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Sunday, April 23, 2017

I'm not trying not to be supportive

I am a natural-born skeptic.
The older I get, the more skeptical I become.
Whether you believe humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years or three thousand years, I suspect that if there was a simple answer to things, we would have already figured them out.

As Trump has discovered about health care and North Korea/China---it's all complicated.

Ultimately, I think people have to do what is right for them regardless of what I think.

But sometimes I find it difficult to support them in the things they do because I inherently disagree.

Like diets.

I do not "diet."

The word connotes a temporary, strict way of eating that in many cases cannot (and possibly should not) be applied to one's entire life.

I don't care what the "diet" is, but I am always suspect of diets that eliminate certain types of food unless there is a diagnosed medical condition under the guidance of a physician that makes such elimination necessary.

A diet that cuts out whole grains is suspect.
A diet that cuts out nuts is suspect.
A diet that cuts out legumes is suspect.
A diet that cuts out potatoes and carrots is suspect.
A diet that urges you to eat loads of one particular food group is suspect. The all-kale diet is a bad idea, even if kale is a superfood.

Diets often make us feel that foods are either good or bad, and mixing emotions and judgment with food choices is often a very dicey mix.

I am also not a proponent of out-and-out denial because that backfires, and I know this from experience.

When I was pregnant with N and developed gestational diabetes, I was put on a strict diet and I followed it to the letter.  I weighed my food. I did not eat anything with sugar, including cake at my own freakin' baby shower.  I walked 45 minutes every night on the treadmill from week 28-41.

Between my 28th week of pregnancy and my 41st, I lost 7 pounds of the 18 I had gained.  I should have been allowed to gain 20-25 lbs, but I only had 11 extra pounds of weight on me when I delivered.  N weighed 7.5.

My strict adherence to their "DO NOT EAT SUGAR" dictate resulted in me gorging on sweets for a very long time after delivery.  I stuffed so much sugar into my mouth it was ridiculous, and I don't see how that was healthy.

So what I learned from this experience is that for me, being an obsessive person, following a diet that restricts my food choices is a bad idea.  I really need to strive for a balance. Eat as much fruit, vegetables, healthful meat, whole grains, legumes and nuts as possible but don't freak out if I want a handful of chips.

I had a very poor experience with a "diet" and so it makes it difficult (if not impossible) for me to get on-board with friends and family who adopt "diets," especially if those diets are super strict or restrict certain food groups.

I support my friends and family in their efforts to be healthy, to reduce eating out, to exercise more, to eat as much whole foods as possible and cut back on processed foods.

But if your diet begins to rule your life or make you a little bonkers about food, then it probably isn't sustainable to your life and your mental health.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Adventures in subbing

I have been re-employed by the district for a year now as a substitute teacher.

What began as deep-set fear walking into a new school has become a more comfortable "I can probably handle today" feeling.

What began as a "how in the heck am I going to find jobs?" feeling is now a pretty consistent buzz of my phone with people asking me to sub.

I often hear remarks from teachers that I am a very good sub, which a part of me finds perplexing until I see other subs.

I have worked with subs who really should be retired or possibly in their graves (stroke victims who walk with canes and/or walkers and are basically seen as the lame impala to the hungry lions of middle school).  I have worked with subs who are young enough to be my child, who have never taught, who are ignored by the kids and who cry, which is like being the lame impala to the hungry lions of middle school.

Subbing has reminded me that middle schoolers are some of the biggest jerks on the planet. They are also some of the neediest, most fragile human beings on the planet.

Subbing has reminded me that middle school kids often take a day to warm up to you.  The first day subbing may be a bloodbath, but if they see you again on day two, they are suddenly more respectful.  Unfortunately, sometimes day one is so bad subs don't return for day two.

Subbing has reminded me that kids want you to engage with them, and if you do, they are more willing to offer up that respect on day two. That doesn't mean they are going to do exactly what you want on day two, but you will see more respect out of them.  As long as you engage.

And by engaging, I don't mean complimenting their clothes or hair.  I have seen subs do this, and I don't understand it.  I suspect it is an attempt to develop camaraderie with the kids, but I have only witnessed it fail miserably.  Kids can smell b.s. in adults from a mile out.

I am a big proponent of getting the lay of the land because nothing is going to get you attitude more than yelling at kids...as their regular teachers might...when you have been in the building all of 15 minutes.  I can't blame the kids. If someone walked into my house and started yelling at me about how to write my freelancing article, I'd get up in their face, too.

I have found that quiet and close gets me a lot further.
But not freakishly close.
Middle schoolers don't like that either.

I strive to be helpful in the classroom if I am in as a resource teacher, and that doesn't mean holding up the wall.  If a teacher begins to pass out papers, I go up and grab some to assist.  I walk around the classroom, peeking over shoulders, asking "Do you need help?"  If someone is losing focus, I quietly try to refocus them.  I do not do this because I want teachers to tell me what a great sub I am.  I do this because I could not sit there or stand there and do nothing the entire day.

If I have a classroom unto myself, I always introduce myself and apologize in advance for mispronouncing the students' names....noting that I understand getting a name mispronounced because of my own 3-syllable last name.  Students are often amazed that I get their names correct.  I don't know if this is a result of having taught before or being a linguistic phenom.

I then lay out the expectations and assignment, making note that I understand that having a sub in the room is not normal and generally sucks.  I get it.  They are usually given busy-work, and I hate busy-work myself so I can totally sympathize.

If I am in an elementary class, and sometimes middle if I have been with the students before, I try to work in my favorite game, Stump the Chumps, which is me asking them questions about what we read or discussed.  Listening to Car Talk frequently has been good for something.

I never, ever sit down when I sub, unless I'm in a resource capacity working with individual students.   I probably get 10,000 steps because I am on my feet the entire time, walking around, checking how they are, not giving them much of an opportunity to do anything ridiculous.

When I taught full-time, I really felt like I built a special rapport with my kids, and subbing has reminded me that I still "got it."

I mean, when I walk back into places I've subbed and middle schoolers I don't really know hug me.
That is some serious props.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Another stage of the grieving

Last weekend we went to see Papaw's house again, for what will probably be the very last time.  My MIL and niece met us there.

It is all cleaned out and has a contract on it.

M took his "Papaw pillow."  If Papaw is with us in spirit, he goes considerably more places than he had been in the past 5 years.

My sensitive G boy....well, I think this picture pretty much summed up what it was like for him until after he'd had a good cry.


The kids needed it, and I think D probably needed it.  That is the longest residence he has ever known.  For his entire life, a grandparent lived in that house.

The kids sat in Papaw's truck for the first time ever.  G was still upset, and I was very proud of N for helping to comfort him.

We snapped some photos of the kids with the Papaw pillow---
and by this time, G had perked up a bit.

I really love this photo.

The kids on Papaw's front steps.


The kids on the inside steps.


The kids "skating" around in the upstairs bedroom.

Mamaw and her four grandkids on the screened in porch. 


We miss you Papaw.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

A concert, an urge to write, sexuality, racism and raising children

I do not write every day.  Perhaps I should.
I write the way I attend church--when the spirit moves me.
If I don't feel the need or urge to go, I don't go.
If I don't feel the compelling urge to write, I don't write.
I have begun and deleted many, many, many things because I wasn't really feeling it, but I did it anyway, and it sucked.
I have gone to church many, many times when I didn't really want to be there, and that sucked, too.

Last weekend, N and I attended a Panic at the Disco concert (which was completely great, by the way). I really enjoy this part of her growing up--the fact that we can share music together and get in mom/daughter time.

On the way to the stadium, N and I walked past the law office of a gay couple I know.  Their son is in 3rd grade with G and has been in the same class before.  I also happen to have gone to college with one of the dads.

During the concert, one of the songs Panic performed was "Girls/Girls/Boys." I had never heard it before, and given my old lady ears, I didn't really understand what he was singing.  But the crowd broke out their phones with colored discs in front of them, and gay pride flags were unleashed.

And then on the drive home from music class last night, of all places, I guess everything congealed in my head, and I remembered a time when I felt attracted to another woman.

I'm not writing this because I think it is a big monumental deal on the order of making me question my sexuality.  It is not.
I didn't act on the attraction, and I don't know if it was shared.  But I felt it while married to D.
(I should add that I felt...and feel...attraction to plenty of other guys while married to D and didn't/don't act on those either.)

I'm not sure if sexuality is a continuum or categories or something far more complicated than we can ever imagine, but I think it is probably like most everything else--from religion to feelings about pizza.  People are all over the freaking map, and there is no one right answer for everyone.

Even if you like pepperoni and pineapple, not everyone else does.  What you find distasteful on pizza, someone else finds scrumptious.  Even if you predominantly like your pizza with pineapple and pepperoni, there may be an occasion when you really feel the hunger for a vegetarian pizza.  Whether you actually decide to order that pizza, I guess, depends on how strongly the feeling hits you.

Attraction to others is as unconscious and uncontrollable as hunger.  Sometimes from out of nowhere, I really feel like having tuna and tomato soup for lunch.  I don't intend to want it.  It isn't a conscious "decision" but that is what I really want to eat for lunch.  And I can eat something else that isn't tuna and tomato soup, but I still feel the desire to eat that combination of food.  The peanut butter sandwich might satisfy the physiological hunger pang, but it doesn't satisfy the desire.  And I could try to eat peanut butter all the time, but that desire for tuna/tomato soup keeps coming back so that eventually I eat it and it satisfies me.

I read an article recently about how racism hurts white people, a concept that doesn't get a whole lot of attention.  The basic premise is that racism keeps white people from developing contacts, relationships and experiences that might be wholly beneficial to them.  This really stuck with me because I was, more or less, forbidden to date black boys.

I don't know that I ever actually broached the topic, but the general premise at the time was that dating someone vastly different from me--skin tone and culturally--would be difficult because of other people's racism.  (Of course, not ever actually going to school with a black person until I was 14, living in an all-white neighborhood, and going to an all-female high school made my chances of actually dating a black boy pretty slim.)

Anyway, my impression was that the best thing to do was date a white, Catholic boy.  Which I mostly did.
And then I married a white man who is an atheist.
But I sometimes feel attraction to men who are black, like the boys' bus driver, who is a very fine-looking black man with great teeth as well as super friendly.
Just like that time I felt attraction to a woman.

I guess the whole point of this rambling is that as a parent, I really think it is valuable for my children that I not limit them (and myself) by imposing any kind of dictate of what they should and shouldn't do....beyond killing someone and doing drugs.  Just because I prefer pepperoni and pineapple doesn't mean they do.  I can eat the pizza I like, and they can eat the pizza they like, and ultimately the most important thing is that we sit down together and share a meal.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The not doing that motivates me to do

G began occupational therapy when he was six; he is now nine-and-a-half.

He was reevaluated in December and has made significant improvements over the years, but we are in the midst of another six months to see if we can make headway in some specific areas.  With him, there is often overlap between what is sensory and what is OCD, and it is often difficult to parse out which is which.  He could take OT for the rest of his life, but it really wouldn't make a dent in what is OCD.

He is also unbelievably stubborn.  There are probably many things he can actually achieve but he just doesn't care that much to do them, and so he doesn't work very hard.

There is also the role of simple development---he might make great leaps in OT but that might have more to do with him hitting growth spurts than anything actually accomplished in OT.

Finally, there is the likelihood that some things he will never be at an appropriate age-level.  He scores lowest in terms of balance/coordination, and that has a lot to do with his vestibular system.  I am coordinated but have a shit vestibular system---I get motion sick swinging on a porch swing.  I feel pretty certain that I would fail the vestibular portion of the testing he undergoes in OT.

I'm really very done with OT.  I would have liked to quit a year ago.  Every week for three-and-a-half years is a long time.  Paying $85 a week for three-and-a-half years is a lot of money (let's go low and say $10,000).

I have refused to quit, though, because I have watched other parents quit intervention for their children and pay what I think is a heavy price.

I know of parents who stopped OT because it was inconvenient---which it totally is.
I know of parents who stopped intervention because one parent was on board and the other parent didn't think their kid had a "real" problem.
I know of parents who blamed the school system and moved to other counties for a different school system, and yet the child and her problems remained the same.

Over time, the child's situation usually worsens without intervention. Parents are often very poor judges of whether their kid is "normal" or not.  Some err on the side of "my kid is definitely not normal" (this is where I land) and fail to realize how normal their child actually is.  Some err on the side of "my kid is normal" and fail to realize how abnormal their child actually is.  Parents really want to believe that a lot of things are "just a stage" and will resolve on their own.

G's issues are, in the great realm of things, really mild.  Friends who don't know he does OT are often surprised when I say he does OT and has sensory issues.  He is friendly and well-mannered and plays nicely with their kids and doesn't give off glaringly "odd-ball" behaviors.

There are other families whose children have much more severe issues, who have spent far more time and far more money, in helping their children.  This is not my pity party. Those other families are tired of everything related to OT and intervention that I am tired of.

But it is the situations I've seen in which intervention stopped that have motivated me the most to just suck it up and keep going until the professionals tell me we've reached a good stopping point.

Monday, April 3, 2017

How grief can manifest in the littles

When Papaw died in December, M did not cry.

At Papaw's wake, M refused to look at him in the casket.

During the funeral, when G and N stood at the casket crying, M bopped past and returned to his seat.  He was lost in imaginary play immediately afterward in the lobby, while G went around hugging everyone to help ease his own sorrow.

My mother-in-law used some of Papaw's old flannel shirts to make everyone in the family a Papaw pillow.  I contacted a graphic designer on Etsy to make cotton tags for the pillows using an image I scanned from one of Papaw's many birthday cards where he had signed his usual--"Love you, Papaw."


They turned out really nice.

Mine was made from a shirt I bought Papaw for his 89th birthday.


Ever since M got his Papaw pillow he has been sleeping with it every night, bringing it downstairs every morning when he wakes up, and sitting with it when he's on his Kindle.

M's Papaw pillow



He has also been taking it places with him.  Today he brought it to the clinic for N's well visit and to get our allergy shots.  He took the pillow into Panera where we had lunch.  The pillow went into Meijer and the pet store.

When I said something like, "You are taking your Papaw pillow everywhere, aren't you?" M replied by saying, "I'm never going to see Papaw again."

And it dawned on me that this pillow is helping M grieve in his own way.  For whatever reason....shock, embarrassment, fear....he didn't process Papaw dying in December when it happened, but with the pillow he is.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My other oddities (travel-related) since so many people are posting Spring Break photos


  • I do not post photos of my feet at the pool or beach.  I'm not sure why people do this.  Perhaps  to prove the point that they are really and truly at the pool or beach.   I totally believe that you are where you say you are.  Feet, even the most massaged and pedicured, are weird. Mine happen to be pretty janky, and I don't want to subject anyone to photos of them.
  • We don't go on Spring Break trips.  On fall break, we usually go on little 2- or 3-day trips, but never on Spring Break.  With fall, you have the heat of summer at your back, so it might get warmer than you expect but in October it isn't cold.  And October tends to be a dry month. With Spring Break, you have the cool of winter at your back and almost certainly rain, and I don't really like cold and wet on my vacations.  
  • I like to go to southern beaches when it is HOT.  We went to Gulf Shores in mid-May one year, and it was far too cool for my liking.  We wore windbreakers and jeans a couple days, which is just like being where we live in May. The idea of going to Florida in the first week of April just gives me the shivers.
  • I don't mind going someplace cool if I know that it is supposed to be cool. I expected Iceland to be cool, and when it was, I was totally fine with that.  When I went to Ireland, I expected the Atlantic to be cold, and it was (I was also 19 and far less sensitive to coldness than I am now).  I expected Michigan to be on the cooler side, and it was.  All is well when my expectations meet reality.  
  • With Spring Break, I know we only have a week, and then must get back into the drudgery of routine.  To cram a full-on vacation into those 7 days feels overwhelming.  I like being able to gradually build up to the trip and know that I have time afterwards for the kids and I to just hang without having to launch back into real life.  I might be spoiled by summer flexibility.  
  • I will not wear tennis shoes when sightseeing outside of the country.  Nothing screams, "I am an American" more than white tennis shoes, jeans/shorts and a baseball cap.  D and I will be going out of the country for our 20th anniversary trip, and I have been researching "comfortable travel shoes" since I'm not sure my well-loved Merrells will see me through.  I am a firm believer of "When in Rome," and I also don't like to stick out like a sore thumb.  
  • If we travel outside of the country, I try very hard to learn some common phrases in the language.  I have found that making even the slightest effort to use their language makes people eager to help.  Nothing is more assholish than expecting people in other countries to speak your language just because it is English.  It might be the lingua franca but given how much Americans expect everyone who comes here to speak English, people in other countries expect Americans to make that same effort.  
  • If I travel to a place that has a lighthouse, it is imperative that I visit it. I don't need to go inside it, but I want to see it up close.  I sorta love lighthouses. 
  • I am not satisfied to just to the beach and do nothing but the beach for a week.  There has to be one day in which we go someplace nearby that is of non-beach interest.  When we went to Edisto Island, we drove in to Charleston.  When we went to Virginia Beach, we drove to Chincoteague to see the horses and colonial Williamsburg.  I had thought we might drive down to Savannah, GA when we visit Hilton Head this summer, but I have since decided against it.  D and I had a wonderful time in Savannah before children, and I think the kids would ruin those memories with their "We're tired of walking" bullsh*t.  I think we might take the ferry over to Daufuskie Island, which would satisfy my need to see someplace "extra" without walking around a city.  
  • I'm not a huge fan of art museums unless the museum has something really amazing or is highly associated with the place I'm visiting. For example, D and I visited the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy to see Michelangelo's David.  We would have been complete dummies to be in Florence and not see David.  When I was in London, I visited a lot of museums in part because of their historical significance to the city itself....like the Tate and the Victoria and Albert.  But I won't make a special point of visiting an art museum in all cities because I would rather see other things that are more intrinsic to that place.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Travel philosophies (and other quirky philosophies)

I'm working on an article about bucket lists, and most of the people I've interviewed for it have traveled. A LOT.

The other day, I was able to look through a lady's photo album of her journey to 19 cities in Spain.  That was fun.  What was intended as a 20-minute interview became an hour-long perusal of her photos and a discussion of all-things Basque region. I would have stayed longer, but I had to pick up middle schoolers from school.

I am the type of person who generally does not want to go back to a place I've been (unless it has been 20+ years and I no longer remember much of what I saw or I'm traveling there with someone I didn't travel with initially or there is a major site there that I failed to see the first time I visited.)

For example, I would totally go back to England and Ireland because I first went in 1993.  I have forgotten a great deal, and I would go with D instead of a group of college classmates.  This time, instead of following in the tracks of Thomas Hardy and James Joyce, I would follow in the tracks of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.

And I would return to Charleston, SC because we didn't visit Fort Sumter when we went, and I would like to see that.

The world is vast, and I would find it a little stifling to go back year after year after year to the same places, especially beaches.  I love going to the beach, but I don't want to return to the same slice of beach every summer for 20 years.

I keep hoping that I will visit a place and feel a tremendous pull to return there.  It would certainly be easier for planning purposes, and it would make D happy (he would love to not have to figure out new places all the time).

My breakfast philosophy is a lot like my travel philosophy.  I do not want to eat the same thing for breakfast every day.  Sometimes it is an English muffin with peanut butter.  Some days I have warm Grape Nuts with blueberries and pecans.  Sometimes it is a waffle with peanut butter on top.  D eats the same breakfast every day for a decade.  It takes him 10 full years to get sick of the same breakfast.

On the occasions when I do return to a place I've been, I have to switch things up in some way. Stay in a different condo.  See different things I've haven't seen.

We did go to Gulf Shores twice--once in 2005 when N was 18 months, and once in 2009 when I was pregnant with M.  We stayed in different condos at different ends of the beach and visited different places (when it came to restaurants, though, we did do Lambert's and Lulu's both times).

In college, I did go to NYC 3 times over the course of a 9-month period.  Once in the fall with a guy I was dating to visit his sister in Soho.  Once in the spring for an economics conference with a professor and classmates.  The final time was on a graduation trip with my mom where we saw a couple Broadway shows.  Although I went back to the same general place, I stayed in different hotels, went with different people and didn't see the same things over again.

And we did take the family 3 times to Disney World---when N was 3, when G was 3, and when M was 5.  It will be a cold day in Hades before I go back (although in Dante's hell that wouldn't actually be too long).  On every visit, it was imperative that we not redo every single thing we did the first go round.  Except the People Mover.  My kids thought that was the best ride ever.  Weirdos.

My travel philosophy, "Thou shall not go to the same place repeatedly in most cases" has extended itself to concerts.  I used to see the same performers over and over and eventually determined that the first show was always, always the best.  The shows that followed always left me feeling let down.  So I stopped going.  I'm a "one and done" person when it comes to shows.

Even if I fell into a great vat of money, I cannot ever see myself owning a home in another location and returning there again and again.  Even if it were France.  That is too much responsibility and takes away the aura of "vacation."  Ownership is a lot of work and expense, and I am not interested in either.  When I go away, I want to get away.

One time D asked me if I would ever want to own a boat, and I have basically been laughing on the inside ever since he asked some years ago.  Owning a boat is like owning another vehicle, and I hate owning vehicles.  They break and depreciate and require housing and insurance.  If my city had a light rail system I would be ever so happy.

Another philosophy of mine is to not post pictures of myself while on vacation.  If I am traveling, you will not know about it until I am safely ensconced back on my couch.  (I dislike it when other people tag me in photos during an outside-of-my-home event.  I do not want the world to know what I'm doing as I'm doing it.  Tag me all you want after it is over.)

This is both a privacy and a safety issue.  It doesn't bother me if other people post pictures of themselves while traveling, but I don't do it myself.

Kinda like wearing khakis or doing duck-face sexy photos.  If other people engage in such things, I don't care.  But you will not see me engaging in such things.

This year we are going to a new-to-us beach, Hilton Head.  We loved Michigan last year, and we loved that it didn't take 12 hours to drive there, but the water was really freaking cold.  Our main priority when planning this year's trip was "under 10 hours" and "a beach we haven't seen."

My tentative plan for next year was to go out to Utah with the kids and see Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, but then G asked to visit Atlantis in the Bahamas.  He had seen a commercial or something.  I did look it up, and it is RIDONCULOUSLY expensive to stay there.  Like $15,000 for the 5 of us.

But his interest did inspire me to think of the possibility of doing a 3- or 4-day cruise and visiting Atlantis as a day excursion.  This will take some planning and saving, but I hope that we'll be able to do it in 2018.  It feels luxurious, the idea of doing a cruise, but I really want to encourage G's interest in finding new places.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Our fall break trip I never blogged about (but will now that it is spring break)

In October, we went to Indianapolis for a 2-day visit.  We had never been to Indy, but we'd heard all about the children's museum and decided to visit it and the zoo.

I was just coming off a stomach bug and still not 100%, but we went anyway.  Whenever D wishes to complain about how sick he is, I will remind him of my two favorite mother-as-martyr stories:  how I nursed M as an infant while puking over the side of the rocker (which I then had to clean up) AND how I walked through the Indy Children's Museum drinking copious amounts of Pedialyte for nourishment since I couldn't tolerate food.  All for the love of my children.

The plan was to drive up on a Saturday but just hang at the hotel until Sunday.  The kids always want to swim in the hotel pool so we opted to just let them do that on the first night. They probably would have been totally happy to swim in the hotel pool and not visit the museum or zoo.


I feel like a heel saying I wasn't impressed with the Indy Children's Museum, but it wasn't as spectacular as people make it out to be.  Perhaps they are only comparing it to our local museum?  It was nice, but I wasn't bowled over like maybe I was supposed to have been.  (I might blame this on the stomach bug, but D felt the same.)


The kids had fun, though. We spent maybe 4 hours there.  We could have spent more if the kids would actually read the signs and posters.  It, however, cannot be that educational.









The Indy Zoo was nice, although not as overwhelming as expected. We watched a dolphin show, but probably the highlight was seeing the orangutan exhibit and a program about orangutan intelligence. 



 I think it is nice to include photos of this....
one kid being whiney, not wanting to walk until he gets a treat.




Here is a photo of this other kid 
being whiney, not wanting to walk until he gets a treat.


All-in-all, a nice break from the routine.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Superstar year

In some ways, I feel like this fourth year at the cottage school has been a "superstar" year.  I've hit a nice groove and proven myself.  I haven't heard any parent complaints (which doesn't mean there haven't been any....just that I haven't heard of them).

I planned two field trips in the fall...to see Macbeth performed live with my high schoolers who read the play and to see Shakespeare's First Folio with my middle and high schoolers.  On Friday,  I had a local potter come in and give a demonstration as a tie-in for the middle graders' reading of A Single Shard.

I spoke with my high schoolers on Friday about how I appreciate and want their suggestions, which one student gave last week when I inadvertently gave them a spoiler on their reading of Jane Eyre.  Basically, he asked if I could revise the instructions on their assignments so that students can annotate better and avoid such spoilers.

I'm really glad he said something because I like it when students give me their feedback even when, or particularly when, it is constructively critical.

Ultimately, I want all of my students to both enjoy and learn a lot from my class, and if the class or my assignments are boring or repetitive, then they will get less out of it.  And as much as I like feeling less pressure because I'm in a nice groove and have proven myself, I worry that I could become complacent.

I think my desire to change things up to keep myself from getting bored will prevent that, but there is always that possibility.

Next year, I am very excited to teach The Wednesday Wars to my middle schoolersand I'm already planning how I will have students read one of five Shakespearean plays so that they can do some fun literature circle work with the text in the spring.  I haven't gotten excited about a middle school book like this in a long time.

One of the best things about teaching is finding those extra little things that I can encourage my students to read or watch or listen to that adds to their understanding of the literature.  Last night, I watched To Walk Invisible about the Bronte sisters on PBS, and it was really interesting.  I knew the basic story of the sisters, but it really made a difference to me to see it dramatically acted out.  It put a human face to the myth of the Brontes and helped me understand better what influenced their stories.

These are the books I'll be teaching, with the goal being three classes, although depending on enrollment I may have to merge my high school classes together.  I like being able to add new works while also doing some previous books I've taught.  Even if I've taught them before, I learn something new and see something different each time I teach them.

Middle-- Grades 6-8

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery  (never taught)
Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt  (never taught)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare  (never taught)
Nothing But the Truth by Avi
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

High School-- 9th-10th grade---focus on American Literature

A Separate Peace by John Knowles (never taught)
Long Days Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill  (never taught)
My Antonia by Willa Cather
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

11th-12th grade--focus on European Literature

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen  (never taught)
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka  (had students in prior years do as Independent Study)
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Medea by Euripides

New book discoveries with each child

When N was little, she and I enjoyed the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park.  Yes, Junie was a rascal, but that was the great thing about her.  She was an imagined rascal.

(I never understood why some parents got bent out of shape by Junie...like she was setting a bad example that their children would emulate.  Kids understand far better than parents sometimes that these stories are made up.)



N read some of the Frannie K. Stein books by Jim Benton, but when G got older he dove headfirst into every one of them.  The little boy mad scientist in him fell in love with the little girl mad scientist in her.



G went bananas over the Geronimo Stilton fantasy series and read almost all of those.  Now he is firmly ensconced in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, although I try very, very hard to throw some Newbery Medal winners his way (he doesn't want to read them but loves them once he does).  He picked Because of Winn-Dixie and loved it, so we're getting ready to read another Kate DiCamillo book (The Tiger Rising).





M and I discovered a new-to-me series, Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant.  There is much to love in this series.  I mean, it is about an old man and a cat, which are two of my favorite things.  One of the best things about the series is Mr. Putter's special relationship with his neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry.  There isn't romance, but it is obvious that the books are showcasing the beauty of companionate love.


Parenting is full of "duh" moments, and one of mine concerns my children's different interests in books.

I think when I had children I sorta expected them to all read and like the same books, although I realized that N's interest in princesses would likely not carry over to the boys, who enjoyed books about diggers and other machines.

N didn't have any interest in nonfiction books, while G loves (and loved) nonfiction books (animals, mythology, video games).

She enjoyed the Magic Treehouse books for a time, but G and M haven't gotten into them (although M still might).

N was reading wordy chapter books by the end of first grade, while wordy chapter books are anathema to G and M.  They like things that are more graphic-novelly.

I try not to fret too much on whether the kids will become avid readers.  I wasn't what I would consider an avid reader as a kid.  I liked reading, but I didn't read as I do now.  I didn't have 2-3 books going at one time, as I do now.  I didn't carry a book with me at all times as I do now.

But when I look at this picture of my bedside table and the stack of books waiting to be read or reread, I have to laugh at G's stack, which is next to mine (D or I read with G in our bedroom, and M reads with the other of us in their shared bedroom).  Apparently, I am passing along that shared love of stacks of books.


My stack:  on the left, includes Moby Dick
G's stack:  on the right, includes The Tiger Rising

Monday, March 20, 2017

The slow breaking down

So much of the stuff in our house is going through the slow breaking down.  Various items aren't dead, and in most cases, they aren't even on their last legs....well, maybe they are, and we are just keeping them on life support and don't realize it.  

Our living room television is one such item.  
Once it warms up, it is fine, but the screen looks crazy for about the first 15 minutes.  It has been this way for a number of years, and we haven't replaced it because to borrow a Monty Python line, "it's not dead yet."

My washer and dryer are another two examples.  They are loud, squeaky and annoying, but they still clean and dry ok, so we are listening to the loud, squeaky and annoying sounds. 

The Roman shade in the master bedroom broke so that if we do try to raise it, it is lopsided, so we just don't raise it.  

There is a part of me that would really just love to go out and buy new stuff.  Replace the shade with plantation shutters.  Buy a new washer/dryer combo which really isn't too terribly expensive since  I only wash with cold water, and I only dry on low, so I don't need steaming and turbo-super-active-wash and hyper-sensitive-sensational-dry.  Our 40" tv could be replaced for much less than what we purchased it for however-many years ago we purchased it.  

But to do that would make me feel guilty.  

I know it is just stuff, but I went through a period in my 20s where I read all the comics in the newspaper because I felt like Gil Thorp and Apartment 3-G would get their feelings hurt if I didn't read them, too, so it is within my worldview to feel irrational about nonliving entities.  I really want to thank Siri when she sends voice texts for me, but I stop myself and then feel bad about it.  

But that isn't the real reason we haven't replaced these no-longer-giving-100% household items.  

The first reason is the spending money.
The second (and real) reason is a real moral conundrum.

I am having deep thoughts about both the intrinsic value of older things versus the place where you know an older thing's time and contribution is over.  And even though on the surface, it is about my washer and dryer and television, it is really about my parents and myself and Papaw Chester.   

I have been considering the steps that people take in order to extend their lives.  I do not judge others for whatever choices they make, but I am definitely mulling over what choices I might make should the choice ever need to be made.  We can often extend life for a very long time beyond what is actual, qualitative living.  

Papaw's house is cleaned out and going on the market tomorrow.  I have some of his walking sticks that are waiting for me to polyurethane them.  



I have his pillows made from his shirts throughout the house.  




I have a pile of photo and whatmenots in the basement waiting to be sorted through. 



It has been sad to see the remnants of his life....what was left when he left.  I do not and never will understand when families get their panties in a wad over the stuff that remains after a loved one dies.  The most important thing is gone so who gives a fuck about the rest of it?  

Papaw Chester was in decline, but still carrying on.  He wasn't sick but he was well within the slow breaking down.  

Like my washer and dryer and television.  

My parents are healthy but advancing in age.  
I am healthy but advancing in age.
The slow breaking down happens to most of us.  

At what point do you keep sticking it out and at what point do you decline to try to fix it?
I have yet to meet an appliance (or an automobile) that just dies, that just falls down dead the way Papaw Chester did.
Most of them drag their owners through a slow hemorrhage of expense and frustration and noise-making and half-cleaned clothes or overcooked food.  
I'm not sure I want to drag others along in a slow hemorrhage of expense and frustration or be a part of the process myself.  
Whether it is household items or humans.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

How things played out

I've been in bed since Friday afternoon in a fog of flu-like symptoms.  Today my eyes can focus somewhat, which suggests I am on the mend.

N and I met with her math teacher on Thursday.

In a perfect world,  I would report that her math teacher said, "You are totally right, and I am totally wrong, AND I am changing my assignment return practice as of this second.  Every student will get his/her papers back in a timely manner so they get the feedback they need."

But this isn't a perfect world, and I didn't actually have this expectation going in.

After speaking with the district ombudsman, it became apparent to me that as much as I think this particular practice is not "sound educational policy," there is a whole lot of "academic freedom" given to teachers (which I value and respect since that is what I would want in my own classroom).  Nowhere is it written that teachers have to return students' papers.  Maybe it should be written somewhere.

If I had any expectation at all, it was that I would have a clearer understanding of what the heck is going on in his class and how and why N feels so out of step.

The teacher was nice and very responsive, and that may have been in part because the principal had spoken with him (because I not only emailed the principal but also spoke with him). I think I'm a fairly intuitive person, and I got the feeling the principal said something on the order of, "She's a PTA person, in the building a lot, subs for us, don't rub her the wrong way."  I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.

The teacher explained more of his practice and even admitted that maybe he needs to change it.  It is unlikely that will happen, though, since he told me I am the only parent this year who has said anything about it.

The only parent.
(If memory serves, I think he said only 4 parents had ever questioned the policy.)

During this brief interlude, while you pick your jaws up off the floor, please reread my last post.

Am I the only parent who has noticed that nothing was coming home?
I doubt it.
Am I the only parent who was confused by it?
I doubt it.
Am I the only parent who said something about it?
Well...me and 3 others.

Now I could go the route of Socrates and be the gadfly, but knowing how he ended up, I'm not sure that is my best course of action.  N still has another year at the school, so for me to go stirring things up (when, technically, the teacher has more than satisfied me in terms of my own child) might not be the best course of action.

Still, maybe there is some small victory in bringing my concerns to the principal and having the teacher even think, possibly for the first time, that he is doing some of his students a disservice with this policy.  Maybe he will change it.

Maybe if I begin asking the question next year at Open House as to what the teachers' practices are about returning student work (and being sure to say I've had some teachers at CrMS who do not return student work and how is this best practice exactly?) that will have some impact.

Maybe if my parent friends read this blog and begin asking the questions they have about whatever concerns them that will have some impact?

Maybe if I email the school's SBDM about whether there needs to be a discussion about this topic in the future that will have some impact?

One person can do something, but one person cannot do it all.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why people keep quiet

There has been no great fallout from my blog about math homework.

Yet.

(A conference has been scheduled with the teacher, and I did email the principal to ask if this homework policy is a school-wide policy and how it can be justified as being in any way helpful to students.  I said it politely, but I think my point was clear.)

Although there hasn't been a response to that, what there has been is numerous discussions in person or via email with 8 friends who have experience as principals, counselors, and teachers who are like, "Wha?"  I've also perused the district's progression, promotion and grading handbook for middle school to see what it says (or actually doesn't say).  Oh, and I've put in a call to the district ombudsman to see if there is any JCPS stand/policy on this topic.

I want to go in fully informed.

The input from my friends/colleagues has been valuable to me because even though I have prior teaching experience and have held a valid license for 16 years, I questioned whether I had any authority to question the teacher's policy.  I questioned whether I was wrong for thinking it was odd.  I mean, I haven't worked full-time in a classroom for 13 years, so what do I know?

And this realization helped me better understand why so many "odd" things happen in schools, in government, in businesses, in churches.  People doubt their authority to acknowledge what they find screwy and actually say something about it.  

They keep quiet because they think they don't know enough about the situation to notice something is weird (which can just be plain ole weird but could also potentially be corrupt).
They keep quiet because they think their input doesn't matter.
They keep quiet because they don't want to "start trouble."
They keep quiet because they don't want to hurt feelings.
They keep quiet because they don't want to gain a certain reputation.
They keep quiet because they don't want any fallout to hurt their family (or child, in my case).

I realize this grading thing is small fries compared to what N's school is dealing with---overcrowding and a lawsuit about bullying--and so it is entirely possible it will be shoved under the rug.

If it is, it is.

But you better believe that next year, I'll be asking at Open House what her teachers' policies are on homework and its consistent return to students.  And I'll be encouraging every parent I know to ASK QUESTIONS often.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

OK, and so......

If you live in my house, the above phrase lets you know that G is in an OCD groove.
His needle is stuck.
As M says, "G is being sensitive....again."
G is usually straightening something and this is his repeated phrase that he says as he is checking and rechecking and rechecking something.

We see the psychiatrist later this month, and there will almost certainly be a medication increase.

When I think about how I was as a child, my condition was either not as bad or I was just very, very good at hiding it.

Because of my own OCD and just my personality, I have worked to be very open and honest with G about his brain, at least in terms that a 9-year-old will understand.  I strive to be very accepting.

While I think this is the best way for his emotional health, I'm not sure it is the best way for him to understand that he is kinda weird.

I guess what I mean is that as his family, we accept him however he is and try to be understanding.  But the world at large is not as accepting, and if he feels comfortable to be in his weirdness without trying to tone it down a bit, I'm not sure he will fully understand that sometimes you can't let your freak flag fly as loudly and proudly in some places as you do in others.

I mean, he probably understands this on some level.  He doesn't seem to do this stuff at school much but I think that is mostly because his mind is occupied at all times.  There are plenty of distractions to keep his brain from getting in a rut.  This is why I loved school, and probably why I became a teacher.  Intellectual activity takes me out of my own brain, out of my vat of anxiety, and makes me feel calm.  Since I started subbing, I've noticed that some of my worst days are when I am home without much to do. Even though one part of my brain "needs" those days, another part of my brain just struggles.

He doesn't "OK AND SO" at school not because he realizes it is strange but because his brain is so busy he doesn't feel the need to "OK AND SO."

One of the things I've just begun realizing is how much G's OCD affects the other kids.  It drives both of them nuts when he fixes and re-fixes and gets upset when they accidentally move something he has placed "just so."

I sometimes feel badly asking them to chill about issues when I give G more leeway.  Because they don't have his problems and are naturally less tightly wound, it is easier for them to chill so I often ask it of them.  Asking G to chill is like asking an oven to become a freezer.  Chilling is just not how he is wired.

Whenever I begin to stress that G will never be a successful, "normal," productive adult who lives in my basement, I try to remember that I am a fairly successful, "normal," productive adult who doesn't live in my parents' basement.

In the grand scheme of things, having OCD is probably a walk in the park.  

Friday, March 3, 2017

The letter to the teacher

As soon as I walked in the door this afternoon and said hello to N, she burst into tears.  She had taken a proficiency test in math and said she didn't remember the concepts, and her teacher didn't review anything to help them prepare.

I very much try to let my kid handle her own issues, but if she is bawling over a math test (and it isn't the first time this year she has gotten upset over this math class), I feel I have no other choice than to contact the teacher.

(Bear in mind, I wanted to see the teacher when I attended conferences on Monday, but he wasn't there.)

He was very quick to respond, and he explained his policy on not giving students back their graded papers.  

Yes.....he doesn't give students back their graded papers at all.  That wasn't a typo.

Apparently, he got burned early in his career when students earned poor grades, conveniently "lost" the papers, and then the teacher was accused of giving bad grades for no reason.

As a teacher, I understand very well the CYA policy, but I think his, in protecting his own derriere, is detrimental to students.

And isn't that the whole point of education?

In the age of smart phones, why not take photos of the tests that students bombed so you have evidence?  Or scan them?

Why would you keep good papers from students so they can enjoy their success?

How are students supposed to learn from their mistakes if they never receive papers back with feedback on them?

How are parents supposed to know what their children are learning if they see no papers?

Yes, I can check the computer system to see her grades, but in 3rd grading period, he entered no grades for work the entire grading period and then all of a sudden there was a "final" grade.  And my issue is how my daughter is earning "As" every grading period and then doesn't know how to do the work when a proficiency comes along, which is supposed to glean her compounded knowledge?

And when I asked her, N said the students themselves don't even see their work.  According to her, her teacher doesn't even pass out graded papers to the students and then recollect them for his own needs.

I am gobsmacked, and I'm not easily gobsmacked.

I was so gobsmacked I asked the advice of the elementary counselor at my boys' school on how to handle this.  My inner "momma bear" wants to call the ground troops in because I just find the policy so goofy.  I find it hard to believe that I am the first parent in this teacher's 12 years of using this paperwork practice to find it odd and oddly useless to both parents and students.

Based on her advice, I have requested a conference with him and N and all of her work that he has pilfered in a drawer somewhere so he can explain to both of us what she does and does not understand.  She needs to understand what she does and does not understand and see her graded work.  I need to see her work.

I might also need to take a valium.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

The queen is 13

Dear N,

I am entirely too young to have a child who is 13-years-old.
I think I said this when you were ten, which was another milestone birthday---your entry into double digits.



I expect I will say it every year from here on out.
Mamaw says it about Daddy, and he is 48.

I don't often tell you how proud I am of you, but I am, especially as you are making your way through the muck and sludge of 7th grade with its hormones and social dynamics and meh.

You do not aspire to be anyone but you.
(Ok, maybe Emma Watson.)


You wear the glasses without glass in the frames you don't need proudly and happily.
You dislike the silly giggliness of other girls who are fawning over boys (and I am so, so glad especially since I was one of those girls who fawned over boys.)


You understand that you are sometimes irrational and that it doesn't make sense, and it bothers you because you truly understand that you're being a little bonkers for no apparent reason.

I think you do your best to be honest and kind, which can be an act of social rebellion in the life of a middle schooler.



Do I wish you'd throw your cheese wrappers away a little more quickly?
Well sure.
Do I wish you'd read a little more and dork around on your phone a little less?
Yes.
But do I wish I had anyone other than you as my daughter?
Absolutely not.
You are my N.
You will always be my baby girl.



I am so glad that you trust me enough to tell me things that I know with certainty I didn't tell my own mother when I was your age.
I'm so glad you trust yourself enough to be who you are and cry to me and Daddy when carrying that weight feels hard.


There are many ways in which my life has been blessed, none of which I deserve.  Being your mother and helping you navigate your life as honestly and openly as I can is one of my life's great privileges.


Now go throw your cheese wrappers away and get off your phone.

I love you to the newly discovered 7 planets that are 40 light years away and may potentially support life and all the way back,

Momma

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A privately educated student who sends her children to public school

I was privately educated for 17/18th of my academic life.

I attended a public school for kindergarten because way back in the day Catholic schools did not offer kindergarten.
After that, though, it was --
--Catholic grade school for 8 years
--Catholic high school for 4 years
--Catholic college (for undergrad and graduate---I went to my alma mater for graduate because it's program allowed me to continue to work; had I gone to the public university, I would have had to quit my job and that wasn't an option.)

When I went back for my MAT, I was able to observe in both private and public schools.  I went back to my elementary school and was surprised by what it lacked in comparison to the public school system.

The computer lab was dinky.
There was no band or orchestra class.
There were no special education classes or speech therapists or occupational therapists.
The teacher I observed was teaching a lesson to 5th graders about popcorn.  I was like, "Are you f*cking kidding me???  POPCORN??"

It was at this point that I considered for the first time in my life that perhaps private schools weren't "the best."  My parents attended Catholic schools, and they wanted me to attend Catholic schools, so it was all any of us had ever known.

I had family members who taught in Catholic schools, and when they left the Catholic system to make more money in the public system, they couldn't handle it.  They had gotten used to teaching "easy to teach" kids and didn't know how to manage "not-easy-to-teach kids."  I decided that I would teach in the public system because I wanted to learn how to handle the "not-easy-to-teach kids."  I wanted to deal with what was difficult early on.  I like a challenge, and I may also be an idiot.

What I found was that I really loved public school, and I got a thrill teaching those kids with potential who weren't always the easiest to teach.  I loved it that students got to know kids from every socioeconomic class, every race, every culture, every ability (including disabled).  (Having spent many years in a private, homogenous culture, I thought this was great....and still do.)

D's educational experience was completely different from mine.  He attended public school his entire life, and I looked at him as someone positive who came from the public education system.

I never considered sending my children to private school for a variety of reasons.

First, I didn't (and don't) want to spend a bunch of money on tuition that I think will be better spent for their higher education or career prep.

Second, I didn't want to have to work during their early childhood to afford private education.

Third, with D being a product of public schools and an atheist, I don't think he felt private (and especially religious) education was necessary.  I'm not sure that we ever actually had the discussion because I was pretty well decided that our kids would go public.  By the time we had children, I was a very lapsed Catholic, and even though I now attend a Christian church, my own beliefs don't  congeal well with the more fundamentalist leanings of many religious schools.

Third, my own experience in 1st-8th grade was that being in a very small private school setting sometimes doesn't allow students the space they need to be away from cliches or other unpleasant experiences and people.  I was always in the same classes with the same students because there were only two classes of any given grade.  There was just no "getting away from it" in this small of a population.

Fourth, even though I loved my high school experience in a small, all-girls school, I think its smallness was in some ways a detriment.  The idea of going to a state school terrified me---its bigness felt overwhelming.  I got very used to being in a safe cocoon, and that safety may have kept me from taking chances that would have been beneficial.

Fifth, I didn't want my children to not be around people of all makes and models.  My experience of never going to school until age 14 with children of another race has stayed with me my entire life and not in a positive way.

I have been happy with my children's experiences in public schools.  Both the boys had IEPs for speech issues, and the resources at their public schools were very helpful.  N has been able to play in orchestra for 3 years.  This doesn't mean that everything is perfect in their schools (although my kids' elementary school is pretty darn close).  Every middle school on the planet is a holding tank for hormonal idiots.....there is just no getting around that sad fact.

And all of this about my (and our) choice is not to denigrate anyone else who has made a different choice for whatever reason they made their choice.

My niece and nephews attend Catholic school just as I did.  I have friends whose children attended public school for elementary, and then had an unpleasant middle school experience--some of them switched to Catholic schools and some of them now homeschool.  I know other people whose children attended a very conservative Christian school and hated it because many of the people were very un-Christlike.

But I am writing all this from a posture of very white, very middle-class, very educated privilege.  Most everyone I know is also from this posture.  We have options.  There are whole segments of the population who either don't actually have options or feel that they don't have options or are unaware of their options.

And these are the people I think about when I think about public education.  Public education is not for me or for my children, really.  My children were up-to-speed long before they ever entered school.  We have more books in our house than some communities have in a 5-mile radius (and it may be more like a 10-mile).

I support public education for many reasons, but mostly because it is good for society to be educated. Some may argue how well we are educating society, but I have always said and always will that public education cannot now nor ever will correct the ills of poverty and poor parenting.

Do I have concerns about public education?  Yes, not the least of which is that all the testing is making kids able to remember information but not actually able to THINK CRITICALLY about the information.  As someone who loves Socratic discussion and plays devil's advocate with great enthusiasm, it seems like we've lost the time and ability to discuss things broadly.

Do I think there is a tremendous amount of bloat?  Yes.  I think it is ridiculous to pay teachers to analyze data instead of having their warm bodies in classrooms working with children.

But as a privately educated person who has experienced the public education world, I cannot believe that private education (be it religious or charter or whatever) is going to fix everything that needs to be fixed, and we have to be careful that it won't actually make things worse.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Hyperbole Heart Day

My sons are the only individuals in this world who can get away with calling me beautiful.

I sort of shiver when they do it, but they are children and my sons, and if they think I am beautiful as their mom, I can live with that.

D, on the other hand, is not allowed to tell me I'm beautiful.  I don't remember a time when he ever has, but I think I remember having a conversation with him in which I said I don't want to ever be called beautiful.

I do not think I am beautiful.  Attractive....occasionally.  I have "windows" of attractive, and they are usually quite short-lived.

I do catch D, from time to time, giving me a googly-eyed look, to which I go "Wha?" and then he stops.  It is in those moments that he is maybe thinking, "She's beautiful," but he knows better than to tell me that.

He would get this:



Today is Valentine's Day, a day on which I do nothing special to show my love to those I love.  I don't give the kids candy or cards, nor does D get anything.

Ok, technically, he did get this, which I made during the children's worship service this weekend....but it was mostly to have something to do while all the littles were making their mommies and daddies valentines.



I expect nothing from him and would actually be royally pissed if he went out and spent $50 on flowers for me.  That $50 could be better spent elsewhere....like on a souvenir from our upcoming anniversary trip.

I have the same philosophy about Valentine's Day (and all holidays) as my mother (she is a wise old bird).  If a person spends time with me or lavishes special things on me one day of the year, and then doesn't make much time for me any other time, then that one 24-hour period doesn't really mean anything special.  My mother would rather go out to lunch with me on 12 regular, boring Tuesdays of the year than spend 1 "magical" Christmas Day.  

When I think about love, I tend to focus on the boring aspects of it---the mundane, the routine---because that seems to me to be what love is really about.  That seems to be the 95% of it.  The thrill doesn't last long in the beginning, and when it reasserts itself at random times throughout a relationship, it doesn't last long then either.  It pops up to say, "Uh, I'm still here" as a reassurance that all is not hopelessly dull, even if it is mostly dull.

When I think about love, I think about what I want to instill in my children by the example of my relationship with their dad.  That we find each other funny.  That we don't have knock-down drag-out arguments.  That we give and take.  That we sometimes, albeit not very often because that is pretty expensive, take time just for us.  That we provide a stable foundation of relationship on which they grow.

These parts of love don't get the glory.

Valentine's Day cards are all about soulmates, about one person fulfilling every single need in the other.  About one person being beautiful or amazing or the everything to the other person.  I'm a fan of hyperbole, but this is just hyperbole on speed.  I stopped getting D these cards because I felt they were all bullshit (and they also cost $5 a pop).

D is not my soulmate, an expectation that is too high for one human being to meet.  I don't want to idolize my husband.....because I have to share a bathroom with him.  Idolizing a person with whom you share a bathroom is just holding too vast of opposing ideas in one's head at the same time.

So I choose to remember that he is human, and I am human, and we somehow try to make our humanness work together happily.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Pockets of unmitigated disaster

Recently, the governor of my state called my local school district a disaster, an "unmitigated mess."  As a current employee of that district and a former employee of that district and a parent of three children in that district and the wife of someone who went through that district, I take some offense.

The governor's children do not attend the district nor, to the best of my knowledge, have they ever attended this district.  Him calling the district a disaster is like someone calling my brother a dickhead.  My brother might actually be a dickhead sometimes, but don't YOU call my brother a dickhead.

Still, in some ways, the governor is right in that there are pockets of disaster in the district.  Thirteen years ago, I had students in 6th grade who could not read.  How did they get through elementary school and be unable to read?  I don't know.  How could we pass them along to 7th grade if they couldn't read?  I don't know.  Those were never things over which I, as a teacher, had any control.  Is it dysfunctional?  Absolutely.

Now that I am subbing, I still see 6th graders who cannot read.  My 1st grader reads better than they do.  And it is horrible; it is dysfunctional.  It is one of the pockets of disaster.

Are the teachers to blame?
No, I don't think so.
Every single teacher I know works hard to help every student, including the boneheads who don't want to be helped.

I place a considerable amount of responsibility on the feet of parents who, in a perfect world order, would value education and help their children and have gainful employment and have enough money to take care of their kids and who wouldn't do drugs and who would make smart parenting decisions.

But there are plenty of parents who do not do these things or cannot do these things (many due to their own lack of education), which means it is left up to the district to take responsibility for all the things the parents won't do or can't do.

And it is darn near IMPOSSIBLE for any school district to do this.

Our district serves 100,000 students.  The next largest district serves 40,000 students....less than half of ours.  You have to add the student populations of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th largest districts in the state TOGETHER to get near to the size of ours.

It is an unenviable task.  I know there are plenty of good, dedicated people who slog through it every day.

I think the district could do some things differently, of course.  Maybe thinking outside the box a bit more in order to help those kids who are most needy.....like the sixth graders who cannot read at grade level.  Maybe we need a special school where kids go and are in small groups of 5 until they can read at grade level?

But to note that one or two schools are gems in a district of close to 150 schools and calling the rest of it a disaster is just childish name-calling.