Friday, February 25, 2011

the happy boys and the grumpy witch: a cautionary tale

Usually I'm like a kid myself when I'm with kids.  Even when I'm in full-blown Teacher Kerri or Auntie Kerri mode, I joke around a lot and can act just as immature as they can.  But yesterday I was a bit irritable all day - who knows the reason, take your pick - I don't need one - and the weather seemed to fit my mood: misty/drizzly, just above freezing, not sure if it wanted to snow, sleet, or do nothing.  Traffic on the way to my student's, N., and his brother's, L., school didn't help, and by the time I arrived to pick them up I was...not mad, not super-crabby, but like the day, just spitting some grouchiness.  Pissy.  Grr.

I was at the end of the row of cars filing past the school to pick up kids, and as I slowly pulled closer to the school I looked for the boys but couldn't see them.  Grr.  Soon I was at the front of the school and there were no more children outside, and the teachers turned around and went back inside.  Grr-wait, what?  I waited and watched for a couple of minutes, then parked and called the boys' mom, my eyes glued to the school entrance.  The boys' dad answered.  "I'm at the school," I said, "and I don't see the boys.  Did you guys pick them up?"  Every parent's dream phone call, just after the one in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, this family is very laid-back.  "No...," Dad said.  "Sometimes it takes them several minutes to get outside."  "Okay," I said, "I'll go check inside."  At this point three possibilities have occurred to me:  1- Dad is clueless.  2- the boys have been abducted.  3- the boys are still inside.  N. and L. are too old and too smart to just get in a car with a stranger, so I tossed possibility #2 from my mind as I walked toward the entrance.  Grr.  A few seconds later, two very familiar blond heads bobbed out the school door.  I smiled at them, but lifted my arms up and out to the side in the classic "What the heck?!" gesture.  They smiled back and said, "We were waiting inside!"  Really?  No kidding.  "My teacher didn't want us to get wet," N. said.  "Actually," he continued, "she doesn't like to get wet."  Uh huh.  Well I love it; be sure to thank her.  I called their dad and said I'd found them, then I said the boys were turkeys and made arrangements to meet Mom and Dad to drop the boys off.  N. and his family live 15-ish miles from the school; on tutoring days I usually pick up the boys, drive them home, tutor N., then they feed me.  I also get some quality moments with their dogs.  It's been a great arrangement.  But it was getting colder outside and the weather looked like it had decided to snow after all, why should the northeastern part of the country have all the fun, and the boys' parents were only a few miles away at that time, and I had decided I didn't want to make the slick drive home in the dark later.  So Dad and I arranged to meet at a grocery store a few miles away.

I wasn't familiar with the store's location, so I asked N's dad what intersection it was on.  Oh.  Turns out I've driven past it every time I've taken the boys home.  I knew that.  The road I take to N's house, the one the store is on, is a highway that runs through the southern end of town, with a few stoplights and a 55 mph speed limit in this particular area.  We began tootling down the road when I noticed the "door open" light was on.  I looked back at N's door and realized it sounded windier than usual back there.  "I don't think my door's shut all the way," N. said.  "Me neither," I said, and pulled over so we could stop and he could shut the door.  That didn't bother me, but we missed a green light as a result, so it goes with the story.  We eventually resumed our trip, the boys talking and laughing with each other and N. humming a pop song he got stuck in my head the last time I saw him.  I joking yelled, "AAUUGGGHHH!!!  You are no longer allowed to sing that song!!!" and N. laughed and sang louder.  As N. sang, the boys worked on making rabbit shadow puppets with their hands, L. telling N. how to do it "right" and both of them discussing the pros and cons of bucked-tooth bunnies. 

I have never heard these boys fight with each other.  In fact, their whole family is like some kind of happy, mutant, laid-back pack of hyenas.  My niece, Maddie, is like that, too; so was Chester.  It can be really irritating.

As we approached the store's intersection, I asked the boys if the store was on the north or south side of the highway.  "I duh know," they said.  I asked if it was on the left or right.  "I duh know."  I took a chance on it being north, since most of the state is north of this highway, and as I was slowing down in the left-turn lane I glanced right (south) and saw that I was wrong.  The store was on the south side.  L. saw it, too.  "It's over there!" he said.  "Why are you turning left?"  "Thanks a lot!" I said.  As we began to move forward and turn, my phone rang.  I tossed it into the back seat and told N. to tell his mother that I am a nincompoop, they (N. and L.) are nincompoops, and we are across the street and on our way.  N's mom told N. where they were in the store's big parking lot.  While N. was on the phone I turned into a parking lot which I assumed had an exit on the other side where I could pull back onto the highway in the other direction.  I drove through the parking lot and couldn't find the exit.  "AAUUGGHH!!!  THIS LOT HAS NO EXIT!!!"  I yelled in my half-joking, half-I've-had-it voice.  "Aauugghh!!!" L. yelled in sympathy.  N. laughed and told his mom.  Then L. and I found the exit at the same time.  "There it is!" he said. I pulled onto the highway and into that left-turn lane, and N. hung up.  As I slowed the car for our 2nd red light at that intersection, L. said, "Kerri, try to make a rabbit."  Oooh, bunnies!  I was pleasantly distracted for a moment, L. coaching me on hand formation.  Then the light turned green and I resumed driving.  L. kept telling me to make bunnies.  "I'm a little busy right now!" I said.  The boys laughed.  I asked N, "Which door did your mom say they'd be at?"
"I duh know."
"Which car are they driving?"
"I duh know."
"Are they closer to the store's entrance or to where we're pulling in?"
"I duh know."
"Are you kidding me?!  You just talked to her!"
"I don't remember..."

Fortunately, I'd heard enough of Mom's call to get us within frantic waving distance.  Correct that - laid-back "Hey dude" throw-up-a-hand distance.  I parked the car, got out with the boys, and told the parents they were welcome to take back their children.  (I also remembered to get N's cello out of the trunk - bonus points for me.)  "Were they a pain?" Dad smiled and asked.  "Nah, I'm just kidding," I said and hugged Nick.  L. said happily, "Kerri was late!"
"I was not!" I shot back.  "I was there all the time!  I was just at the end of the line!"
L. and N. both commented, "She went the wrong way!"
"You didn't know where the store was, either!"
"She got lost in the parking lot!"
"The exit wasn't where it was supposed to be!"
The boys went on, the whole hyena pack grinning and/or laughing, until I was compelled to say, "'Where's the store?'  'I duh know.'  'Which door?'  'I duh know.'  'Where are they in the lot?'  'I duh knoooooooowwwwwwww,' I said as I mimicked the boys, all vestiges of mature adulthood melting away.

Eventually we said goodbye and I drove home, that dang pop song looping through my head.  Maybe next time I pick up the boys I'll wear a goofy wig and stand on my car and shout N's name as loud as I can until they're in the car.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

a meditation on fear - and faith

I was surprised to find this insight in an online article on the recent protests in the Middle East, and specifically in Bahrain:  "The willingness to resort to violence against largely peaceful demonstrators was a sign of how deeply the monarchy fears the repercussions of a prolonged wave of protests."  Take that statement out of its cultural and political contexts; does that kind of fear sound familiar?  I was very familiar with it during the years I taught special education.  If anyone made the slightest critical comment, or even a neutral comment that I interpreted as critical, about my students or my teaching, "Mama Bear" roared up within me.  Fire burned in my chest and lit my eyes, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and my claws came out.  Do you know that fear?  This fear may have first been born in us out of a need for safety, in response to protestors or mother nature or drunk drivers or something else.  Our world is shaken and we get a glimpse of a possibility that we may not have as much control over our lives as we pretend to.  But when we react to that realization with even greater fear and greater attempts at control, the fear evolves into something much more deadly and self-serving, doing violence to ourselves and others.

This morning as I prayed about this a small voice within me, a train of thought, caught my attention:  "But we have to fear."  What?  What was that?  Where did that come from?  I decided to follow it and see where it led.  "We have to fear, we must be diligent in defending and protecting ourselves because if we don't, we'll lose everything - the relationships, jobs, activities, etc. we've built our lives into, as well as the foundation of beliefs, values, and worldviews we've built them upon.  If that happens, then we will no longer exist.  We will have no way in which to define who we are.  We have to fear, we must have enemies, because we rely upon them to tell us who we are, that we do exist, and that we have worth."  And so we build a fence, direct a conversation, buy shoes, post a comment, or write a blog sometimes for perfectly healthy reasons and sometimes because we need to check and make sure that we are here, that others notice us, and we are okay.

Since I quit teaching full-time I've been led bit-by-bit to discover the myriad of ways in which I give life to this kind of fear within myself and ways to let it go and place my faith in something greater.  Of course I mean in God, who means so many different things to different people.  For me, God is the source of authentic life, the goal of life, and the primary, ultimate keeper of everything in between.

This is a blog post, not a thesis, so I'll let you take whatever you want from here and run with it.  Faith in God is not a blind faith, unless you've never dared to truly look.

"When we were children, we used to think that when we grew up, we would no longer be vulnerable.  But to grow up is to accept vulnerability.  To be alive is to be vulnerable."  Madeleine L'Engle

"After the amazing delight and liberty of realizing what Jesus Christ does, comes the impenetrable darkness of realizing Who He is."  Oswald Chambers

Rom. 8:35-39:  "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?...I am convinced that neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord...." who is Life.

If all else fails:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

rough start, made it fun

Whoo-ee it's been an interesting morning!  I usually don't work on Wednesdays, but today am working at 8:00 a.m., so set alarm for 6:30 so I could swim first.  My body reacted automatically but bumblingly to the alarm and morning routine, while my brain acted more like a college stoner:  "Whuh?  Why are we up?  Why are we MOVING, dude?"  I dropped the soap, put the wrong key in the car door, forgot my swim towel and shoes, and got to the Y with only 15 minutes to swim.  Today's just my 2nd day back in the swimming game after a few years, so I decided to just have fun today and remind myself what I love about being in the water.  I swam, glided, floated, and treaded with mindfulness, allowing myself to relax and be attuned to the water and my body moving in it.  Every time I thought the overhead lights looked a lot like cinnamon rolls, I brought my focus back to the water.  It was a delightful time, a gift that I want to remember on the next morning I wake up and just want to roll back over.  This is a lifestyle that is good and healthy, not a chore or a task at which I often fail.  My swim time today did not go as planned, which ended up being a very good thing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"swimming pigs"

I recently heard about the Couch-to-5K program for running.  It sounds great, and I've heard several positive comments.  But my knees and I prefer swimming, so it finally occurred to me to see if there were any similar programs for swimming.  I was able to Google "short-sheeting a bed" once, so I was pretty confident I'd find a swimming program.  I think I will try the one I found at  There is a link from that page to Zero to 700 (yards), where I found what I hope will be the kick-in-the-pants inspiration I need to get my tail into the pool:

Later:  Oooh - the 0-700 program says, "Swim any stroke at all, disregarding technique."  I can do that!  "As soon as you feel like stopping, flop over and do any kind of backstroke."  Wait - I'm good at flopping, but what if the backstroke is my stroke?  All I've got is that and something between dog-paddling and the front crawl, keeping my head out of the water.  For some reason that reminds me of a picture I saw recently...

Later later:  Oh shoot - I have to shave my legs.  That's going to set me back at least a week...

the ridiculous in the everyday

Just went through the drive-thru for my daily pop run (my "need" for this stuff gives me a lot of respect for those in AA or similar programs - I think you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to rehab before I could give this habit up).  Anyway, the place has 2 drive-thru lanes - the better to serve us - so I skipped the one with 5 cars in line and went to the one with only one car.  You can almost automatically pull into this second lane from another entrance to the parking lot, and I think some folks think that lane is only for those people.  Who knows, there may even be a sign that says so.  If you don't look, you don't have to know - that's my motto.  The car in front of me has a long order which includes 12 diet cokes (it's just like the grocery store - I always get behind these people!), and the car in the other lane finishes its order and drives to the window.  The woman behind that car, she looks to be in her 60's or 70's, pulls up and the automatic greeting goes off when she pulls up to give her order.  This particular franchise has a female employee who is always unusually chipper.  When they let her record the greeting, she goes all out:  "Gooood morning!!! Welcome to ---!!!  Please try our ---!!!  Order when you're ready!!!"  This voice has made me jump and wince more than once at 7:30 a.m.  I don't know if a real human then spoke, or if the woman tried to order; I was listening to the people in front of me talk and talk and talk.  But then I hear the woman yell, "Hello?  Hello?!"  No one responds to her - it must be all hands on deck for this car in front of me.  The woman continues, quite regularly, and loudly, "Hello?!  Hello?!  HELLO?!?!?!"  Finally she just pulls up toward the window.  Then the car in front of me moves (woo hoo!) and it's my turn.  I order my pop and pull up as much as I can.  The other drive-thru lane seems to be working normally now.  I can pull up far enough for the car behind me to order, but her window's not quite next to the microphone.  When the goofy greeting goes off and then someone says, "Can I help you?" the woman behind me screams, "ARE YOU TALKING TO ME???"  Amateurs.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

when I said a bad word in front of children and got exactly what I deserved

Last school year I tutored groups of four students in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade in reading at a local public school.  I loved the work and the kids.  I especially enjoyed my 3rd-graders; they understood my weird sense of humor and we had a lot of fun together.  We enjoyed a rapport that is hard to have in larger classrooms, and most of the time I learned and laughed and goofed around right along with them.

One day, however, they were in an especially silly mood, and I was especially not in one.  After telling them multiple times to quiet down and trying several different ways to get and keep their attention, I finally yelled, "You guys are pissing me off!!!"  Immediately all four boys pointed to me and said, "Ooooo, you said a bad word!  Oooooo!" etc. etc.  They all laughed and carried on - I took a little creative license with the picture.  Eventually we were able to move on and have an actual lesson.

A few days later, my boss called and asked me to come to her office and meet with her.  Now, a week or two before, she'd asked me to do something for her that I felt was more of an administrative duty rather than a teaching one.  I'd had similar duties when I taught full-time, and I was glad to be free of them.  I politely declined my boss's request, explaining why.  She said okay, and didn't mention it further.  So when she called me and wanted to meet, I had of course forgotten about my recent indiscretion and immediately assumed she wanted to ask me to take on more administrative duties.  I thought about that a bit and decided I just wanted to teach.  So I headed to her office, full of myself and determined to stand my ground.

When I got to her office, we sat down and she opened with, "I heard you said 'pissed' in front of some students; is that true?"  Oh.  Is that why I'm here?  Oops.

After a beat, I said, "Yes, that was me.  Actually I said 'pissing.'"  Apparently, regardless of its form, the word "piss" is in the public school teacher's handbook along with a list of other words that are banned from the school.  Who knew?  I agreed that I shouldn't have said that and would try to control myself in the future.  There goes my future as an educational bigwig, dagnabbit!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

snow shoveling for sloths

1.  Snow is cold.  So is winter.  Dress appropriately.
2.  As you scoop, don't worry about getting all the way down to the driveway.  Just go low enough that your car can barrel through.  If you're shoveling a sidewalk, think about who will walk on it and how much you care if they fall or not, then shovel whatever you want to.
3.  You can pretty much dump the snow anywhere except:
          - where people you care about walk
          - where you park
          - next to doors that open outwards from the house
          - on the north side of the driveway, if the wind is blowing heavily from the north
4.  Spread any remaining snow around, like you used to do with vegetables on your plate.  It will magically disappear.
5.  Do a little snow dance when you're done.

how to: make a bank manager's day more interesting

Go through the bank drive-thru at the branch where a friend works (in an office across the lobby, not as a teller).  As the teller conducts your Actual Bank Business, think about things to yell into the microphone loud enough for your friend to hear.  Look at the teller window and see your friend walking toward it, presumably to say hello.  As your friend looks at you and smiles, aim your finger at him like a gun and squint.  As your friend continues to walk past the teller window, realize it is not your friend.  In fact, it is a woman.  In fact, it is the bank manager, who has blonde hair and glasses, like your friend, but really looks nothing like your friend.  Decide not to yell anything into the microphone after all.  Think about getting your eyes checked.