Since Christmas, anyhow..

This morning I was talking to Sophie and Paulette [coworkers] 
while I was making coffee and telling them that I saw some of the cast 
of the original Partridge Family on the Today Show.. and then I started 
singing..."I woke up in love this morning, I woke up in love this morning, 
went to sleep with you on my mind.." 
[which for all of you who, for whatever baffling reason, did not watch 
the Partridge family when you were little, is a song David Cassidy sang with 
his fictional family group on the show]. 
Paulette's response [with a French accent]: 
"Oh, we know, Kim..You wake up in love every morning."  True that.

Early March snow..

It is snowing!  I am surprised at my reaction [happy excitement], given my lack of focus or interest earlier today regarding the possible arrival of snow. My relationship with snow has certainly been altered this year. Normally, I am craving snow like people crave chocolate or sex, but this year we have had at least four snow events giving us upwards of 20 inches in total and so I have become slightly jaded.  We still have piles of snow from the December 17 snowstorm in the Wal-mart parking lot. Those piles were startling at first and now seem like a part of the normal landscape. It amazes me how quickly we can become sated with something [or someone] and begin to take it [them] for granted.  It is true that you want most what you cannot have.

In years past, especially those where snow visited everyone else but us, I longed for snow and was obsessed with the weather channel. I would watch it like some people watch the stock market, looking for any small indication of wintery precipitation in the forecast.  When snowflake graphics appeared on the five-day, the music they played during the local forecast would become hypnotic and enchanting. With prospect of anything wintery, I would be glued to the television and later the Internet watching as the forecast would morph day after day and hour after hour until sometimes tragically the possibility of snow would disappear from the forecast completely. Or worse yet, they would predict an overnight snow and I would dance from window to window unable to go to sleep with excitement– only to wake up the next morning and find the same dull, brown yard and naked stick trees.

When the boys were small, it seemed to snow pretty well here. When we moved to Roxboro, we were told by the folks at the chamber of commerce that the average yearly snowfall was 5 inches.  I was pleased as pop to hear that since the latter part of my childhood was spent in Wilmington NC where snow was a real rarity.  We had moved from Maryland where snow averages were much more than 5 inches a season, and my sister and I even owned a pair of ice skates when we arrived on Sweetbriar Lane.  That very year, 1973, Wilmington had a sort of snowpacalypse of its own when a foot of snow fell followed by freezing rain which left a thick sheet of ice over all that snow.  I have pictures of my sister and I in our mocha brown parkas with fur-lined hoods standing in the front yard with our white ice skates on.  We posed like figure skaters and entertained questions from curious neighborhood children who had never even seen ice skates.  We skated and shared our skates and quickly made lots of new friends in the neighborhood.  So… I thought, so much for that.  It does snow here.. maybe we brought the snow with us! From there on, I looked for snow each year in sunny Wilmington where we often wore shorts and flip flops and played outdoors on Thanksgiving day [I have always been an optimist].

Of course, we didn’t get much more than a flake of snow for another 7 years.  In March of 1980 we had another big snow- like 7 inches, I think.  I was 16 years old and could drive in snow- in a ’67 white VW bug no less!  Meantime, from ages 16-18, I was headed to Boone every chance I got to visit friends at App and go skiing.  Snow was elusive and unpredictable and I longed for it each year.  Perhaps due in large part to its scarcity, when it did arrive, it was magical.  Nothing could get me excited like the hint of snow in the air.  When it began to fall, I would delight in it with all of my senses.  I’m not sure if you can, but I can smell snow.  My favorite snows are fluffy wonderfully packing snows that mound up quickly on every surface like cotton candy and my second favorite are powdery sparkling snows twinkling with millions of iridescent points of light.  I love watching it fall, especially when it falls in big, fluffy puffs that drift down in multiple directions taking their time, in no hurry, to make their way to the ground.  Watching snow fall for me is like watching fish swim in an aquarium.. everything seems to slow down and get quieter.. suspended animation where silence has a sound.

So, even though I have had enough snow this season to tame my usual eagerness, I am still sitting here mesmerized.. gazing through the classroom window at softly blowing snow that melts as it hits the wet black pavement of the parking lot… happy because I get to see snow again.. loving the magic we have had the good fortune to experience this winter.. and grateful for what might be our last taste of magic this year ❄

I will not yell, I will not scream, I will not cry..

“I will not yell, I will not scream, I will not cry..”  I saw that on a t-shirt one time with a punchline at the bottom that read… “because I am the teacher, I am the teacher, I am the teacher.”  I think of this because right now I feel just like yelling, screaming, and crying… but not because I am a teacher.  I don’t seem to have the same emotional responses to any behaviors in the classroom that I do at home.  No, I am having these emotions because I am the mother, I am the mother, I am the mother.

I need to keep reminding myself that I am the mother so that I do not get swirled into a vortex where I come out on the other end as the peer or the sibling of this oppositional and willful child/man who is living in my house.  So that I don’t say mean things to him just because he says mean things to me, so that my behaviors are not motivated by retribution but by loving and firm parenting and teaching.

I dreamed the other night about Alex.  I dreamed that he was 2 and I was putting him into time-out.  Even in my dream he was oppositional– getting up and running out of time out and mocking me with his facial expressions.  In the dream, I keep putting him back into time-out and telling him that I am adding another 5 minutes to his time for his refusal to stay in time-out.  The content of the dream is not the compelling factor, however, as much as the age he is in the dream that is telling.  Alex is not two and it has been nearly 16 years since he was two years old.  He will be 18 years old on May 12th of this very year.  In 72 days, he will be technically an adult [he will be able to vote, purchase cigarettes, sign documents as an adult, and will be entitled to all sorts of other adult privileges].  I will also be technically absolved of parental responsibility.  I will not be held liable if he makes poor choices, and I will not be required to support or even house him.

Of course, I this is all completely irrelevant since my child is completely dependent upon me.  He does not have a driver’s license because he never really was interested in getting one enough to pursue it.  He does not have a job, and has only held one summer job in his life [which he held for approximately 3 weeks].  He has not graduated from high school.  He quit school and began an online high school program in which he has already been put on probation twice for not completing the required 12 hours a week.  He is supposed to wash his own clothing, but he very rarely does.  It just piles up in noxious piles in his room.  He eats non-stop, but he does not wash his own dishes or even remove the dirty ones from his room unless reminded repeatedly or threatened.

This afternoon’s exchange went something like this:

Me:  Alex, my house smells like cigarette smoke.  You’ve been smoking in here again when I asked you to please not smoke inside this house.

Alex: No, I haven’t.

Me:  Yes, you have.  I can smell it.

Alex:  No, I told you I haven’t.

Me:  Why do you have a McDonald’s cup with ashes and butts floating in your coke from last night if you are not smoking in the computer room?

Alex:  I don’t know.

Me:  Do you think I am stupid?

Alex:  [no response]

Me:  Why do you tell me that you are not going to smoke in the house and then go ahead and do it anyway?

Alex:  I don’t know.

Me:  I need you to get that cup out of here and clean the ashes off the computer table and open the window and then spray in there.

Alex:  No.

His defense is that he is depressed.  He says he cares about very little and I need to give him time.  He says I am contributing to his predicament because I simply nag him constantly.. that I do not interact with him positively, but spend all of my time interacting with him telling him what he should be doing or scolding him about what he should have done but has not.  He is tired of me and I am tired of him.  We are at a stand-off or perhaps a crossroad.

Sometimes I write in order to make sense of my world, well, actually , often I do this.  So, I have no pithy way to sum up this entry.  I only have an overwhelming feeling of impotence in terms of how to help motivate him to move forward.  I am not sure whether to go tough love on him or whether to be understanding as I shape his behavior using some sort of innovative behavior management techniques.  I have no idea which way to proceed, and I am frankly tired.  I want to hire someone else to come in here and do it.  I want a miracle.  I want my prayers to be answered faster than they are being answered.

I love my job

I teach special education at the only high school in our county.  The children I teach have intellectual disabilities in the moderate range some with secondary disabilities like autism or visual impairment.  I starting teaching this class in the fall of 1997.  I had graduated with a teaching certificate in 9-12 English six years earlier, but had my second child one year to the day of graduating and wanted to be a stay at home mom to the greatest extent possible.  I taught some contract classes at a local community college, but for the most part, I was a stay at home mom to both of my boys until they started school.

So, in the fall of 1997, my youngest was starting school and so was his Mommy.  I was just as frightened as he was.  You see, they did not have any openings in the English Department, so they offered me a self-contained EC classroom for which I had absolutely no experience and no formal training.  To say I was out of my element would be a ridiculous understatement.  I had no clue what I was doing.  One of my favorite mottos was born out of this time:  “fake it ’til you make it.”  I have practiced this sentiment many times in my life to surprisingly great success.

My very first class had, I think, eight children.  I had an assistant who was paid much less than me and who knew lots more than I did about this job, these children, and how I should approach this position.  I befriended her immediately, and although, she left the classroom about four years ago, we are still friends.  If nothing else, I am a survivor and I know how to survive in all sorts of situations.  Things were quite different in our school 13 years ago.  The EC department was small and as teachers we were isolated.  We did not command a great deal of respect about the school and I felt that other high school teachers often looked at us like we were doing some sort of Romper Room babysitting service.  Things are so much different today, much in part to the work of Cathy Richmond, who came in and overhauled the Occupational Course of Study Program and spearheaded school-based enterprises which gave our students credibility and visibility and a presence at our school.  Today we are a large and cohesive department proud of who we serve and what we do and highly visible and dynamic participants in the larger professional learning community. I had to get the PLC reference in, because since 2008, we are required to say or use the words or acronym PLC at least one time per week as professional educators ;).

My class today is right now at 14 students.  I am officially over capacity for one assistant, but so far no one has thrown us any life jackets or sent out any search parties for additional help.  We are okay, though, and though we face challenges each year due to changing paperwork and legislation, classroom mix, behaviors, and snowballing bureaucracy, we evolve gracefully and learn to adapt.  The title of this entry is ‘I love my job’ because, quite simply, I do.  I will tell  you why.

First of all, I was born to teach.  I am an oldest child who is bossy by nature and birth order.  I have been teaching since I was a very small child.  My earliest memory of teaching was in the basement of our Dowlais Drive house in Rockville, Maryland.  I had a small chalkboard and a couple of desks.  Robin, of course, was a pupil.  Shana was only a baby in that house, so the remainder of the class consisted of stuffed animals or neighborhood children– Kim and Stephanie White, Jody Riley, Margaret Rigopolis [?]….  I was relentless and Robin would beg to stop playing school.  I loved school, and while I looked forward to and enjoyed my summers, I always was excited for fall to come.  Autumn meant shopping and new school clothes, fall leaves crunching under feet as we walked to school, and school supplies.  I could write an entire essay on my love of school supplies.  I was in love with my supply box full of treasures-  pencils sharpened to lethal points, the aroma of crayons and erasers, the ever changing colors and names of colors in the Crayola box, tiny sharpeners, clear colored rulers, and don’t even get me started about my lunch box and thermos.  My mother packed the most fabulous lunches where the piece de resistance was always a Hostess treat.  My personal favorite was the Ho Ho, followed by a close second and third chocolate cupcake with white curly piped icing, and the Twinkie.  None of these treats taste today anything like they used to.  I am not sure what they have done to them, but I cannot come close to recapturing the joy they induced.

So, I was destined to stay in school for my entire life.  I liked college.  I did get very weary during grad school, but six years out, I could go back and do it all again.  I long for summer, but each August, when it is time to go and shop for classroom supplies, I am hit with the same giddy excitement.  I look forward to meeting my new students and I can’t wait to see my old ones [well, most of them].

The children that I teach are truly the centerpiece of what I love about teaching.  Each morning, I arrive to smiling faces and greetings and stories and news.  I must laugh dozens of times a day at the things that they say and their antics.  One child I teach now, we’ll call him Carl, entertains me so greatly, I am not going to allow him to graduate.  He coins words and flings them about liberally during the day as he tells everyone else what to do inside and outside of our classroom.  Today he told our resident redhead that she was deceasing us.  I think he meant ‘disgusting’ us as she was chewing with her mouth open and food was all over her lips.  The other morning he was suffering from a malady he called ‘naturtism.’  He never properly defined this for me, so I cannot share the meaning with you.  Visitors to my classroom do not want to leave.  They fall in love with these vibrant young people just as quickly as I did.

What I love about school in general centers around learning.  I have a natural curiosity about the world and people in particular, and teaching requires that I keep learning.  In fact, my students teach me life lessons every single day.  Some of the things I have learned from my children include:

  • Rainy, cold days are just as much fun as sunny and warm days.
  • Take each day as it arrives and devour it like a juicy tangerine.
  • Being kind and helpful to others makes you happy.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes and we learn things from each mistake.
  • People, with or without disabilities, want about the same things:  to be acknowledged and appreciated.

I go to a square classroom of about 900 square feet each morning.  I spend at least 7.5 hours there each day– the majority of the time in that very room.  You would think this would be tiresome and get boring.  It is not.  Every day is an adventure filled with colorful people doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

National Pancake Day

Apparently today is National Pancake Day, and IHOP is offering all its customers a free short stack for the asking in celebration of this auspicious “holiday” [that might have just been made up by marketers at IHOP].  In fact, if I had signed up for it in time, I might have had Marie Osmond, Miss America, or some celebrity I have never heard of call and wake me up to remind me!   I was intrigued to read this information online this morning, even though it did not make me want to go and get some free pancakes.  I usually would be all about eating some pancakes and especially at IHOP with their parade of multi-flavored syrups, but I had my fill of those last week on Fat Tuesday [or Shrove Tuesday] in the church parish hall at St. Mark’s.  The men of the church cook up large trays of bacon and sausage and serve up all the warm, delicious pancakes you care to eat the night before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.  So, I was confused to find that today was designated National Pancake Day because I would have thought that Fat Tuesday would have this honor.  In fact, in England, Shrove Tuesday is known as ‘pancake day.’  So, I did a little Internet search, and, yes, IHOP does sponsor this “holiday.”

In case you just moved to the US, IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes.  It seems that IHOP is only a few years older than me, originating in 1958 in Toluca Lake, California.  They spread like wildfire, though, because now there are now over 1400 of them all serving exactly the same menu.. which has, in fact, changed very little since I was a small child and frequented the International House of Pancakes somewhere in Maryland– probably Rockville or Gaithersburg.

I remember sitting in a large round booth with red vinyl seats and loving the seemingly giant, map-sized, colorful, laminated menus filled with pictures of perfect pancakes topped with apples, strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate chips, or bananas.  My favorite as a small child were none of these.  I usually settled on silver dollar pancakes–about the size of silver dollars, which we still used back then as currency.  With all these little pancakes I could taste each and every syrup like an official taster and judge which was the best.  The syrups came in pitchers that were like tiny coffee pots with latches you used your thumb to pull back.  They reminded me of the toy coffee pitcher I had in my play kitchen that was made with a coffee looking liquid trapped in an outer layer that bubbled and looked like it was being poured when you tipped it.  The syrups were usually choices like southern pecan, traditional maple, blueberry, and my personal favorite, deep purple in the pitcher and bright magenta on my pancakes– boysenberry.  I am still not exactly sure what a boysenberry is and I don’t think I have ever seen one, but when I step into IHOP and pour some on a pancake, I am eight years old again.

The tradition carried on with my children who, of course, loved going out for pancakes any time of day.  They too loved IHOP for many of the same reasons I did thirty-some years ago.  We even have a family story that gets told every time we mention or visit IHOP.  We were vacationing in Williamsburg one year when the boys were about 4 and 10 years old.  The restaurant was very crowded and we had to wait a long time for our order to be taken.  While we were waiting a man at a neighboring table cried out in pain and spit blood into his plate.  He then uttered a few choice words and was quickly surrounded by staff trying to assist him and calm him down.  You see, somehow shards of glass had ended up in his scrambled eggs.  We were quick enough to avoid the eggs when ordering, and afterward made sure to check our food carefully for glass before eating it.

It’s after 8 o’clock, and so there less than two more hours to go by IHOP and get your free short stack.  They ask only that you make a donation if you choose to do so the Children’s Miracle Network.  I am still wondering why they don’t merge their National Pancake Day with the day only one week prior when everyone wants to gorge on pancakes anyhow, but then the men of our church might lose their claim to fame;)

Silver Dollar Pancakes

A beginning.

Welcome to my blog.  I have no idea what I intend to blog about or who my intended audience will be, but I have a theme and a title, so here goes.  I guess I could begin by explaining the title of my blog– Soft Pink Center.  The other morning while driving to school, I came upon a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that appeared to read “soft pink center.”  I say appeared to read because, if you spend any amount of time around me, you know I don’t see as well as I used to and I don’t wear glasses as often as I probably should if I wanted to see things as they actually are.  Upon closer scrutiny, I determined that this bumper sticker actually read something closer to ‘south pine center.’  Too late, though, the phrase soft pink center was already in my head.  I thought this would be an intriguing title for a novel, a story, or a collection of stories, so when I got to school, I jotted it down in the little journal I carry around in my purse.  I thought about multiple meanings of this phrase and how it could be descriptive.  What kinds of things have a soft pink center… women of course, steaks cooked medium, chocolate-dipped strawberry buttercreams… and quickly decided that a soft pink center implies something hidden and delicious, perhaps forbidden.  I knew I could do lots with that title, and it did have me thinking for days.  And so today, when I needed to give my blog a name, it came back to me and seemed perfect for this blog that might be shared only with a few and will hopefully be satisfying for some, or at least for me.

Under my wing

So, today I was having a bad day.  I was angry at my 17 year old son, which is a common state of being for me these days.  I was angry at his lack of motivation, his failure to help with anything around the house, the way he ignores his responsibility and lives completely from his id, and with the general disrespect he has shown me on occasions too numerous to number in the past few years.  I asked to speak to him in the living room.  I asked for the conversation in neutral territory because of some advice I had read in some parenting book that said I should not ‘attack’ him in his space… that requesting time in a neutral space is a better choice.  While I waited for him to decide to actually get up and comply with my request [which, trust me, he does in his own meandering time], I headed to [where else?] Facebook.  I was led straight to a status from a good friend I used to teach with where he offered a link to his wife’s blog and an interview she did with their preschool daughter.  I read this interview with such pleasure that I virtually forgot the onerous task I was waiting to confront.  I smiled at her answers and scrolled down the page to read another entry about a recent bout at the emergency room in a foreign country after this same preschool girl, called Ladybug in the blog, had swallowed a hair clip.  This narrative was so real and so funny, I got lost in it.  In closing, Sheila references a portion of a Psalm that offers a bird or angel metaphor and relates this to mothering [or parenting].  An excerpt from this blog follows:

After Ladybug was x-rayed and the doctors pronounced that she will be OK and the hair clip will pass on its own (and she threw up a few more times at the hospital), she came home to spend the night throwing up here.  My momma heart was so broken for her in her pitiful state and I was reminded of how our Heavenly Father is compared to a momma hen in Psalm 91:

He will cover you with his feathers.

He will shelter you with his wings.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

 
When I have done something stupid (like swallowing a hair clip), or am sick and pitiful, my Heavenly Father wants to tuck me under His wings, much like I tucked Ladybug under mine last night.  It was a long, rough night, but I’m her mom.
And as much as she has worn me out lately with bad decisions, bad behavior, and bad attitudes, I would never deny her the spot underneath my feathers.
When I got to this part of the blog, I dissolved into tears and the cold anger in my heart melted instantly away.  I literally sobbed, wanting then only to take my son into may arms and hold him.  You see he has reasons for his awful behavior, that I sometimes forget.  The main reason is that he is a teenager and he is wearing his insides on his outside.  But there are other reasons….  His dad and I separated when he was 12… in case you are wondering… a terrible age for this to occur.  When he was 13, his Dad moved away and headed into a disappointing mid-life crisis that he weathered by acting out in anger in every direction.  When he was 15, he was able to behave so badly that I sent him to live with his Dad.  This turned out to be a blessing, because they built a needed bridge and made some wonderful memories.  But then, when he was 16, his Dad was killed in a boating accident while on vacation, and my son’s life was turned over and shaken upside down again.  This all happened to his brother, who was 22 when his Dad died, too.  But for this child, who has always felt things deeper than most and who happened to be this very pivotal age, this tragedy upon tragedy almost did him in.  He has a bad attitude almost every day, he makes  bad decisions, and behaves badly, but I am his mother.  And no matter how old he is, I can tuck him under my wing.  Tonight, because of reading this blog, I did just that.  When he came into the room to talk, I received him differently than I would have before  my watershed moment.  Coincidence?  Well, I don’t think so.  In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that this was an answered prayer.  So tonight, after this ‘bad day,’ I am grateful for my children, even the one with the bad attitude, for friends, for words, for insight, for faith, and for a change in perception that came at exactly the right moment ✠