Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend Wasteland

Yesterday, I decided to finish sorting out D's office because I apparently believed I was fine, fine, everything is fine. And why should these things bother me anymore? I knew it had been more than a year since losing him. That was my lame-o train of thought.

Denial: it's not just a river in Egypt.

When I realized my emotional energy was flooding out of my body after only 20 minutes of box rummaging, I did the math. Total? 15 months. Drat. I thought at least 15 years had passed since July 2009. It feels like that, anyway.

The question was not "Did I take a nap from emotional exhaustion?" on Saturday. It was "How many naps did I take?"

I decided after the second nap, I should just get out a little bit so Saturday wasn't a total waste. I went to see the movie, "Waiting for Superman", a documentary on the failing schools of America. As a teacher, I knew this was a risky choice. These filmmakers can tend to paint things with a pretty broad brush. But watching real children who lost charter school lotteries that doomed them to their failing neighborhood schools? Heartbreaking. I left in tears and decided I'd swing by a nearby Barnes and Noble that D and I used to enjoy visiting.

I was on a roll for bad emotional choices. Why not one more? A Saturday late night visit without D did not evoke the warm and fuzzy. Went home, gave up on the day, and hoped a good night's sleep would refresh me for a better Sunday.

That plan worked well through a good cup of coffee over the Sunday paper. It fell apart getting ready for church. I discovered that my new contact lens solution must be used in its tubular container and not my old-school flat container. Apparently the solution had not neutralized and: OUCH! I ripped out my contact and tried to make it to church. About halfway through the music service, I knew I needed to get home and flush out my eye with water. Or rip it out. Which ever relieved the pain first.

Many eye washes later, and I decided a nap must be coming on. Again. I consoled myself that the day would not be a total loss: trick-or-treaters would be coming by later.

I had my candy out and not one but FOUR jack-o-lanterns lit in the front yard. And I waited for the doorbell to ring. But it didn't. I finally opened the door to peer out into the night and saw five small costumed bodies heading down my sidewalk toward the street. Seems my doorbell wasn't working. When they returned to my front door, I piled the candy into their bags. "I LOVE CANDY!" one little fairy enthused. I told her she was out on the right night.

I put a note on my front door that said "Please KNOCK", and waited for more visitors. Again, I finally opened the door and peered outside. To see several disappointed small figures leaving my yard. Oops. Forgot three year olds can't read, and the parents wait out at the street. I just dumped the rest of my candy into their waiting bags and called it a night.

I did find one more new scrap of paper that D had left behind. I'll be carrying it with me tomorrow to remind me things will continue to get better. He'd written down II Chronicles 20:17:

"You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you."

Amen and Amen. Looking forward to a better Monday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Catching Up...

Long time, no blog. The world of teaching aligned into a vortex of paperwork known as parent conferences, report cards, TPRI/DRA testing, and who-knows-what-else. In 22 years of teaching, I never remember so much being required at one time. I could have easily gotten it done if it hadn't been for those 19 children in my classroom. You know: the ones I'm supposed to be teaching as the paper piles loom large.

You will be happy to know that the "Bossy Club" (highlighted in my last post) has seen the error of its ways. The students replaced the fledgling playground organization with the politically correct "Good Deeds Club". I don't know if conviction hit seven year old hearts, or parents read this blog, but good things are happening at recess these days. Perhaps I could slip them some of my paperwork to complete as their first good deed.

Young Son, who now pedicabs with his Mass Communications degree, has been offered weekend stints at Ranger Stadium in Arlington. You know: for the Texas Rangers who are IN THE WORLD SERIES. He makes a staggering amount of cash for a weekend of work. Hoping the lion's share of it will go toward student loans which are due about... now.

I had a migraine yesterday that sent me home from school an hour early. Wearing sunglasses in the classroom to ward off the painful light did not make for good communication with seven year olds. I had a moment of sadness on the way home, remembering that my migraine and I were going home alone to an empty house. Then I remembered: while there is no D at home, there was sweet friend B at school who stepped up to release me at a moment's notice. I'm covered in this life by friends. One, who found out I'd had to go home sick, wanted to know if the migraine meant I got to miss the faculty meeting. Doesn't take much to make teachers happy.

I have finished the Archaeological Dig of my home. It only took 15 months to go through every last drawer, closet, box, attic and storage shed. And last weekend? The garage sale to end all garage sales. I have empty closets, garages and cabinets to show for all my hard work. In the beginning, any scrap of paper with a scribble of D's was too hard to throw away. Now? Freedom from the stuff of life is mine. If I decide to sell the house and downsize, I'll be taking much less with me on this road of life. My Grief Class leader warned me that I might feel very sad after the sale. And? Maybe a touch of bittersweet, but mostly I feel unencumbered with the flotsam and jetsam of life.

Last, but not least, a few weeks ago my church asked me to do a short video. Our pastor has encouraged our congregation to come up with a one minute version of how God is at work in our lives. The series is called "The Power of One". You can see my film here on the 10-10-10 date. It's been 15 months since the world sharply tilted for me. But this I know for sure: there are more good things ahead.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Because I'm the Boss, Applesauce

And so, after 9 weeks of testing, paperwork, conferences and report card grades...the teacher in me retreated and took a personal day. Or, as we like to call it in The Profession, a "mental health day." Because what is not reviving about a perfect autumn day spent with Loyal Sister in a town that decorates its storefronts like this?
Or has restaurants that serve food like this?

Ahhh. A perfect day was had by all. I returned to school today revived, refreshed and ready to launch the second nine weeks of school.

And ran smack into a fellow teacher who had a story to report about my class while I was away.

Seems three of my seven year old best friends decided to form a club during my absence. "And what exactly will this club be for?" my teacher friend asked them. One little girl just stared with her big, brown eyes, not sure if the news would be well received by an adult. Her best friend just blurted it out: "We have a Bossy Club!" she all but shouted. (Small auxiliary male friend nodded furiously beside her.)

My friend was intrigued and probed the issue. "What exactly do you do in a Bossy Club?" she asked.

"WE BOSS PEOPLE AROUND, that's what! People are always bossing us and now it is our turn to be the bosses."

You miss one day and there is mutiny on the playground.

But there couldn't be three cuter bosses. Maybe I should just let them sub next time I'm needing a little break.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Locked Down

Yesterday as we were preparing to leave school for the day, an announcement went out over the intercom: "THIS IS A LOCK DOWN."

We've done the drill before. We know to close the blinds, go to the assigned corner, turn out the lights and stay quiet. Mrs. O puts a green card in the window to show that everyone is safe and accounted for in the classroom. And then we wait for the "all clear" signal. Which usually comes very quickly. But not yesterday.

My first clue that something was a wee bit amiss was the glimpse I caught of police walking down the second grade ramp. I quickly suggested we sing some happy songs, and hoped everyone would look at me instead of the parade of uniforms outside. I got a book to read aloud about the time the question was asked, "Mrs. O. Is this a REAL lock down?" Hedging the question, I continued to assure my seven year old friends that we were fine, fine, just fine. I could tell there were some skeptics in the crowd, and one of the children suggested we sing Christmas songs. (Oh, Rudolph: thank you for your calming way on children.) The crowd was getting restless, and one boy suggested we "sing softly to calm us all down". And when a few gave into tears after the wait got a little too long? One of my students crawled across the floor for a box of Kleenex to share with those in need. (Parents: You are raising your children right. They are compassionate and thoughtful in time of need.)

After about 30 minutes, the Lock Down was cancelled. We went outside to see parents anxious to find their own children, and helicopters buzzing overhead. We learned later there had been an armed robbery in the neighborhood, but that all three "bad men" had been arrested. Sigh of relief.

The last time I faced an unknown situation in my classroom was the "real" September 11 in 2001. I was teaching third grade at another school, and we were only hearing snippets of what was going on in the world around us. That day, at least half the parents in my classroom came to the school at various times just to give their child a hug. I think the parents needed those hugs more than the children. I let the adults come and go as needed, thankful that our little central Texas town seemed to be safe from any impending danger.

When my students returned this morning, the "real" Lock Down was all they could talk about. So, I did what any good teacher does: I seized the moment and had everyone write about it in their journals. There was a solid 20 minutes of total silence as my little scribes scribbled furiously. My favorite line from this missive: "Mrs. O told us, 'Would I be reading you this book all happy and calm if this was a real Lock Down?' Well, she was WRONG!!!!" (And the line was underlined at least seven times for emphasis. As if she really enjoyed writing that. A lot.)

So, I end this post thankful for my students who kept a level head, even when the teacher was clearly not fooling anyone. And praying we'll never have to really use Lock Down for a "real" reason.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two Roads Diverged in the Woods and ...

I've had several bloggy friends ask me if Young Son ever made it to California on his bicycle. He'd bought a return bus ticket for himself and his bike. Just in case he had to get back to Austin quickly. He made it as far as Flagstaff, Arizona (1,100 miles) by pedal before hoping aboard the return transportation.

I'd love to think he cut the trip short because of my motherly concern involving a...ahem...desert on the way, and he was being cautious. Dream on. He was supposed to accompany his girlfriend from Austin to the Albuquerque Hot Air Ballon Festival, and the date was approaching. Apparently? Love wins out.

This weekend? Peddicabbing at the Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival.

I bet you are thinking, "What a carefree life!" Had the same thought when I got a text: "Are you still serious about paying for my GRE and entrance fees for grad school?" Wow! You bet I'm still serious and bursting with pride at all this diligence and responsibility. And I texted him back that little thought o' mine.

His return? "If I get in grad school now my student loans are deferred." Deep breath. Still proud.

But I'm thinking he should take the LSAT for lawyers in training. He has always had the angle, the loophole, the paradigm shift. And the love for adventure.

The End? Not by a long shot. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dick, Jane and Sally Travel to Transylvania

Hello, Fall: you and your cool weather are so welcome in central Texas.

The calendar pages are continuing to tear off and we are nearing one of the favorite holidays of my seven-year-old best friends: Halloween!

When Young Son was that age, we were having some Halloween problems at my house. We had kind of taken a Halloween Moratorium for a few years because of some issues of the early '90s. Or of my fundamentalist first husband. The lines blur.

Anywho: we hadn't celebrated this end-of-October holiday for a few years, and we found ourselves standing in a store surrounded by costumes. Young Son was fixated on a huge plastic club. He turned to me and said, in his best lawyer-in-training voice, "All I want to do is dress up like Fred Flintstone for Halloween, carry a big club and get lots of candy. What's not Jesus-y about that?" Well, nothing I guess, since our Christmas card that year was a joy filled photo of Fred and his loyal sidekick, Wilma (aka now-Married Daughter) with big sacks of Halloween candy. And a good time was had by all.

The pendulum, for me, has swung back to the innocence of trick-or-treating. through the eyes of second graders. Until I walked through the children's book section at Barnes and Noble recently. Here's what I saw:

I have to admit that I laughed. Loudly. The characters of books that taught me how to read in the 1960s have apparently evolved. I flipped through the book and continued to chuckle because the book is just like the one of old, except for that pesky vampire.

Oh, look, look! What does Sally see? (A vampire under the bed, but no one believes her as it turns into a bat that flies away.) Oh, look, look! Run, Jane, Run. (From the vampire in the fort who is only seen by the children.) On some levels this book is VERY funny, but I'm not sure it should be in the children's section. I kept thinking about a nearsighted Grandmother buying it as a gift for her grandchildren, and missing the newest character and plot lines. Kind of like those monkeys chasing Dorothy, this could definitely make an impression on little minds in the formative years.

I've chilled out a bit about Halloween over the years, apparently. Enough so that Wilma grew up to be now-Married Daughter who dresses her poor dog like this for Halloween:

The crown of shame. (Run, Tex, Run! Your Nonnie would never make you wear that. Or read a book featuring Vampires lurking under your bed.)

The only bad thing about Halloween this year? It falls on a Sunday. Guess who gets to deal with the sugar high in a second grade classroom on Monday morning? Maybe I'll read that new book to them...

Kidding. I'll totally just give them more sugar to balance them out. Or beg for miniature Reese's and Almond Joys I know will be hidden in backpacks.

Who would deny that to a teacher carrying a big plastic club?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No. Nope. No way. No How.

One of the topics we discuss in grief class is how difficult it can be to fit into a couple's world after losing a spouse. So, I was blindsided last week when I was told to bring a date to the grief class' leadership Christmas party in a few months. You see, the rest of the leadership has moved on and remarried or begun dating. I'm the odd single. Even there.

I cannot even express to you how awful the thought of dating is right now. And yet, there seem to be stirrings around me that some people think "it's time" for me to "get on with my life." I think this is what it must feel like when someone loses a baby and well-meaning friends say, "You're young: you can always have another one." Unintentionally, yet heartbreakingly, hurtful. There is no "replacement" in children or husbands.

I have realized recently that I am surrounding myself at church with people who are at least 20 (and sometimes 30) years older than I am. I think it is an unconscious defense mechanism to hide away from anyone even remotely available. Yet I've been told I should look into online Christian dating services (NEVER!) and reminded of "good" single men in my congregation. (NEVER, NEVER!) I realize these people are good-willed and kind people who want to see me happy. But I also know that I've got to find "happy" on my own first.

I told my grief class I would not be bringing a date to the Christmas party. (But I may ask Loyal Sister because she is a lot of fun and I don't see her as often as I would like lately.) I also told them flat out I would not be seeing anyone unless God sent them to my front door. And only then if they stated God had sent them to my front door. The leadership told me I should be careful what I ask for. Because it could happen.

I feel safe in my declaration.

Because I'm totally not answering the front door right now.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Time Has Come to Talk of Many Things...

Long time, no blog.

There are multiple very simple explanations for that. One stream of consciousness would include new school year and grade level, standardized testing that was completed and entered online and followed by looming report card grades slash Fall Parent Conferences. And somewhere in there I am also teaching my second grade class.

But on the real life side? I've been visiting old friends on the weekends, which is when I usually find the time to blog. I'm constantly thankful for the long term friendships I've shared with so many. Certainly those relationships are among the greatest blessings of my life.

Last weekend my precious friend of 25 years, P, and I flew to Oklahoma City to recognize her Special Decade Birthday. (Don't do the math and we'll all remain friends.) We had our babies at the same time, and raised five precious children among the two of us. Her oldest daughter, A, was in my first grade classroom, lo those many years ago. A is now married and living in OKC with her Law School Student husband and almost four-year-old daughter. What better way to celebrate this special occasion than to go visit this sweet family with P?

We flew in Saturday at noon, and flew out on Sunday at about the same time. But those in-between hours? Perfection! We got to spend plenty of time with P's granddaughter, A. I now know there is even more to look forward to in my future: grandchildren! (No pressure Married Daughter. Don't even think about it, unmarried Young Son.) Here we are in a cupcake shop we visited while strolling on a perfect fall day.
Three generations that just fill my heart up. When P and I met and became fast friends, we were about the age that her daughter A is now. I love full circles in life, and I love watching children grow up well in the Lord. Who would ever have thought that one of my first grade students would now be my friend? (A is also the person who designs this blog and my classroom blog. She writes a blog here that will fill you with The Happy.)

And last night? Another former student had a Big Game. S was in my kindergarten and third grade classes. Though I find it hard to believe, he is now a high school senior and the quarterback of his football team. See number 10 below? I was taller than he was when I was teaching him how to cut, use glue sticks and write the letter "s" going in the right direction.
Oh, how the years go by! His mom has remained a sweet friend over the years and offered me a great ticket to S's Homecoming game. I was able to watch him remain grace under pressure all four quarters as he completed 22 passes for 283 yards.

(Another full circle experience? S had a cousin who played for UT, and I'd always mail S the newspaper clippings. Now I'm mailing S his own clippings each Monday. And hoping college scouts are seeing those same stats!)

I'm so honored to now know these grown-up versions of former elementary students of mine. My school year(s) with them was just a dot on their life's timeline. But the joy I get watching them grow into adults who give me hope for the future of our country and world? It is a lifelong gift.