all the kids

all the kids

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Natural Habitat

The beauty of having no boundaries is that you think everything belongs to you. And I was reading that if you watch much Mr.Rogers, according to him, everything does belong to you.

I did Open House at my school where I'm a fake long term teacher, and stood amidst this swirling of parents and kids. The kids I had seen all day, and we had built the room to look nice and productive, and there they come popping in, one by one, the way kids do, in a rush, or laughing, or distracted, and every time I saw one of my 18 students, it was like Oscar night - look, another famous 3rd grader, famous from my class, the only one exactly like it on Earth.

It was funny to see the parents and family they dragged along with them, because as a parent I know these are the people doing the actual raising and loving and supporting these kids, but when they come in my class, it is like they are in MY arms now, and maybe because I have that no border thing as a mom but because they are with me all day, every weekday, they are mine. All sitting right there in front row seats in my mind.

At night after I put my own big babies to bed, I see them, I hear them, I think about tomorrow, and get myself organized for a productive day the next day. But it's not just the stuff we have to do and the teaching, it's the voices I hear and the faces I see, it's the art underneath the mechanics that of course I see. The whole person, growing people. All bubbling and distracting.

Then I read this thing about how Mr. Rogers thought we were all neighbors. Just right over there, and you might as well help your neighbor. Loving all people is natural.

And then my own family is at Open House, my dad and one of my moms, Barry, and my kids are running the cash registers at the book fair like we live in Ohio, in a small town. I'm at an age where I know having everything is temporary, and loving who is there with you, is the most alive and most fragile of all places. How many times in your life do you get your family and your work all mixed up and stacked together like a huge ice cream cone. My 18 kids. My 3 personal kids. My loaner kid friend of my son's who was there helping. My actual parents in adult bodies but who are still kids. It is pretty nice to have your dad take pictures of you and be proud of you when you are 50. Not much changes - from 5 to 50. Love is important. Ice cream is still good, too.

The Mr. Rogers thing was cool, because he said you never stop loving the people that die in your life. You don't get to keep them, but you get to keep the things they taught you that were important, and the times they made you feel important. You carry it with you.

I don't know how many more Open Houses I get. But I got this one.

Maybe all jobs are just a place to drape yourself and a background for where the love can come in and cover you like a gramma's lace shawl. I guess I can't believe how many layers there are to loving your life.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Testing, One Two Three

There's a girl in the class I'm subbing in. They had a test today, on the computer. Some kids wrote informational articles, opinion essays, and some had to write stories. She had to write a made up story about going to a cabin and what she saw outside the window when she woke up.

A made up story.

This is a kid who does everything perfectly in class. So perfect that she's serious about it, I'm not sure there's any joy in her perfection, this is her job and she is going to be first in line. She has a slight suspicion of me, that I'm a buffoon (she is right), and she's always managing her ship so tightly that I barely have to do anything for her, she's orbiting herself, on autopilot.

Then today I saw her not able to write very much on that test. Her brain was like on that icy lake in Frozen. She couldn't figure out how to write an imaginative thing. She sat for a long time, I guess consulting her arrested, clinical heart, and came up with a sort of scratching sound that didn't translate into the keyboard.

We all have these holes. Here is this high achiever, and she can't surprise herself with imagination. Okay, she's only 8, but come on, you're at a cabin and you wake up and look out the window and what do you see?

For me there is a giant snowdrift. There is a scary old man selling stale crackers. There is the Hindenburg in mid-explosion. Hot gas spewing directly at us. There is Jane Austen with a rhinoceros head and a beer. There is a tornado. There is the road to nowhere.

She did end up writing something that involved the words "first, next and finally," the way they're all trained to write. Of course, the template gave her security. I felt relief seeing the screeching halted edges of higher intelligence. Knowing that when she's running the hospital she will own someday, that there are things people are born able to do, and things that baffle us.

Even though in the emergency, she would be the one who knew all the procedures, I would still rather wake up in a cabin with a buffoon.
Have a tornado for tea.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The One Percent

I'm teaching my horse to trot, do you know how exciting it is when you give a cue and the big meaty animal says "well....okay then," and does what you ask with minimal fuss?

I was watching a trainer on tv and he said "you ask for 1 percent improvement each day, and then after 100 days you have a trained horse."

I like this. Not 100% today, and every freaking day. 1 percent, people. The happiness and perfection of that one simple step.

ps it also helps to read poetry. Your heart swells from beauty, and then the 1 percent you can do, in a day. Riding and writing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Secret Garden

So it's weird when you get this little running theme in your life and everything springs from it and weaves together like it was meant to be. You have this ever? I think some people call it coincidence, but in "The Secret Garden" we're reading, they call it Magic.

I'm subbing in 3rd grade, long term, it's ending Friday or they keep saying every Friday that it's ending but I think this Friday it's for reals (ies), and at first I couldn't WAIT to break up with my class because whoa who wants the responsibility of 18 people's education on their hands and nowhere to wipe the blame? But since it's been almost four weeks, something started happening, and I don't think it was just me. There's a lot of chaos in a classroom, you're mostly just standing in the middle with your mom voice and your suddenly huge tribe of children busting out around you like the ones that come scuttling out of the fat lady's skirts in the Nutcracker ballet. You think you're pretty much yelling into the pirate ship wind, and your ship is going down and not even Jim Cameron can save you.

And then a little boy who is only 8 writes an amazing story out of Native American symbols on his buffalo skin (fake)(no actual buffalo we're in L.A.) paper and this boy is a smart boy but he's not much on behaving, being only 8 and mostly interested in laughing and he has one sort of winking eye all the time but anyway, we're doing this art with Indians for fun and social studies and his story in symbols was:

"many days. great sadness. War. many people. hurt. many people. make peace."

I don't know if it was the  simplicity of the crumpled brown paper and the broken arrow for peace, the simple lines drawn that he chose, that stood for suffering, and then hope, and the talking without words, the pictures drawn on paper he had softened with his own hands -- or maybe it was the way he was just looking up at me after he read it, and when I said to him, meaning it "that story is beautiful. It's my favorite," and he looked stunned like I had granted him knighthood, and land in England, rolling green hills. Then later he said to me, sort of sideways, when no one else was there, by the board - "was anyone else's your favorite?" And I got to say honestly, in our quiet little space, "Nope." It is filling to watch and actually see your good words fill another person. And it's not that whatever I think is the greatest thing, it's that if you saw the careful and sweet work he did, and the epic way it sounded, like today's world - this tenuous, volatile world we live in - and he chose to find peace. I don't know, his voice mattered.

Anyway, the springtime is growing up and around us, like the secret garden, and the crippled character Colin says, "I AM ALIVE," as he stands up and is made strong just by the beauty of a garden. As the old teacher will be coming back in from her extended stay in drug rehab or wherever she was and who cares, because I got to leap into myself as the fake teacher, leap in and bathe in it all. I like creating. We made Starry Night Van Gogh's, and block letter names for area and perimeter, and tomorrow we're going to watch a chemical change when we bake bread in the breadmaker. Science. We're attacking every subject, like we're getting somewhere/rocketing them forward I hope, with art and creative projects. And the room will smell so good.

I am alive, beauty weaving through me, and spreading out to all those little kids. Or maybe it's them doing it all, and I'm just the loud one shouting nonsense into the wind. I think I'm sailing the ship, but they're the ocean. Just a guest in their garden.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

All Cared Up and No Place to Go

When someone dies, you don't stop wanting to do stuff for them.

I think this is an amazing thing to discover.

I keep thinking about Poppa teaching me how to be an old person. Saying "okay" and "Thank you" all the time.

He was our big, very old baby. I miss making his fruit salad and watching him age. It isn't fair that he just left. Did he want to leave? I don't think he did.

He was just there, and less and less there, but still there. I miss his baseball, and his nearness. I miss him being in our lives.

I just want him to know, I'm still here, if he wants to come back. He was no trouble.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lucky Charms

Lilly is setting a trap for a leprechaun. She macguyvered it all out, there's a box hanging from a piece of hay rope, from a tree branch, with a rock, and a circle of bricks below, covered with a towel and some leaves and some cookies for bait. When the (unlucky) leprechaun steps on the towel and falls in, the box top comes falling down and blocks him into the brick cage.

She was working on it with her friend Luke yesterday, and I helped them rig up the box on the rope. I was passing by to go take the horses next door to ride for a minute after subbing all day. I saw them negotiating, hauling, planning, digging, and engineering, and when you see that kind of beauty while you're just doing what you have to do to keep from veering into oncoming traffic each day, well that youth just makes everything else fall away. Building a leprechaun trap is maybe the only  productive thing to do on a Wednesday in March.

Last year the leprechaun left her a note that mostly said "HA HA" and some little green tricks and treats.

This year we're catching that sucker.

Today Luke's gramma saw me at school and said that Luke could not sleep, he was obsessed with catching the leprechaun. He can't wait for Friday.

That's gold, right there.

Monday, March 13, 2017

All or Nothing

Subbing takes some of the fun out of momming. Because being in a room with 30 kids who need policing is way harder than just hanging out with my regular 3.

There was a student teacher in the class I was "teaching" today, and apparently she was taking a lot of mental notes because she did not do one thing on the outside. I admired and was slightly jealous of her ability to do nothing while I was wrestling kids to the ground and force feeding them plural nouns. She lounged on the edge of my pool. She wore sandals and did not even dip her toes in. She kept looking around, I think, for the waiter. Here's the reality - she gets the credit whether she does all or nothing. Miracle.

So do more nothing, people. It counts the same.

I have to sub tomorrow, and I'm going to take on her philosophy. Maybe the kids and I will just sit around with our feet up on the desks and smoke cigars and talk about Vegas. We'll talk about the old days, back in 2008, when they were born. We'll shed a few tears.

The kids will go home from third grade going "Oh my god, Mom, I LOVE school."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Soul Patch

So I don't grow anything on our little farm, but the farm sustains me.

I could plant some things, but I'm having a hard enough time just keeping the children and animals alive, well fed, happy, strong, learning and entertained. Plants aren't as good because they're silent, and when you eat them you never see them again. Plus then you have to replant.

I think I will learn the joy of gardens eventually, I'm seeing that would be nice to have a little patch of things I can grow. Right now my little garden patch is the three two-leggeds in my house, and the furry and feathery amblers outside. A soul patch.

Our old caretaker, the coughing loud old Poppa next door, decided to take his stuff and get out, and do it quickly like here's something for you, try this new weird quiet. There is suddenly so much space and way too much time that we used to spend thinking, tending and caring about the shuffling man in the baseball corner, eating fruit salad and sleeping in the chair. We had that down.

I read somewhere that somebody said "I wish things would stop changing so I could get used to the change."

My dad said not to worry, that there were plenty of old people heading my way. All my parents, and various friends and husbands. Maybe I'm just having a tiny lull, a small lovely holiday, from the aging business. When it comes raging back at me (or maybe wheezing), I will again roll up my sleeves, put on some gloves, and get down to the business of shuttling people to bathrooms and breakfasts, like the hearty Irish nanny that is in my blood.

I will fortify myself with Nutella on toast, make some tea, and look forward to the future. Hopefully having an entertaining and long time with my old buddies.

And in the meantime, the everyday smaller version of loving and tending these sprouts in my farm mom life. Grows me a good heart. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Today I was missing his purple toes and putting them through the white hole in the diaper, and handing him his pills and putting on the goo in his teeth to make them stick.

I had to bring the trashcans in from the street and I didn’t have to line them up against the gate so I could throw poppa’s trash in without having to open the gate. I could just leave them, terribly, wherever.

I kept thinking I better go check on him. I went into his room like I normally would and I sat in a chair by the window behind his big fat chair by the tv and I just sat there in the nothing.

It’s like he’s hiding somewhere but he’s just all done. I can’t understand how he’s just all done. I felt like I was gonna be making his coffee forEVER. Every spoonful I put in there felt like forever. Five years taking care of somebody is a long time.

Most of my previous life I spent making sure I got out before the other person did. I was good at it, it was a good way of ensuring that nobody beat me to the exit, a little tight maneuver that guaranteed heart safety, keeping myself all wrapped up in a little box.

Then kids came, and I stayed, and Barry stayed, and eventually Poppa stayed. And then the routine of it made more sense to me than the getting out but wait this is not what I’m talking about. Or maybe it is. Maybe there’s a reason why Becky our labrador always knows where I am and comes to jump on the bed at the end of the night, because that’s where she belongs, and she’s ready.

Poppa was ours, in sickness and in health, and making his coffee and cutting up a banana and putting on his slippers and throwing out his trash and giving him a kiss on the head every day, that gave me a nice life. On the days I didn’t really feel like doing all of those things, when I’d be dressing him and brushing his hair, I’d think about how he was once somebody’s baby, and she did all these things, she must’ve loved doing all these things. So I did them for her, for her baby, and he was then mine too.

You don’t really need very much when you’re almost 101. In the last few days, he needed what he’d always needed – some help with his daily routine, a walk to the table, some food, he liked ripping the sugar packets open and stirring them in. Somedays he wouldn’t talk much, some days he’d look at me and say “What’s doin, Julie.”  He would fall asleep, then eat a little, then forget to eat, then sleep a little. He liked the dog coming in so he could greet her and pet her soft head. He never stopped reaching for the dog. In the afternoon, he sat and listened to baseball, maybe just for the sound and shape of it on the tv. He liked a blanket, and dinner. Over the monitor hearing Barry saying Goodnight Dad when he was in bed and See You Tomorrow. And him saying “I hope so Bare.”

The last two days when he was having trouble breathing, it was like it wasn’t real, he could get through it. He was tough, he had no intention of leaving if his body could have fought it. But breathing with heavy liquid in your lungs is hard when your heart has been going since Ford invented the car. If you were born when people were still shocked from the recent Titanic sinking. If Charlie Chaplin was the hot young director when you were learning to walk.

Poppa had a team of people caring for him, and in the last few days he was not himself really, he was an old lion, breathing with his growly roar, closed eyes on the horizon, steady, aging, thick maned, sturdy in his weakness. He just sat in that chair, and did what his body told him, which was quietly just stay as long as you can, Lee.

I hope to be like him if I ever get to be that old, the way he’d just say thank you all the time. Loving the dog, loving all the kids, allowing himself to just be there with us, giving himself to us, and trusting us, in all our imperfections and humanness. He let us have him.

Like his worker Jose said when we told him Poppa had gone. Jose, the kindest guy in the world. He said. “I coulda done better.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to Break Up with 30 Seven-Year-Olds

 If you find yourself in the habit of being trapped in large rooms with about 30 2nd graders, as I do, you might find out that on the day of a storm, a Friday to be exact, when the yard is flooding, and the lights are flickering, and you realize after about one hour out of the six you are allotted to spend with this lot, that you pulled a crap lotto in this group.

What happens when the you that you usually are – the funny, tall, fast thinking, great reading, candy giving, highly motivated, craftily creative fake teacher that you are – it is not working.

This group, on this storm day, is the group from hell. A bawdy lot, crass, loud talking, fast moving, openly yawning sneaky devils who aren’t getting you.

OMG,  I think to myself. But 2nd grade – it’s my THING. They’re so CUTE usually. They’re so easy to ease out of their chattiness and into the fake way I make learning fun.

But not here, at Hacklin elementary emphasisonthehack. It’s like this group, it’s been inoculated. They see me but nope there is a fine invisible film between us. And that’s just fine with them.

I sink down into a chair. Crumbling slightly after wrestling through the English lesson the teacher left out and haggling my way raggedly through the math. OH NO. It’s not going to work out. You barely like me. I certainly don’t like you. We have to break up.

Usually I schedule my break ups happily for the end of the day when really we’re still in love, it’s too soon to say goodbye, will I ever see you again, they’re saying wistfully, of course, I answer with reassuring gentle wisdom. We all go out with a smile and some angst and a bang at the bell ringing when I release them back to their wild. While they still love me because for six hours I CAN be loveable, I can win an Oscar and break the sound barrier and fuse neutrons for 6 hours. But what happens on a day like today, when we are breaking up NOW. Not when I schedule it. But NOW. Right in front of my face, right after breakfast, 45 minutes in, even before recess.

It’s mostly Mathew’s fault. Mathew and I, we’re like having a mental knife fight from the moment he sets eyes on me. He has one t in his name, which is so wrong. It’s just lazy, people. He is boisterous, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He spends a great deal of time making paper airplanes and throwing confetti on people. You think it’s cute but the kid uses confetti like a thug. Paper airplanes now, hubcabs off your car tonight.

When I’m doing vocabulary there are only five words they have to get through, and one is recuperate. During word number #1, number THE FIRST, when we are barely STARTED, I see their eyes glaze over. I’m dancing around to keep them interested but table 2 is ordering nachos and half of table four has collapsed drunk on boredom. Uh oh, I pull out my ACTING trick and pull two students up to act out the word recuperate. This gets table 1 listening, because half their table is up there ON STAGE, and SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. Usually acting gets all the kids listening, because of the fun. But table 4 is looking at me like they’re trapped at the museum of modern art with no art on the wall. This is when I know I’m sliding down an icy slope into the place where they shred substitutes and sprinkle the remains on top of the salads of actual teachers.

Recuperate does not recuperate us. It’s learning cholera, it’s epidemic. I consider letting them play the rest of the day and not doing anything else. It’s not like I have a supervisor. There are no adults. The little dudes are not going to remember this ONE DAY in 2nd grade. But when you have a group that has checked out, if you then give them FREE TIME, they end up underneath the desks making a fort out of raincoats. I can’t have kids that I don’t know underneath desks, as much as I’m all for that in general. I’m pretty sure if another adult walked in, I’d be spanked.

So I just have to keep my torment to myself. I can’t break up with them in front of them, although I do manage to say carefully during my one ten minutes of reading aloud to them, that this is maybe the one class I’ve ever had where we won’t get to play a game at the end of the day because WE ARE BREAKING UP. Can’t you see that YOU ARE HORRIBLE no because YOU DON’T LISTEN TO ME because MOMMY IS HAVING AN ANXIETY ATTACK because 30 IS TOO MANY FOR BAD. There is no happy ending with this group. There is just quickly changing every subject, yelling at Mathew, sending kids out of the room, yelling at nobody, feeling volcanic, and feeling small. We angle toward the end of the day and by the end I do let them play a game but I am counting the minutes because twenty to two is a really long time until 2:23 when they get out, and every minute is loud.

The rain rages on outside and the principal makes an announcement that parents will come TO the rooms to pick up children, after the bell of freedom, so YES I GET THEM FOR EVEN LONGER.

Eventually all the moms come, even the one of the morbidly sneaky Ruth, and I close the door on this room hopefully forever. But when I’m down in the office handing in my key shakily as the real world comes lumbering back at me in a whoosh, there is another teacher there, smiling hopefully at me. Oh hi, she’s saying. I’m getting picked up in the lobby basically. The office is the bar of my career, and I am its painted whore. Do you have a card or something? She’s asking.

Of course I give her my number.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Water Under the Bridge

The Mags and Dew and I (and Becky) walked down to the water today. It's almost an hour walk there, with two horses and a dog. We went under a tunnel, up a broad dirt path, away from noise and humanity, and out into the wilderness of the dam.

I was walking them on the ground because I wasn't ready to be riding and leading Maggie on her first trip out into the great big trail. Plus Dewey had a sore foot. So we just walked the whole way there.

We got to the water, which is usually a creek, but because of rain it is now a rushing river. I stood on the edge while the horses tested the water for drinking freshness and I thought about crossing it. It would be good to get the new horse used to crossing big water. But today? First day out?

A cowboy passed by us, to cross the water, so we had to move our little 2000 pound horsehair convoy out of the way so he could pass easily.

"First time here," I said to him.
"All of them?" He said.
"Just her," I said.
"Take it easy," he said. "No rush."
His horse crossed the river, walking carefully, the sound of the water rushing over the rocks.

The horses looked at me like what do we do. Boss. Becky looked up too, standing in the water at my feet, tongue hanging out.

We walked back up the trail. We got our feet wet, at least. The river will be there.
Nice and easy.