Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Still Growing Up

It's hard to believe that this guy attempting to throw his little brother off Venice's Rialto Bridge is the same tall, silent teenager who strides through our house today.
He is 16 now, and he has brought a lot of joy to my life. He's the kind of kid who thinks deep. When he was in preschool (he went for half a year) he and a buddy tried to drink all of the water in the water fountain. It was one of those white porcelain drinking fountains attached to the wall. They, of course, didn't understand that it was connected to pipes in the wall that would continuously supply water.
He was always the kind of kid who had to stick his hand against the waffle iron, rattle the dog chain, climb a wall that had rocks protruding. He never took our word for anything and he was rarely still.
If he'd gone to school, I'm sure they would have diagnosed him as hyperactive. When he was a baby, he would flip, flip, flip then fall asleep. He could not lie still until he was actually asleep. Now he gets rid of that energy by playing basketball.
As a teenager, he has reined himself in. He's careful about what he says now, always thinking about the kind of impression it might leave. Sometimes he let's his guard down and returns to his old self.
We were going through Wendy's drive through the other day when he said, "Have you ever done fire in the hole?"
"What?" we all asked.
"You know, you go through the drive through, order a drink and then when the window is open, you throw the drink back in and yell 'fire in the hole!' "
We were all laughing by the time he finished. He admitted he had never done it, and I, the mature parent, encouraged him not to do it.
Maybe his deep thinking these days isn't about philosophy or what happens to people when they die or even about his next chess move (which he's taken up again this year). Maybe his brain is full of statistics for fantasy football and basketball plays and remembering which upper classmen will give him a ride to Chipotle for lunch. Someday though, he may come out of his teenage musings and become the kid again who touches and knocks into things just to see what they do.
Maybe someday, as he towers over his classmates at 6-foot, three inches, he'll figure he already stands out so he may as well not try to fit in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Snippets of Conversation

The past few days, people in my life have been saying things that make me laugh, or sigh.
We were having breakfast before school the other day. The front page of the newspaper had a big article and photo about single-sex schools. One of my kids read the headline out loud.
"Single-gender Middle Schools."
"I smell sit-com," Tucker said, between mouths of Lucky Charms.
I don't know why it cracked me up. Maybe it was the way he held out the word smell and went up on the "com" part. Sometimes I forget they're these real people with lives and opinions of their own. Maybe it's because I can see him as a grown up in a room pitching or rejecting ideas for television and movies. It's good to start the day laughing anyway.
On Friday night, I was teaching, but I checked my text messages during the break. I got one from my best friend, working desperately to save her (doomed) marriage. She'd gone out to dinner with her husband.
"Another nice meal ruined by a side order of blame," she texted. I love the image of them both looking at the menus and the husband saying, "I'll have the rigatoni and she'll take the blame, sauce on the side please."
As a bonus for me, the blame continued the next morning, and my best friend drove four hours to see me yesterday. We had dinner and margaritas then watched a good movie The Bloom Brothers.She's sleeping in the other room now and I'm looking forward to a nice walk downtown for some coffee.
The thing that made me sigh was a Facebook post from Tucker's girlfriend. She's a fairly mature 13-year-old. Not mature like those girls who dress slutty and wear make up. She's modest and smart, but apparently a romantic. Maybe all 13-year-old girls are.
I was gone all day Friday, I mean all day. I taught from 8-11 a.m., made it to a college visit at noon with Grace and her friends. Got back at 5 and then taught from 6-10 p.m. My boys were, of course, left to run wild. They had the day off school.
Tucker had left my computer onto his Facebook page. I'm not certain if this was posted to his girlfriend's page or if it was a conversation they were having, but she had written, if not a poem, some poetical lines.
The gist was that her hand, her fingers, no the spaces between her fingers, felt empty without his fingers there between them.
Well. Holding hands is a very innocent pasttime. I'm trying to remember the thrill of that first time a boy took my hand and held it. All I get is the memory of sweaty palms and then kisses with a lot of drool involved.
And I worry that soon it may not just be fingers that are longing for contact. Other body parts may feel the need for skin time, and, I just can't think about it.
I've already asked Earl to buy a box of condoms and put it in the boys' bathroom.
I prefer it so much when they make me laugh rather than when they make me sigh.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Power of the Hoodie

We have a large Somali community here in Columbus and it seems that many of them end up attending the local community college where I teach. Of course, we also have a number of students from Kenya, the Sudan, and the Middle East. So, it isn't unusual to see female students dressed in traditional Muslim clothes. A few of them wear full burkhas, but most have long dresses and head coverings that frame their faces, kind of like nuns used to wear.
The material of their clothes is light, similar to what they used at home in a much warmer climate, I'm sure.
Well, the temperature in Columbus has taken a dive, with a high of 45 the past few days. Yesterday, as the students were milling around, I saw a couple of women in their traditional long skirts and head coverings with hoodie sweatshirts.
It just made me laugh. It seems the ultimate adaptation, to wear an Aeropostale hoodi mixed with their religiously-required garments.
Maybe there's hope for future generations since they can all embrace the hooded sweatshirt.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Terrific Book

Finally, I finished a great book and I wanted to share it with you instead of complaining about my children and my students.
This book Day After Night by Anita Diamant is set in Palestine just after World War II. I guess I'd never thought about how Jewish people came together to form Israel. I kind of pictured governments clearing out the Palestinians and handing the keys over to the Jewish people.
Diamant focuses on a "camp," a "prison" where illegal immigrants (Jews from around Europe) were taken when they arrived in Israel. These people, many of whom had been held in concentration camps, were kept inside barbed wire fences with British guards watching over them. Yes, it gave them flashbacks to the concentration camps.
Diamant creates some great characters to show us the different experiences of Jewish women who were brought together in Israel.
Leonie, who was French, hid a guilty secret that she passed for a non-Jew and worked as a prostitute. Is that a statement about the French surrendering, I wonder?
Zorah, from Poland, had been in a concentration camp. She was so angry she vowed never to forget. She couldn't feel grateful that she had survived, but she couldn't give up on her life because others had sacrificed for her to survive.
Tedi was from Amsterdam and her parents sent her to a farm because she could pass for non-Jew. She was raped repeatedly by the son, and when she finally complained to the mother, the Nazis arrived the next day to take her. She came to the concentration camp able to smell people's emotions. She said most everyone smelled of shame and guilty.
Shayndel was a Polish freedom fighter who saw her friends die.
The cook at the camp had a different perspective, kind of disrepecting the Jews who had "allowed" themselves to be imprisoned and murdered, as if she would have fought harder had it been her.
It sounds grim, and there are many heartbreaking stories, but in the end the hope of continuing life wins over the despair of the Holocaust.


"I'm out of chocolate chips," I told my best friend on the phone at 8:05 a.m. as I pushed the shopping cart through Kroger.
"How does one know that at this hour of the morning?" she asked.
"Oh, I made cookies this morning to put in the kids' lunches," I said.
And I didn't think it was weird that I got up at 5 on my day off(Columbus Day), went for a run and baked chocolate chip, peanut butter cookies before 7 a.m.
And my kids didn't think it was anything special.
I don't expect them to be grateful. I'm not one of those parents who thinks those kids should see the sacrifices I'm making for them like some parents (fathers) are.
There was an elevated level of grumpiness among the kids. Some "Shut ups" and some "OMGs." I breathed a sigh of relief after I dumped them at school on my way to the grocery.
The youngest is without his cell phone. I confiscated it yesterday for his belligerence toward me. Belligerence being the opposite of gratefulness where teenagers are concerned.
On Sunday, he said a friend had asked him to go to a movie. We dropped them off for the 3:15 show. He called at 5:30 and asked me to come pick them up.
"I don't have a car," I told him.
Grace had a car at swim team and Earl drove the other car to work.
Even though the logic of me not having a car and not being able to pick him up seemed clear, he argued with me for five minutes about picking him up.
If I was a good parent, I probably would have built a car and gone to get him.
I refrained from pointing out that perhaps the friend who invited him should provide a ride one way.
So, I said he should walk home. It's about two miles and they get off the busy roads pretty quickly.
"Whatever" was his parting word.
When I called to check on his progress, he had turned his phone off.
I called the mother of one of the boys with him. She had talked to her son and they were walking. She was at the grocery and had declined to give them a ride as well.
When Tucker walked through the door, he was ready to continue the phone argument. I held out my hand and took the phone.
"You should have planned better," he yelled.
"A week," I said, holding up the phone.
And last night, when he offered to make me a cup of hot chocolate, I knew he wasn't grateful for the valuable life lesson, but was trying to get his phone back.
So, we mothers will continue to push heavy grocery carts without expecting thanks. We'll continue baking cookies and packing lunches.
Someday, even without the threat of cell phone confiscation, they may say, "Hey, Mom. Thanks." Here's the recipe in case you want to make them for your own teenagers.

Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Cream together 1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
Add 1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Mix well.
Add 1 3/4 cup of flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix well. Add a bag of chocolate chips.
Shape into balls, roll in sugar.
Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Friday, October 09, 2009


No, it isn't talk like a pirate day.
I'm so frustrated with my Friday night class. Only two more and I can put those non-motivated students out of my life.
Tonight I thought I was being observed. The last time I was observed, the supervisor just showed up and I continued with my class as usual. This time, the supervisor contacted me last week to say he was coming this week. That, of course, made me nervous. I made sure the students were assigned an essay that we could discuss. They've been fairly good at that.
I talked to another teacher who said she is really just a "facilitator" for her students. She breaks them into small groups and let's them figure things out.
So, I started tonight with small groups for parphrasing practice. I gave them an Urban Legend about Bonsai Kittens (kittens that are grown in bottles to be bottle-shaped. No, it's not true, it's an urban legend.)
I broke them into groups of four and told them to paraphrase the legend and the explanation of the legend.
"What if we don't want to collaborate?" one boy asked.
"But I want you to collaborate. You can learn from each other."
"I work better on my own. Don't take this personally," he said, turning to the other members of his group.
"Oh, I'm taking it personally. I will not collaborate with you," said an older woman with grown kids who should definitely know better than to take an 18-year-old seriously.
Then she refused to work with him.
I was just praying my supervisor didn't appear soon. Then we discussed an essay by Martin Luther King about the oppressed. Hello? Does anyone know who Dr. King was? I got blank stares. What's oppressed? What acquiesance? What's nonviolent resistance?
We played a grammar game for extra credit. Some of the students talked incessantly about nothing. They should have their own Seinfeld episodes.
I explained the same things over and over.
I told them about logical fallacies and showed them youtube videos to reinforce the fallacies. I showed them the hilarious Saturday Night Live skit about Joe Wilson who yelled, "You lie!" during Obama's speech to illustrate the bandwagon fallacy.
Finally, I tried to discuss an entertaining essay on when it's okay to lie. It was obvious none of them had read it. Fine.
I gave them a writing assignment and wished them good riddance (in my thought bubble). Then I looked in my mailbox and saw a reminder that students deserve good customer service. Well, you know what. I'd like to see a little more effort before those students get good customer service from me.
I'm working like a dog to entertain them, tap dancing as fast as I can in a four-hour class on Friday night. Did they know the class was on Friday night when they signed up for it?
I'm tired of teaching. Physically and mentally.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Students Say the Darnedest Things

This week, I'm really overwhelmed with essays and teaching. Some of the classes are going well and in others I'm struggling and feel inadequate. It's Saturday and I've been up since 5:15 grading papers. I'm not sure how much I'll get done before I have to take my kids to a swim meet this afternoon. I know, you're all jealous of my glamorous life now.
However, there are some bright spots, well, some laughable spots in this teaching life. At the beginning of the quarter, I have students write a diagnostic essay. They write it during class and hand it in. So I pick a fairly simple topic that everyone can write about. This quarter I said, choose a favorite quote and tell me what it means to you. A lot of students choose something their mother said or a line from a movie or song.
One student chose a Bible verse, which is fine. "Those who are not for me are against me" is the line she credited to Jesus. I'm not sure if it's a direct quote or not, but I'll trust that she knows it better than I do. I'm reading on to see how she is "for" Jesus, but the essay takes a distinct twist.
"I think this quote means that if you do not follow Jesus then you will suffer in hell for the rest of your life after your flesh is gone."
Not just eternal damnation, but burning in hell until your flesh is gone. That is some vivid imagery. I'm a little scared of this student now and I make a point to figure out who she is next time I go to class.
Her next paragraph is no cheerier. She throws in another Biblical quote, but since she misspells it I'm pretty sure it isn't a direct quote: "If you do not except my son, you will not except me, and you will be cast into fire."
So, I can tell she really loves Jesus for all the right reasons. And, I'm a little worried about the next reading I assigned which has to do with cross dressing and transexuals.
For every worrisome student, of course, there is a star. Chad, one of my students from the summer is taking my class this fall. No, he didn't fail but moved on to the next English class, which I'm teaching. He's a bit of a slacker in class because he doesn't do the readings, but he can always add to the discussions. And it's obvious that he has gotten through life on his fabulous smile. Although only 22 or so, he fought in Iraq and was wounded so is now going to school on the GI bill, if that is what it's still called.
Another student, one of those returning from his mid-30s career crisis, gives Chad a run for his money though. This guy, Carter, has a lot of interesting insights during discussions.
The other day we were discussing "Coming Into The Country" by Gish Jen, which is about how immigrants adapt or remake themselves when they come to the United States. We got to talking about whether this is something only immigrants do or whether everyone in the country is chameleon-like, changing according to the situation. We wandered into whether people actually are different with various groups.
Carter jumps into the discussion: "It's like those pens with the four colors. Sometimes you're red and sometimes you're green or blue or black. But you're still a pen and you aren't going to change that."
The rest of the class applauded him and broke out laughing. Yep. I think he nailed it.
Jesus fireballs picture by:

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