No More Watermelon, and a Question

watermelonMamacita says:  The kitchen still smells like watermelon even though I threw out the rinds last night.  I’m sensitive to odors and it’s hard to work in here right now because to me, melons stink.  They stink like skunks stink.  It’s not just a strong odor; they stink.  The windows are open, but I can still smell it.  Tim loves melons and in the summer, he used to buy them as often as he could. Melons represented the best of summer to him.  In his family, people fought wars over who got the last slice of melon.  In our house, he gets it all to himself.
Until this summer, that is.  This is the summer of the high blood sugar, and even though he buys the melons and cheats, he pays for it now.  Once in the store and again with the glucometer.  He’s had to cut way back, with the melons.
I don’t like watermelon.  I don’t like canteloupe, either.  (We call them ‘mushmelons’ around these parts.)
I don’t like any kind of melon, actually. Honeydon’t.
picky eater
When it comes to food, I’m seven years old in the head and sitting at the table with my arms crossed in front of a plate of good, healthy food that’s grown ice cold, waiting for me to touch it again.
On the bright side, I always taste it before passing judgment. Usually, I give it several chances to impress me.  Sometimes, it wins me over.  Sometimes, nothing on earth works, no matter how hard I try.  Tomatoes and cottage cheese, for example, always look so delicious to me, but when I put a bite in my mouth, I’m still grossed out.  When I’m dining with friends, I can fake it pretty well, and you’ll never know, but it took years of practice before I could pull it off without a grimace.
I also hate onions.  And Brussels sprouts.  And most casseroles. And “flavored” drinks.
Peas make me gag, even at my age.
I don’t eat gravy. The very concept is disgusting.  I’m pretty good at making it, though, and if you want some, I’ll be happy to make some.  For you.  You can have all of it.
Most cooked vegetables make me all sad and unhungry.  Raw vegetables, I love.  Roasted, boiled, baked, not so much.  In fact, not at all.
I’m also not a big garlic fan.  Or pasta, although there are a few pasta recipes I like a lot.
Tim’s family fought wars over who got the last piece of pie.  I don’t eat pie, either, but I do love to make them.  (Exception:  gooseberry pie if it’s really, really sour.)
Most sweet things:  no.  Most sour things:  yes.  Sugar:  no.  Lemons:  yes.
One of the coolest things about being an adult is that, with the exception of a few social occasions when I don’t want PEOPLE to know I’m a food sissy, I can eat what I want and ignore the rest, and not be sent to bed without any Lost in Space for turning up my nose at good, healthy food starving children in Biafra would give anything to have.
Nobody can make me eat melons.  Nobody.  Actually, most days I eat once a day, late at night, unless I meet a friend for lunch.
I guess my question is, “Why am I so fat?”

Facts Notwithstanding, I Still Have Hope

Hope is the thing with feathersMamacita says:  While it is true that I tend to rant and rave about how far too many students (one is too many) can’t read or write or add two numbers together, and how far too many students (one is too many) can’t behave themselves, have no intention of learning anything, and have dedicated themselves to preventing the nice kids from learning anything, either, it is also true that I have nothing but admiration and fondness for the students who work hard, pay attention, behave themselves, and laugh at my jokes have a pleasant attitude. Add a quirky sense of humor, and I’m hooked.  There is nothing better than a friendly, hardworking student.  Nothing.

I never minded the “stupid questions” and I still don’t mind them, because if a question is sincere, it is not a stupid question; it’s a legitimate question and isn’t that what it’s all about? I love a student who asks questions; that student means more to me than a student who answers questions. If the question is about a connection between the lesson and something out in the world, even better. Better? It’s FANTASTIC!!!

I’ve had my share of teachers who were interested only in what was in the textbook. Questions that dealt with a connection or a tangent were dismissed completely; I’ve actually seen students punished for asking questions. I know tons of teachers who are lost without the answers pre-printed in their Teacher’s Edition.

What the heck is up with that? I have always assumed that a teacher who doesn’t already know those answers has no business standing before a group of learners in the first place! Sometimes those Teacher’s Editions have mistakes in them, and I’ve known teachers who will count the student’s correct answer wrong because the teacher is fixated on believing that the Teacher’s Edition is always right. I do not believe that these are good teachers, and I really don’t care what kind of scores that particular school is making. Scores are not education, but if I start in on that one again I’ll never make my dental appointment in a half hour.

Now, we all know that there are kids who will pester the teacher with questions just to get attention or get a laugh from his/her classmates; that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about students with eager minds who genuinely want to know something. I’m talking about students who suddenly see and understand a connection between a few words in our book and something out there in “real life.” I’m talking about the wide eyes and the amazed expression and the gasp of realization that teachers come back year after year hoping to see. I’m talking about that moment when the student gazes at his/her pen and realizes that it’s actually a magic wand, and that with that wand the student wields power the likes of which make atomic energy seem feeble.

Every year, teachers have less and less authority. Every year, teachers must work in environments that would have most adults calling the authorities on the first day. Every year, teachers must deal with a population that is dangerous to the point of being criminal, and every year teachers risk their lives to try to bring a little light to the few actual learners and workers who hover quietly, in fear of their lives, too, on the sidelines. Every year, teachers must deal with parents who won’t support them, children who won’t try, administrations that won’t guarantee a safe habitat for either the teacher or the students, and buildings that are crumbling. Our students are hungry and sleepy, and far too many of them know far too much about the dregs of society: some because their families ARE the dregs of society, and others because they spend too much unsupervised time watching the trash on Jerry Springer and various television shows that teach our young people to be smartassed single parents who sleep around, have a cell phone glued to their hand, long for designer shoes,  and respect nothing. Every year, teachers must deal with more and more evidence that too many stupid people are breeding like rabbits, too much time, attention, and money is spent on the lowest common denominator in the building and not nearly enough on the students who would really love to be taught something, and the very real possibility of being disciplined or sent to the Rubber Room if they speak out, try to help, or in any way upset the status quo of our extremely dysfunctional school systems. It’s dangerous to speak out, and it’s dangerous to show up for work, it’s dangerous to walk to the restroom, and it’s dangerous to walk across the parking lot before and after school, and it’s dangerous to mow your lawn on the weekend because you never know which disgruntled moron – parent or child – is going to show up demanding “justice,” ie entitlements, favors, exceptions, and freebies.

But I digress.

I believe that the students I have now are the same as students in the public school – it’s just that at this level, it’s safe to be a learner because those who would disrupt and endanger and bully are escorted out of the building almost immediately.  Have you any idea what a difference knowing that small fact can make to a student who really IS a student? Today, for example, we were discussing the fact that many words we all consider to be English were actually stolen borrowed from other languages. The students caught on immediately to the fact that if a person speaks English, a person is actually also speaking Spanish, and French, and Italian, and Russian, and German, and Yugoslavian, and Aztec, and Hawaiian, and Chinese, and Outer Mongolian, not to even mention the dialects of the Fiji Islanders and assorted Scandanavian nations, and dead languages,  because our language is not only vaguely reminiscent of Shakespeare’s English (which catered to the uneducated peasants), it’s also a big stewpot full of every other language on the planet. This is a partial explanation of why we have so many odd spellings and strange plurals and exceptions to all the grammar rules. I love it. Today, my students loved it, too.  Watching them love it made me love it, and them, even more.

I tried this lesson back in the public schools and several parents complained because I was telling their kids that the language of the true patriotic Americans wasn’t “pure.” Of course, this was the same group of parents who were irate because we were talking about homonyms. Can you guess why? I mean, jeepers.

See above, “Too many stupid people are breeding.”

But a student who asks questions, questions that show a longing to KNOW, questions that demonstrate an understanding of a connection. . . questions that tell me that there is yet hope for the human race because in this classroom, today, students were laughing and excited about a few WORDS, and looking at their pens in awe as though they’d just that moment understood the amount of power they had with it?

This is why teachers come back, year after year. This is why we hope. This is what makes it all Hope, featherworthwhile. This is why we risk everything we have and everything we are.

I wonder how many professions require as much hope as teaching? I’d bet money, if I had any, that educators lean on hope even more than the medical professions and the ministers do.

Food, Clothing, Shelter, and Books.

bookshelf, house with booksMamacita says:   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the children who grow up in households wherein there are no books are generally the kids who end up in the slow class at school.  There are exceptions, of course, but I haven’t seen very many.  I was always happy to see the exceptions, but I was also really surprised.
I’ve had kids come to me with their Scholastic purchases and beg me to keep them at school so someone at home wouldn’t destroy or sell them, or maybe even just mock the child for loving books.
It wasn’t always the poor families who raised their children in houses that had no books, either.  Often they were families who just didn’t like books.  They’d rather watch TV or go to the races or chase Bambi’s mother across the meadow, mount her head on the wall, and have the rest of her for dinner.  Families who love and respect books will get books into the house one way or another. Parents who don’t understand their child’s love of books will get books into the house one way or another, too.   I would do anything for those families.
And sometimes, kids from these families would come to school hungering for something and not knowing what.  And once finally finding it, were transformed.  I loved that. I lived for that.  I still do, only at a different level now.
Some families teased their kids for bringing home books and wanting to read them.  Imagine. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jack the Bulldog Some parents got angry when their kids brought home books.  Books were suspect.  Books might contain something Uncle Reverend Billy-Bob didn’t already know.  Why does the kid want to read a book?  Nobody else in this family does.  Put the blame thing down and come watch TV with the rest of us.
The Real Mother GooseI’ve posted about this before, but it bears repeating.  Back when classes were grouped (don’t get me started because some of you won’t like what I would say) EVERY KID in the top class knew dozens of nursery rhymes, poems, and stories, many by heart.  Down in the slowest group, few if any kids even understood the question.  They didn’t know no pomes.
Many of those kids weren’t grouped in the slow class because they were stupid.  They were in there because they’d been exposed to so little, culture-wise, that they had no frame of reference for much of anything that didn’t involve chaw, huntin’ dawgs, Nascar, Carhartt, the 4-H Fair, Junior Samples, Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, and Blue Collar Comedy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those.
People who don’t know poetry, music, books, and plays have no frame of reference when it comes to cultural literacy.  One thing builds upon another.  If we have no prior knowledge to bring to the table, it won’t much matter what’s on the table.  We won’t get it.
Billy Coleman, Where the Red Fern GrowsThere are good books, poems, and stories about chaw, huntin’ dawgs, Nascar, and county fairs.  Great stuff.  Billy Coleman might have worn Carhartts.  He might have listened to the Blue Collar guys. Travis knew there was more to life than just huntin’ dogs. Caroline Ingalls loved Jack the bulldog, but was determined that her girls get an education.  Great-grandparents may have been illiterate, but by golly, their kids were going to have an education.
By that same token, it won’t hurt literary-types to get outside and Old-Yeller-classic-disney-9980477-853-480experience life, and do some physical labor.
We get too one-sided, we lose each other. 
But “A house without books is like a room without windows.  No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them.” –Horace Mann
And books for the children should be purchased before chaw and Nascar tickets for an adult.  Yes, and before cable, beer, and shotgun shells.
Am I a snob?  I don’t honestly think so.  And if I am, then you should be one, too.

Invention and Re-invention

This post is sponsored by Oxytrol and BlogHer.invention & re-invention, Scheiss WeeklyThe reinvention of ME and the reason for that reinvention are both the result of an invention – specifically, computers. I was a middle school teacher, and had been for over twenty years. It was a hard job, but I loved it. When computers entered the classrooms, my job became at once more difficult and more enjoyable. The students certainly loved it; it was the administration that remained skeptical.With 46 students in one classroom, close supervision was pretty nearly impossible, but even acknowledging that fact, I was held responsible for every single thing that could possibly go wrong with students and computers. It finally got to the point where I’d had enough, and I quit. Cold. I walked out the door and never looked back. I had never done anything in my adult life except teach middle school. What would I do now? A community college heard that I was now free during the day and hired me on the spot. I didn’t even have to fill out an application. College level teaching was, and is, an experience like no other. It was a different world. It was a world in which my judgment was trusted and my technique admired. In other words, it was as unlike public school as if it were on Mars. I loved it. Love it. Still doing it. But I’m also doing something else – professional writing and social media for several businesses. A few years ago these jobs did not exist, and now, almost every business participates; they have to, or they’ll go under. This is so exciting for me – seeing my name in print, being asked to speak at conferences, being trusted with logins and passwords and reputations of businesses. . . I was created to do these jobs. Leaving the only job I’d ever had as an adult was scary. It was traumatic, after I’d had a few day to keep calm and change your life, scheiss weeklyconsider what I’d done and to wonder how I’d feed my children on personal satisfaction. In retrospect, it was the best decision I’d ever made in my life. The best decision of my life. My life’s BEST DECISION. Turning my life, and the lives of my family, completely askew, changing my getting up and my going to bed, my eating habits, my every aspect of living habits. . . buying plane tickets and making hotel reservations and wandering around huge strange cities gawking at the skyscrapers. . .being hired to speak in front of people. . . .being consulted on issues people considered me knowledgeable about. . . . I discovered that I was made for this life. Do I regret turning myself into an entirely different person? I do not. I only regret not doing it sooner.

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My Father and My Daughter: Their Day

June 15, calendarMamacita says:  Father’s Day and my daughter’s birthday are always within a few days of each other, and this year, they’re on the same day. That is because calendars are alive and love to mess with us, and because those selfsame calendars, parts of them anyway, dwell in the past with emperors, gods, and goddesses.  We can mess right back by denying our ages.  But I digress.

My daughter is over 21, if anyone wants to ask me any questions.  Please be sure your resume is current, including gainful employment and a love of steampunk and Renaissance cosplay.

She used to be the most beautiful baby girl in the universe, but not any more. She hasn’t been that for a long time.

She is, however, the most beautiful young woman in the universe. She’s strong and brave and smart and hilarious. She’s a lot nicer than I am.  Her sense of direction is almost perfect. Her sense of ethics and behavior are superior. She can sing like an angel. She can walk into an expensive dress shop and walk out with a $300.00 dress that she got for twelve bucks and matching $125.00 shoes that cost eight – the honest way. She’s kind and caring and patient, unless she’s dealing with an idiot in which case she, sadly, takes after me. She’s the best daughter any mother could ever hope to have, even when she takes the occasional pissy fit, and even then a good margarita will fix that mood swing right up. Mommy knows how to take care of her baby girl.

I didn’t teach her to stick her head in a waterfall, but only because the subject never came up.Sara Goodwin

She owns several crowns.  This is only fitting.  She also owns a magic wand, but then, so do I. Do these wands work?  Try us; you’ll find out.

Her cat is obese and has never been outdoors.  By my way of thinking, this means she owns a fairly sentient stuffie.

Sometimes, she wears fairy shoes.  This is in no way strange.  <– no sarcasm intended. This is how we are, in this house.  Why do you ask?

Happy Birthday, Princess.

My dad has been gone for several years now, but we never really ever stop missing the people Dad and Sarawe love. We recover, and get on with our lives, but the memories are still there, and aren’t we all glad they are?

Dad wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. He and all of his brothers and their father before them were quick-tempered and easy to, as Mom used to say, “set off.” He was also funny and smart; he could sing and he valued education, HIGHLY. He would have been a success at college, but he never went. Instead, he sent four kids through college, and continued to work day after day in a factory, “so we would never have to.”

He taught me hundreds of poems and songs, and he liked to pick me up and stand me on a table and make me sing or recite for people.  (not lately)  ”Purple People Eater” and Robert Frost: I still remember.

My sister Teresa and I had a daddy who was playful and laughing. My two younger siblings had a daddy who was cranky and yelling. Dad’s illness began long before anybody realized it, including himself, and the personality changes were just brushed aside as part of the aging process or, possibly, his true colors. Nobody actually said “true colors,” but we all thought it.

By the time dad had had both legs amputated and was bedridden and too weak to feed himself or turn over, we all realized that the diabetes had begun to affect his mind long before it took his body.

He stayed at home and Mom took care of him. I don’t think she went anywhere for three or four years, except her runs to the grocery and drugstores while Dad was at dialysis.  Let me tell you something:  if ever I’m sick like that, I want Mom to take care of me.  I watched her.  She was divinely patient with his dreadful moods, and meticulously careful with his meds and IV’s.

My father is gone, but he still lives in my head, daily. And to that loving and playful and laughing and singing father, I want to say, “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.”

I knew all along that mean yelling daddy wasn’t really you.  I just wish my two youngest siblings had met that daddy.

So, today, June 15, I salute my beautiful baby daughter and the good daddy I loved.

This is my brother’s motorcycle, by the way.  You know, the one I used to ride all over town without my mother’s knowledge.  She still doesn’t know.  She never will, unless YOU tell her.

I don’t think my brother knew, either.  I was into the stealth before it was cool.  And yes, we all wore helmets because my parents didn’t raise no stupid kids.*

*Atrocious grammar used on purpose for effect



Wiggly Little Boys, Recess, Harry Potter, & Epiphanies

This is a rerun, but it’s an issue I wanted to discuss again.

“No two people are alike, and both of them are damn glad of it.”

Mamacita says:  That’s a quotation; that’s not me saying “damn,” although I frequently occasionally do. I am, to my shame, greatly afflicted with “potty mouth,” and although I managed to control it somewhat while my children were tiny (Thanks to the majestic epiphany),  it’s back, in full force. Honestly? I need help.

But I digress. No two people are alike, but both of them are expected to progress at the same rate by our public schools.

Our children are expected to learn to read and write by a certain age lest they be labeled “special education” and given an IEP and pulled from the classroom to be tutored in the Reading Room. Most of them are little boys.

Old hippies like me sometimes have a hard time admitting that there really are gender differences that no amount of “environment” is going to change. One of those differences is this: a lot of little boys need a few more years than a lot of little girls need, to mature enough so that their bodies and brains can sit still, together, long enough to learn how to read and write. Whether we like it or not, it is wiggly little boy reading, Harry Pottera fact that while a lot of little girls are reading “Gone with the Wind,” the little boys sitting next to them are still struggling to recognize letter combinations. It is also a fact that some of these little boys who still can’t do it in the third grade, or the fourth, somehow have their own “epiphany” in the middle grades; something in their brain becomes aware of symbols and their meanings and how to translate them to Harry Potter. It wasn’t that these little boys didn’t TRY down in the lower grades; it was that their bodies and brains weren’t THERE yet.

I saw this miracle happen over and over again. With my own eyes I saw it. Sometimes, when I tried to tell other teachers, especially elementary teachers, about this awakening, they did not believe me. “I had that boy in third grade and I’m telling you, Jane, that he just doesn’t have what it takes to be a reader, a good student. He just can’t do it.”

And I’m telling you, Madeline, that I don’t give a rat’s ass* what the child did in your class. I am trying to tell you that in my class, the boy can read. One week he couldn’t, and the next week, he could. And he’s ecstatic.

My point? Do I have to have one? I guess I could drag one in by the hind legs if you must have a point. How about this one:

Hold off on the IEP’s and the labeling until the kid is in middle school. Tutor, yes. Give special help, yes. Hang a label on his forehead and put it in his permanent record? Not so fast there, Teach. Don’t do it Not yet. Not just for reading. Save the labeling for the children who genuinely need the help; don’t fill up the room with little boys who just need a few more years to mature.

Same-sex classrooms in the lower grades? Why not? It might work. It would certainly be better for the little girls who, most of them, just naturally catch on to the reading faster; they could move on! It would be better for the little boys, too; they wouldn’t feel pressured and might get comfortable enough to relax and blossom, too.

Many of our most highly esteemed scientists, inventors, etc, were late bloomers. Edison wasn’t even allowed to continue at his school; he was so slow, he held the others back!

Let’s give our little boys a break, what say, people?  We worry because our little children are energetic and wiggly and can’t sit still?  That’s how little children are SUPPOSED to be.  What would be genuinely worrisome would be a little child who CAN sit still for hours and hours without any desire to be wiggly and energetic. There is the occasional child who genuinely needs Ritalin or whatever in order to function at all, but there are an awful lot of children (usually little boys) whose energy and creativity and imagination and, yes, wiggles, are being seen as “disabilities” by frustrated adults and drugged into mediocrity.

Calvin & Hobbes, ritalin, imagination

In the classroom, my “quick fix” for wiggly kids was to assign them two seats and allow them free passage from one to the other whenever they needed to move.  There were conditions – no bothering other kids on the way, no touching other people’s things, no sidetracking or talking, etc, but when a person’s gotta get up and move, a person’s gotta get up and move.  You feel that way yourself at times; don’t lie.

I taught middle school, but the students were still children even though they didn’t think they were.

And by the way, taking away a child’s recess because he couldn’t finish his vocabulary words quickly is cruel and unusual punishment. I suppose the boy would then be punished because he was extra wiggly since his ‘outlet’ was taken from him? Energetic little children NEED to be let loose on the playground several times a day!!! Taking away recesses for punishment or to make more room for standardized test review is the action of a halfwit who knows nothing about either education OR children and probably hasn’t been in a classroom since 1972 teacher, politician, superintendent, or some other administrator who falls into the ‘nimrod’ category of typical la la land unawareness of real people and how we live. Probably people who do that don’t know how to access their email, either, or use a computer. But then, that’s what secretaries are for.

I put up with this for 26 years. No wonder I had a potty mouth.

And by the way, this guv’ment standard of requiring our tiny first and second graders to sit still for NINETY MINUTES and read without interruption is ignorance in action on the part of whoever thought that one up. Tell me, Mr. Standards: Can YOU sit absolutely still for ninety minutes and read without interruption? I thought not.

*Dammit **, there I go again.

** Crap.