Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Short Story # 1

It looked as if the earth wanted to swallow the house up, to erase it, to pretend that it never existed. The house, which had once been something that resembled pink, had turned a haughty shade of orange- proud to the last moment, to the final collapse of two by fours and stucco. It had once been a proud house, and he'd built it with his own two hands- for them, to shelter them, to love them, to comfort them, to keep them. But they'd all gone away, and now he was left, the empty shell of a man, and his house, the empty shell of a house- a reflection on all that could have been.

The vines circled the house like rattlesnakes, striking at every available weakened spot, digging into the stucco here and there- pockmarks on the once fresh face of his beautiful past. They left holes where they'd climbed into the house like everything else- getting in the way of his solid, carefully planned foundation. The neighborhood's children had broken the windows, glittering with as much bling as a crack whore on Broadway.  He could see the baseballs, the rocks, the shoes, all lying inside where the kids had thrown them. "Some sport," he thought. Their trash existing in all the empty spaces in his soul- occupying what was left.

The roof was tired, and sagged in the middle, and shingles were missing, and the gutters were torn, resting precariously on what was left of the frame. It seemed to sigh, to quiver at the slightest breath of the wind, as if cowering under some invisible force. A single raindrop appeared too much to handle- too much strain on the existing landscape of destruction.

The vines, the windows, the pockmarks on the walls, the roof, the damaged floors, from top to bottom the house was as damaged as he seemed to be. So, closing his toolbox, he tipped his cap to her and said: "Ah reckon ah'll see you tomorrow," and walked out.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What If?

My sons have a bad case of the What Ifs. What if we go camping and get eaten by a bear? What if I have a gun handy and I can shoot the bear? What if I forget my homework? What if you forget to pick me up from school (this has never happened)? What if a burglar breaks into our house and steals me while I'm asleep?

So tonight, after many reassurances that they were, in fact, safe inside the walls of our house, and in their room, I decided to play with them. So I asked them my own What Ifs. What if your freckles decide to rebel and occupy the carpet instead of your face? What if all of the numbers on the clocks in the house decide they don't like their jobs and they decide to throw all the ones at the walls, like spears? Picture the 7s, I told them, "4, check, 3, check, 2, check" throwing the 1s. Why the 7s? I haven't a clue. What if, I asked, in their smurf blue and nickelodeon slime green bedroom, your ceiling becomes a rainbow that swirls like a tornado and bits of it drip from the ceiling, and you get a bad case of the stripes to go to school tomorrow?

According to psychologists, a child's ability to ask What If signals the beginning of critical and abstract thinking. So I am led to wonder- did my game challenge them to think? Or did I merely blow them off?

My goal was to allay their fears and validate their need for answers in the same conversation- which I hope I accomplished. Thank You, credential program Child Development classes for teaching me that children often ask parents questions to determine if parents are a reliable source of information.

A bad case of the stripes? Probably not. But is a burglar going to break in? Probably not either.

What do you do with your kids?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Big Waste

Before I begin, let's get one thing straight. I am not in any way a part of Food Network (I wish!). Last week, my husband and I watched the Food Network Special "The Big Waste." The plot of the show was that four all-star chefs; Alex Guarneschelli, Anne Burrell, Bobby Flay, and Michael Symon; had to cook a meal in teams (boys against girls) for 100 people. But that meal had to be made exclusively with food that was wasted from grocery stores, markets, restaurants, and farms in and around New York City.

During the beginning of the show, Alex said : "I hope we have enough food to feed 100 people." Many viewers probably shared her sentiment. But I've worked in a restaurant before. I've seen what gets thrown away. I've wished I could take it home. The pairs visited farms where the compost heap of thrown away vegetables was bigger than my backyard. They visited restaurants throwing away boxes of fish and meat that filled a room larger than my office. They found a chicken farm where the eggs were thrown away if they were too small, because people wouldn't buy them, and extra large ones because they wouldn't fit in a carton. The chickens themselves were eventually sold too, but not if their wings got broken or their skin was torn during processing.

It was appalling how much food was thrown out. Not only did the chefs find enough food to feed 100 people; what was wasted could have fed every homeless person in New York City for at least a day! I hope that people see this and are called to action:

  1. Don't be quite so picky when you are choosing produce at the grocery store. It's ok to buy a bruised apple- it tastes the same. 
  2. Don't throw out your own scraps either. Save the ends of the vegetables you cut off when using them and make a stock. Make stock with ham bones and beef bones and chicken carcasses.
  3. Learn to can and preserve your own fresh produce from a garden, make jam that can be enjoyed all year long from things that would otherwise be wasted. 
  4. Buy local- find the farmers' markets, and the farms themselves. Ask to see the things they are going to throw out. Ask if you can have them for a discounted rate.
  5. Lastly, don't buy things that you really don't need. Is it really necessary to purchase an entire pack of chicken if all you need is one breast?

Maybe this show will inspire someone to collect all this wasted food and open a restaurant with it. Better yet, distribute it methodically and on a regular basis to homeless shelters and food banks. Teach children about not wasting food. Maybe then we'll learn the lesson this depression should teach us- waste not, want not.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Do I still get to be a girl?

When I was very small, I was very girly. I loved to wear dresses, and would often throw ginormous tantrums whenever my mother made me wear pants. My absolute favorite dress in the entire world was made of white cotton eyelet, with little blue and green roses embroidered along the hem. There was a royal blue sash that tied in the back.

I was an extremely "girly" little girl, which most of you probably find amusing now, since I do work that some men I know won't even attempt, like run a Bobcat. Yet, despite all of my forays into the joys of girlhood, I never learned how to do some stereotypically girl things.

  1. I don't know how to sew. I would love to be able to make my own dresses and curtains, and bags, etc., but other than a simple basting stitch or a straight line on a sewing machine, I am clueless. I can't even cut out a pattern.
  2. I don't wear a lot of makeup or fuss with my hair for more than ten minutes. I don't know how to apply eye makeup without making myself look like a racoon.
  3. I couldn't tell you the difference between a Brazilian wax and Tahitian Vanilla.
  4. I didn't know how to fold a cootie catcher.
It is this last thing that drives me to post today. This week, my oldest son brought home an unfolded cootie catcher from school and wanted to my help folding it. He said: "Mom, you're a girl, and girls can do these."
I had failed my son in my quest to be feminine and respectable at the same time. (At least in his eyes)

So I did what any self respecting parent who is a teacher would do. I took it to school, pulled aside a few good girls, and asked, like an addict asking for drugs, for this protected girl secret.

They were more than happy to help their teacher learn something, and will probably forever remember when their teacher had to be taught something they already knew.

I've made about twenty of them now- I guess I can certifiably call myself a girl again-at least for awhile.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Parental Camaraderie

I wouldn't say I was an outcast growing up. But I definitely wasn't popular. I had a few close friends, mostly members of "The Secret Amy Club," otherwise known as Girl Scouts, and from Youth group. In High School, almost all of my friends came from drama class, where we all spent four hours a day together five days a week.

As an adult, I had children very young, and so I wasn't interested in the party-going, getting drunk, club-hopping scene all the other twenty-somethings were into. But then my kids started school and baseball. With this new foray into the world of parenting, there were suddenly other children around mine. Children who were friends with mine. Children who had parents I, like any rational parent, insisted on meeting. I liked the mommies too- and Mr. G. liked the daddies.

We began to invite people to hang out- people we knew and liked with children who were friends of our own. We started a weekly dinner get-together-potluck thing. We love it. Once a week, usually on Saturday because there's no school on Sunday, we have dinner with another family. We all eat, and the kids play and the grownups play a game, usually Shang-Hi rummy. We talk about everything, from budgets to parenting, to dinner ideas, to organization. We share in all of the childrens' triumphs, and each of us has become like a surrogate parent to each others' children.

I love the people we do this with. I love that they come over and hang out, that we spend time being happy as a family, and that all of us are setting both a good example for our children, and ourselves up for happiness. I can't think of something I'd rather be doing on a Saturday night.

Today is Saturday. The boys have all been fishing since this morning. I think I'm going to go hang out. You'll be able to find me- I'll be the one with the giant smile on my face.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Budgetary Blues

When I was a little girl, my parents struggled for money. I swore that I would do everything in my power to make sure that my own children never felt that same worry. Then I had a child at eighteen. But I still finished college, earned a teaching credential, and worked my tail off making sure he and his brother had everything they need. 

Now, I 've been a teacher for five years. Though it is extremely difficult at times, I love my job. I love everything about it, even the inconvenient things, like IEPs and difficult parents. I often search for the silver lining. 

But the basis of anything I do is my own children. My own family. The desire in me to be a teacher, present since 6th grade, has not left. 

When I started teaching, I brought home about $2,000 a month. My husband worked too, and we barely survived with daycare costs, and the rent, and groceries, and everything else a young family buys. Today, after five years and 45 units, I still only bring home about $2,900. My husband only barely more than that. Though it feels like I'm whining, when we pay all of the financial commitments upon us each month, we are left with a $500.00 deficit. 

Is the government going to bail us out on that $500.00? It's equal to the cut that I suffered last year in my pay- and it means that there is nothing left after the bills are paid. Could we get rid of cable? Sort of. I still have to pay that bill for phone and internet, so I can work from home when the school is closed, like today. Could we get rid of the 9.99 Netflix bill? Sure- in fact, I'm supposed to be doing that. 

But we don't have other things to cancel. The mortgage has to be paid. The electricity has to be paid. Groceries have to be bought, and I am left wondering if I should go find another job.

Another job- a supplemental one? Or should I take the friend who offered me a medical assistant job up on her offer and double my salary? What is best for my family? 

Should I continue to do what I was born to do? Should I lead my students to their education? Should I continue to inspire them? Or should I pull out of a failing system and cut my losses like a politician- and seek funding elsewhere?

I hate that I have worked for the last ten years of my life on something I may have to give up. Something I am really good at. Something that I wake up in the morning excited to go do, for something that pays the bills better. 

They wonder why so many teachers leave the profession in the first five years. 

And it seems like people around me, my friends at least, support everything I'm saying. 

But the public doesn't. The public thinks I'm over paid, that the summers off and the two week break we just had, and every other school holiday means that I don't work at least as hard (I'd argue much harder) than they do. 

It's called a Morton's Fork- when you are faced with a decision in which both choices are equally bad. So how do you choose between the lesser of two evils? And how do you deny your heart?