While the rest of us were getting ready for the new school year, it occurred to my daughter, Dimples, that Wonderbutt might do better in his lessons with improved vision. He hasn’t asked for a locker chandelier, yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
My school year began and ended with a wooden spoon.
At our first faculty meeting, we each received a wooden spoon. We were directed to think of someone we admired, and a trait that person exhibited that we treasure. On the front of the spoon, we wrote the trait. On the back we dedicated it to the person. Then, we were told to secretly put the spoon in the box of a faculty member who also appeared to exemplify that special quality. The spoons were supposed to be passed on throughout the year.
You can read about the hilariously ironic spoons I received here. I’m new to the faculty this year, so it’s quite obvious that no one really knows me very well.
Yesterday, the end of our school year, we got back our original spoons. To be honest, I had completely forgotten what I had written on mine.
Aside from receiving a spoon, yesterday was also notable because my daughter finished elementary school. To celebrate this distinguished occasion, I gave her a book, signed by all of her teachers, called, Heroes for my Daughter.
Last night, I told her that each night that I read to her, I also wanted to read one of the chapters from the book.
“Choose which one you want for tonight,” I said.
She skimmed through the notable names: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Gandhi, Lincoln, etc…. She suddenly erupted into what I affectionately call her “Beavis and Butthead” laugh.
“Guess who I picked?” she said.
“Dolly Parton?” I asked, knowing that she was well aware that I’m not a huge fan of Dolly Parton and it would be perfectly in character for my daughter to choose my least favorite person on this list.
“Nope.” She displayed the chapter for me.
“The Three Stooges,” it was titled.
I laughed. Then I remembered my wooden spoon.
“Hold on,” I said. I came back with the spoon, and explained its origin.
“Guess who it’s dedicated to?” I asked.
“The Three Stooges?”
I showed her. “Dedicated to my daughter,” I had written.
“And guess what trait I admire?” I turned it over.
And so we read about the Three Stooges, and their use of humor to bring attention to the atrocities of Hitler in their film, “You Nazty Spy!” two years before the United States decided to get involved in World War II.
That’s how I ended my first and only year teaching at the school my daughter attended – a year fraught with my struggles with depression, but frequently illuminated by outbursts of laughter, particularly during the times I got to spend with Dimples, my 10 year old hacker with the “Purple Mustache” who thinks it’s perfectly logical to name a female chihuahua “Steve”.
Your Summer Challenge: To Figure Out How to Inflict Mind-Numbing Boredom Without Getting Caught in the Cross-Fire
My latest project has been to try and figure out how to make my daughter’s summer miserable. You have to do this, you know, so it makes life easier in the fall when it’s time to go back to school. If you’ve planned the summer right, your child will be begging you to take her shopping for school supplies by the end of June. In July, she will spontaneously volunteer to write a report on every country in the world, alphabetically. And when the postcard announcing “Meet the Teacher Night” arrives in the mail in August, she will exclaim, “Finally! Thank God! If you don’t drive me there right now, I’m going to start walking.”
Or, so I’ve heard. So far, I have never been able to achieve this Summer Nirvana. As an adult. As a child, I hit these milestones annually. So, I’ve been racking my brain to figure out what my mother did right and I’m doing wrong.
I remember the one summer that she decided I was going to summarize every book I read on little index cards and put them in a file. I don’t remember the purpose she expressed for this assignment, but in my head I heard, “Since you like to read so much, I thought I would completely stifle your love of books by requiring you to write something every time you finish one.” Maybe she was trying to make sure I was eager for school to start again – or maybe she was tired of filling her trunk with books every time we went to the library. Most likely, she was tired of looking for the books that we had filled the trunk with 2 weeks before whenever it was time to return to the library.
By the end of the summer, I hadn’t completed any books – just started 103 and read until the 2nd to last chapter. In my spare time, I participated in a weekly scavenger hunt for lost books, and started my own school in the basement for stuffed animals. One of the subjects I taught my extremely well-behaved class was Handwriting, which obligated me to pretend to write in 15 various styles every day so I could “grade” their writing. The irony is not lost on me that I filled about 1500 pages with the writing of my stuffed animals while simultaneously avoiding to set a pen down to the index cards that remained blank for 2.5 months.
Now that I’m a mom, I’ve tried to carry on the tradition of mind-numbingly boring summers for my own daughter, but I seem to be failing in this area. I call our summers, “Mom Camp”, and the provided activities have consisted of: Closet Cleaning, Drawer Depuration, Find Something to Do Besides Playing on your iPod or Watching T.V., and For God’s Sake, Run Around in the Backyard with the Dog Because You’re Both Driving Me Crazy (I Don’t Care if It’s a Hundred Degrees and There are Giant Mosquitoes Out There).
But every August, my daughter becomes increasingly depressed as the first day of school approaches.
Obviously, I need to change the program of “Mom Camp”. The challenge is to do this without ruining my summer. I mean, I think we can all predict the response to me saying, “Here’s some index cards. Every time you play an app during the next 8 weeks, you need to summarize it in complete sentences. Oh, and teach your Build-a-Bear how to write, for crying out loud. That thank-you card he sent me for the blue tropical swim trunks looks like chicken scratch.”
Of course, making her increasingly question my sanity could be my new strategy…
I discovered today that I apparently missed my calling as an interrogator.
I had a bit of a mystery in my classroom as someone had played around with the settings on one of our laptop computers. Considering I teach 6 grade levels a week, two other classes had borrowed the laptops in the past few days, and I host the Robotics Club in my room, I was pretty certain I was not going to discover the culprit out of a pool of over 100 suspects. So, I figured I would just lecture everyone, beginning with today’s 5th graders.
“So, apparently someone changed the name of one of the desktop icons, which one of my 4th graders discovered yesterday.”
The students started looking around at each other.
“It was Evan!” two of the kids said in stereo before I could say one more word. I couldn’t believe how quickly I had gotten them to rat someone out.
“What?” Evan is in Robotics club.
“Yeah, a few weeks ago he messed with the desktop but we changed it back.”
“Well, that’s not it, then. But I will definitely be talking to him. This was something that happened recently because it was noticed yesterday.”
“It was Harry!” someone yelled. Three other people nodded and murmured, “Yeah, I saw him do it.”
I looked at Harry, who seemed completely bewildered by this sudden onslaught of accusations.
“No, he changed the names of some files, but I changed it back,” another student defended (?) him.
“Harry, you and I are going to talk in a minute,” I said sternly. “Now, back to what happened yesterday. Someone changed the Internet Explorer icon to say something different. I’m sure you were just being silly, but you guys could get me in a lot of trouble by doing things like that. If people don’t think I’m supervising you enough they could take away the technology, and wouldn’t that be sad?” Encouraged by the seeming willingness on the part of my class to throw people under the bus, I laid it on thick.
They all nodded that this would, indeed, be sad.
“What did they change it to?” someone asked.
I shifted uncomfortably.
“Purple Mustache,” I said, and waited for the laughter.
Slowly, a hand came up. A quiet voice said, “I did it.”
It was my daughter.
“You did?!!!” I said – along with 15 other people. My daughter has gotten one conduct mark during her 5 years of elementary school. The only one I suspected less of changing the icon to “Purple Mustache” is my dog, Wonderbutt. And that’s only because he didn’t have access to the computer.
Crap, I thought.
“Well, you and I are going to have a serious talk at home tonight, young lady,” I said. Even though I wasn’t sure about what.
I had no idea that I had this kind of confessional power. Apparently I somehow mastered the technique of the Guilt Trip without even knowing it.
Now, if I could just master the technique of the Don’t Even Think About It Trip, maybe her teen years won’t be so bad after all.
Our bulldog, Wonderbutt, thinks that his exclusion from the public school that Dimples and I both attend (well, she attends and I teach there) is speciesism, and he would like to protest his prohibition from the property. Since he cannot hold a sign, he decided to parade around with Dimples’ underwear instead.
I informed him that he is the lucky recipient of home schooling, which is what Dimples has been begging for ever since she learned that it existed. But Wonderbutt does not seem to think this is adequate. Once Dimples began to sharpen her pencils in preparation for the new year, Wonderbutt immediately felt deprived.
Every morning, when we carefully enclose him in the Kitchen Corral, Wonderbutt gives us his most mournful look of abandonment, despite the piles of toys and beds that are showered all over the kitchen floor.
Surprisingly, he has not engaged in any interior decorating during our absences this week – which is almost disappointing. In the evenings, however, he has managed to chew two rolls of duct tape and to make his stuffed raccoon toy into a quadruple amputee. It seems that, if we are going to continue to neglect him for 8 hours a day, that he absolutely insists on unwavering attention once we return in the afternoon. This makes it a bit difficult to cook and clean – and blog – but he has made it very clear that these are not his problems.
If you take a peek at my widget on the left margin, you will see that our new furniture has made it over 3 months without receiving the mark of Wonderbutt. 3 Summertime months. 3 months of the World Revolving Around Wonderbutt. This may change very soon…
So, what was on your school supply list when you were a kid? Pencils, notebooks, the usual, right? Yeah, me too.
I went to Catholic school, so getting clothes was a minor stage of the whole Back-to-School Shopping Blitz. Because we had uniforms, the school supplies were where we could really show our personalities off. But, the nuns got wise to this pretty quickly. Our list of things we could NOT buy for school soon surpassed the quantity of things we were required to buy.
Erasermate Pens were one such item. We weren’t allowed to write in pen. But that was because you couldn’t erase it. So, what was the rationale, I wonder, for banning the brand new invention of pens with erasable ink? I’m pretty sure the Sistahs are the reason that remarkable innovation isn’t in the drawers of every office desk today.
Another way to get yourself detention at my school was to walk in with a Trapper Keeper. Those amazing organizational tools were the bane of every teaching nun’s existence. The Party Line was that the bulk of the darn things pretty much made it impossible for them to co-exist in the same desk as our massive textbooks. But I think that Sister Mary Quite Contrary was more fearful of the far too many sinfully secular designs that appeared on the covers and each interchangeable piece.
It killed me not to get a Trapper Keeper. Every year, I would wistfully pull one out of the display case, showing my mother The Dukes of Hazzard or the less controversial horse racing through a green field, and begging her to buy me one – pretending to be completely oblivious to the Trapper Keeper Commandment.
Now, it’s 2012. My daughter is 9. She goes to public school. We have spent 3 exhausting days looking for clothes and mandatory school supplies. And even though she has a lot more freedom to make a statement with both her fashion and her various notebooks and writing utensils, she does not feel that is enough.
We have gone to three different stores looking for the perfect nail polish color for the first day of school. Yesterday, I spent an hour in Sephora as she painted each nail on her hands a different color. Oh, she knew which one she wanted by the fourth, but she needed to finish up the job once started, apparently.
Erasermate should invent some erasable nail polish pens. Now, there’s a bestseller.
God, I wish there had been a Sephora around when I was a kid. Those nuns would have had a lot less time to worry about Trapper Keepers…
Anyway, why, you may ask, did I allow my child to spend an hour decorating her digits, and to buy a $10 bottle of nail polish when that is not on any school supply list and she is not starring on a reality show?
Because, even now, 35 years later, I still have a little bit of Catholic School rebel in me.
And, even now, 35 years later, you still can’t bring Trapper Keepers to school.
A word to parents: While you might be worried about Twitter knowing your address and phone number, even more intimate details about what goes on in your household get shared about you every day at school. Here are a few conversations I heard amongst my Gifted and Talented students this week (of course, all of the names below are pseudonyms).
My third graders (8 years old) were using the iPad to make a puppet show video. They chose their characters from the “Talk Show Set.” Here is their group discussing their own creation.
Jay (pointing at the Talk Show Host they had chosen): Is that a boy or a girl?
Dave: It’s a girl.
Conan: No, it’s a boy.
Dave: No-o-o, it’s a girl who acts like a boy. It’s Ellen.
Jay: Ellen? Isn’t that the one on the J.C. Penney ad? My mom was talking about that.
Dave: Yeah, did you see the Facebook thing? There’s a whole thing about that. My mom –
Jay and Dave did not have the chance to go into more detail on the “J.C. Penney thing”, as the fourth group member quickly informed them that they were off-task, and they got back to work. I was slightly disappointed, though, as I was a little curious about how an 8 year old would explain the “J.C. Penney thing” about which he seemed so knowledgeable based on his Facebook source.
Strangely, Ellen made an appearance in another conversation in my classroom this week. This was an exchange amongst my four Kinder students. Keep in mind, these kids are 6 years old:
Belle: My mother is French and my father is from Puerto Rico. Of course, he speaks Spanish all of the time.
Ariel: I speak some British.
Belle: He talks in Spanish to his whole family from Puerto Rico. Of course, to his mother because she would spank him if he didn’t. (Belle chuckles at her own comment.)
Pocahantas: My mother can’t draw a thing. I tried to teach her.
Ariel: Oh, didn’t that help when you tried to teach her?
Pocahantas: No, she just wants to watch Ellen when I get home.
Belle: You should be in pageants (to Pocahantas, not to me, although that would have made much more sense).
Ariel: Do you watch –
Belle: Toddlers and Tiaras? Of course! I never miss a show. You know, they are completely different people when they are on the stage than they are when they aren’t.
Ariel nods knowingly.
Belle (to Pocahantas, again): You really should be in pageants. You’ve got a perfect face. I would love to be in pageants. The best part is they wear makeup. I really wanted Avis to win. She was the best.
Ariel again nods knowingly.
Pocahantas clearly does not know what Belle is talking about.
Jasmine (completely uninterested in this entire discussion): Sometimes I can color in the lines, but sometimes I can’t. I struggle with it a lot.
The timer goes off.
Jasmine gets the award for revealing the least about her family’s television and computer habits.
I’m wondering if their parents have any idea how much these kids are taking in at home. I think we need to start tattooing disclaimers on the feet of babies before they are released from the hospital. “Parental Warning – Nothing You Say, Do, or Watch will Ever Be Private Again.”http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4638981545/”>opensourceway</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Well, I think that this is the longest I have lasted, People. I tried to hold out for at least a week past the start of the month, and I have succeeded.
For any newbies or highly forgetful readers, please allow me to explain. I have a monthly “Dead Rubber” post, which is, basically, one into which I have put less effort than usual. “Dead Rubber” is, apparently, slang for “boring.” I forget my source for that little gem. Maybe I made it up. I am sure some of you can think of more colorful definitions, and you are welcome to them, as the entertainment is completely up to you today, I am afraid.
“No tag backs,” one of my students yelled as he tagged another at recess.
“No tag backs,” the next student yelled as he tagged the closest victim.
This went on for fifteen minutes.
I don’t know if this is regional or generational, but when I was a kid we had no such proclamations when we played tag. It was just understood you couldn’t simply tap the person who had tapped you half a second before.
So, I asked, “Hey guys, why do you have to keep saying that? Can’t it just be the rule you establish at the beginning of the game? For example, ‘Hey everyone – during this game of tag, there will be no tagging of the person who just tagged you.’ ”
They looked at me open-mouthed. Not the open-mouthed in awe kind of way. The open-mouthed, what the heck is this crazy lady saying kind of way. For some reason, my idea is not considered good. In fact, it’s not even considered. It’s immediately dismissed as another wildly impossible request from their somewhat unbalanced teacher, and everything is back to normal the next recess.
During which I start thinking about the implications of a generation of “No Tag Backs” kids growing into adulthood and attempting to lead our nation some day in the future. What if we could just invade a country and say, “Sorry, no tag backs. You’ll just have to find someone else to pillage and plunder instead.”
And, if someone attacks us, and forgets to say those three vital words, we can pummel the heck out them, and then yell, “No tag backs!” as we retreat.
By the way, Infinity No Tag Backs to anyone who wants to try this game with me. Now I’m covered. I can strike with no fear of retaliation. I should run for President.
Dimples got a new book yesterday, “How to Be the Best at Everything”.
Since, I have been striving to be perfect for over 40 years, I was eager to read a 100 page book that would let me in on the secret.
So I randomly opened the book to one of the middle chapters to see what information Fate wanted me to glean first.
How to Improve Your Memory
Really? Could the darn book have been more prescient? I mean, it’s like the author was actually one of the two people who read my blog. My memory problems are what I complain about on a regular basis as I try to get people to believe that aliens or terrorists are trying to wipe out our remarkable recall skills by poisoning our food.
This is how bad my memory is. Two years ago, I got a ticket driving in a school zone on a street that connects the two schools where I work. Don’t get me started on how there is no school in sight of the actual zone, or that it’s not one of those helpful, solar-powered flashing light signs. Or that there were no students anywhere in the vicinity because they were actually IN SCHOOL!
As you may have perceived, I was pretty p.o.’d about that ticket. And the attitude of the police officer did not improve my feelings.
You would think, with the strong emotions that episode yielded, I would be more careful from then on in the school zone.
Nope. Oh, I spent a few months driving way out of my way to avoid the school zone altogether, but I finally decided that was ridiculous. All I had to do was not speed. Jeez, how hard is that?
Apparently, for me, pretty friggin’ hard. Here is a typical trip from one school to t’other during the school zone time:
I get in the car and lecture myself that I must remember the school zone. I pull out of School #1‘s parking lot at 20 mph, and turn the corner. I go down the street that leads out of School #1’s neighborhood, chanting the mantra, “School Zone, School Zone, School Zone” the entire time.
I reach School Zone street, but it’s not the Zone yet. It’s 35 mph. “Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget.”
I start thinking about what Wonderbutt might be currently redesigning in my house. Pass the School Zone sign. Crap. “YOU FORGOT AGAIN. YOU ARE SO LUCKY THERE ISN”T A COP WAITING RIGHT THERE. SLOW DOWN, YOU FOOL!”
Red light. Still in the School Zone. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Wonder what my next blog is going to be about…
Green light. Let’s go!
Pass the end of the School Zone sign. Crap! “YOU FORGOT AGAIN! WHAT, ARE YOU A COMPLETE IDIOT THAT YOU CAN’T REMEMBER SOMETHING THIRTY SECONDS LATER?”
Wait a second. What was I talking about?
Oh, yeah. The book. I have a feeling this chapter is not really going to help me.
I’m going to check out the chapter on “How to Survive an Alien Invasion” instead.