Thursday, March 31, 2011

Here’s What I Don’t Get

I’ve been a teacher for 11 years now and there are still a few things about kids that I just don’t get.  Well, actually, there are a lot of things about kids that I just don’t get; here are just a few…

*We have been in school 130 days.  We visit the library every Tuesday.  Do the math…that’s a lot of visits.  Every Tuesday I leave the library crate outside the front door (visual reminder that books are due).  Every Tuesday, I wheel the crate into our room and say, “Did everyone bring their library books?  It’s Tuesday.  We’ll be visiting the library this afternoon.  Now is the time to go get your books from your backpacks and turn them in" (verbal reminder that books are due).  And every Tuesday I have at least three kids who, come library time, look at me like they’re shocked that it is, in fact, our library day and say, “Um, it’s in my backpack.”  I just don’t get it!

*Every day, for the last 130 days, I have told the kids to clear off their desks before they leave.  After school I wipe them down and it makes my job easier if they are totally cleared off.  I even say that to them as I dismiss them, “Remember boys and girls, I wipe down your desks after school; please clear them off.”  And every day the same exact kid leaves his basket on his desk.  How he doesn’t notice is beyond me.  His desk sticks out like a store thumb.  It’s row upon row of cleared desks…and there’s his with his basket on it!  Sometimes I catch it as he’s walking out the door and make him go back…and every single time I do it’s as if he’s hearing it for the first time.  I just don’t get it! 

*On any give day I have three to five kids who flat-out don’t get their work done.  Each and every one of them, in this case (though this is certainly not always the case), but anyway, each and every one of them is perfectly capable.  However, they either choose to talk to their seat partner and/or play with their jacket, their pencil, their eraser, and/or pretty much anything else that isn’t nailed down.  Now I try to keep on top of this, but, um, I’m teaching so it’s hard to keep everyone under my thumbs…I mean, come on…I only have two thumbs.  So time passes, the assignment is due, and they are shocked that they have nothing but a blank piece of paper.  I always wonder if they think they can just sit there and do nothing and the work will magically do itself (boy, wouldn’t that be nice).  Then, to make matters worse (and to break their teacher’s heart while at the same time frustrating her to no end), they break down in tears because, you see, I’ve talked to their parents about their incomplete assignments, and their parents have assigned consequences (thank you, parents), and their parents actually follow through with these consequences (double thank you, parents), and they know they are so totally busted when they get home.  All this pain and suffering could have been avoided if they had just done their work in the first place.  I just don’t get it!

*There’s always one “that kid” in each class (well, if the teacher’s lucky, there’s only one, but let’s be honest, just one is pretty rare)…anyway, there’s always at least one kid who bee-bops around the room, spins from place to place, jumps on the bean bags, rolls around on the carpet, knocks down everything in his path, including people, pushes kids on the playground (and in line), and just generally wreaks have wherever he goes…and then that kid wonders why no one wants to play with him…another heart-breaker, for sure…but come on, to have a friend you have to actually be nice to’s as simple as that.  I just don’t get it!

*And the final thing I would like to share with you today…the final thing I don’t get is…why they have no shame about picking their noses in public…or sneezing a great big, juicy sneeze and then wiping the great big, juicy contents on their desks…or farting…or chewing the ends of pencils so that they become frayed…or licking their hands…or, worse,  rubbing the bottoms of their shoes with their palms (this one really grosses me out because I don’t even want to know what’s on the bottom of the bathroom floor, which is now on their hands, which will soon be touching something that I will then touch…EW!).  I just don’t get it!

So there you have it, a teacher who has spent the last 11 years with munchkins but still doesn’t get ‘em…oh well, it sure is fun trying (well, most of the time anyway).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Crayon Mystery

Don’t you hate when something bad happens at your house and each and every clue points to you, and only you, being to blame?  Man, I just hate it when that happens…

Sunday night, , and I’m reveling in the final hour of my weekend.  Lounging on my bed reading, I hear the dryer stop, signaling the end of my final load of laundry.  It’s an easy load…just my delicate whites…so I mosey on downstairs knowing I’ll have this load folded and put away in a jiffy, and that I’ll be back to lounging and reading in no time.

Lazily, I reach out my hand to open the dryer…I pull on the handle…I reach inside…and I am shocked, and stunned, at what awaits me inside.

As everyone in the house is in their own Sunday-night-silent-zone, I have to work very hard to stifle the scream that has formed in my brain and desperately wants to escape through my lips.  For what was, a mere hour ago, a simple load of laundry, has now become a pile of clothes that looks like it  has been in a bloody battle…a battle that the clothes clearly lost.  In my hands I held a red, brutalized mess, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollack painting.

Those of you with small children will only need one guess to figure out the guilty party in this laundry massacre. You got it…a crayon!  Oh, wait, let me clarify…a red crayon!  But here’s the deal, and thus part of the mystery, I don’t have small children.  I have teenage children.  And I can’t recall the last time I witnessed said teenage children with a crayon in their possession.

Oh sure, they still have school projects and such that need to be somewhat artsy, but they use colored pencils and/or fine-tip markers for those occasions.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that you could go into my house, at this very minute, and not find a single crayon…anywhere! And yet, I have a red mess of ruined laundry that says otherwise.  However, I think ruling out the teenage children as the laundry villains is probably plausible given their age alone (and the fact that there are no crayons in our house).  Ditto the husband…I mean, if the teenagers don’t have crayons, then it surely follows that the husband wouldn’t have any either. 

So that leaves me…the First Grade teacher.  I spend my days surrounded by crayons. 

Aha, you say, mystery solved…the crayon must have belonged to you. 

But how did it get from my classroom to my dryer, Sherlock? 

Duh, you say, you must have put it in your pocket.

That might sound like a reasonable explanation, but guess what?  I don’t put crayons in my pocket!  They would leave marks on my clothes, and while I am neither a clothes horse nor a fashionista, I do try to take care of my stuff, and putting uncapped drawing instruments in my pocket does not qualify as taking care of my stuff!  And another thing…as the person who does all the laundry in my family, I don’t put things in my pockets…period…end of discussion!

Okay then wise guy, you say, how did you end up with a massacred load of laundry?

Hey, that’s my question!  How, indeed, did I end up with a red mess of laundry?

Once I stifled the urge to scream, and once I calmed down a bit, I went and showed my husband the damage, as well as the offending crayon.

Are you sure it’s crayon?  Could it be lipstick? 

Lipstick would be worse!  Crayon red is NOT my color!  So unless it belongs to his girlfriend, it’s not lipstick. 

The plot thickens…in the now dead load of laundry, there were exactly two items with pockets.  One is a jacket I don’t even wear to school…it’s my “I-don’t-even-wear-it-to-school jacket.”  The other is a pair of pants that, yes, I did happen to wear earlier in the week.  BUT…there was not one speck of crayon in the pockets.  Besides…I DON’T PUT THINGS IN MY POCKETS!  Oh, and there was no paper in the dryer, which means the crayon would have been one that had all the paper peeled off, and there is NO WAY I would put a peeled crayon in my pocket!

The plot thickens again…it’s like pea soup, people!  As I mentioned, I showed my husband the crayon, after which I proceeded to gather the cleaning supplies needed to clean the now crayon-infested dryer (just what I wanted to do at 9:00 on a Sunday night).  My daughter was in another room when all of this crayon business was going down, but once she emerges she sees my big butt hanging out of the dryer, and, of course, she wants to know what the heck is going on…and she wants to see the crayon.

Only guess what again?  The crayon is GONE!  And by gone, I mean GONE!  I looked in every trash can in our entire house (thank goodness the son had recently taken out the kitchen trash so at least that part of the search wasn’t totally disgusting). 

So the crayon mystery remains unsolved, but now that I have had a couple of days to think about it I have a theory:

My family planted the crayon and then destroyed it…all so they could make me think I was losing my mind, put me in a “home”, sell all my crap, and use the proceeds to take off on an adventure around the world!  Only the joke's on them, 'cuz now I'm deathly afraid to do the laundry!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing 101…Well, Kind of…

So I’m fresh from my writing class and I thought it might be fun to share some of the exercises we did at the class here with you.  Some of them were specific to the stories that each of us taking the class have in mind to be published (like writing a pitch), but others were more general and I think it would be fun for you to explore them, too, whether or not your goal is specific to writing.  What?  This is not your kind of fun?!  Oh, come on now…give it a try!

Before I begin, I would be remiss if I didn’t state that about halfway through the class our instructor said, “Oh, by the way, what happens in this room stays in this room.”  Those of you who know me well know I am a rule follower (well…most of the time, anyway).  However, I took her statement to mean that we couldn’t share anything personal about any of the other participants, which I’m totally down with.  I did not take her statement to mean that we couldn’t share what we learned in general.  On that note…

One of the exercises involved fairy tales/children’s stories and using them to relate to ourselves and/or our lives.  Specifically, the task was to pick a fairy tale/children’s story and write about why we relate to it.  A very broad (and bad) example would be if you had a horrible stepmother and mean stepsisters, you could write a piece about how you relate to Cinderella.

Because this was a one-day workshop, time limits were imposed (which I both loved and hated).  The first part of this exercise was to spend five minutes writing about the fairy tale/children’s story.  For example, Once upon a time there was a girl named Cinderella…blah, blah, blah.  The second part of the exercise was to spend 10 minutes writing about why we related to that particular story/character. 

An example of a way to start was “I was ____ years old and I remember ____.”  This was just an example though.  One of the things I most loved about this class was that before every exercise the instructor said, “There is no right or wrong answer…just write what comes to you.”

I picked Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss.  If you’re not familiar with the story, I highly encourage you to read it, especially if you have young children in your life as it a wonderful story to read out loud. 

I will share with you what I wrote (only to show you an example…not because I think it’s good); I hope you will take me up on this challenge and try it yourself.  It’ll be fun…you’ll see!

Part 1:  Five Minutes (back story of the story, if you will):

Once upon a time there was a selfish turtle named Yertle who wanted to be the ruler of all the turtles.  He commanded them to stack themselves higher and higher so that he could see more…so that he could rule more.  The turtle on the bottom, Mack, finally got fed up. 

Mack knew Yertle was seeing great things up at the top, but he also knew it wasn’t fair that he was doing so at the expense of all the other turtles.  Mack tried to reason with Yertle, but Yertle wasn’t having it.  Finally, Mack, having had enough, burped…and all the turtles came crashing down.  Yertle was no longer the ruler, and all the turtles lived happily ever after.

Part 2:  10 Minutes (how I related to Yertle the Turtle):

I remember growing up feeling like she always got the best.  That’s a pretty normal feeling I suppose; she was the oldest, after all.  And as the oldest she got to do everything first (and when you’re little, first equals best).  That’s all well and good, except I felt that I was always left picking up the pieces; I was always left to clean up her mess.

She moved out of the house to live with a boyfriend at the ripe old age of 15…I stayed home and did what I was told.  She turned to drugs and broke our dad’s heart…I stayed home and did what I was told.  She ended up pregnant and unmarried…I stayed home and did what I was told.

I was the reliable one, the steady one, the nice one.  And then one day…like Mack, I had had enough.  I was tired of covering for her, I was tired of trying to be perfect because she was so screwed up, I was tired of being the calm to her storm, and most of all, I was tired of picking up after every single one of her messes.  So one day, I cut my losses, washed my hands of her, and, like Mack, lived happily ever after.    

Okay, now it’s your turn…go on now…get that pen and notepad and get to work…NOW!

Monday, March 28, 2011


The thing about expectations is that they can sometimes lead to disappointment.  Or, as in the case with me the other day, they can lead you to think, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

About a month ago, I was reading the newspaper and stumbled upon an advertisement for a “Wordfest” coming to a city not far from where I live.  I ran to the computer, typed in the web address, and proceeded to drool.

It was billed as a…"festival of words, ideas and stories…a 9-day literary nexus, spanning two weekends and nine days, encouraging readers and writers of all genres, skill level, and ages to partake in an extravaganza of more than 100 individually-hosted events…."

Sign me up!  It sounded like just what I needed….at exactly the time I needed it! 

At the end of last year I decided 2011 would be MY year!  I would write my little heart out every day (well, almost every day, that is), and see what came out.  If it was nothing, I was okay with that.  If it was crap, I was okay with that, too.  The goal was simple:  put one word in front of the other and see where all those words would take me. 

That’s all well and good, I love to write…but do I actually know HOW to write?  Stumbling upon the advertisement for this Wordfest was perfect timing, to say the least.  What I had been feeling I needed more than anything else was guidance on the craft of writing.  The story I want to write lives in my head…it’s all there…but what I desperately need is a way to get it out of my head and onto paper in a way that makes sense.

Excitement at the Wordfest turned to disappointment when I saw how much the classes cost.  But I really, really, REALLY wanted to go.  There was one class in particular that sounded perfect for what I was struggling with, and the presenter was a real, live author who had made a real, live living writing…winning awards, traveling the world teaching, etc.  I just had to find a way to go.

Thankfully I married the right man!  The explanation of the class, the presenter, how close it was to where we lived, etc., was barely out of my mouth when he said, “Take the class, Jane.”  But it costs too much.  “Take the class, Jane,” he repeated.  So...I signed up for the class!

The big day arrived and I was beyond excited.  My notepads were picked out with loving care and my pens and pencils were lined up like soldiers ready to do battle.  I was ready!

Turns out I was a little too excited…I was the first one there!  My excitement once again turned to disappointment when I walked into the dilapidated room in which the class was to take place.  For the money I paid, I was expecting a little more than ratty, old, scarred tables, and rickety, old, worn-out chairs.  Actually, I was expecting a lot more.  There was no way I could sit in one of those chairs for six hours! 

The confirmation email quickly came to mind, “Please bring to the class a pen, notebook, and an open mind!”  I had brought four notepads, five pens, and four pencils; surely I could bring an open mind as well.  And, from the looks of that room, I knew an open mind would be needed.

Whereas at the beginning of the class my expectations were crushed, by the end of the class they were completely and totally exceeded.  I was completely blown away!  The class was amazing, the people taking it with me were amazing, and the instructor was amazing!  It was money well spent, for sure. 

The six hours flew by…and I found those rickety, old chairs quite comfortable, thank you very much.  (Funny how when I was an 18-year old in the comfort of a relatively new college, I couldn’t wait for the classes to end, but there, in that pitiful, old room, I was wishing my time there would go on and on.) 

I learned a valuable lesson about expectations that day, and I learned a valuable lesson about following your passion.  Whatever yours happens to be, I encourage you to go for it!

I end now with the quote the presenter used to begin our class:

“I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  Michael Jordan

Friday, March 25, 2011

Let ‘Er Rip!

The first race of the year is coming up in April, which means I am officially in training, which means I am officially schlepping my running bag with me wherever I go so that I don’t have any excuses not to run.  I even dragged it with me to that dreadful meeting the other day!

As our district office is near a bike/running path, I decided I would just run from there right after the meeting.  That turned out not to be such a great idea…it’s not exactly in the best part of town.  And the husband was not too pleased when he found out.  “You ran where?  By yourself?  Do me a favor…don’t ever do that again!”  No problem!  All the strange noises coming from the bushes totally creeped me out.  On the plus side, however, I logged my fastest two miles ever!
Anyway…that dreadful meeting was over and I was in the bathroom (oh yes, I’m going there) changing into my running clothes.  I’m by myself and I hear someone walk in and proceed to do her business.  I notice there’s an awful lot of funny throat clearing going on and I’m thinking “Good grief, lady, I’d hate to be in the cubicle next to you.” 

Ahem, ahem, ahem.  Ahem, ahem, ahem.  And on and on and on.  Then it hits me.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  She needs to rip one but she’s trying to hide it with all that throat clearing.  (Oh, come on now, I can’t be the only one who’s ever tried that little trick.)

I’m starting to feel sorry for her.  Ahem, ahem, ahem.  Ahem, ahem, ahem.  And then I start to wonder...would it be okay to just say, “It’s okay, honey, go ahead and let ‘er rip.  It’s just us girls in here.”  Even better…should I just rip one myself?  I’m sure that would put her right at ease and make her feel quite relieved.  In fact, I’m certain that letting one rip in a situation like this would totally qualify as a Random Act of Kindness.  Wouldn’t you agree?  I mean, I’d be putting her out of her misery, right?  So I think letting one rip would be a completely selfless act on my part. 

Only I can’t just let one rip.  I can’t rip on command like that.  But I know someone who can!  Oh, if only the husband were there...I’m certain his “Random Act of Kindness” would be Nobel Peace Prize worthy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sharing…I Bet You Can’t Top This!

Sharing ranks right up there with recess in terms of a First Graders favorite part of the day…especially when it’s their turn to be the sharer.  The kids just love when it’s their time to shine, and they love, love, love bringing crap from home. 

You may recall sharing is one of the perks of being Star of the Week and it’s not out of the ordinary for a kid, upon hearing his name called to be the following week’s Star, to say something like, “Oh, I already know what I’m going to bring to share!”  Sharing is a big deal…a very big deal!

It’s yesterday afternoon and our first Star of the Week has just finished sharing her handy, dandy DS thing a ma bob that not only holds DS games, but also has multi-colored styluses.  Way cool!  She gets lots of questions about this…she brought the actual DS the day before, so this was the perfect follow-up share item…anything techy and the kids are hooked.

Up next is our second Star of the Week (you may also recall we have two Stars each).  She marches up to the front of the room, commands everyone’s attention, holds up her finger, and says, “I’d like to share this paper cut on my finger.”

Certain I had misunderstood, and certain she is actually holding something very tiny that I cannot see, I say, “Excuse me?”

In her sweet, yet commanding voice, she holds her finger up even higher and repeats, “I’d like to share this paper cut on my finger.”

This is one of those times I’m glad my dad coughed up the dough for braces.  I give her my most winning smile and say, “Okay, well, why don’t you go ahead and tell us about your paper cut.”

”I’d like to walk around and show everyone first.”

But of course!

She very slowly walks from desk to desk “sharing” her paper cut, and guess what?  The kids are, like, totally in to it.  They oohh and aahh and are just as excited over the paper cut as they were over the DS thing a ma bob.  She finishes showcasing her paper cut, returns to the front of the room, and asks if there are any questions.  About her paper cut!

And guess what again?  The kids, like, totally have questions!

When did you get your paper cut?

Just now!

Where did you get your paper cut?

On my math journal.

Did it hurt?


Where on your math journal did you get your paper cut?

On the page we were just working on.

And on and on it goes.  Who knew a paper cut could be so exciting?!

So tell me…got anything to share?  A mole, freckle, tan line, gnarly hangnail.  Bring it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Silence is Way Overrated

As I walked through the halls of our district office yesterday afternoon for a grade level meeting, the one thing I noticed above all else was the stillness.  Every time I step into that building it’s as if time stands still.  There are no squealing children running around, no frantic teachers racing to the bathroom, and, most noticeably, no bells. 

With my typical, quick teacher stride I approach the large, double glass doors of the building, pull them open, and the second I enter, silence slaps me in the face, forcing me to slow down.  While I, of course, don’t want to be late, the fact is it doesn’t really matter if I am.  Being late is not a luxury afforded to me in my role as a teacher.  That bell rings and I had better be there to greet the children.  Period.  Here though, with the absence of bells (and the presence of someone else being in charge) I simply saunter through the doors, make my way down the hallway, and find the meeting room.

This is not a meeting I would normally attend.  Ironic enough, given my passion for reading and writing, I am not the Language Arts liaison for my team.  Even more ironic, given my distaste for math, I am the Math liaison, and today’s meeting is for Language Arts, not Math.  My team’s normal liaison was not able to attend, so I am here in her place.  Though I loathe meetings, I am happy to be here for her; she is extremely busy preparing for her upcoming play and as I’ve recently been there, done that, I was thrilled to able to lessen her burden on this very stressful day.

Finding the proper meeting room was easy enough; I enter, sign in, and find a place to sit.  Again, the silence.  The room is so quiet that I can hear the humming of the heater.  It is unnerving.  It is distracting.  And I wish it would stop. 

Teachers begin to file in.  We wave and say hello and the facilitator asks us all to get settled.  After all, the sooner we begin, the sooner we get to leave (works for me).  We begin with introductions, an overview of the agenda, and then we are off and running.  Only we aren’t running at all.  We are crawling.  Worse, we are moving at a snail’s pace.  We are snails and we are crawling and it feels like we are going nowhere.  Do I dare brave a glance at the clock?  Surely the three-hour meeting must be almost over.  It’s not.  We are only 45 minutes in.  Three hours suddenly seems interminable in this silence.   

Three hours…for a meeting…I can see my husband shaking his head right now.  Three hours is child’s play.  But it’s not child’s play.  It’s torture.  It’s so quiet…the heater is still humming…no one is playing outside…former students aren’t opening the door asking if I need any help…colleagues aren’t popping in to ask a question, or to borrow something, or to return something…and that damn heater is still humming. 

All of the times I have ever uttered, “Please, you need to quiet down.  I can’t hear myself think” come racing back to me.  In the suffocating silence of this building I can hear myself think and it’s beginning to unravel me.  Unable to focus on anything but the humming heater and the slow-moving clock, I decide I need to do something…anything.

Flipping the agenda over, I begin to outline the meeting for my colleagues.  If I take notes maybe the silence won’t be so deafening.  If I put pen to paper maybe I can stay focused. 

“Wow, you take great notes,” the teacher next to me says. She then starts to copy them.  And I start to wonder if she, too, has reached her limit of being in this stifling room.  We begin to write notes back and forth to each other.  Anything to pass the time.  Anything to be engaged with someone else. 

Eventually, mercifully, the meeting comes to an end.  We all say our goodbyes and as I walk away I wonder how anyone can work in an environment like that.  An environment that’s, well, so quiet.  I wouldn’t know what to do with all that quiet…with all that uninterrupted time.  I drive away feeling anxious to hear my squealing students, to race a colleague to the bathroom, to be interrupted by an excited child, and most importantly, to hear that darn school bell tell me what I’m supposed to be doing!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Even if Just for a Little While…

It’s Saturday morning and I’m in my Saturday Morning Happy Place.  You know…when you don’t really have anything pressing to do that day.  I mean, I had a long run to get in, and there’s always laundry, but those things could happen at any point during the day.  There was nowhere that I urgently needed to be, and there was nothing that I urgently needed to do…and I was happy.

There would be no alarm assaulting me out of my peaceful slumber….no counter assault by me to frantically pound the snooze button.  Nope, it was and I arose feeling rested and looking forward to just lazing about.  And I didn’t feel one bit guilty about it either.  The past month has been extremely busy at work, and what I have been feeling more than anything else is an urgent need to catch up on my sleep, so sleeping in until was very much needed!

Joy filled my every pore as I rolled over, grabbed my Kindle, and spent the next hour reading in bed.  Can you say bliss? 

My blissful spell was broken by the blare of the ringing phone.  It’s a little past , which is a respectable hour, so, really, it could be anyone calling. 

Except it’s not anyone calling; it’s my mom.  I answer the phone quietly so as not to wake the kids…I don’t know why I bother…they both sleep like rocks!  However, the blare of the phone had startled me and I didn’t want to add a loud, “Hello” to the cacophony.

“Hello,” I say quietly.

“Hi, Jane,” my mom says, “are you asleep?”

Since I am technically in bed, which is technically where I sleep, I say, “Yes.”  I know, I know, it’s a total fib, but it’s such a quiet morning…and my book is really good…and, well…and I just didn’t feel like talking…is that so wrong?

“Oh,” she says, “sorry.”  There is a brief pause, after which she says, “Well, I called to tell you something, but now I forgot what it was.  I’ll call you back at .  Bye.”

It’s safe to assume that what she was calling about had something to do with something she was worried about.  You should hear the messages on my answering machine from the last week or so: tsunami, earthquakes, radiation, oh my!  There is probably a TV on non-stop in her “home” and I’m guessing that nobody really monitors what the “residents” watch.

But just once I’d like to pick up the phone and have a normal mom on the other end.  Just once I’d love to hear this imaginary, normal mom suggest we go grab a cup of coffee, or go for a walk, or to a movie, or go and do anything else on God’s green earth that doesn’t involve me talking her down from the worry cliff she chooses to climb every single day. 

Intellectually I know that’s not my destiny.  In my head I know that will never happen. But in my heart…well, in my heart I just wish things were different sometimes.  In my heart I sometimes wish the role of “daughter of a crazy mom” had gone to someone else…and not to me.  In my heart I just wish someone else had the crazy mom and I got to have the normal mom…even if just for a little while.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Ugly Side of Me

I have a little confession to make.  I shouldn’t even admit this because it reveals my ugly side, and I like to think of myself as being above this sort of thing, but apparently I’m not. 

I’ve got this kid in my class who is ULTRA competitive.  Seriously, no matter what we’re doing he has to be first.  (His mom even said that when he goes to the bathroom he races himself to see if he can wash his hands before the toilet stops flushing.)  I’ve never understood this level of competitiveness.  I mean, I’m all for a little competitive spirit and all, but he goes so far as to make up excuses when he’s not first at something; to me, that’s where healthy competitiveness crosses over to poor sportsmanship, and I loathe poor sportsmanship.

What’s this got to do with me, you ask?  Well, we got out the jump ropes the other day, and he, of course, has to be the fastest and the best.  And, as I’m always one to give credit where credit is due, I have to admit that I was quite impressed with his jump roping prowess.  He is good…really, really, good.  But guess what?

There’s another kid in my class who’s even BETTER!  And, oh man, I shouldn’t even admit this, but, well…I kind of, sort of, well, maybe…I got a COMPLETE and TOTAL kick out of watching this other kid be better than him.  It’s petty, immature, and totally beneath me, I know.  I mean, I am the teacher after all, but what can I say?  Spend enough time around 6-year olds and every now and then you wind up thinking just like ‘em!

Friday, March 18, 2011

So what’s the Going Rate for a Tooth These Days?

One of my students came in yesterday morning full of excitement; in his hand was a little, green tooth box.  Being’s as it was St. Patrick’s Day, I assumed the little green treasure was leprechaun-related.  I was wrong.  My student quickly corrected me, stating that it was the tooth he had lost the night before. 

He proceeds to tell the class how he lost the tooth while he was going to the bathroom (um, that’s a visual I didn’t really need, thank you very much).  He then explains how he put the tooth under his pillow, went to sleep, and woke up to find $20 under his pillow.

Twenty dollars!  For a tooth (and he even got to keep the tooth)?  Excuse me?  Surely I had heard him wrong.

As luck would have it, I have a real dollar bill in my classroom (we use real money to count the days in school, and, well, since we’ve been in school 121 days, we now have $1.21).

So I point to the real dollar bill and say, “Do you mean you got a dollar…like the one that’s right there?”

“Yes,” he said, “it was just like that…” 

Whew, I’m thinking…and then he finishes his sentence.

“…except it had a 20 on it, not a 1, and there was a different person on it.”

Dangit, I’m thinking…Twenty big ones?  For a tooth?  I want some of that action.

My wheels immediately started turning…maybe I could start plucking my teeth out, give them to him, and then he can give me the $20 bucks from his very generous tooth fairy.  Hey, at $20 a tooth, I’ll have that MacBook I’ve been coveting in no time!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Today’s Thought Bubbles

Student:  “Mrs. J., I got two things to say.”

(It always cracks me up when they have more than one thing to say and they have to tell me exactly how many things they are going to say.) 

So…as I was saying… 

Student:  “Mrs. J., I got two things to say.”

My thought bubble:  Just get on with it already…I don’t need a thing count before you get started!

My actual words:  “Okay hon, go ahead.”

Student:  “Well...I forgot the first thing I was going to say.”

(It also cracks me up when they forget!)

Thought bubble:  Oh, brother!

Actual words:  “That’s okay; go ahead with the other thing you were going to say.”

Student:  “My mom used to live in Antarctica…or maybe it was that other place where it snows a lot.”

Thought bubble:  Well, that’s random, and, um, I’m pretty sure your mom didn’t live in Antarctica.

Actual words:  “Hmm….Antarctica, huh?  Do you mean Alaska?”

Student:  “Oh yeah, Alaska, that’s it, my mom used to live there.”

Thought bubble:  Well, I’m glad we got that all cleared up.  Can I go back to teaching now?

Actual words:  “Cool!”

Oh, and by the way...Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

A best friend is like a four leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have. 
~Author Unknown

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Well, That Didn’t Go Quite As Planned

I wrote this post in my head Monday afternoon after my last conference that day.  It was based on something that was going to happen on Tuesday, and I was so confident that I knew exactly how things would play out that I almost wrote it on my computer and I almost went ahead and set it to auto publish.  However, the little voice inside my head told me to wait so that I could get the details exactly right.  I’m glad I listened…

I have this kid in my class who is every teacher’s dream.  Actually, he is every person’s dream.  He is smart, kind, helpful, focused, meticulous in his work, athletic…your basic perfect kid.  Yes, I know there is no such thing as perfect, but this kid comes pretty darn close.  In fact, as I was gushing to his parents at his conference about how truly wonderful he is, I told them not to even bother to try and tell me some story about how naughty he is at home because I simply wouldn’t believe them!

His birthday happened to be the day after his conference, which happened to be the last day of conferences (conferences mean half days, so lucky him, his birthday was on a half day).  He has been talking about his birthday for a while now and how excited he is that it falls on a half day and all of the neat things that he and his mom and his sisters will be doing.  Each time he has mentioned his big day he has been sure to say, “My dad doesn’t have a half day at work so he won’t be there.”

Well, little did he know…at his conference his parents mentioned that his dad was, in fact, taking the day off for his birthday and that they were going to surprise him when they brought his birthday treats to our classroom, which meant I would get to be in on the surprise, which also meant that I would get to see his reaction.  I was so jazzed!

First off, can I just say how cool it is that his dad had finagled the day off?!  That alone made my day.  In my mind I pictured my student’s face lighting up and the huge smile that would appear when he saw that his dad was with his mom.  They had it all planned out…the dad was even going to move his car down the street and go for a long run in the morning so that my student would believe his dad had really gone to work.  So cool!

As I mentioned before, I almost went home after the conference and wrote this entire story, complete with my student’s stunned and thrilled reaction.  Only, it didn’t quite go down like that. 

At the appointed time, his mom and little sister show up and they go about their business at the sink washing the strawberries and such.  My classroom is set up old-school style in that all of the desks are in rows, facing forward (I’ve tried grouping them in “pods” but I find I can’t hold anyone's attention that way).  So anyway, everyone is facing forward, the mom and sister are at the sink, and my student goes to the prize box, which is near the sink, to pick out his birthday prize.

He’s got his head in the box and his dad comes in behind him.  My student has no idea that he’s there.  In fact, as my student backs away from the prize box, he brushes against his dad and doesn’t even notice!  He literally ran into his dad as he was turning to head for the door to put his prize in his backpack.  He’s taken about five steps away from his dad and his dad finally says something and I’m thinking here it comes:  The Big Reaction (gosh, I hope I don’t cry…gosh, I hope he doesn’t cry).

Needless to say, not a single tear is shed…he, get this, he waves to his dad and continues out the door to his backpack!  His dad looks and me and we both just smile and shrug our shoulders.  Not exactly the reaction we were expecting. 

I admit I was disappointed at the lackluster reaction, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that that’s just who this kid is.  He’s very focused and he knows that school is business.  I know he was glad his dad was there, and I know when we do our “share out” in the morning that he’ll mention it, and I’m sure he’ll even write about it in his journal, but in that moment, he was all about following the rules and putting his prize in his backpack and returning to his seat, and really, who can blame him for that?

As I thought about this incident I came to realize that if the whole smarts thing doesn’t work out for this kid, and, well, if the whole athletic thing doesn’t work out either, and, ya’ know, well, if the whole Mr. Perfect thing doesn’t go as planned, then I’m certain that  this kid could have a future playing cards.  I know this will be of no comfort to his parents, but talk about your poker face!  Man, that kid is smooth!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five Minutes

I’m going to try my hand at another prompt from The Red Dress Club. 

Imagine after you die, your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see? Tell us about them in the finest detail.

My parents divorced when I was 11 or so; I know for sure it was the summer between 6th and 7th grade.  I am sure of this because I ended my elementary school career in one house, with my family, and then had to go to a brand new Jr. High, with no family, and no friends.  It sounds trite now, but starting a new Jr. High with not a single friend ranks as one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. 

There I was with newly divorced parents, a crazy mom, and a sister who made it her top priority to never be home.  And to make myself even more of a freak, I lived with my dad.  Back in those days divorce wasn’t very common, and it was downright odd for the children to live with their dad, and not with their mom.  Oh, and did I mention we had to sell our house, of course, and move to apartments (my dad, sister, and me in one apartment, and my mom about 10 minutes away in another)?  To say my world was turned upside down is a pretty severe understatement. 

The arrangement at the beginning of the divorce was that I would spend some weekends and such with my mom.  At that time she was doing okay and could handle the responsibility of having me stay the night with her every now and then.  Things slowly got worse for her though, and those overnight visits became fewer and fewer, until I was down to just spending weekend days with her. 

Her apartment was dark; for the most part I remember that she kept the curtains closed.  She was also an artist and the smell of oil paintings permeated the air.  Add that to the ever-present scent of the Aqua Net that she used, by the case I might add, and everything about her had a very distinctive odor.  To this day I can still smell her in that apartment.

It was a small apartment, your basic two-bedroom, one-bathroom, but certainly big enough to meet all of her needs.  As is the case with most apartments, the front door opened right into the living room.  The first thing you saw when you walked into the apartment was a couch and a round coffee table.

I was there visiting one day, a day when she was not doing well at all.  On her coffee table was a rather large Tupperware-type tub stuffed with bottles, bottles that contained all the medications that she was clearly not taking.  For if she had been taking those medications, then this 5-minute period of my life would not have occurred.

I remember sitting on the couch marveling at all the bottles.  She was in the kitchen at the time and I hear her having a conversation.  I am the only one in the apartment with her; curious as to exactly whom she is talking, I stroll into the kitchen. 

What I see and hear will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I am probably 13 years old at the time and my mom is having a conversation with her refrigerator.  I’m not talking about someone opening up their refrigerator and jokingly asking for a chocolate cake to magically appear (what, am I the only one who does that?).  No, I am talking about a full-on conversation…with her refrigerator.

She is bent over the refrigerator as if she is leaning in to hear a trusted friend tell her a secret.  She is laughing and she is pausing after she speaks so that the refrigerator can respond.  She even calls me over to join the conversation, like, “Get a load of this Jane, isn’t my friend funny?”

I’m not quite sure what to do, so I do what has become my MO:  I remain silent.  After all, my mom is having a grand ol’ time talking to her refrigerator, and I’m scared to death to break the spell.  I am literally paralyzed by fear and, well, shock.  It’s kind of like how they say not to wake sleepwalkers…to just let the sleepwalking run its course.  I feel that if I remain silent, and thus somehow invisible, maybe she will stop.

Eventually she does stop, and while I am certain that to this day she has no memory of this whatsoever, I can recall it in an instant, and I don’t even have to close my eyes to do so.  It is etched in my brain as if it happened yesterday, or five minutes ago. 

I want my children to know this about me because I want them to understand how invisible I used to want to be; how I felt, and continue to sometimes feel, that maybe if I just remain quiet and still that things will somehow get better all on their own…like they did the day my mom was talking to her refrigerator and I helplessly stood by and watched and waited until it was all over. 

Of course, it didn’t truly get better, just as nothing gets better if you just stand by and do nothing, but eventually it stopped, and I have to tell you, as a kid growing up with a schizophrenic mom, I spent a lot of time just waiting for things to stop. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

“I’m Bored”

The other night my husband and I are getting ready to call it a day and we are going through our nightly routine of removing our contacts, flossing and brushing our teeth, etc….you know, all those things they don’t tell you about when you’re a 20-year old reading the Cosmo “How to Get a Man” articles. 

We’ve finished up with our toilettes, he sets his toothbrush down, and he says, “I’m bored.”  I kind of laugh and say, “Bored?”  And he says, “Yeah, I’m bored.” 

It’s not a word you typically hear a full-grown man say about himself so, not being able to help myself, I laugh a little louder and say, “Really, you’re bored?”  “Yeah,” he says, “I think I’ll go camping this weekend.”  “But honey,” I say, “it’s Tuesday.  Do you really think you’ll still be bored on Friday?”  “Yeah,” he says, “I think I will.” 
Then I started to think about the last time I was bored.  I know I could easily turn this into a gender debate and think, ‘Well, of course he’s bored, he’s a man, and you know how men are.’  Or, ‘Well, as a mom I don’t have the luxury of being bored, I’m too busy doing every single thing around here.’  But the truth is, he does his fair share, and some days he even does my fair share!  So if we’re both doing our fair share (most days), and if we’re both busy, working parents of even busier, active teenagers, then how come he’s bored and I’m not?  Sadly, I have too much technology to be bored, that's how come.
First, there’s my iPhone, which, ironically enough, I don’t use all that much as a phone.  I do, however, use it to keep me from, well, from being bored.  Before I continue, let’s get one thing straight:  I’m not one of those people you see who is, as I say, ”married to her phone.”  You know, the ones you see who have it in either in their hand, or on the table, or wherever else it will fit and still remain visible at all times. 
If you were to see me out to dinner with my husband, I assure you, you would not see my phone (except for a surreptitious glance now and then to make sure our kids haven’t called).  Ditto if I’m out with friends. 
However, any and all car trips in which I am not the driver…I’ll be on my phone.  Long check-out lines…I’ll be on my phone.  Anything abnormal going on with the weather…I’ll be on my phone checking The Weather Channel App.  (My husband and I have a long-standing joke in which he’ll stand at the window and say, “Hey, Jane, check your phone, I want to know what the weather’s like right now.”) 
What, exactly, I’m doing on my phone is pretty much nothing…just poking around here and there on different apps.  My husband, however, uses his phone only for work, and at the end of the day he shuts it off and doesn’t think about it again until the following day.  I love him for this!  I shudder to think of us as one of those couples who go to the trouble of going out to dinner together, then stay glued to their phones, barely looking at each other the entire time!  (I’ll be honest, those people drive me nuts!)
Next, there’s my Facebook account.  As much as I enjoy Facebook, I’ll be the first to admit it’s a complete and total time drain.  Again, I’m not really doing anything on there.  Well, that’s not entirely true. I do post status updates and such, but I truly believe that there is no reason on God’s green earth for a person to spend more than, say, 15 minutes a day on Facebook; yet entire weekend mornings have seemingly disappeared while I sat dumbly just clicking away at pretty much a whole lot of nothing. 
My husband also has a Facebook account, but he’s not really on there.  In fact, I was his only friend for at least the first month after he joined; now he can boast having three whole friends!  (It’s kind of creepy when he logs on:  it’s all my stuff!  It’s like he’s logged onto my account or something.)
As with his phone, my husband thinks of computers primarily as work tools, and as such, he’s not really willing to spend much of his free time on one.  I, on the other hand, can spend a scary amount of time just Googling away. In fact, when I thought of starting this blog, I headed straight to Google and started typing away...successful blogging, pros and cons of blogging, how to get people to read your blog…you name it, I Googled it.      
And finally, there’s my Kindle.  Now you might be thinking, ‘But that’s really just a book.’  And that’s true, but you can go back and forth between books, magazines, blogs, etc., so while it’s a book, it’s a book with distractions!  So when I have exhausted everything on my iPhone, and when I have creeped and stalked around on Facebook long enough, then I can go and play around on my Kindle.  It’s a never-ending cycle of technology.  (You’d be proud of me though…I am resisting the iPad temptation because I know the last thing I need is another gadget…besides, I’m really holding out for a MacBook!)
Whereas I was at first started by my husband’s statement about being bored, I now find myself being envious.  I think it might be a good thing to be a little bored now and then.  I think it might be good to get tired of staring at the same four walls and want to get out and spend some time in nature.  In fact, I think I might give it a try…just as soon as I check my Facebook account, my email, and the weather!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thank Goodness Someone around Here Has My Back

My husband and daughter were perusing the YMCA class schedule last night looking for a fitness class to take together.  They are pondering step classes, kick boxing classes, Tai chi classes, and on and on.  My daughter notices a Zumba class and mentions how fun that might be. 

They kind of laugh about it…the husband’s not at all interested (he’s, well, he’s not really known for his dancing skills).  They both dismiss it and my daughter says, “That’s okay, dad, you’d probably have been the only guy in there anyway.”  At the sound of that, the husband is all of a sudden very interested.

I myself have always wanted to take a Zumba class, so I chime in and say, “Hey, we could all take the class together…it’d be fun.”

The husband looks at me and says, “Wait a minute.  If I’m going to be the only guy in a dance class with a bunch of chicks, I really can’t go and have my wife tagging along with me now, can I?”

I give him my best fake “that really hurts my feelings” look, and as I’m desperately trying to think of a quick comeback my son comes to my rescue and says, “Oh, come on dad, it’s not like you stand a chance anyway.  I mean, you do know how old you are, don’t you?”

‘Atta boy, son!  Let’s go to that Porsche dealership right now and you can pick out whatever you want!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A New Use for Duct Tape

I’ve got this kid in my class with some sensory issues.  He won’t drink juice or eat any type of juicy fruit because he doesn’t like the way it feels in his mouth.  He won’t even eat popsicles!  Oh well, we all have our foibles and I’m certainly not one to judge, but I must admit he’s a challenge to have in class.  (One of these days I’ll tell you about the shoe-tying incident that involved two teachers, a principal, an office manager, a school nurse, and various and sundry parents.  I still have to fully recover from it first though!)

Along with the shoe-tying incident, there have also been several pants- and shorts-tying incidents; the result of which is that he no longer comes to school with ties of any kind anywhere near his person.  He wears Crocs every day, and athletic pants or shorts with all the ties removed, and I promise you we are all the happier for it.  (Hats off to his parents for doing something about it and not just making it my problem.)

So...we’re making plans for our play and my partner and I, in an effort to make things as simple as possible for our families, ask that everyone just wear the darkest jeans they have.  We figure everyone has jeans, and since the costumes are just your basic T-shirts with an animal painted on them, we figure everyone’s good to go.  Until…

The other day the above mentioned student informed me that he doesn’t like to wear jeans.  Oh, brother, there’s just no pleasing some people!  I asked if he had some basic blue or black pants that he could wear.  I know his family attends church so I’m pretty confident that they will have something that works. 

He points to the pants he’s wearing and asks if he can wear those.  They’re your basic athletic pants with a bunch of white stripes and other nonsense running the full length of each side.  While I want the kids to be comfortable on stage, I also want them to look like they are in a performance, not on the ball field.

I point out all the “stuff” on the sides of his pants and explain that those particular pants are probably not the best choice.  Not skipping a beat he says, “Oh, that’s okay Mrs. J., I’ll just cover the sides up with duct tape.”

Oh, yes, bright silver duct tape will certainly camouflage the white stripes just nicely!  And good grief, I don’t even want to think about the image of him standing up there on stage removing said duct tape during the entire performance!

“Um,” I say, “why don’t I talk to your mom about it?  I’m sure we can work something out.”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that he’s a problem solver and all, but seriously, duct tape?!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Questions From the Teacher

The sheer volume of questions First Graders ask in a given day would surely bury a lesser person.  But for me, it’s all in a day’s work! 
Every now and then, though, I think it’s only fair that I get to ask a question or two.  If I were allowed this little indulgence, and if I were allowed it today, during the dress rehearsal for our upcoming play, here’s what I would have asked.

Why is it that the child who sings the absolute loudest…I mean really, really loudly, is also the child who doesn’t know the words?  I mean, it’s bad enough that the volume is near deafening, but to sing the wrong words on top of that…oye vay! 

Why does the child in the front row, front and center to be exact, have his shirt pulled all the way up to his chest?  And why, for the love of God, is he playing with his belly button?  Does he not realize he’s ON STAGE?  In front of an AUDIENCE? Worse (oh, yes, there’s a worse)…his head is down, as he is completely captivated with his belly button, which means I can’t even catch his eye to give him “the look.”  You know, the look that says, “Is there a reason that you have decided that RIGHT NOW, ON THIS VERY STAGE, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, is the time that your belly button needs your utmost attention?”   

Why is the kid in the back row turned to the kid next to him?  And why is he making funny faces, like totally in that poor kid’s face?  And why, oh why, is that poor kid putting up with it?  If ever there were a time to give someone the ol’ knuckle sandwich, now would be that time…and I’d even pretend I didn’t see it!

Why did the kid in the second row just randomly sit down? 

Why does the kid wearing the crown take it off every 30 seconds, swish his hair like Justin Beiber, and then put it back on?  Does he not know how distracting it is?  Crown off, swish, crown back on.  Crown off, swish, crown back on.  Crown off, swish, crown back on...I think he has placed me under a spell!

How long, exactly, is the girl in the front row going to stare at her hand and pick whatever is on it off of it?

How long until the kid in the front row takes out his entire row, domino style, because he can’t hold his body upright?  (I swear that kid would totally fail a sobriety test right about now!)

How come the one kid in the group with the real singing chops just stands there and refuses to sing?

How long are the two kids in the back row going to think we can’t hear them arguing? 
Stop touching me. 
I didn’t touch you.  
Yes, you did. 
Stay on your side of the tape. 
I am on my side of the tape. 
No you’re not.  You're touching me. 
Um, hello!  There’s a performance going on here.  You can have your little argument later, Fred and Ethel.

And the biggest question of them all…
Why do I submit myself, and my students, to this type of torture year in and year out? 
That’s easy…because the look of sheer excitement, joy, and pride on their faces when they step out onto that stage and see their families in the audience is priceless!