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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October 18. Notes from the classroom, not very deep

The Lice Letter went home Friday, followed by a No Really, There are  Lice in the 5th Grade email yesterday. Today brought a class full of high, tight braids and not-one-but-two buzz cuts among the boys. The voice of the parent community is rarely so loud. I don't blame them.


This is a routine reality in elementary school, and it could be the kind of thing that catapults me back to my own lousy (in every sense of the word) childhood. It doesn't though because I am one of those weird people who freak out over having my hair touched, especially while being spoken to softly. (I listen to all the ASMR on youtube.) The Lice Letter means having the school nurse leaf slowly through my hair, reassuring me all the while that if she does find a nit (and she never has) then it has nothing to do with my own personal hygiene or lack thereof. (I know about lice, I always want to say, I'm really white trash. I wound up in our upper middle class district by some accident of fate, but I've had lice lots and lots of times. I have.)


****


What do you call it when a student hears Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up, thinks it's a good song (apparently), and so requests it when his name is drawn to choose the music for that day's Brain Break? Is it still rickrolling? Is there any chance he heard it outside of the context of a rickroll? Were we second hand rickrolled? (I promise you, it was not an intentional act of pranxterism. 5th graders are not that subtle. If it were on purpose, I would have heard, "Misha Kell, do you know what it's called when someone makes you play this song?  lololol!!!" within 20 seconds of starting it.)


Anyway, regardless of how it happened, it did. My students were genuinely baffled by how "ugly" the people in the video were. This was not your typical writhing on the ground in the face of your parents' era's bad fashion kind of thing. This was a true question. "Why are they all so ugly?" Are the people we see on TV that airbrushed these days? The NGGYU video dancers all looked pretty above average to me.


The kids' horror at the unstraightened teeth, baggy pants, and dull, thin hair did not prevent them from dancing around like total dorks. That said, very little does.

Monday, September 19, 2016

September 19

I don't think I have ever enjoyed eating food gifts from Swiss Colony as much as I enjoyed looking at the catalog and imagining eating food gifts from Swiss Colony when I was a kid. Petit fours looked like the most amazing things in the world.


(Years after my poring over catalog days, when I was a retail manager, I worked with a cashier who was a self proclaimed Southern Bell.  Peddehfur is my best spelling approximation of what she insisted was the real pronunciation, but they're still little 4s in my head. Delicious little 4s. I don't think I've ever had one. Still.)


***********


My real art and craft, teaching, got to meet some real arts and crafts recently, as I got slightly obsessed with mixing glitter, glue, and water in Voss water bottles to make 'glitter calm down jars.' Not that we need calming in my classroom. Mostly we need more shiny things to play with and bond over. This became obvious this Monday morning when three of my girls came in with their own glitter calm down jars. I'd written the directions for making them down on a few post-its at the end of the day on Friday. Seriously, everyone needs one of these things.


(I basically need a full set of 21 so that the conversation about who can have the calm down jar at their table becomes a non-issue.)


***********


Never satisfied, now I also think I need some rain sticks and ukuleles. You know, for the perfect Brain smart, unstructured-play-nurturing safe space.


***********


I have to buy a new car, and that is terrifying.

Something I wrote on August 17 and didn't publish. It's a month later, and I wonder why, in the middle of this, I thought, "I know! Blogging!"

I am having an anxiety attack right now.


I've only been able to recognize them for a little while, so this is a novel and remarkable experience. I feel horrible! I am very frightened! But I am also probably safe! I wish I could feel different!

Friday, July 22, 2016

July 22, 2016

My friend M recommended The Book of Strange New Things to me a while ago, and I finally got around to reading it. Given my own rambling, uncertain walk with religion and spirituality, I was interested in how the simplicity of the alien characters' faith tested that of the protagonist (to say nothing of my own). I'm getting a lot out of reuniting with the Christian church, but phrases like "loving Jesus" still make me cringe.


M being an atheist though, when he and I talked, I mostly pointed to my dislike of the protagonist's left-on-Earth wife, Bea. I didn't realize why I found her so unsympathetic until nearly the end of the novel. It turns out, I think, that I find self assured people off-putting.


Or maybe just intimidating, which I then interpret as off-putting.


I feel like I am still waiting to be knowledgeable enough, well enough informed to have opinions at all. People who are comfortable defining the world in their own perimeters and then expecting others to adjust their own thoughts and actions based on them... how does that happen? Isn't everyone just pouring books into their head, reading and reading and hoping that one day it will all come together in a way that isn't just shameful, half-lit fiction?


(Wow. That sentence was a bit overwrought. Anyway.)


I am not sure how people get to a place where they can just say, "This is this, and that is that." I am stuck at,"I know nothing, so I should probably say nothing." I should probably just make peace with that, but instead I pull at my hair and feel like the lone simpleton when other people feel free to talk.


I am tired of the me/other people thing. I feel fairly certain that the key to happiness lies in not comparing yourself to others, and damn if that isn't the thing I am the absolute worst at.


Me Me Me Me Me ... should I have a blog or a diary?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

July 16, 2016

Joint birthday breakfast for J and my sister in law this morning. After breakfast, J and his brother retreated to the TV room, leaving SiL, 10 year old niece, and me chatting over the strawberry and bagel remains and drawing with Niece's nice new marker set.


Somehow, our conversation wound around to Claire's (the jewelry store) and flower crowns, and what started as, "Haha, we totally should just leave the boys and go on a crown buying trip!" and, "Haha, right?" quickly turned into, "Mommy, can we, please?" and a quick goodbye to Uncle J, Daddy, and nephew.


I have two new crowns.


When we got back, I discovered this blog post, which is totally appropriate and makes me happy.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

July 6th

My first of two theater camp gigs closed on Sunday, and now I have the entire month of July free before the second one begins. I really built this time up in my mind, imagining all the magical wondrous things I could do in four almost completely unscheduled weeks.


When they started (on Tuesday really, as Monday was J's birthday and full of things to do for that), I sat down with my commonplace book, intending to make a sort of July bucket list. Get all of the vague, exciting potential out at one time to look at and choose from.


I couldn't think of a single thing to put on it.


There were things I wanted to do abstractly. Yeah, I'd like to get my new embroidery piece started (Freddie Mercury is really hard to draw, y'all), and I TOTALLY need to get back down to a size 12, and yes, my house is a mess. But of none of the things that would get me from where I am now to where I think I want to be (with completed art projects, fitting into my fall work wardrobe, and leading what that lady in the KonMari book called a "more feminine life" thanks to my serene, clean home) were things that I was actually excited about doing.


I tried to attach my sense of excitement and desire to the end result (I want to clean my closet because I want to have the kind of life where I ... have a clean closet. Or something.), but that wasn't working for me. I had a strong suspicion that even if I achieved these goals, my overall level of happiness would not increase. I'd pass the four weeks in a vague panic, knowing that I was "wasting" them, and when they were over, everything would be exactly the same.


I am easily moved by the idea that happiness is around the next corner of self-improvement, waiting for me as soon as things 'settle down.' I am perpetually waiting for life's chaos to ease off a little bit and then extending that wait time with every mini-crisis. I get that the mini-crises are what life actually is, but I still hold on to the idea that there is a better version ahead if I could just stop having surgeries and car repairs and huge piles of grading for, like, five seconds.


I don't want to be happy in the future, though. I want to be happy NOW. I've been thinking about this for a while. I'd recently read Tim Urban's blog post that discussed the error in "brushing off his mundane Wednesday and focusing entirely on the big picture, when in fact the mundane Wednesday is the experience of (your) entire life," and I wanted to stop brushing off my mundane Wednesdays. I REALLY wanted to avoid brushing off the month I'd been looking forward to since well before Christmas of last year or wasting it trying to invest in some imaginary 'real life' in the future where I'd finally gotten my shit together and was allowed to be happy.


I put my un-started list away and went to the pool. While swimming, I thought about what I really wanted to do. What would make me happy in the moment. I composed the following list when I got home.


I would really like to be:


Reading
Sewing
Cooking/Eating
Blogging (hey!)
Drinking Coffee
Swimming


I wasn't completely satisfied, mostly because I wasn't kidding above when I said that my house was a mess. I really wanted to address that problem, but I struggled to put it present-moment terms. After probably more thought than the question warranted, I added


Caring for and about my things and enjoying them fully.


***


For the most part, I've managed to spend the bulk of my time over the last three days doing only things on the list. (Including cleaning out my fridge and closet, thank you very much!) The dust of my life has in no way settled (Hello expensive car repair and waiting weeks for the part to come in!), but I feel rested and fairly happy. Which you'd think would be easy enough in a month where you have no obligations, but apparently it took work for me.



Friday, June 10, 2016

June 7 and 10

June 10


(Half of this story has been posted on Facebook, and as everyone who reads this blog is also there, it feels silly to retell it, but both halves go together, so...)


The kids found a cockroach behind the iPad cart on one of the last days of school. It was at least an inch and a half long, black, and shiny. The kind people euphemistically call "waterbugs" or "palmetto bugs." This year's cohort of fifth graders contained several ardent bleeding heart animal lovers, so killing the roach was out of the question.


They caught it. Under a cup. I was the one who slid the paper under to trap it. I was the one who did that. Then I ran screaming for the door and nearly knocked over a dear, sweet, quiet girl named Gabby when I threw it open. The kids reverently deposited it (the cockroach. COCKROACH.) in the grass and cheered, encouraging it to find a safe home and family.


Yeah.


Yesterday was the final workday of the year. No kids, just me and a mountain of cleaning and paperwork. It was well into the day when I encountered our shiny black friend's close relative, hiding behind a stack of guided reading books.


I screamed. No one came. My vision got blurry, and my heart started racing. Clearly, in spite of my earlier heroics, my phobia was not cured. I went and got a colleague to help me dispose of it. Then I put my head on my desk and sobbed.


The end of the year is always an emotional time. By this time, you and your class have learned each other. You're a strange kind of family. And then they're gone, and that's it.


But there was more than that going on for me here. At the time, it seemed clear and heartbreaking to me that my students are the source of my powers. They were my phonebooth. Around them, I can be a superhero because I HAVE to be. And for the next two months, I have to just be a regular human being. Mild mannered and phobic.


I'm still slightly stunned that I lucked into a job that I love so much. Of course, it's an impossible job, and I'd die if I didn't get to take a break from it every year, but I still like myself better when I'm doing it.


June 7


This year, I have become much more open about the anxiety disorders I've been diagnosed with. Which today led to the following conversation with a colleague as she prepared her report cards (we both waited until WAY the last minute to do our report cards).
Her (looking distraught and overwhelmed): "I have reached panic mode. It's finally hit me that tomorrow is the last day of school."
Me: "Haha, that's my life all of the time."
Her: "I know. How do you live? I couldn't do it.


Thoughts:


A. I am so grateful that she recognized my truth here and didn't see my response as oneupsmanship.This colleague and I work very closely together, and our relationship has not always been smooth. A road of very open communication and hard work to understand each other has led us to a place of mutual support and benefit. I credit this to the fact that, in spite of our almost completely different mindsets,  personalities, and preferences, we both value relationships, are open minded, and want what is best for children.


There was a time when I wouldn't have admitted this on her behalf, and it is still hard for me to say (anything positive) on my own behalf. Things like this make me realize the huge growth I've made in my 4 years in this profession.


(And for what it's worth, me in the past? She's a fucking amazing educator, and you're lucky to have her on your team.)


B. I do not believe in bragging about or fetishizing one's diagnosis. I don't want the fact that my body releases a toxic flood of chemicals every time I receive an email punctuated with periods instead of smiling emojis to be something that I use as an excuse or crutch to avoid responsibility. That said, it is helpful for me to recognize that my reactions are not normal, and that they are a physical thing that my body is doing. I've spent too long believing that I reasonably hated myself because I was a terrible human being who does everything wrong.


That said, it was disappointing to realize that having a better understanding of my emotional responses did not make them go away. I am learning to be satisfied with being able to handle them better. I've taken back the control they had. So that's something.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

April 23, 2016. A few notes as I try to unstick this stuck thing.

Got a call from a parent yesterday morning telling me that her son would be late to school. Remembering the boy's week-long hyperactive enthusiasm for the Thursday night concert his dad was taking him to (Jimmy Buffett! His first concert, and it was going to be his favorite singer! Could anyone in the world be luckier than him?) I said that I understood and that I hoped he'd had a wonderful time at the show. His mom immediately became apologetic, saying she'd been afraid that he was going to talk about it at school, and that it was just a really good father-son opportunity, and of course they would never usually consider such a late night during the school week and.... And her apology made me really sad.


It is really humbling when I stop to think about what I remember of my own fifth grade teacher. Almost nothing. She yelled at me for reading books under the table and she had black hair. End memory. I have lots of really strong memories of being that age, but almost none of them take place in the classroom.


I don't want to suggest that the classroom isn't important, but it's not the MOST important thing when it comes to a complete, happy childhood that carries you well into adulthood. And a complete, happy childhood is more important than math class on the Friday morning after the best night of your young life. Let the kid sleep at home, and don't worry about apologizing to the teacher.


(Added to this thought is the guilt that I feel anytime a parent comes into my classroom and we're doing something other than sitting in our seats learning, by golly! I want to protest that I really DO teach! Often!)


On the same topic, one of the things that I love about this age group is that they literally were born yesterday, and so things that I have long taken for granted are often presented to me as wonderful miracles, and I get to appreciate them in a different way. Case in point was this boy showing off his concert tee shirt, "And you know what's REALLY cool? Look at the back; that's all the cities he played on this tour! See Raleigh? That's the show I WENT TO!"


*****


My large circle of musician friends (J being the most important of them) are mourning the death of Prince. I feel a little awkward in this larger social conversation. Everyone I know is sad! But my strongest Prince memory is that the lyrics to Darling Nikki were printed in a lot of the "Music and Satan are basically the same thing!" religious tracts that I could read in the back of church as a little girl. Services went on for a long time in are small town Illinois store-front church, and there was very little to do if you were a kid. My favorite tracts were the OhNoSecularMusic ones and the one called "Turmoil in the Toybox." Apparently a lot of seemingly normal toys were actually Satanic, which was thrilling and interesting in the bright light of a Sunday morning, and scary at night.


But anyway, I can't really talk to my friends about Prince. Our experiences just don't match up.