One could go on and on forever talking about anything, but I'll just touch on it here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bringing Home the Bacon

Okay, we don't eat bacon at my house, but we do work to pay our bills. And even though my husband makes more money than I do, he doesn't technically bring the food home. He hates grocery shopping—don't we all—so I'm the volunteer to go out and actually hunt for—and gather—food for our meals. Seriously, even with a list and a familiarity with the organization of Winco, I still have to do a lot of hunting. Why did they decide to move the Goldfish crackers from one side of the cookie and cracker aisle to the other? It's a sick game played by the stock boys I'm sure. Sorry, stock people. Well, I don't really know the politically correct term.

So anyway. Since I work full time now, I don't have the luxury of shopping in the morning hours before going to work. Today happened to be the day I scheduled grocery shopping (okay, I didn't schedule it I put it off instead of going on Sunday). I figured I could get off work, go to Winco, get in, and get out and still be home in time to start dinner before Luke made it through the door. Why I thought this, I do not know (and by the way, Luke often makes meals or we make them together—I just usually put the burden on myself).

After standing in line at the post office for 20 minutes, I finally left for the store. I got there, got out my list, and went through the store in my mostly orderly manner, but it was of course by this time much later than I had planned on being there so every other person in town was just off work too and trying to do it all as I was.

They need traffic signals there. I wasn't frustrated and impatient, however. I was polite—no you first—in my cart maneuvering. Then I found myself making car noises while parallel parking a shopping cart. Yeah, I stopped myself before anyone noticed. I think.

Surviving the shopping experience, I headed home only to hit every single red light. When I walked through my door and saw my husband already home, relaxing in his chair, I went into a fit of hysterical laughter, sweat running down my body.

—Of course you are already home, I said. So much for getting dinner started. Now all I want to do is order pizza, but there is NO WAY I'm going to do that because I've just bought enough food to feed our nonexistent family of ten. And I had a list! But I deviated from it a bit.

—You were hungry, he said.

—Yes, but I was buying food for you! I bought beef jerky, and honey roasted peanuts (and other random snack food to pack in his lunches).

Luke started laughing at my erratic explanations of the previous two hours. Then he hugged me, helped me bring in all the groceries and put them away, and he started dinner. Then he was very patient with me as I sat down to start blogging before I forgot everything.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Post-its and Mind Scraps

So I have a small pile of life-experience scribblings that I've been wanting to write about in depth but pushed to the bottom of my want-to-do list. Now that I've moved it to the top, I'm unsure where to start. I think I'll go surreal first.

Several nights ago I had another creative dreaming experience worthy of noting. Even though I made a note about it, I didn't write much down at the time so little is left, but here's the scene that I still see clearly in my head. I'm in a car driving down an unfamiliar street.  Well, in my dream-life it might have been familiar, but in my awake-life I have no idea where it is. (By the way, I've had tons of dreams about driving, and often the car won't go, I'm going the wrong way, I get in a minor wreck, I have to push it—all sorts of crazy situations built upon, I assume, my dislike for driving and my sometimes fear of driving unless I know the road and route well). It is a rather nondescript city/neighborhood sort of street. A tall brick building looms just ahead on my right and there is a man riding a motorcycle just in front of me. Nothing much is going on until the motorcycle and man start to leave the road and drift up into the sky. This is slightly alarming to me, and I watch the motorcycle instead of the road ahead. I'm driving slowly and I'm beginning to swerve just a little as I look up and out of the top of my windshield. I don't remember any noises from the bike or anything else. I just continue to watch the motorcycle float up into the sky like a balloon. It isn't like a rocket but it goes straight. Okay, then what do you know but I settle back to watching the road and I see a camel walking along the left sidewalk ahead of me.

I wish I could tell you more. I think, however, there wasn't really any excitement. What my memory tells me is that I went into the brick building and launched into yet another school dream—I have way too many of these dreams as well.


That's my segue to the next scrap: School. Okay, I'm going to cheat a bit; this is not a new cute-school-kid experience, but it's a funny one. Imagine the cutest, shortest, smallest 4th grade boy you can, with a bigger-than-he-is grin and dark dark brown eyes. One afternoon in a long-ago reading group I worked with this boy. Let me first add that a couple of times when he came to sit at the table with me he had a handful of broccoli kept over from lunch. On this day he walked up to me, wearing the oversize grin, shook his head from side to side and said: "I don't have any broccoli in my pocket." Then he reached into that pocket after taking his seat and out came the handful of broccoli, grin still lit.


Current school story:

My new work position this year includes a heavy amount of time spent administering reading comprehension and vocabulary tests. We give the tests at the beginning of the year to see any growth or drops in grade-level scores from last year, and then we organize our reading extension program for the kids who are not at grade level or above. My fellow tutors and I did almost all of the testing as a team, taking turns explaining the answer sheets, giving the directions, and monitoring the testing. It came time for our last test and we were in meetings. I had been doing most of the directions part of the process, so I volunteered to give the test by myself while the others stayed in the meetings. No sweat, I thought. Ha!

Rushing back to our room, I snatched up the tests, the pencils, the timer, and the directions. I got to the classroom on time, and the teacher got the kids situated. For this group we were using the same test booklets from their previous test, so all I had to do was hand them back to the kids, give the directions, and start the timer. Right. One student didn't get a test back. Ah, right, she had been absent. Silly me. Okay, I'll zip back out to our room and grab a new test for her. No big deal.

Slightly big deal. I return, ready to begin, only to see a student with hand raised. Um, this kid next to me doesn't have a test. What? Where is your test? Oh, you were gone too? That's right! I KNEW that—teacher interjects: Why didn't you say anything when she went out to get the other test? Kid: no answer.

I run back out and the teacher returns to reading the kids a story. Huffing and puffing—yes, really, not just fairy-tale-orically—I deliver the new test to the kid, walk back to the front of the room, and finally begin directions. I finish and then ask if there are any questions. Three hands go up. I nod to the girl in the front row. Uh, when are we going to do this part? she asks while pointing to the blank part of the booklet. Well, hmm, (there's nothing there, I think to myself. what is she talking about?) don't worry about that. We're just going to do this one part. Okay, next question. (and for some reason the girl raises her hand again and I call on her again). Wait, is this a question about the test?—I ask this first. Yes? Okay. Um, do I need to move my desk so that they can't see? (they already had their "privacy folders" up). No, you are fine just where you are. Okay, more questions? Girl in the back. Go ahead. Girl: What if we have to go to the bathroom? Me: Well, this is only a 20 minute test. Do you have to go now? Yes? Teacher: Is it an emergency? Student: Yes. Teacher: Okay, go now. (Then she looks across the room at a student who hadn't been there all morning) When did you get here? Did you go to the bathroom before you came in? Student: shakes head no. Teacher: Okay, you better go now. I guess I'll keep reading the story while we wait.

Wait. Wait. Wait. The students return. Okay—I wasn't going to ask if there were any more questions—you may begin. The students work quietly, and some work rather quickly. I watch the room and roam around as needed to make sure that they are on the correct pages. Before the test is over, hands start going up as students finish the test. I go around to check and make sure they haven't skipped any pages. Sure enough, four kids have missed two or three entire pages and I must return their tests to them to finish. Then the oddest thing happens. Students start getting up and bringing me their tests. Go back to your seat, I have to say several times. I will come to you. Pretty soon, other kids finish and decide that even though they were not asked to get up and come to me, it must be the right thing to do. I have to interrupt the testers and announce: When you finish, stay at your seat. I will come to you. Not one minute later I look up and see a boy start toward me, test in hand. I make mad motions for him to sit back down and he does so.

Finally the test is over. I call time and collect the booklets and materials. As I leave the room, I mutter to myself: Sure, I can handle the test on my own. Nope, I don't need the others. No help at all. What a joke!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons Away from Home

I was unpacking boxes in the school bookstore when Greg, a fellow student, walked through the door. "Did you hear the news?" he asked. Tracy—my co-worker— and I said no and kept working. "The World Trade Center towers are gone- flattened; nothing is left." My stomach tightened as he told us the rest of what he knew. Later, as many of us gathered around the TV set, I sat in silent shock at the pictures I saw. I didn’t know anyone in all of New York State, but I had never felt more distinctly American than that day.

Growing up in a Caucasian, Christian family in small-town America, I never stood out in the national or international scene. I have never dealt directly with racism or violence. I have never been surrounded by war. I still have yet to visit Washington D.C. and many other places in our country, but in September of 2001 I boarded a plane for France. I went to spend the school year learning French, traveling Europe, and meeting people. Suddenly I was not just another college student; I was one of the Americans.

That evening of the attacks, while it was still early afternoon in New York, rumors were circulating about who had attacked America. Our school met in the girl’s dorm chapel to worship and talk about what had happened. When a Croatian student came up to my friend and me to tell us how sorry he was, a mixture of emotions enveloped me. That someone from a war-torn country was expressing his sadness to me, an American, was touchingly ironic. I found myself feeling guilty. But what did I have to do with any of this? What right did I have to be sad?

Over the next month all the American students were glued to the news, and our professor Pierre often interpreted in English for us. I heard students speculate that we might all get sent home while others said we were safer just to stay in France. I had visions of my country in war while I hid in a tiny French town a step away from Geneva, Switzerland and the comfort of possible safety in its neutral boundaries. Traveling was suddenly a scary idea. Without knowing it, I wore America like a name tag, as if an American flag were tattooed on my forehead. Our school trip to Paris was in October and fears were growing that our rowdy American group might not be safe. Stay together, speak French as much as possible, and when you speak English talk quietly. Don’t wear loud American clothing and don’t show off the fact that you are tourists. These words of advice were especially important in the days after September 11; though we were not expected to go around living in fear, we had to be sensible. I didn’t know if I was proud to be American or scared to death that someone would hate me just for being from the United States.

In a Chamonix bookshop, the woman at the counter interrupted my broken French with excellent English and asked me where I was from. I replied, "Washington," referring to the state where I attended college. "Try to find your smile again," she said. A little taken aback, I realized she might have been talking about the attacks, perhaps even assuming, as many people did, that I meant I was from Washington D.C. The French don’t like Americans; I had heard the stereotype all my life, but I was discovering that one act of kindness can overpower negativity.
I wasn’t home to experience all the good stories of strangers helping one another, Americans pulling together, but as I read the newspapers, I also read of hate. America was supposedly uniting more than ever, but it was dividing too, splitting itself off from other parts of the world. Americans of Middle-Eastern descent were targeted. In just a matter of weeks, my pride was definitely shifting. Okay, so I am American, I thought. But I am much more than that; I am human first. I was standing out as an American in France, but it wasn’t just Yankees and Frenchmen. My school included people from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Croatia, Brazil, Argentina, Madagascar, and many other countries. My travels by plane, train, car, bus, and boat took me to Paris, Barcelona, London, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bastia, and Florence. I stayed in homes where only German, Romanian, or French was spoken. Many times I could not communicate because my language was so limited, but always the smiles told me how welcome I was. For every bad encounter I had with someone, there was a positive experience to replace it. People knew I was American and either loved me for it or in spite of it. They cared about me for who I was not where I lived. I did feel a responsibility to be the best American I could be, but it started with being the best person I could be. I learned a great deal from the kindness of "foreigners" in their native lands, and it wasn’t hatred.

When my friend and I traveled around France for two weeks in April of 2002, we were two American girls alone leaning on our fair to good French-speaking abilities and the kindness of strangers. Riding the rails and late-night subways, we came across the people of our fears, but we also met angels. From a young Moroccan man in a Paris hotel, to an old man on the island of Corsica, the number of people who went out of their way for us was amazing. I clearly remember the hot day we walked for a couple miles with our heavy packs on our backs and finally located the rental car agency only to be told that 23 was not old enough to rent a car. We were near tears from exhaustion and hopelessness and the man and woman made phone calls for us, got us a ride, and another gentleman found us a place to stay for the night until we could catch a bus in the morning. Numerous people from various countries and backgrounds uplifted us and helped two Americans have the vacation of a lifetime.

Returning to America, I wondered if I would face culture shock after having started to adapt to my French lifestyle. As I walked around my neighborhood and saw the smiles and waves that thrive in a small town, I felt at home and remembered similar experiences in Europe. Here I see people being kind, friendly, and happy. I no longer say bonjour when walking into a store, but I can say hello. This is what I know. This is not just a value I learned in my country or from my parents. I am American by birth, but compassionate by choice. This is my America, but this is also my world.

(a slightly modified version of an essay I wrote nine or more years ago—it needs work, but I wanted to share it first)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This morning there was a teenager in my kitchen. Oh, it's okay; she wasn't stealing the toaster. In fact, she wanted me to fix her toast. Well, I told her to do it. She's my niece and I had invited her over for the night since her mom was out working the graveyard shift. I went upstairs after leaving her to make her own breakfast and told my husband: "There's a teenager in our kitchen. Just how long exactly have we been married?"

For the last school year I haven't had much interaction with teenagers since ditching 8th grade teaching to work in a building that's K-6. This year I'm back in the same school—working all day now—and I will likely have more interaction with those 6th graders than I did before. They're pretty close to the teen years, so I'm wondering if I'll have my work cut out for me. I just hope I don't have to face apathy.

My niece has been great in school and enjoyed it pretty well—so far. Arg! School drives out the joy and creativity in so many children! Let it not strangle my niece! She's surrounded by educated family—teachers and engineers for example—but we all had our share of boring classes and mean teachers. And she's in a big new middle school this year: it's crowded and full of teachers happy just to have jobs. I hope they are there for more than just a paycheck.

(some musings continued from Sunday morning)