Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hello, LA!

When my cousin Brady announced he was getting married in LA in September, I felt really bad that I wouldn't be able to make it. Then I thought about it, called my brother, and decided that there was NO WAY I was missing this wedding.

We left last Thursday. Nick, Clementine, and I didn't make it very far before TSA pulled me out of the line and accosted me about combustible reside on my hands. I had nothing to hide and so I waited patiently, Clementine squirming in the Ergo and Nick surrendering his toothpaste to the officials, while they patted down the suspect in front of me. My pat down was fine, except that I'd taken my belt off to go through the metal detectors and so my pants fell off in front of my brother. So that was awesome.

Making it through airport security felt like an accomplishment and so we grabbed a couple of beers at the pub near our gate. This vacation was off to an auspicious start, I thought when suddenly we heard "Final boarding call for passengers Mitchell and Ross." I'd like to tell you that this was the only time we nearly missed our flight on this trip, but that would be a lie, so instead I'll just say that I think Nick and I both learned a valuable lesson: airport pubs are a time vortex.

Once we got on the plane we made a game plan: we both wanted to cram as much vacation as possible into the next four days.
Day one: Surfing at Venice Beach.

As we were walking along in search of a surf shop, I started joking around about seeing a celebrity. My brother has this awesome dumb luck, so I just knew that we'd see someone famous because that's the kind of stuff that happens when Nick is around.

We passed Muscle Beach and saw a crowd gathered. "Aha, here we go!" I said to Nick. It was Tom Arnold. Weak.

"Well, he was married to Roseanne Barr," Nick tried to make the best of it. We continued on to the surfing beach to check out the waves. Nick decided it was worth it to rent a board and so we turned around and walked back toward Muscle Beach.

"You know, a lot of celebrities got their start right here," Nick began spouting trivia, as Nick does in these situations. "Arnold Schwarzenegger..." And no sooner had the words escaped his lips then we heard a distinct voice being amplified over the crowd at Muscle Beach. Was it? Could it be? Holy shit, it was Arnold! The Terminator!

We squeezed through fences and elbowed our way through the crowd. We scaled bleachers and slipped into reserved sections, Arnold's voice mocking us all the while. "I'm not leaving until I see his face," I informed Nick and the two other tourists who'd joined us in our quest. Nick's height afforded him an advantage and at last he spied him. On my tippiest of toes, Clementine sleeping obliviously on my front, I craned my neck through a sea of iPhones and saw him for myself. Arnold effing Schwarzenegger! He was wearing a lot of make up. I think he was selling vitamin supplements.

Celebrity sighting accomplished, we spent the afternoon on the beach. It was all very Baywatch, minus the sun and the David Hasslehoff. Really though, that would have been too much So Cal for me.

Nick and I made several observations while in Southern California: first of all, 80's music sounds better when you are in LA. I'm not sure why this is, but trust me. The music of Phil Collins is alive and well in Southern California. Who knew?

Secondly, navigating the city is easy. If you just remember to take the 210 to the 134, you're golden. It always works, no matter what your destination is.

In-N-Out Burger really is as awesome as they say it is. Even for a vegetarian. I am still thinking about that chocolate milkshake.

My brother resembles Macklemore. This discovery was made, unfortunately, 48 hours after I'd commented on how homely Macklemore looks on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Clementine is a friend-maker and a tourist attraction. On the Hollywood strip I was stopped by a tourist who wanted her picture taken with Clementine. I didn't even ask for a tip.

We picked my cousins Dave and Emily up from the airport the night before the wedding. They are earthy Oregonian types and Nick and I wondered how to show them a good time in LA. I was a little surprised (and secretly thrilled) when they said they wanted to go to Hollywood.

The wedding was that afternoon in a crazy nice house (Vince Vaughn lives two doors down). Clementine slept through most of the ceremony, woke up for dinner and a bite of cupcake, and then crashed back out for the rest of the evening.

I wore a dress that my grandma Helen made and wore to my aunt Jacie's wedding in 1979.

Love to be with my cousins so much. All evening we were referred to as the Oregon Connection, and I think it's pretty safe to say that our family owned that dance floor. The ceiling definitely could not hold us.

I am so, so glad that I did not miss this wedding.

We stayed with my dad's brother, Uncle Winston. This meant that Nick and I spent time with both sides of our family and it was an efficient vacation as far as seeing relatives is concerned.

"I've grown quite fond of this one," Uncle Winston said of Clementine as we were getting ready to leave. I only wish we could have spent another couple of days.

We decided to cram in one last trip to Hollywood with my cousin Lauren and her daughter Audrey. It was a brilliant Sunday morning and it was clear that our original plan to visit Griffith Park Observatory to see the Hollywood sign was shared by half the population of Los Angeles.

As we drove further along the winding canyon road in search of a parking spot, I remembered the Nick Mitchell dumb luck. "We are going to see that sign," I assured Lauren, who had never seen it before. Both kids were crying in the backseat at this point.

We flagged down a local who told us just where to go, and after only two wrong turns and some helpful advice from a guy on a horse, we arrived.

It was truly painful to pack up our gear and get on the plane to come home. Never in my life have I gone from YOLO to FML so quickly. It didn't help that we'd left the brightest blue California sky and were returning to cold, rainy Eugene.

Maybe that's why we nearly missed our connecting flight out of Portland. I am still not sure how you miss the boarding call when you are standing so close to the gate, but oh well.

I knew we'd get on the plane just fine. That Nick Mitchell dumb luck never lets you down.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Learning Curve

I have had three profound realizations this week:
1. Sixth graders cry. A lot.
2. First grade teachers have really (ridiculously?) high homework expectations.
3. It is probably too early for me to start the countdown to summer vacation.


It was a long week. I'm not gonna lie, this transition from 8th to 6th grade has been a real shock to the senses. Yes, they are eager. Yes, they are cute. But I'm not sure that eager and cute is what I'm looking for in my students. After teaching 8th graders for the past 8 years, I'd come to love the dejected, cynical, teen-angst fueled apathy that is the typical thirteen-year-old.

Is that weird?

The sixth graders wiggle so much they slide right out of their seats. They use wide-ruled notebook paper and write REALLY BIG. They call me "Teacher" and draw me pictures. They need bandaids at inopportune moments. There are at least ten hands in the air every time we make a transition. They go to the bathroom ALL THE TIME. They want to talk about their pets during the middle of instruction. They sharpen their pencils EVERY SINGLE TIME I am talking.

I am quickly learning that waxing philosophical about hyperbole and the difference between metaphor and simile is pointless when no one can remember to put their name on their paper.

But the worst is when they cry. And the tears were flowing in my class last week. I'm not sure if it was the stress of writing a personal narrative or just your run of the mill new school anxiety, or- god forbid- were they crying because of me?! It was really pretty awful.

And there were tears at home, too. Jack's first grade teacher sent home a laundry list of homework tasks for him (us) to complete each week. I had to read the email instructions three times to make sure I had it all straight, and when I sat down with Jack to explain it to him he pretty much lost his shit. He was okay with the spelling words and the handwriting practice and the reading logs, but when it came to the French passage that he's supposed to be able to read aloud by Friday, he was at a loss.

"I can't read this!" he wailed. I encouraged him to try and discovered that, in fact, he was right. He couldn't do it.

So we put it away and read some Magic Treehouse and he went to bed while I wondered what to do. Should I force him to practice buck-up-little-soldier style? Should I email his teacher?

The next day I set the homework folder out on the table. He practiced his handwriting and read through his spelling words after breakfast. "Do you want to try reading the story again?" I asked gingerly.

He did. And so slowly, painfully, he labored his way through the story. His little brow was furrowed in concentration and his fists were clenched. I could hear the hint of a sob catching in the back of his throat. The French was butchered and his comprehension sucked, but we made to the end. "Awesome job!" I exclaimed. "Très bien!"

"It's so hard. I hate this," he said.
"I know it is," I replied. "Learning something new is a lot of work and I'm really proud of you for trying so hard. I promise it will get easier."

And then I realized that I am also learning something new, and sometimes it's hard and sometimes it sucks, but it will get easier. Lesson learned from my six year old. True story.

Photo credit to Jack.

 Buck up little soldiers. That's my motto for all of us this year. I think we're gonna be alright.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Last Week

I could have spent the last week of summer setting up my classroom, or aligning my curriculum to new standards, or trying to figure out what the hell this proficiency based grading is all about. Instead we went to the beach.

By the time Brent got back from his rafting trip, I was feeling totally overwhelmed. The idea of packing up for a week at the beach and returning the day before I went back to work was daunting. "We can come back a day early, if that makes you feel better," Brent offered as we loaded up the car with a week's worth of clothes, toys, and books. He tied down his surfboard and we started the long drive to Manzanita. We stopped for sunglasses, chapstick, bubble gum, and coffees. By the time when hit the road, it was almost 4 o'clock and the kids were grouchy. I threw snacks at them for the next few hours, climbed back and forth between the passenger seat and the middle row to mediate disputes, ate my weight in sunflower seeds and we eventually made it to the beach house just as the sun set.

For the next week I forgot all about lesson plans and focused instead on sandcastles. Sunscreen. The weather forecast. What to pack for our daily picnic lunches on the beach.

Days at the surfing beach melted into sunsets at the beach house. Dinners around the table lingered and became late night card games. Whiskey ginger ales and popcorn. Progressive rummy and Phase-10.

I did not cook a single meal. I emptied the dishwasher once. Every time I tried to be helpful I found that someone had beaten me to it.

I'm not sure when Brent's family became my family, but it was on this trip that I realized it. My brother joined us for a night and fit right in because family is family. 

We forgot all about coming home early. In fact, we stayed at the beach late into Sunday afternoon. I kept thinking we should start packing up. The traffic would probably be bad. We should have been on the road hours earlier. But we just couldn't tear ourselves away from the last week of summer. And so I sat in the sand while my kids played in their own ways. Jack building meticulous sandcastles, Sawyer fearlessly jumping waves in the frigid surf, Clementine gumming everyone's water bottles and putting fistfuls of sand in her mouth. I watched Brent and my brother bobbing on the horizon and the sun descending at their backs.

I wanted every last drop of that final week. Monday would just have to wait.