A weekend ritual and an insect funeral

I am a night person with a small child who is not a good sleeper. During the week, I am up late because after finally getting him to bed (and to stay in bed, and to fall asleep) and getting a few things done in the house and ready for the morning, it is already late, and if I want any time to myself at all, I have to be up even later. I get up (though moan and stagger around is a better description) at 5am to start work before the child gets up, so this makes for short nights. Plus, the child is a light sleeper with an overactive imagination, so he wakes me up at least one night a week because he had a dream or there was a funny noise or his nose is bleeding or he wants some water or he had an interesting idea. My husband and I have a deal – I am on night duty. Since I work from home and don’t have to commute, I am better able to function on the repeatedly interrupted sleep. (This was possibly more true 7 1/2 years ago than it is now. Years and years of interrupted sleep takes its toll.) Plus, being a night person, I do not come across as a deranged yelling tyrant when presented with an odd request at 2am. (A roared “Go the %&$# back to bed!!!!!” is not really soothing to a child who has had a nightmare.) The flip side of this deal is that I get to sleep in past 5am on Saturdays and Sundays, otherwise I will cease to be able to function at all. At least, I think this is the other end of the deal. I may not have informed my family.

Saturday morning, 7am. I am asleep. The cat tried waking me up at 6:30am to complain that the window was not open, but I opened it and went back to sleep. I am definitely asleep. Until something starts jabbing me in the head and announcing, “Ariella is chasing a moth.” I pretend that I am dead.

Saturday morning, 7:10am. The jabbing digit and the little voice return. My feigned death was obviously not convincing. “Ariella killed the moth. At least, Dad says she did. I am not sure it is dead.”

Saturday morning, 7:20am. “Mom, can I have my iPad time now?” I groggily wave my hand around until my thumb makes contact with the iPad. Apparently, this is successful, because a 50 pound weight suddenly launches onto my legs and settles down. I take the pillow out of my mouth and mumble “Go away.” Thirty seconds later from the hallway, I hear “What are you doing with Mom’s iPad? I told you not to wake her up!” “It’s okay, Dad. I found her awake,” lied the child.

So, you may be wondering how the insect funeral fits in. Remember the moth? The source of desperately needing to wake up Mom after only a few hours of sleep? The one the cat hunted down? It died. This was an unremarked tragedy, until the next morning, when my son pointed out the grave. At some point on Saturday, he had taken the moth away from the cat (allegedly still fluttering, but nearly anything will flutter when waved around by a hyped up 7 year old boy) so it could be rescued. He reported that he placed it under a piece of pottery so the cat could not get it, and checked on it frequently, but it stopped moving and was dead. So he gave it a funeral. He got his “worm box,” which is a plastic bin that he filled with dirt and planted weeds in. Whenever a worm is unlucky enough to show its face and slow enough to be captured, it gets placed in the worm box and diligently watered. I keep telling him that worms don’t need to have their homes watered, to no avail. He is convinced there is now an entire worm colony in there. He buried the dead moth in the worm box so it would have company, and used a piece of broken pottery from his fairy village’s boundary line as a tombstone. Then he slowly and ceremoniously whacked the heck out of my irises until he had snapped off two. The shredded remains of the flowers were scattered across the driveway and the bare and battered stems were lovingly placed on the grave. Every morning on the way to school, we have to stop and regard the grave respectfully and observe a moment of silence.

This is what happens when I try to sleep in.

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Out of the mouths of babes

Hot day

Record-breaking, says the paper.

Hasn’t been 80 degrees on April 24 in 55 years.

Lush green growth everywhere,

Songs of wrens and blackbirds on the breeze.

Sitting on the front stoop after dinner,

Enjoying a popsicle with my son.

He stands behind me, enjoying the feeling of tallness.

“Mom,” he says, eyes glinting,

Mouth ringed in purple.

“Hey, Mom –

Some of your hair is turning white.”

So go the cycles;

His spring wheeling through my fall.

So a cat walks into the room…

I have cats. One of them is old, and consequently mellow, because it takes too much effort to get riled up at anything anymore, although she will occasionally dance and twirl and pounce imaginary fluff in the hall for 90 seconds lest the young cat thinks she is Queen of All the Imaginary Fluff. But then, dominance asserted, she takes a four hour nap.

The young cat, however, is another story. She is not quite two, and still behaves very much as a kitten. She is supposed to be an indoor cat. The old cat is an indoor cat (barring an occasional brave foray onto the wild back deck to sit in the sun). We promised the shelter that she would be an indoor cat. She, however, has an entirely different viewpoint on the matter.

It started with windows. We picked Ariella at the shelter when she was 6 weeks old, and they let us take her home when she was 7 1/2 weeks. This is quite small for a kitten, and she was a rescue kitten, which you can say with kittens, because they are sweet and cute and far too young for the scary “feral” label. But essentially, she was a feral kitten, and a very young and tiny one at that. No problem there. We’ve done this before and are perfectly comfortable hand-gentling a kitten who is not quite sure how to be a pet. In her case, she decided that it meant being in physical contact with some point of my body for the next 8 weeks and then never going more than an arms length away from me after that. She still follows me from room to room and cries to be picked up and petted and loved and carried. She’s very sweet and very loving, and you would think she is a perfect indoor cat.

Except.

Except, her ancestors whisper in her ears about the wide open spaces. Outside sings in her blood.

So, as I said, it started with the windows. She had to be able to sit in the windowsill and feel and smell the fresh air, no matter the weather or temperature. Before she could jump, we had to lift her to the window to check that outside had not ceased to exist. Later, she would jump up. Kitten hysterics would ensue if she could not do her hourly “air checks” and make sure that everything was ok. If you think that I am a soft touch, okay, I am. But if you are rolling your eyes at me, you have never been trapped in a  room with a kitten, with a streak of wild Siamese blood in her, stridently expressing her views. A few “mmmrrrrEEEEEAAAAAAOOOOWWWW”s when she bounces off the glass at two in the morning are a pretty convincing argument for leaving the window open a crack and just putting another blanket on the bed. Soon, however, she realized that there were all manner of interesting things outside, and she wanted to go further. Not being able to work door knobs, she trained her  considerable patience and attention on making small holes in the screens with her claws, and then increasing them with her teeth. The phrase “cat burglar” has new meaning when you come around the side of the house and find the kitten dangling headfirst out of a brand-new kitten sized hole in the window screen and attempting nonchalance. Soon, we decided that she was going to have to be let into the yard to play, but figured, since she does not ever want to be out of earshot or line of sight of me, it would not be a problem. She comes when she is called, and she mainly ran around the side of the house, jumped onto the low fence, and stared soulfully at me through the window next to my desk. If I moved out of sight, she would jump down and rush back in. Easy peasy.

But then, tired of stealing all my craft supplies, my son’s Lego wheels, and any stuffed cat from his collection that strayed too near the edge of his bed, she tried her pouncing and batting skills outside on all those interesting critters she had patiently watched through the window while gnawing a hole in it. She started to hunt birds, and it turns out she has a knack for it.

At this point in my story, you need a reminder that this is a cat who is very attached to me. So, when she catches a lovely prize, she brings it to me to show it off. The other day, I was peacefully working at home when I heard a ton of blue jay shrieking from outside, followed by running kitten footsteps. Walking to the door to commiserate with my poor, poor kitten who was being pestered by those pesky jays, I realized that she was…slinking. And her shape was not right. She had something in her mouth. Something…large. Something that turned out to be a wiggling and highly agitated blue jay that did not care for being in her mouth in the middle of my house. Apparently, having your mouth full of a squirming bird bigger than your head is annoying and hard work, so she opened her mouth, at which point the blue jay sped away, shrieking. Into my bathroom.

The kitten gave hot pursuit, jumping from the floor to the sink and down to the toilet seat and up at the window, which was closed, so she bounced off. This drove the blue jay higher until it tangled in the curtains and pulled them and the rod straight off the wall. After a brief frozen tableaux – upside down jay hanging from curtain, shocked cat leaping backwards out of the way, me screaming in the hall and wishing I had a turtle instead – the jay ricocheted upwards and proceeded to batter itself against the wall and the window, balancing momentarily on top of the wall sconce and sliding sideways, then returning to its desperate endeavor to peck and flap its way through the wall and the glass.

Swoop! Kitten nabbed! Slam! Kitten locked in the bedroom! Mew? said the confused kitten. Eep! said I, peeking from behind the bathroom door. Not having the agile jumping ability and pointy teeth of my cat, I was at a loss for how to catch the frightened bird. Leaping up and catching it in my teeth not being an option, I tried to catch it in a cardboard box so I could carry it outside. Have you ever tried to catch a blue jay in a box? I do not recommend it. It just gets more mad than it already is and freaks out more. Since the bird appeared miraculously unharmed, wit no blood or puncture marks, I did not want it to break its wings or its neck in its frantic attempts to escape, so I ditched the box and went with Plan B: Cover my head with one hand, close my eyes, knock the screen out of the window with my other hand, and vaguely wave my arms around in the hope that the jay would eventually grasp that I was attempting to semaphore “freedom” and make its escape. Eventually, it did. I flopped over backwards on my bed and waited for an hour for my heart to stop pounding. The kitten spent the entire time searching the house, wondering where her toy had gone.

The old cat? She slept right through the entire incident.

Today, the kitten chased a sparrow into the house while I was in a live online meeting.

She is now under permanent house arrest.

 

Should I stay or should I go?

Almost six years ago, I walked away from the only school where I had taught in my entire teaching career – the school where I was department head, where I had hired most of my department’s staff, where I taught courses I loved and was loved and respected by my students and their families. It was an easy decision. I had a one year old at home, and my husband was moonlighting to start his own company as well as working in the daytime, for a boss who had been gracious about him working every other day (on the opposite of my teaching schedule), but was getting a bit impatient.

In the intervening years, I have worked as an online teacher. I worked during nap time, and before morning wake-up, and after bedtime. I took my son to the zoo and the Children’s Museum and library story time and the park and playdates with friends. We walked every day and explored our neighborhood. When he started preschool, I attended all his events, took him to music classes, and walked to pick him up every afternoon. We walked the mile and half home slowly and rescued and collected imaginary cats. Apparently, quite a lot of them live in our neighborhood, and they get into all kinds of trouble. (Except for the brief sojourn when they all got jobs so they could earn enough money to buy bikes, and then, once they did, they all bought bikes and quit their jobs and got into trouble again.) When he started kindergarten, I volunteered to help with literacy in his classroom two mornings a week, learned the names of all the kids in his class, and made a ton of copies for his teacher, who did not want to face the terrifying women in the office on a daily basis. (They were pretty terrifying!) I went to all his events and helped at class parties and let him play with his friends in the schoolyard every afternoon before we walked home. The school was not the right place for him, and problems escalated throughout the second semester of his kindergarten year. First grade was a disaster. He was bored, unchallenged, and written off in the classroom because he fidgets. He was frustrated. He was unhappy. There were tears, and a lot of hours that I sat with him, helping to keep his focus on worksheets that he would not complete in class because he did not see the point. My child who loved to learn was learning to hate it. At the end of first grade, we changed schools.

This year, he is in a wonderful school with a longer school day and he is happy again. He is learning by leaps and bounds, and I have been free to work for longer stretches of time. I have also been free to think and recognize that this job is not sustainable. I provide a very important opportunity for many students who might not otherwise receive it, and I enjoy the connections that I make with them. But I cannot see myself doing this for 10 or 15 or 20 more years. Sometimes I am not even sure that the job will exist for that long. The job allowed me to be with my son, and I would not change a minute of it, but it also cut me off from much of what I truly love about teaching and walled away a significant part of who I am. It might finally be time for a change. So now, with the blessing of my big second grader (“We’ll have vacation times together! Yessssss! Go get a classroom job!”) and my husband, I set out today for the Oregon Professional Educator Fair. I talked to a lot of people, left a lot of resumes, and had two really great interviews. It might be time to go back to what I do best.

Chapter closing, and a new one beginning? Fingers crossed!

Poetry Week # 6: A Reversal Poem

I had only come across one reversal poem before, when some former students, whom I taught to love poetry, sent me one. If you are not familiar with the idea, the poem reads very negative from top to bottom, and at the end challenges you to reverse these ideas and read the poem from bottom to top, in which case it becomes a very positive statement. I was very impressed with the challenge and difficulty of expressing two diametrically opposed views in the space of one poem, without changing any words at all. The poem most work both ways as written. I was daunted. However, last weekend, I bumped into a template for organizing this type of poem, and I thought that might make it more approachable as a form. At the very least, it gave me a starting place, so I thought I would give it a shot. I wanted to write a poem about the Slice of Life challenge, and how it seems impossible at the beginning, but it can be done and it can change our views about ourselves, about our writing practice, about our classrooms, etc. However, my poem did not want to be about that, no matter what I said. It wanted to be about education instead. So here is my first attempt (after some aborted drafts and stuttering starts) at a reversal poem. Read it from top to bottom, and then immediately reverse and read from the bottom to the top. One way is about the messages our culture sends about teaching, and the other is what I believe about teaching despite these messages.

I am a failure because I am a teacher

and I refuse to believe that

I can make a difference

I realize this may be a shock, but

Education changes lives

Is a lie

The education system is a failure

In 30 years, I will tell my children that

I have my priorities straight because

Policy

Is more important than

A child

I tell you this:

Once upon a time

Energetic teachers engaged children

But this will not be true in my era

Standardized testing rules all

Experts tell me

Teaching is easy and teachers are public parasites

I do not conclude that

Exceptional teachers abound

In the future

Only the incompetent teach

No longer can it be said that

Teachers are heroes

It will be evident that

American schools are broken

It is foolish to presume that

Teaching matters

And all of this will come true unless we reverse it.

 

 

Poetry Week # 4: A book spine poem

I wanted to write a paint chip poem today, because they are so neat, but I cannot find any paint chips with color names I like. I realize this defeats the purpose of “found” poetry, but I am too much of a control freak to leave chance completely up to chance. Besides, the color of the moment seems to be shades of gray, and as a person raised in sunshine but now trapped (I mean, “living”) in a state with six to nine months of the year full of rainfall, I disapprove of neutrals on principle. Especially grays and browns, because that is all I see for most of the fall, all of the winter, and part of the spring. Gray clouds, gray sidewalks, grayish tree trunks, and brown bare branches, brown dead looking shrubs, and brown mud. (My house is painted yellow, in case you were wondering. Every room inside is painted a different soft, pastel-bright sort of color.) So anyway, I cannot bring myself to write a poem about gray or taupe or beige or brown. I’ll have to give up on the internet for paint chips and walk to the actual neighborhood paint store. So far, though, I feel a little awkward about wandering in and telling them I am not looking for anything in particular, just paint chip with interesting words on it.

I switched to book spine poems, which are always fun to write, because I have over a thousand books in the house, so I have a lot of title choice, and writing a book spine poem gives me a good excuse to ignore my family and pull books off of the shelf and fondle them. I decided today to go with “ominous” as my central organizing idea.

3.29.18 Book Spine Poem

Poetry Week # 3: A Day in the Life

Online teacher life starts before dawn.

In the quiet darkness, even the birds still dream.

I answer email, grade papers,

mentor newbies, help colleagues.

A quiet week, with the students on vacation.

I scale vast mountains of paperwork

as the sun lifts over the horizon.

 

A sleepy boy climbs onto my bed

rubs his eyes and

pets the cat,

then begins to jump up and down.

I finish my work while he builds

a Lego shipyard and

colors the crayon wrappers,

dreaming of a crayon castle.

 

We have breakfast together

and play a game involving

a handful of googly eyes.

Not the same game as yesterday,

which somehow involved

Rock Paper Scissors, at which

he cheats,

and thinks I do not know.

By lunchtime,

the game has changed again,

and we play some more.

 

Our play shifts to Cat Crimes

and we solve all the mysteries –

at least the easy ones.

Time for chores.

Only a seven year old boy thinks

scooping the cat box

is like

looking for treasure.

 

Yard work together.

My motions careful and precise.

My joints ache.

He moves freely and often,

Enough energy for the both of us.

Hard work shared with hard work,

and we make a dent

in the winter washed garden,

until the neighbor arrives with her puppy,

and they all bound off to the park.

 

Alone for a moment,

I sink onto the step, and

read peacefully.

Poetry Week – #2: A Found Poem

This is a found poem from The Grapes of Wrath – Chapter 25, which is one of my two favorite chapters in the book. It’s still a work in progress. 

Spring is beautiful in California.

Blossoms, fragrant pink and white,

Grapes swelling from old gnarled vines.

Blossoms swell and grow –

Cherries

Apples

Peaches

Pears

Figs

The fruit grows heavy.

 Behind the fruitfulness are men.

                                               Men who experiment,

                                               Men of chemistry,

                                               Men with surgeon’s hands, who graft.

                                               Great men.

The fruit swells and the warmth grows.

Prunes lengthen,

pears take shape,

limbs sag.

The year is heavy with produce.

Men are proud.

                                                They can make the year heavy.

                                                They have transformed the world.

The cherries ripen.

Cent and a half a pound?

                                                Hell, we can’t pick ’em for that.

Cherries, full and sweet.

Birds eat half,

Yellowjackets buzz.

The seeds drop and dry.

 

The prunes soften and sweeten.

We can’t pick them.

                                                We can’t pay wages.

Prunes carpet the ground.

Skins wrinkle.

Flies swarm.

Sweet decay shrivels on the ground.

 

Pears, yellow and soft.

Forty boxes for five dollars?

                                              We can’t do it.

Fruit splashes on the ground.

Smell of ferment and rot.

 

Rip the grapes from the vines.

We can’t make good wine.

Rotten grapes.

People can’t buy good wine.

Mildew in the vats.

Add sulphur, tannic acid.

Smell of decay and chemicals.

They can still get drunk.

The men can find no way to let the hungry people eat.

 

Carloads of oranges dumped.

Squirt kerosene on the oranges.

A million people hungry.

Kerosene sprayed on the golden mountains.

                                              Burn coffee.

                                              Burn corn.

                                              Dump potatoes in the river,

                                             guards along the banks.

                                             Slaughter the pigs and bury them.

Keep the hungry people out.

                                             Keep the hungry people out.

                                             Keep the hungry people out.

A crime

A sorrow

A failure.

No profit from an orange.

Children dying of pellagra

because the food must rot.

In the eyes of the people there is the failure.

In the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.

The grapes of wrath are filling –

growing heavy for the vintage.

 

 

Poetry Week # 1

One of the things that I really loved about last year’s March Slice of Life was that I spent a lot of time writing creatively, and I feel that I have not done as much of that this year. (The unfortunate conjunction of two much busier-than-usual-for-March weeks at work and a nasty cold probably had something to do with that.) I’ve decided that for this last week of daily writing, I want to try to write poetry every day. I have a bunch of different ideas bubbling, so I may use a different form daily. Or not. We’ll see how often and how effectively the muse strikes.

First up, acrostic poems! I used the letters in my name and wrote one about myself. It was a bit harder than I expected, because my name is full of a lot of weird letters. I am obscurely grateful that I never got my childhood wish of a name full of Qs and Zs (because I liked writing them in cursive). I’m also glad that I did not include my maiden name, which is Bolenbaugh, because that is just too many letters and I would run out of adjectives. (If it reads a little bit like a job application, that’s because I am thinking of leaving online teaching and going back into the classroom, and I have been polishing my resumé.)

Witty

Helpful

Intelligent

Teacher

Nice

Enthusiastic

Yours truly

 

Knowledgable

Artistic

Reliable

Personable