Thursday, May 28, 2009

Like Her Mama, Not Likely to Pull All-Nighters in College

Last night, I hovered over the kindergartner as she tackled her homework. It was the only night this week I was available to help, and I tend to get a kick out of the conversations (and cajolings) we have around her assignments. Tonight was no disappointment.

Her packet for the week included some math stuff and some reading and writing workbook pages. We decided to tackle the workbook, in which she had to write as much as she could about what she learned in kindergarten this year (using the Word Bank, of course). And, the teacher added, "use your first-grade writing."

Our Kindergartener has a swollen thumb--a residual injury from some splinters already extricated that she picked up off the dock last weekend. I had forgotten about this moan-worthy fact when I noted that her handwriting was leaving some "first grade" to be desired. She was holding her pencil strangely as well.

"It says right here that your teacher wants you to use your 'first-grade writing', honey," I meekly pointed out, treading lightly into the arena of suggestions, knowing what wrath gentle prodding can inspire.

"Mom, my thumb is still sore. Do you want to me to get really, really hurt, or do you want me to get in a little bit of trouble?"

She glared at me, eyes wide open and head cocked to the side.

As I paused to let that question sink in, she got back to sloppy work, shaking her head confidently: "I don't think you're going to say you want me to get hurt."

Monday, May 25, 2009

List: Ten Awkward and/or Uncomfortable Moments

1. Like Ross in that episode of Friends: Prior to our wedding, along with getting a haircut and shedding some pounds to fit in my mom's wedding dress, I whitened my teeth. My buddy the dental hygienist hooked me up with an appointment for the trays and bleaching gel. A novice to this process, I kept the trays in for hours two nights in a row. On the third day, aching pain that made me cringe at the mere notion of air accessing my teeth rendered me speechless. I told my English classes that day I wouldn't be talking and silently endured the throbbing shame of vanity.

Upside: my teeth matched my dress on my wedding day.

2. Don't nettle with me: Tracy Chapman gave an outdoor concert in the piazza of a hillside Italian town while I was studying abroad in Florence during junior year of college. It was an extroardinary experience, only marred by the fact that as we waited for "Traaaahhcy" to appear, I had to go to the bathroom bad and there were no public restrooms in sight. Desperate to both relieve myself and not miss a single tune, I scrambled over the edge of the stone wall surrounding the square and tripped down the hillside to a reasonably secluded bushy area. And into a bed of stinging nettles my bare bottom descended. Which felt like relief followed by a warm, spreading burn.

Since then, there are Chapman songs that always bring a sting.

3. Probably should've sprung for the hotel: I traveled the Kenyan coast with a new friend during the Christmas holiday the year I lived in Africa. We were on a budget, so spent many nights camping but one particularly memorable night when a local we met over dinner offered to put us up. The evening began with beer and chicken curry, which, I described in my journal, "wasn't really curry and had a smell that reminded me of rotting dead fish." Kenyan Ben overheard us talking to our waiter about options for shelter that evening and generously mentioned that his dad and he lived in the police barracks and had plenty of space for us. I was skeptical, sniffing for a scam, but how shady could a Kenyan cop's son be? And how bad could police barracks be?

Bad, it turns out. We slept that night atop dirty laundry in a filthy, hot, airless room crawling with both cockroaches and mice and buzzing with mosquitoes--and no netting. From my journal: "I hoped the beers would help me sleep, but with chicken stomach, cabbage burps, and the entire 'ambience' at Ben's dad's place, I counted the hours till dawn instead." I've never felt sweatier, nor more trapped and crazed than I did that long night.

4. Why pregnant women coughing make me wince: I contracted bronchitis during the last month of my second pregnancy, and one afternoon a deep cough resulted in a POP! No, not broken waters, but a cracked rib. Ouch. The only comfortable sleeping position for a few days was sitting up straight, cross-legged like a Buddha.

5. Shut up while they talk about me, please: Not long after moving back to my hometown and meeting my now-husband, we went out on a date at a popular local eating establishment. At some point I realized that the subject of conversation of the party of four seated at the adjacent table was my very own family--a sort of "Who's Hot and Not." Fortunately, I had been away from home long enough that they didn't recognize me, while my husband-to-eventually-be kept talking despite my shushing, preventing me from shamelessly eavesdropping.

6. Dear Classmates, where should I begin?: In the earlyish days of email, a close friend of mine initiated and hosted our college class's listserv. Excited to touch base with my buddy, I responded to his greeting with the details of a recent break-up and my new teaching job in Southern California. When I opened my email a few days later, I found my inbox full of responses...including the message from myself. I recall the cold pit that grew in my stomach as I read email after email kindly informing me, "Hey, not sure you wanted everyone in the Class of '93 to get this!"

Thank you friends and strangers, and a special shout-out to the helpful guy who wrote me, "By the way, I'm single, and I live in San Diego!"

7. Like What About Bob, only different: I grew up taking intermittent sailing lessons and even sailed a season on my college's sailing team. "Skipper" is not a title I would ascribe to myself until fairly recently, however. Nevertheless, in 1997, when I lived in Africa and a friend came to visit, we made a trip to Lake Naivasha, and were offered use of friends' sailboat. It wasn't longer than a fifteen-minute sail before the boat capsized and my hapless friend and I were trying futilely to right it. We--and the boat--required a rescue of sorts from the hippo-inhabited water. As we recovered from our misadventure over some lunch on the deck, a young man who clearly missed the events of the morning approached me. "Hey, I hear you can sail?" Of course, we all laughed. But there was a race that afternoon, and he needed a crew. So, what the heck.

It would be my first time in a harness, and the first time this poor guy dragged his crew outside a boat, when I lost my footing for a spell. "Hold on!" I remember yelling, as my backside and I dragged in the water beside the boat, "I'm out of the boat! I'm GONE..." and his response, "Yet strangely still with us!" Then he turned the boat in a precipitous direction and I snapped back onto its side like a rubber band. He was super glad he met me, I'm sure.

8. If it sounds like a strange idea, you'll look strange trying it: My high school cross country team competed one season in an invitational meet on a course of dirt trails after several days of rain. We watched runners in the heats before ours slip and slide in the mud, and someone brilliant in our crowd suggested that we wear a pair of socks over our shoes to increase traction. I opted to try out this strategy, borrowing a pair of tube socks from a teammate. About half a mile into the run, the socks began inching their way off my shoes, creating a soggy, floppy "tongue" hanging off the toes of each sneaker. When it became clear that the situation was only going to get worse--increasingly stretched-out muddy sock ends slapping my ankles with each stride as bemused and amused spectators laughed--I paused to pull them off.

Not my best race.

9. The straw that broke the camel's back, which made me fight to get him back: The time my now-husband and I were on a break but living in the same town...After an early-morning weekend run, a friend and I lingered, chatting, on a corner equidistant from our homes. And who should drive by us right then but Almost-Not-My-Husband, with a female in his passenger seat. I remember her hair was wet. And I remember seeing the light.

10. Seriously: Did you just say what I think you said? (Sorry, Mom...): On a family ski trip over New Year's when I was in college, and my boyfriend got to come along. My parents and their old friends were celebrating New Year's Eve with champagne and fresh oysters. I'd never tried an oyster on the half-shell, so I expressed interest and was offered one. I gulped it down and looked at my mom, who is not a fan. She raised an eyebrow at me: "So. Remind you of anything?"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Afternoon Whiskers

Today is my grandfather's birthday, always the day after my littlest sister's birthday. Easy to remember. So is my grandpa.

Today my mother is with my grandmother, who is in the hospital having surgery. While I am not happy Grandma is enduring painful medical procedures, I am glad my mother is there with her today, May 18th.

My grandfather was an amazing man. A unique man, a Renaissance Man. He was an educator, a boater and a sailmaker, a photographer, a literature lover, a carpenter, a tinkerer, a scientist, a philosopher, a kind and funny person, and a most unbelievable grandfather. It's one thing to be the kind of grandpa whose granddaughter--as a child--thinks he is magical, wise, and loving. But for me to recognize as an adult--nearly 23 years after his death--how lucky I was to have known him, and for his lessons to continue to inspire, is another thing. I wish my husband, a sailor, had the chance to meet him. I am fortunate my own daughters have magical, wise, and kind grandfathers.

My grandfather taught me to tell time on my first watch, a light blue Snoopy watch.

He collected model trains and devoted a room in the basement to his train set and the town it inhabited. I remember that room festooned with witty signs I better understood later on, like "I never make mistakes. I thought I did once, but I was wrong."

He taught me that I had eleven fingers by counting down on one hand: "Ten, nine, eight, seven, (other hand) five fingers...equals eleven!"

He came to visit us in Coronado when I was in middle school and set to work fixing our bicycles. I remember hanging out with him in the yard while he worked on one in particular, and explained to me that the circumference of the bike's wheel changed, in effect, with each gear change relative to a rotation of the pedal. I didn't understand what he meant until physics class in 11th grade. And even then, wow.

He taught me about the profundity of brevity. He cited the shortest bible verse: "Jesus wept." He pointed out that the bible writers didn't explain that "Jesus sat on a rock and cried," but communicated so much more in only two words. He connected that verse to one of his favorite works by famously succinct author Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.

Grandpa made me a red-velvet lined, almond-wood jewelry box as a gift one year. It's one of my most treasured possessions. On my right hand I wear a jade ring with two tiny diamonds that he gave my grandma.

Grandpa died as I was entering my 10th grade year of high school. One of the few but greatest regrets of my life is not being present for his memorial service. At the time, I was selfishly concerned with missing my debut into sophomore year.

In my freshman English class in college, British Lit, we were charged with writing a poem in pentameter. I wrote this poem about my grandfather:

Afternoon Whiskers
for my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother

Pausing by the edge of the pier, and a
shrilling gull aches my ear; the bow line thrown
slaps my skin and leaves a salty white blur.
And I, once driven by reminders in
touch, scent, and sound, have him here with me by
sticky hair, wet wood, the squeak of rubber.
I am back: in his lap, and he teaches
verses and symphonies and boats
while his afternoon whiskers sand my cheek.
The day they went (Now I picture black things…
black suits and cars and dresses, umbrellas)
and I didn’t, they read that sea poem,
without me. So now the San Juans lull me
and my guilt and my family and my
life he does not know but once lived so well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

List: Lessons Learned in the Vice Principal's Office

With almost three years under my belt, here's what I've found:

1. Parents fighting or breaking up is tough on kids. You think you know this empirically, but it was one of my first observations after a short time of working with students primarily from the socio-emotional side.
2. Just be yourself.
3. You're going to piss people off. Actually, probably more people will piss YOU off. But the difference is that you won't tell them.
4. Boys and girls are equally likely to cry in the vice principal's office.
5. There's a lot of marijuana out there.
6. Experience helps you become quite a lie detector.
7. Sometimes there's no way to get around being the cold bureaucrat.
8. However, a vice principal doesn't have to be a stern disciplinarian.
9. For everything kids won't tell you, the stuff they do is often laugh-out-loud funny.
10. Everyone needs opportunities for redemption and a sense of hope.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Mother's Day: A List

1. I'm very grateful to be a mother.
2. I am fortunate that my mother is living, and living nearby. My heart goes out to those who have lost theirs...
3. As far as mothers-in-law go, I hit the JACKPOT. I love you!
4. I appreciate the mothers and other-than-mothers who have helped mother me.
5. I rely daily on the mothers and other-than-mothers who help raise and care for our children. Thank you.
6. I have learned a ton about parenting in my job working with students and their families. I honor the moms who stand by their children but guide them in taking accountability for their mistakes; I honor the guardians who serve as mothers for students without them; I honor the moms who sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their children's; I honor the moms who despite all best efforts, watch their children struggle with substance abuse, failure, and unhappiness.
7. I am one of five children; I know people who have four; I have two. And sometimes two is more than I can handle. When I am in the weeds, I remind myself that there are mothers doing it all alone. Single moms are amazing.
8. Adopting children is a brave, generous endeavor. I admire so much my friends who have chosen the role of mother in this way.
9. I think of mothers who are mourning the loss of their own children.
10. Here is last year's Mother's Day post, featuring a poem I wrote for my mother after the birth of my first daughter.
11. Finally, I wish for all mothers a day like today: luxuriating in the joy of family and the gifts that children bring (okay...and a little bit of Alone Time). Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Chuckle, A Snort, and an Awwww....

Chuckle: Our kindergartner is beyond-herself DONE. It's 9:00 PM, way past her bedtime, and she is in the throes of a tantrum largely inspired by her overtiredness. Thus we are stuck in a self-fulfilling Vortex of Hysteria fueled by her increasing exhaustion. There is only one hope for peaceful resolution of this situation; as with belligerent drunks, it's unlikely that she'll suddenly sober up and recognize the illogic of her ways...until she passes out. We plan to enroll her in a 12-Step Program tomorrow, when, puffy-eyed and contrite, she wakes up a semblance of her normal self.

It all began when she launched into her typical bedtime avoidance plan: staring down at her toothbrush, she moaned, "But I am still hungry..." Our customary response to this protest? "Great! You can have a big breakfast in the morning!"

Tonight, she gave us the response we've been waiting for: "But Mommy, tomorrow I won't REMEMBER that I am hungry!"


Snort: This evening before I left work I called the father of a student with whom I met about two discipline issues late last week. I explained to this dad why his son had received two referrals from two different teachers; I described his son's responses to my conversations with him; I shared what actions we were taking; I warned about future consequences if his son continued on the same path of misconduct. And about three quarters of the way through our phone dialogue, I noted that the father sounded an awful lot like his son. Or vice-versa. Or...WAIT. I concluded the call and looked up Dad's cell phone number. NOT the number son gave me when I asked for a parent's digits.



What a rookie, FER...seriously! This is your THIRD year as Vice Principal and you spent ten minutes on the phone with a kid who was pretending to be his dad?




oooh, really STEAMED.

Replaying conversation in head and laughing.

But STILL STEAMED. And...Ready for retribution.

I wasted no time calling The Real Dad to tell him about The Two Referrals, One GRAVE Misrepresentation. I felt a little satisfaction on my drive home knowing that our student had hung up the phone with me satisfied that he had successfully closed the school-to-home communication loop, and, that his father was about to burst his son's bubble.

Awwww...: We have an elderly (and wee bit nosy) neighbor who loves our children and sometimes lets us know if we--or our visiting friends--are parking cars in places that annoy her. She has been unwell recently, and today her daughter visiting from the East Coast informed my husband that she was in the hospital with pneumonia and had inquired about our family. My husband mobilized our daughters to draw pictures for our ailing friend, and then he packed the girls in the car and took them to the hospital to visit her, swine flu be damned. He did all this on a busy Monday night between feeding our daughters dinner and overseeing homework, as I dashed straight from work to a meeting.

Just another reason I love my husband so much.