The things children say…

On the qualities of a perfect wife:

Miles: I am going to pick the most talented wife ever.

Me: Talented at what?

Miles: So no one peels off their thumb.

Me: Are you saying Daddy should not have married me because I can’t work the carrot peeler?

Miles: No. I just want a smart wife.

Me: Hey, I’m smart! I just cannot work the carrot peeler.

Miles: I love you anyway, Mom.


On being asked to put away a new stack of his laundry every time he walked into the room:

Miles: Ugh! I feel like a teenager who is unhappy! Teenagers hate chores! (stomp, stomp, stomp)

Me: Teenagers have to do their own laundry!


On housework:

Miles, opening door to grandparents: Hi! Come on in! The house is messy because my mom is pretty slow at cleaning.


And then…

Chatting happily in the back seat with Papa, an industrial contractor, about concrete pumpers (A Concrete Boom Truck! I saw it on my DVD! It has a song!) and the various challenges of working with concrete for 20 minutes.



Over the hills and through the woods…

Today, we get to visit the grandparents! My son is blessed with seven grandparents (the legacy of divorces and re marriages on both sides of the family) and he lives to visit them all. Unfortunately, they all live in California, and we do not, so he sees them infrequently. Over the last couple of weeks, he has been remembering that he spent last year’s Spring Break at “Camp Gramma” with Papa Frank and Gramma Linda. He idolizes Papa Frank because he owns a tractor AND a Dodge pickup truck (in red, no less!), so he has been asking when he gets to see this particular set of grandparents again. Last week, we did a big reveal: a much delayed trip (due to this winter’s appalling weather in Oregon and Northern California) was finally going to happen, and we would meet Papa and Gramma about 50 miles from our home.

Today was the day. We knew we would leave at about 3:30, because my husband is NOT on   Spring Break and had meetings to go to before slippomg out early. (He is self-employed and has a very strict boss.) By 10am, our boy could not take much more. I told him we were not leaving until a few hours after lunch, so he volunteered to eat lunch right then. By 12:30, with lunch over and Dad off at his meeting, he began to pack for himself. After a while, he had amassed about 10 Hot Wheels, 4 sections of Hot Wheels track, four picture books he likes and the chapter book that I am reading to him, four carefully curated ziplock bags of LEGO parts, a book the he wrote called The Cat Who Made the Moon, two pictures that he drew, his sketchbook, his box of colored pencils, his tractor blanket, 4 stuffed cats, Blue Blankie and Gar. I told him we would only be gone overnight, so he cut down his shoe collection to the hiking boots he was wearing and his high tops (red Chuck Taylors with his name and a picture of a cat on the side). No clothes. That’s what moms are for, right?  He then put on his sweatshirt, buckled his backpack straps across his chest, and proceeded to vibrate. For three hours.

When my husband got home from his meeting, he ran outside to meet his Dad and buckled himself into the car seat to wait. The fact that the grown-ups were not ready was irrelevant. We needed to get our acts together and get this show on the road!

Once we were finally on the road for our hour long trip, he continued to vibrate and helpfully repeated all the instructions from the GPS, in case we were not paying attention. At last, AT LAST, we got to the hotel, and there was Papa Frank, waving from the balcony, with Gramma Linda in the door behind him.

Miles broke from us and ran for his grandparents. I have never seen three happier people.

Musings on the weather

It is Spring Break in Oregon, and Oregon may be unique in that it is Spring Break for everyone in K-12 (and some colleges) all over the state, all at the same time. I explained this to my sister once, and she commented that this must be quite overwhelming for all the attractions in Oregon, to have all those kids (and usually at least one parent each) on vacation all at once. This is not an issue, however, because the biggest attraction in Oregon during Spring Break is the airport: Gateway to Someplace Else. (Preferably somewhere sunny.)

You may not be too surprised to hear that we are experiencing traditional Spring Break weather, which is to say…it is pouring, interspersed with breaks of mere showers, and the occasional burst of time in which skies like solid polished pewter press down on you, waiting for the most inopportune moment to burst open again. However, for those who venture outside – which is everyone, because if Oregonians did not go outside in the months-long rainy time, we would wither away and die – it does not really matter if it is raining or not, because everything is going to drip on you and you are going to get wet anyway.

Yesterday dawned with a weather teaser – the sun was out. My son wandered out of his room and announced “The blue came out” and was very excited for a sunny day. I told him that any sunshine at all during Spring Break was pretty unusual, so he went around for a while, declaring that it was “a rare day”. By 8:30am, clouds were wisping by overhead; by 9:30, they were clumping in the sky like giant gray dust bunnies, and by 10, the sky was a mass of shades of gray and black and rain was clearly inevitable. The neighborhood’s earliest flowering tree, a magnolia varietal, had bravely bloomed, its white blossoms shining against the bare mahogany branches, and the cherry trees along the river front were stretching forth their pink flowers, little knowing that they would soon meet their traditional fate of being tattered to shreds by dripping, pouring, lashing, slicing, oh-so-insidious perpetual rain.

Of course, I would not want to imply that the only weather we have during Spring Break is rain. Sometimes, it is broken up by sudden hail. Less frequently, it snows, although never enough to stick on the flooded, puddly, splish-splashy ground. Sometimes, there is the added bonus of thunder and lightning to liven things up. (A good thunderstorm is always exciting in a house with two cats and a small child.)

Furthermore, there is mud and lots of it. The ground oozes with water, teeming with puddles that can no longer be absorbed by the supersaturated ground. Lawns and playing fields and parks squelch. Worms flee their wormy underground homes, seeking sidewalk safety, only to fall prey to puddles and torrential and eternal trickles that wash them back to the mud. Walking up a grassy incline is an exercise in slipping and sliding, with the prospect of a muddy fall in the immediate future for anyone foolish enough (or new enough to Oregon) to actually attempt it. Plants and seeds cannot be planted in early spring in Oregon, not because of frozen ground, or overnight lows, but because the soil is semi-liquid muck. I’m sure that somewhere in Ye Olde Farmer’s Almanac there is an adage which reads “If your boot pulls off into the muck, for planting time you’re out of luck.” Anyone who attempts planting at this time of year will probably end up with hands and knees suctioned down into the sucking maw of sodden clay-filled earth in their front yard and have to be rescued by their laughing neighbors. Failing that, the roots and seeds planted would simply rot away.

So don’t look for me outside, having spring adventures in the great outdoors during Spring Break. I am hanging up my rainboots and curling up inside with the cats, a cup of tea, and a good book. Lucky for me, my son likes to splash in the yard, collecting soggy nature, running around, trying to catch falling raindrops in a bag, and making soft streaks of chalky and ephemeral color in the driveway. I might get peace and quiet long enough for a few sips and a few pages, here in our rainy wonderland.


Trying out that life in numbers idea

I keep coming across interesting “life in numbers” posts, so I figured I would give it a try.

1 First time slicer. My sister got me started this year after she did it last year, and I am having so much fun writing along with her.

2 Number of cats that currently run my life. One is almost 13 and thinks my husband is her cat god, and one is almost 1, and follows me everywhere I go and cries if I close the door on her. She thinks standing on my head or my shoulder is a good way to help me work on the computer. Or do anything else, for that matter.

3 Number of people in my small family- me, my husband, and our son.

4 Hours of sleep I got last night, and they were not even stuck together. My son had a rough night and my husband was out of town, so there was only mom to pick up the pieces.

5 The number of nosebleeds that I thought was my son’s record for one week- until the 6th one at 3:09am this morning.

6 Age of my son. 6 is a fun age, and I often remember that he will not be this young or this interested in spending time with mom and dad for much longer.

7 The age I was in second grade when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. Mrs. Sanborn, you were the best teacher ever!

Number of places I have lived since I left home for college. Currently we live in the house my husband and I bought 17 years ago, and I hope I never have to move again. Too many books to pack!

Number of “in-progress” knitting projects I have scattered around my bedroom right now. I seem to be actively knitting only three of them, but I keep promising myself that “I will get right back” to the other ones.

10 days of vacation someplace warm with a pool, a huge stack of books, and no responsibilities. It is Spring Break, and a girl can dream, right?

So what does an online teacher do anyway?

When I left my classroom teaching job, my son was a year and a half old, my 70 mile round trip commute was taking upwards of two hours a day, I had gone down to half-time teaching (every other day), and a looming state financial crisis meant that my pay was going to be slashed so far that it did not seem worth it. In addition, my husband had been working from home every other day when I was teaching, and while it was pretty easy to work around a six month old’s schedule, it was getting difficult to work around the schedule and needs of an extremely active, extremely talkative toddler, and his boss was getting impatient with my husband’s unpredictable presence in the office. But, we, like many people, did not have the financial means to live on one income. I was lucky enough to luck onto an online teaching position before my final salary ran out, and it provided me much needed flexibility and my son, my presence.

However, I really felt that I had betrayed my profession, and for the first two years, I did not tell people what I did, because I did not (and still really do not) feel like a real teacher. I did not have to stand in front of a room full of fidgety kids, get interrupted by fire drills, announcements, or random drop-ins from the principal (or, in my old school, tours of other principals who came to see “how we did it.”). I did not have to fill out discipline paperwork or send anyone to the office or fight with the copy machine. I don’t write lessons or curriculum, which I love doing. I felt like I was a paper scorer, and not much else. Certainly, some of the adult staff in the programs I was teaching treated me that way. (Memorably, one mentor refused to tell me what accommodations I was required to meet for a student on an IEP, because “IEPs are confidential; for the teachers only.”)

What I do, however – and this took me a while to figure out – is actually teach.

I teach students who are in the hospital, being treated for serious diseases.

I teach students whose health is so fragile that they cannot be in a room full of people, and because they some days cannot physically get out of bed.

I teach students who are in lockdown rehab or mental health treatment centers.

I teach students in prison.

I teach students who want to travel, and need flexibility in their schedules to do so.

I teach students who split their time between two continents.

I teach students who suffer from crippling anxiety or depression.

I teach teenage girls who are pregnant, or who cannot attend school while caring for their infants.

I teach students who are internationally ranked in their sport of choice.

I teach students who are escaping bullying.

I teach students who live far, far from town.

I teach students in small districts whose schools cannot offer Advanced Placement classes.

I teach students for whom online learning is the last ditch opportunity to earn the credits needed for graduation.

I teach students who work full time and take classes at night.

I teach students who travel from place to place with their herds.

I teach students from many nationalities, language groups, religions, and income brackets, and all levels of skill, from IEP students to Advanced Placement students who are planning to graduate a year or two early.

I teach language learners and language experts.

I teach students whose families need to move a lot, but who do not have to keep changing schools.

In short, I teach a well rounded mix of kids, just like in any classroom. Except my students are often the empty seats in a regular classroom. The names we call, but with faces that we can barely recall. The ones who we roll our eyes about, or who (to every teacher’s secret shame) we are partly glad are absent, because everything is just so unmanageable when they drop in, once every few weeks, like clockwork, to avoid being dropped altogether.

And what I do for these kids is much the same, except in a different format. I help them with assignments. We email back and forth, and I send explanations and resources to show them how to do – or improve – their work. I make them custom videos and recorded explanations and send those. We can meet in our virtual classroom, where we can be looking at the same screen and working together, for example – editing an essay – while hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Picture sitting down with a student after school, and helping him or her with assignments. This is the same thing. Each of my students gets my attention, for virtual one-on-one teaching.

I do grade papers. And while I do not get to decide what those papers will be about, I do get to see students progress and make strides in learning, and hear about their burgeoning pride in themselves and their skills. You know what else? I do get to know my students! While I am always faintly confused by not knowing what anyone looks like, and tend to fill in those mental gaps with any student from my past who shares a name or an attitude or a set of specific skills or problems, I still know a ton about them. I ask how the swim meet went. I ask when the next skiing competition will be. I ask about the weather in Alaska, how their family vacation went, or whether or not their choir group is going to state again this year. I make notes. I think about my students. I spend a lot of time on email.

I look at data. Nowadays, there is no such thing as education without tests and reports, right? Although mine tend to be less about reading levels, and more about who has logged in and who has not, who is turning in assignments, who is working erratically, who is struggling with assignments and who is doing a fantastic job, I still need to process the information and respond to it. I can, and do, use this information to customize my approach to each student. It is not easy- this year, I am teaching 25 different courses, and as of today, I have 177 students. I am teaching every 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English student in Oregon, at every curriculum level, and all of the 9-12 grade English honors students and Advanced Placement students. I have to know a lot of material, and a lot of assignments and different grading expectations, and I have to communicate with a lot of different students, with very different needs and requirements. As I said, there is a lot of email. A lot of specialized help. A lot of support and encouragement. I have even found a way to include my sense of humor and my penchant for bright colors and silly pictures.

I teach my colleagues some of my techniques and short cuts. I argue for emphasizing support and recognition of accomplishment more than using data to punish students who are already struggling and need help. I present information in staff meetings, because those will never go away. Probably when the world is obliterated and only cockroaches are left, they will get together once a week for a staff meeting. In the meantime, I have to go to them, but, like my students, I am virtual, so I can knit and roll my eyes as much as I feel necessary.

I have also been promoted in this job, so I do lead five hours of live English lessons every week, broadcast out, live and via recording, to online high school English students across the country. For this, I do write lessons, have become a master at Power Point, and have developed the ability to sound exceptionally engaged and interesting for a recording, even on days when no one is able to attend a lesson live. (My secret is the teddy bears. My son gave me two of his special animals- ones he would go nowhere without for his first three years- in case I get lonely while I am teaching. If I don’t have a student to talk to directly, I look at the bears and imagine that they are my audience. They are now the best educated teddy bears in town, and I get regular praise from my boss for sessions that are so interactive and dynamic, even when I am working in an empty virtual classroom.)

You know what? I think I may still be a real teacher after all.






Today’s events in linked haiku form

Shriek at 4:30-
Fifth nosebleed this week. Then, kiss husband before trip.

“Worried about you.
Will you be okay alone?”
“Fine. I’m a grown-up.”

Errands to run. Slip
And hurt injured knee, ankle.
Going well so far.

Exhausted, sleep while
Grading papers. Oh no, time
To pick up my son.

Playground, blow off steam.
Then a trip to library.
Too many books? No way!

Stagger under load.
Phone rings, toss keys on table.
Time to go again.

Hurry! Zoo class time!
Car won’t start without my keys.
Oh- sinking feeling.

Yes, we are locked out.
Long distance panic. How do
I get the screens out?

Who cares? Mangle screen,
Heave child over head through window.
Put kitten back in.

Child at door with keys.
Triumph! Zoo class saved! Only
Alone eleven hours.

Romantic tribulations of my 6 year old (Wait- what?!)

A couple of months ago, my husband was flummoxed when our son asked,”Dad, where do you go to get a girlfriend?” out of the blue at bath time. He was not prepared to answer this. Hard questions were my department, as they were usually raised in the car or at bedtime, both areas that are squarely within my domain. (“How exactly does the special hug that you do to get a baby work? Will you teach me, Mom, so I can do it with my friends?” was a particularly memorable conversation. Not to mention, wrong on so many levels.) Anyway, here is my poor husband, not knowing what the heck was going on, but he managed to blurt out, “Well, you don’t go somewhere to find them like shopping at a store.”

“How do you get a girlfriend then?”

“Usually, you find someone you like and see if they like you and if she likes you, then you ask her if she wants to do something together.”

I am hiding in the other room, listening and stifling my hysterical laughter. I love my husband, but he is not an expert on girlfriends. He did not have very many, and I have watched women hit on him without him noticing in the slightest that they are interested in him. (While this is quite endearing and reassuring to a wife, it is singularly unhelpful in providing guidance to someone trying to find a girlfriend.)

“Do you have to kiss a girlfriend?”

“You don’t have to, no, but sometimes you might.”

“Henry says that you have to kiss a girlfriend, or it doesn’t count.”

“Who’s Henry?” (Wrong question, I think, still trying not to giggle.)

Eventually, the right question dawns on my gobsmacked husband. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Well, I think I do. But I surely don’t want to kiss her!” (Yes, our six year old talks that way. He loves to interject “certainly” and “surely” wherever possible.)

It transpired that he was carrying on a torrid affair with a girl in his class. Of course, since they are six, this involved playing games at recess and occasionally throwing grass at each other. Girls being the way they are, it was unclear to me whether he was appointed to this position or had been allowed any say in the matter. She lives directly behind us, and is one of two people in his first grade class who is smaller than he is. I don’t know if this was a factor in his attraction to her or not, but it seems like it would be less intimidating if your first girlfriend (who you definitely do not want to kiss) did not loom over you.

A week or so later, I ventured to broach the subject. “So, I hear you have a girlfriend?” I inquired tentatively.

His reply? “Oh, I did, but I got thrown out of that relationship,” he said with a big smile. Obviously, the heartbreak was not overwhelming. I’ll admit to a great deal of relief that he and the girl had returned to being “just friends”.

Don’t grow up too fast, sweetie.