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.