Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hiccup on Christmas Day

Matthew has had some high blood sugars before, and we've tested for ketones in the blood, and they have always come back negative.  Until yesterday, Christmas day.

He woke up feeling sort of icky, said he felt a bit sick to his stomach, but was out playing and I didn't think much of it.  He also woke up a bit higher than usual, at like 250, but that's not THAT high. So we spent a morning opening presents, with him taking a rest between gifts. 

I knew something was wrong when I found him laying down amid the pieces that were to make up the White House kit he got from Gilly for Christmas.  Not even able or willing to sit up and put together Legos??  Something is very wrong.

Steve finally had him test for ketones, and the stick immediately turned its darkest color.  Truly, no more than 15 minutes after that, Matt tossed the little breakfast he had eaten all over our bed and floor. 

So, the big question with diabetes is this:  are the ketones causing the vomiting, or is the vomiting causing ketones??

I called a friend of mine from Middle School, who, by virtue of Facebook, I have reconnected with and who's second child is also a T1D, to see what she thought.

"Is the pod actually giving insulin?  Because it could come dislodged but still register that it is giving insulin.  Check that, then give some insulin by injection, then call the Endo.  I bet the ketones are causing him to throw up, as its the only way his body has to get rid of them."

It all turned out OK, and we got his sugars back under control by the time he went to bed, and FINALLY got a "negative" reading on those ketone sticks.  So, lesson learned.. when the PDM suggests to check for ketones, CHECK FOR KETONES, and do not put the OmniPod canula side down next to the waist band of jeans.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The soon--to-be bionic boy...

Middle has been a T1D for over a year now.  We're getting the hang of it, but then something else changes and we are back to playing catch up.  If only A + B always equalled C, things would be so much easier - same stuff in, same result.  As anyone with diabetes knows, though, that never happens.  There is too much going on behind the scenes to allow for any predictability, except forgetting to cover will mean sugars that are too high, and forgetting to eat will mean sugars that are too low.  The rest is, for lack of a better term, a crap shoot.

One of Middle's biggest problems is that he is not a 3-meals-a-day kind of kid; never has been.  He likes to graze.  This causes havoc when you are counting carbs, covering with insulin, doing the math to see how much insulin he may still have on board, etc.  Again, crap shoot.

So, we're moving to embrace techology.  This coming week we will meet with the trainer from OmniPod and DexCom so Middle can be suited up with an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor.  He's excited, and from what we have heard in speaking with others who have gone down this road before us, it will change his life. 

As it stands now, Middle must test his sugars between 8 and 10 times a day, and that's if all looks good.  If his sugars are off, he may need to test every 15 minutes until they are back to normal and that can take an hour or more.  The monitor will take a reading every 5 minutes through a sensor that will be embedded under his skin.  He will still need to calibrate it every 12 hours, but that's 2 sticks, not 10!

Then there is the insulin, which he injects at least 5 times a day, again, sometimes more depending on what his sugars are doing.  The pump will be automatically giving him a basal rate of insulin all day, and then will automatically bolus him for food when he tells the hand held device that controls the pump to do so.  It will also tell him how much insulin is 'live' in his system so we don't give too much and have him crash from too much insulin.

I'm excited for him.  We train like mad fiends on Thursday.  He could be the bionic boy by Christmas day!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Moving out of my comfort zone in honor of Matthew..

I've made a decision to do something very un-ME-like.  I am signing up to do the Ride for the Cure in November. Its a fundraiser for the JDRF, and not only will I find a way to raise $3000, I will also ride over 50 miles to help find a cure for Matthew, and all the people like him who suffer every single day with this disease.

I don't consider myself one who goes out and pounds the pavement for causes.  Sure, I've run in the Koman's Race for the Cure, but that was more about ME than it was about cancer.  I wanted to see if I could do it.  I was pretty sure I could, even though I knew I would not be fast.  And other than my dear godmother, Georgia, I've been blessed by not really being affected by this disease, although I know that I could be one of those one-in-nine very easily.

This is different.  I ride for Matthew.  I ride for the boy I love more than life, in hopes that he will, in his lifetime, be free from this disease.  It affects every aspect of his life, every day of his life.  I have a lot of the worry, but he bears the brunt of it all. And he does it with grace, dignity and a sense of humor.

So - I decided to ride.  I'm not a big cyclist - the furthest I've ever gone is 18 miles.  I know I can reach the 32 mile marker, so that's not enough of a challenge.  I'm going for the 54 mile route. (I'm not crazy enough to think I can ride 109 miles...)  I have 4 months to get ready.  I have the most marvelous cheering section imaginable.  I have hope that my efforts WILL make a difference.

If you want to read about The Day Everything Changed, you can GO HERE TO READ ALL ABOUT IT

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Something else to make my blood boil...

New Evaluation Laws Split Teachers Even More

Listen to, or read this when you have a moment.  Its by NPR, so take your political bent where you find it, but this chaps my hide!

There needs to come a time when politicians stop treating teachers and students as if they are widgets.  Students are not machines; you can not reliably put in the same content, as you would put money into a vending machine, and be assured to get a reliably measurable product out.  Tying teacher evaluations to student performance will lead to a worsening of the education system, not an improvement of it.

There are too many variables in place for this system of evaluations to work.  There are way too many unknowns for teachers to be comfortable with the idea.  I agree wholeheartedly: there are teachers who should not be in the classroom.  I've worked with some!  My own children have experienced them. (OK, 1... one kid, had one teacher who needed to retire like 10 years ago.. the other ones have been wonderful).

The inherent problem is this: teachers cannot control the lives of their students.  Until we can, basing a teacher evaluation on what the students do is unfair and possibly leading to tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

Teachers arrive every fall with a clean slate, more or less.  We have our curriculum.  We have our bag of tricks to reach those kids at the end of the bell curve - the ones who struggle and the ones who soar far beyond the scope and sequence of our teaching.  But every year, those kids are different. We have them under our 'control' for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, assuming they have parents who even remotely value education and actually make sure they get to school.

We cannot control if they learn.  We cannot change the family who takes their child out of school for every sniffle.  We cannot do anything about the parents who don't care if their child does homework or not.  We cannot instill an appreciation of learning into a family where it is perfectly acceptable to get an "F" for a grade.  We cannot control the number of special ed kids we have in a class, or the number of kids whose parents are getting divorced, leaving their children in an emotional wake that will take years to dissipate.

When teachers have their evaluations tied to student achievement, you are looking at teaching through the wrong lens.  Teachers, like me, who serve special populations will never 'measure up' on these political charts - my students may make 1/3 a years' worth of progress during a school year.  Does that mean I am a bad teacher?  Or does that speak more to the talents and shortcomings of my students, a group of individuals over whom I have no control?

Teachers will leave.  Teachers are already stretched thin, and while some teachers make upwards of $70K a year, none that I know personally do, and at the end of the day, it might just be easier to work at Starbucks than to put up with increasingly demanding legislation from those who have never been in a classroom.  You cannot take the rules of the board room and expect them to work in the school yard.

Teachers, as a population, are already fed up.  Pile unfair evaluation practices on top of them, and you will see many give up.  The teacher short-fall will be great, and it is  my guess that soon the evaluation for hiring a teacher will be .. "Can she fog a mirror??  Yeah??!!  You're HIRED!"  Good choices are never made in desperation, and I can see this is the path our local schools are heading down.

Thanks Washington...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming

I've taken the last month "off", so to speak.  A while back, I told myself that I would work hard to get a blog post up every other day, but in truth, there are days when, really - NOTHING of note happens, or, so much is happening that it will take a few days for the "stuff" to filter through my brain and give me something to write about.

We moved on June 18th.  Need I tell you in which of the two scenarios I've found myself?

We're nearing the 4 week mark in the house now, and I am pleased to say that we can fit one car in the garage.  Originally, I told myself I'd be satisfied with reaching this goal by Halloween, but DH kicked it into high gear, and the Passat fits nicely into his new home.  Not sure the Saturn will ever fit.. long beast that it is.

We purged a ton before this move.  We donated boxes and car-loads of stuff to charity, and the neighbors, and still found ourselves in need of a dumpster for the rest of it.  Purging felt good, especially after 9 years of gathering 'stuff'. I firmly believe the word "someday" needs to be stricken from the vocabulary of every home owner... as in "someday we might need this" or as in "Someday, I want to repaint the doors".   Dump it, or do it - Do, or do not.. there is not try! We held on to so many useless things with the notion that we would, in fact, need them someday.  Except, we didn't.  Or, only needed them so rarely that there was really no point to keeping them.  Folding tables, extra folding chairs - all quite useful when I would host scrapbooking parties, but truly, it's been 7 years since I have done that.  Bye-Bye...

I believe purging 'stuff' not only frees up highly valuable real-estate in your house, but in your head, as well.  Less stuff, less stuff to worry about.  Less stuff to worry about, more energy able to devote to important stuff, like getting the house settled! (Less stuff also equals less stuff to put away, thereby making our goal of getting settled infinitely easier!)

We are all getting used to the new house.  I only have to look through one or two cabinets now to find what I need in the kitchen, and the boys all have places for their toys and other necessities that survived The Great Purge of 2010. 

Maybe now with my house, and my head, less cluttered with stuff, I will be able to get back to writing.  Blogs, books... both!!!

No promises, but I'm certainly in a better place now to at least try! (No... DO, or DO NOT - sorry Yoda, I forgot.. there is no TRY!)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Up with three, down with 2...

I took Middle to camp today, and Oldest came along for the ride.  Not like it was just down the street, or even an across-town, but he wanted to come anyway.  The drive is long, and boring, until we hit Palm Desert.  The boys did pretty well not driving me insane along the way, but there were, of course, the requisite pokes and jabs, but then, these are my boys and I would expect nothing less.

We stopped for lunch in Palm Desert, and then started up "the hill".  Middle and I had done a pretty decent job scaring the pants off Oldest with the stories of climbing the hill, and I am pleased to report that the drive was not nearly as terrifying the second time as it was the first.  No doubt, there are some death-defying turns at about 2000 feet up, but no one lost their lunch on the way up, and my grasp on the steering wheel did not leave imprints this time.

It is really a beautiful drive once you get past the "I'm going to drive off this cliff and meet my doom" part.  Oldest was very much in awe of it all.  It was also fun to watch the temperature gauge drop lower and lower.. 95* at the bottom, and 67* at the top of the hill.  Camp is at about 5200ft elevation.  I froze, and it was wonderful!

Middle showed Oldest all around, introduced him to the counselor - Middle has the same counselor this year as he did last year, and is totally excited by this - and gave Oldest a tour of the most important parts of camp: the hollowed out tree you can climb into, and the zip line.

Oldest and I hung out for about an hour, walking around camp, talking to folks.  There is a part of Oldest, I think, that wishes he were staying with Middle at camp.  I think he would be loathe to admit this to me, or to anyone, but I watched him interact with the kids and walk around camp... maybe next year we will convince him to go.

Last year, Middle wanted me to stay until the very last possible moment.  He got all teary when I went to hug him for the last time, and I tried hard NOT to cry in front of him, but that was an epic fail.  This year, however, we were both ready.  Middle was happy to have us around, but when it came time for the campers to group together, he looked at me, those deep brown eyes with the twinkle and his broad gap-toothed grin and said "Ok, Mom.. you can go now."

No tears.  No lingering "I don't want to let you go" hugs.  No problem.  For either of us.

Doing things for the first time is tough, be it drive Highway 74 up the mountain, or leave your child at sleep away camp.  You don't know what to expect.  Folks can tell you, sure, but until you go through it for yourself, and come out the other side unscathed, you just don't know.  And that makes it hard.   But once you know, and you have not only the sense of accomplishment but the true knowledge that you will be OK, it becomes a piece of cake.

So, Middle is in his happy place - camp.  And I am thrilled for him.  And Oldest and I will have adventures of our own, enjoying the change in dynamics within the family this week.  Even if all we will do is pack boxes and toss trash and even if there is not a Zip line in sight.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stuff... and a countdown or two.

There is a lot happening in our house this month.  Middle leaves for camp.  We move.  I am going to wake up soon and it will be July!

The movers arrive in 10 days.  T-e-n.  TEN DAYS PEOPLE!  My house is beginning to look like a place where unwanted things go to die, but I know we have lightened the load and weeded out a bunch of crap, ahem, I mean stuff, already, but I look around the mess that once was my home and wonder how, on earth, we will ever be ready.

Oh, and of those ten days, I will be out of commission for two.  Because of the #1 thing happening this month - Middle goes to camp.  Tomorrow.  Six hours away by car and momma is driving him.  Now, the rather selfish part of me loves this arrangement because it means a night, possibly alone (Oldest may want to tag along, but he has not made up his mind yet.  I keep telling him that it is OK if he does not want to go.. really.. I'll be OK... no pressure....) but I am also aware of what needs to be done before June 21st when we turn over the keys.

Middle went to camp for the first time last summer.  He was 8.  He got a little teary when I left (as opposed to me who was a blythering mess stoic beyond belief) but loved every single minute of the experience and has been counting down, literally, every day since.  "Mom.. only 7.5 more months until I can go to camp again."  "Mom, can I start packing for camp?" <-- said in March...  If he gets any sleep tonight, I will be shocked.

But I also wonder... at least for me, whenever there is something huge that I am excited about, be it a party, a visit, a vacation, when it at last gets here, and then it is over, the let down is huge.  I spend so much time, so much energy looking forward to IT, and then poof!  It's over.  How will he be when it is Next Saturday, and he is here, back home, amid the mess and chaos of a home between houses? When all I can do is think 'this box here, that box there.."  He is going to be sad, and missing camp, and in the middle of moving hell.

But again, this is Middle.. and he is without question my 'roll with it' kid.  Unflappable.  Constant.  Maybe I need to learn from him, and figure out how to be just slightly unflappable in the middle of all this stuff.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Here we go..

And just like that... we went from spring like, very pleasant weather here in the Valley of the Sun, to heat advisories for all of the southern half of the state.  A heat advisory basically means temps at or above 110*.  And, so it begins... the melting, firestorm heat of summer in Arizona.   Oddly enough, this year I can tell you exactly when it happened.  Friday.  My general routine is to try to get up before anyone else (challenging with Mr. Oldest who seems to have come from Rooster DNA), grab my coffee and sit out on the patio for a little quiet time.  I listen to birds singing to each other, watch the various families of quail and their little quail-letts scamper about the back yard.  It's my "commune with nature" time, and about as communing as I plan to do.  Up until Saturday morning, the air during this time was very pleasant.  Not exactly crisp, but there was a lightness to it - nothing oppressive at all. 
Saturday morning, it was gone.  When I went out at 6am, it was already 85* and feeling heavy.  Now, we are supposed to have a break in the heat late next week, but until then... well, it IS Arizona after all.  Time to live like moles - deep underground, hiding from the sunshine, desperately trying to stay cool.

Oh, and my air conditioner has gone kaput.  With 2 weeks left for us in this house... of course.  Oiy... here we go!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Completing the Gestalt

If you are not a student of Counseling Psychology, you might have no idea what on earth that means.  Gestalt means, in rough terms, CIRCLE in German.  Gestalt Therapy was developed by Fritz Perls in the 1960's and is noted for being far more confrontational than traditional therapy. "You are a phony" was one of Fritz's lines in those videos we got to see in class... let's just say he didn't make a lot of friends.

However, I happen to LOVE Gestalt therapy - I think you can really break down barriers quickly and so forth with it.  I also love the symbolism that is inherent in the model... you want to complete what has been started.  You don't have to be the person who starts it, but you have the power to complete it - coming full circle, so to speak.

One example I love - we had to pick a therapy style during my Master's program, and then watch a movie.  We would take a character from the movie, and, using our chosen philosophy, develop a treatment plan.  The movie I chose was "the war".  Kevin Costner and Elija Wood.  It was a beautiful little movie that failed miserably at the box office, but was SO utterly perfect for the Gestalt.  Costner plays a war vet who comes home to his family after allowing his friend to die alone out in the fields of Viet Nam.  It haunts him.  His family lives just above poverty level, and all he wants is to give his family a good life.  His son, Elija, has a nemesis... several, actually.  The Gestalt is completed when Elija actually saves the life of the nemesis - saving a life when his father has been haunted by the life he allowed to slip away.   See  -  a circle completed.

So, my Gestalt.  We bought this house June 16th, 2001.  Actually, we had a 45 day escrow so that was the day we closed.  It had been on the market almost a year when we bought it.  We have had it on the market for just about a year now... and we have sold it... and our closing date is... wait for it... June 16th, 2010.  How freaky is that??

Well, in all honesty, the closing date has now been moved to June 21st, however, the original closing date was 9 years TO THE DAY that we took ownership.  Full circle...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Grey skies are goin'to clear up...

To update our YES situation...

We got a YES from the bank, and a YES from a landlord, so we are MOVING!  This is good news.  VERY good news.

The not-so-good news for me personally is that we are not moving 3000 miles away, but rather more like 5.  Same town. Different zip code.  Same oppressive heat for 6 months of the year.  Same cruddy schools for the boys.  (Ok, I know, Scottsdale Unified is the top rated district in the state.  Arizona is, however, the 2nd dumbest state in the country looking at comparative test scores.  So, really, what is there to brag about?)  However, it is  a GREAT house.. great... and I am So excited!!!

We started packing last weekend.  We move around the 21st of June, so no time like the present!  I have taken 2 huge car load of, ahem, crap to the Goodwill store, and a few things to consignment.  There is much more to go, but we are making progress.

I think a good tactic is this... about ever 2 or 3 years, pretend you are going to move.  Weed out.  Toss stuff.  I am amazed and a bit disgusted by all that we have accumulated in the last 9 years.

More, including pictures, soon!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Five for Ten - What it means to say YES


One seemingly cancels the other one out.  You cannot say YES to what you say NO to, and vice versa.  YES opens possibilities and NO often closes them. But not always. 

One can be freeing while the other one is limiting, and it is up to each individual as to which is which. 

Saying YES to too many obligations, the plague of the modern mother, means you have less time for yourself, your family, the things you want to do.  Saying NO, something many people find a near impossible task, can be freeing.

We can over schedule ourselves by saying YES, and we can limit our opportunities by saying YES.  It seems like such a simple word, and yet, it can either open doors and change our lives, or limit us leaving us bound to how things are.

Right now, we are torn as to which things need to be said YES to, and to what are we saying NO.  I want to say NO to Arizona, to move away from here, to say YES to a different opportunity, a different way of life for my family.  Unfortunately, I'm waiting on a YES that is very slow in coming.  Too slow perhaps.  Too slow for it to do any good, because while I am waiting on a YES, we got an unexpected YES on the house.  Our sale was approved.  This is good news, but this YES means that we must also say NO.  It means we don't have the luxury of waiting on that all-too-slow-in-coming YES, the one that will take us far away from here.  It means we need to say YES to staying here another year.  And I'd be alright with that had we not already been saying this over and over for the last four years. 

One more year.
We will just hold out one more year.
We can make it one more year.
One more summer
One more school year.

We keep waiting for that ellusive YES to come, but if and when it does, will we be able to say YES to the YES?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Five for Ten : Lust


a fleeting monster with a pretty face and a tempting smile
what you first see
what you first feel
what draws you together
what makes you stop thinking

it's a place to get lost in
to fall into
to revel in
an indulgence, decadent and passionate

and then it changes
the hunger eases
the thinking returns
no longer lost
but still falling
falling deeper, but with eyes open

life brings surprises,

and then it is a memory,
the hunger, the longing
just a memory
but reality is here


Friday, May 14, 2010

This I Believe: Teaching is infinite.

I'm torturing my students, again, or so they believe.  I'm making them write (Gasp!) and think (Shocking!) during this current project.  Using the NPR books and series "This I Believe", I am having my students write their own belief statements. 

Put that way, it sounds religious in nature, but that's not it. One student is writing about how he believes in anger, and how releasing anger, feeling anger, at the right time can be productive.  Another student is writing about how he believes in music.  Another sees the purpose behind telling the truth (those nasty consequences that come about from being caught in a lie...)

So, I thought I would give it a go, too.  I am always saying to the kids that I won't ask them to do something that I am not willing to do myself.  Money - meet mouth...


I believe that teaching is infinite.  I label myself as a this-teacher or a that-teacher, or I say I want to be another-teacher, but that is all too confining for what I do every day.  Better, actually, to say it is what I strive to do every day.  Admittedly, some days I miss my mark.  Other days I miss it by a whole universe.  But some days, I nail it smack on the head, and leave knowing I did good.  Like the perfect golf swing that results in the perfect ball, these moments do not come around very often but are so rewarding in and of themselves that it pulls us back, despite our better judgement, to try again to get that feeling, that lift, that joy.  Sounds a bit like taking drugs, doesn't it?

My teaching is infinite because it ripples.  I may only have 12 kids in front of me, but every one of those kids has his or her own circle.  Maybe we discovered something in class today, maybe we had a discussion over something amazing, and maybe that student went home, and shared this piece of amazing information.  My student left inspired.  He is, in turn, trying to inspire someone else.

And who could resist inspiration in the form of an exuberant 12 year old boy whose face lights up when talking about this amazing piece of knowledge he gained today?  If it works as it should, the inspiration does not stop there.

Nor does the influence stop when school is over and my students have moved on to bigger things, older grades, tougher work.  My influence stays with them, in the inspiration, the perspiration and the exultation that resulted in the things we learned together.  Maybe it was my unwillingness to ever really give up on them, my constant pushing to find the greatness within themselves.  Maybe it was simply a root word, found in some foreign text or heard on the news or read in a paper, and the light bulb goes off..."I remember that - Mrs. Jensen drilled those damn roots into our heads..."

Maybe it is the debate, the days we push the curriculum aside to talk about things that really matter: the kid who brought drugs to school, why so-and-so has a probation officer, the girl who killed herself because she was bullied to death, and what we can do to make our lives, our community, our world, a better and a safer place not only for ourselves, but for those around us.

I am the force that shapes my classroom, for better or for worse.  I am not a hand-holding-coddling teacher who allows her students to use their disabilities as a crutch.  I push then, I expect them to be better when they leave my classroom than they were when they arrived, not only in academics, but in self control, self reliance, self confidence.  I expect them to bring out into the world some of what they learned from me.

And I expect that effect to ripple on through the pond of community.  To live and last longer than I will.  To become infinite.

Like the corners of my mind...

When I was a kid, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that, without memory, we had no way to measure reality.  How would I know I experienced something, because from the moment I experienced it, it became only a memory. Kind of a trippy concept if you think about it for too long.

My friend, Angie, and I both have odd memories, or so we thought as kids.  We find memories triggered by smells (Only to find out that is really not so uncommon afterall) but then also define things in terms of smells... for example, saying that something smells exactly like a new, plastic halloween mask, or like her parent's basement.  I can also time travel to songs, taking me right back to high school, or the last dance of 8th grade, or even to the last song of the last dance of 8th grade, and exactly how I felt and with whom I was dancing. (Rob Moor, I believe... and Lady in Red was the song... or maybe it was Freebird..... ok, maybe my memory is not as fool proof as I want to believe.)

It's an amazing thing, memory.  And mine used to be really, really good.  Oh, don't let the fact that I can remember who my dance partner was for a dance that happened nearly 25 years ago lead you to believe otherwise.. my memory over the last ten years has whithered away.  (My oldest is nearly 11.. see a coincidence?)

What I find, though, is this... I am a little like someone with a hoarding disorder when it comes to memory.  I know there is not possibly enough space in my brain to fit all the precious memories that I want to savor, and it bothers me.  I want them all, like a child sitting amidst piles of candy, in large, open-armed sweeping movement, trying to gather them all in.  I want them all.. the memories of each of my children's first smiles, of the way it felt when I had them fall asleep in my arms, the smell of the top of their little infant heads, their firsts of everything, every feeling, every moment. All of it.

Of course, while those memories are really in there somewhere, they are not accessible to me seemingly ever. Every now and again, something will trigger a memory, but overall, all those nuanced moments of every ordinary day are mostly lost.  It is why we take photos of the ordinary, and why I seem unable to delete many of them from the computer, because they allow me to hang on, precariously, to the memories contained within.

My dad used to say he refused to look back.  No sense in it, he'd say.  You learn what you need to learn from the mistakes you make and you move on toward the future.  I like his philosophy in theory, but I cannot ever seem to live it consistently.

What is it about motherhood that makes it so hard to live in the present, looking toward the future?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Things that bring me happiness...

When it rains, it pours, right?  At first I wondered how I would find time for 5 posts in 10 days and here I am posting 2 posts per topic.   If you are here from Momalom, welcome, and thanks for visiting.  If you are here from a random drop in, welcome, and please go visit MOMALOM.COM to see what this is all about...

Things that bring me happiness...

Sleeping in
the sound of my boys, playing and laughing
the perfect iced latte
a good pair of well fitting jeans
sitting on the couch with husband after kids are in bed and WE get the TV for once!

When a student 'gets it' finally
when a coworker commends me on what I am doing
when a coworker likes my lesson and wants to borrow the idea
when I get my paper work all done
a clean desk

Finding money on a pocket
hearing Oldest play the bass
watching Oldest pitch
watching Middle play with leggos and build fort knox
watching youngest read out loud to the dog

The unexpected hug from a boy who looks like me
a person holding the door for me
finding no line at starbucks
a good pedicure
re-reading over chapters of my book that I've finished

Its the simple things in life that bring me joy, that make me smile.  If we focus on these things, the big things will take care of themselves.

An ellusive concept

My current supervisor calls me "Sunshine" because I am always bright and chipper on the phone.  I remember a day in college when I was in a particularly bad mood, and nearly everyone I knew kept coming up to me asking what was wrong, acting as if my bad mood was a personal affront to them somehow.  I reasoned their reaction to mean that they always saw me as happy, and why the hell was Ms. Happy NOT happy today?  No one seemed to accept the fact that I was just in a rotten mood for no particular reason.  (My family now realizes this occurrence as commonplace, which, I fear, means I may be turning into a grouchy old woman... who knows..)

Happiness seems a confusing emotion.  When I ask my 7th grade students how they felt after something good happened, and they reply they felt "happy", I immediately tell them to choose another word.  Happy is one of those "old, tired" words we English teachers want our students to avoid.  It is worn out and not very descriptive when you are using it to describe an event.  Elated, or joyful, excited or exhilarated are so much more colorful, don't you agree??  We see "happy" as the elementary word, and we want our growing kids to expand their vocabularies.

If you ask an adult, however, if they are Happy, well, you begin to see the weight of that question almost overtake them physically.  What IS Happy?  How do we define it?  The same word uttered so easily by my 4 year old leaves me in a quandary.  Am. I. Happy?

Is happiness the same as contentment? Maybe.  Am I content?  No, not really. Content means complacency, at least to me, and there is more I want: more security in my life, I want a house with a roof that doesn't leak, I want a job that pays better.. so NO, I am not content, at least not in those terms.

Is happiness the same as fulfillment?  Maybe.. I have a great family whom I adore, and on good days, I can say my day job gives me a sense of fulfillment.  My writing fills me up, my photography gives back to me, so I suppose if you can say happiness equals emotional fulfillment, then yes, I would say I'm happy.

It seemed like an easy subject when I first saw it:  write about happiness.  But I'm not Webster, and this was not an easy thing to define, let alone write about.

So.. how about you?  How do you define HAPPINESS?  Do you dare to answer the question... Are You Happy?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Courage - Part Deux

After reading so many great posts on courage, I have been doing lots more thinking about the topic.  One of the writers, who blogs at Worth Pursuing, talked about the courage it took for her to leave an otherwise unsatisfactory marriage in order to allow real love and support to come to her.  As many other posts have done, this one got me thinking a LOT about me, and what I'm willing to be courageous for.

Some say courage, but others say insanity.  Is it the outcome that separates the two?  Certainly, for WP, many could have called her crazy for leaving a husband who was not abusive, and without question, the easy road could very well have been staying in a relationship void of support, companionship and emotional intimacy.  Staying would have been easy. 

That's sort of where I find myself at this point in my life, and no, I'm not considering leaving my husband, but rather, WE are thinking of leaving HERE, where we live, where we are both employed.  HERE is mediocre.  HERE, and our jobs, barely get us by.  Between high costs for housing, cost of living and some of the lowest teacher salaries in the country, staying HERE seems like a bad idea.

Until I begin thinking of the alternative.  Leaving HERE.  Leaving here means going somewhere else, and WOW, while on one hand, exciting, it is also terrifying.

My kids only know HERE.  While I have never felt rooted or grounded here, they do.  The only home they have ever known is this one, with its drafty windows and leaky roof.  What bothers me immensely about this house, they don't even notice.

Add to that the idea of getting jobs, at our age, somewhere else, and you have a recipe for frozen-in-fear.  I think my husband has it... the fear that, if he were to leave the job he likes, but in all candor pays only slightly better than mine, he would have to start over.  He won't look at it, the idea of getting a new job.  Yet he also realizes that, if we stay, nothing changes.  Nothing gets better. Same poop, different day.

Is it the easy way out to decide to stay?  Or is it simply insane, especially now, to consider moving across the country into the unknown?  If we fall on our faces out there, well, the answer is clear.

Do we, as a family, have the courage to imagine something better?  It is like the old adage:  You cannot discover new oceans until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

It does take courage to imagine a life better than the one you have.  It also takes courage to make it happen.  It is what our founding fathers and the hoards of immigrants who started this country all shared: Courage to believe, courage to hope, courage to act.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I'm taking part in Momalom's Five-for-Ten posting challenge, and the first topic for discussion is Courage.

Parenting takes courage, there is no doubt about that.  Courage, or utter and complete ignorance as to the risks involved in taking responsibility for the care and feeding of another human being for the rest of their life.

It is dealing with it all when life throws you a curve ball, and you find yourself saying "HEY!, I never signed up for this!!  I never knew THIS would happen!"  Sort of like the GIs who signed up for military service in a time of unprecidented peace, only to find they had to go off to war.  Ya' did sign up for it when you agreed to do this... it's in the contract..  read the fine print.

We don't go around expecting bad stuff to happen.  We'd never get anywhere in our lives if we did, and yet parenting takes the courage to face whatever happens and find a way to deal with it.

Middle could have died Friday night.  He mistook his fast-acting insulin for his long-acting insulin and took WAY too much of it right before bed.  Luckily, he caught his error and woke me up rather than just go to bed.  He could have not even realized his error, gone to bed, had a hypoglycemic emergency and never woken up.  That much insulin without any food to compensate for it could have been very, very bad.

As it was, we were in a bit of a panic for quite a while, as his numbers kept dropping despite pumping simple sugars into his body.  But Middle never wavered.  He admitted he was scared, but he kept shoving sugar-coated orange slices into his mouth one after the other to the point where I half expected to see them tossed all over the carpet.  He didn't argue with me when I had to come test his blood every 30 minutes until I was sure we were past the worst of it.  He took it all in stride.

Which is exactly what he has done for the last 8 months since his diagnosis.  I think part of his bravery does come from a bit of ignorance - after all, how can a 9 year old wrap his head around just how serious a low-blood sugar reading can be?  But he handles it all with grace and bravery.  I hope I can follow his example.  I hope I can show him the same amount of courage that he shows me every day.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

My life expectancy has just been cut by about 10 years...

There is a post coming on Monday to reveal more of this story, but Middle is really going all out in the "Let's scare the crap outta Mom" category!

We had a medical issue last night which kept us all up till about 2 am, and I will share more about that on Monday, but we can summarize it by saying the gal over at Banner Health Poison Control is a Rock Star, and my son is utterly unflappable in the face of danger.  I, on the other hand, was a hyper-ventilating maniac who tried her very best to remain calm but am afraid I failed miserably.

Ok, so you can also add exhausted to that list.  I was awake at my usual 6am despite my best efforts to ignore my internal clock.

I'm a follower of the Free Range movement of parenting.  I try, really really hard, to make sure my kids have opportunities to exert and test their independence without me hovering over them.  I am not a fan of helicopter parenting.   I allow my kids to bike around the neighborhood and even home from school without me.  (*They know they'd better wear helmets or I will keep them under lock and key until they are 30. And, they know our neighborhood has eyes all over and I WILL hear about it if they don't)  So, when Oldest has a game, Middle and Youngest are allowed to stay at the playground at the park.  They are about 500ft away from us, know where we are, and have had a great time all season playing with the kids who show up at the park.  Were they to come  to the game, well, let's just say the amount of boredom that would ensue would not be pretty for anyone involved.  It has worked out well so far.

Until today.

The game ended, and I was going to retrieve M and Y from the playground, and then head home to make lunch.  But they were not there.  Not in the bathroom, not on the swings and not climbing the play structure.

Two parties were taking place across the park, so I triapsed over there to see if, maybe, they decided to invite themselves to a party with a bouncy house.  Only, they hadn't.

Call to Husband - Can't find kids... need help looking.

Parked Oldest under a ramada near the bathrooms and Husband and I split up to search.  And search.. and search.  No luck.

We walked around for about 20 or 30 minutes, unable to locate our boys or find anyone who had seen them.  Here is what went through my mind:
  • This is not the sort of place where someone shows up with a gun and takes two kids.  Family friendly park, and way too crowded.
  • They would not have wandered off and gotten lost because Y was in flip flops and would have protested the long walk.
  • It is possible M is passed out somewhere from low blood sugar, but that is highly unlikely given the episode from last night and the Double-Bubble gum he was chewing last time I saw him.
  • Should something have really happened to them, what hellish sorts of things will people say about the rotten mother who left her kids on the playground?
In the end, the boys were ON the playground the whole time, only behind a big rock climber where we could not see them during any of the 4 passes we made around the park.

I'm not planning on taking back any of their independence, but see, now THIS is exactly WHY the have cell phones at their young and impressionable ages.  M's was, of course, completely discharged and therefore totally worthless.

We are starting a new electronic-device routine pronto.

Friday, April 30, 2010

I just don't get it...

Full disclaimer here - political bantering and ranting coming your way.  If I offend, please refrain from flaming me, but I welcome intellectual discourse on this, and all, matters.

I just do not understand all the hub-ub regarding Arizona's new immigration law.  It is interesting to me that most of the fury seems to be coming from the political party to which I affiliate myself, but I simply cannot find good reason to get behind all the anger.

Perhaps I am missing something.  Perhaps there really IS some horrible, evil, Nazi-zionist-neo-maxim-zoom-dweebie language in there, but I sure as heck cannot find it. 

The legislation is, as I understand it, this: Cops who pull you over, or detain you in some fashion, are now allowed to ask for proof of citizenship.  Really?  Don't they basically do that already?

If I am driving, and I get stopped, what is the first thing I am going to be asked to do?  Show drivers license and proof of registration.  Is my driver's license NOT proof of citizenship? 

I understand people are all up in arms that it will become like Nazi Germany, and we will all be asked to show our papers to the Ghestapo, but I think the reaction is a bit too severe.  We already ARE asked to proove our identity all the time.  We are already under the daily assumption that we must have our driver's license or state issued ID for those who don't drive, on us at all times.  Seriously, would you leave the house without your wallet?  And what is nestled safely inside your wallet??  YOUR ID!!!

I guess part of the problem seems to stem that this power now goes to the police rather than ICE or border patrol or whatever.  People who already have a disdain for law enforcement seem to be the ones with the biggest issue with this.  My only problem is: who will pay for the training to be sure the police know what to be looking for?  I have no problem whatsoever with a police officer already in persuit of someone suspected of doing something illegal (because, HELLO... the police are already CHASING YOU!) asking to show proof of citizenship.  And if you are found to be here illegally, I also have no problem with someone deporting your sorry butt. 

I don't understand my fellow Democrats who cry CIVIL RIGHTS violations.  I'm sorry, but don't you need to be a CITIZEN in order to be afforded CIVIL rights?  And don't get me started on the while 'civil rights violations' in prisons, like not having 200 cable channels and wi-fi access for prisoners.  Again.. HELLO.. you BROKE THE LAW... you gave up your rights when you broke the laws of the land.  Am I the only one who remembers the saying "with freedom comes great responsibility"? 

Back to the immigration law... Personally, I know I am here legally.  I know that I have nothing to hide. 

Friday, April 16, 2010


I know I will get slashed or raked over the coals for my bashing of the 2nd Amendment here, but this is too insane NOT to get uptight about.

In a nearly unprecedented move, the Arizona Governor in her infinite wisdom, and our legislature, voted to drop the requirement for permits to carry a concealed weapon.

Yes, folks - you read that right.. no permit required.  "We don't need to stinkin' permits" here in Arizona to carry a deadly weapon.   We won't check to see if you are a convicted felon in another state.  Heck, we don't even care if you're a felon in THIS state.  Go ahead, pack heat.  You can hide it, too, and that's OK.

Arizona, today, became the third state in the Nation to allow this.  Wanna guess the other two?  Nope - not Texas... Alaska (OK, hello.. Sarah Palin.. need I say more?) and Vermont.  (Love my fellow New England state, so I can't bash them for their politics.  But, let's remember, Vermont is known for two things... the best damn Maple Syrup in the world, and the highest number of pacifists outside of Oregon.)

As if I needed another reason to hang my head in shame that I am raising my children here, this is it.  Yes, I believe in an American's right to own a gun.  I do not choose to do so.  I also would like the comfort of knowing that those who DO own guns have been trained in how to use them, are free and clear of any criminal record,  AND are free of any psychiatric problems which would make them a danger to society.  Hence.. the PERMIT.

The topping on this festering cake?  The rationale behind the change in the law? It's as if they believe, Well, most folks are already carrying weapons without a permit anyway.  Really? Governor Brewer, if everyone you know decided to jump off a bridge, would you follow too?  (please??)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Go read this guy...

He has said, perfectly, what I've been trying to say...  We're using the wrong camera.  All credit for this post goes to its author, Deven Black, a Sped teacher in New York.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is perception the same as reality?

I was talking to the dad of a student of mine today, and then subsequently listening to my FAVORITE podcasters, The Manic Mommies, and both were discussing ADD/ADHD. 

I was talking to the dad of a student because this student, who is usually doing his best Tigger impression all over the un-amused Rabbits of my classroom, and generally speaking, most calls to his family are about what rotten, bad thing Tigger did in school today.  Well, Tigger has been taking his meds for the last few days in prep for our Big State testing, and is a different child. He can sit quietly for more than 20 seconds.  He does not get involved with every conversation around him.  He has not pounced on anyone in 2 days.  He is focused.  He completes he work.  Did I mention he was quiet?

So I called Dad to tell him how great Tigger has been, and got about 25 minutes of discussion over the benefits and drawbacks of medicating a kid.  Totally get it.  Agree, we over medicate our population of young people.  But in my professional yet admitedly NOT medical opinion, kids like Tigger NEED meds. His behavior in class does impede his ability to access the general curriculum, because on a typical not-medicated day, this child is distracted by the sound of his own breathing. Which, unfortunately for him, he does often.  This is the kid who cannot finish a complete thought.  Clearly, a good candidate for meds.

Not that all kids are a good candidate for meds.  I look at my own son, Middle.  Middle's teachers, as early as Kindergarten, (Thank you, Mrs. Drill Sergeant) suggested without saying so (because we as teacher really cannot recommend a kid get tested.  We leave that to the admin) that we have Middle evaluated for ADD/ADHD and possibly medicated.

Now, I know my kid (same battle cry from ALL parents, right?) and while he IS, without a doubt, the absent minded professor, his behaviors are NOT causing an impairment in his academics.  He may be causing his teacher to go home and drink heavily, I get that, but it is NOT getting in the way of his learning.

And therein lies the difference.  As Dr. Rob said on the Manic Mommies podcast posted yesterday, the kicker for most doctors and psychologists, is they fail to adhere to the premise that this distractability needs to be causing an IMPAIRMENT for the child so significant as to limit his function, either socially or academically.

Tigger's social and academic life are impacted.  Kids can't stand to be around him because he is so impulsive you never know what he is going to do - yell, throw something, jump on them... and he can't even remember his own name half the time.

So, clearly, most of the issues are with the teachers, not with the students.  If the kid is still learning and progressing, why should we care of he needs to pace the room to do it?

Because class sizes have gotten much bigger over the last several years.  What used to be a room of 18 or 22 kids is not bursting at the seams with 35 kids.  We keep cutting budgets and cramming kids into classrooms, and while the kids are the same (overall), and the curriculum is the same (overall) and the teachers are the same (overall), the incidence of kids being referred for ADD/ADHD evaluations has skyrocketed.

And it is mostly boys being evaluated.

I think what has happened is this:  The over crowding of our classrooms has made what used to be 'typical boy' behavior now simply intolerable.  A teacher cannot keep order in the classroom with Tiggers, or even Middles, in their midst, so when all else fails, they recommend to the school psychologist that the student be evaluated.  And, unspoken goal here, MEDICATED.

For parents like me of kids like Middle, medication is out of the question.  As a parent of a child who is gifted, who is succeeding academically, I say if the teacher cannot handle him, that is her problem.  I will not shove needless medications into my kid to make her job easier.  However, I believe I would feel very differently if my child was NOT learning, was NOT progressing academically, did NOT have friends.  Whole different ball game, then.

For teachers like me with students like Tigger, I can totally understand why we push the medication route.  This is a different child this week.  I'd love him to stick around, both because I would end up with fewer grey hairs, but also because I think in the end, Tigger would be more successful academically.  I think he is missing out on a lot because he just cannot attend to the material.

But medicated or not, Tigger is a smart kid.  As he ages, matures, develops, his ability to control his behavior will, God willing, improve.  He will be a successful man, of that I have little doubt.  And whether or not his behavior drives me insane when he is not on his meds, that's as much MY issue as it is his. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Random Thoughts on a Sunday Night...

My mom and I understand each other, as do my two best friends.  This is essential because the strange wad of goo that is my brain tends to jump from topic to topic without warning (No, not me.. not ADD at all... no!!)  Often, if prompted, I can give the linear trajectory of my thoughts to show the person I am with that I am not completely INSANE, but am, in fact, somewhat grounded in reality, and if you just give me a minute you, too, will see how it all relates.  Maybe.  Perhaps it's just the ADD after all.. who the hell knows....  Here's what is rolling around in my head tonight...

1) Our taxes are finished. Federal taxes are FILED, and I will file the State ones later this week.  YAAHOOO.. nothing like waiting till the 11th hour for this one!  We actually owe money to the Great State of Arizona this year *(sorry, you can't hear the sarcasm dripping from my finger tips as I type that).   They need the money, not necessarily more than I do, but if the rumors become fact, many folks will get IOUs rather than refunds anyway. 

2) A weekend spent in pursuit of baseball is a weekend well spent, when it is not 108* outside.  The weather was lovely this weekend, and that made it so nice to be at the park, saying hello to friends, and watching Oldest have a wonderful time. I even got a bit of a tan.  Dont' tell my dermatologist; I'm sure she'll never be able to figure it out on her own!

3) I love my Mac.  Really, truly.. I love it.  I'm a Mac addict.  I was part of the cult starting in college, and it was not until the PC came out with mountains more software than  I could get with my Mac that I made the switch.  Then, Mac came BACK - Yeah. baby!  I got my iMac almost 4 years ago... its a great machine, my boys have a MiniMac.  I.  Love.  Mac.  Except... dude - can you not get the platforms level?  Why can I play around MORE with my Blogger background on my School issued PC than my Mac?  Why are things like spell-check not available when I use my Mac? Why is there no affordable genealogy software available for the Mac?  Dude.. catch up, will ya?

4) Saturday cyclists need to have their own private planet.  I was driving to meet a friend for coffee yesterday morning.  It was a perfect morning, not too hot, not too cold.. and I agree, it would have been a great day to meet a bunch of my cronies for a nice long ride.  But dudes.. remember the rules of the road, will ya?  There is a bike lane.  Stay in it.  Do not think it is acceptable to ride two and three abreast in the bike lane, because you cannot fit, which means you spill out into the street, where you are going on average at least 15 miles per hour slower than I am.  And I am safely inside my moving cage of steel.  Neither I, nor any of my fellow car-driving cronies, every try to drive two or three abreast.  It's not what you do.  Its not a good idea...  Bumpers, dude.. I got 'em.  You don't.

5) I finished my book last night. The book I was reading, not the one I am writing, just for clarification.  It was fine; decent story.  Enjoyable enough. But as I read through, I wondered many MANY times, did this gal even have an editor?  If she did, what was the editor thinking?  Mrs. Archibald drove into our 11th grade heads just how truly self-depricating we can be if we say we 'feel badly', when what we mean is we 'feel bad' for whatever. Emotions take adjectives, not adverbs. Saying the soup tastes badly basically means the soup is ladling itself up and doing so badly.  The fact that this "New York Times Bestseller" was able to become one with so many errors in her final manuscript either gives me hope, or is a sad statement on Publishing today.  Do your research, man.. how hard is it to realize that it is not a Burmese mountain dog, but rather a Bernese Mountain Dog??

6) Our high-stakes testing, also known as AIMS (Or the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards), takes place this week.  On the eve of our annual test-fest, I picked up the latest issue of Time.  In this current issue, an economist from Harvard details the results of an experiment, or severaly, actually, to see if monitary compensation for completing specific requirements would be sufficient motivation for students to improve their grades, attendance, and test scores.  Basically, he paid them for grades.  Spoiler: For many, it worked.  Humph... things that make you go Hmmmm.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The perfection of a Saturday morning...

Ahhh... weekend bliss. 
I can almost hear the pressure cooker in my head sputtering with relief and release. 
I love Saturday morning, when Oldest's game is at noon, not at 8am. 
I love Saturday morning when I have plans to meet someone for a leisurely cup of coffee at a reasonable hour. 
I love when my little ones, Youngest, in particular, get to sleep as long as they need to and wake up happy and smiling. 
I love the time by myself on those mornings, when I can grab my book, and my coffee and just sit.  No where to be, no deadlines to meet.
Oh, there is tons to do today, but none of it can really begin until they are all up, so for now, I can enjoy just being... quiet... still.
I know it won't last long.  Oldest and Youngest are now up... the fun will soon begin.

Friday, April 09, 2010

My skirt experiment

At my last school, our administrator tried to enforce a 'dress code' for teachers.  It met with a universal THUD, but the arguments FOR asking the teachers to dress more professionally sounded legitimate. 

At my current school, I will say the teachers' attire leaves quite a bit to be desired.  Tank tops, flip flops, and sweat pants are seen daily, and not just on the students.  Most seem to dress as if it were the weekend, and with a very few exceptions, this seems to be the norm.  Does the quality of teaching see a negative effect because of how the teachers dress?  The teachers would say NO.

I realize that we are sort of lucky.  In what other profession, save for some engineering gigs where the preferred dress is shorts and flip-flops, can a professional get away with wearing jeans or sandals every day? I also realize that, if I am to change jobs or careers, I might have to learn how to dress like a grown up, again.  Painful, I know!

This week was my experiment.  I understand that it is way short of scientifically or statistically significant, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway and see what happens.  For an entire week, I wore a skirt to work.  This is HUGE for me.  Every day, I wore a nice, long, pretty skirt of one sort or another, a nice top, did my hair and tried my  best to look "professional". 

My expectations were low, but I was very curious: would student behavior change as a result of my wardrobe?  Would my students take me more seriously if I am dressed more professionally?  Would they seem more engaged in learning if I 'looked the part of a teacher'?

It was a short lived experiment, I get that.  One week, toward the end of the year is admitedly probably not the best time to see if I can change  student behavior, but given what I have been seeing lately in my classroom, I thought it couldn't hurt to try.

The next question would be, did it make me feel any more professional? Maybe.  A little.  Not much.

But I did come to realize something.  Wearing a skirt and a cute pair of patent-leather sandals is nearly as comfortable as track pants and sneakers. Nearly...

The result?  Nothing.  No change at all.  It makes me wonder, maybe if

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

So, what's a person to do?

I was very discouraged today by my students. I've lamented more than once in this forum that I find this year to be extremely frustrating, far more so than years past, and I am seriously considering what else I can to to earn a living.

I'm hopeful that 'published author' is in the not-too-distant-future.  Alas, I can't say that YET.

My day began thus: I was in my classroom, trying to get some paperwork done before the students arrived. My room was dark, the shades mostly drawn.  My door opens.  A head peeks in just enough to NOT be seen, but heard.  This student decided his greeting to me this morning would be to belch loudly and LONG... and then run away giggling, right in front of the break in my window.


I confronted him on his behavior.  His response was a cursory, and flippant "sorry, don't see what the big deal is."

I confronted his cohort when I saw Knucklehead #2 later in the day.  He appeared slightly more remiss, but not enough to actually convince me that he felt remorse at the act, but rather at being caught.

Fast forward to my last hour of the day.  Knucklehead #1 told me "Ms. Speech-teacher told me that I need to say I'm sorry for my actions and for my stupidity".  Yeah, thanks bud - heartfelt apology.  Later that same class period, I overheard him talking to the ONE girl in my classroom asking her if she "liked it when he {unsure of who HE is but the thought is frightening} creamed into her bellybutton."

If you are unsure of what that means, I am NOT going to explain it, but you can imagine my general disgust.  Again, the remorse was in getting caught, not for what he said. I truly believe Knucklehead #1 is not smart enough to KNOW what he said, but he knew enough to beg me to not call his mother and share with her what he said.

Not that I could call his mother.  She does not speak English. 

So, this is just one student of my 17.  One on one, all of them are pretty decent kids.  Get them all together, and they are ALL like this one from today. 

I ask.. what's a person to DO with this?  Ideas? 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The new CPS...

My colleague and I have created a new acronym, in a world in which acronyms are already mind-numbing in their number...

Crappy Parent Syndrome

Here are some clues that your student or child may suffer from CPS...

1) Their diet consists of sugar and fat and chewing gum, and they bring copious amounts of both to school, daily, and eat it all day long.
2) Your child, at 13, is a bigot, and harasses students of different religions/color/nationality on a regular basis and you don't seem to care.
3) Your child has never had a consequence and freaks beyond all reason at the concept.
4) You are unaware that your 14 year old student cannot read.  At all.  Not a lick... C.A.T. is hard for them.
5) Your child chooses to do nothing during the school day, at all, and yet gets computer time, football practice, and all other 'perks' at home.
6) Your child has absolutely no sense of pride in his/her self because you, parent, have made it clear that you could not give a damn about them.
7) Your student lacks any and all respect for adults.
8) Your student has yet to turn in one homework assignment from the start of the year until now.

This could, in one way or another, describe nearly all of my students, and my colleagues' students, this year.

Again, I ask.. how much does a Barista make?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Not a bad way to end a week...

Although, I had my doubts about it; a meeting with a parent at the end of the day on a Friday could NOT in any way turn out good. 

The Social Studies teacher had called the meeting.  One of my students, one who I keep pleading with "Please, try to live up to your name...", was failing her class.  Not only was he failing, but he'd been caught in more than one lie.  And his attitude needed some Serious adjusting.  Ok, I'll come, too - should last, what, 20 minutes??  Fine.. will do!

In reality, it lasted closer to 90 minutes, but boy was it worth it!  SST (Social Studies Teacher) looked at Student and said, very pointedly, "You lie, you are lazy and you cheat.  I've had enough of it."  He gave her this "Oh, if only I could tell you where to shove it, lady" look.  She asked him, in front of his mother, "Are you on drugs?"  He replied a simple "No," still glaring at her.  She then leaned in for a closer connection, pointed a finger at him and said "Are you being bullied?"

His face dropped.

"Are you?  You are, aren't you?  Who is it?"

His eyes started welling, and we spend the next nearly hour gathering the details of who, what, how, how often and for how long.  He lifted up his shirt sleeve to reveal a large bruise where the Ringleader had punched him because he refused to do something that was asked.  He cried, went through tissue after tissue, and at the end of it all, was no longer glaring at any of us. His little brother, age probably around 5, came up to snuggle with him, because he was scared for his big brother.  LB had probably never seen BB cry before.  Mom was crying, too, because she had no idea.

Nor did I.  I would have pegged this kid for the bully, not the victim.  He had slowly morphed into a world-class jerk.  He'd done the same at home, not coming home when asked, refusing to help around the house, getting mouthy, showing his mom the "go to hell" look he'd given his teachers, too.  I had no idea, at all, he was suffering so much.  It all makes sense now, as most things do in hindsight, that what we were seeing was a manifestation of a kid being abused.  He didn't know how to ask for help, but at least he had one teacher, one solid, veteran, say-what-you-will-about-strict-and-old-school teacher who could see the reason behind the behavior.

She pledged, as did I, to help him.  The Ringleader is notorious at our school for being downright mean to nearly everyone.  I think Student is carrying a lighter load tonight because of the meeting.  And this meeting reminded me, in a very in-your-face-wake-the-hell-up way, to stop rushing to judgment about kids and their behavior.  There IS always a reason for it, and part of my job as their teacher is to take the time to figure out what it is.  I am sure glad I took the time today; it was time very well spent.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Still torn...

I've been thinking a lot about this article and the implications of the ideas brought forth in it. I find myself still torn over it.  Fire Bad Teachers.  Sure, sounds simple enough, right?  Lord knows, we all know of some really horrible, shrew-like teachers who should have been asked to retire 200 years ago, but what about the ones who don't stick out quite so clearly?  How will we identify those teachers?

I mean, who is looking? Adminstrators?  Again, I understand the theory, but I can't quite see it working in practice.  Adminstrators are supposed to be the be-all-end-all-know-all in the school.   But in my experience, they are not really all that abreast of what happens in the classroom.  There are the annual observations, but for a 'tenured' teacher like me, that means my Admin only is required to spend (2) 15 minute blocks of time in my room observing me.  And anyone who can fog a mirror will likely be able to put on a good enough act for that amount of time.

Now, this year, my admin walks through my class fairly regularly.  He sees what is going on when I am not "on" for an observation.  But this is new.. last Admin darked my door exactly 2 times in 4 years.  I wish I were kidding, but I'm not.  She had the Assistant Principal do my observations the rest of the time.  She could not honestly say she had any idea of what was going on in my classroom.  We could have been reading Tolstoy or having naked twister games, and she'd never have known the difference.

Then there is the question of what MAKES for a good teacher.  It is not a simple formula.  You can send someone to school to learn all the theory, yadda yadda yadda, and they may look great on paper, but get them in front of kids, and they are awful.  Or you can have someone off the street with no 'formal' training, and they are magic in the classroom.  Who gets to decide the criteria for "good enough teaching"?  My fear is the decisions will be left in the hands of those who would just as soon have robots teaching as having live, breathing folks in the class.  Or some teacher may be cut not so much for a lackluster teacher performance, but because they don't 'jibe' with the Principal or Superintenant. 

Maybe extend the time it takes to earn tenure?  Maybe make it like your Driver's Licence (ok, but Arizona is a bad state for this example because my licence is good until 2034 - again.. totally NOT joking) and you have to not only sit through the test again, but you go back to being probationary and having a whole lot MORE evaluations and observations?  More drop-ins?  Less "I'll see you at this time for this class".

You want to really see what happens in the classroom, drop in and watch, for more than 5 minutes.  Do it often.  Daily, if necessary to get an idea of that teacher's style.  Then go on your gut - does this FEEL like a successful classroom?  I know, folks want rubrics, give me quantifiable measurements of performace.  But again, children and teachers are not widgets; they don't all fit nice and neatly into the box.  Besides, as a species we have veered way too far away from our gut instincts, we've rubric-ed ourselves into non-thinking, non-feeling robots.

Sort of like what They seem to want in the classroom... hmm... grand design?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gettin' my groove back...

Last year, I  considered myself a Runner.  I was out nearly every morning, running.  Not fast, not terribly far, but consistently and aggressively (for me) running.  I saw my average speed go from a 13 minute mile down to about 11:13.  I said I'd be happy to reach a pace of 11 min/mile. 

I never got there. 

Sometime in April, I pulled something deep in my right hip.  Nothing seemed to help make it feel better, not stretching or massage.  In June, I ran my last 3 miles, with a pace slower than my 11:13, but faster than 12:00.  I have not run since.

Until this week. 

I wanted to get back out there... I'm about 24 pounds lighter now than I was then, so in theory it should be easier on my body to run.  I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and I know running is part of the answer.  I don't need to break any speed records, just need to get back to my consistent and aggressive (for me) running routine.

I know I have to go slow.  I know I have to listen to my head, not my ego, or I will get injured again.  I know I can't go out every day or I will burn out.  So, here's what I've got so far...

1st day out - 2.75 miles at 16:21 (*walked the whole thing)
2nd day out - 14:13
3rd day out - 13:37 (3 miles)
4th day out (today) 12:53 (3 miles)

I'm not back to where I want to be - but I'm clearly seeing an improvement in my stamina already.  An additional benefit to working back into this slowly - I am taking Cyrus with me.  He makes a wonderful running partner.. and it makes for a very happy and mellow Cyrus for the rest of the day. 

Sort of what it does to me, too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Conflicted, torn - that's me. I saw this article in Newsweek, after hearing about the horrible practices in Rhode Island where Those In Charge decided to fire a group of teachers. I'm a member of our local teachers union, and I am one who is first to complain when one more thing is asked of me, as a teacher. Between my full time job and my OTHER full time job of being a parent, I am stretched pretty thin. I can get behind the argument that, while we may be 'sheltered from accountability' as Newsweek states, in no other profession are requirements tacked on year after year without any compensation. What I mean goes like this.. I am sitting in a 45 hour class right now. Why? Not because I want to take this class, but because someone in Authority believes that I must take this class in order to KEEP my job. I'm qualified to teach today, but without this class, I am all of a sudden UNqualified to teach as of April 3rd. I have to take this class, as well as others, at my own expense, just for the opportunity to keep my job. I pay, out of my own pocket, for each specific area of licensure, for each test to "prove" I am competent. On a guess, I have spent, not counting my Master's Degree, close to $5000 just to KEEP my job. Enough is enough!!
     In any other profession, additional education leads to additional compensation, in one way or another. In Public Education, they change the game on us every two or three years. And we jump through the hoops because if we don't, we will lose our jobs. Not that our jobs are all that great, anyway, in terms of monetary compensation. The average teacher in Arizona is lucky to make $45K a year. I wish I were kidding.  Starting salaries in most districts around Arizona are $32K.  In most of the civilized world, it is closer to $45K for STARTING, and goes up from there.  When you consider student loans, the cost of getting an education, the cost of living here in this state, a teacher's salary is not a livable wage. Especially in an area like Arizona where heating bills are highest when we are NOT working, and car insurance is more expensive than any where else in the country.  How do they expect to attract the best and the brightest when they pay the same as the local Starbucks?
     So I could stand behind the teachers in Rhode Island who refused to extend their day by 45 minutes, and give up their lunches twice a week, and offer free for service tutoring. If we don't stand up and say NO, how far will Adminstration and Legislature push the envelope?

Then I read the article carefully. The average salary of these teachers who refused to add anything on to their day?? Yea.. $75K. Almost TWICE what we make.

My immediate reaction at that point was "shut the hell up and do what you need to in order to help your students succeed".

     There are bad teachers out there, no one will deny that. There are folks who are looking at their calendars with their retirement date highlighted, who cannot care about being a GOOD teacher any more - that pension is looming. There are teachers who cannot complete a full sentence without some sort of grammatical error who should not be teaching our young children how to write sentences.
     The system for evaluating teachers is bad. But to do away with tenure? That puts a good teacher with a personality conflict with his/her adminstrator in peril, so we need aspects of tenure to prevent that from happening. Stricter standards for new teachers? Maybe - Connecticut makes it nearly impossible to get a teaching certificate in that state, and they do have arguably some of the best teachers in the country (But not necessarily the best education system - not sure how that works).

Clearly - something's gotta give. Maybe this idea mentioned in the article was not such a bad one - blow up the current system and start from scratch. Hmmm.. that might work as an idea for Congress, too...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's the most... wonderful....time... of the year

The boys, Steve and I are thrilled...after much deliberation, much back and forth, Grandma & Grandpa made it out to Arizona!  Warren has been suffering from not-quite-ideal health lately, and has been in and out of the hospital.  It looked as if they would not make it this year.  We were extremely disappointed, but certainly understood.  How awful it would be to feel poorly out in the middle of nowhere - the drive takes them 4 days, and much of it is through the most desolate landscapes.

Then, one day last week, we got a surprise phone call; they were in Missouri and on their way here!!  The boys did the happy dance, and waited with anxious anticipation for Tuesday when we presumed we would see them...

The first thing Christopher did when he saw them was to run away into the living room.  He can be a bit shy at first, and it still takes him time to warm up, but that was not why he ran away - he brought with him the picture they had sent to us for Christmas.  He looked at the picture, then at them and proclaimed "IT'S YOU!!!"  He then broke into a huge grin and gave them both monster-hugs.

The best part about having Grandma & Grandpa here are times like this photo.  Snuggling together, talking, getting to know each other, and, of course, having someone to share popcorn with.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

So much for trying...

Those students I mentioned in my last post?  The one where we got buy-in from the parents to seek alternative placement?  The ones who are so unbelievably below grade level that it is painful to watch them try to maneuver their regular education environment without hitting landmines?  The district denied our request to seek alternative placement.  "Just service them in the classes they already have". 

Insert something profane, and a good eye-roll here.

I've said it more than once, that if I actually enjoyed arguing and fighting, I would quit teaching and go become an advocate.  It is situations just like this, where, in order to save money, someone asks a square peg to fit into a round hole.  Rather than having the program meet the needs of the child, we ask the child to meet the limitations of the program.  It's not fair, it is not right, and yet, unless someone is willing to stand up and bring a pack of lawyers with them, it happens.  So much for INDIVIDUAL education.  Even in Special Ed, its a packaged deal a lot of the time.

Of course, I, as a district employee, am not allowed to tell the parent what I really think, which is that they are getting the run-around, and that things might change to the benefit of their children if they were to hire an advocate.  I'm not allowed to say that I disagree vehemently with those in decision-making power that these students can be successful where they are.  I'm not allowed to say anything other than the party line.

So,  I come here to vent - and hopefully bring just a little bit of justice into the world for kids who cannot advocate for themselves.   And, if nothing else, help those who can't speak up because either they don't have the lingo down or whatever, find a voice amid the red tape.

Friday, February 05, 2010

a better day

It's Friday - how can the day be bad?  Well, wait - don't answer that.  I am not one who enjoys tempting the Fates.

But today was, at the very least, NOT a bad day, and that is something.  I think it helped that I took a 1/2 day off. 

I had two meetings today, rather BIG ones, about some students and am pleased that they both went well.  I had prepared well, had all my ducks in a row if you will, and cranked through them.  Both meetings were productive; one student who desperately needs an attitude adjustment (as well as a behavior plan) got it, and we got the blessing from a parent to seek out alternative placements for her son who is smart enough to be successful but is performing at astonishingly low levels.  He basically is gathering nothing at all from school, and as I put it to the mom, it is not as much that he is failing school as it is that school is failing him.  We've tried it; its broke.  Time to fix it.  I was anticipating at the least hesitation, but she was fully on board, and I believe finding an alternative place for this student will go SO far in allowing him to reach his potential.  So - good day at work.

I was able to be home early enough for the boys when they walked through the door on an early release day.  I hate the thought of them being home until I get home from work, since it can be as much as a 3 hour wait for them.  My house hates it too; yesterday I came home to a complete disaster, ala category 2 hurricane.  They went to a neighbors not long after getting home, and this allowed me to go on a nice long bike ride.  (Ok, it felt longer than it was - 30 minutes.)  I went to the office supply store, purchased resume paper, hit the bookstore, and then went to get Squirt.  Always the highlight of my day is walking into the school cafeteria where they have "Kids Klub" afterschool, to see him running toward me, grinning widely, arms outstretched with my greeting..."Mooommmeeeeeeeee".  Melts my heart and puts all the garbage that I may have endured during the day into startling perspective.

We found out yesterday that Parker was selected to play in the Majors for Little League this year.  If you are a LL mom, you get that - HUGE deal for a 10 year old, and he is both terrified and terrifically excited all wrapped up into one.  His team is the Red Sox, and you KNOW that makes this momma pleased as punch.

Then there is Matthew... So here's the deal with this kiddo.. he is amazingly bright.  He walks around here (and school) like the absent minded professor, but he has understanding of things and insights that no 9yr old should possess.  His teacher and I laugh, because he is reading at nearly a 7th grade level, but he HATES to read and NEVER meets his reading goal for the quarter.  We've had the 'talk' about how he is wasting the gifts he as been given if he is not reading and just wait, something will spark your interest.. nearly everything but standing on our head, to get him to read. 

Nothing.  Nada.  No thanks, Not interested.

He did express interest in seeing the new Percy Jackson movie coming out, and he knows my rule - if there is a movie that was made from a book, we read the book first.  The Lightening Thief is long.  L.O.N.G, long.  He showed a kernel of interest, then abruptly lost it again at the size of the book.  But then, I had an AHA moment - AudioBook!!

After debating with Steve as to the virtues vs. the 'cheat' factor of audiobooks, we decided to try it. Matthew has the book, and is listening to is as he reads.  I figure, his eyes are still reading the words, and he can read a lot faster at this stage having a professional reader read it to him, and he does not have to stop and try to pronounce words he does not know... a win-win for Matthew...

He has it all planned out - its a 10 hour audio book;  he can 'read' for an hour or two each day and will have the whole thing finished in about 2 weeks.

Most newsworthy of it all... he LOVES the book!!  YaaaHooo - I think we may finally have found the HOOK to get him reading!!!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Becoming Zen

I had a much needed massage this weekend.  It began with a headache that lasted for 5 days, and a desperate call into the massage place.  "Sweedish, or therapeutic?"  Duh - therapeutic.. bring on the ball-peen hammers and rolling pins, we've got some serious knots to work out!!

It is 2 days later.  The headache is back, and is now joined by extremely sore shoulders, which is apparently where I hold ALL my stress.  I thought a couple of times that I was going to crawl through the table, it hurt so much, but I can turn my head from side to side with ease now, something I had not realized that I was no longer able to do...

So, what has been causing all this stress, you may ask.  Between the house, work, the kids, the economy, its hard to imagine what I could possibly have to be stressed about... (Insert horribly sarcastic tone here). 

Then last night, it sort of hit me... there are things I cannot change (The economy), there are things I am trying to change (the house) and there are things that, while I try to change, I really am powerless over them (work). Sounds a bit like that old Serenity Prayer.. maybe its got a good message or two for us all...

Last week, one of the major sources of stress was a coworker.  I could go into all her horrible sins against me and humanity in general, but that would only raise my blood pressure again, and we don't really need to go there.  Let's just leave it that I was completely pissed off, and felt completely in the right in this given situation.  I stewed all weekend.  I plotted by carefully worded email over and over again.  As the assistant Principal said to me on Friday when I went to go talk to her about it "Sam, someone is going to get pissed off - where is it written that it has to be YOU?" I am not generally one who enjoys stepping on someone's toes, but when someone steps on mine without provocation, well, that sort of sets me off...

Then last night, something switched off (or on??) in my brain.  Will this matter in a year?  Really?  Will having my say and getting an apology change my life in any way 12 months from now, or 5 years from now?

No?  So why sweat it?

If it does not really matter, in the whole cosmic scheme of things, why am I going to allow it to affect my health or steal another moment from my life.  No doubt, there are things which require my attention, and my passion.  Proving myself right to someone who already thinks SHE is right should not be one of them.

Someone remind me of this the next time she pisses me off?

Until then.. think, calm waters, deep breath... calm waters, deep breath... maybe this will help!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Creating a "more perfect" union - or at least classroom

Today I made it through the first nine hours of a 45 hour class on SEI training.  I am sitting through these classes, paying my own way through them, just in order to KEEP my job.  Not advance, not get paid more, not change careers or even try for a different position within the same comapny.  No, the way things are set up is that I am considered Highly Qualified to teach my students today, but as of April 3, if I do not finish this class, I will no longer be qualified to teach them and risk being pulled from the classroom.

As if this one series of classes, strewn with techniques and strategies that the instrucutor said point-blank are taken from SPECIAL EDCUATION teachings, will make me a better teacher on April 4th.

But I digress...  One of the topics that came up today is the need for us to create an environment within our schools and class rooms in which students who are learning english will feel safe enough to learn.  We discussed ways in which we can make that happen.  We discussed the notion of celebrating our similarities as well as embracing our differences.

It all sounded warm and fuzzy and you could feel the room collectively think "YES!!  We must find a way to make this happen!"

But there is a problem!  (Isn't there always a problem? If there were not a problem, what on earth would I have to spew about?)  As I pointed out today, in my classroom, as much as I curse it, I am really blessed to be able to do pretty much what I want to do in there with little to no interference.  My students are "the forgotten ones" and people are just so pleased they are not in THEIR rooms when they are with me, that they nearly don't care what I do with them. 

Perhaps I exagerate.  Maybe not..

But the point I made was this - while I have time and resources to do this in MY room, the vast majority of teachers in today's schools have NO TIME to create warm and fuzzy climates in their rooms.  There are standards, and performance objectives and standardized tests to worry about.  There are numbers and pages of data and meetings and threats to be sure your numbers stay up or go higher.  There are, in our 3rd grade math curriculum, for instance, 210 performance objectives that students are supposed to meet within a 180 day school year.  That is only MATH... add Language Arts, Science Social Studies, Art, Music, PE and the 12 school days wasted on TESTING all these objectives and you can quickly understand how students are not learning about the Famous People You Should Know, or understanding the differences or embracing similarities between and among them.  There is simply NO TIME.

So what is the answer?  Arizona ranks 45th out of 51 states (DC counts) in terms of education.  We in SUSD have adopted EveryDay Math as our Math program.  I think, personally, this is indicitive of the problem - EDM takes a "paint with a broad brush" approach to teaching math concepts.  Sure, my 1st grader was learning about permieter and area, and sure he was introduced to fractions and decimals, but what we should be asking is 'can he add?  does he know his math facts"?  The broad brush approach is fine if you want to produce "Jacks of all trades, masters of none" - but is that what we want?

  • Lower the performance objective count.
  • Reduce the number of benchmarks on which you measure failure (It should be success, but we know they are looking at failure, not success)
  • Ensure mastery of the POs you DO have before allowing the students to progress - in other words, make sure they know what they are doing first before you introduce something new.  Do NOT assume "They will get it eventually" because many of them DON"T!
  • Push all students to excel at their ability.
  • Assess students at their ability level.. do not assume a student who entered the states in September can take a high-stakes test in English in April, or, if you are functioning at a 2nd grade reading level in 6th grade because you have a learning disability, allow that child to test where he/she is functiong.  Putting a 6th grade reading test in front of them is like asking me to go back and re-read L'Etranger in French - I may recognize some words, but will miss the whole point of the novel.
  • And maybe, MAYBE, then you will have time to teach them how to be citizens of the world.