Friday, April 19, 2013

The News

We get the daily newspaper delivered to our house and some days I wish we didn't. Our subscription is a gift from my dad who once said, "I want my grandsons growing up in a house with a newspaper." My problem with the newspaper is that often the headlines and/or front page photos are violent or otherwise disturbing. And of course I know that this is because violent and otherwise disturbing things are happening all around us, but I'm not sure I want my kids seeing those things spread over the kitchen table first thing in the morning.

Jack can read the headlines for himself, but thankfully he mostly pays his attention to the comics. He loves Zits and Peanuts, though the Peanuts humor can sometimes be frustrating to him. He'll spend a few minutes attempting to decipher it. "Mom, I don't get it," he cries. To which I almost always reply, "Nobody does."

Sawyer is all about the Bi-Mart ads. Did you know Bi-Mart sells rifles? This is Sawyer's favorite part of the newspaper. "Mom! MOM! See this GUN! I want this GUN!" To which I almost always reply, "Look at that swimming pool! See those elastic waist jeans? Oooh, canned peaches!"

We are not a gun-toting family. Okay, fine, maybe there was that one time when we packed some heat... but generally speaking we are a passive bunch around here. Which is why I am continuously surprised by my own kids' apparent fascination with weapons.

My friends' daughter was in Boston running the marathon. She's fine. Well, she's not physically hurt, at least. I couldn't stop thinking about their family on Monday. About the time between learning the news and hearing their daughter's voice reassuring them from across the country. About the range of emotions they must have felt. About the relief and the sorrow and the horror. As I lay in bed that night listening to the rhythm of Clementine breathing peacefully in the darkness next to me, I found myself replaying that horrible what if over and over in my head.

When Jack was a toddler he went missing one sunny afternoon. It was the classic "I though you were watching him" moment that all parents experience at some point. Brent and I went looking through the house and calling for him out in the backyard. I remember standing in the living room watching out the window as Brent walked out to the sidewalk in front of our house. My stomach lurched as he threw down his beer and bolted toward the busy road that intersects with our street. Brent reached Jack just as he was stepping off the sidewalk. I couldn't stop shaking for the next hour and as I lay in bed that night my stomach churned and my mind reeled. Every time I closed my eyes I saw what might have happened. What if?

We watched some of the news footage from Boston. Jack wanted to know what had happened and so I tried to delicately explain it to him in terms he would understand. I threw in a handful of "look for the helpers" and hoped that I hadn't said too much.

Jack did not appear to be scared or sad about any of it. Instead he was completely captivated by the idea of a bomb. He wanted to know how bombs work, how to build one, where would someone get the stuff to make one, etc. I noticed he was watching the footage as if it were some replay of an epic touchdown. When Sawyer wandered in Jack said, "Brother, let's go play bombing together!"

And then I pretty much freaked out. I tried to explain, to reason, to create empathy, to invoke a sense of compassion, to... well... to do anything that would get them to stop playing like that. I mean, my god, what was wrong with them?

"But Mom," Jack said, "we're just pretending."
"Yeah, Mom," Sawyer chimed in. "We're just ketending."

Then it hit me. My kids have no concept of death. They don't understand terrorism, or fear, or violence. They don't know hate.They are just kids who are pretending.

So I turned off the TV and I watched as their game evolved into something that required them to jump off the couch and chase the dog around the living room. Jack tickled Clementine and we all laughed. We snuggled on the couch and read books together until bedtime.

And the next morning when the newspaper came, I folded the front page over and tucked it beneath the other sections. I found the comics and placed Peanuts on top. And then I woke Jack up for breakfast.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

15 Reasons to Teach

It seems like there are plenty of articles floating around on the internet lately about why teaching is such a lousy profession. I feel like I see negative things about teaching on a daily basis:  teachers doing terrible things, bullying is out of control in schools, testing testing and more testing, budget crises, staggering statistics about the mass exodus of teachers fleeing the profession, blah, blah, etc. Teachers are overworked and underpaid. As a whole, teaching is an undervalued profession.

And I don’t disagree with any of it. I know it’s happening. We all do.

But I still get excited when I hear someone talking about becoming a teacher. I still encourage people who think they might be interested in teaching to job shadow a teacher or to volunteer in a classroom. 

And I can say with certainty that after teaching 8th grade English for the past 8 years, I still love teaching.

So why become a teacher? (And no, I’m not going to crack that tired old joke about June, July, and August.) 

  1. Kids will think you are smart. I never feel particularly articulate or intelligent when I’m surrounded by a group of adults, but put me in front of a class of middle schoolers and suddenly I am a genius.  

  2. Teachers have an awesome schedule, especially if you have kids. I get home from work in time to take my kids to the park or meet up with a friend for a playdate. Or run errands. Or have happy hour.                                                                                                                                          
  3. Being a teacher means you know how to deal with your own kids’ teachers. You recognize that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but that you need to be a nice squeaky wheel to get what you want. You know how to make reasonable requests without being a pain in the ass. You remember to conclude every email with a thank you because you know teachers don’t hear those words often enough.

  4. You get to know some really amazing human beings. I have had the privilege of working with thousands of insightful and funny kids during the years that I’ve been teaching. I particularly enjoy running into former students and learning where life has taken them. It’s always fascinating to hear what they remember about my class, or how something I said or did resonated or helped them in some way. It’s really fun when they turn 21 and want to go get a beer with you. (I think that might be the ultimate compliment.)

  5. You get a classroom. Let’s face it, who doesn’t need an entire extra room to store their stuff? Whenever we clean closets I always find things we don’t use but that I can’t bear to throw away. When in doubt, take it to school! I have all my paperwork from grad school stored in binders on my classroom shelf. I also have an impressive looking collection of pedagogy books that makes me look smart. The reality is that I couldn’t sell them back to the bookstore and have nowhere else to put them.

  6. School supplies! I love Post-Its and freshly sharpened pencils. Brightly colored gel pens make me really happy.

  7. Teaching is a great outlet for people who are prone to bossiness.  Ahem.

  8. You will become a really efficient eater. You only get half an hour for lunch and by the time you sweep the stragglers from your room and head down to the staff room, it's really more like 25 minutes. To avoid rush hour on your way back from lunch, you'll want to leave a few minutes before the bell. Throw in a trip to the bathroom and some time at the microwave and your lunch time is pretty much over. Eating quickly is probably not good for your digestion but this skill might come in handy at some point in your life. You just might win a hot dog eating contest or something.

  9. The dress code. Some of my colleagues will (perhaps wisely) disagree with this, but I believe that teaching middle school entitles you to wear things that might be considered age inappropriate. For example, if I worked in a bank I probably wouldn’t own a pair of lilac colored skinny jeans, but they are a hit whenever I wear them to middle school.

  10. All of that exposure to germs over the years will give you a super immune system. You also improve your personal hygiene skills. I now wash my hands before and after going to the bathroom.

  11. Teachers are always learning. Did you know that the ancient Greeks didn't use napkins? They wiped their hands on pieces of bread and then fed it to their dogs. Me neither. Until yesterday.

  12. You will laugh every single day. Sometimes you will laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes you will laugh until you cry. Either way, you will be laughing. Trust me.

  13. You will become optimistic about the future. Kids today are thinkers. They are self-aware and they connect with each other in ways my generation never imagined. They are passionate about their causes and they have access to more information than any generation before them. I believe they will do good things with our world.

  14. You get to plan your own day. Feeling tired? Let’s do some silent reading today. Feeling ambitious? Let’s throw some Shakespeare and a box full of costumes at 8th graders and see what happens.

  15. Okay, I said I wasn’t going to mention it here, but having your summers off is pretty sweet. I'm not going to lie.

So next time someone tells you they are a teacher, instead of busting out that cliché  “Oh, I’m sorry” or  “I could never do that” just smile and consider saying thank you. It might be the first time he or she has heard that in awhile.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Easter Etc.

With the acknowledgement that Easter photos are so incredibly last week, I present you with this series of sunlit scenes instead of exhausting myself by trying to find something photogenic in the downpour that's been this weekend.

(That was an awkwardly constructed opening sentence. Maybe it's a good thing I'm being demoted to sixth grade next year. Anyway, photos!)

(Jack is making his mad face because we had just told him for the hundredth time that NO we would not be getting a bunny for Easter. Are you kidding me?)

I did not make organic homemade egg dye. Instead I used my 40% off coupon and my teacher's discount at (fucking) Joann's and paid 70 cents for the cliche Paas egg dying kit, which as it turns out, was money well spent. The kids were all about the little copper egg dipper, the cardboard egg holder, and the bazillions of mini stickers. But I did throw away those stupid shrink wrap egg covers, because those always feel like cheating to me.

I didn't even have time for actual Easter baskets this year. There's been a lot of internet chatter lately about Pinterest fueled overachieving crafty moms making the rest of us look bad. I say let them have their Saint Patrick's Day golden coin hunts or gift leaving leprechauns, or whatever. I'm just happy that I remembered to tell my kids to wear green.

We try to keep things pretty simple for Easter. I hide some candy around the house, the kids get a new pair of pajamas, and that's about it. This year I got too lazy to make the pajamas and so they came from Costco (more on this later) and I stitched up two quick pairs of Star Wars shorts (which were a huge hit), threw in a chocolate bunny, and we called it good.

(Except that it wasn't good. Jack was up at 5, loudly scavenging for Easter eggs. When Brent intercepted this there was a major meltdown about waiting for everyone to get up. I am seriously ready to consider boycotting any holiday that involves a mythical creature coming in the night to deliver shit to my kids.)

Some of you might know that I have this weird phobia about Costco. I find the entire concept of the store to be overwhelming and while buying in bulk might ultimately save me some money, I have a total fear of commitment when it comes to gigantic boxes of granola bars, for example.

But these kids eat. And eat. And then they eat some more. So I decided to face my fears head on and make the trek. Thankfully my mother-in-law and her Costco card were up for the adventure.

Things I liked about Costco:
  • Bag of perfectly ripened avocados for $5- that is a deal!
  • Easter jammies!
  • Maple syrup jug. Big old bottle of vanilla. Salmon burgers. Butter lettuce.
  • 10 pounds of oatmeal. 10 pounds!
  • Coffee. Yes, I know, fair trade and all that. But sometimes I just want a really big bag of coffee around so we won't run out.
Things I am not yet sold on about Costco:
  • I spent $270 in one hour. Ouch.
  • My family can, apparently, eat 4 pounds of trail mix in one week. That's 4 pounds more than we usually eat. Ahem.
  • 48 fruit leathers. Good god. Who needs that many fruit leathers? 
  •  The milk jugs. You need some superior dexterity to pour that milk without spilling it. It's a learning curve, all right.
 So I guess I am still on the fence about Costco and whether or not you actually save money by shopping there. What do you think? Do you shop at Costco? What do you buy? Any advice for the Costco newbie?

(Oh, and yes I already know that I should be shopping local and not giving my money to major corporations and such. But I also probably shouldn't drive an SUV or throw away the occasional forgotten Tupperware from the back of the fridge. I should probably make my own organic Easter egg dye, too...)