Showing posts with label new beginnings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label new beginnings. Show all posts

Sunday, November 11, 2012

mucho gato, gracias a dios.

a favorite perch.
This was our last weekend with Tasha. I'm looking forward to the week long break and Thanksgiving (my 2nd favorite holiday, second only to my birthday which I feel ought to be a national, if not international, holiday, definitely longer than just 1 day long at the very least and should always fall on a weekend), but I am also wanting to slow down/stop time.

I've decided to help Tasha move on to the Other Side this coming Saturday. She is not well, and even though she's still occasionally hanging out with us and is affectionate, I can just tell: she feels icky. Her meows tend to end in groan-like growls. She has huge mats in her hair I can't get out (side effect of hyperthyroidism),  and I think her appetite is going. Tasha's appetite going is a huge sign of distress for me--this is a cat who loves her food. I don't want her to suffer. I don't want her to end up in any pain. I don't want her to be afraid or confused by anything.

But I will miss her deeply. She has been a good, sweet cat, and there for me through thick and thin. When I decide I love someone or something, I am very tenacious; letting go is not something that comes naturally for me, even after it's painfully obvious to me it's in my own best interest to do so. My friend Patresa told me the other day cats are notorious at clinging to life, well beyond the point it's good for them. Which sort of makes me like Tasha, I suppose, at letting go. This is very, very hard.

I don't know what state I will be in when C and I drive her to the vet this coming Saturday. I know that when my parents had to put my childhood friend/dog Sassy down, I was in a terrible state of grief when I found out. I have had two great animal loves in my life: Sassy saw me through childhood and Tasha saw me through adulthood. I am sure the Universe has another great animal love to see me through my twilight years.

When Sassy died, I was in a lot of emotional distress. I'm sure there are neuroscientists in the world who could explain the following to me, but quite frankly I think those neuroscientists are big party poopers who are simply refusing to look at The Big Picture.

Anyway, I was driving home from work one day, still weeping and grieving over my little black dog, and a tremendous warmth flooded through me. It didn't last more than a nanosecond, but it was so enormous, so gigantic, that even years later, I can still almost feel it. If I were a less sane person (and at times, I have been), I would quit my job, run off to live in the desert, and spend the rest of my life trying to get back in touch with whatever sent me that warmth. It was like somebody gave me a swift, warm hug of deep peace from deep inside of me, just to send me the message: "All is well. Sassy is in a very good place, and she's okay." That was the message, only there weren't words--the message was in the feeling, or actually WAS the feeling. I could feel the words.


(Neuroscientists, you may have your field day now...but over there, in the dark corner where all the party pooper punks hang out.)

I don't know what happens to us when we die. I wish I knew for absolute sure; some people say they know for absolute sure, but I will not make any rash statements I may have to back pedal on later. I am a mere human being, small in a huge and infinite Universe with amazing things we don't even know exist yet. I feel God around me, I have always felt connected to something that--because this is what my culture calls it and so do I, for convenience and to avoid being blasted a hell-headed heretic--I have always called "God."  I believe God is very very real, except I don't think God is tangible, or a big man in the sky sitting on a golden throne surrounded by singing angels; in fact, I don't think God has a gender at all or is even all that judgmental, quite frankly. I'm absolutely certain God wasn't on anyone's side in the recent election. Sometimes stuff just happens because that's what has to happen--it's not good or bad, it just is. If you want God to intervene, just ask Him/Her. Usually, S/He does...usually not in the way you'd like or expected, but the intervention does happen. Otherwise, I think God just loves us, and lets us run around all willy nilly here on Earth, like big crazy kids who really, really need some teacher directed recess but refuse to acknowledge they need that until someone gashes open their leg on some playground equipment.

That's where I think God exists: in the "just is." (Here, I am sure half of my readers are now logging off, shaking their heads, saying something like: "That freaky Amy is surely headed to hell in a hand basket." This is fine! Since I'm also not really convinced there necessarily is an actual location called Hell. Unless Hell is sitting in my very own living room and having to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks "Chipwrecked" 4,000 times straight and then 4,000 times after it's over, dissect every single thing that Simon aka Simone says and WHY he gives Jeanette the bracelet/tiara...and even if there is an Alvin and the Chipmunks Chipwrecked Hell? I doubt any of us could actually get there in a hand basket.) (Unless you're the size of a chipmunk, of course.)

I've offtracked myself. I'm sorry if I've totally confused or lost you...my point is: I think the real issue I have with Death is the God-connected energy we all have inside of us. Some people call it our soul or spirit, but to quiet the punk neuroscientists in the dark corner over there, we're calling it Energy. Something must happen with the energy inside of us--that's a simple law of physics. The energy must have somewhere to go. Once, after my maternal grandmother died, I was at a friend's house sitting on their sofa and I felt her, hovering right above my right shoulder--and I instantly knew she was just passing through...stopping by to make sure I was all right, and then she was gone. But I don't know where she went, because I haven't felt her again. But wherever she is, I know she's in a good place, and that she's okay.

So I have had some incredibly strange and freaky and really wonderfully inexplicable things happen to me and my energy. Which is how I know that there is great, calming, peaceful...energy? spirit?...that will make contact with you exactly when and how you need it to, in just a way that works for you, wherever you are at in your spiritual (or not spiritual) life and beliefs. And I call that spirit God, but maybe you call it Science. (So you punk neuroscientists can all go back to your dark labs now and continue not seeing The Big Picture.)

Anyway, back on topic: friend Patresa (who is full of good energy and thoughtful and helpful) also suggested I have a heart to heart talk with Tasha, and I have. I have spoken at length with Tasha, telling her about God, and about how I don't know about what happens to us after this physical side of existence. I explained what I've had to decide to do, and why. I've told her the Story of Sassy, and the weird but extremely comforting experience I had after she died. I've told Tasha I'm scared to make this decision, but I'm more scared of watching her get to a point she'll suffer. We talked about what a good, long life she's had. How many cats can say they were born in one part of the U.S. and got to take an airplane ride to live in another part? That's exciting. I thanked her for being such a sweet, even tempered cat--there simply aren't that many sweet, even tempered cats in the world, I think, and I apologized for putting her through the experience of a baby in her twilight years. But she's been a good animal friend/child to me, and a very patient, loving animal friend/sister to Melissa.

I go back and forth between wanting to be in the room when it happens and not wanting to. I do think I want to take her, to hold her in a soft blanket instead of sticking her in the carrier, and maybe go say good-bye to her when she's gone. Or maybe when Saturday gets here, I won't be able to do any of that--C will have to take her and I will stay home.

I think this is the hardest part of being human, dealing with death. The spirit part of me knows this is simply a new beginning, and that it's both useless and silly to waste time worrying about it. It is inevitable, and a part of the experience we agreed to have when we agreed to hang out here for XX years and have a Life Experience. It's in the contract, and not in fine print...they're pretty up front about it, I think.

Off tracking: While living in Arizona (Arizona: desert land of a myriad of spiritual experiences; I swear it's the dry heat), I found out my dad had congestive heart failure. The way the information was presented to me made it sound like he had about 48 hours to live (he lived for 5 more years). I was inconsolable then, the night I found out, and went to bed sobbing. I fell asleep, and had a dream. In my dream, I was sobbing, too, and an older lady--I couldn't see her, but I could hear her--asked me why I was crying. She was intensely curious. I told her because my dad was dying, and she laughed...not at me, or in a mean way, but a laugh like, "oh, is that all?" And then she got very serious and said, "God created all creatures great and small. It's true your dad is dying, but one day soon your time will come too. Until that day, you are never to worry about death and dying."

Then she repeated the last sentence again, but very very firmly: You are NEVER to worry about death and dying...and then I woke up. But only my brain was awake--my body was frozen and deeply sleeping. I knew I was awake, and in my bedroom, and I knew I was awake, but I couldn't move my body. Then, in my ear, a deep male voice said very loud: You are NEVER to worry about death and dying. And then my whole body woke up. All of that happened so very fast--less than 5 seconds. And of course, I was totally freaked out--I had every single light in my apartment on in less than 10 seconds flat to make sure I was alone (I was...or maybe I wasn't. Doo doo doo!). And of course (part 2), to this day I DO still worry about death and dying. I worry about it all the time. Who the heck wants to die? Who the heck wants anyone or any pet they love to die? Dying is the Great Unknown...I could barely figure out how to decorate Melissa's room without knowing what gender to plan for...I make lists about lists to make sure I know what's coming next. But Death...don't worry about it? Just...don't worry about it? Me? Who once took 20 minutes to decide between a gray pair of pants and a black pair? What a useless thing to say to a human being. Who came up with THAT lesson plan, Universe? Give them a D-. (And tell them to stop freaking people out at 3 am.)

Still, I think about those freaky, weird, inexplicable, wonderful experiences of Spirit that happened to me, what I think I know and know I don't know about the Great Beyond. I do not care what neuroscientists, atheists, and so forth have to say about my experiences or beliefs; they happened to me, I like that they happened to me, and I think you and your Science should stick to Global Warming, where you can make a much bigger difference in the long run. They stay in my heart, and they give me a lot of comfort during moments like these, when I have to let go.

Back on topic: Tasha is/was a lot of cat. She has a sweet, gentle soul that I hope will come visit if she can, wherever she goes. She loves ear rubs and cuddling up right on top of you when it's cold...I will miss that, this winter and every winter without her. Other than a warm body to snuggle with on colder days, some long ear rubs, and a full food bowl at all times? Tasha has never really asked much out of Life, or from anyone--she is and was a go-with-the-flow kind of cat. Happy and satisfied as long as she had company and food in her belly...tIf you were on the sofa, she'd hang out on the sofa with you. If you were working at the kitchen table, she'd find a kitchen chair to curl up on. When I was on pregnancy bed rest for 4 weeks, she was my bed rest buddy. She's been pretty quiet and content to just be, which is something I think human beings could learn a big lesson from. Just stay quiet, and be content just to be. Tasha has filled up my whole heart for almost 18 years simply by doing that. I am so thankful that God collided our life paths...I am sure she was sent just when I needed her, for exactly how long she was needed.


I hope she gets some good ear rubs on the Other Side.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Best & Worst

Around this time of year, I like to take stock. I like to take stock of how my year went, overall...am I shaking my fists at it and stomping around, cussing like a crusty old sailor? Or just giving it the middle finger raised defiantly up high, in a really indignant manner? I'm certainly never hugging it. I don't think I've hugged an old year going out and a new year coming in since 1982. There's usually something in the past year that has really made me put my hands on my hips in a very annoyed manner and say out loud to no one in particular, "Really, Insert name of year here? Really?? What the freaking heck."(Full disclosure: I might--or might not--use much swarthier words than freaking and heck. It would just depend on the issue, and the year.)

Another thing I do is come up with Un-Resolutions. This is a very Alice in Wonderland thing to do, and I prefer it because I know I'll be 100% successful at these. For example, in 2012, I unresolve to spend less time on pinterest.com. And, in 2012, I unresolve to spend half of each Saturday lying around staring at the ceiling feeling guilty about all the things I really should be accomplishing. Also, in 2012, I unresolve to clean my toilets more (though I did find a really earth-friendly, economical, most awesome solution of part vinegar/part water/Dawn dishwashing liquid you can make at home that can supposedly scrub blood stains off the inside of a person's body).

But I also like to review my personal year's Best & Worst. Just like they do in People magazine and on E! News, except without the paparazzi pictures:


Best Kid Moment: Potty training accomplished! No more poopy diapers, no more diaper bills, no more worrying about contributing to the land fill diaper problem in America but being too 21st century lazy and harried to actually switch to cloth diapers and do something about plus that would involve more laundry and I'm really anti-more laundry....woohoo! No more diapers!

Worst Kid Moment: Realizing potty training isn't (1) fool proof or (2) consistent. Most embarrassing example of this: the infamous McDonald's Poop Explosion of 2011.

Worst Job Moment: Volunteering to leave the dream teaching job I adored to venture forth into unknown waters. Teaching (the Education field in general, actually) seems to be in a bit of a scary and massive upheaval these days, and so who knows where I'll be at this time next year? Upheavals can be both bad and good, but I am never a fan of change. Even and especially when I instigate it.

Best Job Moment: Finding out teaching 3rd graders is surprisingly a breeze. Jolly Ranchers and lead pencils and the ability to place a "I Actually Don't Find You Funny At All" look on my face in a mere 1.5 seconds really helped that. And the change in focus turned out to be fairly good for me...after teaching 1st grade ESOL for about 10 years, I could pretty much do that with my eyes closed. It's stressful to have to locate, plan, and coordinate new lessons, and I wish I didn't end up staying until 5:00 pm most days. But it keeps me on my toes. And that's a good thing, because I'm the kind of person who really needs to be kept on her toes. Otherwise, I spend way too much time staring at a ceiling for half a day feeling guilty about all the stuff I could be accomplishing.

Best Health Moment: C got a new knee. It's a lot of work right now, and his body is still adjusting. But in about 6-8 weeks, I predict he'll be walking around like Melissa does when she gets a new bouncy ball: "Mommy! Look at meeeee! Look at me and my new bouncy ball! Look at how good I am with my bouncy ball! I can bounce my bouncy ball really, really high! No! You can't have my bouncy ball! It's MINE!" (C, of course, will not be bouncing as high as he can, but I do suspect he won't share his new knee with anyone.)

Worst Health Moment: Well, I got skin cancer. That was the worst. But it was a fortunately/unfortunately kind of thing: Unfortunately, I got skin cancer. Fortunately, it turned out to be the unscary kind, harmless little Basal Cell that can sit on your skin for years and years and never make a peep (except you should get Basal Cell off of there ASAP if you do find him sitting there, because occasionally he can turn into his big older brother, Malignant, Scary Carcinoma. Scary  Carcinoma is a really crappy bastard, and even his own mother ignores him on his birthday). Fortunately, it was an easy procedure to remove. Unfortunately, I'll be at a dermatologist's office annually for the rest of my life. Fortunately, this will quickly help us meet our insurance's out of pocket maximum so C can get another new knee next year and we don't have to pay a thing. See? Fortunately/Unfortunately.

Worst Celebrity News: The Kardashians are really getting on my nerves. I don't understand them, and I don't understand the nation's love/hate relationship and fascination with them. I'm just glad they're in cahoots with Sears. If I had to see them and their sweat shop clothing line every time I bought contact lens cleaner at Target or Wal-Mart, I really think I'd lose my mind.

...Except I have to say, I do begrudgingly like Khloe. Khloe seems like someone I could have over for dinner and laugh with. Oh, okay...and Kourtney, too. Her little boy is too, too cute. As long as she left the icky boyfriend/father at home, I think we could hang out and talk.

Fine, fine, fine. It's really just Kim I'm having an issue with. But I think everyone in America is too, and so. Good.

Best Celebrity News: Apparently, Atlanta is quickly becoming the new Hollywood. This increases my chances of bumping into Gerard Butler at Target or Wal-Mart or Kroger or Publix  by 1,000%. Obviously, in 2012, I'm going to have to never leave the house without full make up and hair, and I'll clearly have to hire a personal stylist. Oh, and the gym. I guess I'll have to bump up my gym schedule from 0 times a week to at least 1 or 2. Man. That's going to be a lot of work. I may need to set my standards a little lower and hope to bump into one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta's ex-boyfriends.

This is not what my chicken avocado parmigiana looked like.
Worst Cooking Moment: The avocado/parmigiana chicken dish I got off pinterest.com. It seemed like a good idea in theory. I mean, who the heck doesn't love chicken parmigiana? And avocados are just healthy for you--full of good vitamins and the type of fat your body doesn't use to make you look 6 months pregnant. But in actual practice? It did not execute well, and I apologize to all who came into contact with it (namely, C and Melissa) (C took 3 bites and Melissa declared hers "icky," dumped it in the trash can, and proceeded to demand chicken nuggets instead).

Best Cooking Moment: The fact that I cooked most nights of the week. The week right before Winter Break and the week of Knee Replacement surgery were pretty rough and full of McDonald's happy meals. But other than that, I've been a cooking fool throughout 2011. Please note: I do not enjoy cooking. Slow cookers make it a tad easier. Unless you have someone who doesn't enjoy slow cooker food, like I do, who (after 3 slow cooker meals) asks you to lighten up on the slow cooker meals. That can really throw off your whole game plan, if you have that. I also don't enjoy the following: menu planning, grocery shopping, food prep, cooking clean up, dishwasher put away, and pantry organization. But the point is, I have learned to overcome all of that, in a very Chariots of Fire kind of way. And I like looking up recipes and conducting recipe experiments. I'm a Chariots of Fire Kitchen Scientist is what I am. And C and Melissa are my lab rats.

Worst Gift of 2011: There were none. Every gift is awesome. If you give me a gift of any kind, you are permanently on my Favorite People list forever. Unless your gift is the flu or a cold. And then you're on my People to Avoid at All Costs list.

Best Gift of 2011: The Keurig. Do you know about them? Next to the Internets, these are one of humanity's most helpful and evil-at-the-same-time inventions ever. You put some water in the holder. You stick your coffee cup under the thingy. You stick a Keurig coffee cup thingy ($9 per box, more expensive at Bed Bath & Beyond) in the thingy. You press a button. Sixty seconds later? You have a coffee (in a variety of flavors, including but not limited to hazelnut, french vanilla, and fair trade decaf) or tea or hot chocolate or espresso or cappucino. It's technology magic. The evil part comes into play because the coffee maker is always right there. On your counter. And if there is water in the water compartment, in a mere 60 seconds you can have your 1,000th cup of coffee (or tea or espresso or hot chocolate or cappucino) of the day. For example, as I type this, it is 10:00 am and I'm enjoying my 6th cup of coffee (an Italian Donut Shop bold that is clearing out my sinuses in a most effective way...I predict the caffeine in this thing will keep me up well past 1:00 am).

Starbucks is also pissed at the Keurig guys. My yearly $25,000 donation to them is probably going to be reduced by about $24,990.

Worst Book of 2011: Did Kim Kardashian write a tell-all book about her 72 hour marriage yet? If not, get ready to put that on your "Worst Book" list for whatever year she writes it.

Best Book of 2011: Tina Fey's book Bossypants. I would like to be Tina Fey's friend and confidante. I would like to start a religious cult that worships all that Tina Fey says, writes, and does. (That sounds a bit stalkerish, I know. But honestly, the fastest way to become a billionaire is (a) invent the computer or facebook, or (b) start a religion and get Tom Cruise on board). I have many, many new worldviews because of Tina Fey, and many, many new awesome quotes to throw at people haphazardly when they least expect. Here's one:

But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—BeyoncĂ© brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.

See? Ladies, wouldn't you like to be friends with Tina, too? Let's get together every Friday and pray to her. (Please bring $25 as a Fey Love "donation.")

And last (but not least):

Worst Overall Moment of 2011: The angry, judgmental Target employee and my emotional breakdown about her (including tears) in front of a store manager while standing in front of Target Cafe's pretzel machine. I've finally managed to successfully shop (tear-free) in this Target again. I've gone back to placing Melissa (in a really defiant way I must add) in the back of the cart (minus the seat belt AND allowing her to stand up). I've also managed to once run into that same angry, judgmental Target employee while Melissa is standing up in the back of the cart (mihnus cart seat belt) and look at that chick with pointy, dangerous daggers shooting out of my eyes in her general direction in a really passive aggressive way. I'm sure she senses when I've entered the store and becomes very nervous. Obviously, I've clearly won.

...Really, this experience has kind of turned into a it was the best of times/it was the worst of times sort of thing. But I'm still shell shocked about the initial experience, and so I'm making it my Worst Moment of 2011 (there could have been a worse worst moment of 2011, but my memory only goes back to about July of each year, and nothing worse happened to me from July-December than that).

Best Overall Moment of 2011:  We are all still alive. C and I both have satisfying jobs, a roof over our heads, nice clothes (Old Navy recently had a 70% off sale that I hit just right), good food in our bellies (as long as it doesn't involve chicken, parmigiana, and avocados), a sweet girl who only goes to time out 3 times a day, and we are cancer-free (knock on wood), surrounded by family we are on talking terms with who we actually find amusing and fun to be around. Is there any kind of a moment that would be better than that? I don't think so, and I'm positive Tina Fey (blessed be her name) will agree.

Happy 2012, everyone!


Monday, October 10, 2011

third grade: the talking year (or: be glad you are not a pencil).

I have survived. I did know that I would; I just like to be melodramatic in times of drastic change and upheaval. Please make a mental note to yourself right now about this: if 2012 does turn out to be the end of the world as we know it (r.i.p., REM), do not (I repeat: do NOT) ask me to be one of your Post-Apocalypse team mates...unless you're okay being eaten alive by apocalyptic humanoid cannibal zombies in mere minutes.

So I've been a 3rd grade Science/Social Studies teacher for 2 weeks now. So far, I've taught 2 weeks of Paul Revere, briefly wondering to myself (often out loud) while concocting lessons (and I also did this while developing lessons to teach 1st grade English language learners about odd historical figures like Annie Oakley and Davy Crockett--gun toting sharp shooters, precisely the two people I instantly think of when making American heroes connections to 6 year olds--Abraham Lincoln?? George Washington?? Psh. These are 21st century kids, homies!)...I kept thinking: why THAT guy? There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people throughout the annals of American history to pick from but we go with the shotgun girl, the raccoon hat dude (or was that Lewis and Clarke? No matter, 1st graders learn them as well), and the guy who didn't actually make it all the way to Concord, MA because some British soldiers took his horse? I don't see the connections behind the why's. I think I get the how's and what for's. I'm just still working out the why's. In my head. Sometimes out loud. But never in front of children. Blatantly.

But then. I'm not in charge of Curriculum & Instruction, Common Core Standards, etc., now am I? A good thing, because I promise if it were up to me, there would be whole sections on end of year high stakes tests with subject headings like: Compare/Contrast the Mental Health Benefits of Chocolate Kisses vs. Chocolate Ice Cream, Math Problems Using Calculators, and Awesomely Astute Harry Potter Quotes. For extra credit (and fifty teacher pet points), students would be able to write a persuasive essay to Gerard Butler (of 300 fame, a movie several of my new friends have indicated to me they are totally obsessed with--as well as Bride of Chucky, a horror movie involving axes and hockey goalie masks, and some movie about drug lord warfare) to implore Mr. Butler to be our Mystery Reader for One Whole Week at our school. In my classroom. All day long. Followed by power dinners out. (What? What? If J Lo happened to be in Atlanta and happened to need to access Medicaid insurance information and happened to need to access Medicaid insurance information in our area of town, I'd totally understand if C called me up to let me know he wouldn't be home for dinner.) (I bet outrageous rambling what-if scenarios like these are exactly why famous people feel pressured to hire armed bodyguards.)

Okay, moving on. Here's what I've learned so far about 3rd grader psychology:

1. They're basically just 1st graders, in larger packages. They still like to give hugs and get stickers, and they respond in very Pavlovian ways to these types of candies: Starbursts, Skittles, and Jolly Ranchers (Jolly Ranchers having the most peculiar effect: 3rd graders all over the world will give erratic screams of delight upon finding them in a candy jar). Which is so totally awesome, because of all the candy in the world, the three I'm not drawn to are Starbursts, Skittles, and Jolly Ranchers. If they insisted on mini Snickers or 3 Musketeer bars, I'd have to seek other employment.

2a. But they're savvier in that I can see their little 3rd grade mind gears constantly turning, always trying to trip me up, back me into some corner they've painted, hoping I didn't notice it was there. Like, I let them know I only have one rule in my class and that rule is: You can do anything (ANYthing?? they said with incredulous tones. Yes, ANYthing, I said) in my classroom.....melodramatic pause for giant effect....as long as it doesn't bother anyone else (including and especially me, The Teacher) or mess up anyone else's learning (and/or my ability to teach). Can you hear the disappointed "Oh."s? There were about 100 of these when I exposed the last half of my One Rule, and they came out in a very a Row Row Row Your Boat type of choral round.

Later that week (okay, fine, the very next day), every class had at least 15 kids who did something annoying, who then immediately attempted to invoke the: "But you SAID we could do ANYTHING we wanted..." defense. Behavior clips were pulled, thunderous "oh man!"s echoed throughout the trailer classroom (which, I would like to note for further effect: noises in a portable classroom are exactly 10 million to the 10th power times louder than in an indoor, regular classroom. This noise level alone causes at least 6 clips to be pulled in my most talkative groups, on a daily, thunderous basis.)

2b.But I have to give it to them: so far, out of the almost 100 people I see all day, two have very narrowly and successfully mentally maneuvered me into a corner they've painted that I didn't see was there. And good for them! Those little problem solvers! Good for them. Because when I see decent problem solving, I don't care what the circumstances are; those people always get a big high five and a jolly rancher from me on their way out the door. Even if I have to pull a clip while high fiving them.

3. Third graders like to talk. Third graders like to talk and they don't care what it's about or who they're talking to, as long as they get to talk. If a third grader was sitting by him or herself in a white padded cell with no windows or doors, that third grader would talk to the white pads on the wall, just so she or he could make sure his or her vocal chords remained in good talking condition. Also, they might hum. And if there was something to tap nearby that would make a satisfying and highly annoying to everyone else tapping sound, they would tap it. For hours.

4. Third graders have a visceral need to be entertained, at all costs. This can be exhausting.  But then again, this is also partly just teaching in general--my first graders always demanded entertainment, too (and don't we all?...for example, I just finished the latest PEOPLE magazine plus one OK! U.S. edition C brought back from an airplane trip and TMZ.com comes thisclose to getting bookmarked on my computer every other day).

This is what teaching is to me: is a little bit of disseminating information, a good portion of cutting and pasting and running off copies, and great deal of acting as a way of keeping pinging neurons focused. There are days I get into my car and I'm all, "When are these non-teachers going to stop complaining about all the things they don't know anything about, and just frickin' broadcast the first annual Teacher Oscars?" Or, at the very least, give me one more pay raise before retirement. Is all I'm asking for.  Oh, and maybe less testing, too. A teaching Oscar, a modest pay raise, and less testing. Teachers really don't ask for much. ....okay, well. I was actually pretty serious about Gerard Butler being a Mystery Reader at my school for a week. In my classroom. Including power dinners at swank restaurants after.

5. Third graders are to pencils as zombies are to the living. In first grade ESOL, every beginning of the school year, I'd buy 4 boxes of pencils. Sometimes just 2. And I'd always have at least one whole box of 24 pencils left over at the end of the year. Because I guess 1st graders simply don't write as much? For sure they don't eat pencils. Which is so odd to discover, because when I think "pencil eaters," I don't think of people finishing up their first decade of life. I think of people who've just recently left toddlerhood.

Clearly, something is happening between the time children leave 1st grade and arrive in 3rd. Some type of physical and/or psychological shift which causes a child to take out all of his or her passive aggressions on the poor pencils of the world. Two weeks ago, I began my career in 3rd grade with exactly 50 pencils. Fifty shining, perfectly formed, happy new pencils. Two weeks later, I have lost 30 of these pencils and the 20 who've somehow survived the battle are sitting, unsharpened and mangled, in my classroom as I type this. They are chipped, they are stained. They are missing limbs (erasers), they have been chewed on, they have been shredded. They have been stripped of any dignity they had left, and some of them are now nothing more than the nubs of pencils they once were. To be a pencil in the hands of a 3rd grader is to know the true cost of a bloody battle to the death, to be at the mercy of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades to come.

And last and most important:

6. The coolest thing I've discovered about 3rd graders is this: they can do stuff. When I say "stuff" I actually mean: mostly follow directions. Like, in 1st grade, I would say something like, "Okay, friends. Everyone put your paper under your chair and look at me." And then I would say that last sentence in various other forms again. For 5 more minutes or 200 times, whichever came first. In 3rd grade, I only have to say that sentence about 3 or 4 times and it gets done. I mean, it's not perfect; nothing in Life ever is. You have your stragglers. You have your boundary pushers. You have your tired, your poor, your hard of hearing, and your what-did-you-just-say?-because-I've-been-tapping-this-chewed up-pencil-and-talking-for-the-last-twenty-minutes-so-I'm-not-really-sure-what-I'm-supposed-to-be-doing-right-now-much-less-where-I-am...where-am-I-again? people. But generally speaking, you say it once, and about 60% of the class does it. By the second time, 80% is with you. On the 3rd try, you're really only looking at about 3 people with your best and hardest Teacher Stare. It's like...it's like....it's like this. And friends who know kids well will understand when I state: that is all good.

So basically, I'm okay. There have been some sketchy moments; I'm still clueless about grades...not necessarily what to grade as much as when and how. And I'm up late a lot, looking for cool stuff to show them or do with them with whatever new thing we'll be learning about next. .....Okay, fine. I'm up late a lot just trying to educate myself on whatever new thing we'll be learning about next. Like, when we were doing Paul Revere, I kept getting the lanterns mixed up--how many if by land vs. sea? Which totally could have ruined the whole Revolution thing for us if Paul's friend in the Old North Church tower had been, say, me.

But I'm really starting to love this. Because you can still do incredibly fun and exciting and cool stuff with 3rd graders while imparting the vast amount of informative knowledge testing gurus insist is necessary for young children to be able to spew. I am fine with this, as long as I can find ways to (a) make it fun so it actually does stick in their heads (even if sporadically and not for very long) and (b) make it fun so I don't stab myself in the eye with a pencil nub suffering from PTSD. Third graders have to do a lot of note taking, and 3rd grade is where school gets serious. But I long for the days school wasn't just testing and information pushing--I miss the fun projects. This is the 21st century; surely projects are the old new wave of the future, right? Please say yes, testing gurus. My pencil nubs are nervous.

I am also spending some money--this is nothing new for me, to pull out cash (or, in my case, AmEx) for my job and not ever be reimbursed. And I know I don't have to do this because very kind people at school have given me a plethora of lesson plans/ideas. But that's just me. I'm sure it's a weird version of retail therapy...some people shop for shoes. I shop for teaching supplies.

I'm also on a lot of teacher blogs. Who knew?! Did you know? Not me! Holy pencil chips: there is a veritable plethora of minions of teachers out there in the blogging world who (a) are not using the blogging platform simply as a way to publicly expose their melodramatic accounts of stuff Life flings their way while occasionally overanalyzing the psyches of 8 year olds as well as their almost-3-year old child (who is becoming more and more neurotic about the dark and things that go bump in the night...I suspect one too many Ghosthunters episodes while she was gestating are to blame), and (b) are using blogs as platforms to share and connect with other education professionals....and, you know. Maybe also give themselves the pay raise all 50 state congresses are clearly reluctant to give. Between teacher bloggers and amazon.com, I just know I'm going to be broke by December (hi, honey! if you're reading this...please send all complaints to Governor Nathan Deal c/o Sonny Perdue and maybe some fat cats on Wall St.).

But don't worry! I could be rich by the end of this summer! Because--and I don't know if you guys know this about me or not--one of my most favorite things to do, second only to procrastinating which is third only to napping, is to create educational powerpoints. And once I get this Promethean board in my room (which I lovingly refer to as my %$#$@!*&^ board, since it takes exactly 10 minutes or 500 unpluggings and repluggings of the usb cord, whichever comes first, to try to convince the laptop to talk to the board--did they have some kind of a fight before I moved in? Who knows why technology does anything it does) ...once I get my %$#@^%!^ board figured out, I'm positive I'll add creating active board flip charts to my hobbies as well. This could be quite lucrative, if a little time consuming.

If the teachers paying teachers thing works out, I'm definitely spending at least one summer in the near future world traveling, on a Gerard Butler hunt.

Gerard Butler would look totally natural in this environment.



Friday, September 16, 2011

Shock and awe.

So it's been quite a week of Big New Stuff for me. And for one of my most other favorite co-worker friends. And some (still blissfully unaware) students. 

First some professional background: When I picked elementary education as my college major, I picked it because (a) the psychology department was requiring Calculus as a pre-requisite (which I now know is just so ridiculous: I've paid hundreds of psychologists to listen to me and my problems over the years and not once, not ONCE, have any of them stopped me and said, "Hold on! Hold that thought! I need to convert it to this special Psychological Calculus chart. It's why I took Calculus in college.") and (most of all)  (b) I really, really dig kids. And I really, really wanted to do something helpful and important with my life, specifically with kids, more specifically with little kids. And I wanted that helpful and important thing I was doing with my life, specifically with little kids, to be in an area of the country where little kids most needed help (i.e., the ghetto, the barrio, the wrong side of the tracks, places where people on the skids tend to congregate) (disclosure: though I am white and grew up in an upper middle class family, I remain largely disinterested in teaching these people's kids and having to listen to all their champagne problems) (this is possibly one reason I totally don't have a problem with lots and lots of Commie Socialist stuff...like the public library and schools for example...taking over our society).


Anywho. I digress/am suddenly and dangerously off topic.

Oh, but wait--while I'm off topic, I also need to note here that I am no fan of big to large-ish kids. Some people who go into education are--they see humans under the age of 8 as frightening alien blobs that are to be avoided, unless one ends up in their home as a result of a pregnancy. Those small alien blobs are okay, because they're only being dealt with in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, and so yes. But in large groups? No way! Some people start itching with hives just thinking about teaching a class of squirmy Kindergartners picking their noses.

This is how I feel about big to large-ish kids. I do not understand big to large-ish kids' brains, and I worry about having to hear the rehashing of a lot of episodes of iCarly and The Suite Life on Deck, two shows I just don't get (because I no longer possess a large-ish kid brain). I have taught for 16 years, and of those 16 years I've taught this many children over the age of seven: 0. Basically what I'm telling you is: I am an armchair child psychology expert in Kindergarten and 1st grade, I'll even go so far as to throw early half of 2nd grade into my bag of tricks. Need to know why your 1st grader is making those strange wailing sounds and yanking his arms around like he's having a seizure? Duh! That's just what all 1st grade boys do every day at 2 PM. But 3rd grade boys? At 2 PM? I have no idea. I feel hives starting.
 
I do know Melissa will be in the large-ish kid category one day. But again. 1:1 ratio factor. I do not have to face a large group of 25 big Melissas everyday. The only plus to that situation would be that they are all (hopefully) securely potty trained.


Okay. That's out of the way.

So. Finally getting to my whole point. Here's what happened this week: the state's education budget is a big wad of poop right now, and no one's really trying to flush the toilet. It's just sitting there and sitting there, fermenting like a 3rd grade science experiment gone wrong. I suspect 49.5 out 50 state education budgets are this way right now. But thank goodness Congress was able to bail out those guys on Wall Street! Right? Lord only knows what the children of America could have done with that $700 billion. Most of the small kids I know--after spending a good portion of it on Wii games and junk food and trips to Six Flags and Disney World--would have been extremely generous with it. I'm pretty sure that one little guy in my 4th class of the day--after he'd bought himself a whole room of lizards and snakes--would have made sure my house was paid off. I've never known a decent kid who doesn't have a heart. ...I don't get that same vibe from hedge fund guys.


At any rate. What I'm taking a really long time to get to is my announcement that I have had to make a really hard decision and give up my ESOL position teaching Kindergarten and 1st grade. There is not enough money to support the number of ESOL teachers at our school, and the 3rd grade teachers deserve some relief (they currently have an average of 29 people in their classes). We had to pull one ESOL teacher to be a classroom teacher, and one to be a Science/Social Studies teacher. And after I slept on it, and meditated in between cussing out God (don't worry--He's totally used to hearing it from me), and really thought about what was happening and what the horizon looked like up the road, I decided I needed to put on my big girl underpants and make like Nike and Just Do It (too many overdone cliches in one paragraph?).

Please know: this was my dream job. When I was in college learning to be a teacher I was always so frustrated, because I wanted to work with little kids who were poor and couldn't speak English and the college didn't offer any programs or even any classes to train me on how to do that. I think I remember one brief blurb in a Language Arts text book somewhere. I wanted to help English learners learn about America, how to speak English, so they could grow up to be part of this country and make it a better place to live. I really believe in the power of diversity and the goodness of multiculturalism; I like seeing signs in different languages on the road...I love the mosques and temples and churches all hanging out together in harmony, One World style...I feel so happy when I'm at the nail shop and I watch two people communicate via 3 different languages. Our differences are our hardest soft power, our greatest strength as a country. I think if you're afraid of immigrants and the changes they bring to your area, you're already behind the times. I know we can all learn from each other and that no one kind of belief system is better than another. Although some cultures do have tastier foods.

I have deeply, incredibly loved my time as an ESOL teacher--I've learned how to be a better teacher just from all the collaborating with other teachers I've done over the last 9 years. And I've taught some ridiculously cute little kids. Ridiculously cute.


But when the current educational state of the situation was presented to us on Tuesday, along with some other situations I've been hearing about here and there cropping up in my department throughout the school district, I could see the writing on the wall and it was those big huge blocks of graffiti you see all over New York City (and some areas that Atlanta's MARTA trains fly by). I'm not sure what the future of ESOL in the state of Georgia is right now; it does not look good, friendly friends. I'd like to think this is just a money issue that will one day be fixed as soon as all the Wall Street fat cats pony up and become responsible tax paying citizens again...I sincerely hope it's not a reflection of the growing animosity I see towards immigrants in this country, even the legal ones. 

I actually didn't have to volunteer to change positions--there were a couple of other people on my grade level who would have been tagged due to seniority. But my dear friend and most awesome co-worker J was definitely going to have to go, and I just really enjoy working with her. She's never taught in a classroom, is another small-kids-only oriented person, and she's fairly terrified (but I've team taught with her, and she is so frickin' amazing...one of those naturally gifted at teaching teachers born with an extra chromosome geared for teaching). And I knew that if I didn't do it this year, it would be next year. Or the next. Most definitely by 2014 (when, technically, public education is set to implode if they don't fix that NCLB mess...100% on grade level at that point is like asking toddlers to build a skyscraper to code). And God only knows what might have been waiting for me at that point--most likely a class of 5th grade boys anxious to be the next Li'l Wayne.


So I'll be teaching 3rd grade Science & Social Studies. It's a model at our school--classroom teachers teach Reading/Lang. Arts/Math to half their class while the other half visit me with half of another class for Science and Social Studies. Which are two subjects I generally enjoy. For the love of numbers, NObody wants me teaching their kid how to do long division or complicated multiplication problems, trust me...I'd be sitting there counting on my fingers right along with the 3rd graders, going "I just don't get it?".


I'm grieving. I have cried so much since Wednesday. And people at my school are so kind, so incredibly helpful. Every time someone gives me a hug or asks me how I'm doing, I just want to break down. Isn't that bizarre? It's like my cat just died, or I just got evicted from an apartment. I feel just ridiculous every time I start weeping--because, uh, hello dorky self: you still have a job, you work with great people and are being welcomed onto a new team with open arms, you aren't taking a pay cut (well, actually, I have...since about 2008 when the pay froze), you haven't had to switch schools totally to the Land of the Unknown, and they haven't asked you to teach a class of 5th grade boys who are all anxious to be the next Li'l Wayne. Small blessings, tiny angel helpers.

Still, I'm grieving so many things--a sudden, traumatic job change will do this, I suppose. Like, I'm grieving having to leave my classroom I've been in for 7 years. Which is in a crappy portable that I totally suspect spews out mold spores from the air ducts at intervals. I'm grieving not being able to read all the sweet and cute picture books, or do the fun and colorful holiday projects, and just generally get to be around small people all day who don't judge me (generally). 


I'm also worried I sound ungrateful. The position I'm moving into is coveted. People have, like, pirate sword fights on the playground over these Science/Social Studies jobs. I deeply appreciate how lucky I am to have this position open up and have it offered to me on practically a silver platter.But I'm overwhelmed by how much I have to do and all the new stuff I have to learn and I'm scared I'm never going to understand how to give grades in real and meaningful way (I haven't had to do grades in 9 years...and now it's done all fancy pants on computers and such). 


However, after the initial shock and awe has worn off, I will be okay. I usually resist change at all costs, but once the ball gets rolling, I'm always okay. It'll be nice to start with a clean slate in a new classroom. And I'll be on my toes this year learning new curriculum, which may help me drop about 50 lbs. since I'll have less time to hit the vending machines. And I love to research and write up new lessons--I like the lure of great possibilities. 

Learning curves are just not my favorites, and I tend to really fight the Universe when It throws them at me. For example, since I volunteered on Wednesday, I've been shaking my fist at the Cosmos, Rob Brezny (whose horoscopes have been pointing out this cosmic change in plans for me since about mid-July), both federal and state Congresses, and I've actually considered writing a letter to Goldman Sachs demanding they send me my teacher's cut of their stupid Wall Street bailout money (which I estimate to be exactly $500,000) (I'm not greedy--I just need some new classroom materials and maybe my mortgage paid off so I can continue supplementing at my job).


I don't know. I think I'm just in psychic transition over here, frantically trying to get to a place where everything feels normal again. Everyone swears 3rd graders are little kids in bigger bodies, and it's really the best age. My friend C told me I just made the smartest chess move ever in the history of teaching--in about 5 years, if the trends we're seeing continue, ESOL teaching in Georgia will be the LAST place a teacher wants to find him/herself. She also promises me once I go up, I'll never want to come down (grade levels). And I'm trying to remember being a 3rd grader; I think that's when I got big bug eyed glasses and started walking through the halls with my nose in a book in order to avoid eye contact. I may get a version of my younger self in a class and become the mac to her cheese, help her find a way to redeem herself before middle school rears its big ugly bully face and smacks her in the head. The Universe is so sneaky in setting up connections like that.

I'll be okay. I work with and for really cool people. I hear the horror stories; I know how good I have it where I am. I have stuck around at this school through good times, bad times, and what the heck is going on right now??? times simply because of the people I've gotten to work with over the years. I'd much rather teach an entire class of Li'l Wayne wannabes where I'm at right now than have to pack my stuff up and teach future rap stars at Hell's Kitchen ES, under Principal Gordon Ramsey.


Though I do wish Gordon Ramsey would go kick some education policy gurus in the butt right now.

Friday, August 5, 2011

back to school: the audacity of hope


Man, what a week. The first week of Back to School is always so rough. First there's the daily body shock of getting up at 5:45 am every day after two months of 7:00 am leisurely wake ups, and at least five (unbelievably relaxing) mornings of waking up as late as 9:00 am (thank you to C for watching 2 hours straight of Yo Gabba Gabbas and Bubbleguppies those 5 mornings).

Then there are the meetings--it simply wouldn't be a new school year without the meetings. One day for me was nothing but 2 long back to back meetings (though I must say: the first 3 hour meeting that particular day was a talented, most inspiring guest speaker named Dr. Dan Mulligan who made the business of teaching critical thinking skills exciting, engaging, and just all around laugh out loud fun) (and then a teacher friend who lived close to the speaker venue threw a lunch party that started with chicken salad sandwiches and ended with gooey, fudgy, chocolate-y brownies).

And then there was the moving around of furniture and the organizing of messes (what the poop was I frickin' doing back in May??) (answer: probably recuperating from school year trauma). Don't even get me started on Meet the Teacher night (which was actually not bad...except for that one incoming Kindergartner who actually pooped on one of the cafeteria's stools while daddy was filling out paperwork) (yes, real poop...and I have no idea how he got it out of his pants which remained completely poop free, along with his hands) (????) (and I was all kinds of non-judgmental. Given that I was just in that dad's position less than a month ago) (though I must Linknote here that my child is in the beginning stages of potty training at 2 years old...not registering for Kindergarten at 5) (okay, I promise I'm done).

I know, to the non-teacher crowd, these all sound like champagne problems. Oh, poor baby. She had 10 months of trauma (in Corporate America I have 12 months). Oh poor thing. She only had two months to recuperate (in Corporate America, I only get 2 weeks). Yeah, I hear ya. But there are things I have to deal with that no non-teacher out there in the world could even possibly imagine having to deal with...couldn't even psychologically prepare for. And I have it easy. I don't have a classroom full of kids to contend with day in, day out--I only see mine in small groups of up to 11 for 4o minutes at a time, 6 times a day. I could tell you classroom teacher stories that would set your hair on fire. Make your innards explode. Teaching ain't for the weak, yo.

Anyway. Getting back to the happy: what I love most about this time of the school year is its absolute audacity of hope. Everything is clean and new, and shiny shiny shiny. You've got big plans, starry-eyed dreams, and you can actually leave campus to eat lunch...with other adults. It's just like being real people, working in the real world. Yeah, our bodies are angry at us for making them get up so early, but they eventually kind of just grumble and give in around, say, 8:30 (or whenever we've had our coffee) because, hello, they did just get TWO months to recoup (Month 1: Psychological Detox, Month 2: Psychological Boot Camp for next school year). Or maybe just two weeks if summer school was part of your summer equation.

But whatever. That last group of kids is gone, and we have fresh meat to work with. And we haven't even gotten to know the fresh meat yet, so there's still hope. We have time, and lots (and lots) of hope.

It's really the calm before the storm.

So one of the things that came across my desk (actually across my eyes, in a meeting) was the following video. I was going to write this big ol' commentary/preamble before presenting (ha, not that I haven't just done that), but I don't want to get off on a tangent (ha! again) before subjecting you to the magic of this speaker's message. I'll do my commentary/preamble/tangent tomorrow. For today, I would just like you to watch this (if you have time--it's about 19 minutes long), and really think about what it means to be part of a family, a culture, a country, a species.

The speaker is author Chimamanda Adichie, and she shares a really powerful message about what it means to be human and how we're all in this fight together:



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