Sir, You’re in my Splash Zone

Tonight was Back to School Night at the school where I teach and where my children have all gone to school.  It was all going well. That is, until I opened my mouth. If you know me or have read many of my blogs, you know I’m all too familiar with embarrassing moments. And believe you me, this was one of them.

To accommodate parents with more than one student, we offered two sessions. The first session went fine. We had a rather full class of parents eager to learn about what little Johnny or Jenny was doing in their school day. Sure, I stumbled over a word or two and accidentally admitted my dark secret that I have horrible handwriting (a subject I teach their children…) but overall the session went just fine. And then came the second session.

The second session had only two parents. Each parent sat at their child’s desk. Normally in a presentation, I would stand. However, since these folks were sitting at ridiculously small desks – knees to nipples – I thought it would be less domineering if I sat on a stool. And then there was incident number one.

As I went to sit upon the stool, careful to tuck my dress (let’s look professional now!) under my bottom, I inadvertently pushed the stool slightly off kilter. And I tried to sit. I think you see where this is headed. Too bad I didn’t. As I was stumbling/sitting/falling, I quickly pointed out, “Oh, wow! I thought I saw a black bear out there!” And pointed to the window where their children were playing outside. In my defense, I really, truly, no lie, thought I saw a black bear cub, which turned out to be one of my own students dressed in a black jacket, bent over and crawling on his hands and knees. My mistake. Oh, and no one said anything about my near fall. I wasn’t so lucky in the next incident.

Moments later – just long enough for my face to slightly pale from its bright red, I decided to up my own game and go for the gold. I spit on a parent. Yep. You read that right. He was sitting in the front row and as I was explaining what to do if your child was too sick to come to school and you still wanted us to send them schoolwork, I full on spit on this poor dad. You know, “Say it, don’t spray it” style. And the worst part was he totally saw it. I mean, he saw it coming. He watched this large glob of saliva leave my mouth, make its upward trajectory and then arch down to his arm which – THANK GOD – was covered by his jacket. We had just discussed gravity, so I guess this could have been another teaching moment. However, he started laughing. And then I started laughing and then talking, incessantly. I said something like, “Oh my. I just spit on you!” And then I tried to wipe it off him. And then I continued with my verbal diarrhea: “You are in my splash zone. It’s like a Gallagher show in here!” before continuing on, desperately grabbing my notes to get us back on track. Side note: know your audience. I don’t think any of these parents are even old enough to remember Gallagher. If you weren’t around for the 80s/early 90s, he’s the comedian who would smash watermelons on stage, drenching his audience in goo. You know, kinda like what I did to this guy tonight.

So, yeah. That was me introducing myself to my students’ parents. I’m sure they are walking away super confident in the lady teaching their class. Who knows, maybe they’ll have a good sense of humor and send their kids to school tomorrow with an umbrella, just in case there’s another shower.

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Watching the Turkeys

My brother has a family of turkeys that live in the green belt behind his home. Every morning, they are in his lawn, seeking breakfast in the grass. Normally, they are already in the lawn when I get up. This morning, I had the pleasure of watching them arrive. At first, I saw a slight movement from the side of his lawn. And then, here came this little baby turkey. (Chick? Are turkey young called chicks? I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my best friend. She has a flock of them. Wait. Is it a flock of turkeys? It’s a murder of ravens. I know that one because it’s super weird. A menagerie? Whatever. I digress.) This little bitty turkey just waddles his/her way onto the lawn – eager to investigate. That one is followed by mama, who I can only describe as regal. She is a real beauty. And then, two more little chicks (yeah, I’m sticking with it now) follow her out onto the lawn. Mama gracefully struts through the grass, looking for unsuspecting bugs, calling for her babies when she finds something, and continues to forage across the lawn and into the neighbors property.

It’s been a while since I’ve stopped to watch the turkeys. It’s like this thing you know is happening – an everyday ritual – but it just happens in the background while you continue to stress about whatever the day’s given stress is. Or, sometimes it’s not even that day’s stress. Sometimes it’s something that happened weeks or months ago and you’re still going over it in your mind. Or maybe it’s your mental to do list and you’re planning your stress in advance. Whatever it is, there’s no time for turkey watching.

Last summer, I took a job as an elementary school teacher. When I started this blog, I had just left a job teaching high school journalism after our funding ran out when our grant expired. Every job I’ve ever had (journalist, teacher, advertising executive) has some with its own degree of stress. But nothing – NOTHING – stresses me more than being a mother. It’s not the same kind of stress as fearing that you’ve somehow screwed up an account for a client, or the stress  of not having a lead story for that night’s news, or the stress of not knowing if a student is truly grasping a concept you’ve been working on all quarter. No, motherhood is full of its own special stresses. Stresses like, “Are my kids growing up to be productive members of society?” “How do I get two of the three kids to point A and the third to point B at the exact same time, despite the fact they are 15 miles away from each other?” and (recently) “Will this lice infestation ever end?!”

Stress is something mamas (at the least the human ones) are good at. And if we can’t find something to stress about with our kids, we can just wait a moment because the next stress is right around the corner. But, the turkey mama – she doesn’t worry. She doesn’t stress. She just is. The fact that I got to watch her this morning with her three chicks is not lost on me. It’s the simple things – God showing me how to take a moment and relax. To smile.

I’ve been reading the same thing a lot recently in my morning devotionals – the same message but in different verses:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

Or, especially fitting for today: “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27

So, today, I’m watching the turkeys and I’m taking note. Worry less, watch more. Don’t stress over the small things. Except the lice. But that’s a different story for another day.

He Called Her, “Sasquatch”

Yesterday, while waiting for a birthday party to begin at one of those big trampoline places that gouge you with their hourly rates and force you to watch legal warning videos showing you, via stick figures, how your precious child could easily break every bone in his/her body, before having you sign a waiver saying you won’t sue them if the inevitable happens, I witnessed something that has left my head spinning ever since. And, no, it wasn’t from the trampolines.

I was waiting at the entrance with my 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. As we watched through the glass doors for his friends to arrive, we saw a group of teenage boys entering the building. The door opened, and they trailed in, one hormone-oozing kid after the other. There was a teenage girl perched on a bench directly by the door. She seemed to be their age. One of the boys, I didn’t catch which one, startled me enough to look up when he saw the girl and, in passing, as if he was not just brutalizing her with his words, uttered, “Hey, Sasquatch,” at her. She immediately got up and walked out of the building, through the same door this squad of boys had entered. I stood there, flabbergasted. I was torn. I wanted to run after her and say something consoling. To tell her that she didn’t have to take that. And I wanted equally to run after that boy and yell at him in front of his friends, in front of everyone and tell him what a complete and utter jerk he was. I wanted to make him feel as small as he was trying to make her. I turned to the left and watched him and his friends pay to get inside. I turned to the right and watched her get in the backseat of what I assumed was her parents car.

And I did nothing.

I contemplated my options. I thought of ways to get the boy to give me his mother’s phone number without letting on to my plan to call her and tell her how awful he’d just been. I thought of things I could say to him and his friends. Should I take the stance of outrage and have him pass me off as just some crazy mom? Should I try to level with him and tell him that what he says actually matters? Should I tell him that it’s kids like him that make other kids cry at night, take their own lives?

I did nothing.

I watched him pay. I watched his friends pay. I turned back to the right to see if the girl had already driven away. I wondered whether she’d cried or just added it to the list of times she’d been made fun of. I wondered if her parents would see she was upset. I wondered if she would open up and tell them.

I looked back to my left. The boys were gone.

I looked down. There was my 14-year-old daughter – not that different in age from the girl who’d just been dubbed, “Sasquatch.” There was my 11-year-old son – not that much younger the boys who had just cruelly called the girl such a name. There was my chance.

I asked my children if they had heard or seen what had just happened. I told my daughter never to take that. Never. To tell the kid to knock it off. Something. I never want her to feel what that girl felt. That rejection. That shame. That embarrassment. The same things I felt for years, at the hand of a boy in school who has taken to calling me “Old Yeller” for years. And for years, he and his cronies barked at me, just to drive the point home. I got it. They didn’t have to say it. I was ugly as a dog.

For years, I came home crying. My mother told me I should pray for him, ignore it. I did both. Nothing changed. He was a year older than me and, finally, in my 6th grade year, I was free of his tormenting when he went off to junior high. I had one blissful year. Until my first day of junior high. Bent over the water fountain, I felt him standing in line behind me. I stood up and he said it. “What’s up, Old Yeller?” No. This time I wasn’t going to take it. I was not going to start a new year, a new school with the same old pain. And before I could even think it through, I replied with the words that changed my future, “Wow. A whole year went by and you’re still using that same old material? Huh.” And I walked off. I changed my future. I took his power.

My daughter is in her final year of middle school. She comes home with stories, experiences and sometimes tears. Sometimes she opens up about what her classmates said or did. Other times, she doesn’t. I’ve always taken the approach with my kids of, “turn the other cheek” and “just ignore them.” But this. This kid and this one word, “Sasquatch” just burned inside of me.

“Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” I quote that scripture from James all the time to my kids. But this seemed like God’s righteousness. That one of his children was hurting – from the stinging words of another child.

My son is approaching the middle school years himself. He tells me on a daily basis what the other kids say and do. He’s still sharing, thank God. And thank God for my son’s spirit. He doesn’t take part in name calling… except to his siblings. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I asked him if he’d ever call someone that name. Of course, he said no. I pushed him further – if you ever hear a friend call someone a name STEP IN! Don’t just let it happen because you don’t want to look uncool. Say something!

I told my kids – this is the kind of thing that leads kids to kill themselves. Bullying. A single word that can cause so much pain.

My prayer is that her parents will see this. My prayer is that his parents will see this. That they’ll talk with their children about the words they use. They’ll make sure their children know that this is not right. And that the girl – who I know nothing about – will  brush off this experience and stand tall, knowing that one word does not define her.

 

Midnight Triage Parenting

It was 12:58am when I heard the knock on my bedroom door. I can tell you this with certainty, because I had to hit the “home” button on my phone so I could have a modicum of light as I navigated the dog-filled carpet from my bed to the door. (Only one dog was nearly stepped on.) It was a rushed walk, as my 10-year-old had informed me through the closed-door that his stomach hurt and he thought he was going to throw up. His younger brother had a bout of tummy unease over the weekend, so this was a legit concern.

As I opened my bedroom door, I found my middle child laying in the fetal position, rocking on the floor. “My stomach hurts. My stomach hurts!” He was wailing. I got him up and told him to head to the bathroom. I feared I knew the next act in this nausea play.

And that’s when I noticed my oldest child’s bedroom door was also open. She looked at me from her bed and cried, “Mom, I don’t feel good. I have ninety-six nine.”

What? My midnight brain has no idea what this means. I have to ask her to explain.

“Ninety six nine!” she sobbed, “on the thermometer! I have a fever!”

Oh. 96.9. Okay, brain, let’s do math in the middle of the night, shall we?(I feel like midnight mental math should be deserving of a cookie or at least a sticker or something.) The average body temperature of a human is 98.6, meaning she does not have a fever.

Here comes the midnight triage parenting. I imagine this scenario is a lot like those scenes in the old TV show, MASH. (Awesome show, by the way, I totally loved it. And, a former boss once referred to me as “Radar,” which I definitely took as a compliment.) In MASH, when a chopper would arrive full of injured soldiers, the doctors and nurses had to decide – who needs the most help at that very moment?

So, there I stood at – let’s go with 1:00 am, since it probably took about two minutes to climb over the dogs, open the door, make out what my child was moaning on the floor and head down the hall. It’s 1:00am and I have not one but two kids now telling me “I don’t feel good!” You know what case made it to the top? The potential vomiter. My 10-year-old son was told to head to the bathroom, while my 14-year-old daughter was told to go to bed. I told her (I hope compassionately) that she did not have a fever and that sleep was her best option. And yes I meant it. And yes, she had to go to bed.

Then, I turned my attention to the 10-year-old, got him calmed down, and what felt like nine years later, back in bed. At that point, I was wide awake. Just me and my mom guilt.

I should have tried to treat my daughter, too.

I should have been nicer. What did I say?

I should have patted her head and told her she’d feel better soon.

I should have offered her a cool rag for her head.

So, instead of slipping back to sleep, I laid there thinking of all the shoulda, coulda, wouldas. And then… I tried to shift my thinking to the fact that I needed to count my blessings. My youngest was feeling better, my middle one was falling asleep and my oldest appeared to already be asleep. And, we can check “first back to school illness” off our list.

When it’s midnight and you’ve just woken up by a sick child, you are forced to make decisions. Those decisions grow exponentially with the number of kids that are awake and needing your attention. And boy can those midnight decisions be difficult!

What about you? What do you do during Midnight Triage Parenting? How do you handle it when more than one is sick?

 

 

Get Back to Class

Two weeks ago, I drove my kids to their school. It’s summer, so it’s understandable that they would be confused as to why we were there. I told them to get out of the car and then, when they inevitably asked the question, “Why are we here?”, I told them, “I wanted to show you my new office.”

That’s right. I’m going back to the classroom. I’ll be teaching 2nd grade. I previously taught at the high school level. 2nd grade is a whole new bag. More on that in a moment. First, let me review my children’s responses to my big news:

5th grader: “What? You got fired?”

1st grader (while jumping up and down): “Does that mean you’ll be my teacher next year?”

8th grader: “So, you get summers off? Sweet, I don’t have to babysit anymore.”

Overall, they are very excited about me teaching again. The older two remember what it was like when I taught. I had summers off. We had epic adventures. They saw more of me.

I’ll admit, I have an ocean of emotions splashing over/around/through me.

Excitement

Nervousness

Joy

Those are the top three.

Teaching 2nd grade  – well, teaching in general – comes with such responsibility. These children, these sponges, these impressionable little people are in my care. What they learn has the power to impact their entire lives. Don’t you have that teacher you remember? Surely you can name at least one that changed your life for the better. I am blessed to say I have several.

So, here I go. Ready to start a new adventurous chapter in my life. A classroom full of kids, still young enough to be eager to learn, filled with energy, excitement and snot. Yes, I know, I know. My immune system will likely be in overdrive this year. But, hey, it will make for more good stories (names redacted, of course.)

 

How much do teachers get paid?!

My 10-year-old son and I were sitting on the couch the other day discussing who knows what and he made some comment about how “cops make a lot of money.” I explained that, unless you have seniority, that really isn’t the case. He went on to say firefighters have to make the big bucks, then. No dice, my friend. So, we start chatting about how pretty much any work that involves serving other people pays poorly. Nurses, emergency personnel, teachers.

“WAIT. Teachers don’t make a ton of money?” My son asked, in disbelief.

“No, they really don’t.”

“BUT – why?! They’re teaching the whole next group of people in the world! They should make the MOST money!”

And yet…. nope.

So, there you go, my teacher friends. If my soon-to-be 5th grader were in charge, you’d be making bank.

But hey – we value you! And surely payment in forms of handmade cards, the achievement of your students and the constant exposure to contagious illness must count for something, right? 🙂

 

 

 

 

14 years in

Do you remember being 14? A year of transitions. Junior high to high school. Passenger to practice driver. Innocent to aware. 14 seems like the age of the tipping point.

A lot of my friends, women especially, talk about 14 being the age when boys turned from “yuck” to “hmmm.” Blushing took on a new meaning. And things started happening. A multitude of things. First dates. First kisses. First gropes. First real – “this is really happening – you’re getting older” – awkward talks with your parents.

Is now a good time to tell you that my baby girl turns 14 today? Part of me fears all of those transitions. Part of me is joyous – knowing it means she’s growing into a young adult who will have all her own joys, challenges, fun and future.

And thank you, Facebook, for your memories feature – where I can see my baby grow before my very own eyes for as long as I’ve been posting on Facebook. I can see my series of posts:

“Happy birthday to my monkey!”

“Happy birthday sweet 9-year old!”

“Happy double digits!”

“Happy tween-dom!”

“Happy last year before you’re a teen.”

“Happy first year as a teenager!”

And there’s her face. Her sweet, angelic face – changing, ever so slightly at first. And then, more subtly. The baby fat lessens in every picture. Her cheek bones become more pronounced. Her legs get longer. And her smile – it just stays. Shining away. I pray that smile stays for every birthday to come.

Happy birthday, to my sweet, sweet girl. I pray you will keep your heart for caring for those younger than you, a spirit for fun, and a creative and artistic spark. And I pray we both survive all those transitions and love each other through it.

 

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