Tuesday, August 29, 2006

No Child Left Behind: Adequate Yearly Progress: Government Run Amok

I like the title of my blog. I think it says it all.

Some of you may want me to elaborate, but I don't have the time. I am too busy trying to invest all my heart and mind into teaching fifth graders, work on the side for a little extra money, prepare my students for the asinine and mandated No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing, and work on covering-yer-ass, jargon-driven governmental regulations that could impress the hell out of a bumpkin but to an educated citizen make no real difference in the classroom.

I don't want to complain about any of my fellow citizens who voted for the present idiots in office; hopefully they've learned their lesson. I do want to complain about the Republicans my fellow citizens voted into office. I was a Republican long before most of my readers were, including a stint as a Young Republican in the 1960's, fer cryin' out loud.

Iraq and the national deficit surely concern more Americans than NCLB. Not me. What impacts my life and the kids I care about? No Child Left Behind! I am more concerned about governmental regulations that vainly attempt to improve our children's education yet are nothing more than monumental boondoggles that remind me of President Lyndon Baines Johnson's "Great Society" and "War Against Poverty." I don't know whether to gloat because I did NOT vote for the Republican Party in the last election, or whether to cry over its shameful decline.

I haven't got the time to complain about some of the details, the precise problems that NCLB saddles our educational system with, but I will complain later, and you'll get an earful. As soon as I have time.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lost In Adults

Last night Eric and I went to dinner at a friend's house, and even though we spent a good hour pre-packing Olivia's necessities and Jake's swimwear, the evening ostensibly was for us. I must confess we teased Diane mercilessly. She is the only person I know that can actually add on to every conversation with "I read a book on that and...". I really like her husband, but I feel a responsibility to introduce her to an ex-boyfriend of mine, someone who is the only person I know that can actually say, "When I read the original German text of Nietzsche...". Joe meet Diane, Diane: Joe. Now y'all excuse me while I go off and watch The O.C.

They have (in a brief spell of unending good fortune for me) a son in the fifth grade at Jake's school. While this may have me some days cursing the smallness of the blogworld and prohibiting me from freely writing about Jake's schooldays angst, it made last night's dinner even more mirthful. If you have any experience with The Transformers with your child, then you know my son is the one that morphs into SaranMan and can wrap himself around me at any function until I cease breathing. But last night he enjoyed himself immensely without requiring my constant witnessing of his doing so. And don't rain on my parade: if they were smoking ganja in the bedroom, then clearly--based on his leaving me alone--he is old enough to make those decisions.

Olivia scooted around on her walker, most contendedly, as Hurley was kind enough to let her play with his cellphone. As this is one of her most fervent desires, she will have a constant soft spot in her heart for any bearded man that gives her trinkets. She was her usual amicable self, and probably more so in the desperate itch for her parents to actually be invited back and develop some semblance of life outside of her.

The adult fest continues for me today, as Jake is over at a friend's basketball court (this being a real indoor one with wood floors, not the nerf version Jake sports atop his bunk bed), and Eric has driven Olivia over to Miami to visit her great-grandmother. I now have had an hour alone and have already found several excuses to amble in to Olivia's room and visit the baby smell. Having had more grown up indulgence in the last fifteen hours than I have had in over twelve months, I am now sated. Repeat this back to me by eight o'clock this evening, when Jake reminds of me of some major styrofoam-requiring project due tomorrow, oh yeah, didn't I tell you?

A Dumb Conversation

I love dumb conversations, the kind that are just silly nonsense. I had one with one of my fifth grade students the other day.

"Mr. R.! Look at this! What is it?"

I looked at Gregg and he was pointing at his finger. "That's your finger!"

"No, not there! Here!"

I looked and he wasn't pointing at his finger. To be precise, he was pointing at the spot between two fingers on his left hand. "That is the space between your two fingers."

"No! Look closely. What is this, Mr. R.?"

I put on my reading glasses and lowered my head very close to his hand. Taking his hand in mine, I turned his hand slowly and carefully, and putting it in just the right light I was able to see a tiny speck of what looked like skin that was whiter than the rest of his hand and probably felt like a microscopic bump. It was about the size a small pimple would be if the pimple was on a BB and the BB was a human head. I was really proud I was able to even locate this minuscle imperfection. I looked up at Gregg and he asked, "What is that, Mr. R.?"

Now this "thing" needed to be put in its proper perspective. That meant eliminating it as even a topic of conversation for two intelligent human males, but then I'm not a normal human male, and neither is Gregg. "Well Gregg, it looks like a banoteur."

"What's a banoteur?"

"A banoteur is the spot where a banshee bit you in the middle of the night."

Gregg paused to reflect on this and then said, "AWESOME!!"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Joe's Remark

Joe got himself a little snicker from me today and almost in big trouble if his remark had been audible to the class. I told my fifth graders that no one seemed to be having any problem with the math work, but tonight, if they needed help, they could ask their parents. Andrea raised her hand and informed me and the class that the previous night she had trouble with one of the math problems and went to her Dad, but her Dad wasn't exactly sure how to do the problem and was unable to help her.

Now I am very willing to cover for parents and that is what I did, and I am not going to express any amazement at adults who forgot how to do such a simple arithmetic calculation and yet are able to make three times my salary at half my age. So I covered for this man. "Well, Andrea, your parents haven't been in school for a long time. Some of the stuff they forgot. They have been busy making a living, working at a job, shopping, taking care of a house and a home, raising you and your brothers and sisters, being a neighbor or a friend to other adults, and doing other things."

That is when I heard Joe mutter under his breath, "Yeah, and spending time cuttin' the cheese."

I have a few ideas where that came from, but I don't see how my reflections on that statement will serve any useful purpose.

Fifth grade boys!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Lollipop Guild

Starbucks is one of little Olivia's favorite ways to start the morning. Mommy gets her maiden coffee and becomes someone that is safe and gentle, and Olivia gets admired by everyone who walks through the door. Fair genesis of the morning for under two dollars.

Today produced us no less than the usual. She was receiving praise from a woman who then asked me Olivia's age. One year on Monday, I proudly told her. Now: raised eyebrows and the inevitable, "Ohhhh, she's so little."

My sweet little Thumbelina. She is precious and petite, but is developing a set of lungs and mouth on her that belies her diminutive stature. This might be one of those times to look up and say shit, Miss O.

The woman went on, "We have several pajamas like that in our house." Because I haven't had coffee so no, Olivia isn't dressed yet.

"Yes," I nodded. "I really like the brand."

The woman agreed and then said, "The only problem I have found is that they shrink too much."

Don't burst my bubble at 7:00 please. Because you know Lady, in our house we call that shrinkage a growth spurt.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gregg's Summer Vacation

I was talking to Gregg, one of my fifth grade students, and I asked him what he had done over the summer. He told me that he went on a cruise to Alaska.

I want to begin by saying that I am happy for Gregg. His parents have a lot of money and spend it on incredibly wonderful extravaganzas, such as a cruise to Alaska for the whole family. However, I sense a discrepancy in how we would have "viewed" this excursion.

I asked him how it was. He went on and on about airplane flights, snow mobiles, hiking on glaciers, blue ice, and majestic mountains.

However, he is a slender fifth grade boy and I wanted to hear something about the food on a cruise ship. I have heard they have twenty-four hour a day food service. Buffet tables that overflow at breakfast: waffles, blueberry pancakes, eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon, ham, omelettes, every type of juice imaginable, fruit compotes, and pastries made by some fellow in the bowels of the ship who should be made Captain of the World. Lunch buffets that spill onto $600.00 a square yard carpet becuase they are overloaded with Ruebens, chicken, shrimp, catfish, and lobster po' boys, bar-b-qued everything, grilled everything, burgers, onion rings, french fires, sandwiches you never dreamt of, cakes, cookies, pies, and ice creams from around the world. At dinner you have to eat because it's the best meal of all: lobster, shrimp, prime rib, steaks, Chicken Molecka, caviar, oysters Rockfeller, fried chicken, fried shrimp, fried mushrooms, puff pastry, every variety of cheesecake ever imagined including Caramel Dark Chocolate Macadamia Turtle Sexual Orgasm Nirvana Cheesecake, and you "finish up" with ambrosia, and mana.

I asked little skinny Gregg what he ate while he was on the cruise ship.

"Well, Mr. R., I ate noodles. They had these noodles that were good."

"Noodles? You ate noodles?"

"Yeah. They were good! I ate noodles. I ate 'em fried and boiled and I ate noodles the whole trip."

Fifth grade boys!!

La Maison de Chapeaux

Olivia's first birthday has apparently brought out the milliner in us. This one is our handmade Birthday Hat:

And this is our bought version:
And, in the same "I can't stop now" spirit as when an open bottle of champagne is placed before me, here is a hat retrieved from a stuffed-bear present from her favorite pal, Hayden:

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Alan's Goals For The Fifth Grade

In my fifth grade class this year, one of my students, Alan, is providing consistent fodder fer blogs. Everything he is doing in my 5th grade class is either humorous or outrageous.

On Friday my students turned in their first writing assignment, "My Goals in the Fifth Grade." It's a boring prompt, but also easy and gets them writing. Every kid wrote something to the effect that they wanted good grades, improved grades in such-and-such subject, more friends, perfect attendance, schoolwide recognition for some incredible cognitive feat, a Presidential Award for Physical Fitness in P.E. (the Coach must have made a dynamic speech), grades that will warrant college scholarships some day (I'm not making that one up), pleasing their parents and Mr. R. (that's me), or they could take a different tack, like Alan. This is his published assgnment after editing help from me, his teacher.

"This year I want to have fun. I don't want too much pressure on me so that I can't just enjoy myself. This is my last year in elementary school and so I want to just have fun. Next year will be hard work and agany. I won't have any friends becuase I will be at a new school, so this year I want to make lots of friends and have fun. I want to play at recess more. i want to talk to people more. I want to have less homework so I can talk to my friends on the phone. Those are my goals for the year. I want to have fun. I don't want to be miserable. I want to concentrate on enjoying life. I don't think there should be any pressure on me. I don't think that anybody should yell at me or beg me to be doing something. What is the good of that if you can't have fun? That's why i want to have fun this year. that is my goal for the fifth grade."

Well, he had an inadequate introduction, but the body of his writing was detailed and clear. There was no paragraph structure, but to tell you the truth, it was one subject: FUN! It had an adequate closing, so I gave him an A-. Why shoot him in the heart so early in the year with a low grade, right? But I want to strangle him. Trust me........Alan knows how to relax. He's already good at it, and now he wants to reach professional status.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Grand Theft Auto, Boca Raton

"Mom, a friend of mine has this really cool Playstation game where you drive around and shoot and get hookers."

"Um, hookers? Uh, what's a hooker, Jake?"

"You know, where you take someone out and buy 'em dinner and stuff and they have to have fun and smile."

No, Jake. That's a date.

But Next Year, Send In Those Clowns

Olivia's first birthday is Monday. And as I have already told you I am unwilling to spend much on toys, I had, as of Saturday, not purchased a present one.

I am funny about the first year milestone. I comprehend it is a big one, momentous, substantial. I am aware that you only have one one, that children must be made to feel special, and that I should take precious photographical documentation. And I know that one year ago she was lifted out of my midsection while I, having spent the last nine months vomiting every ten minutes, dreamed that in just a few hours I would be hungry enough to eat a meal that I would only know once. So it dawns on me that my reluctance to throw a party that, as in the case of one of Eric's friends and first time parents, the child comes riding in on an enormous stuffed elephant on wheels, is based on some selfishness. Because that first year (and the first one only), the real person that party is for is me. Now lest you descend upon me with hateful comments about my narcissism, or send out those pesky CPS minions, let me promise you that birthdays number two and on get full attention.

Olivia has grown, surely, and achieved so much. And as I have written about before (ad nauseum you're thinking), I am happy to give her the world and feel no competition that now the world I'm prepared to hand her is in fact, already her oyster and she will have no need to wrestle it from me. But the celebration of this year, these twelve months, belongs more to Eric, Jake and me than it does to O. Jake has been an amazing big brother, much more so than I anticipated. And Eric has been a true co-parent and trooper, while making me want to kill him only every third or fourth day. And I...well, I have just been sick. Either sick when she was in me, or dramatically sleep deprived while she took eight months to pull a full nighter, or having migraines, or appendicitis, or....well, you get the picture. Much like looking forward to eating again after Olivia's birth, I am anticipating a day very soon where I can have a day go by without a medical bill in the mail.

Today, unfortunately, I suddenly got inspired. But it was too late to order this, or this, or even this (hey, I would let her borrow them). We have a cake for her tomorrow, and a couple of small presents purchased by Eric, and lots of hugs and kisses for her to writhe away from. But on her actual birthday, Monday, Eric is out of town on business. And I might just get a sitter and take Jake out. I think it might be novel to celebrate his one year of Excellent Big Brother-ness. And it would serve a dual purpose. It also gives Olivia some decent fodder for the inevitable stories about my parenting she'll be reciting to her therapist.

Historical Empathy

My fifth grade students were being taken through their first lesson in the new social studies textbook, and we came across a difficult vocabulary word and concept, historical empathy.

"Class, the textbook has brought up the subject of historical empathy. It's probably a new concept to you. Who understood what historical empathy is when we read about it?" (No hands go up.) "Who knows what empathy means?" (A hand goes up.) "Yes, Lauren."

"I think it means something like when you........like..........well............ if a person is like, going..........I don't know."

"Is there anyone else who may know what empathy means?" (No hands go up.) "Well then I will tell you what the book tried to tell you. Historical empathy means the historian, the person living today who studies history, tries to understand why people in history did things, what they were thinking, and maybe even how they felt. The historian, and that means all of us because we will be studying U.S. history, must try not to put our own values and thinking into what people in the past should have done. We should have historical empathy for the people who lived in the past. It is like we are there and understand what they must have been going through. We studied some U.S. history last year. Is there anyone in history that we have studied that you have empathy for? It's almost like you understand them?"

Joe immediately raised his hand. I called on him right away because he seemed so sure. I anticipated Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Patrick Henry, or someone that we studied in class, but then I knew that Joe read outside of class about World War II and so it might be Dwight Eisenhower. I was curious as to who it could be. "Yes, Joe. Who do you have historical empathy for? Who do you think you understand, who do you know what they might have been thinking, what motivated them, or how they must have felt?"

Joe proudly yells out, "Barry Sanders!"

Fifth grade boys!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Olivia The Sailor Baby

Jake has been provided with a grand sense of (ten-year-old) comic relief lately, and he is becoming expert in finding humor where I find none. A few days ago Olivia was acting quite cranky and I was desperate to find a way to pacify her, so I parked her unwilling butt into the playpen that Eric had filled with (no doubt toxic) McDonald's-like plastic balls. She was unimpressed and I pleaded with her to just have a good time.

"Olivia, please honey, don't you want to play in the balls?" Titters from Jake's bedroom where he and his friend were playing.

I tossed a ball towards O. "Look O, look at the red ball." That, of course, brough peals of laughter from the boys.

In the same vein, Olivia has been Jake's grinder monkey for the last two weeks. She has been known to throw out the word shit, and I have spent countless hours figuring out where she has picked up such foulisms, God knows it cannot be from me. So when Jake has an audience, or you know, when not, he has taken quite a bit of delight in getting her to say the word. This takes some amount of skill, as she is still in the mimicry stage and he is not allowed to prompt her to curse in any way. (A rule that, by the way, I feel awfully proactive and responsible in setting up.) Her timing has, in defense of my ten-year old Benny Hill, been sometimes humorous: "shit", she says when a toy drops. "Shit," she trumpeted yesterday when I dropped a bowl. "Shit, shit, shit," she's been heard joyfully crowing. Such effective and appropriate usage of the word had even me slightly convinced that she was well aware of what she was truly saying.

I think, however, that I have figured out what is really behind that word. I ask you, what phrase is hollered out around this house, more times per day than any other? Well, okay, behind "where'd I place my m'fing martini". This one: "Simon...SIT". Because yesterday she pointed emphatically at Simon and yelled it out.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alan's Favorite Restaurant

I have blogged about Alan before, and you may see a theme.

It was the first day of school: Monday, August 12, 2006. I was so happy to be back in the classrooom. I love my job but I am also a blogger, and kids in the classroom provide such wonderful material. I thought to myself, "There is no way that on the first day, like magic, some kid is going to say something that will make a great blog." WRONG!

As part of an icebreaker activity, I asked the kids to pair off with a partner and interview each other. I provided a list of questions that would bring out some interesting facts about their summer vacation and their personal interests. However, if you finished before the others, you could make up your own questions. Alan didn't have a partner, so I volunteered to share an interview with him. With my help, we finished early and started asking each other impromptu questions.

"Mr. R., if you could be in China, what places would you want to visit?"

Now this an interesting question for a kid to ask his teacher. I happen to know that Alan has been to China, and having studied Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu for many years and dreamt of traveling there, I already had an answer.

"I think I'd like to see the Forbidden City."

"I've been there and seen the Forbidden City."

"You sure are fortunate, Alan. I'd love to see it. Did you see the Palace of Celestial Harmony?"

"Yes. It was big."

"Did you get to go into the Hall of Supreme Harmony?"

"Yes, I did."

"Cool! Now it's my turn to ask a question. Alan, if you could go to any restaurant in the whole wide world, where would you go?"

"Well, Mr. R., there is a restaurant in China . I don't know the name of it, but I'd choose it." Then he paused and continued to contemplate fine dining.

or maybe Hooters."

Fifth grade boys!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Maybe If I Listen In On His Phone Calls

There is a ton of planning that goes into heralding the first day of school. And by God this was first day of fifth grade, you understand. Even Jake cared about the condition and procurement of all school supplies, a haircut, and a first day outfit. We've had discussions about his new teacher, his friends, girls, lunch menus. He has been forthcoming, enthusiastic, and downright garrulous.

Additionally today was the first day ever of riding the bus home. Olivia and I, escorted by Simon, walked down to the end of the block and parked ourselves under a palm tree and waited for our little man to exit the bus.

I had been surprised at the lack of difficulty or fanfare with which a child becomes a bus rider. Apparently when you are a fifth grader, you are allegedly armed with enough sense to get on the correct bus, behave, and get off on the correct stop, all of which this hovering mother believes Jake can handle about as well as, say, Olivia. And as the minutes ticked by, post-dismissal, my ADD kicked in full-force and my memory went decidedly blank. Did I tell Jake the right bus to get on (Bus Aqua)? Did I tell him where to get off (he'd recognize our street, right)? Did I tell him to ride the bus today, or were we starting next week? Should I run home? Should I run to school? No, no, no. I gathered myself. He knew what to do, we had talked about everything during the last week. I had explained, he had listened, we were completely in a communicative, engaging relationship now.

The bus pulled up and Jake jumped off like a truly seasoned public transportee. I kept my distance to allow him to look cool in front of the other busriders, as I am reminded daily what an embarassment I can be. I couldn't wait to hear about the day, all the gossip. We would share so much, he'd been so looking forward to this. And remember, he and I had turned a relationship corner--we were confidants! He grinned big when he reached me, and petted Simon and Olivia.

"Well," I hugged him conspiratorially. "How was it?"

"Fine." He said.

And as of now, at 9:36 pm, that is still all I know.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Yet Another One of Those "It Wasn't Like That In MY Day" Posts

In keeping with my Bad Attitude posting kick I seem to be on, I am going to rant about school today. So sit back and ride along with me. Either you have children going through this, or you have avoided the whole mess, or you're Mr. Holland, who has a whole 'nother list of complaints about education to regale us with this year.

As I proceed to let you know what a pain in the ass elementary school is for parents, keep in mind that I know where I am lucky/strategically successful. Arriving at this school while Jake was in the third grade meant not knowing who were the best teachers, and much like your family moving while you were in the tenth grade and trying to procure a treasured cheerleader spot, I was at a huge disadvantage. But I ended up lucky enough to land in the "good class", the one with the uber-Room Moms. And I have been lucky enough to land every class with them. (Except a brief stint last year when overcrowding pushed Jake to another teacher. He involved himself in some Trouble and was moved back to the number one fourth grade teacher, at her request out of fondness for him.)

This Friday, at 3:00, the class assignments were posted at the school. Jake and I raced over, and found his name on the fifth grade roster. After spotting his name, I furiously searched the rest of the class list, looking for the two last names of the World's Best Room Moms And Their Knowledge of The School's Best Teachers. There they were, and I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I was absolved of the battle to get Jake relocated. But this year, mere room-placement was not enough. Jake bee-lined over to yet another posted list: Safety Patrol.

Yes, boys and girls, all the hoo-hah of 2006 in this house is the desire to don the outfit of losers of my days. That yellow sash, that pseudo-authority, that honor-roll requiring award: the school has turned it around by putting a year-end trip to DC with it and convincing parents that it will get you in to the college of your choice. No one may be considered popular without this duty, so woe be the child that misses his opportunity to tell the kindergarteners to quit running, for pete's sake.

Jake's teacher last year made sure Jake was on the list. She wrote the requisite letter, reminded administration of his consistency making honor roll, and the citizenship awards she had bequeathed him. So with great confidence he ran up to the list Friday. And when he turned to me with a contorted expression that clearly would spew forth tears any minute, my heart dropped with a thud. We silently walked back to the car, where we discussed what went wrong. All the while I am thinking, my God it's Safety Patrol.

A phone call to last year's teacher netted the news that she wanted me to fight this by God, Jake deserved this honor and it was taken from him by administration's disappointment in his transgression last year. And by now you are dying to know what kicked Jake off the running, aren't you? Well, in a fit of curiosity, a few boys took it upon themselves to use the school computer to search for a girlfriend. Problem is, it was my double-dog-dared son who actually typed in Naked Girls in the google search box. Clearly a desire to look at breasts (and my eight months of milk-laden ones popping out everywhere does not count) denies you the opportunity to monitor the street-crossing ability of first graders.

Jake now is facing embarassment about School Day One (on Wednesday). He is re-ashamed of his transgression. He is dejected, and feeling futile about his achieved success in fourth grade. And I now have to have meetings and fight the system. Holy cow, it's the school year again. And I feel like I have gone back to fifth grade.

Time to get my letter writing skills honed, run by Starbucks for giftcards for thank you's for teachers' help, and to schmooze my son's way (maybe) into the Safety Patrol. This will require challenging the administration's authority in a way that lets them know how much I respect their Early Childhood Education Expertise and dropping off large boxes of Krispy Kreme. And lest you missed my point earlier, I'll repeat it: for God's sake, this is for the Safety Patrol.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Knucklehead of the Year

There are some kids in my fourth grade class last year that I want to nominate for "Knucklehead of the Year." I will use only fictitious names to protect the innocent.


Denise! who thought of licking the teacher's apple before she gave it to me. I saw her do it and asked her if she thought I should take a bite after "SOMEONE" licked it. The look on her face was memorable. She got into trouble for that.

Isaac! who wanted to talk to his friend Alec during class, but wasn't happy that I had moved Alec so he called him on his cell phone. The whole class heard Alec's cell phone go off in his backpack, watched as Alec raced over to the coat rack to dig it out, listened as he answered the call, and heard Isaac whisper, "Alec. It's me. I can't talk loud!"

Joe, who was sent on an errand to retrieve a two liter bottle of root beer from the school's cafeteria refrigeration unit. It was for a class party, and Joe must have been mighty excited because his gangly legs galloped back to the classroom, and Joe's arms jiggled like a bartender high on crystal meth shaking up margaritas, and Joe probably dropped the bottle a few times too, maybe like Keith Moreland used to drop routine pop flys during his Chicago Cubs days, and Joe furiously snatched up the bottle in a wild attempt to make up for lost time, and increased his tempo by pumping his legs furiously and demonically as he carried out the important mission of bringing that bottle of root beer back to the classroom as quickly as could conceivably be done by mere mortal legs. At least that is what everyone in the class figured as soon as the foaming went down and we realized Joe was completely out of breath.

And the winner is...................


I have another school year coming up and I'll have a new "Knucklehead of the Year." My wife may want to throw my name into the hat, but I won't win because I would never vote for myself. After all, it is my award.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Most Memorable Book Report I Ever Heard

A kid reads a book, writes a report, goes up in front of his class, and tells everyone about the book they read. Big deal, right? Two days later, who remembers, right? But imagine this. A fifth grade boy does a book report just like that, yet it is such an incredible, amazing, and memorable report that one of his classmates can still vividly remember it almost fifty years later. My friend Jim did a such a report when we were in the fifth grade together, and I still remember his words.

"I read a book called 'Captain Blackheart' and it was about a pirate. The pirate's name was Captain Blackheart. He had his own ship, and it was a sailing ship, and he would travel the seas stealing everybody's treasure. His men were tough guys and they had knives and sabres and swords and they killed people. But Captain Blackheart was the meanest of 'em all. One time one of his men argued with him and wouldn't do what he said, so Captain Blackheart took out his knife, stabbed the man in the chest, ripped out his heart, and started chewing on it!! Captain Blackheart was so fast that the guy was still alive when he started chewing, so the last thing the guy saw was Captain Blackheart chewing on his heart."

I have thought about this a lot, and I am sure the teacher did not stop him. Nowadays the teacher would lose four pounds just from jumpin' up and down like a Mexican bean when they heard those words, but in my school days that was just vivid imagery which I still remember.

That was one helluva book report.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What Have I Done?

I am giving piano lessons to a nine year old boy. I have written about him before and how he is a Norman Rockwell designed, stereotypical American boy.

About two weeks ago, at the end of his piano lesson, his mother and I were talking and she commented that he is able to catch live birds with his bare hands. I questioned this remark. "He catches birds? Are they sick and dying? Does he use a trap?"

She calmly replied, "No. They're healthy, and he catches them with his bare hands. I think he sneaks up on them or waits for them. He'll spend a long time just waiting, and then he just grabs them, and I think he has caught about three in the last couple of weeks."

I questioned this again. "How is that possible? How can you catch a bird? They're too fast!"

The little boy volunteered his strategy. "They're not that fast. The birds move slow for a second. You can catch 'em when they're takin' off."

I was pretty amazed..............and skeptical. I looked the Mom square in the eye and asked, "Did you see one of these birds he caught?"

Very offhandedly she replied, "Oh yeah. They were just normal birds, and I saw all three of them. He showed them to everybody. They were alive and unhappy, but he held onto them and then he turned them loose. They flew away. He didn't hurt them."

That stuck in my head. Here is a kid who is a throwback to an old fashioned American boy. He plays with swords made out of plastic PVC pipe and the walls in his house show wear and tear from hard playing. In his front yard is a giant sycamore tree, and way up at the top are a few toys, and you ask him what they are and he says, "Those are my supplies when I am in the crow's nest!" Pretty amazing for a modern day kid.

Now remember, I'm a bit of a knucklehead, and so after his piano lesson this week I nonchalantly asked, "Can you catch me a bird?" He said, "Yeah. You want a bird?" I replied, "Yeah. Catch me a bird. I want a brown one about this big." I then held up my thumb and forefinger about four inches apart.

What was I thinking? If I wasn't shootin' at the poor creatures with a BB gun when I was a kid, I am ordering up their capture at the hands of Red Chief. Poor little birds. And what do I do with the poor, feathered creature when he catches it? What have I done?

I'll let you know if he actually "takes care of my order."

Who Bugs Ya, Baby

Recently a friend (DONNA) made me laugh by telling me that she was absolutely irritated by everyone, and she meant everyone. "Do you know what I mean?" she asked. And then, hastily adding the lie, "Well, not you." Hey, I may have an ego, but I am smart enough to know that when you feel that everyone is irritating, even my beguiling ways may bring some eye rolling.

I wish that I had no idea what she means, but I can exactly relate. The other day the bank teller annoyed me. I pulled out one hundred dollars, and instead of frolicking in that free wheeling ten-minute high you get from five clean twenties, I was fuming that the teller took it upon himself to make me "special change". A fifty, a twenty, two tens, and a five and five ones (ones, for pete's sake?) later and I didn't even feel like I had a hundred on me. And as I drove off (irritated, Donna, you know?) I realized that I am developing an attitude problem.

Where is happy go lucky anyone anymore? I'll tell you where. They're watching the news, which always discusses war, and which tonight, for kicks, threw in a busted pipeline and an increase in gas prices starting, say, tomorrow morning. They're flipping the radio station and hearing Fifty Cent (Fitty Cent?) sing about some ho's big ass riding around in his Escalade. And they're trying to raise their kids in a godforsaken time when no one even pretends that some houses live like Father Knows Best.

Apparently everyone is irritating everyone. Your kids, well my kid, watch 7th Heaven with you, roll their eyes, and say "Mom, no one talks that way to their parents" after the cherubic children had just performed some extreme oral embarassment like saying thank you to the parents. But lest this post sound like I am yet again harping on Jake's imperfect behavior, it isn't. I am just annoyed. I have an impending sense of futility, a horrible feeling that some strange, lean, and frightening times are ahead of us. Iran is pumping around 40 million dollars an hour into Hazbollah, my house's worth dropped about a hundred thousand of "theory money" in six months, and by God tell me I haven't finally been heaven-sent my precious little daughter only to have WWIII break out, gas become $22.13 a gallon and completely blow my being able to get me her those ballet and English Riding lessons.

Yes, Donna. I know just what you mean.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Because It Just Isn't My Turn Anymore

For me, having a daughter has made it easier to face my own aging and the sometimes awful process that it is. As I watch things droop or fall--much of it expedited by having that aforementioned daughter at age 42, for pete's sake--I have many times claimed that it is okay, I am ready to pass the baton (of beauty, of men-catching, of ambition) on to my diminutive chunk of immortality. However, every time that I sit in the hairdresser's chair, ticking on one more color to the highlighting process, or purchase a new restorative face cream, I am reminded that maybe it is a joke I say, a verbal mattress placed to strategically catch my future fall.

The other morning I was listening to a pop song that had a catchy little beat, and a sound that makes you picture the video without ever having seen it. The singer sounded blonde, gorgeous, thin and fun. And often I listen to these kind of songs and think how absolutely fun it would be to be that person singing. How hot would it be to have an entourage, a limitless supply of Louis Vuitton, dates with Jake Guyllenhalls? And despite having no singing talent, connections, or actual real-life desire to be a "star", there was always a feeling of "hey, ya never know."

I became aware, a few days ago, that even daydreaming about possible fame and non-small-scale adoration (cause I still get it from Simon when I am holding a Krispy Kreme donut) was at its end. Because as I drove home from Starbucks, bopping to that peppy little tune I told you about earlier, I had a brief fantasy: wouldn't it be wonderful if that girl singing on the radio was your daughter, enjoying all the spoils from such attention. And wouldn't it be cool to tell people, "oh yes! That's my child!"

Poor Olivia. I see how easy it is to become a Joe Simpson. What pressure for her as that baton goes from my hand into her little fist, the one that currently can barely hold a Zwieback.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"How Was Your Summer?"

Although I am not required to be there, two days ago I returned to my fifth grade classroom. Teachers don't start getting paid until next week, but I want to go in to get ready for the new school year. I want to move all the furniture back to the correct spot, get all the supplies ready, make lesson plans, get all the lesson materials ready, hang welcoming stuff on the wall, arrange desks and seating, do required paperwork, and visit and chat with the other teachers who are so gung-ho that they go in a week early.

Also, you start seeing kids. There are neighborhood kids who ride their bikes or walk to the school grounds and then stroll through the halls saying hello to the teachers. These are the gung-ho kids, and who they are is always a surprise. They aren't usually the little geniuses with the high grades. It can be troubled kids who find school an escape from the unhappiness at home. Bored kids. Bike riding kids who find themselves at school. Kids whose parents have some business at the school and had to go along. In any case, it's fun to piddle away time yakking with kids about their summer.

The hardest part of returning to school is hearing, "How was your summer?" four hundred times and coming up with a nice bit o' patter. I don't want to say, "I vegged out in front of the tv, gained weight, went to two funerals, procrastinated on a lot of chores, developed a couple of warts and one of them bled on my new shirt, went to visit a couple of ill friends in the hospital, and I've been dreading coming back to work." I prefer, "I read several good books, rode in a restored Studebaker Avanti, had a great visit with my niece who visited me from Florida and brought her family, flew to Houston for my mother's ninetieth birthday, and I am glad to be back at school and see The Little Nippers again. How was your summer?"

By the way, how was your summer?