Friday, May 28, 2010

Gimme a break!

St. Bill and Middle Daughter


Boogie Bear

I took some days off from the school house earlier this week to stay with my grandbabies while Middle Daughter and St. Bill went to Las Vegas. (St. Bill had work there. Middle Daughter had fun there.) I had to come back to work to recover. Don't get me wrong, my grandbabies are ADORABLE (I mean, just look at those little faces!), and I'm crazy about them, but cliche or not, I totally get why YOUNG people have babies! I am whooped! And I'm even more impressed with the kind of mama Middle Daughter is -- she does an awesome job with her babies. (I have to say, though, that, tired or not, spending that time with Boogie and Bella was exactly what I dreamed being "Jaja" would be like. They grinned and giggled and I melted. And I never got tired of hearing, "I love you, Jaja!")

Still, I'm glad to be back at Casa St. Michael with the saint, and I've even been glad to be back at work with my big "babies" for a couple of days before the holiday weekend starts. Nonetheless, as much as I love those "babies," too, if I can get everything done that's calling out for my attention, I'll be excited for the start of the summer break at the end of next week! (Lots of miles to travel, people to see, and projects to complete during my "vacation" months.) Thinking about the break in our schedules that we as teachers are so blessed to get reminded me of something I wrote a few years ago after an exchange on the subject with a student . . .

[NOTE: Name has been changed to protect the clueless.]

My first thought was, “I can’t believe he’s saying that! That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”

My second thought was, “Well, duh, it’s Austin talking – why am I surprised?”

My third thought? “I was wrong. It’s not exactly the dumbest thing I've ever heard – I’m sure Austin’s said things just as dumb before (in fact, I know he has). I just didn’t expect him to get back in the groove so fast.”

And what did this little cherub say? you ask. Well, this little angel had the nerve to say, in front of God and everybody, that teachers do not deserve vacations. Can you believe it? Well, if it were anyone but Austin, I would have to say, no, I can’t believe anyone would say such a thing. I guess I have to chalk it up to ignorance, and since it is my job to educate, perhaps I should explain to him – and to any other morons out there harboring such thoughts – exactly why we need our Summer Break (and any other breaks we might get).

Middle school teachers get paid to be on campus from 8:15 AM to 4:15 PM. The last few weeks before the summer hiatus, I am usually on campus on most days from 7:30 to 5:30. (I was up here for eleven hours over last weekend.) There have been many other days when I stayed until six or seven or eight, and many teachers here at school put in much longer hours than I do. (And, of course, this doesn’t include the time we all spend working on school projects at home.)

Actually, the more I think about it, there are probably no words to explain the toll good teaching takes on those who do it. How do you explain to someone who doesn’t want to understand what trying to do our jobs costs us personally – what it’s like to care intensely about kids you know are struggling through tough times at home; kids who have difficulty learning in a regular classroom setting but have no other alternatives; kids who suffer from hyperactivity and yet are not on adequate meds and who, therefore, disrupt everyone else’s learning and threaten your own sanity; kids who, for whatever reason just plain don’t care enough about themselves to care about anything else, least of all learning. And last, but definitely not least, what it takes out of a teacher to deal daily with one like Austin.

“No, that’s not a verb, Austin.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it doesn’t show action or state of being.”

“Why not? I don’t get it! This is stupid.”

Then there are the adults we deal with. Parents, administrators, sometimes even other teachers (all of which I definitely don’t have time to discuss here). And the paperwork? Lord help me – let’s not even go there.

If for no other reason, though, we need a break so that we can come back to school and realize that regardless of the lack of respect we get, regardless of the long hours we work, regardless of the general crap we deal with, we really do love our kids. (We even miss them when we’re away from them, though we might not realize it until we see them again in the hallway.)

Yep, we DO love our kids – even the clueless ones like Austin – and we want to be the very best for them, and that’s precisely why we need a break. (Just like parents of small children who need a getaway every once in a while!)

Grinnin' . . . and packin' up for the break!


Friday, May 7, 2010

Start here . . .

(Photo courtesy of Bill Odle,
one of my favorite dads of all time.)
May. Mother’s Day. It’ll be here before we know it, and then Father’s Day will follow closely behind. Kids will buy cards, maybe some flowers for mom and then, in June . . . well, something manly for Dad. (Does anybody really buy their dad a tie anymore?) And we parents will eat up the extra attention we get – even if it’s just for that one day.

As a kid, I never had trouble picking out a card for my mom, but my father was a different story. The ones that exclaiming, “Happy Birthday to a GREAT Dad!” or “Dad, You’re the Best!” just didn’t work. By the time I was in kindergarten, I knew my father wasn’t a great dad, and even though I loved him fiercely, I knew he wasn’t anywhere near the best. I knew that good dads might not live with their kids, but surely they at least called them or wrote to them, didn’t they? My dad popped in and out of my life just often enough to keep me off-balance but not so often that I expected anything from him. I’m reminded of him every time I hear the lyrics from John Mayer’s song, “Daughters.”

mmm“Oh, you see that skin?
mmmIt's the same she's been standing in
mmmSince the day she saw him walking away.
mmmShe's left cleaning up the mess he made.”

My father’s nickname for me was, in fact, “Daddy’s mess,” a reflection on his self-awareness, not on me. At least he never kidded himself about being more than he really was. I see too many mothers and fathers who do, though. Ask any of them what kind of parent they are, and they’ll tell you that they’re not perfect but that they’re pretty darn good. Unfortunately, as a teacher, I see kids that tell me otherwise. Kids who never have their homework done. Kids who come and go as they please because nobody cares where they are as long as they’re out of the way. Kids who use language that would make most grownups blush. (Trust me, there are still some people who blush.) Kids who live off junk food. Kids who take whatever’s not nailed down. Kids who are so hungry for love and affection that they’ll do just about anything to get it, regardless of the consequences.

It breaks my heart. Especially that last part because I know that kids who are that desperate for love rarely learn to love others in healthy ways, themselves. And I am reminded of the refrain in Mayer's “Daughters”:

mmm“Fathers, be good to your daughters;
mmmDaughters will love like you do, yeah.
mmmGirls become lovers who turn into mothers,
mmmSo, mothers, be good to your daughters, too.”

Jesus said he was giving His followers a new commandment, that we love each other as He loves us. Wouldn’t it be great if we started with our children? Or perhaps even with someone else’s child?
Amen. “Let it be so.”

Soft smiles and hope,

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall . . .

For better or worse, ever notice how your makeup never looks quite the same in your car's visor mirror as it does in your bathroom?

I, myself, have had many disappointing and sometimes downright frightening up-close-and-personal run-ins with a variety of mirrors. Many, many years ago my parents lived in Orange, Texas, for a brief period of time, in a house with awful bathroom lighting. I had a speaking engagement come up in Orange, so, of course, I stayed with my folks. And guess where I got primped up and ready for my Orange, Texas, speaking debut? Yup, in the bathroom with the worst lighting.
Still, I was careful in my preparation, and I thought I was looking pretty fine by the time I left the house. I had blow-dried and curled and sprayed everything that needed that kind of attention, and covered, shaded, painted and highlighted everything else. As I greeted those precious women who had come to hear me speak, several commented excitedly, "Oh, we just can hardly wait to hear you speak!" I thought that was so sweet of them . . . until I took a quick bathroom break. In the clear light of the Ramada Inn Ladies' Room, just off the banquet hall, I got a totally different perspective on how I looked. No wonder those gals were waiting with bated breath to hear my stories -- they probably thought I was a hooker giving her "From Pimps to Prophesy" testimony! What had appeared perfectly normal and natural to me at mom's bathroom sink looked anything but that when examined under a different light.

Our lives are like that, aren't they? As long as we don't look too closely at some things, they can seem to be okay, even pretty doggone good at times. But when those things are brought out into the light, very often we find they are not what we thought they were. Sometimes, they look a little shabbier; sometimes they're not even recognizable. And, thankfully, once in a while, we even discover treasures that we couldn't begin to appreciate when they were hidden from the light.

Regardless of the results, we shouldn't be afraid to examine things in the light. Things we're attached to, committed to. Relationships. Ideas. Ourselves. Sure, we may find that not all is as it appears to be. But isn't that the point? I don't know about you, but I want to be brave enough to opt for what's real -- not that which only gives the appearance of being real. (Think diamonds, not cubic zirconia!) And besides, bringing areas of my life into the light allows me to work on those things that need sprucing up a bit. To let go of that which doesn't need to be part of my life. To maybe even embrace some treasures I was neglecting.

Jesus said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness" (John 12:46).

Examining and making choices,