Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It’s Elementary My Dear…Lord Get Me Out of Here

Let me just say for comparison that I have taught some of the toughest of the tough kids. I once had a student who was charged as an adult for rape, for example. I’ve had death threats and more than a few drug dealers. But today was the worst. Today I was asked to do something I’ve never before done in my life. I was asked not only to teach elementary school, but to teach…kindergarten.

The horror.

I did it because I’ve lately been on a kick where I’ve tried to experience more new things. Just as a growing experience. And I did grow. I grew a little crazy and a lot exhausted. I had actually thought it would be sort of fun. Fun!

I now have renewed respect for elementary teachers. I knew the job was hard, but these miniature human beings ate me alive. When they finally left the room and went to gym, I sat numbly and watched the clock move to the time they’d have to come back, secretly thinking about ways to barricade the door, and then I realized I had to go fetch them because they can’t even walk to class without waddling in line where the teacher has cute little games and hand gestures to show How We Use Our Hallway-Walking Manners. I would have considered running away, but I was way too tired. So instead, I thought of

Ten Things A Class of Kindergarteners Is Like

  1. Trying to herd 25 five puppies, fresh from their naps, in a straight line.
  2. Juggling fruit flies
  3. Ordering earthworms to get out from under the painting table and sit up in their chairs
  4. Sitting in a room full of tiny monkeys that have to use the restroom every 15 minutes, and all at different times, but especially as soon as you have walked the class full of monkeys back from the restroom
  5. Inviting fifty pigeons to take a bath in the drinking fountain
  6. Twenty-five meerkats jacked up on espresso, with one freakishly wild, tow-headed meerkat named Carlton who absolutely never does what he’s supposed to be doing
  7. Twenty-four meerkats jacked up on espresso who feel compelled to tattle on Carlton at all times
  8. Hundreds of squirrels with unzipped zippers and tiny furniture
  9. A herd of teeny weeny wildebeests in a china shop with red flags everywhere, and Carlton wildebeest is crying because he lost the Pokemon cards you told him five times to put away in his book bag
  10. Trying to put Mexican jumping beans (only with lots more continuously flailing limbs) and with tiny bladders and untied strings hanging off of them all over the place who smell like bodily functions, on the correct bus—which is usually Bus Slot Five on alternate Tuesdays, except today because Grandma said to go to after school care, I think

Um, Mrs. Teachew, my fwoat feews wike somefing is cwawing awound and awound in it. ~Kindergartener, asking to go to the nurse

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Fault, Dear Brutus, is Not in Our Scars

I was recently at a singles’ function, and a man I know was talking about surgery. He commented that women shouldn’t ever have surgery because “it scars them.” I just stared at this man, as I frequently find myself doing, wondering if it’s worthwhile to say what I’m thinking. I always decide it would be pointless. More and more with some people I find myself thinking you just have to appreciate the good in them and ignore the idiotic unless it’s clobbering you over the head, which idiocy is wont to do. This particular man can be nice in ways, even though he was at this point showing a disturbing lack of concern for the health, comfort and well-being of slightly over half the population, because apparently women are purely decorative objects who have no value if we are marred.

 Shortly after this conversation, I learned that I have melanoma, a highly metastatic cancer which I will be writing about more in the future only because The Big C has a way of sort of steamrolling all over everything else in your life. So I apologize in advance. People always ask the size, and this was so tiny, it’s hard to find something to compare it to. You know in birdseed, there’s always a ton of that little tan seed that seems to be in there only for flinging purposes? No animal actually seems to eat it. In fact, as a former hamster owner, I’ve noticed it’s in hamster food, too, and hamsters fling it with just as much disgust and hostility as birds do, if distance is an indicator. I just looked it up: millet. It was roughly the size of a grain of millet.

Mine was thought to be a stage one, which means no radiation or chemotherapy, but they do remove a chunk of flesh that will leave a sizable scar. In fact, I just got home from surgery and am simultaneously administering writing and chocolate therapy. I haven’t seen the actual scar yet, but I think it’s two or three inches long, though some of that is because of the way they have to cut a circular incision for stitching purposes—as an ellipsis.

I am such a dork that I actually took a picture of my pre-surgery legs because suddenly they were more beautiful than they’ve ever been. Oh, they were never anything to look at really. I’ve never had those thoroughbred legs that some women have. In fact, they tend to bring to my mind uncooked poultry, especially chicken wings—you know, the chunky, rounded ends. But this is just up from my ankle, so there will be no hiding the scar, and this makes me ache to wear dresses the way I ached to wear a belt in the advanced stages of pregnancy even though I rarely wear dresses these days because the shoes are uncomfortable. I nonetheless dressed up my library-paste-colored legs, biopsy and all, in an old pair of red heels that I can hardly walk in anymore. I wonder—would picturing other body parts severely scarred improve those as well? Maybe. Maybe I will employ this technique and become gorgeous.

The truth, of course, is that I’m already plenty scarred as it is—we all are. That’s life, and living is serious business. It’s not always pretty; that’s why some of us seek out the arts. Maybe I’m only trying to comfort myself, but I don't think so. Even before the steamroller hit, I've found myself gravitating more and more to people with the most battle scars. I like to think the best part of us is our scars. They show that we’ve survived.

And I intend to do that.
Alice: From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole I’ve been told what I must do and who I must be. I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched, and stuffed into a teapot. I’ve been accused of being Alice and not being Alice, but this is MY dream. I’ll decide where it goes from here.
Dog: If you diverge from the path—
Alice: I make the path!   
~2010 Alice in Wonderland

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sub Notes: How Times Have Changed, Part II

Things have changed a lot in secondary schools in the past few years, and some of those changes are wonderful. Most amazing to me is the girls. They don’t have a clue what we went through. By the time I was twenty, I’d experienced several indecent exposures and had had someone try to lure me into his car. My mother acted like that was no big deal. Now, of course, it would have made headlines. Construction workers hooted and catcalled, and total strangers grabbed. The workplace was sometimes the worst; even as a young teacher, I once had a male teacher grab me going up the stairs, an older one tried to hold my hand like I was a child rather than a colleague, and even a principal once said something vaguely lewd.

We were teased if we were too pretty, too ugly, too girly, too boyish, too wimpy, too sporty, too fat or too thin. I used to notice how so many girls walked—crumpled over themselves with their arms crossed in front of their breasts, minimizing their girlness.

Now I’m awed by the way some of them walk like she-warriors, owning themselves, the room, and the world. They are unabashed and unafraid. They speak up and speak out. They can be feminine and powerful at the same time. Some can go way overboard without question, but the quiet confidence some of these girls exude is inspiring.

Sometimes as I stand outside the classroom door ostensibly doing hall duty, I see them striding by, and I think to myself, “You go girl.” I hope they go far.

Yep, times have changed. Just as they should.

Birthday Girl to her friend:  "That’s okay.  You don’t need to hug me.  I have ‘personal space’ issues."
Boy:  (nodding commiseratively) "A lot of us do."
~Conversation overheard among A.P. English students

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sub Notes: How Times Have Changed Part I

I subbed for years when we moved all over the country due to my then-husband’s job—once we lived in three cities in just over a year’s time—and then I stayed home for several years while the children were small and we moved around due to his job some more. When I went back, changes had taken place. A lot of them. I guess some might lament that fact—and the truth is, some of the changes were negative. But there were quite a few positive ones, too.

Children today are familiar with other people’s differences and much more tolerant of them. They can be proud of who they are, how they look and who they love. I’m not sure why, but they are cleaner. They wash their hands. No one has B.O. Severe acne is all but nonexistent. Some are medicated, yes, but that can be a great thing. If they have mental issues, those issues are better understood. It’s likely they’re addressed rather than bottled up and left to ferment.

Boys are allowed to be nurturing. They can like the color pink, and some are open about the fact that they do. They can like cuteness. They can announce that they’re going into nursing or elementary teaching and feel proud of aspiring to a great job.

It no longer seems nerdy to be smart. In fact, it’s not just another asset, but an important one. The ones who are in shape are in better shape than we were because they play more organized sports. They are fit and hard-bodied. They push themselves more. They are goal-oriented, in touch, plugged in, and on the ball. They are sophisticated, motivated, and educated. A master’s degree is the new bachelor’s. Some would say it’s too much, but I do admire the work ethic some of them have.

Last week I got to talking to a boy in the library. He told me he was off on paid vacation from his fulltime job that he works in addition to fulltime high school. He gets about five hours’ sleep per night, but he is headed places and proud of himself for it. And rightly so.

Another boy checked out Beowulf for a little light reading. He said he’d read it a few times before.

And the girls…! That’s another story. Or rather, blog post. Please consider staying tuned.

Sixth Grade Boy: "I have to pee."
Me: "Can you think of a more school-appropriate way to ask that?"
Boy: (After some thought) "I must urinate?"