Lament of the Disorganized and Chronically Underslept

The presentation is ready for tomorrow.

Wait!

Where are my slides?

This is a only a saved template!

Where did all my work go?

Ah, it is saved into a different version.

Relief-

But not long lasting.

Which presentation is supposed to have this week’s new technique?

THIS ONE??!!!

Dinner is cooking (hope it’s not burning)

son is pulling on me –

please mail this index card letter to my best friend –

and

I have to start over.

All this

in the service

of the perfect lesson

on

Logic 101.

 

Books, Books, Books!

Books are my favorite things. While actually reading books is my very favorite thing, looking at, exploring, running my fingers along, and dipping into books is a very close second. I have bookcases in every room in the house (bathroom excepted, because it is too damp in there) and in our finished basement, we have a long wall that is pretty much all bookcases. This is my go to stress-relieving spot. I just take a few minutes to look at all the titles, the pretty covers, touch them and handle them and feel the sense of endless possibilities, and I feel better. Of course, now that my husband has started his own business and has his office in the basement, I have to walk through his invisible walls and around his chair to get to my haven, and sometimes he is being businesslike on the phone when I need my momentary escape, but still, the books wait for me there, and they always lift my spirits. So this week, I have been really enjoying all the people writing about books and experiences with books and reading, and especially the book spine poems. Saturday afternoon seemed like a good time to peruse the shelves and play with the titles in pursuit of poems. I have just under 2000 books, so I had plenty of titles with which to play. I had a happy time, scattering books all over the house with the help of my pint-sized assistant and creating arrangements in the hope of finding something profound, or at least mildly intriguing. Here are my two best attempts. (So far. I suspect there will be more in the future.) I did have to retitle one book, as our copy of one I really, really needed has disappeared somewhere in the whirling black hole of books, stuffed cats, LEGO pieces and paper airplanes that is my son’s room. Enjoy!

Book spine poem 1
Book Spine Poem 1
Book spine poem 2
Book Spine Poem 2

Woohoo! It’s Friday! Oh wait, I’m a mom.

Going out to dinner on a Friday night used to be a celebration. Now it is just giving up. After juggling work, and kid, and home stuff in a largely ineffectual way all week, no adult in the house has the energy to cook, or the time machine to go back in time to last night to actually take something out of the freezer to thaw either. We tried to convince the six year old to cook dinner, but he insists that he is not tall enough to reach all the ingredients and he is not allowed to use the stove by himself. Whatever, you slacker. So we all pile into the car and off we go. In theory, this could be great. Portland is a good foodie town. Top flight chefs, innovative cuisine, a plethora of food carts…yum…yum…yum… Oh yeah, I’m a mom. That means we can go to one Mexican restaurant, where our son likes the rice and they make cheese quesadillas in an acceptable fashion, two places that make cheeseburgers in an acceptable fashion, three acceptable pizza places, or the one the makes the best Mac and cheese, provided Mommy picks out the bacon and onions first. I may long for fusion food, or high end locavore food, or fish, but… I will have Mexican food.

Still, it is not all bad. Our six year old has written out the orders, with laborious and hilarious spelling, to take the onus of saying “cheese enchiladas” off of me. My favorite bookstore is just down the street, and we might squeeze in a quick visit before hitting the “I am up past my bedtime” backlash.

And maybe they will have piña coladas.

My Life as a Plate Spinner

Life.

Everything balanced-

Not in perfect proportion,

But not precariously every day.

 

I keep those plates spinning,

Swiftly shifting attention and energy,

A little quiver here,

A little shimmy there,

But they wobble on, all the same.

 

Until

One little thing goes wrong,

An emergency,

Or a tiny inconvenience

Magnified into ridiculousness

by the paltry forces holding everything together,

Moving in motion together,

Orbiting me, the gravitational center.

 

Until one little thing goes wrong,

and everything

Comes

Crashing

Down.

 

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“Chinese acrobats perform for holiday in Manila.” ChinaDaily. 29 Dec. 2010. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/photo/2010-12/29/content_11769482.htm. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.

Recklessness, bruises, gray hairs, and insurance forms, Or, a normal day in the life of a boy

When I was in college, I read a newspaper column in which a mom was advised that “if you raise boys, expect to spend time with the principal, the sheriff, and the ER.” I found this extremely funny. I was barely an adult myself, had no brothers, and was a long time away from ever being a mom. While I was aware that my boyfriend (now husband) had many checkered adventures in his past that probably skirted the “time with the sheriff” category, he had never been in serious trouble, and nor had any of our male friends. Foolish trouble, yes. Dangerous trouble? Yeah. But not serious-trouble trouble.

When I found out I was having a boy, my first, unthinking, gut reaction was, “Oh, no.” My husband said, “We are doomed.” Not a promising sign from the only person in the room who actually knew what boys were like. Not a promising sign at all. We had been picturing raising a girl. Of course, we love our son to pieces and would not trade him for anything, but at that moment, girls seemed a lot…easier.

Our son is kind, and generous, and caring, and even thoughtful sometimes. He is also six, in elementary school, surrounded by boys his same age, and apparently completely incapable of ever sitting still, following a direction, listening, or acting in any sort of sensible way at any time. (In addition, he is prone to shouting “Bang!,” playing robbers, and thinking that the words “butt” and “fart” are the most hilarious words ever invented, but that should probably be the subject of another post altogether.) What is the upshot of all of this? Our kind, caring, generous, thoughtful young child has turned into a part-time hellion, and we are learning the truth contained in that old newspaper column. In the space of one last week, our son was in trouble twice with his after-school extracurricular teachers, first for being a pain and a disruption in class, and second for doing something thoughtlessly (throwing a ball through a crowded gym) and responding obstinately and badly when he was told that he cannot do dangerous things like that. He has ended up in the principal’s office (and not even for the first time this year); this time because it seemed like a good idea for he and his friends to liberally paper the bathroom walls and ceilings with wet paper towels that they were flinging around. He was in trouble with his teacher three times for being uncooperative, disrespectful, and stubborn in class. He had to have lunch in the office. He had to do his reading work during recess. The calls and meetings went on and on and on. The punishments at home got increasingly complex, until we all kind of lost track of which punishment was for which infraction and my son just sadly remarked, “Oh, yeah. I am busted,” whenever he wanted to do something that was off the table for the duration. (I never, ever, ever thought I would say the words, “You are so grounded” to a six year old. I mean, he never goes anywhere without me. What the heck could I ground him from?) So, yeah, we have been spending time with the principal. He’s a nice guy. He looks pained when we look pained. But I never want to see him again in my life.

Then, there are the injuries. The fact that my young son is always covered by a variety of mysterious bruises does not worry me. (Are the mom police going to come for me for admitting that publicly?) I was the same way as a child, and I still more often than not have some random bruises lurking around somewhere at any given time. My family has never splashed too deeply in the coordination gene pool. I get that. Even the occasional cut  or scrape, while resulting in a series of dramatic screams, moans, and Oscar-worthy sobs, varying in pitch and intensity solely as a result of the closeness of my proximity and how attentive and/or worried I look, can be dealt with. I carry Band-Aids in my purse at all times. (I am the go-to playground Mom for all children who want Band-Aids, and really, who doesn’t want to dress up a perfectly innocent scratch with that little paper wrapped badge of battle?) I can deal with blood. If I can cope with a gushing, sheet-soaking nosebleed at 2am, I can deal with the playground injuries. And I have a magic Mommy only skill, which is to miraculously heal all wounds and dry all tears with a small washcloth and three ice cubes. Yes, it has to be three, or the magic does not work. Don’t argue; it’s my magic.

Yesterday, though, we entered new territory. The ER. Our son was happily playing on top of his desk chair, flinging his parachute guy as high as he could and watching him float down. In retrospect, this is obviously a bad idea. Obviously. No sane person lets a child who cannot hold still stand on top of a chair. This is a recipe for disaster. But at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable. The chair was level and he was climbing on and off carefully. In my defense, I have not slept more than a couple of hours in a row all week and I am a bit on the hazy side. But still, as I said, everyone knows you don’t climb on furniture. For heaven’s sake, my own mom yelled that at me approximately 35,000 times a year.

And now I know why.

Chairs slip, and however much they believe differently, small boys are NOT immune to gravity. Your life flashes by you when you are in a bad accident, and your child’s life flashes by when you watch him fall in slow motion, unable to catch him because there is a sofa and a table between the two of you and you cannot move fast enough.

The crack of his head hitting the tile floor was sickening. The screams slightly after were too.

After much parental fussing from Mom and Dad, extra ice for the head injuries, and a rapidly improvised concussion test devised with a flashlight, the screaming stopped and we went to the hospital. Of course, being a boy, he rallied by the time we got to the parking lot, skipped in through the entrance, and happily regaled the nurses with his tale of injuries and woe, complete with dramatic arm gestures and many story-telling flourishes. If we had given him a bit more time to explain, I fully expect that he would have added some interpretive dance and possibly a song. We felt a bit silly, but still wanted to make sure that everything was okay. There had been that sickening crack, and the screams.

The doctor and the nurses were very kind and did not laugh at us. We are very fortunate to have a renowned children’s hospital nearby and it has its own ER, so we got to deal with pediatric specialists who are used to weird children’s injuries and worried parents. After a while, I even stopped worrying that some scary men with clipboards and cheap suits were going to appear and take me away for letting him stand on that darn chair in the first place. The doctors checked him over thoroughly and determined that he had a mild head injury with no concussion, and not even any subtle signs of serious head trauma. He has bruising over his right kidney, but no signs of internal bleeding, kidney damage, or other internal damage. (And yes, he did go around school this morning telling people “There was no blood in my pee, so that was good.”) Everything was okay, expect for possibly my nerves, and we all went home again. Bedtime was missed by a couple of hours, but otherwise, no harm done. Apparently, for medical professionals, a small boy flying off a chair backwards is not a particularly unusual occurrence. So now I know the ins and outs of the pediatric ER, for future reference. Two out of three of the predictions have come true.

I’m not looking forward to meeting the sheriff though.

 

Reflections on the first day of teaching

I’ve been thinking about classroom teaching today, and the first day of school. As an online teacher, I don’t have a classroom, and, in Oregon, our online students enter and leave courses on their own timelines. While there are definitely three or four days at the beginning and end of each semester when large numbers of students start or finish a course, we are never having that whole “first day of school” experience. This is good and bad. Nothing binds us together with our students as a “class” – a bonded unit- better than the shared experiences within the confines of a classroom, beginning on that awkward first day, when the students are on their best behavior (and we are alerted to get extra referral forms from the office in the blasted years when we discover we have a class whose first day of school good behavior is terrifying and the thought of how they will act in October is not to be borne.) Nothing is really accomplished on these first days other than walking students through the 4th or 7th or 8th recitation that day of class policies and the school’s attendance requirements. Well, that, and sheer survival, and an escalation of the back to school nightmares suffered by teachers. You know the ones. Every teacher has them. We all have our own cycle of anxiety dreams, and they tend to start a couple of weeks before school starts, and intensify through the first few days of classes. You’d think that once school actually starts, they would die out, but no. The fact that classrooms are never quite perfect, and I have never done quite enough organization probably fuels the ever-present sense that I am a fraud and everything will fall apart the moment that students arrive which pervades my dreams. (And believe me, after 14 years of classroom teaching and another 5 teaching online, National Board Certification, awards, and rave reviews from administrators and the respect of my peers, I am still pretty sure that I don’t know what I am doing and that any moment, everyone is going to find out.)

Anyway, this train of thought rambled and shambled along its bumpy track, and got me thinking about every teacher’s true to life teaching nightmare, which is the first day of student teaching. Many years ago, as a teaching fellow at the Oregon Writing Project, I wrote a piece about my first day as a student teacher. For your amusement, I attach it here.

***********************************************************************

“On My Way”

I arrived at school and tried to look nonchalant, while rapidly reviewing my lesson plan for the eighty-seventh time that morning. My attempts to feign calm failed.

“Are you all right?” asked my mentor as he bustled up.

He looked calm. Of course, he was calm. He didn’t have to teach that day. I gulped and conceded that I was just a little nervous. He grinned and said breezily, “You’ll be fine,” as he disappeared to attend to first day of school business.

The minutes of prep time simultaneously dragged and flew by. I reviewed my lesson plan yet again, rehearsed my introductory speech, and checked my handouts for the umpteenth time.  The time for the long trek to the classroom was fast approaching. I verified that I had my seating chart, attendance sheets, grade book, pencil, lesson plan (though it was by now memorized), and hand-outs. I would surely lose them all if I kept pulling them out of my files, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Oh, God. It was time to go.

The long walk down the echoing and still empty halls felt ominous. My mentor laughed and said, “Relax, your honors class is first.” I did not relax. I could not relax. Terror overwhelmed my tenuous feeling of excitement.

In the classroom, I wrote my name on the board, made neat stacks of all my papers, and taped up the seating charts. Students began to trickle in, buzzing with first day of school introductions and summer news. Through my head whirled all the advice given to me by my sister, also a teacher. I could still hear her voice explaining, “The very first impression you make, in the very first second of the very first minute of the very first day, sets the tone for the entire school year. But it’s not that big a deal. Don’t worry about it…too much.”  I stopped scrutinizing my classroom decorations with a lurch. At that very second, students were arriving, and I stood in the middle of the room like a block of wood. I simply had to impress these students with my control of the situation or they would discover I had no skills. And then I would be done for.  Unfortunately, I had never felt less dazzling. “Do something!” I yelled to my brain. Ignoring the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I stepped forward and managed to utter, “Good morning. There is a seating chart. Please find your name on the chart and take your seats.”

Surprisingly, students complied, although I noticed some confusion. I had drawn the chart backwards. My sinking feeling increased. I hurriedly showed students where I meant for them to sit. In the bustle, the students had not yet paid much attention to me. So far, so good.

The juniors settled, and the ticking of the clock got louder. The pounding of my heart drowned it out. The students finally began to notice me with curiosity. Their schedules read “English 11 Honors – Mr. Gottesman.”  Who was this woman? The ticking of the clock grew unbearable, and I glanced at the time. One minute left. I panicked. Thoughts of running away flitted through my head as I desperately tried to fix a look of composure onto my face. Too late!  No time left to bolt. Whirr. Click. The minute hand fell into place. Time for class to start.

My mentor walked to the center of the room, while I stood awkwardly by the desk, wondering what to do with my feet. “Hi, I’m Mr. Gottesman,” he announced. “I’m supposed to be teaching this class, but we have Mrs. Karp-” He pointed at me. I straightened up and squelched a desire to wave. “- She’s a student teacher from Pacific University and she’ll be teaching this class. You’ll be in good hands.” With that, he left the room.

Aghast, I turned slowly in the sudden silence to look at the class, praying that my mouth was not hanging open. Thirty-four pairs of eyes stared at me silently from closed faces, eyeing me slightly suspiciously as they momentarily withheld judgment and weighed whether this person would be new teacher or fresh sacrifice. My mind went blank, lesson plan completely forgotten. Hands trembling, I picked the plan up from the desk and reviewed my notes again.  I took a deep breath and, voice shaking, whipped through my fifteen minute introduction in three and a half minutes flat. Oh dear. Can sixteen year olds smell fear?

“Forge ahead,” I told myself, “and don’t fidget.” I explained to my students that I was going to hand out a questionnaire for them to fill out. The students continued to stare at me blankly. They did not appear to blink. As I turned to the desk to pick up my handouts, I wondered if sounds had actually come out of my mouth, or if the students were still waiting for me to say something. At least they weren’t talking and appeared to be paying attention. One small achievement, at least.

Walking toward the first row, bearing my handouts in an undoubtedly funereal fashion, I wondered “What if they simply refuse to write? What if they just sit there for eighty minutes, their blank looks turned to defiance?” Maybe that would be the time to run away. The students in the first row passed the papers across and back. Okay, maybe this would work after all. Soon, each had a questionnaire. With bated breath held tight, I watched as the students began to write.  They wrote a lot. They were honors students, after all. I exhaled. A small flicker of hope began to melt the icy fear in my stomach. I walked back to my desk – my teacher desk – pulled out the chair, and sat down. My imaginary terrors dissolved under a sudden startling jolt of power. I stifled hysterical giggles and relaxed. The bridge had been crossed. I was on my way.

A dozen mini slices for the 12th

Today’s post was inspired by some of the list posts I have seen lately. I give you 12 little bitty slices about my Sunday.

  1. 100 year old houses need custom window blinds. A six year old dancing naked on top of the LEGO table while scratching at the blinds like a cat makes short work of them.
  2. Musical rhythm exercises are a lot more fun if you do them while singing along to the radio and eating pizza.
  3. My son taught me his special dance that he made up for the Gipsy Kings. It looks like electric eel meets Bollywood, but the smile on his face while we had the dance party made it worth learning.
  4. I discovered (well, technically, my husband discovered and showed me) that my iPhone has a sort button in iTunes and my albums can be reunited with the wandering songs that had been scattered to the winds. I can play entire albums again! Time for another dance party in celebration!
  5. My son can sing along to the 80s one-hit wonder “Video Killed the Radio Star.” He doesn’t know what a video is, but it is still adorable.
  6. The upside of crummy joints that give out on you unpredictably is watching a movie while you knit and someone else is doing the yard work.
  7. Even when you are racing your imaginary cats in the front yard lap marathon, you may not always be in first place.
  8. Waking up on daylight savings time changing day is especially confusing when you cannot remember if your clocks and devices automatically adjust for the time change or not.
  9. A corollary: Even if you don’t know what the clock time is, Sunday morning is always an excellent time for waffles.
  10. It is possible to make a 20 foot long, historically accurate, scale model of the U.S.S. Missouri, complete with flags and crew, entirely out of LEGO. Ditto an entire steampunk village covered in gears and moving parts, or a 6 foot tall room with a picture window showing people on a lake, complete with our iconic Mt. Hood reflected in the water, or a train yard complete with tracks, moving trains, semis, and  landscaping. Also, the world contains people who build LEGO graveyards.
  11. My 6 year old is perfectly capable of standing still for long stretches, paying fierce attention, focusing on one thing at a time, and asking polite and relevant questions of adults he does not even know…as long as it involves LEGO.
  12. Sometimes I get grumpy, and sometimes I get stressed. But sometimes, I remember that my life is pretty darn good.

The Joys (?) of Music Lessons

My son loves music. Not just loves…adores, worships, breathes music. He goes to sleep with music playing. For a long time, the one thing that soothed him best was my playlist of (usually loud and fast) songs that I love enough to buy on iTunes. Currently, it is the four Truck Tunes albums that claim his loyalty, but it still counts as music (more or less) , and is still pretty fast and loud. As an infant, rock music is what calmed him down. From the time he was two weeks old, his favorite thing to play with was his activity mat- not because he loved to bat at the dangling things like some sort of immobilized kitten, but because he loved the tinny classical music that it played. We would just push the button on that blinky light box on the side of the mat, over and over, and he would wiggle-dance his little body all over the place. He might not have had control over his arms and legs, but, boy, could he shimmy! Heck, even in the womb, he loved music. If I was around live music, or a good, loud song with a fast drumbeat, he was jumping and jiving all over the place. So, he really loves music. It is wired in. He will sing and he will dance and he will hum songs he is making up and he will tell anyone who asks (or anyone who doesn’t) that he has “sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet dance moves.” (Tragically, he actually dances like a rhythm-free boy who is having an encounter with a pretty feisty electric eel, but ssh, don’t tell him that!)

Neither the love of music or the pathetic dancing is a big surprise. My husband plays the flute and the piano, and thought about becoming a professional musician. My contribution to the musical gene pool was the rhythm deficiency and really bad dancing. So, naturally, we decided that music lessons were important. (This was my husband’s only child-rearing decree, pre-birth: “I don’t care if we don’t eat, we WILL be paying for music lessons.”) Our  son was blessed with a preschool where the teachers played the guitar and sang every day, and he decided the guitar was what he wanted to play. So for his fifth birthday, we spent an extravagant amount of money on an extremely nice half-size Taylor guitar (because after birth and the toddler years of plastic drums and tinny xylophones, my husband expanded his musical decree to include “children should only play real instruments”) and we set out to find a guitar teacher.

We found a young musician who had started a rock guitar school, using the belt method from martial arts as an incentive and a way to track progress. Perfect! Our son also thinks he is a ninja, so he liked the belt idea. Brian and his wife, Sophie, have been brilliant with our son, who, at just a hair past five years old, started as their very youngest (and perhaps most flibbertigibbety) student. And although they do not appear to have suffered dramatically from this ongoing experience, I am sure that I, at least, have been traumatized for life by…practice time.

We all know the pedagogy- music is good for the brain, it builds neural connections, helps with mathematics and motor skills, engages kids in learning, connects them to school, and, as a teenager, a guitar is a great aid in picking up chicks. (Wait, maybe they did not talk about that last one in my education program.)

The reality is a bit different. “Let’s practice now!” said no child, ever. Not even, “Well, okay, I will calmly practice if that’s what time it is.” Probably even Mozart as a child refused to practice. (Didn’t I see that in Amadeus?) The whole concept of practice is met with tears, screaming (“But I am not done with my Legooooooooooos!”), sniveling excuses (“I cannot play until I have a drink of water, another graham cracker, a kleenex to blow my nose…”), and so on and so forth, until, eventually, some sort of instrument torture that does not sound at all like the lesson happens.

Let me transport you to the scene, through the magic of audio transcription:

“Sit up straight. No, straighter. No, you cannot play properly when you are oozing off the chair and sliding under the coffee table.”

“You dropped your pick inside the guitar? No, we’ll get it out later. Here’s another one. What do you mean, you dropped that one inside the guitar too?”

CCRRRRAAAAWWWGGGGKKKKKKKKKKspranggggggggg!” “Dear God, what are you doing to that instrument? No, that is not a good note.”

“Your fingers are not going to fall off if you do the fingering exercises and play the chords fifteen times. No, they are not going to bleed either.”

“Here’s the rhythm: da…da…da…da…! Listen to the metronome. No, the metronome is not a distraction. Da…da…da…da…! LISTEN! Does DaaaaadidididiDeeeeDeeeeeDADADADADAdipdipdipdidididaaadaaaaaaa sound like the same rhythm to you?”

Eventually, some actual notes happen, usually five seconds before the timer for the end of practice time goes off. Sometimes, he sounds pretty decent. He has written a couple of deeply random songs, all of which are accompanied by some extremely fancy rock and roll, guitar god kind of moves that he seems to have picked up from the ether. Maybe someday, he will even sound good, or good enough to impress those future teenage girls (of whom I plan to disapprove heartily).

In the meantime, he has decreed that he is forming a band. He was slowed down slightly by the fact that he only has one friend who takes music lessons, and he is learning to play the piano. But, he regrouped, and, via some Mom mediated and laborious letter writing, contacted his friend to organize a band and vote on potential band names, and so Electric Squirrels was born. Or maybe Mustang. They are still hammering out the details. In the meantime, I’m investing in some earplugs.