Monday, March 18, 2019

Planning for the Present

Sundays tend to be busy days for us, and yesterday was no exception. Having spent all day Saturday at a track meet almost two hours away, we hadn't been able to do any of the usual weekend laundry, grocery shopping, and housecleaning, leaving it all to get accomplished in one day.

But it was such a beautiful day, too beautiful to waste by spending it indoors. The warm air and golden sunshine beckoned. We needed to go to the grocery store anyway, so my husband and I jumped in the car, but rather than head straight to the store around the corner, we made a detour to drive through a neighborhood in our town that we love where the houses are older, custom-built and more spread-out than the stereotypical suburban neighborhood we live in. My husband has had his eye on one house in particular for years. Each weekend we joke that this is the weekend there will be a "for sale" sign out front. I'm not sure what will happen if there ever really is one.

As we drove past a park, I couldn't help but remember the times we had taken our boys there when they were little. I could almost hear their laughter and sweet baby voices as I pictured putting them on the swings and pushing them as high as they dared to go. I felt a pang of regret that I hadn't taken them to the park more often. Those days were long behind us, never to be seen again.

"What would you like to do with the boys while we still have a chance?" I asked my husband, proceeding to explain what I had been thinking about the park and missed opportunities.

As we wound our way through the streets of town, soaking in the beauty of the green rolling hills and pink- and white-blossomed trees, so full of the promise of spring, we shared our vision of how to best spend the time we have left as parents with children at home. We agreed that our jobs were sucking too much of our life force lately. It was time to recommit ourselves to home and family, to live our life according to our priorities. 

Together, we began to plan our present to ensure a future full of memories without a trace of regret.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Plan

"Okay, so I've come up with a plan," I abruptly announce, walking into the kitchen.

My husband and older son are seated at the table, hunched over and devouring their . . . well, since it's Sunday, this is technically their first pizza of the week, but given past history, it is certain it won't be their last. They raise their eyes and give me a questioning look, no doubt wondering what on earth I am talking about.

"So," I continue, "I don't know why, but I was thinking UCLA was south of Disneyland, but it's not. It's actually about an hour north. I'm thinking, after we leave Disneyland, we can stop and check out UCLA, then drive up to Santa Barbara and check out UCSB. We'll spend the night in Solvang, and the next day, we can stop at Cal Poly and check it out. How does that sound?"

"Sounds good," my son answers to my surprise. 

Wait a minute. Is this the same kid who absolutely refused to look at colleges just a few months ago? The same kid I couldn't get to look at the emails and pamphlets he received from universities across the United States?

Of course, it is the same kid and it isn't. He continues to grow and change every day. What he wasn't ready for a few short months ago, he is today. I walk away excited that now, at least, he's interested in considering the possibilities. The light dims, just a little, however, when I realize what all this means.

He's one step closer to adulthood and one step farther away from me.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Road Trip

Saturday morning
Should be a time for sleeping in
But the alarm rings at 5:00 a.m.
Just the same

Rush rush rush
We’re running late
Some place we need to be
It’s time for a road trip

We pack in tight
Fasten seatbelts
And make one last check
Nothing’s been left behind

A blanket of silence
Settles around us
Disturbed only by the occasional odds and ends
Of conversation

White lines and red taillights
Stretch before us
As the sky slowly
Lightens to blue

I reach for my coffee, take a sip,
And the first deep breath of the day
Slowly the stresses of the week
Slip from my shoulders

So many responsibilities
Lie behind me
But nothing more important
Than what lies ahead

Today we’re taking a road trip
To watch my boy run

Friday, March 15, 2019

Pencil Puns

They came streaming through the door in a somewhat orderly line. Twenty-four third graders radiating excited energy. 

"Good morning!" I said brightly to each individual as they passed by me. 

Today was our annual fundraiser, a Fun Run, which accounted in part for the high level of excitement. In addition to that, because my class had earned over $20 per lap in pledges, they had been rewarded with a crazy hair day. Some of them took crazy to a whole new level.

As they entered the classroom, I made note of their craziness: A. with a braid that went from one side of her head to the other, wrapped with colorful pipe cleaners to make a rainbow; E. with branches of an artificial plant looped through her braid, transforming her into Mother Nature; J. with his hair colored silver, giving him the look of an android. I stopped when J.V. got close. His hair was all messed up, going in all different directions and a subtle shade of purple had been added.

"Nice hair, J.V. I gotta say, that look works on you," I said, and really it did.

Then there was G. She walked in with her hair in a bun and pencils sticking out in all directions. I was a little concerned about safety.

"They're not sharpened," she assured me. Still, I wasn't sure how safe it was to run around with pieces of wood stuck in her hair.

"Here, this is for you," she said, handing me one of her unsharpened pencils with a green rubber band wrapped around it, keeping a tiny scrap of paper in place.

"Thank you," I said.

We had a busy morning of getting our Fun Run t-shirts on, squeezing in a reading activity, and actually participating in the run, so it wasn't until much later that I had a chance to look more closely at the pencil G. had given me.

I unwrapped the green rubber band and discovered there were actually two tiny pieces of paper, torn corners from a sheet of binder paper. On one it said, "You erase my bad habits." I smiled.

It was the second one that really got me, though. "You are really sharp" it said. Now, I appreciate a play on words, but the truly funny part was the P.S. she had added. Down below she had written "P.S. Sharp also means smart," just in case I didn't get the joke, I presumed.

I laughed out loud as I tucked her precious offering into my desk and prepared to welcome these crazy, wonderful kids back to class.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

An Unexpected Observation

It  had been a busy day, but then again, when is a day at work not busy? Yesterday, though, it seemed like I couldn't get on top of it all more than usual. We were starting a new round of interventions, and I spent my entire prep period preparing for that. (My own fault really. I decided to make flip charts and wasn't thinking how much time it would take to staple 26 flip charts together.) Then there was that moment of panic right before the kids got to class when I realized that I had planned to have my students look at nonfiction texts, but I hadn't gathered up the books yet. Writer's Workshop wasn't until after recess, but this was my day for recess duty, so that 15 minutes of prep time was gone. Frantically, I searched through my classroom library for informational texts with tables of contents. I finished just in the nick of time. The rest of my morning was spent teaching, freezing outside as I watched students complete unfinished work on the work bench at recess, and finishing up the endless stapling job I had created for myself.

All this is to say, by the time I got to social studies at the end of the day, I was not as prepared as I had planned to be. It wasn't a big deal really. I was going to be using a pictorial to teach my class about the Maidu Indians, a lesson I had done numerous times.  Normally, I would have lightly traced my drawings and text with pencil on the chart paper to go over in marker as I was teaching. I had run out of time to trace last year's, so I decided I would simply hang my new chart paper over the old chart on the white board. I would be able to see the through the paper well enough to trace it as I taught. Problem solved.

So, there we were, my students on the floor in front of me with their own papers to copy the pictorial as I filled them in on some interesting facts about the Maidu. We were in the middle of talking about food, when in walked my principal. It was clear she was there for a walk-through. No problem, I thought.

And then she sat down.

Suddenly, the walk-through had become an informal observation. My brilliant solution of hanging the new chart paper over the old one didn't seem so brilliant anymore. It seemed sloppy. I was also acutely aware that my cold-induced raspy voice sounded slightly annoying and my hair was no doubt a complete mess. Nothing I could do about that. 

I was just getting to a fact that I found most interesting. Problem was, even though I knew what I was about to tell them was true and I had heard it from multiple sources, I started to doubt myself. What if I had it all wrong? And here I was about to tell them this preposterous-sounding fact in front of my principal. My hands began to sweat a little. There was nothing to do but carry on. Hoping I appeared enthusiastic and engaging and not just weird, I continued on.

"In addition to birds and mammals, the Maidu had another source of protein."

"Fish!" a few called out.

"Yes," I said, adding "fish" to my chart. "What's really cool, is the Maidu had this plant called soap root." I wrote soap root on my chart.

"Did they use it for soap?" someone inquired. I think they thought they were being funny.

"Yes, they did. But they used it for something else, too. The Maidu would put soap root in the water where they were fishing. . ."

"And the fish would eat it and die!" Giggles erupted around the room.

Normally, my class doesn't call out so much. I was not sure why it was happening now. Probably because my principal was in the room, no doubt making note of my poor management skills.

"Just let me tell the story, would you?" I responded. Everyone laughed.

"The fish would become paralyzed by the soap root and they would float on the water, making it easy for the Maidu to catch. Pretty clever, don't you think?"

They all nodded and murmured their agreement that that was indeed cool. At this point my principal stood up. "Wow, you learn something new every day," she said.

I smiled and agreed, all the while thinking, I just hope it's really true.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Learning to Say Yes

"Do you want to play a game?" my son asked.

Honestly, I didn't. I had just gotten home from work and, as usual, I was exhausted. Two nights in a row of interrupted sleep certainly hadn't helped. I knew, however, that it was important to him. Certainly, I could spare a few minutes before starting dinner to play a game. Besides, how much energy did a game of Battleship or War take?

"Just give me a minute to comment on a few blogs, and then we can play," I told him.

I grabbed my laptop from my bedroom and headed downstairs where I plopped into my chair at the kitchen table. As I was reading blogs and enjoying the recounting of others' slices of their day, Jack walked in carrying two small rackets and a birdie, an impulse buy on our last shopping trip to Target. So, that was the game he had in mind. Inwardly, I groaned. That was going to take a bit more energy.

"I'll just be a few more minutes," I said as he walked past to get to the sliding glass door behind me. I could tell by his slow walk and slumped shoulders that he was upset that I wasn't immediately jumping up from the table and joining him.

I finished my commenting, then took a few extra minutes to check email and the news of the day. I didn't really want to get up out of my chair. It felt good to relax and do nothing after a day of constantly running around. I knew, though, just behind me, my son was hitting a birdie up in the air alone. And I knew that I really should be there with him. It had become too easy to say, "No, not now, I'm tired" or "I can't, I have a lot to do," leaving him on his own to fill up his time. We had recently greatly restricted his screen time, making it even more difficult for him to entertain himself. And truthfully, how many more opportunities would I get to play with him? In the blink of an eye, he would be a teenager, no longer craving time with his parents. In another blink, he would be out in the world on his own, and I would be left regretting that I didn't seize more of these opportunities to push everything else aside to simply spend time with him.

I closed my laptop, pushed back my chair, and opened the door.

"I just need to get my shoes," I hollered. Then, I ran upstairs to grab my shoes and ran back down to the kitchen. I sat only long enough to slip my shoes on before joining my son in the backyard.

I walked over to our patio table and picked up the racket that lay there waiting for me, and my son lobbed the birdie toward me. I was surprised when I made contact and the birdie sailed up into the air in his general direction. We continued to play as the golden rays of the slowly setting sun lit up our yard and our smiling faces. We probably missed more shots than we made, but we talked and laughed and enjoyed every minute of it. 

Surprisingly, I no longer felt tired. Every time I watched the birdie fly through the air, my spirit flew with it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Monday Meeting Miseries

Mondays have never seemed like a good day for a staff meeting. Yesterday was no exception.

I went to bed later than usual the night before and found myself once again tossing and turning for hours in the middle of the night. Actually, it was early morning. You know how it is: you wake up, look at the clock and tell yourself, "If I fall asleep right now, I'll get another three hours of sleep." This invariably leads to a countdown as you try desperately to fall back to sleep but to no avail. "If I fall asleep now, I'll get two more hours of sleep. . .one more hour. . .15 minutes. . . ."

Somehow I managed to get through five hours of teaching. Mondays are early release days, so they go pretty quickly, not allowing me much opportunity to sit, let alone fall asleep at my desk. After school there was just enough time to run to the office for a quick bathroom break before heading to the PLC meeting. My grade level team had a lot to talk about and work out in preparation for our upcoming round of interventions, and we had only 50 minutes to get it done, so again there wasn't much opportunity to let the afternoon slump take hold.

That all changed at 3:10 when we moved to the library for the staff meeting. Standing at the front of the room was someone from the district office that I didn't recognize, but was later introduced as being part of the special education department. Once everyone was settled in their seats she began her presentation, complete with colorful slides that included charts and quotes and all sorts of information that perhaps on another day would have been somewhat interesting.

Yesterday, however, all I wanted to do was fall asleep. I felt my eyelids get heavier and heavier and fought off the temptation to close them, just for a minute. I tried to focus on what she was saying, honest I did. I sat forward, attempted to read what was written on the screen, but all I could think about was just how tired I was. I looked around the room, and judging by the looks on everyone's face, they were all thinking the same thing: Why today? We just made our clocks move ahead an hour yesterday, and we're all sitting here wondering why spring break is still four weeks away.

After about 15 minutes that felt like an eternity, her presentation came to an end. My team and I looked at each other with the same half-asleep expressions and shook our heads.

"I'm so tired," one said.

"I almost fell asleep three times!" exclaimed another.

Then we quickly downed the M&Ms our principal, assistant principal, and instructional coach had left for us, hoping the dose of sugar would be enough to get us through the rest of the meeting.