Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fair Weather Friend

She was the daughter
of my parents' friends;
so we were thrown together
on weekends
and summer vacations at the lake.

Her dad's RV
had an aluminum door
that shocked my fingers
and made my elbow tingle.
I always had to knock.

She didn't like me.
I'm not sure why;
but I'd do in a pinch.
When no one else was around,
we linked arms and jumped off the pontoon.

She didn't like to read or draw;
and she wore halter tops
and white shorts.
We were both ten.
I looked it; she didn't.

We played cards and water-skied.
Our favorite song
was Sunshine on My Shoulders.
We played it over and over,
singing along to the scratchy 45.

Back at school,
she held her hand to her mouth
and whispered something.
The other girls laughed
and looked my way.

Her eyes darted in my direction
and lingered there,
just long enough
to let me know
the joke was on me.

But I knew a secret.
Somewhere behind her blue eyelids
and mean girl glances
lived a girl who knew all the lyrics
to John Denver's songs...

a girl who cried sometimes
when she sang the verse about wishes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kindred Spirits in the Car Circle

Car circle duty is the one negative for teachers lucky enough to have end-of-the-day planning periods, the most coveted schedule in our building. Every year, our master schedule rotates, which means that each year one grade level of teachers enjoys back-to-back, end-of-the-day planning periods...just enough time to gather one's thoughts, make copies, plan for the following day, and meet with colleagues. End-of-the-day planning period means I don't have quite as many ungraded essays crammed into my book bag to take home over the weekend.
It's a wonderful schedule, really; but to keep us humble, we must cover car circle duty. We have more than 1,300 children in our school; and while many of our students are bus riders, and others carpool, and some have siblings in the building, it often seems that we have at least 1,300 cars inching their way around the pick-up circle.
On rainy days, we stand there, water puddling around our sensible shoes, rain dripping from the ribs of our umbrellas, our hair frizzing, our patience thinning.
"Hurry to your cars," we chant. "Look for your car, and be ready to get in."
We are thinking, "Please go home children. Please let us get out of the rain."
On cold days, we shiver in our hats and gloves and the mismatched layers we threw on before the final bell.
"Where's your ride? Do you need to call home?" we ask, through chattering teeth.
"Zip your jacket. Stand close together. Did you say you needed to call home?"
This year, even on snowy, rainy, and windy days, I have, surprisingly, looked forward to car circle. Somehow, in the drizzly, windy, flurrying course of the year, I have met two kindred spirits, one sixth grader (Sami) and one eighth grader (Zoe), who seek me out faithfully. While we weather the elements, waiting for their rides, we talk about books and friends; and we practice Pig Latin.
We have debated the benefits of hooded jackets over toboggans, philosophized over the beauty of dandelions, and taken a personality quiz. Sami read the questions, and Zoe and I supplied the answers.
For art class, Sami needed a piece of obsidian for the heart of her clay dragon; I managed to find a smooth black rock that suited her purposes to a tee. Zoe sometimes brings out Laffy Taffy for us to share. If one of us is absent, we know we are missed.
During school, Sami and Zoe have no classes together...and neither of them is in my class; but, for 20 minutes each afternoon, the car circle is a gathering spot for three kindred spirits.
The next time my turn for car circle duty rolls around, Sami and Zoe will both be in high school. Maybe the car circle will work its magic again, and I will meet two more students who share my love of stories and who don't mind speaking in a funny British accent some days just for the heck of it. Maybe not...but for the next 28 days, I will look forward to car circle duty, regardless of the weather.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Nothing Quite Like a Bump on a Log

We have a class mascot. I found him a few summers ago at the camp where my parents live year round. He was lying on the gravel driveway, turned on his side. I couldn't believe my luck! He was the perfect class pet for my seventh grade students...quiet, required zero maintenance, and provided a great visual reminder. I rescued him.
He was a bump on a log, shaved off at the sawmill on the camp grounds when they were preparing wood to repair one of the boys' cabins. Now, he is a bump on a desk, keeping guard over extra pencils and bathroom passes. He is one of a kind, the only bump on a log allowed in my classroom.

Occasionally, students will pat him absently as they grab a tissue or borrow a clipboard. Some students have suggested names for him...Stumpy, Bob, Oscar. Otherwise, he doesn't get too much attention. He's happy, I guess, to go unnoticed...not really contributing to the class's progress, but always there...on the outskirts, taking it all in.
I can't help but wonder if he has spring fever. The students are infected with it; they are wiggly and restless and practically smell of sunshine.
Last week, I gave them a homework assignment: Bring a beach towel.
"We are going to think outside; no box required!" I told them. I saw the slogan on a t-shirt.
We carried our towels and books and journals outside and spread the towels out on the damp lacrosse field. Students sat in clusters or stretched out on their backs, holding their books up high to block the weak rays of the spring sun. Although the grass seemed dry, the ground was saturated, and the towels got damp. We were too enthusiastic to care. At the end of the day, I draped all the beach towels over the backs of the classroom chairs. Our bump on a log watched. The room smelled like earth and dew and April. I thought he seemed depressed.
If it stops raining, we will go out again this week. If it doesn't stop raining, maybe their homework assignment will be: Bring rubber boots and an umbrella. This time, we will take our bump on a log with us. We will all think outside, no box required, only one bump on a log allowed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Heavy Reading

We are all reading nonfiction this week. It's heavy reading. It was quiet at our house last night.
My husband, an elementary principal, is poring over Spencer Kagan's Win-Win Discipline in preparation for an upcoming interview for an administrative position in the district where we live (no more commuting = no more big chunk of the budget going toward gas!). The book is paperback, but it is as large as a textbook and dense reading despite the cartoonish illustrations. My husband is taking notes in his tidy block printing.
My 13-year-old fell asleep last night reading Lacrosse, North America's Game. It's a huge, hardback, coffee-table style photo-illustrated book about the history of the sport he plays. He lugged it into my classroom yesterday after school.
"Did you check that out from the library?" I asked.
"No. Mr. O. gave it to me." Mr. O. is his social studies teacher.
"He saw it at a yard sale for 50 cents."
This morning, before we left for school, Will flipped through the glossy pages to show me his favorite part so far.
It's an excerpt from a Native American origin story about the game.
My son pointed it out enthusiastically.
"This part is really good," he said.
"Stunned and rejected but not giving up on the game, the rodent took to the trees, climbing until he stood on the highest limbs with the eagles and hawks. The birds did not want to shun the little creature, but how could he join the team without any wings? Thinking quickly, the birds cut pieces from the skin on their ceremonial drum and fashioned wings for the rodent....That, is how the bat came to be."
I can tell that my son, small for his age but quick on his feet, thinks Mr. O's 50 cents was well spent.
My 16-year-old is reading Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. After noticing someone reading it on the airplane on his recent trip to New York, Jack was convinced that he, too, wanted to win friends ("Not just make them," he said, "WIN them...") and exert some influence.
"It's been in print for more than 75 years!" he exclaimed. He walked through the house, carrying the small paperback in his hands.
"It says right here that you shouldn't criticize people." Was he directing that toward me? Had I said something critical? I looked around. I guessed he was just speaking in general.
"If you want honey, you don't kick the beehive. That's what Dale Carnegie says." Jack looked at me, his eyebrows raised.
"I'll take that to heart," I told him. He wandered off, his eyes fixed on timeless words of wisdom...penned in 1931.
I am reading Denise Jaden's Fast Fiction, advice for anyone trying to write the first draft of a novel in 30 days' time. Through the Slice of Life Story Challenge last month, I learned about Camp NaNoWriMo and decided it was time for me to get serious about the novel I'd been "working" on for years. Last week, I filled out my NaNoWriMo information page...book title, synopsis. I began writing. I was struggling.
On Sunday, two days ago, I woke up with a whole new idea...an idea I can't stop thinking about. I dreamed about it last night and woke up with a new conflict for my main character. The story is unfolding so fast, and the character is living and breathing on the page and in my dreams. I am more excited about my writing than I've ever been. I AM WRITING A NOVEL...and reading nonfiction that's cheering me on. All the while, I am thinking about a little bat with drum-skin wings and wondering if there is a type of discipline where we all win; and in the midst of it all, I am trying so hard not to kick the beehive.