work for a common goal.  From our administration I learned about grace, about strength, about humanity.  And all of these lessons have been formative.

Perhaps most importantly, I learned from teaching amazing students.  The students at Harpeth Hall let me be creative, let me challenge myself, let me learn more than I thought possible about teaching and learning.  Over my seven years at Harpeth Hall, my students’ dedication, effort, and creativity have made this such an amazing place to work.  I will always carry with me the earnest desire to learn and grow that they brought to school each day.

Moving to Brazil and teaching at an international school would not have been possible had we not spent these 7 years at Harpeth Hall.  When we were told that we were attractive candidates, I knew that Harpeth Hall was to thank.  

So, I feel that I am now writing my own senior speech.  I imagine that I am looking out at a theater of my chosen family.  I feel gratitude for each and every one of you.  For how you’ve pushed me, supported me, questioned me, cheered me on.  Our departure, our call to adventure, is not an unhappy ending, but the beginning of an exciting new chapter.  It is bittersweet for us, to know that we will be leaving a fantastic place filled with wonderful people.  But it also feels right.  

We will take each of you with us when we go.  Your ears will burn next year with tropical heat because we will be singing your praises and carrying your lessons with us.  We hope that we can keep our connection to Harpeth Hall alive, and see this new chapter for us as a new chapter for you as well.  A new partnership with the southern hemisphere.  Come on, I’m sure Harpeth Hall will spring for plane tickets to Brazil so that you can come check out what we’re doing!!

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.  

With Love,

Meg Griswold, Class of 2018

Teaching, Travel, Writing

New Site!

As I begin to query for Improbable Girl, I decided it was time to make an author site.  I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, which is mostly true.  My built in IT department, also known as my husband, is busy writing math textbooks and has pushed me out of the nest to muddle through myself.

I just imported my old Writer, Reader, Teacher, Spy blog posts and a few of them have some issues with pictures.  I’ll try to get those fixed over the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by.  These blog posts will showcase the many hats I wear, so it will be a mixed bag.  I hope you enjoy!