Wednesday, June 30, 2010

But Really, It's ME That Has No Desire To Let Mattel Define What Is Hot

When I knew for sure Olivia was to be a girl, I was thrilled. The nine full months of sick was assuaged by my visions of dresses and make-up, jewelry and nail polish, Jane Austen and baking. Lily Pulitzer mother-daughter dresses were in my future, and I was at peace to know I would have a compadre with whom to discuss whether or not Marc Jacobs had pumped new life into the House of Louis Vuitton or defiled it.

My diminutive sprite had other plans. She looks like one hundred percent girly-girl. She starts out in the morning with great ovarian-driven intentions. "Put my hair up," she commands, tricking me into participating with a brush and one lovely ponytail holder. After I have complied, she whips out five more from her pocket, and wants them placed, randomly, all over her head, signifying that Pippi Longstocking has arrived. She does love, love, love wearing her tutu (or any costume), but--whoah, Nellie! I had better have Shout in my holster because it just isn't the same for her without sporting something very red to eat in one hand and an Expo Dry Erase Marker in the other. Fourth position, for you ballet-challenged, is running--screaming--from Simon who apparently loves the texture of tulle.

She prefers to play with the boys at school. "Because all the girls want to play is fashion show," she told me one afternoon. "And I don't like to play it much." Well I do, I thought. "They kept asking me today to play it, so I did." I asked her how she had liked it, and she laughed that it was okay, once she had laid out her terms. "I told them I would only do it if I could run down the runway."

Do not imagine that I do not adore this about her. Unlike Mr. Grant, I like spunk, and I enjoy it filling the atmosphere around me.* And I do get my stolen quiet moments of girl-dom. The other day we were sitting in her room. She was wearing a tiara (askew) and we were playing Barbie, dressing her in every outfit in the toy bin.

Olivia is easy to have fun with, so nothing could mar this moment. Even when--as she looked at naked Barbie in her hand, then at me, and then back again at naked Barbie--she said, "Y'all have waaaaaayyy different bodies."

*Jake, it turns out, does not.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Making a Difference in Someone Else's Life

My return to blogging begins with a long one. I hope you have a decent cup o' mud or a good, dark ale to sip on while I pontificate.

I was an elementary school teacher for twenty years. I was hired at one of the best, public elementary schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico by a principal who was named New Mexico's "Principal of the Year" two years in a row.

During my thirteen years at that elementary school, I founded, directed, and accompanied an after school choral music program that became the largest, public elementary school chorus in the United States. I built a parent volunteer organization that did the immense task of setting up field trips, handling equipment, printing newsletters, etc. Approximately one hundred children sang on six risers for ten years, and near the end the chorus was 160 children on eight risers with sound equipment needed to amplify the voices of emcees and soloists. We were paid four figures to appear in the New Mexi-Chords Christmas show.

My classroom students' grades were always above the school average on testing. Every year one or more parents demanded that their child be in my class. Many years I had a teacher's child in my class. Several years I had two or three teachers' children in my class. I was a sought after teacher.

After teaching for eight years, I was invited by graduating high school ex-students to attend their commencement ceremonies and private graduation parties, and it became a yearly event. I felt honored because I was told I had made a difference in their lives. This year I attended a new high school's first commencement. I was proud to see that Alex had passed high school math and was dating the Valedictorian, a wonderfully sweet and pretty girl who was quite taken with Alex, probably because of his bashfulness despite his boyish good looks, and also because he was a true gentleman who treated girls respectfully. A few years before that the student was the Valedictorian of her class and another was the Salutatorian of her class.

Can we make a difference in a person's life, a real difference? I believe I have that power to make a difference, and I use it to the best of my ability. I believe I have the gift because we all do. Here is another example of that power.

I was treated abysmally and shabbily by a new principal. I was forced to resign from chorus midway through her first year as principal. She then successfully shut the program down despite the volunteers and parents who tried in vain to keep it alive, even on a reduced scale. In ending the chorus program, she was able to successfully transfer thousands of dollars of chorus money deposited in an activity fund she was unable to access into a discretionary account that is now at her disposal. The money was not ever spent by the chorus because she lied to the parents and volunteers; she informed them there were no funds in the account. Of course, it could have been a mere clerical error.

I was chastised but never complimented by my boss. The thought came to me that she had something against men. Then female teachers' stories began to surface. Their stories confirmed my error in judgment; she had an issue with everyone. I refer to any school administrator with such issues as "Peter Principals." Other teachers began transferring. Those that remained complained to cautiously sympathetic ears.

I decided to leave, and I informed her I was seeking a voluntary transfer to another school. Her exact words were, "I think that's good."

Parents heard I was leaving and sent letters to this principal to ask her to keep me at the school. She never mentioned those letters, and I feared those letters would only antagonize her further. I knew I had to make a change no matter what others thought.

You have only heard my biased side of the story. I am sure my boss has her side, and yet her thoughts won't be heard on this blogsite. Let's give it a try.

Perhaps I am not nearly as good a teacher as I think I am. Perhaps I am totally wrong about the chorus. The chorus was a mistake, and all I had done was distract students from the true academic mission of the school. I have even considered myself, shamefully I admit, great. My accomplishments were real, but my tactics were cruel and stressful to children. She once said, "If you think you are a great teacher, then you should be fired!" This decent and principled principal toiled unsuccessfully to teach me humility, and I failed to learn!

As Dennis Miller would say with a twinkle in his eye and a huge grin on his bearded face, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."

We influence each other in powerful ways. Some of them good, such as my niece Laura and my collaboration with her in writing this blog. Some of them bad, such as the anxiety and depression I have dealing with such a gristly boss.

Most importantly, I believe our spin, our take, our perspective, our reflection on these influences shape us more than the influence themselves. Those students who make me feel great by crediting me with being a positive force in their lives are not telling me how great I am. They are doing what I tried to be to them. They are being a positive influence in my life as well, and they have topped me, for by acknowledging me as being a beneficial influence in their lives, they are bestowing upon me partial credit for their accomplishments. They have given me a great gift. I was proud of their gift to me. They did to me as I did to them. They were a powerfully positive influence in my life. I believe I am grateful that I am making a difference, and it's the hardest job of all. Way harder than teaching. My great students learn this lesson and surpass me.

And my perspective on my principal's influence on me? She has done me a disguised favor. I was forced to seek a voluntary transfer. I was contacted to attend an interview at a prestigious middle school (junior high school) with a solid reputation by the principal at that school whose great reputation precedes him. I was hired without seeking an interview by someone who heard I was transferring. I was hired after my first interview. I have a principal who has thanked me profusely for saying, "Yes, I'll gladly take the position!" I fear I am already beginning to get my pride back, or is it my confidence? Is it confidence she tried to take from me? Was I failing to learn humility, or was I losing my confidence? That's a very private answer.

We try to balance confidence and strength of conviction with humility. Firm yet fair. Strong yet humble and modest. I am still challenged to make a difference in students' lives. I'll get through to some, and I promise to reflect on the failures as well as the successes.

And inadvertently, she has provided me the opportunity for new "fodder" for Lost In Kids for I am now teaching seventh grade math to ...........

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I used to think my life was rather tedious and boring, and to some people I'm sure it is. However, a lot goes on even in a seemingly dull life when under the scrutinous eye of reflection.

For example, I recently realized I can check off a goal I achieved on my "List of Goals to Accomplish in This Life." When I was younger, I dreamed of being able to beat up Muhammed Ali in a fight. I can do that now. I can tear him a new one, spank his bottom, teach him a lesson, and control the ring. That has been achieved by many years of martial arts training on my part combined with a serious case of Parkinsons on Ali's part, mostly induced by numerous, severe shots to the head by "Smokin' Joe" Frazier and quite frankly, many others.

I never aimed to be able to hit a Warren Spahn curveball because I didn't think that was ever possible. It was only a dream. It wasn't even on my list. But Surprise! Surprise! I can do it now, and so can you if you can swing a bat. The problem will be for ol' Warren to walk out to the mound and then make it up to the top.

Besides now being able to beat up Muhammed Ali and hit a Warren Spahn curveball, a lot has happened in my life, and I guess it's necessary for me to spill it all out on the electroblogosphere. No one's life is dull now, is it? If you think yours is, just repeat after me "...........I can now defeat Ali in the ring and get a piece of a Warren Spahn curveball."

I have a lot to tell you about what has been going on in my lostinkids life.

The sabbatical ends.

You Can Pretend You Don't Know What Show I Am Talking About

I have one more day before the second round of summer school begins for me. And as anyone who has returned to college with two children and a business career under their belt can attest, the exhaustion plays out in various forms that are somewhat embarrassing. Fast food bags in the trash, pajama tops becoming a shirt that day for Olivia (I didn't notice until mid-afternoon), and some bouts with Nanny Television while I study for a final.

Olivia is out with her dad today, and I sank down on the couch into nothingness. I have nothing to study for, no paper to write, and the looming house chores can wait a moment. And much like Albert Finney after his L.O.O.K.E.R. gun wears off, I realized that during the past hour time had eluded me while I sat their frozen. Worse yet, I had turned on the television and "watched" a horrible pre-teen show that was playing on a children's channel. I chided myself for not having changed the channel from such drive. I was alone and in control of the programming, for Pete's sake.

Can one really ever be too tired to turn the channel off of Zach and Cody, "The Suite Life on Deck"?

It goes from bad to worse. After I grabbed the remote, disgusted with myself, I settled on this. I think all this education has fried my brain. Hey, even a future teacher can blame the system.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Here are some "errors" and "odd statements" made by my fourth grade students. All of these were delivered with very straight faces, of course.

Me: "Health experts say the average American eats too much salt, which is harmful to your blood pressure and your general health."
Pierce: "I don't use regular salt. I use idolized salt."

Michael: "I brang my homework to school."
Me: "Michael, it's not 'brang.' There is no such word as 'brang.' I 'brang' my homework is incorrect English. What would be the correct word in that sentence?"
Michael: "I brunk my homework to school?"

Pierce: "I am never going to play tennis again."
Me: "How come?"
Pierce: "Because I dented my neighbor's truck."
Me: "You dented your neighbor's truck with a tennis ball!?!"
Pierce: "Well, actually it was a rock."

Me: "Dennis, I've been told you called Michael a bad name. Is that true?"
Dennis: "I didn't call him a bad name."
Me: "That isn't what Michael said."
Dennis: "Well I didn't call him a bad name."
Me: "He said you called him an asshole. Is that correct."
Dennis: "I didn't call him that!! He misunderstood me. I didn't call him that, I swear!"
Me: "Well what did you call him?"
Dennis: "I called him a GAShole."

Me: "And where were you born, Julia?
Julia: "I was born in Fertilia."

Kids. I love 'em.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ohhhh, They Are REMOVABLE!

Olivia and I went to visit a family friend the other day, and my friend's mother was in town from Orlando. Olivia calls her Granny, and is always happy to know she is here. It means fun and love is hers for the taking, and more importantly it signifies that she will not have to be babysat by her torturous fourteen-year-old brother while I go to school.

We pulled in to the driveway and Olivia squealed. "There's Granny's car, Mom!" She lowered her voice to a calm, measured tone. As she pointed to the windshield and the ubiquitous car-cooling silver shades South Florida drivers use she said, "But don't worry; she takes those out when she drives."

Thanks, Olivia, for looking out for my frayed nerves.