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The TSA Searched My Hair July 30, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
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Oh, the joys of travel.

Over Spring Break, I flew back to Detroit and environs to see my mother, who’d recently moved closer to my brother. He asked me to run my flight options by him as it’s an hour’s drive to the airport. The flight I’d bookmarked worked fine. So far, so good.

But when I got to LAX, the Delta kiosk spit out my credit card and refused to issue a boarding pass. It directed me to “See an agent.”  I got in line and shuffled along with my bag. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled out all the trip itinerary I’d printed out from my computer. The woman looked confused. “Where’s the paper with the confirmation number?” she asked. She checked her computer and then I heard the dreaded words. “You don’t seem to have actually purchased a ticket.”

I remember crying with disbelief. Could I really be so stupid? And of course, the answer was yes! I had bookmarked but neglected to confirm and pay for my $340 ticket! But, the agent informed me that I was in luck. Although this flight was sold out, there was one seat left on the next flight. And it was only going to cost $1300. “But I could fly to London for that!” I cried.

“Only one seat left,” she reminded me, “so you have to decide now if you want it.”  I tearfully handed her my credit card.

Now on the plus side, I got a seat in First Class. When the flight attendant brought out a basket of candy bars, I couldn’t believe they were free. I had told the guy sitting next to me my tale of woe and he ventured, “I actually think that might be the most expensive Milky Way you’ve ever eaten.” Ouch! When the basket-lady came round again, I, the basket-case, grabbed three more to get my money’s worth. I’m a clever one.

I’m going to skip over losing my keys at the airport for fear it could reactivate my PTSD. And yes, why did I take my keys with me on vacation? My son would locate these two days later at the TSA’s Lost and Found office manned by the world’s most disgruntled employee. But I digress. Did I mention that I had to be driven straight from LAX to Urgent Care as I’d developed a full-blown ear infection and had to be back at school the next day? But those are just Bonus Features.

Now what you’ve been waiting for – my hair.  No sooner had I gone through the Security “Assume the Position” Screener in Detroit then I was asked to step aside. “We need to search your hair,” the TSA woman said matter-of-factly. Huh? Okay, my hair tends to look like a native shrub, but I’d just had it cut for the trip. It’s not like anyone would mistake me for Angela Davis or Marge Simpson.

I was so stunned at this request that all I could do was laugh as the woman proceeded to massage my head. (It’s not the same with gloved hands.) I told her I had a bit of bed head in the back and asked if she could fix that. I couldn’t stop laughing.

When I told my students the next day what had happened, one boy suggested that I could have had a machine gun in my hair. “Really?” I asked incredulously. “Well, maybe a miniature one?” he offered. I made a mental note that I needed to reteach measurement and probability.

Rest assured that even when my hair is in the air, you can fly with peace of mind.

Drawing by Eli

Parents in Denial March 12, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Parenting, Teaching.
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Saturday morning I woke up with my stomach churning over a conversation I’d had with a parent after school. No harsh words were exchanged (unlike my first year of teaching when a parent flipped me off in front of a class of second graders), but the parent looked at me incredulously when I said her child was still having the same issues as he had on Day One. Another Parent in Denial

But there’s something I need to come clean about. Before I became a teacher 10 years ago, I, too, was a bonafide Parent in Denial. If only I’d been a teacher before I became a parent, I wouldn’t have been such a pushover when it came to my sons’ lame-o excuses. My boys were angels!  So any teacher who tried to tell me otherwise was obviously not used to dealing with a creative genius or a real boy.

How bad was I? When my younger son was accused of throwing an apple across the lunch area outside and hitting the custodian in the head, I insisted that it couldn’t have been him because I’d seen him throw in Little League and his aim wasn’t that good!  And I believed this with all my heart.

The “apple” incident was just one of many. There were phone calls. Meetings with tribunals of teachers. Suspensions. Sometimes the police were involved.

My sons are now 30 and 26 and they are decent, hardworking young men whom I’m now very proud of.  So, imagine when several years ago my accused “apple thrower” blurted out, “Mom, you know all that stuff they said I did in middle and high school?…well, I did it all.”

By then I was teaching and I had to hang my head with shame. To think I had been THAT parent. Not always, but there were a couple of rough years when I’d questioned a teacher’s motivation, competence, and even demanded that my son be changed to another class. Because of me, there were some teachers who woke up on Saturday morning with their stomachs churning. Karma?

A colleague posted What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents on Facebook. It was just what I needed to read on Saturday morning.  At a time when the average new teacher leaves the profession after only 4.5 years and “parent disrespect” is cited as one of the leading reasons, I think this is timely indeed. Read it and see what you think.

 

28 Days Later – After Total Knee Replacement Surgery January 20, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Personal.
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kneecap

I’ve never gone so long without writing a new blog post, but then I didn’t know that Santa was bringing me a new knee for Christmas.  Nothing says Merry Christmas like jingle bells on a walker. Ho Ho NO!

Six years ago when I had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee for a torn meniscus, the surgeon informed me that I had the knee of an 80-year-old woman. I was considered too young for joint replacement, so the “conservative” measures began. A strap on knee brace that made me look robotic. I saw the look on a student’s face when they got a glimpse of it one day under my skirt and ended up doing my own Show and Tell. The kids thought it was pretty cool. But, in reality, it was hot and itchy since it was all synthetic. Then there were Cortisone injections that did nothing. And for two years, I worked with a personal trainer to strengthen the muscles around my damaged kneecap. I was on prescription meds, but the doctor worried that ultimately they could damage my liver. “Geez, if I’m going to blow out my liver, I could just do that with alcohol,” I said. The doctor nodded sympathetically.

Meanwhile the two flights of stairs at my old school loomed. Up and down a dozen times a day. Some days people asked if I was limping. A peg leg was beginning to seem like a viable option. My last option was an injection of an organic substance made from chicken combs (I’m not naming names). It was worth a shot (no pun intended). Oh, the jokes about whether I would sprout feathers or lay an egg. But a week later, the pain had only grown worse.

On a walking field trip to the nearby bookstore, I winced and hobbled. I resorted to doing my Lamaze breathing. One of the oh-so-nice parents asked delicately, “Are your wearing new shoes?” By the time we arrived at the bookstore, I had to sit down. If I was a boxer, I would have been down for the count. Later I hobbled back to the school and then home to book a sub. That was the end of November.

I went to see a new surgeon. He thought I was one of the less than 1 percent who have an allergic reaction to the chicken combs. Great. But, when he said he could do the surgery just before Christmas it was music to my ears. He pulled no punches, “For the first 12 weeks you’re going to hate me, but after that….you’re going to LOVE me!”

So, it’s been a month now. The three days in the hospital were doable as the IV painkillers did their job and you’ve gotta love those nurses. I was even visited by a volunteer with “Happy” the therapy dog. But then it was time to go home. The night before I was released my husband returned to find boxes lined up on our front porch. Enough equipment to start a convalescent home. Hey it’s three seats in one – a chair, a commode AND you can sit in the shower in it! Oh the look of horror on my husband’s face. “I’m no nurse,” he said proclaiming what has always been obvious. It was seeing me using a walker that unnerved him the most. When after a week I finally decided I needed to get my hair cut, he drove me up to the side door, let me out, then sped away so no one would see him with me.

Each morning I settled in for the day on the couch with my leg in the CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) machine. Our dog, Layla, didn’t appreciate losing her el primo spot on the couch to this whirring machine. I’d hoped to read, but mostly I laid in a zombified state while my knee went through the spin cycle. My husband, Richard, is an amazing cook so I was served breakfast each morning with the admonishment, “You better not get used to this!”

I don’t know how people manage to go through this operation who have a family who expects them to soldier on. I literally did nothing but watch movies and read. I followed comments on my blog. Friends texted daily. My husband usually works at home upstairs, so if I needed something, he was only a text away. He cooked three incredible meals a day.

Initially a physical therapist came to the house. After the first visit she informed me I’d need ice next time – and not for drinks. After two weeks I graduated to outpatient therapy. I actually drove to my first appointment, feeling like I was finally out amongst the living.

It’s now 28 days later. The guy hauled away the CPM, so Layla has reclaimed her spot on the couch. Last Thursday the physical therapist kicked my butt. He had me on my belly with something like a dog leash attached to my ankle that I had to pull on to raise my leg behind me. S&M. That day I told him my new nickname for him was “The Mangler.”

“If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view” is a quote I often tell my students, so I shall continue to claw my way up the mountain rock by rock even on days when gaining a foothold seems almost impossible. I can’t complain. I have insurance and I’m in pain because I’m getting better not worse. I’ve done the math. I should be “in love” by St. Patrick’s Day though I have to go back to work before then. I’ll have to settle for being “in like”.

So for this and all my family and friends who’ve been there for me, I am so grateful. Santa may have brought me a new knee, but he also brought me a new appreciation for all that is truly important in my life. Happy New Year!

To find out what came next, read Not A Leg to Stand On.

Drawing by Colby

As Summer Sets July 22, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Personal.
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8 comments

Idaho – This is where God lives.

There’s no denying it. The end of summer is in sight, especially since this year the first day of school has been moved up to August 20th. How can this be? I just emerged from my school-induced coma! My husband said I could become a professional sleeper, but I like to think of my inert state as similar to a medically induced coma. I’m allowing the swelling to go down, so my brain cells can regenerate.

It’s no secret that most visitors to my blog are seeking information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I don’t often write as much about school or my personal life. But there are times when I, too, need a respite. So please hear me out.

I feel the need to take stock in what I HAVE accomplished so far this summer. Mind you, it doesn’t help that I set the bar so low that I literally trip over it when I get out of bed. My summer mantra is “Things to do – get dressed by 2.”

1) I’ve watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey so I can hold up my end of the conversation in the Teacher’s Lounge. I did make the mistake of calling my husband “Carson.” I won’t make that mistake again.

2) I flew back to the Midwest to help my mother write a zillion thank you notes to friends and family who helped when my father died in early March. My sidekick was my niece, whose job it was to provide me with comic relief. Well done, Ali! While rummaging through drawers, I stumbled upon my report card from Second Grade. I was happy to see that I “read with comprehension.”

We ate at the wonderful Bluebird Cafe in Kansas City then wandered around the neighborhood. Cathy said that a lot of scenes from “The United States of Tara” were shot in this locale. What a find!

3) While back in the Midwest, I drove down to Kansas City to visit my college roommate, Cathy aka Catherine Sherman on my blogroll. She took me off to explore parts of Kansas City I never could have imagined. Way cool. Old friends are gold friends indeed.

4) At 1/2 Price Books in Omaha, I picked up two books, Olive Kitteridge and Year of WondersI read both. Olive Kitteridge is a collection of overlapping stories that revolve around a retired teacher living in a small town in Maine. Most of the characters would qualify for the senior discount, so when the going gets rough they cheer themselves up with the thought that if things get any worse, they can always commit suicide. Did I mention that this book won the Pulitzer Prize? Year of Wonders is set in the plague years in England. I highly recommend it.

5) We drove (with the younger kiddo) to Idaho to visit my husband’s family and celebrate his father’s 88th birthday. I haven’t done long haul driving in years, and our younger son was barred from driving my husband’s car, so it was just the two of us and all those Starbucks gift cards I received from students at the end of the year. The photo of the sunset was taken as we drove by McCammon, Idaho. All three of us had our iPhones out and then I remember asking, “Hey, who’s driving the car?!!!)

One of the musical chairs from the Extreme Makeover house made from the piano that was salvaged from the fire.

We stayed with my husband’s sister Jane in her Extreme Makeover house. She’s since opened a Montessori school, The Morningside House,  in her basement. My husband said when I saw it, he thought I was going to cry. There were actually TWO sinks and some newfangled things called electrical outlets.

6) While in Idaho we saw my oldest son and his girlfriend. We laughed so hard at the new Japanese restaurant, Sumisu, that the waitress declared that we were her Number One table for the night. It also helps that we Californians are accustomed to tipping 20 percent, whereas the local Mormons tend to only tip 10 percent. Is this what it feels like to be a “whale” in Las Vegas?

7) Having returned home, I’ve already (with a lot of help from my husband) repainted out bedroom in the same color that I loved in the Extreme Makeover house. It’s Sherwin Williams “Seascape.” When the guy told me how much the paint cost  (it was already mixed at that point) my jaw dropped. It must have flecks of gold in it!

Now that the end of Summer Vacation is in sight, I’m trying to make the most of every day. In no time at all, I’ll be sitting in the Teacher’s Lounge eating a partially defrosted Lean Cuisine. Up next is working on a picture book that I’ve had in mind for quite some time. I might have to start sleeping in my clothes so as to get a head start on each day.

Here’s to sitting out on the front porch and watching the world go by.

Photo Credits: Jan Marshall

1/4 of July June 13, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
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6 comments

A friend recently asked me about my family’s sojourn in Mexico. I told her I’d send a link to this post which I published in 2007. But, low and behold, it  had vanished! As in “Gone Baby Gone.” Fortunately, in my early days of blogging, I  printed out a copy of everything…just in case.  So here it is again in all of its “Old Glory.”

When I was a kid growing up in Omaha, the days leading up the 4th of July included a pilgrimage just outside the city limits to buy fireworks. These were piddly-ass fireworks by today’s standards; sparklers, snakes, pinwheels, pop-bottle rockets, and the real show stopper – the Roman candle. My brother always managed to secure some M80s and cherry bombs. These served to remind us that it WAS possible to blow your hand off with one of these babies.

Neighborhood families would pool their fireworks and put on a show. My father arrived carrying a length of a tin downspout to these gatherings, which did double duty as a poor man’s rocket launcher.

As kids, we were only allowed to play with the snakes and sparklers on our own. We wrote our names in the air, immune to the bacon-grease snap, snap, snapping on our arms. On July 5th, the air smelled vaguely like gunpowder and the driveway had black spots where the snakes that grown, writhed, then turned to ash.

The 4th of July I’m thinking about today though was spent in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. We were desperately looking for Puente Numero Dos – Bridge Number Two, the only route, save wading crossing the Rio Grande, to get back into the U.S.

My family; husband Richard and sons, Taylor, 10, and Ian, 6, and I had moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to escape the high cost of living in New York. We’d had a ridiculously fun time in Zihuataneo, Mexico a year before and Mexico and the ghost of Frido Kahlo beckoned. Never mind that we’d never actually set foot in San Miguel. Hey, I’d done the research.

“You mean you’re moving to NEW Mexico,” friends queried.  “No, Mexico!”  we replied rather enjoying the look of shock on their faces. We were ready for a change, and we were up for anything, short of moving to New Jersey. A sojourn in Mexico sounded exotic and the price was right.

San Miguel de Allende is a gorgeous colonial gem nestled in the mountains three hours north of Mexico City. It’s long been a mecca for artists and has an established colony of American expats, who are drawn by San Miguel’s beauty and cheap real estate.

I flew to San Miguel two weeks before the arrival of the troops. It was my job to secure the beachhead and lease a house. “Remember,” my husband implored. “Only rent a house that’s already furnished and has a telephone.”

Well, can you imagine what kind of house I rented?  Three floors stacked like a stucco layer cake. No furniture and no phone. It was the garage that was the deal maker. Richard and the boys were flying to Omaha so my parents could give us their 4-cylinder Oldsmobile Firenza station wagon. We hadn’t had  a car in 11 years so this was a BIG deal. We couldn’t park our new/old car on the street!

My family arrived. It was then I realized it wasn’t New York that made me feel stressed. It was my family. Not a good sign. The house I’d rented had recently been remodeled and all of the construction had stirred up the scorpions. Every time we took a shower, a scorpion climbed out of the drain. Just the anticipation of their appearance made the shower scene in “Psycho” seem G-rated. There were so many scorpions that I took to sleeping with a flashlight on and aimed at the ceiling. Just in case.

Four days after we’d moved in, the toilet on the second floor wouldn’t flush. We tied a dog leash to a bucket and lowered it into the cistern beneath the patio to get water while awaiting the eminent arrival of the “handyman.” We carried the bucket of water up two flights of stairs just so we could use the toilet. I was starting to feel like I lived in Africa – my life was starting to revolve around obtaining water. All I needed was a jar to transport it on my head.

I’d first been shown the house during siesta time, the only time of day it turned out that the aerobic studio across the street was not open. We were awakened at 6 a.m. each morning by a pulsating disco beat and a woman yelling, “Uno, dos, tres!”  They knocked off for siesta then continued until 10 p.m. Disco was still alive in San Miguel.

The burro next door began braying at the crack of dawn. This was followed by ten minutes of silence and then the braying started in earnest. We joked that it was the Mexican snooze alarm. And the coyote tethered to the roof on the other side of us howled at night. We laid awake in bed. Less than three weeks into our sojourn, we’d lapsed into severe culture shock. For the first time I uttered the “L word” – leave.

There was one small problem. I’d signed a two-year lease and our landlord, Pat, had no intention of letting us wriggle out of it. Pat was a widow from Michigan who’d retired to Mexico. She’d married a local attorney, a certain Sr. Caballero. Pat bore more than a passing resemblance to Marjorie Mane’s “Ma Kettle” character. Finally, we told Pat we needed to talk about our situation.  I’d paid first and last month’s rent plus a security/cleaning deposit, so I thought that just maybe, she’d let us off the hook.

Just in case she wanted to play hardball, I was the designated weeper. The trouble was, once I started crying, “I want to go home,” it was no longer an act. I really wanted to go home. Pat was unfazed. “You know what you need?” she said matter of factly. “You need to go to the corn roast over at the Presbyterian church and meet some nice folks.” She added that if we did try and break the lease, her husband, Sr. Caberro, would have our car impounded so we COULDN’T leave.

Panicking, I ran up to the U.S. Consulate to talk to Colonel Maher, an ex-CIA op, whom I’d met with once before. It was siesta time and the consulate was officially closed, but the shuttered windows to his office were open. I could see him sitting in the dark, feet up on his desk, and smoking a cigar. He looked like he was plotting to overthrow a mid-sized country.

I called to him and he came over to the window. I breathlessly explained our predicament. He listened attentively, chomping on the cigar before giving me his best legal advice.  “I know Sr. Cabellero,” he said. “He’s well connected. So my advice to you is to disappear.” The shutters snapped shut.

Now when I’d leased the house, we’d also inherited a maid, Lara, from the previous tenants. Lara was incredibly kind and was paid so little I would have felt guilty not to keep her on. We’d never had a maid before and I felt so awkward about having someone clean up after me that I walked around and helped her clean. Lara told me the previous tenants, two American women, had left suddenly in the middle of the night after only two months. A pattern was beginning to emerge..

We frantically began packing up the car with Lara’s help. Pat lived just up the street and had a clear view of our house so there was an air of urgency. All of the furniture I’d bought at the mercado would go to Lara, and all of the housewares as well. To my mind it was not much, but I came to realize that to Lara, it was the world.  We knew her husband had cancer and she was supporting an unknown number of children.

A relative of Lara’s arrived with a truck to cart off the furniture. Lara’s husband sat in the back of the truck, too weak to help. I wrote out a letter and in my broken Spanish bequeathed all of  our personal items to Lara as regalos, or gifts. Lara cried with happiness. Her children would sleep in beds for the first time that night. We kept one small side table with a hand carved top, which we tied to the top of the car.

When Richard and the boys had arrived three weeks earlier, the car was packed to the gills. Now I had to squeeze in, along with my luggage and a set of Mexican pottery that I couldn’t bear to leave behind. The car was essentially a low-rider heaving under the added weight. Richard took the hills out of town slowly. With every bump, we could hear the bottom of the car scrape against the cobblestoned street. We headed north. From time to time we looked in the rear view mirror, half expecting to see Sr. Caballero chasing us with a posse.

Richard was retracing the route he’s already driven to get to San Miguel, but for me this was uncharted terrain.  I was trying to take in the surreal landscape that is northern Mexico. In the middle of nowhere, a person would appear alongside of the road. We passed people who sold dried rattlesnake skins for a living. They lived in “houses” with organ cactus as walls.

The first night we stopped at motel that had never seen better days. When the guy at the front desk asked for our address, we mumbled something about being in transition. “Hippies!” he ascertained. This was the early 90s and the mere mention of “hippies” made me feel like we’d fallen through a rip in some time continuum. But, Taylor set him straight. “We’re homeless!” he announced.

The plan was to cross the border into Laredo, Texas. On the south side of the Rio Grande, lies the sprawling bastard child city that is Nuevo Laredo. It’s the equivilent to living on the wrong side of the tracks. Nuevo Laredo has been plagued by the kind of violence that accompanies drug trafficking. Wearing a badge is akin to wearing a target.

It was summer and the temperature hadn’t fallen below 100 for days. Even after the sun had finally set, there was no relief from the heat. When we finally saw the lights of Nuevo Laredo we cheered. In the distance, we could see the lights of Laredo, Texas – the promised land. All we had to do now was find Puente Numero Dos and we’d be home free. It was then that steam from the radiator began billowing out from the hood. We cursed the universe. Then cursed it some more. We pulled over and waited for the temperature gauge to go down then drove another mile. We stopped and repeated the ritual. It was slow going.

The boys’ survival instincts had obviously kicked in because they’d stopped talking altogether. They knew the next thing to blow was going to be mom or dad. Finally, we saw the sign; Puente Numero Dos.

A huge American flag waved on the Texas side of the bridge. I’d never felt such a surge of patriotism. That’s my flag! I felt like the character Sally Field played in, Not Without My Daughter after she’s recovered her kidnapped child and is running toward the American flag at the embassy.

Only 40 feet from the border, plumes of steam engulfed the car and we shut off the engine. I steered and Richard pushed. Slowly, we inched toward American soil. A U.S. Customs agent walked over to greet us. Never had English sounded so melodic. We stood there sweating and shell shocked. As the border agent checked our papers, we heard what sounded like a series of explosions. “What’s going on?” we asked.  The border agent looked at us, incredulously. “It’s the Fourth of July!“ he said. We looked up to see the sky filled with fireworks.  We didn’t care that they were red, white, and green.

We got the last room at La Quinta, only a stone’s throw from the bridge on the American side. Taylor walked into the room and promptly threw up. He then rinsed out his mouth (“Mom, can I drink the water now?”) and announced, “I’m hungry.  Can we go somewhere and eat?”  Richard took the boys to the Denny’s next door where they gorged on chicken-fried steak. Me, I laid on the bed in the air-conditioned room and turned on the TV. The sound of Ted Koppel’s voice was the sweetest lullaby I’d ever heard.

History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part 2 May 1, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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When I wrote History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us PartI ended by saying that I would NEVER do this project again. Not with 28 students. Well, as my mother always said, “Never say never,” or as I like to say, “Crow is best eaten while warm.”

Fast forward a year. I now have 31 third graders and History Wax Museum is HAPPENING! Why? Two teachers are new to 3rd grade, so they don’t have any lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from last year. And those of us who are veterans? Well, what can I say? I’d like having a baby. Once you pop the little booger out, you tend to forget all that came before.

It also helps that History Wax Museum is performed at Open House. For teachers this means no Dog and Pony Show (my dog has been dead for years and the pony is out to pasture). No attempts to out-cutesy the teacher next door and NO cleaning the classroom. Can you say bliss?

This year a parent suggested that students should be able to explain just what a history wax museum is to the uninitiated. Okay, here’s what you need to know. NO WAX is harmed in the making of  the History Wax Museum. The students stand frozen in a pose in front of their tri-fold board. There is a button on the floor (okay, it’s a fake button – a red paper circle actually) that visitors step on to activate the character. The student then “comes to life” and tells their story.

Last year, I found myself doing a lot of things that weren’t covered in my teacher credentialing program like throwing together costumes for kids whose parents couldn’t pull it together. Galileo showed up with a piece of a white t-shirt to wear as a beard. It looked a bit like a do-rag. Really? That’s the best you could do?

I sprinted to the local Out of the Closet and found a woman’s frilly shirt. It was supposed to be for Florence Nightingale, but she pulled a costume together at the last minute. Florence (The “Lady with the Lamp”) Nightingale even had a lantern thanks to my neighbors. Galileo ended up wearing the frilly shirt. He did manage to drag in a HUGE telescope for visitors to trip over.

I also helped Abe Lincoln, who was portrayed by a girl, make a stove pipe hat from a paper plate and some black paper. It turned out way better than I ever imaged. Abe’s mom found a “beard” at Michael’s. The girl looked like she had a furry hamster clinging to her face!

This year, I’ve got a new group of kids who are doing a lot of different people. I’m thinking I might sandwich George Carlin between Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. LOVE IT!

Both Picasso and Gandhi are being played by girls. Gandhi has nixed wearing a skull cap. She asked me for advice on her costume. Another teacher suggested, “How about a diaper?” Okay, that is SO not happening. A lovely parent from last year from India stopped by for a costume consultation. All I know is it involves bedsheets. With another kid’s John Lennon glasses, I believe we have lift off for Gandhi!

I couldn’t resist taking the photo of the Secret Lives of Great Artists. Last year’s Frido Kahlo (I  have Frida “dos” this year.) was surprised to learn that she’d had affairs with women as well as men. I have learned to deftly handle these delicate questions. I’ve found that, “Whatever floats your boat” accompanied by a wink explains so much about the human condition. And to be honest, my Frida was more distressed that Diego was so fat.

Queen Elizabeth I took me aside the other day to let me know that her father Henry VIII was behaving very inappropriately with her – something about spanking and tickling. I suggested she just skip to the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Nudity – no. Violence – yes. That said, what about Annie Oakley? How can you be a sharpshooter without a gun? Annie made one out of paper, but it looked like a Saturday night special. Now if we can just get a 2×4 and get carving…

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

Lockdown! November 27, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching, Uncategorized.
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6 comments

For the teachers in your life on Etsy.

Forget Black Friday. Crowd control? Violence? People trying to claw their way to the front of the line? Hell, every day is Black Friday when you’re a teacher.

In keeping with my mantra, “I expect chaos, so I’m never disappointed” mantra, my school recently went into lockdown mode.

Never mind that what used to be called “Lockdown” is now referred to as “Shelter in Place.” When things got dicey, the voice over the PA made it clear. “Teachers we are in lockdown. This is not a drill!”

I dutifully locked the door to the classroom (Thank god I could find my keys on the mess that is my desk!) One student asked if someone might be coming into the school with a gun. “That’s unlikely,” I replied. “But if anyone does, I’ll take a bullet for you. That’s why I make the big bucks.” My students seemed relieved. “Now let’s get back to those Thanksgiving turkeys,” I chirped.

It helped immensely that half of my class (31 students, yes 31!) was out of the class on the Woodworking Bus. I was busily dipping the coffee filters that had been colored with magic markers into a glass of water. These would be the turkey’s feathers. “Ooh! Aah!” Kids never cease to be amazed at the results. But the sound of helicopters nearby was hard to ignore. Someone jiggled the doorknob and students froze. ‘They’re just checking to make sure we’re safe,” I said. I casually strolled over to the glass just to make sure Michael Myers was not lurking outside.

An hour passed. The kids complained that recess had come and gone, like it was MY fault that we couldn’t go outside. After another 20 minutes had passed, some started in on their snacks. It was then that one boy said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I ordered him to quit sucking on his juice pack, but it was too late. “I really have to go,” he repeated.

For six years, I’ve had an emergency potty in my room. It’s basically a plastic waste paper basket with a rubber lid. A bin of books is balanced on it, so the kids hadn’t even noticed it. We popped it open to see what was inside: a blue plastic tarp, pairs of latex gloves, plastic bags, a bag of kitty litter, and a roll of toilet paper.

“I really have to go,” moaned the juice-slurper. I figured out how to drape the plastic tarp – one end on the metal cabinets and the other on my easel. Not bad. The boy was now doing the potty dance, a sight that strikes fear into the heart of all teachers.

I had all of the kids move to the far side of the class. “Keep coloring those turkeys!” I ordered. You could have heard a pin drop. And that was the problem. No one wants to have everyone hear them “go.” I found my Muse CD and cranked it up LOUD, guitar riffs and all.

The first boy went. He emerged smiling from the makeshift restroom. I handed him a leftover Halloween cup half-filled with kitty litter and instructed him to go back and toss it in. A second boy came forward. He used the potty. More kitty litter. Finally, another boy said, “Oh, I might as well.” He complained that there was kitty litter around the rim and requested a wipe to clean it off. No sooner had he gone than there was a knock at our door. Security was escorting children to the bathrooms for a quick break.

The three boys stayed behind. “We don’t need to go because we went IN CLASS!” they bragged. I gave them a Sharpie and let them autograph the toilet. They insisted on writing the date beside their names.

I’m afraid the children who were most traumatized by the lockdown were those out in the Woodworking Bus. They were forced to go into a kindergarten classroom and then herded into the auditorium where they were, according to them, forced to sing the “Hokey Pokey” over and over. Their eyes were glassy.

Later we learned the lockdown was due to three pipe bombs found in the apartment of a parolee who’d been arrested the night before. His apartment was a block from the school, but the Fire Department issued the lockdown as a precaution as the Bomb Squad went in and detonated the bombs. The parolee had served time in prison for methamphetamine use. “Boy, meth will make your teeth fall out,” I warned the kids. “Never an attractive look.” This is what’s called a Teachable Moment.

Later, a custodian came in to remove the emergency potty for cleaning. Another teacher asked if I put the plastic bag inside the potty. Plastic bag? I asked. Oh crap! That’s what they were for? Said potty has yet to be returned, but we’ll know it when we see it cause it’s got our names written all over it.

Just another day in Paradise.

Dexter’s Response to the Casey Anthony Verdict July 10, 2011

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What can I say? It’s Why I Love Dexter.

 

Raincheck on the Rapture May 21, 2011

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OMG! It's not safe to go outside! Besides, I look better in low lighting.

Just when I’d RSVP’d for a little post-Rapture looting, it looks like I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Dang! I’d so looked forward to not having to get ready for Open House or ever having to clean my own house again. (Not that I ever did.)

Last December I wrote a post Surviving Christmas and the Zombie Apocalypse. Not to say I told you so, but  – now the Center for Disaster Control (CDC) is sounding the clarion call and offering advice on how to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse. Click HERE to view. I was but the canary in the coal mine in warning the public of this impending threat.

Okay, maybe I’m just feeling a little on edge since becoming Facebook friends with my high school. There’s been what appears to be a virtual zombie walk of the undead looking for me – oh, wait a minute, those would be my former classmates! OMG! Could that mean that I’ve aged too? The horror!

I did get that Swiss Army Knife for Christmas (Ironically, it was the “Climber” model), but I’m beginning to think I need to beef up my survival kit with a little Botox as well.

History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part May 17, 2011

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Last Friday, I found myself having a chat with Henry VIII about annulment vs. divorce, while JFK, Frida Kahlo, and Emiliano Zapata waited impatiently to talk to me. Yes, the History Wax Museum project is consuming my life.

This year, all four third grade classes at my school are doing this project which requires students to research a famous person’s life, then write a narrative speech in the first person which they must memorize and perform at Open House. The finished History Wax Museum is quite impressive. Students stand frozen in their costumes with a tri-fold board serving as a backdrop. There’s a red paper “button” on the floor that visitors step on to activate the character. To my knowledge, only one performer has thrown up in three years – and it was not on a visitor. That’s what I’d call Good Odds.

I’m afraid I’m a Johnny Come Lately to the GATE scene. (For you civilians that’s Gifted and Talented Education.) Yes, this year for the first time I have a cluster of GATE students. And this year for the first time, I’m expected to shepherd my students through this godawful project. I suppose when there were 20 students to a class, this project was doable, but with 28 warm bodies wall-to-wall in my classroom, it’s become unmanagable.

Students were to pick someone dead. Michael Jackson is a no no as all students want to do is wear a glove and do the Thriller dance.  But some teachers caved, so this year Yoko Ono will be making an appearance. Another teacher asked, “What’s she famous for?  Breaking up the Beatles?” I’m still wondering how a third grader in 2011 knows about Yoko Ono.

Students were to find two to three resources and do their research at home. They’re to do the writing at school to make sure good ole Mom and Dad don’t stick their finger in the pudding.

Last week, I waded through reams of paper that students had downloaded off the Internet, most of which was written for adults. One of the the questions was, “Where was your character born?” One girl answered, “A hospital.” I should have recognized that answer for what it was – the canary in the coal mine that had fallen from its perch. It’s been only downhill from there.

I have to remind myself that it’s not my students’ fault. Most were born in 2001. They have no concept of history. When I met with a student today, she’d written that her character, who was active in the Mexican Revolution was arrested and sent to a convenience store. “That would be a convent,” I reminded her. Even then, she didn’t have a clue.

Galileo is stressing about his costume, though he has yet to put a word on paper for his speech. “You know,” he said with utmost sincerity, “I wanted to be a monk, but my father didn’t want me to go to monk school.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Alien abduction makes more sense to these kids than half of the stuff they’re reading off of Wikipedia.

Which brings me to Henry VIII. One of my big Hispanic boys chose this character to research. As I skimmed over how Henry was “licentious,” I had to paraphrase for my student. “Wow, you were a real ladies man!” I said. He cracked a smile. He now has the “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” ditty down. Today he was bragging to another boy about all of his wives. I felt the need to take the wind out of his sails, so I reminded him that in his later years he had an oozing sore that didn’t heal and that was a real turn off for the ladies. Boy, that did the trick!

My Henry, unlike the real Henry VIII, comes from a family of meager means. When I asked how he planned to pull of this costume, he looked downright stricken. So in a moment of weakness, I ordered a black velveteen Tudor flat cap off the Internet. I know I’ll be able to use it again someday. The boy mentioned he’d need a feather for the hat. I think we need to scout the area outside the lunchroom where the pigeons roost.

Last Friday a teacher new to third grade announced History Wax Museum would be off her radar next year. I asked what she planned to do instead. “I have one word,” she said wiggling her hips, “Zoomba!”  I don’t even know what Zoomba is, but I’m in. But, can I wear my Tudor flat cap?

Nuclear Boy’s Radioactive Poo March 19, 2011

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How to explain a nuclear meltdown to Japanese children?  This 4-minute animated film was shown on Japanese television and likens a meltdown to Nuclear Boy having Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (Think Everybody Poops with translation.) From the looks of it, Nuclear Boy’s stinky poo would even make Godzilla’s eyes water. But he’s faring better than Chernobyl Boy who had an accurate diarrhea attack – in the classroom.

So far Nuclear Boy has just farted, but he’s being monitored by Sniffer-Man who bears more than a passing resemblance to an Easter Island head. There’s also a trio of doctors giving Nuclear Boy his medicine (Sea Water and Boron), but the middle doctor looks eerily like Dr. Jack Kervorkian, which is not very reassuring. Now, the only thing left to protect the Japanese people is… a diaper. And we all know how effective that is.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? March 6, 2011

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How could I have missed Jimmy Kimmel’s call to make Nov. 17 National UnFriend Day on Facebook?  Oh that’s right, I was in the middle of Parent-Teacher Conferences. That’s two weeks when I’m looking to bring people on board, not cull the herd. But last night after a few glasses of red wine, I started deleting some of my “friends.”

So far no gunshots have been fired at my house, but most of those I “unfriended” (is that the correct nettiquette?) don’t even know where I live. That tells you something right there.

Like many people, I signed onto Facebook early on when it was literally the new kid on the block.  The “friending” began. I wrote about the downside of this in Being Facebook Friends with Stephan Pastis – Rats!

Fast forward four years. It occurred to me that I wouldn’t recognize some of my “friends” on the street. That’s not good. I’d even stooped to hiding others, so I didn’t have to read incessant updates about every aspect of their life. (Jimmy Kimmel provides a great example of this.) Hiding may be a kinder way since the “friend” doesn’t know that you’ve exiled them to Never Again Land, but isn’t honesty usually the best policy? Was that a gunshot I just heard?

Then there were those “friends” who were coerced by some well-intentioned technophile into joining Facebook in the first place. Left to their own devices, they couldn’t figure out how to post their picture or a status update. I think most have forgotten their passwords and haven’t revisited Facebook since I hit the Accept button. They’re in the slow lane on the information highway with their turn signal on – but can’t figure out how to exit. I like to think that by “unfriending” them, I’m just helping speed up the process.

Here’s my new and improved criteria for a mutually beneficial “friendship.”

1)  I would recognize you if I saw you on the street
2)  We’ve shared a significant life experience (Think “trauma bonding”)
3)  You’ve commented on one of my status updates or blog.
4)  You can make me laugh.
5)  We share some DNA, so you are potentially an organ donor.

Actually, my son just informed me that he “unfriends” people almost weekly, and it’s no big deal. It’s not like Mark Zuckerberg shows up at their door with the pink slip. Come to think of it, some of those I planned to “unfriend” weren’t even on my  list of “friends.” Could it be that they “unfriended” me first and I didn’t even notice? Sweet!

Confessions of a Greedy Teacher March 4, 2011

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I’m  sitting on my fat ass eating bonbons as I write this. Er, make that sitting “crisscross applesauce.” You see, as a teacher I’m held to a higher moral standard. That’s why Natalie Munroe, the Philadelphia English teacher, who blogged that her students were “unmotivated” “rude” and “dressed like streetwalkers” was suspended. Okay, she said more than that, but it was all so well written that it’s hard to imagine why so many people got their undies in a bunch. Who’s that elephant sitting in the room?  Oh, that would be The Truth. When I heard she came up with some alternate report card comments, I expected, “Shallow End of the Gene Pool” or “Future fodder for America’s Most Wanted.” But she took the high road. She of little imagination.

Whatever is wrong with society – blame it on those greedy teachers. Yeah, that’s why I drive a five-year-old Honda – the official Teacher Car. Today I actually sprang for a Lean Cuisine (Don’t ever nuke anything that is supposedly “beef”), instead of my usual instant oatmeal with a Coke Zero. You haven’t experienced fine dining till you’ve eaten oatmeal with a spork while waiting to run copies before picking up your class. Throw in a rainy day and that’s proof positive that there is Hell on Earth.

And what’s all this talk this a three-month summer vacation? Last year I got out June 23rd. Though school started again in mid-September (after three unpaid furlough days), teachers were back at school the last week of August setting up their classrooms. Nine blissful weeks off with no pay. That’s as good as it gets.

In an interview with protestors in Madison, Wisconsin, one woman said, “I’m here because although I hated school, I loved my teachers.” I wanted to give her a virtual hug but worried about sexual harassment charges.

Jon Stewart tried to bolster the sagging spirits of beleaguered teachers recently with a pep talk on Camera 3. His hilarious solution to combat those “greedy teachers” who are destroying America can be seen on The Daily Show.com .  (Type Message for Teachers into Search to view Crisis in Dairyland – Message for Teachers from the Feb. 28th show.)

As teachers, we are expected to be all things to all people. I believe our brains should be studied along with those of psychopaths to find out what motivates us to do a job that requires us to move mountains while having our hands tied behind our backs by regulations, paperwork, and No Child Left Behind (or only a few children left behind, and hopefully one of them is not yours).

This morning I read about the 12-year-old who killed his parents in Colorado and wounded his siblings. My first thought was, “Well, who was HIS teacher? String ‘em up!  Who knows how to tie a hangman’s knot?”  But it turned out he was homeschooled. Otherwise there would be yet another teacher with blood or Vis-a-Vis marker stains on their hands.

Another mother was arrested after her dead son was found (still warm) in an oven. Her sister asked that people not rush to judgement because, “She was a great mother.” The key word is “was.” If this poor child hadn’t died, he’d soon be enrolled in a public school near you. And some teacher would be expected to “turn him around” (even though mom’s phone had been disconnected and even though she didn’t show up for a Parent-Teacher Conference that the teacher rescheduled three times for her convenience). What’s wrong with this picture?

I started a list of all the hats that teachers wear during any given day as an homage to Dr. Seuss’ The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, but 500 wasn’t enough.  Besides, wearing all of those hats just increases the likelihood of an outbreak of lice.

Ahhh, just another day in Paradise. Pass me another bonbon, won’t you?

Photo Credit:  To buy a Miracle Worker mug for that teacher in your life, click here.

Christmas is a Wrap January 2, 2011

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As much as I love Christmas, once the lights come down and the decorations are carted back upstairs, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief.

Oh, the foot?  My son bought that one year for Halloween at the 99 Cent Store. It’s become a family tradition to put it in the foot of one of the boys’ Christmas stockings as a stocking stuffer. In my house, we’re big on traditions. These are the lasting memories that are the stuff of childhood (and later on – therapy).

Unfortunately, our annual tradition of going to see a really inappropriate movie on Christmas Eve was crushed when we showed up to see Rare Exports only to be told it didn’t start until Christmas Day.  In past years, movies have included  GremlinsDeuce Bigalo Male Gigolo, and Bad Santa. What can I say? I live with men. As much as my husband enjoys Love Actually, you can only watch it so many times. Ditto on It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story (though Darren McGavin’s character always reminded my husband of my father).

This year my friend Nora introduced me to The Bishop’s Wife which stars Cary Grant as an angel (think early George Clooney). The movie was released in 1947 when what a woman wanted most was a new hat. The coolest thing the angel does is make it so that the non-believer’s bottle of brandy automatically refill after it’s been poured. Now that’s the spirit of the season!

The day after Christmas we did make it to Rare Exports (Click Here to watch the trailer) to learn the story behind  the Real Santa Claus. It was actually a rather clever movie though it could kill tourism to Finland faster than you can say “dead reindeer.”

The Rising Body Count November 14, 2010

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Okay, if I had more time, I'd make this pile o' babies look more multicultural like my own students.

I’m afraid blogging has taken a back seat to crowd control. Yes, I started the year with eight additional students. Those eight extra students might as well be 20. Forget Octo-mom. I’m Octo-teacher!

I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of students. When two third grade classes got off the bus to go swimming, the kids just kept a comin’.  It was like the clown car at the circus.

Reluctantly, I’ve switched to two lines. Some teachers do separate lines for boys and girls, but we know which line will always be ready to roll. I’ve tried to equal the odds – literally. Since all students have a class number based on their first name, the odds and evens have their own lines.

The first few weeks, I thought the odds were I was going to go insane just trying to maneuver my class from Point A to Point B. I’ve taken to walking backwards, my hands holding up one finger for the odds and two for the evens. It feels like I’m guiding a jumbo jet to the gate. I have to stand in the middle to keep the lines separate, as the children seem to be magnetically attracted to each other. Once they’ve passed and are standing in two orderly lines, I “take a walk down the aisle.”  “Don’t spoil my wedding!” I say to the kids oozing into my space. My students have taken to humming the wedding march as I move between the lines. You gotta love third graders.

The extra kids mean two more tables of students sitting where I used to store supplies. The supplies now sit in bins in front of my desk. I covered them with pillows and allow those lucky few to “sit in the balcony,” as my entire class can no longer fit on the rug when I do the Word Knowledge lesson.

I began teaching in 1997, the year after class-size reduction went into effect in California. Though a little long in the tooth, I’ve never taught a class of 35 squirrelly first graders doing the potty dance. The teachers in 4th and 5th grade have dealt with larger numbers for years. In theory, the older kids are able to sit still longer. Hey, I said “in theory!” At least they’re no longer wetting their pants (in theory).

But I’ll tell you this. As hard as I try, there’s just no way I can give each one of those students the individual attention they need and deserve. More papers to copy, more papers to correct, more report cards to write, more parents to conference with. This is a case where more is less. Some of the best teachers I know are straining under the weight of additional students. It’s like being a waitress during rush hour when someone has called in sick. There’s no silver lining. And there’s no tips.

Today’s students are not the same students I went to school with in the suburban Midwest. These are kids who too often have received the short end of the stick before they ever set foot in school. We’ve got children in kindergarten who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans) due to severe emotional disturbance and a host of other disorders, some diagnosed, others not. Fractured families and families with both parents working just to make ends meet. I just conferenced with many of my parents and was amazed at how many are under incredible stress, but still confident that I will somehow work miracles with their child. Do they know something I don’t know? Oh yeah, I’m Octo-Teacher.

I came across a hilarious video from The Saturday Night Armistice out of the U.K. Enjoy.

Who’s Your Daddy? Dexter! September 30, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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My husband, a hopeless romantic, surprised me with this shirt

The only thing that’s gotten me through the the first two weeks of the new school year was knowing that the fifth season of Dexter was premiering Sept. 27th. I first wrote about my fixation on this show in Why I Love Dexter.

I, for one, loved watching Dexter balance his new role last season as a doting daddy with being a serial killer. Nothing like a sleepless night to throw you off your game. But from everything I’ve read about psychopaths (and I’ve read way than you’d ever want to), the one false note of last season was how Dexter’s becoming a daddy made him think twice about putting someone on ice. Dexter, himself, said that being a better killer made him a better father. Go figure.

In the Season 5 premiere, Dexter can’t even conjure up any fake tears for his dearly departed Rita. “I got some mouse ears,” he says, matter-of-factly. Yeah, that’s as good as it gets. It should be interesting to see how the writers handle Dexter’s parenting of his stepchildren Aster and Cody, and son Harrison this season. I’m afraid they’re taking some artistic license so as not to make Dexter too dark and despicable. He is, after all, America’s favorite serial killer, so the audience needs to be rooting for him. But what’s it really like to have a psychopath for a parent?

Psychopaths have strong narcissistic streak. It’s all about them. Just like those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), they view their children as extensions of themselves – things to be manipulated. The parent projects their “ideal self” onto them, so the child has to follow “the script,” or they’ll anger their parent. Yet, no matter what they do, it will NEVER be enough to earn the love of the parent with NPD. Many children spend their entire lives trying to get in their parent’s good graces, or just to get their parents to notice them, not realizing that this is impossible.

Last season, Dexter’s nemesis, the genial Arthur Mitchell (aka the Trinity killer), appears on the surface to be the consummate family man. It is only as the season progresses, that cracks appear in the carefully crafted image that Arthur has created, and Dexter can see how Arthur’s wife and children live in mortal fear of his rage. The majority of psychopaths are not serial killers or even physically violent. They kill the spirit of those near and dear through their callousness.

I have several friends and relatives who have children with narcissistic spouses. After coming to terms with the disorder themselves, they’re often at a loss as to what to do when sharing joint custody of a child. How do you prop up a child’s fragile self esteem when the other parent views the child as an extension of themselves, and/or delights in cutting the child down? One friend said she can only hope to give her son the skills to cope with his father’s taunts and criticism. He’s three years old.

If you think back to Dexter’s attempts to play Daddy, he mimics cultural stereotypes to play the part. When he asks,”Who wants pancakes?” it sounds more like a TV commercial. That’s because Dexter, like all psychopaths, is merely playing a part. In this case, he’s playing the part of TV dad.

The following comment was received from EMZ on my Close Encounter with a Narcissist series. She grew up with a narcissistic father and I think her experience is fairly typical.

My father was a classic narcissist. He was married to a woman (my mum) who all her life was, too, a narcissist. One of my brothers I fear is also. They undermine every achievement with a heart-stopping accuracy and coldness that you are left to wonder your own sanity. They contradict themselves just to oppose an opinion you may have dared utter. As a child you are dependent upon their guidance/encouragement/world perspective. But as a child they train you to know that you are worthless (to them), but you must accept it and pretend that it is normal.  So you question – does every parent act like this?  Is everybody just “acting’ normal.” I began to think and unfortunately hoped that all parents did hate their children, and it was normal to degrade and emotionally abuse friends especially boyfriends. Obviously, friends abandon you.  You don’t realize why, as nothing seems to fit together. I knew I was not normal.  It is such a relief to know that it is they who have a disease of the mind and very soul. My parents watched me suffer for years with a slow-growing brain tumor. I survived, but my father said, “The worst thing that could happen is you don’t fully recover and we might have to look after you.” Yeah…that would be a serious annoyance for you? It never came to pass, and I thank you lord.

Amen.



School Supplies – The Cupboard is Bare September 19, 2010

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I wanted to write a post about the first week of school but couldn’t find a picture of a person being hit over the head with a frying pan. But I did find the illustration above of Mother Hubbard and her ever hopeful dog checking the cupboard  – only to find it bare.  I guess that would make me ol’ Mother in the pointy hat, which is about how I felt last Friday afternoon after four straight days with my new third graders.

Last year we had no school supplies (e.g. pencils, paper, Crayons, glue, journals) because the orders were LOST. But supplies eventually did trickle in. This year no one has even offered an excuse for the lack of supplies save the economy. You have to understand. Good teachers don’t get mad. Okay, they do, but then they go to Target and buy whatever supplies they need with their own money. It’s usually on a credit card cause we received our last check in July and won’t see the next one ’til October. What’s wrong with this picture?

There are a few teachers who’ve I swear have been stockpiling supplies since 1999 in anticipation of the chaos the millenium might bring. They’re set. The rest of us are scrambling to “make do,” which I’m beginning to think should be an educational standard children are tested on, as it’s a valuable life skill.

On the first day back, our PTA (which is filled with dedicated and passionate parents) gave each teacher a $20 Target gift card. You’d have thought people won the lottery. We teachers are a humble lot. A $5 gift card to Starbucks makes us tear up. There was a drag race to Target as soon as our staff development let out. Unfortunately our district started so late this year that the Back-to-School section had been replaced with Halloween merchandise. All the  good stuff was gone. Dang!

This had to be the craziest first week of school I can remember. It didn’t help that two of our six third grade teachers were let go due to budget cuts. Or that because of five furlough days, we had four full days with new students instead of the usual two on Week 1. We were told there would be higher class sizes, but it was anticipated that some of those on the roster would be “no shows.” Last year student numbers crept from 20 to 24. This year they’re capped at 28. I had 32 on my roster, but only 29 showed. In the classroom next door to me 35 children filled the room making it impossible to move about the room.

Not only did I not have supplies, I didn’t have an extra eight desks and chairs! The day before school started our hard-working custodians dragged in a motley assortment of desks and chairs, some obviously from the 60s. Some were too big, some were too small, and none were just right.

I’d put in an order for my peeling wall to be repaired last June. I’m sure it’s lead-based paint, but I arrived back at school just in time to meet the painter who said he’d be back “later” to fix it. He was last seen running from the school. None of my computers had internet, so I had to summon my inner New Yorker to “persuade” ITS to send over a technician – now!  A technician did arrive and fixed the computers. I did not show my fangs. In fact, I went out of my way to be nice to him. Now I had computers, but still no journals or pencils.

I allow my students two pencils a month and one Kleenex a day (okay, if your snot is cascading onto the floor, I’ll give you two).  I told my students there were virtually no supplies, but tried to keep the mood positive. Let’s pretend we’re camping!  You know there are schools in sub-Saharan Africa that have dirt floors? Children write their math problems with sticks in the dirt. Does anyone have a stick?  My goal was not to burden the children with adult problems. “Pay no attention to that man standing behind the curtain!”

I sent home a letter to parents and thank goodness rolls of paper towels, glue sticks, and some stickers arrived. I even received a $20 gift card to Office Depot. I actually now have a red dry erase marker! As teachers we’re so used to making do with so little, that the smallest gesture of kindness puts us on top of the world. I’m of the opinion that during the BP oil spill, if they’d offered free food, teachers would have flooded in from all over the nation and capped that d^mn well! We’re doers, but we get tired of having to “make do.”

This is the first time I’ve ever written a post that has the tag “Rant” on it, as I don’t like to  to go THERE. I finally broke down and bought pencils and had some additional ones donated. My parents are not rich, but like all parents, they want the best for their children. I remain an optimist and choose to believe that my supply ship will come in. If necessary, I’m willing to battle Somali pirates with my yardstick to make this a reality.

Finally, on a more positive note. Although it’s only been four days, I think I have the makings of a great class!

Students Are Not Your Facebook “Friends” August 23, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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7 comments

A picture drawn by my student of the two of us. She said she wished she could have two mothers, me being the second. That's way back when I was teaching second grade. That was seven years ago when Facebook wasn't even on my radar. Her likeness of me is uncanny.

I ran across Teachers Asked to “Unfriend” Students on Facebook on MSN about a school district in Florida. Not that I get a lot of Facebook “Friend” requests from students – okay, I’ve had zero. But I do teach third grade. One of my students said his mom said he could go on Facebook when he turned 16, so it’s those who teach the older kids who might find this problematic. The Florida district laid it all out. No Facebook and be careful when emailing cause it could come back to bite you in the b*tt. Please read the link for all the gory details.

I’ve blogged on the danger of Facebook before in Five Ways Facebook Can Get Your Fired. Obviously, the teacher fired recently in Massachusetts didn’t read THAT post. That’s a $92,000 job you hear circling the drain. Glug.

At the end of each school year, I do give my students a notebook with my name and address in it. I offer a 100 percent guarantee that if they write me a letter, I’ll write one back. Maybe two kids take me up on this each year. For the first time, I gave out my email address this year. I was pleasantly surprised to receive weekly updates from one of my students who was vacationing in New England. She had horrible, I repeat, horrible handwriting, so to read her thoughts laid out so coherently was a godsend.

I also gave my email address to a student who moved out of our district last year. Out of the blue she emailed me. She was always mature for her age, but she is all of 12. She emails me maybe once a week. Thank god she’s quit going on about Justin Beiber! Last week she asked if I had any ideas as to what she could buy her 18-year-old sister for her birthday. I replied that since I only had sons, I couldn’t be of much help. My default gift was always dinosaurs and stuff that blows up. But between the back and forth emails, she got the idea to get her sister a charm bracelet. Whew! I always make a point of rereading my emails before I sent them off and imagine that I’m her mother. I want to be appropriate. I do throw in the occasional LOL, When she lamented that her middle school uniform colors were blue and navy blue, I encouraged her to think of Picasso’s Blue Period. She liked that. I tell her to say hello to her mother a lot.

This whole Facebook thing has eroded so many long-standing boundaries. Many of the teachers at my school “Friended” the AP, but I couldn’t bring myself cross that line. Early on, my father told me that I’d lose my job because of my blog, yet two years later, I’ve never had a complaint. Most likely those who disagree don’t bother to comment, but I’m mindful of who’s reading it. It keeps me on my toes.

Finally, anyone on the internet has to remember that whatever you post is on the internet FOREVER. My son posted a picture of himself shirtless (with his 8-pack) several years ago. He was horrified when he found that some site was automatically sending this picture to anyone he emailed – like his grandparents! When you’re online (with a glass of wine) it’s so easy to let your hair down, but as a teacher, you’ve got to remember that you’re a role model 24/7. Rule of thumb – wait 24 hours before hitting that SEND button.

Extreme Makeover Hits Close to Home August 19, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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11 comments

Always Jane

Karma has come ’round for my sister-in-law Jane who awoke yesterday to the sound of chickens, but by noon could hear the Extreme Makeover truck rumbling out in front of her house. Oh, what a year it’s been.  No, make that years for Jane and her amazing family.

Last summer when Jane went to her high school reunion in Pocatello, Idaho, her former classmates asked her if she wasn’t worried that her house might burn down while she was out for a night –  what with all those kids.  (Jane has a married daughter from her first marriage and eight children at home from her second ages 9-18.)  Jane just laughed, so when someone told her later that her house WAS on fire, she thought they were kidding – but they weren’t.  The fire started in the basement where the washer and dryer were located and where most of the kids slept. Everyone got out safely, but the house was toast.  All was lost save Jane’s indomitable spirit.

The fire came just a year after Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I wrote about that in Fortune Has Arrived.  Jane underwent a double mastectomy followed by chemo and eventually breast reconstruction.  Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, (which fortunately is benign and slow growing).

A friend shot some video and sent it in to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (a show I’ve never seen, but I’ve heard it’s the ultimate “feel good” experience). We all crossed our fingers, toes, and eyes. There were endless interviews and hurdles to clear.  I think the show spent more time vetting Jane and her family than they do with most presidential candidates.  And so we waited.

Last month Jane was told that the show had narrowed it down to five families. Meanwhile, rumors swirled around Pocatello about building permits being pulled.  It was like pulling off the world’s biggest surprise party ever and no one was supposed to spill the beans.

I can’t imagine any family more deserving than Jane’s. One year she drove down down with all of her kids to spend Thanksgiving with us.  They all packed into two rooms, the kids sleeping like puppies in a pile-up in the den.  Her children are all incredibly responsible, creative, and downright fun! That’s the way they’ve been raised by this single mother with a BIG heart. They work together. They’ve had to. Over the years Jane has received support (financial and otherwise) from family, friends, her church, and the government.  But they’ve worked hard to fend for themselves.

Her children all play a musical instrument, and I still remember when they set up outside a restaurant to make some extra change.  They had their own cleaning business. They’re very good at making do.

With the house uninhabitable, but still waiting for the insurance settlement, they spent last winter in a rental making daily trips back to their old house to feed the chickens. When we visited this spring they’d decided to move back and camp in the backyard.  There they’ve been living in a trailer and a small back house which was untouched by the fire.  The washer and dryer are in a tent. And it’s easier to tend their chickens.  Jane told me the kids refer to their outdoor digs as “The Haitian Five Star.”  When we left, Jane sent us off with a jar of smoked paprika.  She said that since the fire, the smell of anything “smoked” makes them all nauseous.  As the months went by, we began to wonder if this Extreme Makeover was for real.  The clock was running out.

Several days ago all of their cell phones were taken away, so it was only after my mother-in-law drove by their house that we got the news.  She reported that there were also two vans packed with their suitcases as they were being whisked off to an undisclosed location. They got a choice between a tropical island, a mountain resort, or a theme park. I still can’t believe they didn’t want to come stay with us, where we have our own extreme home makeover going on. (Though you can’t get much done with a crew of one.)

In case you’re here because of the NPD link, you can read Jane’s story on the Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 3 Comment 27.

I so wanted to blog about this great news, but waited until the story broke on Facebook. Their story will air later this year. In the meantime, they have their own Extreme Makeover Facebook page where you can follow the construction day by day by clicking on Photos. It was on this site that I learned they’re in Key West, Florida (even their dog Betsy went with them!).   Everyone loves a “feel good” story and this is it!  Karma has come ’round.

Photo Credit: Shellee Christiansen

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