Monday, March 10, 2014
When I walk in the door, I immediately notice a pile on the floor in the closet alcove to my left.
The non-working antique clock, which had been on the shelf in the closet is on the floor.
My first thought is that my house has been broken into. I mentally catalogue what was in that closet- winter coats, vacuum cleaner, mop bucket, extra three ring binders-- and I wonder what might have been stolen.
And then I realize what really happened.
Yesterday, when I got home from my mom's house I was pretty tired. And I had a full car to unload. And a lot of schoolwork to do. In addition to all of the treasures I wrote about yesterday, I had brought home some clothes my mom wanted me to try on.
I live in an old house, with little tiny closets. My bedroom closet is totally full. I knew the new clothes wouldn't fit in that closet. So I ingeniously, or so I thought, decided to hang them in the coat closet in the front hall. It never occurred to me that that would be a problem.
But I guess it was.
Evidently, the clothes were too heavy. They pulled the clothes rod and shelf right out of the wall. And everything hanging on the rod and everything on the shelf above it, is now on the floor of my living room.
I sat down on the floor and cried.
And then I took the dog for a walk.
The clothes are still there.
They may still be there in June, when school gets out.
Because I am too tired to care.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
My sisters and I are beginning to clean out my mom's patio home. She's lived there for about twenty years, and it's 3,900 square feet, filled to the brim with treasures my mom has collected.
And it's in this cleaning out that I am remembering how very different my sisters and I really are.
If you were to put the three of us on a spectrum, with one end being someone who doesn't like to get rid of anything, and especially not anything that has the least bit of sentimental value, that's where you would find me. And at the way opposite end--someone who purges everything and has no interest in hanging on to anything with sentimental value-- that would be my sister, Nancy. My youngest sister, Betsy, would fall right in the middle.
Perhaps that might explain the list of things I carried home in my car today:
- A sampler cross-stitched by my great, great grandmother, Agnes Mary Skelton, in 1862
- Four aprons and a box of handkerchiefs from my grandmother, Grace Wolberg
- The gold-plated library card given to my grandmother when she retired from the Chicago Public Library in the early 1970's
- A makeup bag and jewelry case purchased by my mom at Marshall Fields in Chicago
- A salmon-colored lap robe hand knit by one of my mom's best friends
- A tin can filled with buttons that my mom has collected over many years
- A box of thread (probably about 50 spools) that my mom used to get out when my grandmother came and did sewing projects with us
- A linen table cloth owned by my grandmother
- A three corner pillow similar to the ones my sisters and I always had in our bedrooms for before bed reading
- Two oil paintings given to our family after we made a donation to Hospice in honor of my dad
- Two photographs of sunset in the Grand Caymans taken by my sister's friend
- An extra set of silverware (which we really do need, given that my boys seem to not understand the difference between plastic silverware, which can be thrown out, and metal silverware, which was not intended to be disposable)
- A bathmat
- A bathroom scale
- A table runner
- A raincoat
- A magazine holder
- Twenty-five pairs of brand new underwear that my mom bought, then never took out of the package
- A garbage bag filled with sweaters my mom doesn't want
Saturday, March 8, 2014
It will be the fourth time.
And he still has not passed it.
I hear the discouragement, the flatness in his voice.
"I talked to the professor," he said.
"And I'm still gonna try to pass it this spring,
but I have to get 100% on all of the rest of the tests."
I doubt that he has even passed a math test this semester
Let alone aced one.
"The teacher said I can stay," he says.
"I can try to pass."
"But then he will let me withdraw at the very end
if I'm not passing."
I suggest to my oldest that possibly he should
visit the student services center
see if they have someone who can help.
He says that has tried
and all they do is put him on a computer
he doesn't understand math from a computer
any better than he understands math from a teacher.
"Maybe I will do better this summer.
When I only have one class" he tells me.
"I did better last summer in that writing class."
We talk a little longer.
Discuss the possibility of a tutor.
Zay thinks his running back coach,
a high school math teacher,
might be willing to help him.
I tell him to ask.
Tell him I will pay.
And then it is time to hang up.
I try to build him up.
Tell him I am proud of him
for sticking it out
when it's been so, so hard.
I hang up
and I am filled with doubts.
School, and especially math,
is sooo hard for him.
I don't know if he will ever
be able to pass Algebra.
He did it in high school,
but only because one of the coaches
worked with him
day after day after day.
I wonder whether the college thing is really right for Zay.
He's much happier working with his hands.
I wonder if some kind of trade school might be better.
But he really, really wants to play football.
That has been his dream
since he was a little boy.
Football is his happy place.
His place where he is strong and sure
I do not want to be the one to pop that dream bubble.
But I also don't know
if there's a time
when I should say,
"Enough is enough"
And ask him to consider
Friday, March 7, 2014
I got there just a little before eight. My mom and sister had just finished breakfast in the dining room/restaurant and were waiting for me in the lobby.
We went up the elevator to my mom's apartment on the second floor. My sisters and brother-in-law have done a fantastic job getting the place together- since last weekend, they've bought a new couch and chair, moved beds, dressers, dishes, sheets and towels, and just generally made the place home.
This morning, I talked to the hospital billing department. And went to the grocery store. And cleaned up a little bit. Then my mom and I went to the dining room for lunch, exchanged her medical alert necklace for a medical alert bracelet and looked for the library (a girl has to have her priorities, ya know?). I had planned on staying for the afternoon, but a Colorado snowstorm blew in, so I headed back to Denver about 3.
I think the new living situation is going to be good for my mom. She has her own space, but there's an alert button in every room if she needs help. She has a kitchen, but she can eat meals in a dining room if she wants to. There's a bus for group events and a driver for individual appointments and meetings, which will be good, since my mom can't drive right now, or maybe ever. And there are people around and all kinds of clubs and activities and things to do.
At the same time, the whole process feels a little like leaving a reluctant five-year-old at the door of the kindergarten classroom. You know, one of those kids that watches everyone painting or building with blocks or writing stories, but hides behind her mom, not quite sure she wants to try it out herself. My mom is that five-year-old right now. She's not quite comfortable, yet, with going down to the dining room by herself. She hates using a walker and is embarrassed to have her friends see her. She doesn't know whether she will try any of the clubs and activities. She misses her independence.
I close her door this afternoon and walk away with a huge lump in my throat. I wonder how long it will be before my mom will jump in and get comfortable in her new life.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
My friend Kathy and I leave school at 4:15, drive across town through rush hour traffic, and usually arrive just in time for our 5:00 class. Kathy has never spoken Spanish. She took a weekend class about a month ago, and then signed up for the Thursday night classes. She really should be in the beginner class, but she has another commitment on Tuesday nights, so the group offering the classes suggested she should take the intermediate class. I speak a little more Spanish than Kathy, but still have a long, long way to go. For me, the intermediate class is about right.
We've only gone a couple of times, but so far it seems like the class consists of several different segments. It starts with book check in and out. Then there's a story, usually something about school. Last week the story was about a teacher calling the parents of a student named Victor. Victor was very naughty. he hit. Bit. Pulled hair. It turned out his mother was a roller derby queen. Tonight, the teacher was calling the parents of another child, a girl named Cecilia. Cecilia's father thought something was wrong-- and then it turned out that she was calling to invite them to the science fair.There's usually a vocabulary lesson. A music segment. And conversation time.
Every week at Spanish class, I am reminded of some big truths about teaching.
1) Learning is social. Kathy and I go together. I know, even when I'm exhausted and would just like to go home, that Kathy is expecting me to go with her.
2) Sometimes it helps to front load. Last week was really hard for Kathy. She doesn't know much Spanish. She didn't understand a lot of what was going on. Last night after school, we sat down with today's lesson. We practiced the vocabulary. We read through the story, talked about it, and worked a little with key vocabulary. Tonight Kathy felt much more comfortable in class.
3)An experienced mentor helps. During the story segment, the teacher does most of the talking. I like listening to her. It helps me know what Spanish should sound like.
4) Like ability partners are not always helpful. We always spend part of the time working in conversation partners. While I appreciate this opportunity, I don't know how helpful it is. None of us are fluent Spanish speakers. Most of us have issues with vocabulary, and verb tense, and pronunciation. We are practicing, but we are really not getting any feedback, and I'm not sure that's it all that beneficial.
5) Checks for understanding matter. Our instructor committed to making sure we can understand what she is saying. Every two or three minutes she stops and asks, "How much do you understand? Show me your percentage with your fingers
6) Laughter matters. Our teacher has a great sense of humor. We laugh a lot. Which makes us relaxes us. And makes it much easier to learn.
I love Spanish class. I love that I'm learning something new. And I love that placing myself in the position of learner helps me to think carefully about my own teaching practices.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Son #2: What am I doing for spring break?
I have been asking this question for several weeks, but with only minimal response, "I don't know. I'll let you know."
And now: What am I doing for spring break?
This seems like a conversation that might be easier to have in person, and so I dial his number.
Even though it's been less than a minute since he texted, I am surprised when he answers his phone. Son #2 is not the most conversant guy I know. We talk briefly about Spring Break, about school, and about his new job as a car hop at a fast food place.
I think we are about done talking and I am about to hang up, when K says, "Wait. I want to ask you about something. I mean, I'm ok and school's ok, and everything, but I just want to ask you about something."
My heart beats a little faster. I wonder what he wants to ask about.
"Well, see, there's this guy. A teammate. He's kind of crazy. I've talked to you about him before. He's the one that drags his girlfriend around by the hair."
I do know about his kid. In October, when I went to see K, he told me about several incidents with this player and his girlfriend. He said the kid was abusive. Wondered what he should do about it.
K continues talking. "So anyway, a couple of weeks ago, he and these other guys got drunk and started kicking in doors. And they got arrested and a couple of them are in jail. They've been there two weeks."
My heart beats faster still.
"I wasn't involved or anything, but they want me to put the title of my car up for bail, so they can get out of jail."
I am shocked. "What? Your car?" I don't even have to think about this one. "Absolutely not!" I don't totally understand the ramifications of putting one's car title up for bail, but I am pretty sure it's not a good idea.
"Well that's what I thought. But some of my teammates keep calling and texting me. And the kid's mom even called and asked me to do it. They are saying I'm not a good teammate."
I try to stay calm. We talk for a few minutes about possible ramifications. About the meaning of team. I suggest that K go and talk to the coach and explain what is going on.
And then I think we are ready to hang up again. But then K says, "So I talked to Coach Burton."
"Yeah?" I say. Coach Burton was K's quarterback coach in high school. It was his connection that took K to where he is now. Last I heard, Coach Burton was interviewing for a position at a college in Colorado. He wanted K to apply there.
"He wants me to join the Air Force," K says. "He says I will probably never make it in the NFL and I should just join the Air Force now, so I can start making money."
And for the second time in this conversation, I feel like I have been socked in the stomach. I fight to stay calm. My boys' mental health has been a hard war. I cannot imagine sending them to Iraq or Afghanistan. I wonder if the fragile, hard fought inner peace could survive something like that.
"Really? What do you think about that?"
"I don't know. I don't think I want to do it. I don't want to go to war."
"Well then don't do it," I say, more than a little relieved (and also feeling really selfish when I think about all the moms that actually are sending their sons and daughters to war).
"But I don't know why he would say that. He sent me all the way out here. And now I'm here and he wants me to drop out and go to war. I don't get it."
I don't really get it either, but I try to listen as K thinks aloud for a few more minutes. We talk about the difference between jobs and careers, and careers and hobbies.
And then finally he is done. Tells me he loves me. Hangs up.
And I stand in the middle of the kitchen, holding the phone, pretty sure I missed another page in the parenting manual.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I make the rounds, conferring with J, who wants to be a WWE wrestler, then P, who has aspirations of becoming the guy who wears the Chuckee Cheese suit, and R, who wants to play for the NBA. Finally, I kneel down next to L, who barely looks up when I kneel down next to him.
L is an English Language Learner. And he has a visual memory problem, which makes reading, writing, and spelling really, really tough.
I look over his shoulder. Almost every word, even words me and my are spelled wrong. And even though he's in fourth grade, L is still reversing his b's and d's, which makes it even tougher to read his writing.
I take a deep breath. Try not to think about the tests. Listen for Don Graves' voice in my ear. "Always respond to the content first. Let the writer know that you hear what he has to say.
I read L's first paragraph with all the expression I can muster.
Wot du u wont to di wen you grow wp? I wud lake to be a titur becos its fon to lon. Onodor risin I wont to di a titer is we could majc jocs with prodloms. Onodor rison I wont to di a ticr is to play gaims in math and odr things. I like when kids rid cuaiet.
I want to dia tichr dicos I could si kids lafing dat maics my japy.
Translation: What do you want to be when you grow up? I would like to be a teacher because it's fun to learn. Another reason I want to be a teacher is we could make jokes with problems. Another reason I want to be a teacher it to play games in math and other things. I like when kids read quiet (ly).
I want to be a teacher because I could see kids laughing. That makes me happy.I look up from the writing. L is watching intently. "So you want to be a teacher?"
L smiles shyly.
"And you are going to tell jokes and make kids laugh?" L nods. "Kids will love that. People love to laugh. "
L smiles a little more broadly and I keep reading. L wants to be a teacher because he wants to make learning fun for kids. He likes when they learn something new. He likes to watch them when they play outside.
L goes on to clarify a little. He wants to be a teacher "when he is tall, not when he is small, because he doesn't know that much about teachers right now." He thinks that if he became a teacher when he was small, kids wouldn't listen to him. And they "always talk when they are working and never respect the others all around them."
I compliment L on his thinking. Tell him that I know he will be a great teacher. Make him promise that he will come back and teach with us at our school. He grins and nods happily.
And then I have to teach something. L already has an introduction and a conclusion. He organizes his writing. He uses paragraphs. I don't even know where to begin to tackle the spelling. And so I teach a really simply trick about b and d. I draw a picture of a bat and ball. I show L how he can say, "First the bat and then the ball." Then we talk about how when a dog comes around the corner, you see the head first, then the tail. I show him how to make a d by saying, "First the dog's head and then the dog's tail." And L goes back through his writing and finds every single backward b and d and corrects it. We also talk about the difference between the e sound in English, made by an e and the e sound in Spanish, made by a letter i. L fixes everyone of those too.
I don't touch L's last line, because it's already absolutely perfect.
"I wont to di a ticr dicos it's the dest jod in the wruld."
I agree, L, I totally agree. It really is the best job in the world. Mostly because of kids like you.