Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"I Believe I Can Fly" Or Is That Cry?

Spent some time traveling over my recent fall break. Not the usual driving down to the corner and back. Nope. I was in three different states, on about eight different planes in about seven different cities. I experienced confusing time zones, became weary with jet lag. I awakened in unfamiliar surroundings, and worried about the tag-team care for the dogs and cat. Travel was supposed to be relaxing. I found it to be a lot of work. But then, my simple life style--borderline boring to most folks--usually does not involve the TSA, conflict, tantrums, and one mishap after another.

I flunked fall break.

The travel debacle started at an airlines that I will randomly call 'FrownTear' Airlines. They made Fisher Price Weebles Airport look like Air Force One. And the Fisher Price toy was far more fun than flying on Frown-Tear Airlines. They brag about the various animals on the tail of their aircraft. Too bad there is not an animal named the 'Moron' because that would be a perfect icon.

I was not a nice passenger.

Arriving at the ticket counter forty-nine minutes before my scheduled flight, the air was filled with frustration. Hmmmm. The ticket counter closes forty-five minutes prior to take-off. I had missed my flight. HUH? With my airplane sitting in plane view (sorry...couldn't resist). I was not alone in my state of being distraught. So was the family of five, the young girl with the demeanor of my granddaughter, and a hispanic gal who would later accuse me of being a 'cougar'. Umm yeah. My thirty-six year old son gave me a lift to the Indianapolis International Airport and she thought he was my....oh it's too icky to put into print. She was going to "Denber" and I was going to "Denver." Or so we thought. Until the ticket counter attendant at FrownTear put an end to those plans.

I paced. I complained. Loudly. I argued. I demanded. I lost.

Now as my firstborn "hottie" (according to the Official Cougar Locater) was witnessing all this, he just stared at me. This child of mine deals with the armpit of the public sometimes: he is a law enforcement officer. Just about the time I demanded for the CEO's name of this airlines, I received a scolding from my child. "Mom....why are you being so rude to her? She's just doing her job." Somebody raised that kid to be pretty decent. He was right. I knew he was right. But hey....I was on a roll. I HAD to get to L.A. and rudeness was the best vehicle.

After I rescheduled my flight and paid $50 more for having to make a change, I sat down and evaluated my conduct. I did not  give myself an A. I took away my recess and made myself write, "I will be nice to the lady at the ticket counter" thirty times. I would have called my own parents but their numbers are extremely long distance. I had already been grounded so it was time to put on my big-girl panties and apologize.

I made nice and said "I'm sorry" to the FrownTear Ticket Counter Lady. I behaved. I rescheduled my flight and made it to Denver, with a passenger sitting next to me who was named: you got it, Deborah Hall. She was from Lubbock. And the nicer version of the 'Deborah Hall' genre. Just sayin'.

I arrived at my destination, enjoyed my time in L.A. and was dropped off at the LAX airport by my youngest son, who is as decent as his older brother. I say this because he drove about forty-five minutes back to the airport. Why? Because his mother had left her wallet on the seat of his Jeep. Sigh. It is tough to check into FrownTear Airlines without one's driver's license. It is even tougher to call him  when that same mother refuses to get her own cell phone. But can I just say that I meet the nicest strangers who call/text/ and such on my behalf? And it makes me hum that old Coke commercial, "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony..." Yeah, you're humming it aren't you? Next, you'll be rockin' out Kum-by-Yah.

Anyway....I passed the "You can use my cell phone" favor on by paying the $25 fee for checked luggage for a frazzled mother who was charged $25 for her bag. She was previously assured  it would fit in the overhead luggage. Yeah....FrownTear Airlines sure had that mommy in tears. Her young daughters looked ever so fearful and tired as the supervisor babbled on about 'policy'. Hey....what's one more charge? My daughter was made to pay for her 'free' carry-on because she had booked her flight through a third party. Yeah...there is NO party when securing transportation with FrownTear.

I am thrilled that FrownTear airlines will cease to exist. Seems they have been bought, sold, and dismantled, grounded, and hopefully forced to sit in time-out. I will miss their attendants saying, "Enjoy your flight with Rocky the Raccon" or whatever animal is painted on the tail of the plane. But other than that....it was a beastly air travel experience.

And this is the end of this teacher's essay, 'How I Spent My Fall Break Spending Money Flying on FrownTear Airlines'.

Next time I'm taking a Greyhound. That is an animal I can trust.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Democracy: An Open and Shut Case

As I was puttering around my classroom waiting for the kids to come in, I was thinking about the day's lesson. As a sixth grade teacher of Social Studies, my days are full of teaching about ancient Greece. Now...I saw you roll your eyes, but truly, there is a lot of good stuff packed into this curriculum topic. And if presented with enough excitement, the kids are spellbound with the stealth activity of the Trojan Horse, and the drama of all those goddesses. I tell them 'Homer' and 'Virgil' are writers who go by one name....much like Beyonce, Prince, Cher, etc. Kinda like saying the last name Manning: we know you are talking football.  Or if you are talking presidents and you say, 'Abe' no one asks for i.d. We get it. Fame does that: abbreviates the name. My son used to buy shoes called Jordan's. Enough said.

So here I am ready to dazzle my darlings with the whole notion of democracy---which you know began in the city-states of the Greek region---when one of my students bounds in and announces, "Hey Mrs. Hall...did you know the government shut down? What's up with that?"

I would like to know "What's up with that?" myself. I am used to hearing the word: shut down. I tell kids: "Shut down your computers." Factories and small businesses have shut down all across the world.  I started to say that in sports there are shut downs when teams don't score; but I think that is 'shut outs' instead. Yeah....I flunked ESPN.

It is hard explaining how our government works to young minds. It is even harder to explain why they AREN'T working. All I know is that it is the small cogs in the big wheel that are being damaged by this action. I am to fly to LA next week to present Lunar Science to a bunch of school kids from the Watts area. Part of my lesson was to secure the Lunar Soil Samples aka 'moon rocks' from Johnson Space Center. As an educator with an Aerospace Endorsement to my license, I do this quite regularly. My security plan is faxed, and I am waiting for clearance and confirmation to have in my possession, these precious chunks of the moon. My email today from JSC is reminding me that they are closed and no educational disks will be distributed. A nice note from the gal at JSC apologizes for disappointing the children. I am sad. The kids are getting cheated. Again. Oh sure, I can come up with another lesson and the kids will never know what they missed. But I will know. Funny....there are always two things young minds are interested in: space and dinosaurs. They may never experience either one, but they will study both with an insatiable sense of wonder. I think it is because they take both on faith. Just as I take it on faith that my government will keep working like me. I retired and restarted. I rarely stop and shutdown for me is when I forget what I am going to say next.

Now if you think I am going to use my blog to bash the Democrats or Republicans, you are going to be disappointed. I have my opinions and when it comes to politics this is my mantra: I am not changing your mind and you are not changing mine. Let's just say that I still have my paddle from my early days of teaching and going to Washington D.C. for a field trip might prove painful to some folks in Congress. Just sayin'....

How this will all play out is anybody's guess. I am a bit relieved that my mother has 'gone to Glory' as she would be fretting her little apron off, worrying if her social security check would be in her checking account the first of the month. She always paid her bills on time and it would cause her great mental stress if she were to let somebody down. Hmmm....maybe Washington needs to study the work ethic of my mom.

In the mean time, I will walk into the classroom and convince my charges that democracy really is a good plan of government. We just celebrated the Constitution in September, and discussed all of the terror surrounding September 11th. History isn't always pretty, or comprehensible, but it is vital that we look at the various parts to understand the whole.

I'm proceeding on with the Greeks. The kids have assignments, projects, tests, maps, reading, quizzes on the topic of early democratic government.

Just waiting on that kid who says he/she did not do their assigned homework on the topic of democracy because they were 'shutting down'. 

Land of the free and home of the brave: OPEN SOON.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Playing Possum

     It started with the tail. Walking towards my back yard, I saw an object that pushed my 'Curiosity' app. Hmmm...looks like a snake. Or a big worm. Naaaa....it's a tail. I then looked around to confirm my suspicions: my cat had killed a baby possum. I knew it was not the dogs because they had been inside for a while. Plus, when they went bounding out, they circled the poor critter and backed away. Now....I am told that when possums are in that 'fake dead' posture, it is because they are so stressed that they go into a kind of shock. Much like when humans faint. Possums are limp, their tongues hang out, and their respirations slow. If you thought they were unglamorous before, they are truly ugly when dying. Or pretending to die. Or whatever.

     Well, I disposed of the distressed critter in the Shirley Brothers Funeral Dumpster, tail and all. Later on I wondered if the thing was actually dead. I have a soft spot for the animal kingdom and didn't want to assume death if this was just a really good faker. I've met some men before that appeared to be....oh never mind. So, I got my flashlight, fished out the 'bag o' possum' and made my necropsy notes: this sucker had gone to Possum Paradise.

     Now you may assume that my thinking is pretty skewed to be posting a blog about a deceased opossum. Or that life on the ole' homestead is pretty slow. You are correct on both counts. But the possum is the only animal in the United States and Canada that is like a kangaroo; it is a marsupial. The female gives birth to about twenty babies, the size of honeybees, and they are carried in the mother's pouch. Only about half survive. Okay...less than that if they meet my cat. These waddling, kinda creepy looking, nocturnal omnivores are amazing tree climbers due to their long claws. Their hairless tail is extremely strong and can support the whole animal from a branch. Are you still reading? Or did I lose you after I found the tail?
     Possums have a special place in my family's oral history. When I was pretending to be asleep, usually because I did not want to go to school, my mom would admonish me to"Stop playing possum!" She had learned this from her mother, who sternly called out children for feigning death to get out of a chore or directive. When my youngest son was riding in the car with me, he peered out his window at a dead possum. With all of the innocence of a little kid, he asked, "Mom...have you ever seen one of those alive?"He had a point: most possums that are seen are dead. Really dead. Roadkill buffet. Unless you are from Virginia and such....folks down that way hunt them and cook 'em up and eat 'em. Ewww.

    Well, I know your life is pretty exciting, glamorous, and fulfilling. But I do appreciate your stooping to my level and reading about the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: The Opossum Edition. 'Betcha the Kardashians or the 'Real Housewives of Muncie' are jealous of my ongoing journeys of adventure and discovery.

     This is life in Possum Holler Hood. And I'm not playing.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

High School Reunion: Much More Fun than High School!

I got the dreaded call. You know the one....where your best friend calls you and says: "You're going."
While I usually treasure any time we get to hang out, I felt like she was hanging me out to dry. I resisted. I made excuses. I blamed my inability to attend on the fact I had no working water heater and could not shower. She was not having any of it. So...in the big picture of forty-three years of being best friends, I said okay. I was to attend yet another high school reunion.

My first dilemma ---as all women can relate--- was what to wear. I had an image to project. Or protect. I had pounds to hide. I had designer hair stubble on my legs, accented with a bazillion mosquito bites. I sported unwanted skin tags, and the most uneven tan. I was a hot mess. And I mean hot. Even applying my Cover-Up Girl makeup I set the hair dryer on the cold setting just to get through the 'make up and pretend you're still seventeen again' protocol. This was turning into work. I won't even go into the whole wardrobe debacle. But I clearly had choices of various chic looks: Matronly, Flirty and Fun, Saggin' and Draggin' but Still Braggin, and my all time favorite: Beyonce With a Touch of Betty White. I stuck with basic black, traded up for a bra that bravely tried to defy gravity, and wore sleeves to hide the fact that no shower meant hairy armpits. I had gotten a pedicure, but was not brave enough to show off these old, tired, feet. I had hidden as much as I could. Sure wished I had some of that wrinkle concealer. I would have rolled in it. Can you tell my confidence was waning? Just like in high school. Some old haunts still follow us around and speak to our weaknesses, do they not? "Okay...let's just get this over with" was my recurring thought. I was never good at tests, and thought this reunion was just another one I would barely pass.

Well, when we showed up we got a name tag with our senior picture emblazoned in the corner. I don't know how long we all stared at one another's chests trying to put a forty year old picture with our late fifties brains, but soon the neurons powered up and connections were made. We had made the journey to this corner restaurant to talk, story, and see how we all had aged. It was like a museum of has beens. But time is a great equalizer; we all had our flaws and failures. Pretty soon our wrinkles and receding hair lines were decked out in huge grins and "remember whens..."The lines of division which stamped 'Popular' 'Loser' 'Bully' 'Nerd' etc. soon faded. We had our scars and successes, our hang-ups and let downs. But for one evening, the walls melted and we all just enjoyed being reunited.

I have to thank my best friend for a great night. Not one person came up to me and commented on my hair: that which was on my legs and that which I dyed to conceal the gray. I was told that I had a 'pixie' face. Now...with my hearing going a bit, I thought the guy said I had a 'piggy' face. I must have looked shocked until he repeated 'pixie'. Whew! Resembling a little elf is far easier to take than being mistaken for a sow at the State Fair.

I can't tell you how much I laughed. I tried to speak to everyone...which is SO unlike high school where you only speak to those at your lunch table. And I found an entire group of gals who were true friends back in the day---and we did sit at the same lunch table! Such good people were in that room and we were kind enough to remember those who were no longer with us. We shook our heads like old people, recounting the various classmates who did not not make it home from their military tours, the tragedy of suicide, the ones who lost their battles with catastrophic disease. We spoke with pure joy of being grandparents, our children's successes, and empathized when the topic of job losses and downsizing interrupted our journeys to Oz. Failed marriages, successful divorces, and second chances were exchanged like tender, heartfelt currency. We understood. None of us had been dealt the hand of perfection. We were kind. Authentic. And generally relieved to have overcome our fears, to stand shoulder to shoulder and just reveal who we had become. The acceptance and lack of judgment of another--so lacking in the halls of high school--truly prevailed. We had turned out pretty darn good.

While my little brain has such a hard time believing that it has been forty years since high school I count last night as a great memory, rich in hugs, laughter, and disbelief at how much we have in common.
Yes...the reunion was so much more fun than high school and I am looking forward to the next one.

I may even shave my legs.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'M BAAAAACK!!! Yippee Ky Yay!

Hey....I was lost but now I'm found! My stroll through cyberspace was a bit frantic, but thankfully my favorite Cloud Engineer AJS, has lassoed my sorry self and steered me back to the Ongoing Stories of My Soul Ranch. Whew! Soon as I water my horse and bunk down for the night, I'll be good as new. Or as old as dirt. Either way....I have a few stories to tell you. Thanks for checking in to see what I was up to....sorry it took me so long to wander back.

Okay partner--I will be back in the saddle right quick, blogging before ya know it!

Friday, May 31, 2013

A K-Mart Blue Light Special That Turned Very Green!

Okay...get this! So I am in the checkout lane at K-Mart minding my own business, as usual. Stop laughing. I have my moments when I stay entirely focused. And no---this is not a blog about going to war with a shopping cart, or stealing someone's shopping cart, thinking it was mine. No...I am not retelling a tale about a kid named Michael who needed my help in the parking lot or about the time some guy mistook me for another gal who frequents 'the club'. If you have read some of my 'ongoing stories' these tidbits will be familiar. But I digress. How surprising.

Okay...so I have my purchases loaded up on the belt thingy that clearly has a mind of its own. (But that is another story). Then, I look behind me and see this nice looking young man with his arms piled high with brats, franks, packaged potatoes, more brats and such. I mean this guy was loaded. After wondering why said 'nice looking young man' lugged his barbecue menu up to the check out  without aid of a cart, I wondered if he too, had gone to war with a shopping cart. I regained my wits and mentioned that he could go ahead of me. This guy was about to drop his hotdog. Not that I was staring, of course.

At first he resisted. Then I insisted. We chatted about my dog purchases (regular dogs, not hotdogs) and then his brats were bagged. He thanked me again for letting him be next in line. Truly, no big deal.

As he turns to go, he stops, takes a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet and tells the cashier, "Here. Put this on this nice lady's purchases." A twenty dollar bill? Holy guacamole! Of course I told him no, that payment was certainly not necessary! He then said, "You did a kindness for me. Let me do one for you." With that he placed the twenty dollar bill in my hand and walked away.

I am not sure how long my mouth hung open as I stood there staring at the money. Have I mentioned that it was a twenty dollar bill? And it is a real one! My sister checked to be sure it was not counterfeit. I mean, my heart was so touched, but had it been funny money I think I would have had no choice but to pray for somebody's hotdogs to burn.

Now...I know these random acts of kindness are just the ticket these days. And I have been on the giving end a time or two, but what the heck?? A twenty dollar bill just for relieving a guy of his heavy load? What is this world coming to?

Kindness. And you can put your money on it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Small, White Crosses...Untold Losses

Memorial weekend. Flags are a flyin' and families gather, and kids know this is a precursor to that long awaited summer vacation. And many folks stop and remember those who have paid the price for freedom. Many images capture the honor, loyalty and unselfish gift of giving up one's life for that of their country. Is it not a noble and 'lump in the throat' moment, when we put our personal agendas aside and remember? As I write this, my American flag salutes the bravery of so many--flying fiercely in this Indiana wind.

But it is the image of those white crosses in cemeteries-- that stretch beyond number--that got me thinking. Sure, they mark the soul that has gone to Glory, but if we put those crosses touching one another, do they not form a fence? A steadfast, protective barrier to the forces that threaten our freedom?

The threats--not of other ethnicities making America home, but of those with thoughts of terrorism and destruction who invade our buildings, marathons, and workplaces with evil on their minds.
I see those fence-like crosses, with soldiered spirits in uniforms, uniting across our great land still standing duty, continuing their guard, oh so many years and weeks and moments, ago.

These small white crosses are sentries, each with a unique story, who took an oath to protect and follow orders. Even if such orders would mean an empty chair at the dinner table. An absent brother or sister from every Christmas morning or graduation. A daughter or son, God help us, never to call and say--- from the other end of the phone, "Hey Mom!"

We go on with our lives and when May rolls around, we think of a three day weekend, full of race cars (remember....I am from Indianapolis), barbecues, and sleeping in. Of yard work and spring cleaning, and get togethers. Well....get togethers, for some.

But this May, I see those little white crosses as fences, with shadowy figures behind whispering to me a promise of security.
I will not forget their task of protecting the country that I love and call  home.

Little white fences, indeed; formed by strangers who crossed that line for my freedom. May I never forget.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Is What Dreams Are Made Of?

Dreams. What do you think of when you hear that word? That subconscious far-off place we wander while we slumber? An imaginary goal that somehow begins to own our soul? I am sure the this word conjures up various meanings for us all. But have you ever dreamt about ordinary objects becoming, well, dream-like?

Okay. So today, this random self decided it was time to get organized, and I would start with my underwear drawer. What better way to spend a three day weekend than putting socks, granny panties, and brassieres in an orderly pattern. (Guess I just made this blog a bit too graphic. My bad.) Anyway....I set out to find some of those drawer dividers to make this a serious-I-am-not-kidding project. And then....my dreams began. Sort of.

I took these dividers out of the box and was quickly informed that these were no ordinary dividers: these were Dream Drawer Dividers. I've gotta tell ya now...I have dreamed of many things in life....drawer dividers aren't one of them. Now perhaps I have divided my dreams but never once did I ever utter, "I am dreaming of Dream Drawer Dividers." Not once. Perhaps this is why my life is as exciting as cold oatmeal.

But I got to thinking about ordinary stuff which has the word 'dream' attached to it. You know, like a Dreamsicle (yum), a dream vacation (not to be confused with four kids in a mini-van for sixteen hours), a dream date (not the prune kind), a dream job (umm...my dream is not needing a job!), a dream home (one that is paid off so I don't need that dream job), dream team (ummm I don't follow sports but I guess that is where that one would go) and many more that I cannot dream up right now.

Remember dream sequences in film? Yeah....I think my first realization of how that worked was with soaps. I was a big soap opera fan growing up. Watching: 'Love of Life, Edge of Night, Search for Tomorrow, General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, the Young and the Rest of Us' (as my son, Matt, called it), and so on. Yeah, I would buy into all of that melodrama and then the screen would get wavy and smokey and the storyline would have been a dream. Really? I skipped school on Monday so I would not miss a detail-- thinking Maude had run off with Claude only to find out it was all one of Maude's dreams? Claude is confined to a coma for the next 1500 episodes so he is running nowhere! How unfair to play with a viewer's sense of reality. Maude...you are such a fraud.

And dream sequences in literature have absolutely ruined kids for becoming authors of great writing. There is nothing more disconcerting then reading a decent little story of a student and to be smacked with the line: "And then I woke up. It was all a dream." Seriously? A good plot, action, characterization, and then it resolves in a meltdown of a puny dream? Poopy doo. I taught you better than that.

I'm going to cut music lyrics a break. After all....dreams and music are a bit like hands and gloves--they go together. Besides, 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas' is a personal favorite. So there.

Okay. Maybe I am over analyzing this dream stuff. I guess I just consider dreams to be that lofty staircase to personal fulfillment--not to be diminished by being the name of some toilet tissue or mattress. Or worse yet: drawer dividers.

Well....I am off to dream of dividing my drawers with utensils that are not at all ordinary but are DREAM DRAWER DIVIDERS.

I truly hope that sorting my socks and such does not become a nightmare. I would hate to return the DDD (dream drawer dividers) to the store and say they just weren't what I dreamed they would be.

They never have issues like this on 'Days of Our Lives'. Maude wouldn't dream of it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Power of 'Play'

I don't know about you, but I like playing around. Oh....not that kind of playing around. This is a wholesome, family friendly blog. I am referring to the power of 'play' in our lives. While there is a time to be serious, God-fearing, tax-paying adults....there are those moments when a person just needs to be goofy.

Like this week. I played an old, bitter, mean teacher named 'Miss Sickentired', complete with a gray wig, big dress stuffed with bed pillows, and old knee-high hose down around my ankles. "Why would anyone do such a thing?" you might ask. Simple. It was for a pep session for 6th, 7th and 8th graders and after weeks of testing they needed to laugh. And I needed to play. It was a ball!!

Last weekend, my four children and their families created a Mother's Day for me I won't soon forget. All kids were present and accounted for and that in itself is a joyous occasion. Or in other words: time to play. Part of my gift was that they hired this photographer to come and 'capture' our family. Now, if you know my family, that is an assignment! One of the things I wanted this sweet gal to 'shoot' was our family gathering game of 'hot box' or 'pickle' as it is called. It consists of two bases, two of my sons pitching and catching the ball, while the rest of us run to their bases without getting tagged. It is hilarious! And all of us run---from the two year old grandkid to me....the big kid of the bunch. And we fall, and get tagged, and argue, and laugh, and get out of breath. Oh wait...that's just me.

Perhaps I have some secret need to become a child again; or perhaps it is because I am around kids all the time. At any rate, I do enjoy playing. And I think it is vital that grown-ups put their stuffy selves aside and be silly. Medical science has done in-depth studies on how the 'bad' cholesterol numbers, belly fat, and baldness disappears when one engages in riotous playtime. Okay...so I made that up. And if you have seen me anytime lately, you know that is a lie 'cause my belly fat and 'bad' cholesterol numbers haven't exactly disappeared. Not bald yet, so maybe there is hope.

But back to the topic of playing. Do you play? If I have any regrets as a mother, it is that I did not play enough with my sons and daughters. Did I forego crawling into the blanket forts because I was mopping a floor? Was I too busy talking on the phone to join them in a game of kickball? Or too worried about the monthly bills to join them in hide and seek? If so, I failed them miserably.

Now...I do recall standing in line for my turn to try out the rope swing which allowed one and all to swing out over the creek on Pleasant Run. And letting my oldest son trail me on his bike, where-in I would stand on his 'pegs'. That fun ended when the bike was stolen. And of course, there was--and is---Halloween and yes, I still dress up and trick or treat. The gorilla costume is my favorite.

Life is too short not to play. There is pure joy in laying our images aside and recapturing our lost selves that told 'knock-knock' jokes and giggled without end. Whether catching lightning bugs or having a pillow fight; squirting your offspring with water guns--I give you permission to play.

The next time someone asks that time-honored question of childhood: "Can you play?" don't miss it!

There is, indeed, power in 'play'.

Play holds such power!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Week of Epic Fails

Well, just packed away a very busy week. How about you? But after last night's episode, I decided I would share a few occurrences with you. Think of it as my being on stage, and you being in the audience. How I wish we could have traded places. Here we go.

Epic Fail: School

Any teacher will tell you that the last nine weeks of a school year are challenging. Educators just want to be done, principals are fretting over what has to happen before school is done, and the kids are, well, done. So, after I get my seventh grade kiddos finally quiet, I started in with, "I have some very important news I need to share with you." All eyes were on me, and they sat there expectant, curious, entranced. As I opened my mouth to speak, I realized I had no idea of what was to come out of my mouth. Why I didn't just make something up is beyond me. After I admitted that I had lost my train of thought (and it was not coming around the tracks anytime soon), one of my boys decided to cheer me up: "That's okay, Mrs. Hall; this happens to a lot of people when they get old."
I felt better already. NOT!

The next day, I entered the classroom with hair that was foreign to me. I mean, it was on my head, but it looked like thatch on meth. But, the kids filed in, all excited as they knew we were studying electrical current and would be conducting an experiment with a device called a Van Der Graaf generator. Now... one of the highlights of this activity is that kids put their hands on a big silver sphere that is electrically charged. Their hair flies out in all directions; it is great fun, and puts the shock and wonder into science. Well, one of my lovely lads walks in, takes one look at my hair and says, "Mrs Hall! What is going on with your hair? Oh---did you already try out the Van Der Graaf generator?" Being honest, I explained that no, I was just having a bad hair day. He looked at me, furrowed his brow, and said, "Yeah.....well, I would blame it on the generator." Thanks for that alibi, young mind of tomorrow. Wait until I plug that puppy in and it is your turn for a bit of electric charge.

Epic Fail: Grocery Store

Let me just say: this could happen to anyone. Why I am seemingly that 'anyone' is still a mystery...but I find myself in yet another grocery store mishap. I was minding my own business, doing random product acquisition. This means, I had money, some vague notion of what I was buying, but no list. However, I did have that noisy cart: this one sounded like a NASCAR misfit. It was really loud. I meandered down one aisle and then another--squeaking and squawking-- and decided it was time to check out. I put the little bar thingy in place and grabbed a box of crackers to place on the belt. That was problem number one: I did not put crackers in my cart. Nor did I pick out the 2 liter of grape soda, packages of soft taco shells and healthy cereal. This was not my cart. I placed the crackers back in the mystery cart and started towards the back of the store.

 Oh my goodness! I had taken some else's cart and had no idea where I had left mine. But here is the part that reveals how 'out of it' I was. This cart was the cadillac of grocery carts! Smooth steering and silent. How could I have pushed this quiet cart to the check out and not realized it wasn't mine just adds another layer to my dismay. Too much cranium clutter, you might say!

Now let me tell you, as I was wheeling that cart back to Unknown Shopper Land--- I was feeling like a thief. And I was pushing my cart like one....humming "Do-de-do-de do" trying to push said cart so no one could see me, feigning innocence. Think of a cartoon character tiptoeing across the screen, trying to sneak past the villain. I could not remember what aisle I had been in for my last selection....but out of the fog I recalled being back by the dairy department. So I pushed the stranger's cart to the back of the store, looked around for mine and made a decision: I would just ditch the stolen cart near the butter.

I walked fast from the cart and started my search for familiar cargo such as: cat food, bananas, and mandarin oranges. I avoided eye contact with anyone and smiled up at the surveillance cameras. Kindness counts. Finally, I spotted my collection of goods, and paid for them directly. The next words to my co-shopper, my sister, was "Let's get outta here!" I was so fearful that I would hear a shriek, "THAT'S HER! THAT'S THE SHOPPING CART SERIAL CEREAL THIEF!" I was so glad to be out of there, but I truly hope the owner of the cart needed butter.

EPIC FAIL: Driving

I spend a lot of time at my church, doing volunteer work, going to meetings, youth group. Well, at 6:20a.m. I am not really accountable for my actions. I was mentally processing some activities coming up on the calendar at church, when I realized that I was heading in the wrong direction to go to school. I teach south. I worship north. I was about four blocks in the wrong direction when it hit me that I was not to be at church, but was surely needing to greet middle school students in twenty minutes. Thank God (really!) I turned the 'space shuttle white' Dodge into the right location and made it to the classroom in enough time to grab coffee. Lord help me! And He always does.

Sure wonder if God will forgive me for taking other folks' grocery carts. I mean....Epic Failures are kind of His business. And Lord knows, I keep Him busy with mine.

Here's to a better week.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April: Time to Look at the Puzzling World of Autism

You just might know that April is the month for many observances. Daylight savings time change, Easter, remembering the crew of the ill-fated Titanic, and of course, the day IRS officially puts their hand in our pockets. But April is also the month that we honor a very special group of individuals.

Yes, April is also Autism Awareness month. You may have seen the puzzle pieces which form the ribbon for autism awareness. It is so appropriate that puzzle pieces are used; there are so many varying degrees on the spectrum of autism, and its cause and treatment is just like that of a puzzle. You won't find any empirical data from this writer on the cause, but better screening, knowledge, and diagnosis sure points to the increase of children believed to have autism. There is a common saying among the autism community that goes like this: "If you have met one person with autism, then you have done just that: met ONE person with autism."

Having a daughter whose life's work has focused on these individuals, these are some things I have learned:
        Do not say an individual is autistic; it is far more sensitive
        to say they have autism. The 'is' defines who they are; the
        'have' leaves room for their many other gifts. Just as it is more
        kind to say a person has diabetes than labeling him or her as
        a diabetic. Remember, they are still individuals with
        successes and struggles just like everyone else.

         Autism and Aspberger's is a complex diagnosis and                                                  
         individuals range from being very, very low functioning to
         having such slight effects that they may just appear to be
         socially awkward. And aren't we all at varying times in our
         lives? This is why you may hear that an individual is "on the
         spectrum" which allows for vast degrees of this diagnosis.

        A child who has autism is not just an under disciplined brat.
        Their neural pathways can be so ultra-sensitive that the tag
        in clothing can be such a distraction that they barely can
        function. The sounds of fluorescent lighting, the high-pitched
        squeal of an air conditioner or loud noises and flashing
        lights can be physically painful to one living with autism.
        When these 'meltdowns' occur, the staff/parent may refer to
        these as 'behaviors' which means they are behaving adversely
        to an event or stimuli. This is not the time to stare and judge
        the individual or the parent. Offer assistance (if you so
        choose) or walk away saying a silent prayer of
        encouragement, but not pity.Ever get a cramp in your toe? It
        comes on suddenly, is both painful and annoying, and nothing
        will get done until you get that toe to relax so you can
        continue on. This is a lame illustration, but you get the idea
        on how encompassing it is to have an individual experiencing
        a 'behavior'.

Autism is one of the many medical diagnosis teachers contend with in public education. The law calls for "the least restrictive environment" and so these individuals are often mainstreamed into regular classes. What these kids bring to the educational setting is amazing! No-frills, no 'politically correctness--' straight forwardness is refreshing. Kids with autism do not lie. They are no real friend to figurative language but often have incredible memories. While some individuals may be short on language abilities, and even just echo what they hear....they can be very proficient in using non-verbal queues to let you know what they need, want, don't like. Often, a kid 'on the spectrum' will go to any length to be obedient, correct in classroom protocol--often wanting fairness for all. Many have absolutely no sense of malice and treat everyone with kindness--or indifference---but never mean spirited. This is such a refreshing brush of paint on the educational canvas.

Sure...any child with a disability can be a challenge (or a blessing) for a classroom teacher. But really, the way I see it, we all are both challenged and gifted in some area or another. And a true educator embraces all the kiddos who walk through the doorway and focuses on helping that kid reach their potential.

A child with autism becomes an adult with autism, and must be taught to compensate, cope, but more, to be accepted by a world that has no corner on perfection.

Include yourself in solving the puzzle of autism; be accepting, loving, and kind. This contribution means more than you can ever know...in April and all months to come.

***Many thanks to my daughter, Kristen Coffing-McCarrick for her help with this blog. She works in Alabama at a residential facility for individuals with autism, and has great insight into the puzzling world of autism. Kristen is a blessing to the many families who need a competent and understanding therapist in their family member's life. She is a piece of the puzzle that makes the whole picture of autism one of hope.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Culture of Hope

On the weekend of March 16th, 2013, a gathering occurred in Lake Hughes, California, that world changers dream of happening. Four bus loads of folk descended on a camp in the mountains of the Angeles Forest for an unforgettable weekend. These children and adults came from the Watts area. If you know your history, you may relate the location of Watts to riots, gang warfare, and four major housing projects. For years, this underserved population has resided in these four projects: Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, and Gonzaque Village. And other than poverty and violence, they share one common thread: they absolutely hate one another. Children have morphed into adults with gang affiliation and retaliation in their DNA as surely as ethnicity. And somewhere along the line, some of those adults decided enough was enough. Enough hate, death, riots, gangs; it was time to talk.

So on this weekend, a camp in the mountains of the Angeles Forest, opened their doors to what might be considered the most risky, intense social experiment of all times. Kids were put in the same cabins with their hated neighbors. Yes, there were fights, arguments and comments that challenged the staff at every turn.
The number of 'campers' that showed up was nearly 100 more than expected...every cabin was full, meals were managed---amazingly---and counselors slept where ever they could find a spot to crash.

Law enforcement was present--- not to make arrests, but to be  part of a dialogue that would change lives forever. Add in a few felons on probation and you can get a sense of the population. Oh...those 'new releases' from incarceration? Their experiences contained so much validity on why young people need to tame their hate and absolve their love for a life of crime. One older gentleman, who had a hand in the leadership of those Watts riots, was now a ringleader in this vital dialogue. One activity, which raised awareness for all present, was for folks to say, "If you really knew me then you would know..." and anyone who shared that same experience stepped over a rope lying on the ground. How sad to watch adults and youngsters stepping across that rope; the shared experience of death of loved ones due to a daily regimen of violence.

But the faces soon had names, the story tellers had histories, and the common element of children laughing at camp and making new friendships emerged. Adult men listened to one another without judgment and the walls began to crumble. Mothers were finally free from the moment-to-moment fear that they would be burying their child. Sure, it looked and felt like camp: ropes courses, hikes, games, campfires, laughter. But it was so much more. This was a culture of hope.

One of the gentleman, who abandoned his gang affiliation (and is alive to tell it) is now foremost in the community to offer youth alternatives to gang membership. He said to the camp staff:

      "So many wealthy folks give us money. It is as if they
       are standing on a mountain, throwing their funds down
       to us. And yes, we take it and build community centers
       and such. But this weekend, all of you at this camp--you
       came off the mountain top and joined us down here. We
       don't need money for more equipment, really. We need
       people. People who are willing to risk a lot to change the
       Watts area. This is Watts United."

Indeed, the entire weekend was called 'Watts United'. And in a small way, this is huge. Changing how folks have felt about one another for 2-3 generations; for felons, gang leaders and law enforcement to utter...."I never knew you felt that way. Now I get it." For a child, raised to hate another just because of his/her address, to now bunk with that kid and share breakfast; this is how we change the world: one heart at a time. An area known for riots, was now having a riot, captured in the laughing faces of kids, adults and camp staff. I guess there is great entertainment in watching some 25 year old camp director doing the hilarious 'milkshake' skit with a former gang leader. One LAPD officer remarked that he NEVER thought he would see this! Good stuff to write about? Sure...but amazing stuff that truly occurred.

Mothers who came to the 'Watts United' weekend, were hoping for a change that would impact the lives of their sons and daughters. When we strip away all the clutter, chatter, the labels and the looks, we can truly see the scars of another. If we listen to their stories, we may hear the echoes of our own. Idealistic? Certainly. But, oh so necessary.

A "culture of hope" is what unfolded at Canyon Creek Sports Camp" in March, 2013. I know how an experience such as this is life changing. I claim this as an 'ordinary miracle' in which individuals will be changed forever.

I spent one week as a camp counselor when I was in high school. I did not like school and struggled to get the grades. But the Almighty whispered to me and said, "Deb...you can do kids." While college was hard and landing a teaching job was as well, I retired from public education after thirty-two years of teaching. I loved it. I speak with certainty when I say that a single experience at camp can become one's personal compass, pointing to a future of joy, success, and freedom from the past. Each of my own four kids can point to their weeks at camp as being life changing.

And now, one of those four has made it his life's work. I can't begin to understand it, but I believe in the power of camps. Of leaving one's home, sharing life with strangers, and being one with nature; all held together by the influence of a camp staff that begs to make a kid's week at camp The. Best. Ever. It is an odd dynamic, but is an everyday occurrence at Canyon Creek Sports Camp. I have seen it in action, as one weekend I was invited to teach some science lessons to a group sponsored by the Harold Robinson Foundation. I do not know who was changed more: the campers and their parents, or me. I have no doubts that every event, experience, and emotion that the folks from the Watts area took from this weekend was authentic, powerful, and transforming. This camp just does that to a person.

It will be the vision of youth, tempered with the harsh stories of the elders, that will step up to speak to the history of violence, and rewrite it.  Look to 'Watts United' as a model on how this happens. We must come off of our selective mountains and gather at the bonfire and reflect on how our collective actions impact a community; take responsibility for such and create bridges where there were barriers. Oh, such pretty words! But it can---and has---occurred.

Watts United. A paradigm shift of the greatest, and most necessary of its kind. Just ask the kids, look at the photos, watch what will happen. A culture of hope, indeed.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

From Grades to Guns

**This is an official disclaimer that this author is not making light  of the recent discussions/legislations for educational staff to carry weapons to safeguard the school population. I AM however, making fun of ME should I ever have to carry a gun to school.

So this is what it is coming to. Educators are now faced with the possibility of coming to school armed. Hmmm. I think about how this could play out if I was told: you're the one, Deb. You get to bring the gun to school to keep your homies safe. Uh huh. Think of Deputy Barney Fife on Red Bull and you get a mental picture of this hot mess. Let me explain how this would not work out for me.

* I can't remember where I park my car in the Kroger parking lot. So....I can safely bet I won't remember what I did with said handgun.

*I tend to find creative uses for ordinary things. My new Glock is now a paper weight or a door stop.

*Do you really want any school personnel to have a gun the day before school vacations, especially after room parties? Those kids are wild and dangerous! Just saying.

*If you are the teacher, who always gets stuck behind the same same staff member running 9,000 copies of next semester's test, when you are pleading to run just 4 copies for kids who were absent, well, that gun just might go off accidentally. My turn!

*So, you know that parent that thinks their little darling never does anything wrong and the school staff is always picking on their child? Well, at that next parent conference, you just might want to reload that revolver. Just for effect, mind you.

*Okay...the administrator arrives at your classroom door for that all important teacher evaluation. You report that you will be ready to teach, as soon as you clean your firearm. Safety first. And then, if it were me, I am sure the Dawn detergent, Clorox wipes and Tide would delay things until tomorrow. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

*I am presently teaching Science. There is much discussion on topics such as evolution, global warming, and the big bang theory. Outfit me with a gun and the 'big bang theory' becomes reality. So much for that hypothesis.

*I have never had much experience with guns. They kind of creep me out. So I am thinking that my confrontation with an intruder will go like this:

       "I have a gun and I am trained to use it. I am going to show    my school board how proud they can be that I am the 'DD' ----Designated Dummy. You may not see my weapon, but it is...well someplace. I know that it is loaded because I put the bb's in there myself. I am armed and dangerous. But we all know that I was dangerous way before I started packing' heat. Speaking of heat, do you think it is hot in here? These hot flashes make me want to kill.  You had better hope your life insurance policy is in force and that you have made peace with your Maker. Know why? You are SO wasting my prep time and I have 15 sets of papers to grade, three parents to call, and I have not peed since 7:40 this morning. And my Zoloft prescription has no refills. And if that is not enough to convince you to leave the premises, picture this: my students may be in PE but if I am late in picking them up, that teacher will come in here and make you dress out for gym and put you through the most sadistic warm-ups ever. You will be begging me to put you out of your misery."

I am pretty certain I do not fit the profile for the safety officer of my school. But that's okay. I am much more of an Aunt Bea than Sheriff Andy Taylor.

But come near my Opie, and you'll be sorry! Just as soon as Barney brings me my gun.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Your Table Awaits You...."

I cannot think of a more essential piece of furniture than the kitchen or dining room table. Families would cease to exist if home decor enthusiasts banished this simple furnishing. Perhaps you will agree.

I must say that for most of my child-rearing years, the dining room table was our gathering place. Oh, the furnishing started out as lovely wood and glass inlays, (what was I thinking of when I bought glass ), but soon took on the look of 'family'. Permanent marker became decoration as did water stains that soon became so familiar, I stopped hiding them with placemats. There were little patches of discolored wood where scotch tape held streamers for countless birthday parties.

This table was strong and noble. It held many folded loads of laundry, waiting for dispersement, and looked like a luggage carrier when all 4-5 book bags were lined up for Monday morning classes. Science fair projects came to life, homework was completed, and report cards discussed at this table.  Oh sure, we ate many meals at this 'port of call'. But our entire lives unfolded around this table.

We had discussions on topics we encountered along life's journey. When my oldest son survived being run over by a vehicle, I was helping him with grammar homework-- at of course, the dining room table--when he blurted out, "Mom, why didn't I die? People don't believe it when I tell them I was run over." Gee, I liked discussing interrogative sentences, but not when the questions were that difficult to answer. But that lone table never failed us. As we questioned, grieved, celebrated, filled out tax forms and grocery lists, wrapped Christmas gifts and served Easter dinners, this simple slab of wood, legs and chairs, served us.

The table always seemed to welcome visitors, travelers, and ordinary folk. But had the Queen or President knocked on my door,  I would have led them to this table, because it became a holy place. It held our dreams, disappointments, celebrations, and shortcomings; but more....it kept every conversation private and sacred. How much advice and counseling did my mother give seated across from me at the table? Whether covered in sticky jelly fingerprints or finest linen cloth, that table was such a sentry to our stories. We brought our days to its surface and dealt them out like playing cards. My child's fate would rest at that table at 3:00a.m., waiting for the doctor to return my call, knowing another trip to the hospital was in the making. When tears splattered on that table, that simple furnishing remained strong and steady. Hmm...maybe it wasn't a water stain at all...for every family has its time of tears.

You may say that I am over-thinking this whole 'table' thing. And you may be right. But I was told of great news while sitting at the table: I was going to be the mother of the groom and then bride; my daughter revealed which college she would be attending; when the grand-babies were due. I 'ran lines' with my son so he could be prepared when the curtain opened. And I spread the atlas out on the table and studied it in earnest, when I knew L.A. would be my son's new residence. I wrote many stories at that table---indeed, I sit here at my round, oak dining room table to type this blog. All my life has revolved around a table...oblong, round, oval---and the stories of this soul have rested on a piece of furniture that the world usually ignores. Funny...most folks rave about a sports car or a boat; I am yammering about something that holds a bowl of cereal or a plate of chicken.

Of course, this table held many crazy moments! Competitive canasta card games, dogs who stole food, the odd boyfriend of my daughter who wanted to have a 'face to face' conversation at the table. When he asked me what it was I didn't like about him, I replied: "How much time do you have?" Sorting out and trading Halloween candy as if we were trading stocks on the NYSE. The brand new/very old 'knock knock jokes and school stories of the kids that kept us laughing until dessert. Hot chocolate after sledding on the neighboring golf course. The loose tooth that got swallowed with dinner.  Looking across the table at the Japanese exchange student, whom we came to love, and who would dazzle us by catching a pesky housefly with chopsticks! And then there was the time I reached over a burning candle, only to catch my sweater on fire. When my son yelled that my sweater was on fire I laughed. He is such a tease! Luckily, my firefighter son-in-law rushed into action and no harm was done. That table was a witness to so much laughter, joy, and memories. See what I mean? It wasn't just a piece of furniture; it was the furnishing which pieced our lives together.

In books, there is a 'Table of Contents' which leads the reader to the various chapters in the text. Well, if life is a book, my 'table of contents' is truly a table that sits ready for anything! Kids arguing or teens playing board games; signing divorce papers, paying bills, writing letters or grading papers, sharing coffee with a dear friend---my table has lived it all with me.

And this story has been pushed to the back of this heart and mind for many years. Oh...so many tables, so little time.

But now I will set the table, hopefully, in a whole new light. Forever, I will set a place of honor at the head of the table...which is also the heart of this family. What about you? Do you have a table that owns your soul?

If so, gather now. Your table awaits you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Simpler Parade

I think that I kind of sleep-walk through life. I know there are world events happening as I eat my bowl of Cocoa Krispies, but I just don't feel that pull to get all....involved.

Maybe it's my age. Or my laziness. Or the fact that I used to be on the cutting edge of pop music, fashion, political news, and now I am just like an old movie: the best scenes are laying on the cutting room floor. Sigh.

But that's okay. My little old brain and body just can't take the strain of the excitement life has to offer. For example...I will bake a cake for my son's friends as they gather for 'March Madness' and cheer on their favorite teams. I love their annual get-togethers! As I sat down to type this, I caught a bit of ticker tape news that IU beat the Owls. Hmmm. I have a degree from IU but I really like studying owls. The basketball game is no real news to me. See how much high blood pressure I am saving not watching that nail-biter?  Yeah...I think I used up all of my cheers and whistles at my kids' little league games. And that was for me getting four kids to the field on time with the proper uniform and equipment. And if I grabbed dirty uniform pants from the pile of laundry, I would just comment to other moms at the field: "Look at that. He just put those pants on and they have grass stains on them already!" I'm thinking they knew the game I was playing; they were playing it too! Too much laundry, too little time. Fake it until you make it.

I have already shared my take on weather and the daily news. By the time it gets to me it is just a blip on the screen and I have escaped all the hype. I have serious work to do...like grading papers, planning lessons for children's sermons and youth group, and figuring out which dog chewed up the mail. I worry over serious issues such as: which shoes will I wear today that won't make my feet hurt. Or, if my butt looks too big to wear that sweater. And if I can find that book in time for my grandkid to use it in a research report.

There comes a time in most folks' lives where it is fine to step out of the dance,  climb down off the float, and just watch the parade go by. I am content with sitting on the sidelines and cheering. I have been on the float, and it is great fun! And no, I did not fall off. But, being  the spectator instead of the participant is just as gratifying for this soul.

While I have returned to the classroom for the rest of this school year, it is good to know that I have not lost all the sparkle of being an educator. But I find the tug to be a bit different. Instead of just wallowing in self defeat over test scores and quizzes, I hunger to listen to the boy's conversation over his parents' divorce, or to put words to the tears of a young gal enduring foster care. It is far more important to me to create a climate of calm and acceptance when these 7th and 8th graders walk into my room. They have enough on their heads and hearts. Oh sure, I still cram curriculum into their day, but allowing them to use my hand lotion or loan them a buck for lunch money is just as important. My philosophy in the classroom was always this: to teach other peoples' kids the way I wanted my own to be taught and treated. Compassion and forgiveness goes a long way in public education. As does a good laugh in the classroom. Giggles are part of my educational standards.

So if you call me and say, "Did you hear about....???" don't think I am being globally ignorant or have lost my international savvy. It is not that I don't care...it is just that I don't care as much. I DO want my Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to be funded, and I do thrive on listening to my NPR, and I will sneak a peek at YouTube videos to see a Katie Couric interview with Hugh Jackman or Jon Bon Jovi. I will serve my local community in a soup kitchen or buy Christmas gifts for the kids of strangers; but I can live without the mainstream of the world flowing into my kitchen. Oh wait! I think that is my leaky faucet.

But you get my focus. I have chosen a simpler life and I am content to find joy in those everyday blessings which surround me. If I don't jump up to send a text, tweet, tin can message to Congress, that is just fine. I still vote, so there. My mission may be to help a stranger, even though I thought my purpose in life would end if I did not run a mission on the space shuttle.

I am happy that you meet me here on these pages and you look over my shoulder while I ponder life. I have lived many lives in the fifty-seven years I have wandered this planet. And sitting back and watching from the curb is just as rewarding.

But if I do get bored, you know where I'll be. Wearing an ugly red dress, white hat and gloves and waving from that float in the Parade of Life.

Until then....I am not letting life interfere with my nap. Yeah; I have arrived.

Friday, March 15, 2013


The faculty lounge came alive! The lunch discussion was concerts and such. We laughed at the 'youngsters' among the staff who had attended Jonas Brothers concerts in high school, the Jimmy Buffet attendees, who had blown out their flip-flops many years over, and those who had journeyed to Journey, time and time again. Myself included.

The various tours unfolded...and it reminded me of a euchre game. My John Mellencamp jack trumps your Billy Joel. His partner leads with two queens: Tina Turner, Madonna, and don't even think about playing Taylor Swift in this mix. Guns n' Roses may be buried, so think I'll take my chance on laying down Bon Jovi. It was a lively game, and soon I decided to show my hand. "I have the King right here; yep, saw Elvis in the seventies." They all got quiet. All eyes were on me, so it was time for the real ace: "Yep, and the greatest concert ever was Michael Jackson---the 'Thriller' tour." I threw down my 'loner' and knew I had won the game. Take that, you New Kids on the Block. Picture this...a bunch of teachers trading in their lesson plans for Rock n Roll 101. About time we laughed and acted like our students!

But for me, it made me think of another band, 'My Hidden Track' which I must admit, was this concert goer's favorite. I spent a lot of time at their shows, listening to their cd's, watching their videos on YouTube, and still have their merchandise scattered around my house like old memories. My youngest boy played in this band, following his passion to make music. Some folks criticized my support for such lofty goals; college should come first. But dreams need immediate attention sometimes, and I told him to do this now. The band bought the van, the trailer, did the tour, sold the 'merch', recorded cd's, screen printed the shirts, gave out autographs, and refined their sound. I could not have been prouder.

I was often asked if the band was good. I answered by saying that I did not know, that I was not their audience. However, I would watch the kids peer up at the stage, and rock out to every song--- dance, jump, and smile from ear to ear, and I knew this was a valid gig. I'm the mom. Of course I loved it! But more, I loved the fact that my child is (and was) as committed to music as I am to writing. Indeed, I told him once that if he ever walked away from music it was his decision not mine. I had not written my first book until I was fifty; his music should not wait. I am and was as proud of his commitment to 'My Hidden Track' as I am to the songwriting he continues doing today. On one of his visits home from L.A., we were riding in his car and he popped in a cd. I listened to the  guitar intro, and wondered if this was a new John Mayer cd. Soon, I heard the voice and smiled. In secret, he had written this song, had it recorded, and watched as it melted this mother's heart. It was really good. But then, doesn't every mother say that? Yet, I heard the pain and growth in every lyric and knew how far this musician had come.

I treasure the concerts that featured my son and his friends, and how it became a time for the whole family to gather  and cheer them on. And it was pretty cool to get in free as my name was on 'The List' at the door. Motherhood has its privileges, I suppose. I think that Mrs. Presley and Mrs. Jackson would agree.

Whether on stage or in his room with the guitar, my son, the musician, trumps all others.

I should know: I'm with the band.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sick Day

Have you missed me? I caught the "ItsGoin'Around." You know, the crud that puts the 'A' in achy, the 'H' in headache and the gratitude for indoor plumbing. I didn't have the, "Take me now, Sweet Jesus "ItsGoin'Around." I was crummy but I have been a lot worse. This was a teaser. I felt like I had it licked, then the stomach would misfire and the proverbial truck would run over my back and I was back to pity city.

But I was well taken care of with the luxurious fare of saltines, toast, ibuprofen, and pediatric electrolyte solution. Nothing makes you feel like a kid again until you take a swig of that stuff. It is awful! Like the glucose tolerance tests of pregnancy without the viscosity. I am sure my wonderful daughter had my electrolytes in mind when she dropped it off. But was that a devilish smirk on her face as she drove off? What'd I ever do to her? Oh yeah. Probably made her drink that same stuff with the stamp of motherhood: "Drink it. It's good for you." And to think I have done the same thing to grandchildren. I so apologize.

I made good use of that one hour I felt decent each day. I graded papers, caught up with some correspondence, and saved money and gas by being laid up. The dogs are ready for me to get out of their space, I am sure. But I did watch some movies on my Kindle Fire. Yeah....about thirty.

Oh, not really. What I did watch were the movie trailers. I tell ya...Hollywood had ADD adults like me in mind. Yeah...you tap on the screen, invest about 60 seconds in the story line, characters, setting, conflict, resolution and voi`la...you have seen the film. Kinda like reading the blurb on some books. The stuff in between is just....stuff. I know, pretty low blow coming from an author.

But I've gotta tell ya...after watching all of those movie trailers, I got hooked on the graphics and filming of the studio stuff. You know...the part where the lion opens his mouth and growls, or the lady stands there like a movie star Statue of Liberty. Well, I found a lot of those to be pretty cool. Like the films from 'LionsGate'. A grinding of gears and movie reels which morphs into a big key and portal which unfolds to mysterious worlds and such. Or the Universal tag which starts out like a huge sunrise and engulfs the planet. Then, there's Warner Brothers. Just not feeling it.

Oh and another thing. They trick you. Yeah...in my weakened and ill state they took unfair advantage of me. I really thought I could be on the cutting edge of cinema discussions as I read the words: "New Release" See it Before it Comes Out" or "In Theaters in June" and this is March. And then I see the years...2005, 2009, 2011. Umm, yeah. I think someone needs to get out a bit more.
Guess I won't be spoiling the ending to any of those new releases.

Now you may be thinking that I squandered my sick days with Hollywood. Not true. I slept, checked out FB, avoided phone calls, and munched on tea and toast. I finally took a shower....my first intentional act into entering the world of the recovered. And that was just because the dogs insisted on it. When they start bringing you clean underwear and socks instead of running off and burying it, that is a sure sign they mean action.

Well, I must end this blog and think about tomorrow and drag myself back to the real world. Wonder if that LionsGate promo will  blast me into the cinematic screen we call life.

I know. Too much electrolyte solution can have some bad effects. Be careful out there. "It'sGoin'Around."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

'Current Events'....Remember That Assignment?

Back in the day, when I was a bored eighth grader, enduring History class, someone decided that students should be saved from the past. To prevent us from languishing away with boredom while we read about the Trans-Continental Railroad, Pony Express, Lewis and Clark Expedition, our knowledge was infused with a new topic: current events.

At least once a week, we shared articles from the newspaper (you can google that if you don't know what it is...) reporting on the happenings around our city, state, and nation. Umm yeah. We were not thinking too globally. Plus, most of us from the Brightwood area did not have passports. Nope. We were scrounging up bus fare, gas money, and pop bottles to trade for refunds. But I digress.

So...'Current Events' was the new cool thing in education--along with an overhead projector-- which I loathe to this day. So, I was thinking about the 'current events' in our world today and decided I would highlight these here and offer some of my solutions and thoughts to these issues.

Sequestering of our government: This is easy. If my kids did not get their homework done, after several chances at the dining room table, they were sent to their rooms until it was done. No T.V., snacks, or discussion. That being said, each of my four kids developed a work ethic and personal sense of accountability. Yet, they also learned the power of compromise and the benefit of being open-minded. I always taught my kids that no matter if it is a preacher or a president, each one brings a gift to their podium. Now...you may have to look hard in some cases, but it is there. And somehow this government must complete the work we have chosen them to do. Even if we have to send them to their rooms. But I would like to think that adults can pull the rope in the same direction to move us to a better place. Game over. Get it done. Listen to the one in charge.

Gun Control: I have my opinion on this one, but thankfully, I don't get to vote. I believe that only individuals who have buried a family member gets to have the final say on this one. Let those folks who have lost a loved one, due to a firearm, decide on how guns should be controlled. Let this group of individuals legislate if assault rifles/ammunition should be available on the internet. They are the ones who have 'victim's family' tattooed on their souls and walk around with a sense of loss and hopelessness. Let us listen to their stories. My son is a cop. He is armed. And knowing he is both the hunter and the hunted, haunts this mother. I pray I never get the right to vote, based on my thinking here.

Weather: I live in Indiana. Need I say more? We could call it the 'diaper state' as it changes constantly. But I thrive on the change of seasons. I also thrive on the change of stations, selecting the newscast that does not create such fear and trepidation in the hearts of Hoosiers. Oh wait! I don't have a television and there are no newscasts which don't sensationalize the weather forecasts. Here is how I play it: I look out my window. If there is snow, I think: BS. Bundle up and shovel. If it rains and storms, my radar indicates: Up Yours. That means....your umbrella needs to be up. And mine, too. If it is sunny and hot, I had better: Get Naked. Oh not really. I just wanted to see if you were still reading. But these hot flashes can be wicked, so maybe...Okay. I'll just stay in the AC. But my point is this: it is just weather. Use some common sense, start out early or stay inside. And if the weather gets really bad hang onto this cool quote: "Sometimes God quiets the storm; sometimes He lets the storm rage on and quiets the child."

Most Other World Problems: I may not have solutions, but I can almost guarantee it is caused by one word: greed. Fix that one, and it will be amazing how stable this planet will become.

Okay....this is my meager offering of 'Current Events According to Debbie'. Blame it on my 8th grade teacher, Mr. Ayres. He also forced me to spell 'Czechoslovakia' which now goes by the 'Czech Republic' and is so much easier to say and spell. Teachers!

Oh....and those old, outdated historical events I mentioned in the first section? Those became just a few of my favorite topics to teach in U. S. History.

And don't you dare say that is because those were MY current events! Or you will be sequestered in your room with no weather reports!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Paper, Plastic, and Pet Peeves

Just when I thought my day was going to be great, I had an encounter with plastic. Now....this is not an act of crime, an incident involving national security or world hunger, but still. It sure stole my Karma for the day.

I battled shrink wrap.

I hate that stuff. You know.... sealed plastic which encases a product so it is all nice and pretty and begs, "Buy me!" at the store. My tools of entry consisted of: scissors, a screw driver, and a paring knife. We won't discuss the state of my now forever-damaged fingernails. I don't know...you probably heard my colorful language and saw the dogs retreat out the back door. Still wondering why my sweet neighbor didn't call the police thinking I was fighting off an attacker. I was wicked angry. I super promise: if I ever become President of the United States, I will veto any product that comes in shrink wrap. Now....there's an issue for China. Just slide that junk I buy in a nice ziplock bag, thank you very much. Otherwise, it will sit on your docks and rot. Told you I was mad.

Why does life have to be so hard?

To add to my furor, I had to shop for that stinkin' shrink wrapped stuff and place it in a possessed shopping cart. Now...if you have read my book, you know that story, 'The Shopping Cart War' can be just that: a war. You know...the cart that locks up, squeals, and takes an amateur body builder to turn it into the check-out aisle.
A cart that strips you of all intelligence and reason and makes you want to beat it with your stellar 'Thirty-One' bag for, oh, thirty-one minutes or so. Expect a crowd; some will be watching in horror--others will be cheering you on. They know.


Before you think I have just lost it, let me throw out another tool of insanity: tape dispensers. I have it under great certainty that there are torture chambers in which folks must try to find the end of tape. And then, try to lead off with a piece that doesn't rip off into tiny ribbons of crap. I am telling you now....I can hurl a roll of unruly Scotch tape, well, clear to Scotland. Now I know why they invented--and consume--Scotch! Named after some roll of tape, I'll betcha! I must admit, my favorite ex-husband would methodically roll off the teeny tiny edge of tape---any kind---and fold it under so I did not have to belabor finding the end of the roll. Yeah, he had tamed that demon. But not before consuming lots of Scotch. Just saying.

Okay. I feel so much better now. I have placed my day's trials and tribulations at your feet for safe-keeping.

And if life ever comes gift-wrapped in paper or plastic....you know which one I will pick. It may not save a tree, but at least I will have my good wits about me. And I won't have to wrap up my life story with some shrink. Am I funny or what??

Okay. No ex-husbands are allowed to answer that last one. You know what I can do with tape.

Oh my. Perhaps that last sentence needs revision. Guess I am in worse shape than I thought. Do you think it's time I dispense with this blog and cart myself off to the shrink?

Or maybe you could share your pet peeves with me and we could vent together...our own little therapy group.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blogging From the Laundry Room of Life

Blogging is interesting, I am finding this out. I sit here writing to an unknown audience and dump my various thoughts, adventures, opinions, and mishaps into cyberspace. I do have tools and gadgets to track my page views, the type of connection folks are using, such as Facebook, 'Chrome', Safari, etc. So far, no one is using a tin can and string, or a device similar to what E.T. used to "phone home." My stats do reveal the various countries my page views are from, and I am baffled that 23 folks in China are seeing this blog. Are they reading it? Ummm, I can only hope. Now...that statistic of 'one' in the Ukraine, France, Germany----yeah that's like the guy who pulls into the wrong driveway. They are lost.

But still it is quite entertaining and rewarding to read the comments. Some are from former students, parents, co-workers, distant family members, and of course, from my sisters and my own children. I look so forward to comments, and to realize that in the lifetime of my blog, over 7,000 folks have looked over my shoulder to read what this soul has pondered. Who knew?

It is hard knowing what to write about that will appeal to YOU. I try to be chatty and a bit humorous, but a blog is a bit like doing laundry. Stay with me on this. I sort through my experiences and make piles that might interest my readers. Then, I attempt to write stories that are light--like the white load. But then, things go awry in life, and soon my words are revealing sadness, just like a dark load. And the way I see it, you may have quite enough darkness and sure don't need me to lead you into another foreboding laundry room. Perhaps, those are the blogs in which I hang you out to dry. I'm truly sorry. Don't I wish I could supply fabric softener to all of our lives so we come out soft and aromatic. I know that many days or evenings, you wish I could shrink some of my ramblings. The shorter the better. Sigh. I am short in all ways but that of conversation. But then, you know that.

Well, I am going to leave you now. Those folks in China need a break if they are really translating all of this drivel. And while this may be a blog in which you scratch your head and ask, "What in Heaven's name, was the point in all of that?" I can say with great confidence, and assurance: "I have no idea."

I promise the next blog will be dried, folded, and placed neatly in the basket or on hangers. But I will not put them in your dresser. I have no business in your drawers.

Better blogs are coming. I promise. Just in case that one guy from the Ukraine makes it to my blog, I want to leave him something profound and life changing. Okay...so this one wasn't it.

Maybe next time. Ooh--gotta go! The buzzer just went off on the dryer.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Looking for a Stranger

Had to run some errands last night. Ended up at the 'D. Hall Mall'--which is my code name for Family Dollar. Anyway, it was dark and cold and I was preoccupied with the mental list of purchases that my brain was quickly forgetting. I can hear you now: "Why didn't you write it down?" Because. I. Forgot.

Anyway, as I exited my car I watched this younger guy push an empty bask-cart (or a 'buggy' if you live in the South) to the store's door. He was moving around somewhat aimlessly. As I got closer he walked towards me and said, "Hello. My name is Michael." Before he could even start his 'parking-lot-panhandling protocol' I emphatically said, "I do not give cash!" and kept my confidant stride towards the door. Told him!

What happened next was a bit disconcerting. This youth dropped his head and quietly muttered, "I wasn't going to ask you for money. I was going to ask you for directions." The look on his face was a map of 'lostness'. I called him back, eager to help him with directions. But his back was to me, his gait reflected hopelessness, and our parting exchange was him saying, "Never mind. That's okay."

I never give cash. Never. And I am approached almost weekly. Generally, as they come walking toward me, I say: "Don't even ask." That way, it saves me from saying no and them from hearing it. Even trade. My deal is this....if I think I can help another, and I'm being led to do so, then I approach them. It's my call. And God's. And don't ask me for money. If I can't control how a beggar is going to spend my spare change, then I am not sharing. Forget what I learned in kindergarten; charity comes with strings.

Well, I did my shopping, made another stop or two, and drove home. Can I just tell you that this stranger was haunting me? Was I  misreading this individual or was I just getting all soft and gooey in my old age? Ummm...I was referring to my heart, not my waistline. But now that I think about it....Oh never mind.

I was tired. And cold. Ready to finally sit down and enjoy my cozy little home. But soon I found myself putting on my coat and gloves and started my car-- searching for Michael. While I can be firm in my responses with the begging populous of the world, I am generally not rude. But this was a moment of cutting words and discourteous dismissal. I don't know about you, but I rather think everyone is worthy of civilized kindness.

I drove around various parking lots, dark streets, surveying the folks coming and going from various businesses. I was determined to find this kid and make amends. Why? So I could absolve myself from guilt, a skewed ego, or mean spirit? Partly. But there was a tug at this soul of mine that he just didn't need one more rejection. Have you ever had days like that? Yeah, me too.

As I turned into the Sav-A-Lot parking area, there he was. Just standing. I got out of my car and said, "Michael?" He walked over towards me and I recounted our exchange outside the Family Dollar store. I apologized for my mean self and he just looked at me and explained his plight. "I'm locked out, trying to get to my grandmother's, called about the price of a cab, my dad's a truck driver headed for Lexington--did you know there was a Lexington? I only knew of Louisville." Well, I almost told him, that yes, I knew of Lexington. But he sure didn't need to prepare for a geography test.

As I listened to his conversation I used all of my critical thinking skills to find holes in his story. But he stopped midway and said, "I can't believe you came back to find me. I just don't know where to go. The Wheeler Mission is not taking anyone else for the night." I did know this to be true, as it fills up early on cold nights, and they do turn away folks after a certain time. Yep...I had offered to give him a ride there. Cops won't unlock his apartment and the landlord has to have a written statement faxed to him saying he lives there. With his dad on the road, that was not an option. Grandma lived in Noblesville, and he is welcome to come but she doesn't drive.

Are you doing what I did? Trying to measure his words to see if there was truth in them? Listening for slip-ups in the sequence of events so I could pull out my "This is a bunch of crap" red pen and mark a big fat 'F' on his forehead?

He never asked me for a dime. Ironic, isn't it, that we met outside the Family Dollar and he was lacking in both. I really just listened and tried to put him at ease. I had no clear solutions to his problem but if getting him to Grandma's in Noblesville was his next plan of action, then he needed $16 more dollars for that to happen. Yeah, the cab company had given him an estimate of the fare. He was short a few bucks. I am short always...so we had that in common.

Michael was given a five dollar bill from the short lady who never gives cash. I cannot tell you when I felt so good about giving another person money. Could I have scraped up the $16 he needed? Hmmm...maybe with some careful excavating from the bottom of my purse. But he was thrilled with the five, gave me a hug, and thanked me over and over again for coming back.

Looking for a stranger may be deemed dangerous by you. I have to agree. But perhaps that is what the scriptures are whispering to us when it tells us to love the unlovely, take risks in caring for others, and to "dry the orphant's tear." Oh wait. That last one was James Whitcomb Riley. But no matter. Everyone is worthy of a kind act now and then.

Even when you are called to go out and look for a stranger named, "Michael."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Sad Exit

On Friday, I attended a memorial service of one of my former students. That's the thing with teaching....once a kid was assigned to my class, he/she became one of 'my kids'. And that final good-bye was just rough.

Especially when this young person found the world so dark he planned--and enacted his own exit. "Lots of questions, no answers. This is hard stuff. Even for the teacher who is supposed to have all of the answers. It is just as hard for me to understand, as you." This was my response to many classmates, who tearfully begged me to make it all better. In fifth grade I stood between them and the real world. My toughest call might have been at recess, deciding which team would  bat first. Then they all grew up, and scattered. Seven years later, we gather...with lumps in our throats, confusion in our hearts, and moments of awkwardness. I would strain to put names with faces, then they would recall an event or such, and I was back under their spell.

When I learned that 'my' kid had passed away, I did not sleep all night. Replaying events and memories. Even though he was on my watch seven years ago...I was sifting through my days with this boy. Was I too harsh? Did I talk over listening? Did I miss something? What could I have done differently to have served him better?

Prior to attending the service in his memory, I substitute taught at my granddaughter's school. Their entire day was planned around a fundraiser for a classmate battling cancer. Her fight for life so fierce, an entire school corporation has raised thousands of dollars on her behalf. Hours later, I would sit in church with several hundred people, wondering why this young man chose not to grow old. Too bad he couldn't have given his unwanted minutes to this  young girl, praying for another remission. Better yet; why couldn't we all see how dark his days had come?

The death of a young person is always haunting. If it occurs in the military, there is honor. If a car crash or occupational accident claims one's life, it is tragic but explainable. When we bury a young adult who has died under medical catastrophe, we shake our heads, pin a colored ribbon to our lapel and join a marathon. Okay----that sounds cold and heartless, and that is not my intent. But folks become passionate about finding cures and many outlets are available to fund such research. There is purpose in their passing.

But with suicide, there is such grim darkness that we all stand in its ugly shadow. There are so many layers of guilt, blame, self-torture. It is a mean game of hide and seek. The individual has hidden away his demons and his tomorrows; those left behind still seek answers that will stay unrevealed. Maneuvering through a future that seems hopeless and without peace, we try to calm the emptiness with cliches and platitudes. The closure is sloppy and unfulfilling, and laced in failure. Ours....not his/hers.

I know that this blog is perhaps, disturbing. I do not want my posts to be that of gloom and doom. But I am an authentic author and must share the "ongoing stories of my soul" as they play out in my days. I cherish you for plodding through some of the painful parts of my ramblings. In doing so, you bring a balance and understanding to that which is so incomprehensible.

I lost a boy whose life was laced in one kind act after another. A gentle soul who could make others feel welcomed, at ease, and best yet: could make them laugh. Perhaps he was just a person too kind for this world. May his exit from this life become an entrance to a world full of promise and inner peace.

How I wish the same for his broken, beaten mother, who will never be the same. Her son was an amazing young man; I am honored to have called him my student. This was his senior year...a milestone in the journey of education. But he moved up his graduation from this life to whatever comes next. I do not blame or judge...but struggle with what we all should learn from this.

So many lessons, so little time. A sad exit, indeed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Writing Goes to the Dogs. Again.

Well, it's a dog's day afternoon. And I have no idea what that means. A meaningless metaphor, I suppose.

But I have been pounding this keyboard trying to get a very special story from the brain to manuscript stage. It made its entrance in this gray matter some twenty years ago, but it is time to return to the drawing board. Which is another dumb metaphor because the only drawing I do is from my checking account. And we all know my checkbook is not suitable for framing.

But I am not alone in this authorship endeavor. The dogs are helping me.

Max: "Hey Deb...whatcha doing? Can I help? Are you going to use that printer thingy again....it scares the beejesus out of me. I'm afraid it is going to eat me."
Harper: "If we could only be so lucky..."
Deb: "Boys, go away. I will never get this story written."
Max: "Hey...can I be the first to eat it?"
Deb: "You mean, the first to read it?"
Max: "Hey...I love good literature! It makes a great snack."
Harper: "Do you ever think of anything but digestion?"
Max:"Hey...if it's plastic or paper it is my kind of meal."
Deb:"Okay...now where was I? Oh yeah...I need a colon."
Max: "Doesn't the colon have to do with digestion?"
Harper: "Not that colon you idiot. Punctuation. Deb, from my vantage point, I see your participle is dangling in the third paragraph."
Deb:"Just because you are named after an author doesn't mean you are a grammarian."
Max:"Hey....he's a grammarian? I thought he was a Black Lab/Akita mix."
Harper:"Oh...and you have a misplaced modifier in that last second paragraph. Just saying...."
Max:"Hey...I might know where that misplaced modifier is. Harper, didn't you bury it with her black sock when the snow melted?"
Harper:"Oh my bad. I meant to bury you. Go away, Max. You know nothing about the craft of writing."
Deb:"Harper be nice. Max can't help it if he is...well, umm, Max. Harper....what do you think would make a good title?"
Max: Hey....title? I have a title. I am: 'Max the Not Quite Right Rescue Dog'."
Harper: "And....you are proud? Geesh."
Max: "Hey....better than being named after some old lady author who stayed in her dog house after she wrote her dumb book about killin' an old bird."
Harper: "I will have you know that I am named after the amazing Harper Lee, who wrote, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' which is a classic novel, beloved my many. And Deb's favorite book. So there."
Max: Hey...."I thought her favorite book was the B-I-B-L-E."
Harper: "And it is that one line in there, that says, "Thou shalt not kill" that is saving you right now. Oh Deb...spellcheck that last word in sentence four, paragraph six."
Deb: "What would I do without you, Harper?"
Max: "Hey....what would you do without me?"
Harper:"Live in a world of pure joy, intelligence, and calm."
Deb: "Oh Harper....look at what Max has brought into our lives."
Harper: "Let's look: I see pestilence, the plague, chaos, pandemonium, and that was just Tuesday."
Max: "Hey...I was good on Tuesday. Pandemonium--that was Wednesday."
Harper: "I stand corrected."
Max: "Hey...I stand correctly every day."
Deb: "Boys, it is time for a nap. You two are wearing me out like old socks."
Max: "Ha! Ha! Ha! She called us old socks. Maybe she'll bury us!"
Harper: "Is that Amvets truck going to be on our street? I have a donation. I'll just need some duct tape for the box so it won't escape."
Deb: "Harper....you cannot give away Max. He's family."
Harper:"No. He's the village idiot."
Max: "Hey....now who's stupid. We don't live in a village. We live in a municipality called a 'city'. So there, Harper Lee Wannabee!"
Harper:"Hmmm. 'Municipality'....that's a six syllable word. Maybe there is hope for you yet, Max!"
Deb: "Awww...I just love it when you get along. Want a treat?"
Max:"Hey....treats! Harper, we're getting treats! Like, you know, doggie biscuits and such. Real snacks---not like the mail."
Harper:"You get excited about the littlest thing. Okay. Let's go get that treat. Remember; you sit, get the treat then run off. Last time you got the order all wrong. She had to chase you, watch you snarf it down, then you sat."
Max:"I have trouble with that sequencing thing. Must have missed that Sesame Street episode on 'before and after'.
Harper: "You are an episode. A manic episode."
Deb:"Okay...go to bed. And no more talking. Go to sleep like good dogs."
Max: "Hey....did you hear that? She called us good dogs."
Harper:"Yeah, she always did have trouble with singular and plurals."
Max: "Hey...quit talking about singing and pearls. I'm trying to get some sleep here."
Harper:"'To Kill a Mockingbird' needs a sequel....but it won't be about killing a bird."
Deb: "Now....where was that misplaced modifier....?"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Trouble Came"

Decided it was time to organize my clutter from years of teaching. The plaques, the precious 'thank you' cards from parents, the letters from many students that I just kept 're-boxing'. And the hundreds of photos. The job has taken me days, as I have to sit and re-read each  correspondence as if it is new mail. And it kinda is....since my memory is, umm what was I writing about? It was a walk down 'I Am Trying to Remember Lane'. I sat on a kid's chair in the basement lost in the days when teaching was a grand adventure. My, how I was blessed in that classroom day after day. So many students, so many stories, so little time.

And then I saw him. A crooked, sheepish grin looking up at me through the ages. It was the nineties, and a little boy was placed in my second grade classroom. His name was Joey D. and if he might as well had the words: Failure to Thrive, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Special Needs (IEP in place), Neglected, CHiNS (Child in Need of Services), Emotionally and Mentally Handicapped, Indigent, Foster Care Child, Runner, Abused, Thief, Juvenile Delinquent and one day, Murderer etched on his forehead. Because all of these labels would tell his story. Now....let me tell you Joey's story; because I am the one who came to love him.

Joey was placed in my classroom, shortly after the school year had  started. I only had him one semester as he would ultimately be placed in a full-time special needs classroom, as the "least restrictive environment" would create chaos for this young soul. He came to me from the state of Florida, where his mother had killed his father's girlfriend. But when I--or anyone else asked him what happened, he would furrow his brow, and mumble, "Trouble came." I had been told the story from his caseworker; I watched it unravel his young life.

So, Joey and I settled in. I taught him to write his first name. He now had four letters under his belt. He could not name the color red, but he would match it up to my nail polish! Yeah, I stuck with red for many weeks, just in case Joey needed that color crayon. He sat right next to my desk so the other children would not be disturbed by his outbursts of crying, anger, and overall sadness. While the other students floated by with the standard second grade curriculum, Joey and I fastened our learning curve on letters, numbers, social skills, and survival. Joey became my personal exercise regimen for those months, as I would chase him when he bolted from my classroom to hide. While I would smile when I saw the toes of his shoes from the boys' restroom stall or janitor's closet, inside me I would weep. If only running and hiding could help him escape from what his sorry life had lived in eight vicious years, I would have hidden him myself.

I found the photo of his last day in my class. The students had covered his desk and chair with notes of "Good Luck, Joey" "We'll Miss You" and such. He flashed that crooked grin. A new adventure, although he did not want to leave my class. I rode in the car with his case worker and bought him a McDonald's Happy Meal as we went to his new school. That was back in the time when principals cared more for the child than his/her test scores, and mine allowed me this freedom...to ride with Joey to his new school. This would be a tough goodbye.

Joey jabbered more than ever on the ride, savoring his sandwich. I knew how to fill in the gaps and answer his questions, yet I wondered if this would not simply be one more round of abandonment from his skewed point of view. I felt guilty for all of the moments I prayed for a calm classroom--one without Joey. I came to understand how one child can tilt a balanced place of learning into pandemonium. Anyone employed in a school is shaking their heads in agreement. I assured him he would be fine. Hmmm...was I trying to convince him or myself?

My favorite photo of us depicts my arms around Joey reaching across his chest. I am smiling and he is, too. A closer look from a trained eye would probably see a therapeutic hold; too much affection was confusing and dangerous to him. I would look at that picture years later and wondered...."Whatever happened to Joey D?"

In the 2000's, the Indianapolis paper revealed that a 54 year old woman was found guilty in the of slaying of a high school student. Seems this mother and her son had walked up a stairwell. She had bumped the student and he had made a comment for her to watch where she was going. Angered, the mother encouraged her son to burst into the apartment and shoot three bullets into the student, resulting in his death. More stories would show that this son was mentally incompetent to act on his own.

I knew this to be true. I had taught him to spell his name and recognize the color red, though he had trouble retrieving the name for it. Ironic, that blood is red and that is one color he knew. One may ask, "What kind of mother would set her son up for murder?" The kind that had killed his future years ago.

I don't know if Joey is still living, is incarcerated, or what. I do not stand in judgment of how his life played out. But for one short semester he owned my heart and I rescued him every moment I could--and when he would allow it.

"Trouble came." Indeed.

And never left my Joey D.