Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some Books Are... Important

Apparently I read books by Courtney Summers before parent-teacher conferences. This was never something I planned, but I read Cracked Up To Be last spring before portfolio conferences and here it is, the night before I spend 10 hours telling parents all about their kiddos, and I'm curled up with an ARC of Some Girls Are.

I stopped a third of the way into the book and sent her an e-mail: "I find myself terrified to stop reading & equally terrified to continue." Then I paced the NTB for a full 30 seconds before picking up the book again.

When I came up for air the second time (it had gotten dark out and I needed to turn on the lights) I realized why this book is like a punch in the gut.

Courtney's writing is honest. It's vivid and so tangible it seems like you can reach out and touch the characters' pain. Or maybe their pain reawakens an echo of your own. High school isn't pretty, it isn't easy… no matter how pretty the students are or how easy Those Few make it seem.

As I immersed myself in Some Girls Are I couldn't escape connecting with the characters or seeing strains of myself in them – all those things that mean the book is well-written and absorbing. But, if you think seeing yourself in these characters is a good thing, you haven't read the book yet.

Which is not to say anything bad about the book – it's gorgeous and brilliant in its realism. Summers is, as always, my hero in her ability to show the things I'd rather not look at, think about, reflect on. She's genius at it.

Thank God for her.

Read it…

…And remember those times in high school when making it from your locker to homeroom was too exhausting. Not because you were up late studying, but because you didn't know what you'd find there.

Remember the time in bio freshman year when you flipped through a friend's FiveStar organizer to write her a note and found the "Things I hate about Tiffany" list. And because you were too busy remembering how to make your lungs function, you just shut it and velcroed the tab across the cover and never read it, or confronted her, or did anything but feel guilty and wonder who else had seen it.

Remember the times when you weren't the victim but the tormentor, because the guy you crushed on liked someone else, so it felt like your right to hate her. More than right, it was your duty. What's so great about her? Did you hear…?

We were or are or will be part of that system. And as I turned pages and saw myself in those words, I marveled that any of us make it out unscathed. I wonder how deep the marks go.

And as I sat there wondering, my e-mail blinked with a new message. It was from My Court, the one of my high school days, not the one who authored this book. My Court had stumbled upon a blog I'd written back in April about life and high school and such.

Her comment made me smile. Made me remember the day we spent throwing handfuls of loose glitter at my bedroom ceiling, while laughing so hard we couldn't stand up, and singing lines from "I'll back you up" when we caught our breaths again. Some of the glitter stuck to the clouds we'd painted, but most of it ended up on us. We went out to dinner like that, giggling as we shook our heads and freed cascades of hair and sparkles.

It is a perfect memory. High school has those, too.

And on the nights when I used to lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling wondering what my future held and how I'd ever get there, I could see those clouds and smile.

High school is hard. High school is painful. But if you're really, really lucky, you don't just graduate with scars and marks, but with those perfect memories and friends who can look you in the eye and sing comfortably out of key:

Do what you will, always
Walk where you like, your steps
Do as you please, I'll back you up

THAT is what I wish for all real-life Reginas, Lizs, Michaels, Jeanettes, Martas, and even the Karas and Annas. I want everyone to have someone who sees them with glitter in their, hair, paint on their face, in old, ratty clothing and suggests they go out to eat at the most teen-frequented restaurant in town. And I want them all to agree without hesitation– because they want to – because they're loved, respected, accepted, and safe.

Everyone deserves that. If I could bottle it up and distribute it with hugs, I would.

Since I can't… I'll do the next best thing: tell you to read Some Girls Are (release date January, 5, 2010) and let it change you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Falls and Marks

I fell during my run today. One stride I was rushing forward, chattering to St. Matt about an amazing book I'd read yesterday and admiring the foliage; then I was launched into sideways Superman dive, grating over leaves, roots and twigs. I'm sure it was very graceful.

I popped up, shook my limbs, shrugged at a suddenly pale St. Matt, and resumed my run and the conversation: "And it was so consuming; I couldn't turn pages--

He interrupted to point out that I'd given him yet another heart attack and to repeat: "Don't look at your leg. No. Don't. I said DON'T look at it."

I have a weensy issue with blood. Okay, it's a major issue. Bruises, however, inspire macabre fascination. My new hobby is watching my legs turn purple.

But it isn't painful; it isn't even unexpected. I fall A LOT, especially on a trail run – and trail runs in the autumn are their own brand of treachery: tree roots and holes stay hidden under a layer of leaves, just waiting for their opportunity to send me sprawling.

Yet, despite four (is it five?) sprained ankles, countless scrapes, and bruises from indigo to lilac, there's no keeping me off the trails.

A straight out, straight back road run? One where I'll know each step that takes me away and brings me back to the start? Boring.

I prefer runs just like how I prefer my books: full of the unexpected. They'll have a start, they'll have a conclusion, but the moments in between should be an adventure.

I want my heroine to dare to turn left at the fallen log, just to see if it is a real path. I want her to start running up a hill whose peak is hidden by trees – not knowing if she'll have the stamina to reach the top, or even how far away it is. I want split second decisions: stay by the stream or turn toward the covered bridge. And challenges: fording puddles, striding through mud, sliding up a rain-slick hill. She should stop short to avoid spider webs that appear inches from her face, pause to pat the occasional dog sharing her path, and be willing to get her feet wet and her legs muddy. Scratches from that pricker-bush incident should be worn with pride.

It's these books that stay with me; the ones where I can't predict what the hero or heroine will do next. The ones whose characters take risks, do the unexpected, but never forget to notice the beauty along the way. They fall, get back up, continue their adventures.

These books fill my head with questions and what-if's. They linger in my mind and are book-bullied into others' hands. These are the books that leave marks on me long after The End.

But unlike trail runs… the marks don't require band-aids.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Twitter-cation Comes with Umbrella-Drinks, Right?

It feels weird not to check Twitter before bed.

This the tweet I almost posted last night – before I remembered that in order to do so, I'd have to log-in to Twitter.

Immediately afterward I debated whether I was allowed to read e-mail notifications of DM's. (Can I?)

This could be a long week.

When I saw Nova Ren Suma discussing a Twitter-cation last week, I thought, how sad! I'll miss her and Tiffany Trent's commentary. Then others climbed aboard and I thought, how brave.

Last night Tye and Victoria asked me if I was in, and, demonstrating my absolute inability to resist peer-pressure, I caved.

It feels weird.

My mind automatically forms sub-140 character soundbites:

Who was the idiot who decided orange and cranberry belong in the same muffin?

Confession: I have officially eaten more Revision Skittles than we distributed to trick-or-treaters.

Has anyone read GIRL IN THE ARENA? I like the story, but am struggling with the lack of ""marks.

How will I share my excitement about the new Jesse McCartney song "Body Language"? Or confess my St. Matt-mocked crush on him? Or share how I caught St. Matt humming the tune after I played it on repeat for an hour. *gigglefit*

The worst part, however, will be not knowing what's going on with everyone else. So if you could all e-mail me regular updates of your day, that'd be great. I won't even limit you to 140 characters.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why I Don't Watch Scary Movies

I was driving by myself to meet friends after school one day this week. As I neared a normally-busy intersection, I was startled to realize my car was the only one in sight in all four directions. In the ninety seconds between this stop sign and my arrival at the next intersection – a five points crossroad with traffic lights – I'd convinced myself there was one explanation for why I hadn't passed a single person or vehicle….

The zombie apocalypse had started.


I locked my car doors, gripped my steering wheel with white knuckles and tried to persuade myself not to run the red light. Peering out my windshield at the sidewalks, I found apocalyptic proof in the windowboxes of mums, the cornstalks tied to porches, and pumpkins on front steps.

By the time I reached the restaurant my breath was coming in hiccups and my pounding pulse had turned my face and neck all sorts of splotchy red. When my friends asked if I was okay, I took a deep breath, looked around at the street – now milling with people pushing strollers and carrying briefcases and shopping bags – and nodded. How could I begin to explain that I'd envisioned zombies overtaking our sleepy town at 4:00 on a sunny Tuesday afternoon?

My imagination is overactive. Like Max's in Where the Wild Things Are or Harold's in The Purple Crayon. This isn't such a bad thing when dreaming of princesses or unicorns, but a mere mention of those things that lurk once the lights go off and they become tangible and terrifying.

I've always been this way. My father taught me a passage from Dune while I was in elementary school and each night as I took our dog out before heading up to bed, I'd whisper into the darkness:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past
I will turn my inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain

Halloween is a challenge for children like me. We pick the friendly costumes –- I believe I was a puppy on four separate years. We skirt the houses with spooky d├ęcor and haunted music – no candy bar is worth the trauma. We seek out friends who won't laugh if we scream, or cry, or want to go home early. And despite all of these preparations, there's always that older kid hiding in the bushes with the bloody mask, or the parent who's cut a hole in the bottom of the candy bowl, so when you reach in to take a Tootsie Pop, she reaches up and grabs your hand. The bowls I sent flying with candy scattered everywhere, were so not my fault.

Family stories debate whether it was Child's Play the movie or just a preview I happened across early one morning when I was seven and up too early for my own good. It doesn't really matter if it was a two-minute ad or the whole film, because the result was the same: my younger brother's My Buddy doll made me hyperventilate. We had to get rid of it.

In middle school I watched Poltergeist at a Halloween party. I have slept with my closet door shut every single night since then.

For the most part, as long as I avoid scary situations, everything goes well, but some times scary sneaks in. In high school, scary was suddenly "cool." Despite parental warnings and don't-you-complain-when-you-can't-sleep threats, I went with a group of friends to see Scream.

I didn't complain to my parents, but after they went to bed, I turned on every light in the house and waited for my older sister to come home from her date. Then I begged to sleep on the floor of her room. And whined further until she let me turn her closet light on too – of course the closet door had to be shut.

And scary movie DATES? Disaster. Guys tended to love that I gripped their hands with all the strength in mine. The fact that I flinched against their shoulders, buried my face in their shirts, and shrieked – that was 'adorable.'

But afterward? Linger in a car for post-movie conversation and kisses? Had they seen the same movie I had? Cars are not monster-proof. And when they walked me to my door, all I could think about was getting safely on the other side of it and throwing the deadbolt. And, if I'm going to admit I'm a wimp to the level of infinity, I might as well confess the ultimate scary movie date blunder.

Um, I bit someone. Not like a vampire. It was just that my hand was being held and I needed it to cover my eyes. My frantic tugging was interpreted a sign to hold my fingers tighter. On the screen a knife had been unsheathed; blood was imminent. I was in a state of panic where words were not an option, and in this state, applying my teeth to the back of his hand seemed completely logical.

There was not a second date.

St. Matt and I have seen one scary movie together. Make that ½ a scary movie. Less than an hour into the film, I decided I'd had enough. I told him I needed a breather, released his hand from my circulation-stopping death grip, and ran for the lobby.

I headed for the cardboard marquis of a Disney movie, planning to stare at cartooned innocence until the credits played. Before I reached it, someone grabbed my arm from behind. I screamed. As every patron in the lobby turned toward the white-face teen in front of The Tigger Movie display, I turned and found St. Matt suppressing a grin.

"You're scared. Let's go back to campus," he said – holding out his hand. How could I not kiss him right there in the lobby? (And marry him four years later).

So, I read scary stories during daylight hours. My jack o'lanterns have smiles. My Halloween decorations are cute instead of creepy. The only Stephen King I've read is On Writing and you can cross Zombieland off the list of places you'll run into me.

If, by some miracle, you manage to drag me to a scary movie someday and I bite you, please keep in mind that this isn't a sign of the zombie apocalypse. Just let me cover my eyes and no one will get hurt.

Better yet, meet me in the lobby after it's over. I'll be the one hiding behind the G-rated marquis and repeating I must not fear in a voice that's slightly quivery.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Show me the Marshmallows!

In class last week, I showed the kiddos this video*.



When it was over and the giggles subsided, I asked them why they thought I'd shown it. (Sometimes I'll show them something with no real motivation in mind, except to see what they'll guess, but this was not one of those times).

"To show that if you wait, things get better?"
"Yeah, patience is important."
"Nope."

"It's like in writing, you need to keep working when you're stuck."

"Nope."

"You're gonna give us marshmallows?"

"Nice try."


Since it was snack time, the kiddos' eyes shot towards the baggies of Cheez-its and containers of carrots waiting on their desks. "Can we have a hint?"
"How many words were spoken in video clip?"

"16?"

"Not a lot.
"

"So did we know what those kids were thinking and feeling?"

"Oh yeah!"
Nods of agreement, animated recounting of favorite parts.
"How?"

"The way they acted. Like the kid who sniffed his marshmallow."

"And the one that licked it."

"I like the kid who won't even look at it… but he's still holding it to make sure it doesn't go anywhere."


"So, even without saying: I am impatient, you could tell how they were feeling?"

Nods and my-teacher-is-a-moron eye rolls.
"And in real life, do you need your friends to tell you that they're annoyed or scared or surprised?"

"No."

"Because you can tell from their actions and body language, right? Let's try something. Show me what you look like when you're angry."

Grimaces and giggles.
"What about surprised?"

Gasps and louder giggles.
"Hmmm, because in your narratives I'm seeing lots of I was so mad and Mom looked sad. How could you show me that instead of telling me?"


As the pieces clicked in their heads, they reached for their notebooks with eager fingers and waited for their cue to head off and write.

Before I could give it, a hand shot up: "Mrs. Schmidt, is this how you can always tell when someone needs help in class – even before they ask?"

"Exactly! You show me you're confused with your expressions and actions. And because teachers are psychic…"


We all need this reminder sometimes; it's easier to tell than show. That night I went home and checked my own new WIP for places I'd taken telling-shortcuts. And of course I found some. We all do. I found myself trying to rationalize: how many ways can there really be to show fear? Sorrow? Anticipation?

Then I thought back to the video I'd shown my class: There are 11 kids who face the marshmallow test. They each express their frustration and impatience in a unique way. Why would the characters in my story be any different?

When I eliminated the excuses and shortcuts, I found myself doing a lot more reflecting -–how would each character show his/her emotions? The more time I spend thinking this way, the more I learn about my characters.

… And soon, just like with the kiddos in my class, there's no need for the characters to raise their hands and tell me how their feeling, because I know exactly what they'll say or do when faced with a surprise, a challenge, an obstacle.

Now, excuse me while I go make Indoor S'mores.**


*Thank you, Julie Weathers, for posting the link on Twitter
**I dare you to try watching that video 8 times in a row to count the number of kids and not come away craving marshmallows.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Class Meetings and Kanye

Each year room 202 has a defining moment.

It's the instant the kiddos change from a rag-tag group of individuals who happen to have the same teacher to a class. The Schmidties.

Some years they're united by a sense of accomplishment. Some years a tragedy forges a bond that can't be broken by graduation. Some groups are lucky; they ease into a sense of cohesiveness just because they have similar temperaments and motivations.

This year's moment happened today. And before it did, I'll admit – I was nervous. My kiddos this year are eclectic. They're quirky. They're individuals who are proud of that individual status. And all of these things are to be valued and respected… but they weren't engaging with each other. They were too busy noticing each other's differences and setting themselves apart. Too busy isolating within their niche or established friends.

They weren't rude to each other – they just didn't seem to have a use for or need to acknowledge their classmates.

This couldn't continue. I want a collective. I need a community. A grouping of isolates wasn't going to create the type of learning environment in which any of them would thrive.

I knew I'd have to get creative. And I did.

Today's class meeting centered on respecting others' differences. With little introduction other than, "Some of you may have seen this before. I want you to watch this video clip and notice how you react to the people's actions," I played the video of Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at MTV's Video Music Awards.

And I watched their faces as they became outraged – or crumpled. We watched the video a second time. This time we paused to discuss how Taylor felt at each stage.

1) Thrilled. Proud of herself for having accomplished her dream.
2) Excited that someone she respected had joined her on stage.
3) Defeated.

They had such insight into Taylor's response: noting her change in posture from tall and animated to slumped and curled in.

One pipsqueak piped up, "No matter what, that award's never going to be as special to her anymore. It's ruined."

Another said, "It's like watching a balloon get popped."

And they got my point. They shared times they'd been proud of an achievement and been disrespected

"I read this book that was really hard and someone said they read it in third grade."
"I got an A on a hard test and someone called me a nerd."
"My team won a tournament and someone teased me for not playing much."

"I just don't get why Kanye would be so rude," was a common sentiment – and I didn't have an answer for them.

"Why do we sometimes make fun of or keep away from others who are different from us?" I asked.

*crickets*

"I wish… I wish that Kanye had gone on stage and sang with Taylor Swift instead," said one idealistic kidlet.

And my final point was set up perfectly. "I know. How awesome would that have been? Even though they have such different music styles, can you imagine what they could accomplish together?"

As the class nodded their agreement, I played the remix below:



(Thank you, Makaio )

And they danced. Together. And encouraged each other's zany moves.

In the last 30 seconds before dismissal, I paused the music and told the group – acting as a group for the first time"We have 28 different individuals in this room. We all have different talents. Can you imagine what we can accomplish if we're willing to work together?"

Cheesy? Perhaps. Unifying? Definitely.

As they drifted off to safety jobs or waited for their buses to be called, they didn't sit in their seats – they clumped up. Talking. Listening. Engaging.

Schmidties, I'm excited for Monday. It's going to be a good year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fearless but not ENDless

Technically the summer's been over for a few weeks now; I just haven't wanted to admit it. I ignored Labor Day. I overlooked the crisp apples at the local farmer's market. I pressed past the aisles full of Halloween candy.

But on Saturday it was only in the 60's. It's hard to pretend it's still summer while curled under a blanket wearing a fleece.

But how can it be over? (I say this despite having completed my 9th day of school).

LUCKY MIA's over too… at least this stage of it. And that's a hard truth to accept. I still wake up with words on my fingertips and itch to insert self-indulgent chapters to the MS. I hear songs and add them to Mia's soundtrack. I miss the story. I miss the characters. I spent more time with them than anyone else this summer.

And how can it be over? (I say this despite the kitchen dance party that commenced when I read The End for the final time).

I'll give up summer. I'll even accept that MIA doesn't need an epilogue. But I'm not giving up my FEARLESS. The challenges I created and accepted this summer changed me. The never-back-down, what's-the-worst-that-could-happen?, scared-is-not-an-acceptable-excuse attitude I adopted still doesn't sit comfortably over my inclination to flee and retreat. But I don't care. I owe myself more than that.

On Saturday night, as I shivered in my fleece and sipped spiced cider, I took a deep breath and erased MIA from the whiteboard walls of the NTB.

Staring at the blank walls was scary. How to fill them? What to fill them with? Would I love the new project as much as MIA? Where to even begin?

I studied them all night, finally falling asleep beneath walls that mocked me with their emptiness.

And I woke with new, nervous words on my fingertips. My first marker strokes were tentative, made of shaky letters and timid bullet points.

But it's a whiteboard, mistake and changes wipe away with the swipe of a dusting cloth.

By mid-afternoon the wall looked like this.

And that fear and doubt? Replaced by hope and inspiration.

Who's up for FEARLESS FALL?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mac the Book...

There's someone I'd like you to meet. I can thank my good buddies at tech support, faux-James and faux-Jordan, for her appearance in my life. If they hadn't terrified me about another impending computer- pocalypse, I probably wouldn't have spent the next week waking up in a cold sweat and running down two flights of stairs to check on Huey.

It was time to get a Mac.

So I'd like to introduce you to my birthday MacBook.*



I decided to use a name from my someday-daughters-list to name her, because St. Matt has issued a double-thumbs-down-veto on this one anyway.

So, meet Dulcinea.

St.Matt pronounces it: Dull-sin-neigh-ah
I say: Dull-sin-knee-ah
Both are correct.

We'll call her Lucie for short.

And Lucie is fabulous! Besides being adorably decked out in a pink&green skin that I designed myself (I am far too proud about this), she WORKS!

Unlike Huey, Lucie will communicate with our wireless printer. I've been printing things Just Because. So… if you want some puggle pictures, let me know. Lucie also has a "SuperDrive." On Huey it's just a CD/DVD drive, but on Lucie, it's SUPER.

Did I mention she comes with a remote control? I love remote controls! St.Matt's first Mp3 player had one and I was ridiculously jealous. Never mind that he repeatedly pointed out mine was waterproof a much more practical feature, and that he didn't need a remote because the Mp3 player was strapped to his arm. I still wanted one.

And Lucie has one! I don't know what I'll do with it, but still… I have one.

If I disappear into a cloud of Laptop-Love full of unicorns and rainbows, I know you'll understand. (Yes, I'm quite sure that Lucie will be a new Distraction Fairy).

… Or maybe because I'm so infatuated with Lucie, my blog explode with posts…. Er, and they won't all be about lame-o things like how I learned to print and my so-far-just-fun-to-look-at remote control.

Promise.

*Whenever I say MacBook, I want to sing Mack the Knife. Does this happen to everyone, or just me?


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

8) Camping requires lots of STUFF

8) Camping has lots of STUFF you can buy.

I kinda like this part of camping. Okay, I really like this part of camping. Along with all new pink and green river outfits, and my waterproof notepads, there was lots of new STUFF.

Like, my flashlight. It has FOUR settings. One of them is the Spinning Disco Lights setting. That is TOO COOL. Yes, everyone else had official looking headlamps. But my flashlight blinked Green, Red, and Yellow. Theirs did NOT.

And there are tents and sleeping bags and cup holders that float. And waterproof bags and sparkly helmets. And campfires that run off of propane tanks. And, did you know that you can buy ice in 18 inch cubes? This reminded me so much of Little House on the Prairie and the blocks of ices they cut from frozen ponds.

There are mattress pads that come in all sorts of colors and waterproof MP3 players (which I totally should have had b/c I stupidly brought Speedy the iPod on the river and he stopped working after day 1… he magically recovered once we were back in PA).

I just wanted to go in a sporting goods store and buy all of the gadgets and widgets and electronic things that look like they fell out of Westerfeld's UGLIES.

In fact, on our way home from the airport – before we'd eaten or showered or done anything prodcutive, I convinced St.Matt to detour to E.M.S. so I could just look at it all again.

He wouldn't let me buy any! Not even when I argued that there may come a time when we need a throw bag in our backyard…


Return to Lessons From the River

7) River trips have their own language.

7) The Language of the River.

I spent a good part of the trip having no idea what anyone was talking about. This glossary should be about 12 zillion words long but A) I procrastinated in writing it and forgot most of them B) I tend to tune out things I don't understand, so...

Anyway, here is river-language, according to me.

Groover – A box that is pooped in. So I hear. Not that I would know. Ewwww!

High Side – A command that means throw yourself at whatever part of the raft Capt. D points too. I was glad we never had to actually use this command b/c I am convinced I would have overzealously thrown myself OUT of the boat and onto whatever obstacle we were trying to skirt.

Kubb – My new favorite beach game. It involves throwing things at other things and knocking them down. It also has a castle. I'm good at falling down. I like castles. I don't throw very accurately, but no one seemed to mind.

PFD – Personal Flotation Device. You and I know this as a "life vest." I called it a PDF by accident at least twice a day.

Master Blaster – It has a flame and makes the coffee. That’s all I needed to know.

Throw Bag – This is a bag that is, um, thrown when someone goes overboard. But before you throw it, you have to make sure that you hold on to one end…


Return to Lessons from the River

5) If you haven’t used your underwater camera in a year – check it before going shutterbuggy

Doesn’t our underwater camera look cool?




I posed and hammed it up for all sorts of FEARLESS shots – I only learned to row the boat so that St. Matt could take photographic proof. I even took a picture of me completing one of Victoria’s dares. A photo of me cannonballing off of a moving raft into the river.

And I delayed writing this blog until I could go pick up the pictures and photo CD’s. You were all going to be so impressed…


But then the photo place had a machine malfunction and we couldn't pick up the pictures 'til last night. So we bounced in (okay, I bounced and St. Matt walked) and I proudly handed the woman our slip and her face fell. "Oh, yeah. About your order... We were going to call you..."


They're blank!

Two rolls of blank film.

72 frames!


How could that even happen? The camera flashed, blinked, advanced - shouldn't there be images? So I have my safe-on-dry-land Petunia pics, but any photographic evidence that I did more than pose on the banks of a river will have to come from my river compatriots. Guys? *






*And did they! Thanks Katie and Joshi for letting taking pictures that are GORGEOUS and letting me borrow them.

Return to Lessons from the River


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tiara Day


I've been battling the End-of-the-Summer Plague (the doctor says it's a respiratory infection, I still think I'm allergic to the start of school).

It makes me sound less like this:

photo link


And more like this:

photo link

Did you notice what both of those images have in common? Stellar head-wear. Which is convenient because this Friday is Tiara Day on Twitter. A day full of positivity and sparkles that many literary tweople celebrate by displaying a bejeweled avatar. For more details or to enter a Tiara Day contest, see the Sparkle Queen, Susan Adrian's website.

'Cuz, who couldn't use a day of positivity, sparkles and tiaras? On the last Friday before school starts, I know I could.

If you're looking for me on Twitter that day, I'll look like this:


I hope Tiara Day brings you sparkles, good news and a surge of optimism and luck. I also hope it brings back my voice!

Start practicing your royal wave...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I Cried in my Classroom Today

“Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” - Dr. Seuss

I was talking to another teacher yesterday and he was telling me he's ready to come back to school. "I hate the end of things – whether it's the school year or the summer – I get impatient to start what's next ."

I hate the end of things too, but for an entirely different reason. I hate endings.

  • I always hesitate before turning the last page of a truly great book – because I'm reluctant to say good-bye to the characters.

  • I've never seen the final episode for Full House, Wonder Years, Dawson's Creek, or Gilmore Girls because if the screenwriters choose to NOT give the characters a happily ever after, I didn't want to see it. I'd prefer the unknown to a resolution that would haunt me.

  • The end of the school year makes me cry – those kiddos will go on to great adventures, but I won't be in their day-to-day lives to see their triumphs.
But there's something particularly awful about the end of summer, because not only does it mark a new beginning, but it requires classroom set-up as well. I am not a visual-spatial person. The idea of setting up a single room so that it's functional for 28 people is beyond my scope. So each year I stand in the chaos of desks and boxes, folders and textbooks and I cry. Every year.

But why? I'm not a crier and even though I never believe it in-that-moment, I know it will all get finished and organized – or at least shoved away somewhere.

So why tears?

It's because of the NEW. I'm not crying for loose-leaf paper or post-it notes. Not even for that last desk that won't fit anywhere or the spelling book that's gone missing over the summer.

I'm crying because I'm worried about the NEW. My tears say: Hey New Kiddos I Don't Know Yet, I want this classroom to be perfect for YOU and I hope you like it and I hope you like me.

I know by late September I'll be able to tell any of these kiddos to find a spot for the index cards or a better way to store the extra copies of Time For Kids. They'll be telling me where they want to sit and how to rearrange the desks.

… but that first day, when we don't know each other yet, I want to offer them perfection.


I feel the same way about writing. I've been dreading and procrastinating about my next writing project. LUCKY MIA'S still on the walls of the NTB – even though I haven't needed those notes in months. I just can't bring myself to erase them yet.

What if I don't love my next project as much as I love this book? What if the characters don't resonate as loudly or keep me up at night with fierce wonderings? My outdated MIA-notes are a literary security blanket, they're a reflection of my endings issues. I don't want to let go.

But it's FEARLESS Summer, so I will. I spent yesterday afternoon making notes on potential next projects. I've got five vying for my attention, clamoring to be noticed. I used my big teacher paper and markers – I'm not ready to commit one to the whiteboard walls yet – and gave each story the chance to say "Pick me!" And they ALL did.




So, baby steps. I've got them on paper… I've hung the paper on the wall in the NTB.

Someday soon I'll be reaching for erasers – both in the classroom and the NTB – and in both instances I'll learn, as I always do, that while new may be scary… it's also so exhilarating too.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Virus Scan Wars

You know the moving walkways at airports? And how if you walk against the motor, you make no progress? Welcome to my day.

It started when I tried to open a file. I just wanted to peek at yesterday’s revision. The file wouldn’t open.

So I tried another file I’d work on last night: a friend’s MS that kept me up way-too-late. It wouldn’t open.

I tried everything I could think of, but neither file would cooperate. All my other Word files were fine. Not the end of the world, but it was a waste of a night’s work and a good *nudge* to update my virus software.

Updated. Easy-peasy. Started a scan.

While I was waiting, I figured I’d open the latest version of LUCKY MIA and re-do the chapter numbering since I had two chapter 31’s and no chapter 3.

Only, when I opened the file, it didn’t look like my story. It was a dense mess of text.

All the formatting was gone: Single spaced. No indents. No italics. Nothing centered. Hard returns deleted. Comments gone.

A chaotic block of words.
*PANIC*
But not horrible, I figured I’d just open the file from the day before – I resave my MS each day as a separate file.

Clicked on LUCKY MIA 8-11: A chaotic block of words.
*Super-sized PANIC*
And thus began my adventures with online virus scan support, because when I looked in the scan log, it showed the software issuing ‘violation reports’ and ‘denying’ parts of Word*. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found double-spacing so offensive that it should be banned. And while I may overuse italics, that’s hardly a reason to revoke my emphatic privileges.

Off to ‘tech chat’ I went. First I had Jordan, who based on his syntax and creative use of the English language, is probably not really named Jordan Carter.

Jordan was confident he could fix my problems. Until I followed his instructions and they didn’t.

Jordan: Please proceeds by restarting the computer.
Me: Will this fix the problem & restore my formats?
Jordan: I recommend that you restart the computer.
Me: But won’t that end our chat.
Jordan: The chat session will be terminated.
Me: But what if it’s not fixed?
Jordan: (who I imagine is now doing a gleeful dance that he will be rid of me). Please contact online support if you require any more assistance. Refer to chat #844671
Jordan: It was my pleasure to work with you. Have a nice day.

I restarted. It was a mistake. Upon attempting to log-in, Huey-the-laptop informed me that “Unauthorized Changes had been made to Windows.” He then told the changes would “Limit Windows Functionality” which was particularly scary since it had been less than functional before.

Forty minutes and an entire stress-eaten jar of macadamia nuts later, I was logged in. The problem was NOT fixed (darn you, Jordan!). I scurried off to online support again and was paired up with “James.”

“James” has even less understanding of the rules of English, and he also might have been cooking lunch or mowing his lawn or something, because he took for-ev-er to respond to my pleading requestions.

After reading the transcript of chat#844671, James told me to do the same thing Jordan suggested.
Me: I’ve already done that.
James: Re-read my directions. This is for the VirusScan Program not to scan the Microsoft program.
Me: I followed your directions. It takes different steps, but both you and Jordan instructed me to add Word.exe to my exceptions list. It’s there. I checked.
James: Is the problem fixed?
*I visualize a kid in an elevator here – you know the one that repeatedly presses the same button like that will make it travel faster*
Me: No.

James: I will send you instructions. You open up Wordpad or Notepad and copy them incase we get disconnected.
Me: Ready.
…. Long wait while James stirs his soup or clips his toe nails.
Me: All set! James?
James: *directions* including: Press the Firewalls and Security Options button on the left side of the screen.
Me: I don’t have that button.
James: Then do not press it.
Me: Um, done?
James: Please follow the directions to exit the program.
Me: Okay, I’ve exited the program.
James: I will send you direction to exit the program.
Me: It’s okay, I right clicked and exited. I don’t need directions.
James: *sends directions*
James: Let me know when you are ready to proceeds
Me: (wondering if he read my last messages and why James and Jordan both struggle with ‘proceed’ Are they really the same person? If I start a new chat, will I get John or Jacob or Joe?) All set. What next?
James: Does the problems still occur?
Me: *checks… chaotic block of text* YES.
James: The problem is not with our software. Contact Microsoft for assistance.

This is where I went into oh-no-no mode.

James: I recommend you uninstall the virus scan, system restore, reinstall.
Me: Will that fix the problem?
James: I will send you directions.

I uninstall.

Me: It says that I need to restart the system for the changes to take affect. Should I do this?
No answer.
Me: James? Also, last time I restarted, I had real problems logging back in. Will those be fixed?
Loooong pause. Perhaps James is walking his dogs. Maybe he could come walk the puggles, b/c they’re getting a little impatient with my crazed computer staring.
James: Proceeds to uninstall the virus scan.
Me: I did. It’s uninstalled. It says I need to restart.
James: Yes, restart.
Me: But what about the systems restore and reinstall?
James: Restart first. I will send you directions.
Me: So will this fix it?
James: Follow the directions.
Me: After I do the systems restore, it should be fixed, right? So then, when I reinstall, is it going to recreate the problem? Should I ‘exclude’ Word right away.
James: I do not recommend that.
Me: But last time, when I started a virus scan it messed up Word.
James: I recommend you try it first.
Me: And if it recreates the problem, I’d have to uninstall, restore the system, reinstall.
James: I recommend this.
Me: Is it worth the risk?
James: Yes.

Clearly, James is willing to play fast and loose with my files.

I save his directions. And restart…. you may have noticed that James never answered my question about whether or not I’d have problems logging-in. That was an artful dodge my tech-help friend. Crafty.

Log-in screen: “Unauthorized Changes have been Made to Windows”

Thus commenced a 45 minutes of a loop where I put in my password, it give me this message & restarted. Since I was out of macadamia nuts, I ate blueberries by the handful and paced. The puggles trailed me in my stress-induced game of follow the leader.

To switch things up, Huey began warning me that my version of Office may be counterfeit. No. It’s not. It’s the same version I had last night. The same version I’ve had for 2 years. Unless sneaky software bandits crept into my house between the hours of 3AM and 6AM, it’s authentic.

Finally! Success. And Word works too! Only, Huey tells me he has updates he needs to install and he wants me to restart…

40 more minutes of me pleading… really, it is authentic, I haven’t made unauthorized changes, I love you Huey, work with me… I’ll try not to abuse italics, I’ll use those special screen wipes you like… Sleep mode? You’ve got it!

Six and a half hours later, I’m back where I started: the same two files still don’t work. And my virus scan is now, not only out of date, but uninstalled.

I could reinstall it like James recommended… but then I’d have to restart.


*I do not want to identify the company for fear that they will send me ALL of their viruses, since surely they have plenty.

6) Braids are the ideal river hairstyle

6) Just because it’s camping and there aren’t bubble baths doesn’t mean I couldn’t bring the pampering. Not only did I do my own hair, but I coerced the other girls into letting me French braid theirs in all sorts of ways. I owe them all a big THANK YOU, for letting me treat them like Barbie dolls - I think that playing beauty parlor was my way of bringing a piece of Tiffany to an entirely non-Tiffany environment.

I don't have any pictures of my own hair (see #5) but here's a great one of J-bean and Capt. D. Awww, adorable! See, you'd totally never guess that she hadn't showered in four days!




The twists and loops are great at hiding the hasn’t-been-washedness. How do I know? I got complimented in the airport on Wednesday, when I hadn’t touched shampoo since the previous Friday. I might’ve given that woman a strange look along with a thank you.


Return to Lessons from the River...

4) When things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go really wrong.

4) When things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go really wrong.



This is an unedited excerpt from a hasty entry in my waterproof notepads on day 2 - it's a 'lil bit melodramatic, but it a scary moment:


Fearless? Not so much. Shaking. Quite a bit. This isn’t Disney World. This ride isn’t automated or carefully controlled like Epcot’s Maelstrom. And unlike scary movies, you can’t shut my eyes when things get tough or frightening. You need to face the fears: eyes open, danger ready.

Because when things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go seriously wrong.

Today we did Hell’s Half Mile rapids – these were the ones discussed around the campfire last night and over breakfast this morning. We only had 90 minutes of rafting time today, but these would be intense. I’d been warned.


But before we got to ½ Mile, in the smaller rapids just before – Triplet – things went wrong. Fast and Serious.
A boat flipped.



The passengers were okay and Capt. D eddied out, then went back on foot to assist with the recovery.

J-bean, Matt and I had a moment’s quiet panic, before we were sent back into the main channel in case a swimmer – or as happened, the upside down boat – needed to be caught.

It couldn’t have been long, but it was a blur of in and out our raft, catching the overturned rafted as it floated pasted, tying, untying, heaving people back in the boat and screamed commands. Fast and serious.

J-bean told me to tie us off – once we’d secured the overturned raft. I climbed to the side and asked, “Now?”

Her hollered response of “No!” sounded like an echo to me so I splashed overboard and proceeded to break the first rules I’d been taught: Never position yourself against a rock. Never try and stand up in the current. *


My out-of-the-moment commentary: At the time when I wrote this, I was trembling so hard my cursive was barely legible, but I think it was also the most FEARLESS moment of the trip. Because I scrawled this down after Hell’s Half Mile rapids.



And after Triplet and the flip, when we got out of the boats to scout the trickier rapids, I didn’t want to get back in. I wanted to sit and drip on a safe, dry, flat surface. I didn’t want to hear about a rock named Lucifer or passages that needed to be avoided. I wanted to stop trembling and re-learn how to work my lungs.

But when Capt D said, “Let’s go.” I did. FEARLESS


*I was lucky. I ended up with teensy scrapes and some rather large bruises. It could’ve been so much worse and I’ve learned my lesson. We used “Red light” and “Green light” instead of No/Now for the rest of the trip.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lessons from the River - My FEARLESS Adventure

Fearless doesn’t mean without fear . Okay, technically it does, but for the purpose of Fearless Summer it means acknowledging that something is scary or difficult and then *gulp* doing it anyway.

What could be scarier or more challenging than ME on a 5-day Whitewater rafting trip through the Gates of Lodore in Colorado and Utah? (Admit it, you were a little scared when you saw the words Tiffany & Whitewater together).


But I DID IT!

Lessons Learned on the River:


2) What a groover is. If you don’t know, you probably don’t want to.

3) If you scream like horror-flick blonde, you will get made fun of around the campfire.

4) When things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go really wrong.

5) If you haven’t used your underwater camera in a year – check it before going shutterbuggy.

6) Braids are the ideal river hairstyle.

7) River trips have their own language.

8) Camping requires lots of STUFF


Don't we look rather FEARLESS? Okay, really we just look amused.... but there was plenty of fearlessness occurring too. And it was, most definitely, an ADVENTURE!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Apply sunblock BEFORE you put on your Chacos


Like my stripe-y sunburn?





The shoes that caused it... (though mine are lighter pink)

photo credit


...Also, pedicures are no match for camping.

Return to Lessons from the River

2 ) I am not a camper.

I attempted it once when I was six and ended up in the hospital before it was time for s’mores – and that was the only reason I’d wanted to try it. That some people are just-not-meant-to-be-campers was brought home to me on this trip in some very real ways.*


For instance, while I had a great time practicing setting up the tent with J-bean in her front yard:



Yes, I am modeling my lifevest over a dress

I didn’t really think about the fact that when I had to sleep in it the next night, it would be out in the WILD and it would be dark. It’s a good thing St. Matt bought me a kid’s flashlight, complete with blinking lights (aka the ‘disco setting’) and a nightlight. I kept that on the whole first night.


Another thing that hadn’t occurred to me even once was where people went to the bathroom in the woods. I’m not a moron – I didn’t expect sparkling powder rooms with uniformed attendants – I just hadn’t thought about it at all. When J-bean told me about the groover, I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.

Um, no. Letting her show me was all the experience I needed. Thank God, this was a shortish trip. Maybe next time I’ll think about it…


... then again, maybe not!



*This was also brought home to be post-trip, when everyone who asked me how the trip was, did so by saying *giggle* "How was camping, Tiffany?" *giggle* "Did you like it? I'm shocked you survived!" hrumph!!!


3) If you scream like horror-flick blonde, you will get made fun of around the campfire

In my defense, someone had seen a SNAKE in that general area the day before. And I heard a scary noise in the bushes behind me. The fact that it turned out to be a bird and not actually a man-eating serpent isn’t relevant.

Back to list of River Lessons

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A True Test of FEARLESSNESS

By putting Fearless Summer out there in the universe, I knew I would be tested. I just didn’t know how MUCH I would be tested or what types of opportunities I’d be given to grow.

Tomorrow I leave for a Fearless Adventure – Five days of whitewater rafting in Utah and Colorado.

Less than 24 hours after I posted my original declaration of Fearless Summer my college roomie called. St. Matt and I already had plane tickets to go visit J-bean and her husband in New Mexico, but those plans were about to change.

“How’d you like to go rafting?” J-bean asked.
“Rafting?”
“You know, whitewater rafting.”
J-bean proceeded to tell me about how they’d been offered a last minute rafting pass to Gates of Lodore, a place that she and her husband had been wanting to go for years.

I had never considered going whitewater rafting before – it sounds scary and potentially deadly for someone as spaztastic as me. I looked over at St. Matt who was nodding so enthusiastically his head might detach. Taking a fearless breath, I said: “Um, sure. Tell me the details.”

The details include five days on the river in class 3-4 rapids. J-bean’s husband is guide certified, so they have all the gear and it’ll just be us in the raft.

J-bean sent us a list of stuff we’d need and we set about purchasing it.

EMS is a culture unto itself. I felt like I’d been transported to the world of Westerfeld’s Uglies – there were water purifiers and grippy shoes. I found myself looking around for hoverboards and interface rings.

They didn’t have these… but I did find the supplies I needed and all are in pink or green! (For once St. Matt approves of my color scheme because he thinks it’ll make me easier to spot if I wander off in the wilderness.) I even found waterproof notepads for my whitewater *fierce wonderings* and inspirations. They’re green. I bought two. I like buying camping stuff.

I’ve never camped before. When I was six, I was supposed to go camping with my cousins, but before I even got to spend the night in a tent, I managed to break my arm. Badly. Hold your arm up and flop your wrist – see how it creates a 90* angle? Mine did that 3 inches below the wrist joint.

So when I announced that I was go rafting – people worried. “Um, does J-bean know about your… um, tendency to get hurt?”

She does -- my college experience wasn’t exactly mishap or ER-free -- but conveniently both she and her husband are doctors.

If I fall out of the boat, I figure they’ll fish me out and plop me back in. If I get cut – they’ll stitch me back up.

And St. Matt has already double and triple checked that there’s a helmet with my name on it.

So while others may fret and worry and hug me extra tight before I leave – I’m not anxious. I’m not concerned. I’m FEARLESS.

So wish me luck and leave me messages for when I come back from my FEARLESS adventure – because I will come back, braver, stronger, tanner, and perhaps soggier! THIS is what Fearless Summer is all about!

*disclaimer* I AM concerned about being *gulp* technology-less for FIVE whole days. You won’t see me on twitter or my blog because Gilbert, Petunia and Huey are all going to be left behind where it’s safe and dry!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mickey Mischief

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but the last time I went to Disney World I was a toxic visitor.

I was 7. The trip was my First Holy Communion present – or just conveniently timed so the two events are linked in my mind. My memories of the religious ceremony are hazy – fever hazy – a white dress with a pink sash, a flower wreath settled on foam-curler ringlets, a honey ham, all my relatives.

I didn’t feel well. I didn’t want honey ham or jello mold or even dinner mints I’d have to sneak off the tray. I tried telling my mom – but she was busy changing a diaper or taking lemon squares out of the oven. Dad was talking and making drinks – he told me to run along and play.

I stumbled along and played, but without my usual impish vigor. After all the guests left I collapsed – pretty dress, curled hair, flower wreath and all – on the kitchen floor.

Chicken pox!

But we already had the trip planned – non-refundable flights, vacations forms completed and homework collected, park tickets. So I went to Disney and spread love and germs on Small World. My spots were natural camouflage on the Jungle Cruise

This trip I wasn’t contagious. It was quick; a last minute surprise getaway from St. Matt for our 5th Anniversary.* On the 4th of July St. Matt wanted to get to the park early and stay late to see the fireworks. Since we both know that I was not going to be able to handle 14 hours of straight ride-riding, it was a given I’d pack a book.

But which? I’d packed four different paper volumes and loaded a bunch onto Gilbert in preparation for the trip. Since I couldn’t make up my mind, I brought three: Tenth Grade Bleeds, Eyes Like Stars and Prophesy of the Sisters.

As we ferried over to the Magic Kingdom at 8:00 AM, I had a brainstorm. No, an inspiration. I had three great books by three fabulous authors, I was going to the most magical place in the world…. PHOTO OPPORTUNITY!**

It was like a reverse scavenger hunt. Instead of finding the books, I was finding fun places to photograph them. I scrambled all over the park feeling gleeful and mischievous. We got a few curious looks, but no one stopped or questioned us.














Of course, there was also ride-riding and confection eating and even some pausing to do some actual reading.


And there were fireworks too!



The only downside of the whole day was:



But this just means we’ll have to come back again soon.

*Have I mentioned lately that I have the BEST husband ever?
**St. Matt balked for all of 3 seconds, but I threatened him with the Tiki Room if he didn’t participate.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Restless-Fearless Summer

Fearless Summer has also apparently become Restless Summer because I can’t seem to stop traveling.

Not that I’m complaining. Travel provides many opportunities to be Fearless.
Last week I drove to Newport, RI – BY MYSELF. I was meeting high school friends, but they were coming down from Boston while I was coming up from PA. Up through unfamiliar roads, blinding downpours and hours of stop and go traffic.

It was supposed to take 5 hours. It really took 7.5 and I fought with my GPS (Wendy) the whole way because she really wanted me to take the George Washington Bridge and I knew I needed to take the Tappen Zee. Every once in a while she’d say in this digitally huffy voice: “Recalculating.” A voice that suggests what she wanted to say was: “Moron, why do you keep messing up my perfectly clear directions?”

But it was my trip, not Wendy’s and I was Fearless. So I ignored her insults* pressed onward and arrived a little restless, but with courage intact.

I may have stopped along the way for a quick stress-reducing shopping trip…
But, I also accomplished two of Victoria’s DARES!

1) I have cartwheeled!
2) I have let a waitress order my meal: red-pepper fettuccini with warm tomatoes and cool cheese. It had a fancy name but I didn’t write it down. It was delicious. I WILL do this again.

I’m working on Courtney’s shirt and the rest of the dares… I believe that the shirt will be necessary for the *gulp* fearless adventure I will be having soon…

Any one else have a DARE? Bring it! I can handle anything this Fearless Summer.

*Wendy totally got me back on the way home by activating some crazy Avoid-Interstates option. I didn’t figure this out right away so the first hour of my trip was rather circuitous – but scenic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

FEARLESS Summer

As a child I was ~fearless~! Fearless and lacking self-preservation to a degree that terrified my mother and landed me in the ER many, many times.

I had no qualms about introducing myself to strangers, singing and dancing in grocery stores, putting bras on my head and popping out from the middle of clothing racks in the mall. I’d scramble up a climbing wall like a monkey and fling myself from the top. If this wasn’t the time I learned to fly, I was always confident it would happen as soon as the cast came off or the stitches came out.

Getting bit by two dogs didn’t stop me from patting the next one. People who didn’t appreciate my less-than-coordinated dancing or enthusiastic-but-off-key singing were dismissed with a shrug. And if you hurt my feelings or displeased me – you heard about it, along with the whole neighborhood.

Somewhere along the way I lost this. I grew a skin of fear, which all too quickly coated and subdued my impulsive courage. Risk factors begin to weigh more than potential benefits. Potential consequences dominated potential gain, and soon all I could see were the consequences. A big change since I’d always been an act-first, time-out-later type of kid.

By high school I was too scared to learn to drive and didn’t get my permit until after my 17th birthday. I missed countless opportunities because I was too terrified to return a phone call, attend a party, take a chance outside my safe group of friends.

I’m an adult now – but I still have phobias that trap me:

*I won’t sleep with the closet door open for fear of being sucked into the Poltergeist-dimension.

*I stopped swimming laps at nighttime after reading a Mary Higgins Clark book where the heroine was drown by a murderer wearing SCUBA gear and waiting at the bottom of her pool.

*Order pizza? No way. Not after that time when I was 14 and babysitting and the man at Sal’s screamed and accused me of being a pranker because I didn’t know the address and had to check a piece of mail.

*I wussed out of Jet-skiing because of what happened when I tried moped’ing in Italy.

*Zoomba? I’ve been invited by four different friends, but it sounds too much like dance class and we all know how that turned out…

*I’m terrified of offending people, so when my feelings are hurt, I swallow it with a smile.


But NOT anymore. I’m declaring this my Summer of Fearless and I’m reclaiming some of the bravery I’ve been hemorrhaging for far too long.

So DARE me. CHALLENGE me. Ask me a WHAT-IF that requires me to do, not just think.

And when I go to wimp out, freeze me with a look and threaten to take away my night light and security blanket if I don’t comply.

I may not be that fearless little imp anymore, but maybe if I do a good enough impression of her for long enough, maybe it won’t feel so much like pretending.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

St. Matt's School Visit

St. Matt came to school with me on Friday. It was the kiddos’ last day and emotions were running high as limits were being tested.

St. Matt’s come to school with me once before; he chaperoned a field trip to the Franklin Institute with last year’s Angel Class. I assigned him the most cooperative girls of the Angel Class and he spent the day supervising conversations like this:

Kiddo 1: “Mr. Schmidt, can we please go to the human body exhibit?”
St. Matt: “Is that what everyone wants to do?”
Kiddo 2: “I wanted to see sports exhibit – let’s see yours first and then mine if there’s time.”
Kiddo 3: “Sounds like a great plan!”

At the end of the day he gave me a smug, skeptical look. “This is supposed to be hard? They compromised, group hugged and smiled the whole day. I didn’t have to do anything but hold a sweatshirt while they went in the bathroom.”

I rolled my eyes and bided my time. A year later he was back at school – and this year’s class is Team Tiara, just as wonderful but not a smidgen angelic. The kiddos quickly obtained St. Matt’s permission to call him by his first name and took full advantage of smirking and asking things like: “Mrs. Schmidt or Maa-att, would it be okay if I ran this card down to the art teacher?” Matt, I still have a clipboard in my cubby, where should I put it?”

Each “Matt” was accompanied by a giggle or mischievous grin – infectious and irresistible.

The kiddos had a half-day – mostly consumed by their farewell breakfast and yearbook signing – during which St. Matt was a hot commodity. The whole sixth grade packed the cafeteria with their yearbooks and Sharpies and swapped signatures. Few outside of my homeroom knew who St. Matt was, but that didn’t stop the students from demanding his autograph – some bypassed me to get to him. One kiddo went up to her teacher and reported, “Mrs. Schmidt’s husband looks really young…. He’s cute.That explains the number of giggling girls and glitter pens waiting for him – can’t say I blame them!

The last hour of the day was for the Schmidties. Our final class meeting. There were tears, laughs, and lots of “do you remember when….” There were reflections: “Can you believe we’re going to be the youngest in the school again?” And a smiling, “Matt, you’re much quieter than Mrs. Schmidt.”

“We balance each other out,” was St.Matt’s diplomatic reply.
Mine was more candid: “I bring the crazy; he brings the normal.”
The kiddos all nodded, sagely and immediately accepting this as true.

There was time for one last enthusiastic singing of “Don’t Stop Believing” and the dismissal announcements came on.

The kiddos’ faces vacillated between summer-excitement and farewell-panic. Hugs were given, received, given again and a few kiddos were gently pushed out of the classroom so they wouldn’t miss their busses.

The door shut behind the last kiddo and I turned to face St. Matt – sitting at my desk with his chin in his hand. “I’m exhausted.”

I nodded and looked around the classroom. It needed to be packed away and I’d barely started. I’d tried taking down posters earlier in a week but a kiddo had protested: “It’s so sad to see our classroom not look like our classroom anymore.” So I’d stopped.

Now I’d run out of excuses and there were only three hours until the faculty party. St. Matt’s engineering nature assessed the state of my cabinets and began to remove items and reorganize them in space-efficient manners.

My non-engineering nature sat down opened presents and re-read the cards my kiddos had given me. Then I responded to e-mails from parents –including a piece of fan mail about St. Matt: “My son so enjoyed meeting your husband. It just made his day.”

St. Matt called me over and asked me to look through a pile and identify what should be saved and what could be tossed. I told him the story of every item in the pile as he reorganized my supply cabinet and uh-huh’d.

The day proceeded in this manner:

Me: “Oh, look at this…” Flitting from project to project.
St. Matt: pragmatic, organized, efficient. “Tiffany, could you please…”

Finally, at five o’clock – now two hours late for the party, St. Matt decided, “You have 15 minutes. Anything that’s not in a cabinet in 15 minutes, we’re throwing away.”
“Okay, let me just pick a song.”
“15 minutes.”
“Well, we need the right song.”

I settled on Warren G’s "Regulators" and got to work. 13 minutes later I was shutting off the lights and shutting the door to room 202, precariously balancing bags of books, gifts from kiddos, the classroom plants and our one surviving fish, Yumberry.

We loaded the car, and St. Matt slumped behind the wheel with tired eyes. I reached over and poked him, “Hey! Guess what? It’s SUMMER! Ready for the party?”

"I'm ready for a nap."

Lesson's learned my last day of school:
St. Matt's cute (well, duh!)
St. Matt's quieter than me (I knew this already!)
St. Matt's patient (knew this too)
He's a better packer (so? I'm a better pack-rat)
And he's a big WIMP if one 1/2 day with the kiddos tired him out!