Sunday, March 11, 2012

When Charles tried to kill me

One of my students favorite stories to hear me tell is "The one where the kid tried to shoot you."

Charles was in my French 1 class in 9th grade. It was my first year teaching and his first year with no special education services. He'd been in the self-contained class (the kids called it "the box") for all of elementary and middle school. His parents didn't want him to be "different" any more.

Charles didn't bring anything to class - no paper or pen, never his textbook. He would look around at classmates to entertain. He'd geture and mouth words or heck just talk out during a lesson. He would spin in the desk - like spin the desk around in a circle while sitting in it. Or turn it around and push the desk backwards with his feet  to slide across the floor. Just really wild crazy stuff. He was always smiling and goofing around. He never seemed mean.

One afternoon I had had it with him. I called his home. I spoke to his grandfather. He in turn yelled at Charles and cussed him out - with me still on the phone. I prayed that night that I hadn't gotten Charles beat up or abused. He wasn't at school that next day and I prayed harder.

He was in my 5th period class. This day, he came in my room at 8:55 am - just about 5 minutes before the bell rang to begin 1st period. He struts over saying, "Hey Miss Parks, I'm gonna blow you away." I had been writing an assignment on the board. I looked over and said "Oh yeah? Charles you're about 5 hours early to my class," and kept writing. "You don' believe me? I gotta gun. I'm gonna blow your head off." I stopped writing and turned toward him. He was a little guy - about 5'2'' - he was walking with his arms wrapped around his jacket as if he had something to hide under it. I totally didn't believe him. So is an act of naive bravado I slowly extended my arms out to the sides as if to say, "OK take your best shot.

The year was 1992 - long befor Columbine. I don't think I'd do that again.

Charles said, "Oh you don' believe me? After school I'm gonna blow you away." I said, "Charles, have a nice day and I'll see you 5th period." He strutted out. On his way out I noticed he leaned over by Neal's desk. The bell rang and I was shooing kids in from the hall to their seats. Neal, a blond senior with glasses, raises his hand. I walk over and he says, "Charles showed me a gun in his jacket." I said, "Was it real?" Neal shrugged and said, "I don't know. It looked real." I said thanks.

Rather than calling the office right away, I took roll and taught for about 15 minutes. They tell you in college never to leave the classroom. They say if you must, then leave them with something to do and tell them not to get out of their seats. I had to teach before I could give them the assignment I had copied.

Finally I went to the nearest administrator's office and told her what had happened.  She came to my room adn took Neal into the hall to interview him about what happened. About an hour later the assistant principal came to me and told me, "You won't be seeing Charles any more. He had a gun. It was only a cap gun so he couldn't have shot you, but he could have scared you to death." They expelled him for threatening a teacher's life. That was the last I heard of it. Or Charles.


Camping Trip July 2011

We went camping. The boys had begged to go and finally we got around to planning a trip – during the hottest week of the summer so far. At some point the first night I had to blog the old fashioned, low tech way... writing down thoughts on paper with a pen. The following is what I wrote:


Lately I can’t access any emotion except extreme uncontrollable laughter.  When things get crazy I get the giggles. Gut wrenching, tear rolling, wheeze inducing giggles.

I am a part time SAHM. I teach 10 months and SAHM 2 months. Summer vacation is putting me over the edge. Already anxiety ridden since childhood, having to manage the energy of 2 young boys pumped up my disquietude quite a bit. Summer staying home is like an instant scratch and win lottery ticket to the funny farm.

Remember the scene in the film “Parenthood” where Steve Martin’s grandmother in law shared a quaint anecdote about a roller coaster being exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time? Later in the movie parenting chaos ensues and Steve is shown in a close up shot looking nauseous and then laughing with a SFX of roller coaster sounds and kids laughter.

This film came to mind tonight as we were beginning a two day camping trip in the North Georgia mountains. We’d set up camp and driven 8 miles to town to eat dinner at a Pizza Hut and get groceries for the next day.  We had been gone for about 2 hours when we started the twisty mountain road back to the state park when we started giving the boys the bear and forest animal safety lecture.  My husband is saying “... and we cannot leave any food anywhere around because bears will smell it and come to get it...” and Matt interrupts him: “Drew left a Ritz in the tent.”

Cue roller coaster. And giggles.

DH is not happy. He speeds up. He is imagining the new tent and our gear all shredded up by the bear who wanted one cracker. The winding road really does mimic a rollercoaster’s curvy path. I, having yet another ridiculous fit of laughter, can only see Steve Martin’s queasy face through the blur of tears collecting in my eyes.

The most ridiculous shit happens to me.  Amazing mischief my boys get into. So after getting through the terrible 2’s with my eldest (his 2’s lasted from 18 months until 4 1/2) and now the younger is 5 and his 2’s hit about a year ago, I guess the Real Serious Danger has subsided to the point where I relax enough in between panic attacks that I can laugh and I am so worn out from the last 7 years that I have e little rage and hysteria left to expend. Is that why all I can do is laugh?

We turn off the main road almost with my Volvo wagon just about on 2 wheels into the State Park.  I feel the need to pull it together – get serious – forge a solidarity with DH in his concern for the tent that may well be destroyed by Smokey by now. I decide to sing a spiritual. I start out, “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin fo to carry me home...” the boys join in and sing ..”Swing low sweet chariot, the bear’s going to eat your Ritz.” This does not help me.

So here we are on vacation –no harm came from our little forager’s storing up food for hibernation. Night has fallen.  I blog the old fashioned way: pen, paper in lantern light out side the tent. I have no DVR, VM text, FB or DVD to distract me. I’m drinking an Australian Shiraz out of a metal camping cup (straight from the bottle was the only alternative) while DH is in the tent saying “lie down and be quiet” every 45 seconds.

Maybe R & R and fresh country air will settle my nerves and I’ll be a more serene mother tomorrow. I should wrap it up and hit the hay.

Cue thunder rumbling in the distance

Oh boy.

Cue giggles.


Favorite quote from the trip:


This is the best time I’ve ever had in my life.  Well, it’s not better then New York City but....impressed....I mean I’m not knocked out or anything, but....impressed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Is this my midlife crisis?

I was surprised this week to think about the industry in which I work (and have been working in for 19 years) and realize I really do not believe it jives with my values. Well, I must say that I have not attained full values clarification level- and I feel conflicted about that on a regular basis.

But I teach in the public schools in America and I just looked at the system as a whole and thought, "This is for the fricking birds."

I can't begin to describe its shortcomings - some of them the public hears about all the time - and some are known only by the people who work inside it.  Most of the problem I think is just the American society ind its values in general. I was shocked to feel this way. Didn't know that was in there. Didn't see it coming.

I have studied in France and have studied French culture and society. I do not want to be French and every time I come home from there I feel so grateful to be home - in my country. Where i feel at home and comfortable. So suddenly I face a future where I don't think I want to part of the problem ( as I see it) because I certainly could only be a tiny and thus ineffective, part of the solution. Plus I have 2 young children - and if I switch careers, they are stll facing growing up as American students.

I wanna move to England.

Oh boy.

That was a shock. I was thinking that I would want to move to a country with a decent education system and one that would not handicap my 3 men and their monolingualistic state. (For now - they all gotta learn to speak French - someday...)

Or do I stay here and raise my kids in a system that doesn't ask muych of the kids - where parents regularly try to get their kids out of trouble, out of doing work, cause they just want the kids to succeed - their definition of success with no failure on thte road which is a farce in itself.

Crisis waned in the face of holidays , exams, end of term business....what to think now?

Friday, July 23, 2010

How FREE is our education?

I posted some time ago about "someone has to pay for it."  Just a compare/contrast look at 2 school districts I have worked in.

School District A: Property Taxes per year $7200. Sales tax 5%, none on groceries or clothes. State Lottery - yes and the money goes to the school nutrition program, scholarships, non-public school aid, veterans programs, state testing in schools.
Students do not pay any "school fees" or send six bags of classroom supplies to school on Day 1.  School supplies are stored in the school office and teachers go get what they need.  

School Disrict B: Property Taxes per year $2000. Sales tax9.25% on everything. State lottery - yes and the money funds student scholarships, pre-k and after school programs.
Students are asked to pay a "school fee" every fall to their homeroom teacher (from 30 - 80 bucks). Parents of elementary and middle school kids are given supply lists of things to get for back to school. My list that I had to buy for my child in 1st grade cost $28 at Walmart, is in a huge heavy bag that is more than the kids can carry and it isn't stuff for him. It includes class supplies like writing paper, papertowels, kleenex (see former post about tissue!) 

My first thoughts as a parent were: Why can't the schools buy this stuff? Gee, raise taxes and save me the trip to the store and the trip to school (cause he cant carry this on the bus himself). Also I bet the schools can get the supplies in bulk (we have 40,000 students in this district).

As a high school teacher I thought: Where's my supply list? Can I just make one and send it home? For 18 years I have purchased high quality facial tissue for my classroom. If I didn't, my students would rarely have anything to wipe their noses on. That.... is disgusting.  I buy my own disinfecting wipes with bleach and clean the desks myself cause the janitors don't do it (in SD B they dont), thus trying to keep the kids from getting H1N1 or other illnesses.

As a tax payer thought, well the more taxes I pay the more I should see the schools providing. Would that really happen? At this point, I do not know. When I am retired and my kids aren't in public schools anymore, would I want to pay more taxes to support th youth of America or would I feel like, well, hey, let the parents buy all that crap and haul it to school.

After the 27 dollar trip to Walmart, I still have to go to the specialty school supply store and buy 1 ream of first grade writing paper to send in to the teacher. Geez....

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear Substitute Teacher...

...Can you please just NOT be a freakin' moron?!?!? All you have to do is 1 show up - on time is best. 2- take attendance 3- write the assignment on the board and hand it out. 4- watch thee students and make them be quiet. Oh and not let anyone die.

I know - it has to be a crappy thankless difficult job. Kids will push the limits. But gosh do they ever get some lameo people in there. If they paid more than 25 bucks a day, maybe someonw literate would apply. They just want a warm body and unfortuanately they get little else than that.

Stupid Stuff Subs Have Done
One man flirted with the girls and said they were pretty and called them "baby" and touched their hair.

One man had my assignments I left and just told the class I left nothing and turned on the TV. The classes watched trash talk shows all day.

Some subs take attendance and leave me a note like, "Three students were absent." Well, great could ya tell me which ones?!?!?

One lady never ever stood up in the classroom. She always sat in the back and all she'd say was "siddown!!"

One subbed in an ESL classroom and they were talking about immigration and the sub said she didn't think foreigners should come to the US and get all this free stuff.

Two subs I have seen were always falling asleep in class. Sleep? In a room full of teenagers? Really?

One lady walked in the room and when some kids who were talking amongst themselves started laughing and the lady instantly thought they were laughing at her and she went off on them yelling about being human and respectful. Ohhh kaaaaaay...

One man called me at home to ask where the work was. I said in the folder on the desk. He said there were 4 packets of papers and did I only have 4 students. I said no I didn't have time to staple them together and each kid got one of each. He still didn't get it.

One guy went through the regular teacher's grade book and found a place in the back where she had written her computer user name and password.  He logged on to have computer access that day. The computer people saw she had logged on yet was absent and then they figured out it was the sub.  Who got in trouble? The regular teacher. Why? He was the one snooping through her stuff.

One man wrote passes for the kids (who told him they were on the polo team) to leave to go out to the stables to feed the ponies.  The school had no stables, ponies or freakin' polo team.

This got me this week:  A kid fell down and got a mild concussion when his head hit the floor and the sub didn't notice. And then the sub did not let the kid go to the nurse when the kid asked to go.

Come on people - we need better subs. Let's pay them more - train them more - get dependable thinking adults in there. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pollen is Evil

I know it isn't really evil.  I DID take Bio 101 and see "The Bee Movie" (learning more from the latter).  I remember it being bad in the South. It was bad in the North, too. It is HORRIBLE this year - first spring spent in the South since 2001. I swear it myst be the El Nino weather causing everything to bloom at once, or something. I'm talking every day wiping tons of yellow gunk of the table on the deck.  My car is unrecognizable it has so much pollen on it (cannot wait to move in a month to our new home with a garage!)

The Pollen Peple send a daily e-mail about the Pollen levels in your zip code.  The very first day it hit High, I got this weird itchy rash all on my back. I am a 9 on a scale of 10 for allergies.  Claritin worked for 10 years. Then I tried allegra, clarinex, everything - and now take Xyzal and use Verimist.  Somedays it doesn't work all day - I have to take a Benedryl to stop scratching my nose.

Can we allergy sufferers unite and appeal to garden centers and nurseries all over the USA to NOT sell any more oak, maple or alder trees?  Can scientists research adn find the least allergenic trees and recommend them? 

I have this new house with few trees and I'd like to plant something - what will not produce tons of airborne pollen? Anyone? Buhler? Buhler?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Memory on my tongue

Showing "Ratatouille" to my middle school kids the day before Christmas break, I watched Anton Ego put the ratatouille in his mouth and be instantly transported back to age 8 - back to his mother's kitchen where she served her own version of the peasant vegetable stew. The one bite of food had a profound effect on him. It tasted so like a meal he had eaten before - a meal that was tied to his emotions - and he could not help have his heartstrings tugged on by the dish cooked up by Remy the rat.
This sensory experience is one I am familiar with. It is true that our senses can pick up on something and target the one area of our brain that stores an emotionally charged memory.
As a grad student in France, the university I attended offered an atelier de cuisine, which I couldn't wait to sign up for. For about $100 you got 4 cooking lessons and then you ate the meal you just cooked. Sounded like a bargain to me.

Jean Montangard was - and probably is still - one of France's top and only vegetarian chefs. He had us peeling and cutting vegetables, cleaning fish, grating cheese, whisking egg whites while we learned French and learned how to cook many French specialties. I loved the first appetizer we made: beignets de fleurs de courgettes. So light and so crispy, served with a tomato basil sauce. I was dying that we only had 2 each. Anytime I saw this on a menu in Nice, I ordered it.

Fast forward about 8 or 10 years and I had moved from my home of 17 years to a new place I was no too crazy about. I had left behind dear friends and family and we not feeling that I fit in.
To cheer me one cold winter night, my DH took me to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. The special contained some fleurs de courgettes, thought I think they were listed as braised which sounded unappetizing to me. I am not a fan of cooked spinach, cabbage or collard greens or the like. The waiter came to take my order and we chatted a bit about fleur de courgettes and he asked if I wanted him to ask the chef if he could fritter them up for me and of course I waved him off - not daring to change the chef's daily selection or ask for something special just for me.

When the meal was served, there they were - my beignets de fleurs de courgettes. I could not believe it. The chef did something off the menu - for me? I am no high roller who walks in and expects to get all he wants with a snap of his fingers. I tasted and.... yes, there it was --the whole of that summer in Nice came pouring back into my mind. The sound of all that French rolling into my ears for hours; the smell of Yves Rocher suntan lotion; the feel of the rocks, hard and smooth, under my bamboo beach mat; the beautiful blue green color of the Mediterranean out my dorm window, and perfectly reflected moonrises from the same window. That summer I became fluent in French. That summer I lived out a dream.

So I am chewing and crying and my undemonstrative DH is looking at me like I am a total kook. And they were just so good. And the chef has no idea what effect his frying had on me. And I wanted to go back to that summer. That summer of adventure when I was brave and went out to try new things and I survived. And that spoke to me. I realized this new place was an adventure too and that I would make it through. And I did.

Anton loved the rat's cooking. One taste and the tongue transmits to the memory center of the brain to recall something long forgotten. How perfectly the Pixar people captured that idea of how we remember and why we love certain smells and tastes.

Writing this on a cold rainy winter night has me closing my eyes, trying to remember...the pink bourgainvilla that grew by the dorm entrance, the leek quiche in the cafeteria, bright cicada or olive fabrics sold in the souvenir shops, the salty sea, lavender, the pastel colors in Old Town, salmon in beurre blanc sauce, daube provencal, tarte au citron.....

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Funny or Offensive?

I remember at my high school there was a group of male seniors that called them selves "The Math Team Cheerleaders." We really did have a math team - they did academic competitions, but their cheerleaders were just an excuse for some guys to dress like girls and dance around looking silly at a pep rally or two. In the schools I've taught in, the same activity is carried out by the "Powder Puff Football Cheerleaders." The girls play football and the guys cheer.

Here in the South, the practice usually involves the boys dressing as girls, complete with wig, makeup, fake bosoms, and skirts. Up North where I was last year, they allowed the practice, but no wig, make up or boobs. They did dance and cheer at the pep rally and powder puff game and wore cheerleading skirts.

The difference here is that the girls actually LEARN football and a really PLAY football and sometimes play it really well. The boys jump around swishing (like no women friends of mine do) and flitting and acting like silly goofy drag queens. The girls don't show out like stereotypes of men - no croch-grabbing or spitting on the field. But on the track there is a showdown of flamboyant behavior that makes any drag queer shudder.

Our Powder Puff event was yesterday. Tack tacky tacky. That's my three words for it. The boys did stuff I have never done or ever heard of any woman friend of mine doing - bumping (balloon) boobies, wearing a thong OVER shorts - what!?

I mean I get it. It's laughable. They get a kick out of blowing kisses and walking with that feminine hip sway for a while. We laughed. They looked silly. They did some good high jumps and lifting stunts (not clean, but their strength was evident). They shook their butts and the students thought it was hilarious.

I am no women's libber and I ride the fence on most issues because I can usually see both sides. I hate debate and extremists telling others theat I am right and they are wrong. I avoid political arenas.

But isn't this a bit passé? I was reading an article on Comcast about Harry Connick's comments about how offended he was when an Australian TV show he was on also showed a Jackson 5 lip sync - done by white people in blackface. He was quoted as saying, "I know it was done humorously, but we've spent so much time trying not to make black people look like buffoons." Can the same thing be said about women? IS it that big a deal? Can blacks just say, "Hey that blackface routine was funny - it was about the Jackson 5 and they're black!" Can women say "Oh those POwder Puff boys were silly. They aren't making women look like dumb floozies." I asked a cheerleader what she thought. I asked if she thought they were making fun of what cheerleaders do or how they look. She said , "We made them look like that - they were hot!" Hot - they were some of the ugliest girls I've ever seen! :P

I don't know why blackface would not be allowed but this activity is. I think they are both really disrespectful and derogatory. Why don't the guys get together and do a serious cheer routine? There are really great and strong male cheerleaders - why not emulate them? The role reversal is a fine exercise, but the inequality that concerns me is in that the girls don't make fun of the guys and the guys are allowed to make girls look silly. Blackface minstrel shows that were performed in the 1800's presented cruel and demeaning stereotypes of black people. Aren't puff cheerleaders doing the same thing - presenting an offensive stereotype of teenaged girls and cheerleaders?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Driving in the South

Southerners do not honk their horns. We are too polite. Or maybe not aggressive enough. Up North people give you about .63 seconds to go when the light turns green and then they honk. Not a "Beep Beep did you see the light?" honk, but a "HOOOOOOOOOOONK You dumb ass get the hell out of the way" honk.

So driving up there gave me the guts to start honking in the South. Not to be nasty or hurt other drivers feelings, but just to get things moving.

Yesterday I was on a two lane residentail street and there was a backhoe/frontloader thingy digging up something on the side of the street. There were men holding Slow/Stop signs on either side of the construction vehicle. They had both lanes stopped as the machine went forward and back, forward and back. The lines of traffic were getting pretty long. Like really really long. On my side I was third and there were 3 cars behind me. On the other side they were stretched out like 20 cars deep!!! I thought, "OK people, can't you stop the work for 1 minute and let us pass?"

So I honked. A friendly, "Beep Beep, hey guys can we get by please" honk. And it worked. The loader pulled off the street and the man turned his sign from STOP to SLOW and let us by. No one else honked, no one flipped me off. And we (the short line of cars) went through before the long line of cars. Amazing. The power of assertiveness. I learned it up North.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Moving is greuling!

We are moving. Packing the house totally ranks up there with root canals and passing gall stones, but moving to where you want to live should have priceless results. If you don't want to move then I can't imagine how awful the packing would be.

My reminders for a better packing / moving experience:


Start early. Like the second you put your house on the market. Don't keep things in the pantry thinking you will use it. That cheese tray you love to entertain with? Pack it! Now. You will not have a party before you move. You won't have time. That dusty slow-cooker? Pack it. My hiusband told me to pack it long ago, but I insisted that I would use it. Moving day came and he looked at me as I packed it - unused since Packing Round 1. Sheepish grin, I wrapped it in newspaper and tucked it in the box.

Leave enough decor out to appropriately "stage" the house for showing, but you could get a jump on the crystal vase collection on top of the cabinets - pack half and spread the others out.

(PS Like Murphy's Law: The longer you wait to start packing, the faster your house will sell!)


Stop grocery shopping 2 months before moving day. Force yourself to use up all the frozen veggies you stocked up on or else you will need a Penske truck to cart all your extra food to the food bank. Do a recipe search by what stuff you have left and eat it up. Face it - you will not use the fifth of Creme de Menthe before you move. Get rid of it - or make 100 parfaits and invite over the entire neighborhood. Oh wait you are packing - so you don't have time!


Drop one bag at Goodwill every day on your way to work.

4-Invest in bubblewrap.

5- Admit it, you haven't worn some items in 10 years so just give them away. You might be that thin again, but the clothes won't be fashionable anymore.

Watch clean house for inspiration.

An offer $5,000 below list is awesome. Do not just turn it down.

Do not let pre-schoolers help pack. This turns into a trip down memory lane and then they want to play with all this crap they haven't touched in 3 years and now cannot part with. Hide stuff and discard. Get rid of all photos with tossed out items in them. they are smart - they will remember the toy and look for it later.

Housewives step aside - Working Mom gets really Desperate

No one told me motherhood would be this hard.

We are at the beach in a rental house. On the 2nd floor. And the weather forcast is rain every day this week. So my wild cowboys just cannot be quiet. They yell, fight, stomp, wrestle. The tenant downstairs has already banged on the ceiling once when they were loud. They were up at 6 am. The TV - aka the Great Tranquilizer - is only good for so long.

Desperate to keep them from waking our nanny and the neighbor, at 9 am I put them in the car with everything I own - my car looks like a rich homeless person - DVD player, lap top, beach bag (just in case)....anything to occupy the boys time outside the house.

We went to a playground. Dried off all the slides with a beach towel. Sat under the picnic shelter with laptop, hoping they'd be entertained for hours. They were until the rain started. Then they were cold and wanted to go. We went to church. Seeking sanctuary ...... asylum. Played in the nursery, since taking them into the service would be another way to bother other people. Said goodbye to everyone - it's our last Sunday here before the big move.

I cannot believe what extreme measures I have taken to survive motherhood. When the boys were 2 1/2 and 3 months. Remember that I could not take one more minute in the house with them. Matty kept terrorizing his brother or just being loud after I finally managed to get Drew to sleep. It was a heat wave here - an unheard of 104 and what did I do next? I went to the playground. He was gonna tear up the house if I didn't get him out. Drew slept in his car seat carrier next to the swing set. I was alone - I knew anyone else who saw me was gonna think I had lost my mind. I didn't care. I was losing it.

Desperate measures for desperate moms.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Facial tissue is NOT a luxury item

I have been an educator in public schools for 17 years. If I counted up how much money I have spent out of my own pocket to supply Kleenex for my classroom, I could retire a year early.

At my first job, there was not any tissue purchased at all. At my second and current job they do buy it, but it is that rough, prison grade, one ply crap. I use it when have to, but I normally buy my own so I don't get a raw red nose.

This is a matter of school sanitation and student health. Having kids sneezing and nothin to wipe a drippy nose on is not a very hygienic situation. In my school tissues are in the department budget - I think this should be a custodial item - there shoudl be purchased a 180 day supply for every classroom and office in the building.

In my first job, it was customary for elementary teachers to hand out a "Class Wish List" at back-to-school time and each kid was asked to bring in a a few boxes of tissues. I don't think a necessary item like Kleenex should be on a wish list. This is like asking your guests to bring their own toilet paper.

In allergy season - which is raging right now - it is hard to put out a box and have it last through the day. Can I please implore school boards to provide simple boxes of tissue to ensure more sanitary conditions in schools? Thank you!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Being Toni

We are both 5'6". She is 36, Australian and a beautiful actress. I am older, not Australian, nor am I a rich and famous actress. We're not that similar, but for some reason, several people have come up to me - co-workers and strangers - and told me I look like Toni Colette. Hm.

I looked at her in several photos on the web - both from films and from publicity shots. I had never thought I looked like her. The last time anyone said I looked like a celebrity was in 4th grade and if I wore my hair in braids they said I looked like Laura on Little House on the Prairie. Oh, well, there was that guy in college who said I looked like Pat Benetar, but I think he was drunk.

Usually when someone says the you look like someone, they immediately deny it. We know our selves best , right? I was surprised when I got my 1st Toni comment. I was surfing around and admitting that we do look sort of alike when she we have a similar hairstyle and if she's not blond at the moment. And then I saw a photo of her in "In her Shoes" and I thought it was me for a second. I thought it was a picture of me for just that split second and it was freaky to realize it was absolutely not me and was Toni Colette. It looks like me when I was in middle school with longer hair. She is sitting at the kitchen table and has on a blue stripe V-neck top. [Can I post it here? I don't know all the rules. I don't want Big Brother to get me.]

I look like her in "In Her Shoes" and "About a Boy", but not at all like her in "Little Miss Sunshine" or real life. In "Shaft" she was a redhead and it's great - I think I can try on the new look before doing it to myself.

Thanks Toni - I love your films and I am glad that if I had to look like a star - it's a decent pretty woman like you.

Noe I just gotta work on that Australian accent ...................

Saturday, February 21, 2009

SO much to be thankful for

I found that my former church has sermons you can listen to online. I started listening to a few - it was nice to hear some familiar voices - the preist who married me and dh. Familiar echoes of the congregtion laughing in my church home.

Then Robert spoke. He's not a priest, just a member of the congregation in his 30's. He works at the local Target. When shoppers see him, they know he is different. One side of his body is stiff and his gait uneven. His expression often slightly vacant. Scars remain on one side of his face.

I knew him when he was in high school. I think my sister either had a crush on him or went out with him once. He was so handsome, athletic - a wrestler- attended an elite boys prep school and always wore a coat and repp tie to church. He was cool - aloof - maybe seemed a tad arrogant.

But he works at Target. Not because he was uneducated - no, he went to a fancy southern university and pledged a preppy fraternity and dated good looking girls. Drove a fancy car. Had a start in a promising career in finance as a stock broker.

He is a walking miracle. The first time I saw him back at church after the accident he was in a wheel chair and would involuntarily moan or shout out during the service. I found myself wincing every time. I heard his fiancée left him unable to deal with the situation. He was told he'd be in a hospital bed for the rest of his life. Eventually he walked with a walker ...and then without it.

He'd always tell me a joke. Every Sunday a new joke. I think he was working on improving short term memory with this exercise. Through his slurred speech which is much improved now - this is 15 years later, I think - he was full of jokes and smiles and compliments to my mom about what beautiful daughters she has.

Judging a book by it's cover can be painful. I imagine all who see the guy stocking the shelves and have no idea what he used to be like and who he still is inside. How different he is now - and how the same. They have no idea how far the effects of one unused seatbelt and one careless driver can be felt. As a mother of boys, I so pray they will always be protected.

And I thank Robert for reminding me to be a careful driver - that every one out on the road is someone's child.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dear Substitute Teacher,

All you have to do is show up, call roll, hand out my assignment and keep the students in line. It's not that hard to follow directions.

Substitute teachers - hear my plea! Take attendance! Please!! Take it properly!

Didn't you ever go to high school yourself? Passing around a sheet of paper and telling kids to write their name is not taking attendance. Kids write down names of their friends who are cutting class! Surprise! They write down names of famous historical figures! Duh! Or porn stars! Shock! The quiet kid or the avid reader misses the paper being passed and gets marked 'absent' - all because you didn't do your job!

The next day I drag in - usually still sick - and see what you have left me. A list of 22 names (minus George Washington) for a class of 23 kids. Hmmmm... so who is missing? (It's like naming the 50 states and you get to 49 and you can't recall which one you left out. ) Do you realize how much time you will save me if you just write down the name of the absent kid? It'll save paper, too. Now I'll have to spend my planning time figuring out WHICH kids are missing off the lists. And then I have to refer to the absentee bulletin, the online attendance record, the suspension list, the tardy list and the sign-out lists to see if they were really absent from school or if they cut or if they just missed the sign in sheet.

Truly, I cannot even start to thank all the substitute teachers out there. I have encountered some really top notch ones. Thanks for being so great so that when I am sick, I can stay home in misery without worrying about my desk, my classroom, my students .... we really depend on you when we need you.

Tips for High School Substitute Teachers:

-Take attendance. Use the seating chart. Being able to call a kid by his name will do wonders for the cooperation factor.

- Always take a class set of something for the kids to do JUST in case there is no lesson provided. Make sure it'll take the whole class period. Crosswords, sudokus, brain teasers, a copy of a recent article from the paper, a series of trivia questions.....

-Do not override the teacher's lesson. If the kids tell you "We can't do this - the teacher never taught us this" do not believe them. I will never leave a sub plan like that. I wouldn't do that to you or to them. If you feel it is an honest plea from well meaning kids that they don't understand the work, then let them work in groups so that they can help each other. The smart kids can help the slower student. I will deal with it the next day.

-DO NOT cancel class and turn on the TV or declare 'study hall' time.

-Sub at just one or two schools all the time so that soon you become as familiar as one of the full time staff members. Then you will receive more respect and cooperation from the kids. They will think of you as a "real teacher" - which you are, but they will view you as an authority figure when you are a familiar face at school.

-Watch them. Read your newspaper or book, but you have to look up every few minutes or they'll realize you aren't watching and get sneaky. Most kids are good, but you never know. If a sweet kind honor student just HAS to SMS her boy friend and tries to sneak the phone under the desk - and the principal walks in at that moment - she AND you could be in trouble. Why risk it?

-Dress and act professionally - mean business - don't be too harsh on the kids - know what school rules are and enforce them.

A note about substitute teachers.......
Why do we need them anyway? In European countries, when a teacher is absent, the class is usually cancelled and the kids just don't go to class. They just go anywhere. Or some schools have a "study hall" that is a permanent large room - open all day- with a teacher monitor and they can go there for quiet study. Why are American teens not trusted this way? Why must they have a "sitter" but European teens are fine on their own? Is it expectations of behavior in society? Is it the litigiousness of parents in the US? I don't know the answer.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Price of Education

We are guaranteed a free and public education in America. Free yeah, but the money has to come from somewhere. Most places it's property taxes, right?

I work in a place where taxes are high. Say, $6,000/year for a 4bedroom home in the suburbs. The schools have everything they need. If I need pens or staples, there is a closet in the office where I can got get these supplies. Coaches and club advisors receive decent compensation for their extracurricular activities. We have a full time In-school Suspention teacher plus stipends for after school detention monitors. We have buses for the student to come to school, go home after school, or go home one hour after school so they can attend tutorial sessions, club meetings, detentions, etc... In this community I rarely hear about how expensive schooling is. Every high school has it's own school system and superintendant. Substitutes are readily available so teachers do not have to cover for an absent teacher. If they do, they get compensated. At my school here, we have 2,300 kids: 1 principal, 4 APs, 8 counselors, 7 supervisors (dept heads who do discipline, observation and evaluation), 1 data processing specialist (for grades), 1 librarian and a library aide, 3 computer specialists and 6 secretaries.

I worked in a place for 10 years where the taxes were low. Like $1500/year for a 4 bedroom surburban house. The schools have nothing. If I needed pens, I could go to Staples and buy them myself. If I wanted to be a club advisor, I could do it on my own time for no pay. If I had a discipline problem, there was no detention, no ISS, but I could call the kid's parents - or they could get suspended if it was serious - nothing inbetweeen. We had buses to bring kids to and from school. And in this community the papers are filled with people whining about overspending in the schools and overstaffing. School districts are county wide with up to 15 or 20 high schools in the same systrem with one superintendent. Substitute pay was so low we had mutant zombies come in to sub. Or no one. Teachers regulary gave up their paid planning time to substitute for an absent colleague. For 500 kids at my school we had 1 principal, 2 APs, 2 counselors, a registrar, 1 librarian, 1 science teacher who got 1 extra planning period to work on computer problems and 2 secretaries.

A funny aside: in the high tax area they have all these Volunteer Fire Departments. In the low tax area I never recall seeing a volunteer fire department. The firemen down the hill from my first apartment were always sitting outside the fire house on this bench waiting for a call. Volunteer firemen or volunter teachers? Which one would you pick?

I am in a position to move back to the "low tax" city and work for the schools again. I have family situations and it is a place I need to be. I will never work for free again. If you want your kids in a club or to have a prom or take a class trip to Disneyworld, great, but I will not work for free. It is not fair how many hours these activities take to plan and carry out and it's crazy for the parents to expect us to do our teaching job and spend all kinds of unpaid time for extras.

Education costs. Someone has to pay. I resent being an educated teacher and a bunch of non-educators yelling about how surely we can get by with less. Educating the young people in the community is one of the most important jobs in any community right up there with the police force protecting us and the doctors taking care of us. And citizens who haven't set foot in a school in 50 years are yelling about how we don't need 2 assistant principals? Same folks yell when schools fail to discipline the kids. We can improve the schools by supporting them and letting the professionals decide how many employees they need to do a good job.

To do things right, things cost. Education costs. Someone has to pay.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Peanut allergy awareness

I had heard of people being allergic to peanuts. I flew enough to hear that airlines had quit serving peanuts and I hated the pretzels they served instead. I knew it was a severe allergy with a sudden and serious reaction.

When I had my 1st baby, the books all said no nuts and not honey and maybe some other stuff until after age 1. OK, so after Matt turned 1, I thought "hmmm... what if he is allergic to peanuts or peanut butter?" I personally love peanut butter. I'll eat it in a sandwich, in a dessert or on a spoon out of the jar. I was so poor one semester in college I survived on PBJ sandwiches and diet Coke. PB was one comfort food I ate during pregnancy. When queasy, I could often manage to swallow a nice PBJ sandwich. With chocolate milk.....mmmmmmm.

So Matt - age 16 months sat at the table and I decided it was time to do the test. I checked the time - the doctor's office was still open - I had nowhere to go. So I gave him a Ritz with a little peanut butter on it and I watched as he took a bite. I looked at him, daring not blink, lest I miss the first sign of anaphlaxis. I saw a darling boy enjoy a peanut butter cracker in my kitchen. I chuckled to myself - how paranoid was I?

Then I had my 2nd baby. He was about 17 months old and we 3 were in the kitchen having an afternoon snack. I was trying to get Matt to stop wolfing down yogurt by offering him something - anything else - and I spread some peanut butter on a rice cake. He said he wanted it but with no peanut butter. I gave him a plain one and then thought - "oh, yeah Drew's never had peanut butter - he's old enough" and I handed the peanut butter covered rice cake to him.

One bite and he rubbed his eyes. Then his face turned a bit red and splotchy. He wanted to get out of the seat he was in. He got down and I called the doctor. A nurse called back and she asked if he had hives. I said no, but on closer inspection, I saw bumps on his face. He sneezed. The nurse told me to give him Benadryl and call back in an hour. Sounded kinda crazy, but I figured hey - she's the medical professional.

Ten minutes later his face had cleared considerably. The nurse called back to check on us. I told her his face was clearer, but that he was acting sleepy - walking like he was tipsy. She said to come on in, just to be safe.

We left immediately. Half way there he started crying and I started to panic. (Yes - I was just now getting to panic stage. I tend to go straight into denial if I think I should be panicking.) We continued on and then just when I got on a 2 lane street behind some car going 10 mph, Drew threw up. I passed Sunday Driver and floored it in a 25 mph zone mentally daring any cop to join me.

I got to the office and the nurse went to get a nebulizer treatment because he was wheezing. I had taken off his puky shirt and saw hives all over his torso. The nurse walked out and interrupted a doctor to come and after he looked at him he went to get epinephrine.

One shot of that and Drew was instantly fine and normal. Whew! He has had no further exposure or reactions. He is my happy guy who often plays kitty cat.

There has been much controversy in our area about the banning of smoking in restaurants, bars, public places, etc... I love it just because I hate smelling like smoke later. Smoke also make me sneeze. I understand that smoke (first or secondhand) causes cancer and it is bad for you. But you don't breathe smoke and fall over dean the same day. It takes years for it to develop and who knows? it might never develop in some who had a significant exposure to it. But if someone ate peanut butter and breathed heavily on my kid.... or if someone left some peanut butter crackers or some such snack at the playground (even on the ground) and an allergic baby toddled by and ate it... they could die in minutes if not treated quickly. Should we ban public consumption of peanut butter? I am not ridiculous enough to suggest such a draconian measure. I applaud the ban on cell phones while driving, but haven't we all lost momentary control of our vehicles while putting on make up, eating, disciplining the kids, reaching for the CD that slid off the seat....... it's like they can't ban everything. Everyone just has to be careful.

I want the public to know that the peanut allergy is very severe. The need for disclosing all ingredients in all foods is a matter of life and death. It's not like a lifestyle preference or religious practice. If a vegan ate something with the teeniest molecule of animal fat in it they won't die. If a kosher Jew ate something I brought to a party that was prepared in my non-kosher kitchen, they won't turn red and suffocate to death on the spot.

I hope no one thinks I am some whacko crybaby when I say my son cannot eat something. I hope no one is offended if we refuse his home-baked goodies. I can't risk my baby's life.


Website with stories of PBA deaths:

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My father and the Grand Canyon

My father decided to hike the Grand Canyon. He started training by packing a ridiculous huge backpack and walking up and down the steep street we lived on. He was an engineering professor so he'd done all these mathematical calculations about the grade and distance of the street and how many times he'd have to walk it to simulate the Canyon. He'd figured out all these things like how much water and equipment he'd need and how much it would weigh and how much energy he'd expend over distance and how many calories he'd need to consume, blah, blah, blah..... I was at the time a regular teen - you know the sort that rolls her eyes at all her parents good advice....and stunts like this one.

He and my mom drove out West. They had done it before. This time he had a meeting in Utah and they'd left a week or so early to see some parks and do the canyon. Mom dropped him off at some certain point of departure for canyon-hikers and the plan was that he'd hike down, spend the night and come out the next day.

He started down. I am sure he was giddy with excitement, but trying to appear calm and blase about the whole thing like this was the sort of thing he did every day. About halfway down he was not feeling well. Did I mention this was about 2 or 4 years after he had a bout of colon cancer? Yeah. It was 16 years after he'd had to have a colostomy due to ulcerated colitis. Yeah. So back in the canyon he was not well. He slowed down, sat down and thought about what he should do. I know that was a hard decision he would have to make.

God made it easier on him. Somehow my father ran into another hiker. This guy was on his way up out of the canyon. He was not well either - dehydrated and out of water. Father shared some of his with him. I don't know the details of their conversation, but now I wish I had asked him. He decided to call it quits and share his water with the other guy. They estimated how much each would need to get back to the rim and poured the rest out to lighten the load. They hiked back out together.

I was sad that he didn't get to realize his dream of conquering the canyon. Even as a smart-alec teenaged girl, I knew it was a total bummer to go to all that time and effort to get ready to do something really big and then not get to complete your goal. But, I thank God for sending my father as an angel with water to help this man.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Decisions, decisions.....

How to make a decision?

My friend said that to make a good decision you should ask your head, then your heart and then your gut and take and compare the 3 answers and this will help decide which way you are leaning and which way you truly feel.

I have always written out pro vs. con lists so I can see the advantages and the disadvantages of any given situation and when the pros outweigh the cons, then I go with the pro side. I did this when I was dating my dh and I kept on finding all these pros about him and I wondered if there were any cons. I managed to scrounge up 3 cons: I didn't like his wardrobe, I feared he had a gambling habit and his nose was shaped funny. Ten years of marriage later I have changed his wardrobe, and ignored his nose - he has not proven to be a compulsive gambler.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My most embarrasing moments

I explained to my French class of 7th graders that they were mispronouncing grandfather. Instead of "grand-père" they were saying "grand Pierre." I said "If you say 'grand Pierre' instead of 'grand-père' then you aren't talking about your grandfather, you are talking about your big peter."

During an after school tutorial session, I had several students making up a French test. I wanted to know if all the test takers had finished so I could go to the board and write some verbs and vocabulary and review with the other kids. It was silent in the room as some took tests and others made flashcards or wrote make-up work. I looked up and asked, "Are my testees gone?" (Only one 6th grade girl heard me and she just looked up and in a blasé way said, "Oh, yeah, Madame, that's a good one.")

Santa Claus is not scary - or shouldn't be

I had my first photo with Santa at age 26. The Art Club at the school where I was teaching held a fund raiser during lunch. A hefty black football player dressed up as Santa and they took Polaroids of people sitting on his lap for $5.00. I couldn't wait. I love that picture!!

I asked my mom why she never took me and Sister to have our pictures made with Santa. She said, "Well, you all were never interested." She was right. I remember seeing Santa at the mall when I was a kid and I was too shy to go see Santa. I thought it was cool lots of kids went to see him and maybe even wished I was brave enough to go, too. But, I didn't really want to.

Every year I see some one's Christmas card photo with a crying kid on it - and recently got an e-mail forward with 15 pictures of terrified kids on various Santas' laps. I don't understand why parents make their children go sit on a stranger's lap when they don't want to. I understand making them brush their teeth or making them say please, but going to visit Santa? I really just don't get it.

We took Matt and Drew to the local fire station last weekend for an open house. It was a day of fire safety demonstrations, refreshmants and Santa was there. At first I asked if they wanted to talk to Santa and they said no. We went outside and learned how to use a fire extinguisher and how to stay safe around an oven. We got plastic fire helmets and watched some firefighters go up the ladder and come down on a rope. Then I asked if they wanted to talk to Santa again and they said yes. So we got in line and they waited and they went up and talked to him a minute and posed for the photo and they were fine. Well, Drew had a funny look on his face, like, "Who is this and why am I here?" But no one was scared. If they had balked or cried or looked scared I would not have pushed it. I didn't want them to do it for me - only for them if they wanted to.

I refuse to force my boys to visit Santa if they don't want to. It is not worth it just because I want a cute picture. A picture of them scared and bawling is neither cute nor a nice memory. Christmas is not about selfishness.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mr. Drew's Wild Ride

In the words of one of my comedic heroes, Dave Barry, I am not making this up.

Millie returned home from the playground one day this fall with my 2 boys Matt (4) and Drew (2). Matty was still in the car and she had unbuckled Drew and gotten him out of his seat. They walked up to the garage door to open it. She had forgotten to press the button on the remote in the car, but we have a keypad on the house, so she was going to open the door with that.

She turned to it long enough to enter the 4 number pin and hit enter. She turned around to see Drew holding on with both hands to the garage door handle and rising up, up, up as the door opened. Panicked, she grabbed his waist to pull him off- to no avail. She pulled harder and harder as his head was now as high as hers. She screamed his name - "Let go!" she yelled and yanked on him as hard as she could - imagining him going up into the garage ceiling on to the top of the door.

Before anything bad could happen, either he let go or she pulled him off. Whew! Wish I had had a video camera out for that one.

I tell ya - my boys will give me a heart attack someday.

No wonder it wasn't getting any better

In a follow up to a previous post on medical jargon droppers---- I went back to this dermatologist recently to find out why my finger still looked like it was infected with a flesh eating virus a whole year after I originally went to him to find out how to heal this finger that looked like it was infected with a flesh eating virus. Water hurt it. Air hurt it. I was wearing a vinyl glove to work to keep the chalk off my hand. The kids looked at me like I was crazy. Determined to rid mysel fof a dry-cracked painful knuckle, I wore the gloves to bed every night for a month with the medicine the doctor gave me slathered all over it. I was going to eradicate this stupid "finger cancer" for good.

At the original visit I had 3 areas of "needs improvement": a rash on my eyelid, a dry skin patch inmy pointer that wouldn't heal and something like eczema on my elbows. The doctor gave me 3 ointments to use plus an OTC cream. At home I had no clue what went where. I had to call the office and ask the nurse. There were all sorts of time limits too. Only use Tube X for 14 days on and 7 days off, but Tube Y you can use for 21 says then 14 days off and then the OTC cream you put on before Tube Z but only for a week and then quit using that and just use Tube z. Sounds like an old Bob Newhart comedy sketch.

When I went in this time, he asked me what I was using on it. He said, "Oh, you should use the other stuff on it."

A week later - my finger is fine.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Third Time's a charm

Third year getting an au pair

We finally got it right.

This one is so great. Milly is from South Africa and 19. We were worried about her being young. The first and second were both 21, but it's not age that matters - it's maturity. She is pleasant and helpful. She is good with the boys - takes her job like a teacher and limits their TV time and reads and does activities, crafts, art, puzzles. She is thinking about a career in Occupational Therapy and it just so happens that Matt receives OT at school for a fine motor skill delay. Or disability - or whatever you call it. So she supplements what they do with him at school.

I just realized this is the second post with this title and topic. My mistake, heh, heh, excuse me, heh heh, guess I'll be on my way!!

The others were good - we liked them and it was great. But this one just goes out of her way to make the house neat and clean and to let us know when there was a problem or where she is going. It is a great year so far. Oops - better not say that and jinx myself.

Other people have had nightmarish experiences lately. Host mom number 15 had a German girl come and act like a kid - expecting to be cleaned up after, scratched the car and lied about it. SO she went home. Then the rematch girl was there a week and flew the coop. They found out when she arrived that she doesn't swim and is scared to swim - and they have 4 kids and a pool. Then they heard from a friend of hers that she was a hooker back home. Greaaaaat. Host mom number 3 got laid off from real estate sales and had to call and cancel her new girl coming over.

At $176 a week, she is so worth it, even though it's the biggest expense each month after mortgage. I think it is still cheaper than day care in our area.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The young Madonna or the Old Madonna?

Remember a few years back, the post office was trying to choose a picture to use on a stamp to honor Elvis? Controversy arose over which image of Elvis would be used: the young (thin) Elvis or the older (fatter) Elvis? Well today I am "The Old (Fat) Madonna."

It's Eighties Day at school for spirit week and here I sit in homeroom wearing dotted tulle gloves with the fingers cut out, a sweat shirt with the neck cut out, a giant bow on my head, leggings and jazz shoes. And I weigh 50 pounds more than I did in high school. Madonna is truly an inspiration to me - she is several years older than me and has had to kids and looks like a million bucks. Even without Guy.

We wondered in the 80's (when we dressed up on 50's day in poodle skirts) "When we are OLD and have teenagers, will they have to dress up 80's on their spirit day?" Yes - it's time - we are OLD now and the young people are dressed up like Olivia Newton-John in neon colored tights and headbands and Madonna in leggings and cut up sweatshirts.