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Celebrating the Devil’s Birthday October 29, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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It was just a matter of time. Sure enough, last week one of my students said, “My mom told me Halloween is the Devil’s birthday.” “Well, that can’t be,” I replied, “Because my birthday is in April.” A quizzical look. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.

I try to be hopelessly PC. “Well, we all have different ideas and opinions. That’s what makes our world so interesting!” I say through clenched teeth. At my school, we arrange for alternative activities for children whose parents don’t want them to participate in the Halloween Parade.

Several years back, I had a family who had called their daughter’s first grade teacher to suggest prayers for her. They’d also called to make sure that the teacher wasn’t planning on coming to school dressed as a witch on Halloween. I’m not going to even go THERE. I don’t have to worry ’bout stuff like that since I keep my broom parked in the corner. I tell the kids that’s my transportation. Hey, can’t you tell I’m kidding?

When I taught a bilingual second grade class, my students had no idea how much Spanish I really knew. (The answer is not much.) But one day I was sweeping up a mess and noticed two girls watching me. I said, “Una bruja, si?” (A witch, yes?) The look on their faces was priceless.

My one complaint about Halloween is that if I see one more Scream mask, I’m really going to scream. Okay, make that two. In Los Angeles, it’s usually hotter than Hades on Halloween. Herding a bunch of squirmy kids around in their itchy polyester costumes IS a devil of a job.

My school has a parade, though only children dressed as storybook characters can win a prize. So, we have a lot of grim reapers who are just plain grim, since they can’t carry their scythes, and pirates without swords. When it comes time to change into their costumes for the parade, I’m in charge of the girls. There is always a plethora of princesses. When I taught fourth grade, I couldn’t help but notice that one of the “princesses” looked more like a Vegas show girl. It was only later we learned she was actually 14!  Ay carumba!

My friend Cathy sent me a link to a great story from The New York Times on how the French are starting to warm up to the idea of “Alowine.” Notice how it has “wine” in it. It’s called Pumpkin Eaters, and it’s hilarious.

The Village People Save Halloween October 18, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Parenting.
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Halloween in New York City in the 1980s was a tough call.  The big draw was the Village Halloween Parade. But how many gay guys can you watch prancing around dressed as poodles in costumes made from pink plastic bags? (The answer is quite a few!)

The trouble was that my sons, Taylor, who was in third grade, and Ian, who was in Kindergarten, were eager to go through that American rite of passage called trick-or-treating. In Manhattan, that meant going from deli to deli and getting a piece of candy or maybe having a slice of cheesy pizza dropped into your bag at the local pizza parlor.  Not quite the Halloween of my childhood.

When I was a kid, Halloween was a pretty simple affair.  You carved a real pumpkin and it always had triangle eyes.  None of that artsy stuff you see nowadays.  If you were hard up for a costume, being a hobo was always an option, but that was before there were homeless people.  You could wear your dad’s shirt and carry a stick with a bandana tied to it. Now those same bandanas signal gang affiliations.  Sigh.  Word traveled quickly as to which families were handing out the “good stuff.”  I’m talking homemade popcorn balls and caramel apples (before they had razor blade fillings).

Fast forward.  We were living at the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street.  Built in 1883, the hotel is 10 stories tall and has an ornate wrought iron staircase winding through its center.  The residents were mostly “artists,” (code word for eccentrics).  We moved in the year after Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend Nancy. There were residents who swore the elevator always stopped at the first floor, even when no one had pressed the button, because that’s where Sid had lived.

At the Hotel Chelsea, it was pretty much Halloween year round.  We once walked into the wrong apartment once and found ourselves in a casino.   It’s not like the boys could go from apartment to apartment trick-or-treating. No, we would have to bite the bullet (the silver one intended for werewolves) and throw a Halloween Party.

Other parents, who were equally desperate for something to do on Halloween, quickly RSVP’d.  We enlisted the help of some of the hotel’s residents, some who we only knew in passing.  I was willing to buy the candy for them to hand out, but they insisted they would to do it. But what it they flaked – or OD’d?

That's Taylor, the mad scientist, out front wielding a the pliers.

Mad scientist Taylor wielding pliers.

I ordered a sh*tload of plasticky crap from the Oriental Trading Company.  Skulls, spiders – Typical boy stuff.

I made a huge platter of spaghetti with eyeball meatballs (olives) along with vampire repelling garlic bread.  Jake’s mom, Arlene, who was a caterer, arrived bearing the most incredible cupcakes I’d ever seen. They had black frosting and a green plastic witch’s finger protruded from each one.

We set up games out in the hallway.  Stick a skewer into a bowl of flour and try to hit the lady apple. (What a mess that was!)  There was a little fishing rod with hook on the end of it so kids could try to snag a skull ring out of a jar. This was all time filler until the main event. Finally, it was time to go trick-or-treating.

I shouted out an apartment number and a dozen children raced up the stairs with parents trailing behind.  From floor to floor they raced, maybe ten apartments in all.  The last stop was at our friend Susan’s.  She was a teacher and lived in the penthouse.  I expected candy.  Instead she’d gone all out with spooky lighting and a scary soundtrack. Her apartment was already a jungle filled with terrariums of exotic animals. When she had the tarantula walk across her shoulder, the kids were mesmerized.  But then, so was I. This was the grand finale.  But wait, there’s more!

My husband’s office was across the hall from where we lived.  It had a wrought iron balcony that overlooked 23rd Street.  Flying high on sugar, the kids tied rubber bugs to fish lines then dropped them down to street level. When someone walked by, they’d jerk the line to make the bug jump.  When unsuspecting people were startled, they laughed hysterically.

Everyone swore it was the best Halloween ever.  And it was.  A motley crew of people who wanted to create a lasting memory for children made it happen.  Yes, it takes a village – Or in this case, the Village People.

Moxey, whose blog Middleground is on my blogroll, wrote a hilarious post about her own ambivalence about Halloween and the inevitable  Costume Drama in outfitting her eight-year-old son, Spawn.  It’s a fun read.  This year, the party is at her house!

Photo Credit:  Spooky Spinner by Mark Williams at markrosswilliams.com

Red Ribbon Week October 13, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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The first year I taught at my school, I was informed that my class needed to make a poster for Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon what? Something about “Saying no” to drugs.

I was used to the DARE program that my sons attended in middle school. Never mind that by high school all the stoners wore their DARE t-shirts proudly.

The teacher in the classroom next to me had an adorable “Bugs Not Drugs” poster outside her door. I so love bugs, but THAT idea was taken. A first grade classroom had “Hugs not Drugs” featuring little children with outstretched hands. Can you say insufferably cute? So what was I going to do? One student in my class loved pugs….no, I don’t think so.

When I worked as substitute, I used to take pictures of interesting bulletin boards or make notes when I saw cool stuff. I rummaged around and found a poem I’d seen in a high school classroom. I reread it and thought third graders could relate to it as well, as it’s all about peer pressure. It’s called Jellybeans Up Your Nose.

Not only did my third graders so “get it,” but they made a great poster and won the poster competition. When we talk about drugs in third grade, most kids think cigarettes. There are a few kids who confide that their parents drink beer. One boy confessed that his mother drank something called a Bloody Mary, not to be confused with the specter that haunts school bathrooms. I tell students that when it comes to alcohol, it’s all about moderation, so they don’t go home and give their parents a hard time. But I have  students whose lives have been torn apart by drugs and are all too familiar with crack cocaine and syringes. It makes for one very interesting conversation.

My students loved drawing pictures of the children with Xs for eyes and anime princesses with cigarettes dangling from their lips.

Jellybeans Up Your Nose

Johnny stuck jellybeans up his nose,
That’s a pretty dumb thing to do.
But the other kids said, “Hey Johnny’s real cool!
Let’s put beans in our noses too.”

Well, a kid can’t breathe with beans up his nose,
‘Cause they get all stuck inside.
So Johnny and the kids, well, I hate to say it,
But they coughed and they choked and they died.

That’s a pretty grim tale, I must admit,
And it may not all be true.
Still when somebody cool does something dumb.
You don’t have to do it too.

The origin of Red Ribbon Week is actually a pretty grim tale itself. To find out all about it, go to Red Ribbon Week on Wikipedia. It’s an interesting read. And it’s all true.

Being a G-Rated Teacher Sucks October 3, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Dr House

Third grade teachers don’t ever to go to the bathroom, and we certainly don’t swear. On some days I feel like Mary Poppins, when at heart I’m really Dr. House. But high school is a whole different ball game. When my son, Ian, walked into his art class on the first day of school, his teacher, Ms. Thurber, didn’t mince words. She’d been there, done that, and had the t-shirt to prove it.

She informed the class, “I don’t care who is gay, or who you think is gay. Just don’t carve it on the tables.”  She continued, “And if you feel like writing a note that says,  ‘F&ck Ms. Thurber,’ you can throw it over there on that pile with all the others.”

In a Dr. House vs. Ms. Thurber match-up, my money would be on the old girl. You gotta love a teacher who tells it like it is, but then I teach third grade. Would anyone like a spoonful of sugar?

Photo Credit:  Dr. House by sweetxandxbitter on flickr.