until Spring Break!
I keep forgetting this,
as my son has
if it meant
they did not have to
come to school on Friday.
Watching emergent writers is fun, especially when they have mastered the art of writing their letters and then sticking them together into words (more or less) and are able to venture into putting their ideas on paper. My own students are middle schoolers, and although their journeys through writing are far from over, they have the basics down. They may not yet always find the joy in it, but they know how to express themselves in writing.
My son, however, is only in third grade, and he loves to write stories. The physical act of writing letters was difficult for him, and compounded with some very negative experiences in first grade, it took him most of his second grade year to really get comfortable with writing and get past his frustration that his hands cannot keep up with his ideas at all.
However, he is a born storyteller. Since he could first talk, he has been telling vast and complicated stories with byzantine plot lines, which may be abandoned for days and then suddenly, with no warning, context, or transitions, will reappear in our conversation like no time has passed. It has kept me on my toes trying to keep up. (And, I’ll be honest here, when he hit the age where most of his stories started to involve fast cars and things randomly exploding for no reason, I did start tuning out from time to time and murmuring “hmmmm,” and “really?” at appropriate intervals.) Most of his stories involve cats. He is obsessed with cats, and has been telling me stories of his imaginary cats since the second day of preschool when he was three. That means 5 1/2 years of imaginary cat stories and adventures. It is natural, now that he can write more easily, that many of his stories center on cats.
He has also reached the age of imitation. I remember this from my own childhood. In my early primary years, I was obsessed with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories, and so, naturally, I wrote my own versions. My mom still has the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story that I wrote her as a wedding present when she married my stepfather when I was 7. I know that in reading, students develop mastery by going through phases where they read the same books over and over, and then the same type of books over and over (like the Nancy Drew books, then branching out to books of similar style and genre). I assume that in writing, the developmental process is the same. After all, we use mentor texts as models when we teach writing, so why should students not write their own versions of beloved stories? I feel confident that somewhere in the research on brain development, this is an actual thing. Also, the roots of fan fiction. Either that, or my son and my younger self are just raging plagiarists.
On Monday, as he emerged from several days of high fever but still felt terrible and had no voice, my son noticed that I had purchased him a new book on Friday night. It’s the newest graphic novel/comic of Georgia Dunn’s “Breaking Cat News” strip, which is hilarious, touching, and beautifully rendered with immense detail. I discovered this as a web comic before she was even asked to syndicate it, and she created huge panels in a variety of complex shapes and sizes for her art – and it was very much art, as well as storytelling. It is these graphic novel type pages that are collected in the new book, and my ailing child was entranced. He read the entire book in one sitting, and really scrutinized the parts at the end where she talked about how to create your own drawings and ways to make similar comics about your own pets. (I immediately loved this artist even more for realizing the power of imitation to inspire young artistic minds.) Then he wrote me an earnest note asking for some more drawing paper, and disappeared into his room to draw for hours. He made practice sketches and crossed out shapes and designs he did not like. He decided on how many characters he wanted and what their names were. He sketched a layout for his cover before he started to draw. This was a Serious Project. The cover itself took hours, but he has told me some of the many adventure stories that will go inside. I know that his brain is ticking over the ideas and making myriad connections between what he has read and seen and what he can create with his own hands. Though the resulting book may look much like the original, I could not be more proud of his hard work.
P.S. If you are a cat fan and you have never seen “Breaking Cat News,” you can read it here: https://www.gocomics.com/breaking-cat-news.
answered "Mom! My blanket fell down!"
"Mom! I can't reach my water!"
"Mom! Can I have a snack!"
"Mom! Can you tell I feel a lot better?"
did three loads of laundry
congratulated myself for having soup in the freezer
convinced my also-sick husband to drink some water
cleaned up after the also-sick cats…several times
answered questions from my substitute
spent hours cutting and stapling pages for analysis booklets
fretted about the fact that I just used the last of my sick time
missed the science fair that my students worked toward all year
will go to work, no matter how I feel
will hope the students have a good start on their project
will answer more than 100 accumulated emails
will try to hang on until Spring Break starts on Friday
My son ran a fever all day yesterday and stayed in bed, which is extraordinary for him. Usually when he is sick, he is a bit sick, and will spend a couple of hours in bed and then get up to play. Not his usual self, but still energetic enough to power three cities and drive everyone batty. Yesterday, though, he stayed in bed. We had Cirque du Soleil tickets which we could not use, and he barely cared. His fever hit 102, then 103. Even with ibuprofen, it only came down to 101.7. His temperature bounced up and down all day like that. He sat in the living room for a while and watched “Simon’s Cat” cartoons on YouTube, until he abruptly sat up and wailed, “Where can I go to sleep? I need to go to sleep now!” (another unprecedented move). I pointed out that he could sleep in bed, and helped him wobble off to bed and tucked him in. I put down the blinds, read him a story, turned on his soft nighttime music, and endured demands that I “tell the fish tank to be night”. This was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. He was asleep by 3:30. Although he woke up briefly at around 6 and went to the bathroom, he put himself straight back into bed and went back to sleep. Weird, I thought, but at least the rest will help him.
I was supposed to work today, because my students were starting a new project before Spring Break, and it would be very complicated to explain to (and through) a sub. My husband had an eye appointment in the morning, and then had to take the cat to the vet in the afternoon, as she is having some intestinal issues. We figured that with a long night’s rest, Miles could endure a couple of errands.
At about 9:30, he woke up screaming and sobbing and terrified, from vivid nightmares brought on by the fever. It was 104 at that point, and he could barely talk or breathe because he was coughing so hard. Eventually, I got some more ibuprofen in him, and, after an hour and clinging desperately to me, he fell restlessly asleep once more. I used the last of my sick time to call a sub, since he was not in any state to be dragged around, and my husband’s appointments were important ones.
I repeated this process at midnight, by which time my son was so incoherent that it took several minutes to convince him that I was there and everything was ok. And then again at 3:00am, until his fever mercilessly broke at 4:00am and he was able to sink, at last, into a sound sleep.
He slept until 7:40 this morning, which is probably a Guinness record of some sort. He stayed in bed for most of the day, and could barely speak, but he drew pictures, and ate a bit and even smiled at me from time to time. My husband reported that the eye doctor said he does indeed need more eye surgery, and the cat needs medication, but we could manage all this. He would take tomorrow off work to stay home with our son, and I would teach and figure out what exactly my students gleaned about their assignments. I was feeling very glassy-eyed and having trouble finishing sentences after two nights of shattered sleep fragments, but I optimistically thought that everything would be okay.
My husband’s throat started to hurt and his eyes turned red. I ran an errand to pick up some more supplies for the project and realized that I was light-headed, dizzy, and unable to focus clearly on anything at all.
Until my son’s fever spiked up again at 7pm.
And so, lesson plans in disarray; sick time used up; lovely, organized, and color-coordinated analysis booklets for the project unassembled after I spent a ton to get the copies made, and spiraling ever downwards in the health department, we start the circle all over again.
At which point, the other cat threw up all over the kitchen floor.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding under a blanket with a book.
Jolted awake at 2am by your
jagged, wracking, hacking, hoarse coughing
gasping wheezing sucks of breath.
prop you up
hold you close,
for as long as it takes,
Late last fall, my son decided he wanted to start a flower stall to sell our flowers to the neighborhood. This came after a summer of creative, but quite odd, ideas to make money. (Apparently, Mom and Dad do not provide enough allowance!) He had a store to sell art – even custom drawings if you requested one. A neighbor bought a butterfly drawing for her granddaughters (bless you, Melanie) and fueled his entrepreneurial drive. Then he spent months intermittently creating detailed plans to hold a pay-for-the-activites carnival in our front yard, and then a plan to sell paper airplanes and then mysterious inventions. He was livid when these last three ideas were nixed by his cruel and unsupportive parents. Then, as October rolled to a close, he announced that he wanted to create a flower shop. I pointed out the obvious – there were no flowers in October – but that did not deter him. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the idea would pass before spring. He never mentioned it again. Until today.
Now that we have a handful of spring flowers fully in bloom and the weather has warmed and dried enough to sit outside for a stretch without freezing or getting soaked, he announced that he was starting his flower business. After some quick calculations about the likeliness of my increasingly sicker child getting some fresh air while still holding pretty still and resting, I reminded him that he could not cut and sell ALL of my flowers and convinced him that he could sell the flowers better if he cut them on demand. (That is, do not chop up all of my flowers in the optimistic belief that he would sell out.)
He went to work, creating a sign that said “Flowers $1” for bouquets and a price list for individual flowers – taking great care to spell all the words correctly, which is a big deal for a boy who never wants to be slowed down by pesky things like which letters go into a word. He found a stake and put it in the front yard with his signs attached, and then in a stroke of inspiration, added a cowbell, a small drumstick, and a sign that said “Rig for istnc” (which is Impatient Child for “Ring for assistance”). He got a box for his money and, child of the 21st century that he is, thought to label it “Cash only,” since, at 8, he does not own an iPhone and a Square to process payments.
The neighbor who moved in across the street in the fall stopped by to purchase some of our crocuses, and my son came tearing inside with his vast riches: TWO QUARTERS! Proudly, he explained to me (twice) that “someone bought the flowers and it was not a member of the family even.” Of course, moms cannot be left out of these opportunities, so I spent a dollar to buy some of my own daffodils. And a piece of fern too, to make it a bouquet. I was given some of the crocuses for free, because, after all, I am Mom.
At this point, worn out from his bouts of salesmanship and increasing flattened by the nasty cold he has been fighting all week, he is curled up in the big chair and reflecting on his big triumph.
My flowers had better grown quickly this spring.
At the end of a long week,
I am almost trampled
Not trying to get out quickly –
Surging to get their hands
On their new book choices
My title is slightly misleading. There are teachers and moms out there who look put together and glamorous and effortless at all times. I know they really exist, because I know one. Just thinking about her makes me feel grubby. And she has twins!
Aside from anomalies like my friend, most teachers, and moms, and teacher-moms (the most haggard of the lot) have days where they look a little worn out. A little fuzzy around the edges and a little gray at the roots. A little befuddled and a little befrazzled (and, if small girls are involved, quite likely a little Bedazzled). Are you thinking I am a little punch drunk today? Yes. Yes, I am. Here is why…
Standard style of hair: combed. Or at least slightly combed. At least when I am in front of the bathroom mirror. When my brush hasn’t been stolen and misplaced by my 8 year old, who took it because he cannot find his brush, because it is upside down under the coffee table. No worries though- by the time I get to school, it will have obtained its usual “styled by random breezes and perhaps some mild electrocution” look.
Me: Come ON! We need to get moving!!!!!
Child: This family needs to get organized around here!
Me: I used to be the most organized person around!
Child: You did? YOU???? What happened?
So, if home makes me look unhinged and slightly vague, how are things on the old job front? I teach middle school. No possible problem there….
The math teacher fills 41 sixth graders with pie at 10am and then sends them to my class to write an essay. Repeat all day, but with our 7th and 8th graders.
Question: So what is a french kiss exactly anyway?
Question: You wrote π Day on the board, but you spelled it wrong.
No I didn’t.
You did. There’s no “e” in π.
It says π Day = Pie Day. Think about it.
Question: Why does your handwriting get so much worse at the bottom of
Because I am writing backwards on the bottom of the board while keeping an eye on you.
8th grade girl at lunch: Mrs. Karp, I am getting messages from a creepy middle-aged man because my profile picture is me in a bathing suit.
Me: Tell him you are 13. No, God, please don’t tell him you are 13! There are even creepier men out there! Don’t tell him anything!
Other 8th grader at lunch: You’re telling us, Mrs. Karp? We know; we know.
Me: Sigh. Creepy men were fewer and farther between when I was 13.
Why is there a high pitched buzzing noise when you open the window?
Why is it so hot in here? (Because you all whine if I open the window.)
Where is that weird music coming from? (The math room. They are singing the π song.)
Can we turn off the lights? It’s too bright in here!
Why did you give us ONLY three days to write a two page essay?
(Seriously? Are you kidding me? Because I am giving you 45-60 minutes every day in class to write AND it is your homework!!!)
Yes, I see the time. Yes, it is 3/14 at 1:59. Go ahead and get it out of your system before it gets past 1:59:26. (Some stand and yell “Happy Pi Day!”)
I think I deflated them by being on to their math joke. 3.1415926. Oops.
And, to top off the end the day, a trip to the school library:
A quarter of my reserved dystopian novels are missing, but can I please check out the rest?
No. The librarian is not here.
Will she be back in the morning?
No. She’s still recovering from surgery.
Will the sub here tomorrow?
Yes. Well, no. Maybe.
Ok, well, I’ll leave them here with a note. I have to get kids their books tomorrow because a chunk of them are leaving a week early for spring break and I am supposed to give them homework.
I’m sure we can find someone to check them out for you. But not today.
After a long day, I am at last back to Home Sweet Home and the arms of my loving family.
Your father said you cannot ride your bike to the restaurant.
No. Stop whining!
STOP STOMPING YOUR FEET AND GO TO YOUR ROOM!
PEOPLE WITH THAT ATTITUDE DO NOT GET TAKEN OUT TO DINNER YOUNG MAN!!!!
S*&%, now what’s for dinner?
If anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding under the covers with my teddy bear and a book. Teacher-mom is over and out.
Hey, why does my hair look like it got dried at the drive-through car wash?
Child has been "off" for a couple of days.
It's also the end of the trimester,
and nerves are kicking up
about finishing his work by the deadline.
Yesterday, he wanted to stay home
because of "sharp pain
and dizziness" in his side.
Since side dizziness is not a
he went to school.
Today, he suffered from "my insides are
full of ooze, and getting squished."
Creative, but he went to school again.
But yet –
He has been pale
Today, he walked out of parkour
in the middle of class and
asked to go home. He said,
"I'm starting to feel actually sick,"
and asked me to play Truck Tunes,
his comfort music from preschool.
If only there were some way
Husband is meeting new clients.
Son has a field trip to see a play.
I'm teaching middle schoolers.
Sick day roulette –
Do I write sub plans?
This afternoon, we finally had a mild day with temperatures reaching the high 50s, and when I picked up my son after school, it was sunny and lovely. I had already opened the sun roof and side windows to air out the stuffy car, and, in a fit of sun inspired madness, I temporarily forgot that I live in the Pacific Northwest and that it is March. Having also wiped from my mind the sight a moment before of the towering storm cloud that looked like it tapered down into a 20 mile wide pitch black wall of downpour, (I had turned the corner, so it did not exist any more, obviously), I closed the windows and left the sunroof open. It was a nice day, so nothing could possibly go wrong, especially on a quick school pickup.
Quick school pickups are never that, and this was no exception. My son had been working on projects during his after care time, and he had to put everything away. His school does a huge “learning celebration” at the end of every trimester, with presentations of all the main work learned in every subject, by every student K-8, all on the same afternoon. They dress up and proudly show off all their work to parents, grandparents, and each other. My son is a third grader, and has only this year worked out the concept of “deadline” and “work must be finished before the learning celebration,” and is consequently struggling with anxiety and stress, because he has not yet developed time management or coping skills, and sometimes can be a bit…well, feckless, in class. He wants to be successful, but is still learning the tools, and this year we have had some tearful bedtime conversations about being overwhelmed and some role-playing and time brainstorming strategies for how he can keep on task and keep up with his work, but as the deadlines near, it gets harder. He was stressed out and unhappy that he needed to work in his studio time before school (usually he gets to work in the studio and design and build things, but when he has work to finish, he must do that first). He also had to work all through his aftercare time instead of playing with his friends. As a result, his teacher took a moment to really congratulate him for completing even more work than they had planned for him to do this afternoon, and a little coddling from me. He showed me some of what he was working on in class and proudly took me to see the big chapter book that he has started reading by himself in his Literacy class. Then he found the poetry books for the other 3rd grade Literacy class and disappeared into a basket of pillows to read. Eventually, I got him away from the poetry, righted the basket, his outdoor shoes were found, the restroom was visited, and we could go outside.
Even though this was longer than I had planned, it still had only been 20 minutes, so I was not worried about the sunroof. Until my son opened the school’s outside door and I was hit with a blast off incredibly cold air. What was that about? I had left my winter wool coat in the car, unneeded. I turned to the door quizzically and it was…sort of dark. Not “it’s now after dusk even though I just picked you up at school” dark, because we are past the nadir of winter when it is dark by 4pm, and now that we are on daylight savings time, it is fully light when I pick him up, and doubly so on a nice day. I stepped outside and realized my mistake. It was not a nice day. It was dark, windy, freezing, and pouring down rain. And then – I remembered the sunroof. “Miles – sunroof – run!” I yelled, in no way making the situation clear to him. But, being an 8 year old who will never walk when he could run, bounce, climb, dance, or parkour along instead, he agreeably sprinted along with me. When we got to the car, he said “MoMMMMM!” in the escalating pitch he uses to remonstrate with the cat when she commits a feline felony, such as carrying off his Lego wheels or adopting his cat stuffies as kittens (or prey) and carrying them around in her mouth, licking them, and then shaking the heck out of them and trying to rip the stuffing out of their furry insides.
I dove headfirst into the car and lunged for the glovebox, which surprisingly still had napkins in it. As I frantically dried off bags and seats and center consoles, I noticed both that my skirt was getting soaked from the waterlogged driver’s seat and that I had not unlocked the back door to let my son in. I quickly dove over the back seat and opened his door, then resumed frantically blotting up the water. I was relieved to see that the bag with my laptop and iPad in it was at least zipped up and also covered by my wool coat, which was quite wet. When the napkins were all soaked through, I started drying things with the dryer portions of my winter coat. Eventually it occurred to me that if I switched on the ignition and actually closed the sunroof, the drying process would get much faster. At that point, it began to snow mixed with the rain.
Chaos staunched at last, we started up the car and moved into traffic. Within a couple of blocks, we were again looking at blue sky. The towering cloud had followed me around the corner when I drove to school, and since it was now pouring and snowing over THERE, over HERE on the road was nice again. As we journeyed along the riverside, safely parallel to the storm and only slightly dripping, being between the low afternoon sun and the heavy rain meant that we were at ground zero in the rainbow factory. A rainbow blossomed across the sky, so intense that it had wide bands clearly showcasing each color – even the indigo that you can never really see. “Look at that!” I exclaimed, pointing in front of us. The rainbow was vivid all the way down, and we could see through it to watch its colors dancing on the white buildings behind it. The sight jolted my son out of his stressy gloom, and as we drove slowly in traffic, we watched the rainbow double, and then triple. Suddenly, things did not look so bad.
Every cloud has a silver lining. Or maybe a ROY G BIV one.