Sunday, May 17, 2015

Teacher, teach thyself.

I haven’t written in a few years because someone was metaphorically standing over me with a scowl and it was no longer fun to write.  However, I realized tonight that I always tell my students to write in their journals that I have given them, when they feel things, any things, meaningful or not.  Write them down, I say.  Don’t shy away from what you are feeling because you will learn from it, I say.  Face your fears and realize that by writing you may figure out a few things, I say.

Well, tonight, I’m doing just that.

I am addicted to Facebook.  There.  I said it.  I owned it.  I’m good with that.  Most of you reading this are addicted to Facebook also because you are reading my blog on Facebook, so ya know, there’s that.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  I think.  Although sometimes I think I really don’t need to see your dinner before you eat it and some of you post way too many non-relevant YouTube videos.  Not that I’m complaining.  The downside of Facebook is that I have found out three people have died in the past year by simply logging on.  Seriously, it’s ridiculous.  I log on to post some snarky reflection on a disastrous yoga class and Bam!  I find out someone I cared about is dead while standing in line at Nordstrom Rack.  (The lines are long when you can’t find some random green-shirt person to check you out so I get bored).  Because of this, I have put back serious sales items.  One cannot just stand in line at Nordstrom Rack whilst crying just to purchase a pair of Betsy Johnson pink leopard pumps that are 70% off.  Even I can’t do that.  The sad thing is that they are never there when you go back after you have stopped crying.  Sigh…

Today whilst on Facebook, I saw that one of my amazing high school students from four years ago graduated from college.  I posted how proud of her I was.  She and her twin sister (who is also graduating) will probably never know how amazing I thought they were in high school; they are the kind of students teachers hope for, wish for.  I loved having these two girls in my classes.  I loved watching them grow and blossom and then after they graduated from high school (and I let them “friend me”) watching them blossom into women who will hopefully take over the world or at least add to it with their immense presence and fabulousness.  One of them wrote back to me about the influence I had one them.  Her eloquent words made me cry and made realize a few things.

Being a teacher is like being a combination of a pit bull, a punching bag and a white wall.  You push and push and hope your students learn and of course (groan) do really well on all of those new sparkly Common Core tests.  You yell (hopefully not a lot), you take their bullshit and disrespect and hope they learn from how they treated you (after a detention or two) and the reaction you gave them (death stare) .  You talk and lecture and teach and then get the wonderful questions like “What are we doing?”” and “Was there homework?”  I’m thinking of having my favorite statement of “I wasn’t listening” turned into a tattoo or a billboard to hang outside my classroom.  I’m teaching The Stranger right now and can’t help equate Camus’s absurdity of life to the sometimes absurdity of teaching.  My absolute favorite student statement has to be “I don’t get it”.  I then ask them to be specific and tell what exactly they “don’t get”.  I usually get the blank stare and a repeat of their comment.  I then repeat my comment and then, well, it just gets ugly.

I hate it.  I love it.  I will do anything I can to make them learn but occasionally have to throw in the towel when the absurdity of the apathy gets just too much for me.  I have actually asked some students if they are happy being in school.  The ones who show up every day but do no homework, don’t participate in class and don’t give a crap – those are the ones I ask if they are happy.  They can’t possibly be happy.  When I ask this question, the ones who aren’t actually happy usually begin trying to become the student they realize they could be and then they get an adorable journal from Barnes and Nobel in their favorite color.  It’s not a reward, just an idea or a suggestion for them.  It usually helps.  If not, at least they can use it as a coaster. 

The ones who say they “don’t care” just get mandatory tutoring, which of course, doesn’t really help, because, let’s face it they didn’t care to begin with then no pretty purple butterfly journal will amount to a hill of beans with them.  AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH.  It’s so frustrating to teach to people who don’t really want to be taught.  They become an elephant on my head.  Something who really shouldn’t be there and just gives me a headache.  I still try to make them become students.  I don’t give up that easily.  After ten years of teaching, I don’t give up without a fight or at least a parent conference. 

Usually the slackers in my classes like The Stranger because of the apathy and they find themselves engaged without really even realizing it, but unfortunately by then, it’s no use and they will still be taking summer school no matter how much work they actually do during this unit.  And I teach English for summer school so they will still be stuck with me.  Hah!  It’s a wonderful paradoxical irony.

I teach, on average, 160 students a year.  Teenagers.  Ugh.  They are their own paradoxes and don’t realize that until I teach philosophy whilst teaching The Stranger.  Remember back to when you were that age?  Too young to be an adult and too old to be a child.  Their parents want them to have responsibility but won’t let them stay our past ten o’clock on a school night.  They can shave but they can’t vote.  Seriously, they relate to the word paradox simply because they are one.

But then, with all of that, most of them do learn.  Something.  Well, something-ish.
But…will they remember it?  Will they apply it to college and adult life?  I have no freakin’ clue.  I have kids who are fighting in Afghanistan and in Iraq and this makes me begin to wonder if poetry and Shakespeare really play a part of their lives now.  It should, right?  Maybe?  Learning what figurative language is…will that really help them?  Ugh.  Of course, the crap I teach helps some of them at least get decent scores on their SAT’s and I’ve had kids get into UCLA, Brown, Occidental, Tuskegee, Clark, Spelman  – the list, thank goodness, is endless.  I had one kid, a retired drug dealer, who got a 2200 on his SATs with a 4.0 GPA.  He’s going to Berkeley.  I wrote one of his letters of recommendation.  He came and hugged me when he got his letter of acceptance.  I’m good with that.

Okay, here’s my point:  A childhood friend of mine died a few weeks ago (yep, found out about that one on Facebook too).  It seems that someone always dies while I’m in the middle of teaching The Stranger.  Maybe I should stop teaching it.  Anyway, here I am, in the middle of explaining absurdism and that Albert Camus said that life has no meaning and then someone who is MY AGE dies some stupid tragic death and I start looking over my life and wondering if there is any meaning at all.  Ya know, in my life.  Then I look at my children and realizing that despite all odds, I am raising two beautiful souls who are kind and intelligent and funny.  Who love to snuggle and make me wonder with amazement at the things of which they are amazed.  I look at the students I have pushed to go to college or to find their own way in the world, and they share their accomplishments with their old teacher on Facebook and I realize that I do have a legacy.  That I will be remembered as the crazy English teacher who wore high heels every day and made them write a million essays and do weird but poignant projects and made them think or consider or analyze things in a whole new way and made them care about their future and realize they need to be selfish with their education and destinies. 

That maybe, just maybe when I die there will be people who will live on after me who will remember, and push the next generation forward because Ms. Levine would have wanted that.  Maybe…

Tell you one thing – it sure felt good to write this.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I've earned this, damit.

Ah, Mother’s Day.  The only federally mandated holiday that I can totally get behind.  I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day or Flag Day and it seems that every morning on the Channel 4 News there is a new “holiday”.  National Grilled Cheese Day, National Chocolate Day, National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day – why is it always food that is celebrated? Not knocking grilled cheese, just saying there are more important issues in the world.

Like today.  Today, of all days, to me, on so many levels, is a really important one.  Not just because I am a mother and feel the need to get a manicure and not feel guilty about it.  Not just because I have a mother and she feels the need to make me feel guilty if I don’t send a card.  But because, damit, I’ve earned it.  All mothers have.  

Ya know what?  I should be thanked for going through nineteen hours of labor and then squeezing out a person from a hole that really isn't big enough for that.  I should be thanked for getting pooped on and peed on and for kissing boo-boos and making ouchies and fevers all better.  For  diligently trying to catch vomit with my hands.  For being there for the first time they walked, the first time they read, the first time they hit a baseball and made it to third base.  For checking the closet for monsters, for nightmares and for being woken up at 4am because they needed to snuggle.  For being Megatron to their Autobots, for watching them battle in the backyard knowing full well that someone will end up crying five minutes later. For giggles and silliness and making all of their stuffed animals have conversations with them.  For making lunches for school every freakin day of the week and sneaking veggies into their dinners every freakin night of the week.  For singing Puff the Magic Dragon  and Dream a Little Dream seven times in a row, in one night.  For trying so hard to do 4th grade math and giving up but finding someone who can figure that crap out.  For watching every episode of Pok√©mon.  Twice.  For teaching them that boys who can communicate their feeling are just as cool as boys who have awesome scars.  And my boys have both. 

But the funny thing is, is that none of us, moms I mean, never think we actually need to be thanked except for once a year when pictures are drawn and flowers are cut out from tissue paper and homemade cards are made and extra hugs are given and the phrase, “you get to pick the movie tonight, mommy” is said even though they secretly know you will still let them pick the movie.  I love this day.  I live for this little extra bit of thank you. 

The thing is, we don't really need to be celebrated.  We know that this “job” we have is what we have chosen and we love every minute of it.  Well, most minutes of it.  We know that we are the anchor parent, the one that is there, especially the single mommies who do it mostly on our own.  All of the sacrifices and sleepless nights are totally worth it; not just on this one day of the year, but every day of every season.  Personally, I would legally change my name to Mommy if I could. Yah, I know, that would be weird.  

Then, of course, I look at my sister whose children are teenagers.  Dealing with teenagers, well, I get paid to do that.  I look at my 10th grade students and think two things:  1) thank goodness I don't have girls and 2) please, dear god, don't let my children turn into teenagers.  Let them just stay seven and nine, all small and cute and innocent.  Oh crap, they will be teens soon.  This blog will take on a whole new meaning when that happens.  Seriously, it is my job to turn them into good men. Magnificent, attentive, non-asshole men all by myself and then just hope for the best.  Let go, let god.  Oh goody, the control freak will then be forced to relinquish control.  Kill me.  Just kill me now. I am not sure how my sister does it.  And the funny thing is,  she has no idea how I do it either.

My youngest son drew this picture of me for my Mother's Day gift and gave it to me on Friday.  As he put it, it was me “teaching my students and reading him books and all of students got the right answer on the test”.  He painted me with the biggest smile and with my "teacher" glasses on, and I love so much how he sees me.  That my smile translates into who I am.  That my smile validates him which validates me so much more than any job or man or anything ever could.  Or will.  That to me is Mother’s Day. That to me is all I need today.

I don't have my children until the afternoon today because they are at their dad’s, so we will celebrate today when they get home with swimming in the sunshine and a movie that I get to pick.  I think I will choose Captain America, so at least I get to stare at Chris Evans.  At least got to sleep in on this lovely Sunday morning and be spoiled by someone who has no connection to my motherhood.  He just wants to celebrate me and I am alright with that.  Yep, this tired mommy could use a little pampering and I know just the wonderful man to do it. 

So, to all of my amazing mommy friends, and I must say, I do have the most incredible collection of mommy friends who support each other like sisters; and to my sister who is finishing grad school while raising teenagers with the assistance of a great deal of Tylenol, and to my mother who taught me the right way to be a mother (and yes, I still seek her advice, because she is usually right) – to all of you and all of my facebook mommies and the mommies who actually have missed reading my blog -- Happy Mother’s Day. 

Yes, tomorrow it is back to the same old shit, so enjoy your day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Lobster Mashed Potato Day

Normally, I spend the day before Thanksgiving cooking up a storm.  Roasting pumpkins, making dough, cookies and pie; saying nice things to my turkey before I cook him and setting the table with cute place cards made by my children.  I learned early on to set the table the night before a festive occasion.  My mother taught me that.  Of course she usually set the table a few days before a festive occasion which made my sister and I walk very carefully through the house as not to disturb the perfectly positioned table scenery.  But I have cats so they tend to want to walk and sniff anything new I have in the house, so the night before is good enough for me.  

The “good” dishes and accouterments come out; the pretty bowls which are older than me, the china from my parents wedding (I wanted theirs instead of registering for my own because nothing is cooler than my parent’s wedding china.  Plus, it’s like fifty years old now so they are now considered antiques.  My parents are going to hate that I am pretty much calling them “antiques” but hey, antiques have more value than when you say something is just old.), the Nambe service pieces that I reserve for such occasions and my Nanna’s silver flatware which is to be hand-washed only, damit.  I love cooking for Thanksgiving.  I love feeding people I love and making them eat seconds and then take left-overs home.  I love Thanksgiving.  Seriously.

This year, however, my friend Julie talked me into NOT cooking and instead, taking our kids to a restaurant.  I am torn by this.  It will be nice to have a clean kitchen and not have to scrape stuffing off of the floor and it will be nice not to spend hours on my feet making sure that everything is perfect.  I guess.  The care-taker in me thinks this to be peculiar.  The single-mother/teacher who is exhausted is kinda psyched about the whole thing.  Plus, there is an interactive cookie decorating area for the kids tomorrow which, let’s face it, THEY are psyched about.  I’ve seen the menu too and there will be lobster mashed potatoes and truffle mac and cheese.  Although, just the thought of lobster mashed potatoes and truffle mac and cheese will keep me on the treadmill for an hour after I take my Zumba class on Saturday just to work it all off my ass.

So, here’s the thing: I actually get to relax on my mini-vaca and enjoy dining rather than enjoy cooking.  I get to have a facial tonight and then sleep in and then get all dressed up and not have to clean one single dish.  Hmm…nice but still weird. 

But I digress. 

My favorite part of Thanksgiving, besides explaining to my children that Columbus didn't actually “discover” anything because one cannot discover a place that already exists (that would be like me saying I “discovered” Loehmann's) is The Grateful List.  My friend Terri (favorite vet in the whole wide world) gave my sister, my mother and me these beautiful bracelets called “Blessings Bracelets”.  They have four little thingies on them and every time you look down at  the bracelet you are supposed to count four blessings in your life.  My children and I already had a dinnertime ritual of saying the things we were grateful for during the day (an idea from my friend Hersh) and now we pass around the Blessings Bracelet at dinner and that way we just do four and then of course, we get to play with the cool bracelet.  I love what my children are grateful for.  They always say me, and that makes my heart melt each time, but then they add in things like Ninjas, Pillow Pets, and Legos.  Things like their imagination and sometimes even school (teacher’s kids) and of course, hedgehogs.  Yes, they are actually grateful for hedgehogs.  My oldest son has two stuffed animal hedgehogs, one named Lloyd and one name Lloyd Junior.  Because, ya know, if you are a hedgehog, well, you need a strong name, like…Lloyd.  I suggested Bob, but nope.  I do have a stuffed cow named Bob.  I won him at Legoland.  Very proud of Bob.  My children try to steal him, but I won him, damit, so he’s mine.

But I digress.  Again.

One of my favorite things about being a teacher (besides the great pay and the total respect of my students) is that on the day before Thanksgiving I ask what they, my dear students, are grateful for.  They come up with the greatest grateful lists ever.  They don’t hesitate about what they are grateful for either.  They mention their families and friends; One Direction and Justin Bieber (there was also a shout out for Led Zeppelin this year); Hello Kitty and the new Twilight movie; not wearing uniforms on the weekends and of course their favorite English teacher.  Yah, that last one usually is from the kids who are sucking up for a good grade.  They mention things like “I’m grateful for living with my mom again” and “I’m grateful for my dad being home” and then I read between the lines and realize how grateful I am for hearing that from them.  Maybe because it puts my life into perspective or maybe because I am just grateful that they are safe and happy today. Either way, I love hearing their lists.

Personally, I am grateful for my new school.  I miss my kids from my last school and some of the teachers there, but in this one, my classroom is huge, I have laptops for all of my kids, the staff is wonderful, and the principal actually likes me.  I am grateful for my kids, but if you read my blogs, you know that should go without saying.  They are the best part of me.  I am grateful that they still want to snuggle because they are growing up way too fast and soon they will not only not want to snuggle but make me drop them off a block away from their friend’s house on a playdate, which will no longer be called a playdate and just be called “hanging out” or yikes, a…date.  Oh, seriously, yikes.

Grateful, yes.  Restaurant with Lobster mashed potatoes, truffle mac and cheese and an awesome seafood platter, yes.  Writing my blog after way too long, yes.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate…good. Shoes…good.

I started thinking about Valentine’s Day today because it is foisted upon us this time of year like the Republican primaries.  Plus, I am far too cynical NOT to write a Valentine’s blog.  All of this thinking made me think of love and lust and chocolate and of course that made me think of shoes.  Ya see, I have this really cute pair of chocolate brown patent leather pumps that I was thinking I would wear today to boycott Valentine’s Day but not boycott chocolate.  Get it? Cuz they’re chocolate brown?  (That was totally funny in my head.  Seriously, I really need to stop hanging out with eight year olds who have a propensity for puns.) The chocolate brown pumps do have little plaid bows and are really cute and I bought them last year and they were like, 50% off and…oh never mind.

Last night, I had a long but fun night of basketball practice and Valentine shopping with my boys.  My older son, Max, has a short list of girlfriends this year.  Just two.  Both independent, smart, fabulous, great style and yep, eight years old.  I know both of the moms and we really like each other as friends so we are totally fine if they get married (after college) because then we would get to be in-laws.  Max is meticulous, let me tell you.  We spent like, thirty minutes at the 99Cent store shopping for the perfect gifts.  I figure when he’s nine he can hit Nordstrom and when he is ten:  Tiffany; but for now, the 99Cent store will do. 

I really would have loved him to have made the girls something instead of buying them something.  Remember in grade school when we would spend hours with pink and red paper, lots of glitter and glue and we would MAKE the cards?  You would come home covered in glitter like the way men come home from bachelor parties.  I love homemade gifts as much as I love bachelors.  My favorite Valentine gifts have always been homemade.  This very wonderful man once sent me a poem which made me smile and sigh for the entire day.  Paintings, songs, a original documentaries (well, it was a short) and once there was a Valentine dinner homemade and delicious and I didn't even have to do the dishes.  I love the sentiment with homemade gifts.  Come to think of it, a Victoria Secrets gift card is always nice too...

But I digress…

I would tell you what Max bought them, but both moms read my blog and I do want it to be a surprise for the lovely ladies. The moms both think it is adorable which is good because there was this other mom whose daughter used to liked to hold hands with Max at the YMCA and she got all like, “she’s too young for that!!”  What exactly did she think an eight year old, in a fluorescently lit room with tons of grownups around was going to do to her precious girl?  Seriously, the mom had issues. 

I really want my charming boy to enjoy Valentine’s Day.  I would hate for him to find out it is a total mockery of love tantamount to corporate peer pressure.  It has nothing to do with St. Valentine’s original intent.  Even if he was the patron saint of the plague, epilepsy, and bees; don’t forget he was also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriage.  The man was clubbed to death because he was secretly marrying couples in love.  I'm guessing the divorce rate wasn't as high as it is now, but he was really trying to bring love and joy and blah blah blah.  He apparently would secretly help pass notes between the affianced couples and then they killed him and stuck his head on a stake.  

By the way, some chick named Agatha was the patron saint of single women and some dude named Gregory the Great was the patron saint of teachers.  Nice to know I have someone looking out for me.

Digressing again…

My last year’s Valentine blog was called, Happy Capitalist Mockery of Chocolate Day.  (Crap, maybe I have issues.)

Anyway, here is how I explained my disdain for Valentine’s Day last year: 

Don’t get me wrong. I like love. I like chocolate. I even like heart shaped chocolate. I especially like the little heart shaped Valentine Peeps that are marked down 50% on the day after Valentine’s Day. If you poke a hole in the cellophane wrapper of the Peeps, they get just the right amount of staleness that makes them totally yummy. Then of course you have Tuescher’s Champagne truffles in Beverly Hills which, if one could marry chocolate, this would be the chocolate I would marry. Of course, I would weigh 300 pounds from being married to truffles, but who cares, I would be happy and the truffles would never leave the toilet seat up.

Oh, wait, that just explains my love of chocolate.  Hmmm…hold on.  Oh yeah, here we are:

Making someone wear red and hope someone will validate them on that one special day once a year is ludicrous. It’s stupid and makes people feel like crap. If you are single, then you feel like crap because the world is decorated with hearts and little cherubs should be buzzing around you, but they’re not buzzing around you, they are buzzing around the guy next to you who is looking at someone else.   If you are actually in a relationship, you may end up feeling like crap as well. There is all of this pressure to buy your significant other something romantic on Valentine's Day. Emphasis on BUY. God forbid you forget to buy something, then your significant other might think you are secretly harboring feelings for someone else or that you really don’t like them all that much because you couldn’t see the ten million ads that told you diamonds were on sale at Zales. But, hey, you can eat chocolate that is 50% off the next day to heal your wounds. You’ll just be eating it alone.

That wasn't too cynical.  Was it?

Anyway, I would just like to say once again that I have nothing against love and romance but I just prefer my love and romance on a Tuesday in say, April or June.  For no reason whatsoever.  Tell me you love me without the Hallmark card.  Bring me truffles when you just stopped by to say hi.  Or better yet, bring me daffodils on Memorial Day.  I like that holiday better. You get a day off from work.

Have a nice Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And I can even do The Dougie

I was starting to write a blog about how all women think everything is their fault (mostly because there are certain men who tell them this and they believe them) but then I received a phone call that totally changed my mind.  Yes, I still think everything is my fault, but that can wait for another day.  I mean, I am sure it was me who caused the hole in the ozone layer from all of the Aqua Net I used in the late 70’s and the economy is crashing because I haven’t paid off my student loans yet; but seriously, all of that can wait for the next blog.  Although, the next blog will be on how stupid Valentine’s Day is, so the “It’s all my fault” blog will be the one after that.  I am kind of just thinking out loud here, ya know, planning.  You probably don’t actually have to be here for this conversation…

Let me tell you about some of the good things that can be considered “my fault”.

This is my third year of teaching at the same very small charter school.  Because the school is so small, I know almost all of the kids.  Plus, because I am one of only two high school English teachers, I have taught almost all of the students there as well.  Yep, there are only two of us hawking literature which is great because we have a little more autonomy than if we had to team teach. However, it may suck for a kid who isn’t thrilled with having me for their teacher.  It’s kind of like, sorry sweetie; you are stuck with me so make the most of it.  It’s probably a good life lesson for my students.  Ya know, prepare them for later in life when they have to deal with people that are annoying, like college roomates and co-workers and spouses.

Anyway…I am the senior class advisor again (go back and read I’m a leopard, not a cougar and The Prom) (go read the old ones too cuz they’re really funny, if I do say so myself) and these students I have had for all three years.  I know them, I’ve taught them, and I have learned from them too.  They taught me about The Urban Dictionary and taught me how to do “the dougie” and taught me about the joys of refined sugar.  As much as I think they are a collective pain in the ass, I really like them.  Well, I will be honest and say “most” of them. But these students, some of them, mean more to me than I thought possible. 

There is one kid who this blog is specifically about.  His father died on the last day of school last year, very suddenly.  At first, I thought he was joking when he told me because he had mastered the fine art of sarcasm under my tutelage as well as having a propensity for dark humor.  But his eyes, wide with grief, said it all.  I couldn't believe he was even at school, but he said he just didn't want to be at home.  It was all too much.

Since it was the last day of school, there wasn’t much going on, and he was totally in shock, so he asked if he could just hang out in my classroom for the day.  I called all of his teachers and there he stayed, on my makeshift couch, quietly playing on his contraband phone.  He talked a little, I made him eat (Jewish mother that I am) but mostly, he just sat there.  He asked me if I would come to the funeral.  Just be there.  The funeral was one of those huge Liberian funerals where at least twenty people spoke about his dad.  I had met his dad on several occasions and had had many conversations with him.  Ya see, although I really liked having him as a student, he was a total slacker who would always be failing my class at some point during the semester so calls home were inevitable.  His dad was very tall and serious but a warm hearted man.  He loved his son, he was a good father and I miss those conversations about how we were going to light a fire under his son to keep him motivated. 

So, there I was, white teacher at the African funeral.  Big black hat, little white lady in the back; that was me.  It was an open casket and I had never seen a dead body before and we all had to walk past the casket to pay our respects to his father.  I really didn’t want to, but I did it anyway.  I remember thinking how small his father looked for such a tall man.  It looked like his father but just sort of the shell of him.  After I walked past, I hugged my student and sat back down to listen to the eulogies and sermon.  The reverend was a little man but a powerful speaker.  I think there was one point during his sermon where I accidently accepted Jesus as my savior, I really didn't mean to.  I think my rabbi would totally understand.  It was an accident.  I told him about it later, (my student, not my rabbi) and he laughed, knowing the dialogue that was probably going on inside my head during the funeral.  The surreal nature of being there.  The funeral, the accidental acceptance of Christ, getting lost on the way to the funeral...seriously, there I was, in “the jungle” of South LA without a GPS, making repeated u-turns and wondering if the red flames on my mini-van should be blue.  It's funny, I wasn't scared of being murdered by gangs but rather scared of what my student had to deal with.  Scared of what we all had to deal with.  Scared of seeing his father one last time.  Scared of my own mortality.  And yet grateful that I was there.  Seriously, it was a powerful day that made me want to go home and hug my own children.

Months have passed and one by one my seniors have been accepted into college.  Well, most of them.  Some are still waiting, some have stopped waiting, and some just are waiting to graduate and be done.  I do love this part of being their senior class advisor because when my seniors do get accepted into college, they run into my classroom with their acceptance letters and hug me.  I always get chills.  This particular student was also accepted into college.  I told him how proud his dad would have been.  He just smiled quietly like his dad would have and nodded.  He looks so much like him...

Last night, out of the blue he called me to thank me.  He said he wasn’t sure if he ever had.  He told me I wasn’t just a teacher to him but something so much more.   I was special to him and I was there when he really needed me and he thanked me again.  I asked him to record that for me so I could play it back and hear it when teaching became hard and I needed a reminder.   It was a pretty great reminder of why I do what I do for very little money.

I just felt like sharing that.  I haven’t written much lately and it feels good to be inspired.  It just felt really, really wonderful to be validated by a student.  It’s not like I think I am Hillary Swank in Freedom Writers, or Sidney Poitier To Sir With Love but I think I do some good stuff here.  I realized last year that it may be the administration who pays the teachers, but ultimately, it’s the students we are working for.  Of course, I may get burned out in a few years from all of the stupid questions they ask like “But what if I don’t turn my paper in on time?” and “Oh, should I be writing the assignment down or can you just facebook it to me?” and “Ms. Levine, why do you teach in three-inch heels?” But for now, I’m good.  

Okay, on to the Valentines Blog with much more self deprecating humor, I promise.  But for now, I will just bask in the glow of that phone call and know that with the absolute idiocy of the No Child Left Behind Act, there are a few who have not been left behind.  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Vodka and scotch and grey ducks

It is as different as apples and oranges.  I don’t like that phrase.  I mean, it’s descriptive enough but why apples and oranges?  Because they are both round but of different tastes, smells and textures?  Oh, wait, that makes sense now.  But still, there are other things you can say instead of apples and oranges just to be more creative.  What about blueberries and raspberries?  Naw, too long.  It doesn’t flow.  Hmmm…mango and papaya?  You can’t really use pineapple for any of this…or banana for that matter.  I mean that would just sound dirty.  Hmmm…lemons and limes might work…coconuts and kiwis?  They are both round and fuzzy. 

How about choosing something that isn’t fruit.   Grass and astro-turf?  Men and women?  Vodka and scotch?  Both alcohol, but two different colors and two different tastes.  I think that works.   I would say vodka and whiskey but the smell of Jack Daniel’s makes me want to hurl.  I think I will go with vodka and scotch.  Mix things up a bit. I have also changed “six of one, half dozen of the other” to “half of one, one half of the other” just to watch people try to figure it, or rather me, out.  It’s fun to see that “I think you meant something else” look in their eyes but they are too polite and don’t want to offend anyone so they say nothing.  I have also changed “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” to “we’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it”.   That one just makes more sense to me.

The one thing I haven’t changed is saying “duck, duck, grey duck” instead of saying, “duck, duck, goose”.  If you are from Minnesota, you will be one of the only people in the whole wide world to say “duck, duck, grey duck” instead of saying, “duck, duck, goose”.  I have no idea why.  I once asked a farmer if it had to do with geese being grey when they were chicks but he said that no farmer was so stupid as to not see the difference between a baby duck and a baby goose.  The Urban Dictionary (and if it says it there you know it’s true) says a Grey Duck is slang for someone from Minnesota.  Like, it’s an insult or something.  I guess it could be worse.  You could be called a cheese-head or a Hoosier.  Yikes.

Anyway, so I was on the treadmill after work tonight and was contemplating my life as I usually do while on said machine.  It’s either contemplate my life or fantasize about winning the lottery.  Depends on the day.  And the music playing in my head.  Sometimes I like to ask a question to myself and have it answered by hitting shuffle on my IPod.  See what comes up, listen to the lyrics and read into them as some sort of a sign.  

So, tonight, while contemplating my life, I asked myself why I haven’t written my blog in awhile.  I already knew the answer to that question.  Lately when I try to write, it feels as if there are a few people standing behind me, judging what I write and it makes it arduous to write how I feel about anything.  I begin to write and hit delete.  Begin to write and hit delete.  I missed writing.  I missed hearing people sending wonderful comments to me about my blog.  I missed checking the stats to see that people in France and Moldavia and The Bahamas were still reading my stuff.

I started thinking about why writing now is so much more painstaking than before.  I love writing and it soothes my savage soul.  Or my restless and impatient soul.  Or my anxiety-ridden-question-asking-soul.  Sometimes I don’t care who reads it, it just feels good to write it.  But lately, those people standing behind me in my imagination have become a big hindrance.  I told myself to listen to the music and maybe I would create a blog while getting my heart rate up to 155.  I hit shuffle on my IPod and the song Turning Tables by Adele came on.  Not the most heart pumping thing to exercise to, but I began to listen to the lyrics as to answer my own questions.  “As hard as you try, no, I will never be knocked down” and “Under your thumb, I can’t breathe” rattled through my head.  The lyric “Next time I’ll be braver, I’ll be my own savior” gave me my answer and I started thinking of how my attitude had shifted.  It was different now.  I was different now; from how I once was.  As different as apples and oranges.  Or rather vodka and scotch.

A positive imagination can’t hurt you, I know that. However, negative fantasizing (ya know, when you imagine a conversation in your head, something that hasn't happened yet and you imagine it at its worst and then it snowballs into a full blown fight in your head or the worst possible scenario and you decide it would just be easier to lie on your couch and hide under the covers instead of moving forward) can hurt you.  But we all do it.  Just need to do it less.  Use your imagination for good instead of evil.  Of course some evil thoughts can be good too.  Hehehe.

Maybe that’s why Minnesotans use grey duck instead of goose in the game.  You got to play by tapping on little heads and calling them purple duck and polka dot duck and rhinestone duck.  You got to use your imagination and not just keep saying “goose, goose, goose”.  Hmmm…not a bad way to kick start the imagination at a young age.  I should play that with my kids.  Of course, then there would be Transformer duck and Pokemon duck and Lego duck...  

By the way, the next song on my IPod was I’m Sexy and I know it by LMFAO.  Yep, that one worked too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy/Merry Chris-makkah

I am positive about two things during the month of December:  there are way too many holidays and everything at every store is always 50% off the day after Christmas.  But let’s face it, the second one is much more important to me than figuring out what the hell myrrh is used for.   

Okay, seriously, here’s the short list of December holidays: Besides Christmas there is Kwanzaa, Festivus, The Hopi Soyaluna Ceremony, The Winter Solstice (which includes the Halcyon Days) (natural highs only please), Yalda, Holy Innocents Day, Boxing Day, and believe it or not National Chocolate Day.  Seriously, I did not make that last one up.  I personally celebrate that one about once a month…

I really don’t know that much about Kwanzaa but it seems to be similar to Hanukkah.  They have something that resembles a menorah and that’s all I know.  I have several students from Africa so I should probably learn about it.   Festivus was created by Jerry Seinfeld and I am sure his wife just steams cauliflower and hides it in their children’s food to celebrate the day.  The Winter Solstice has something to do with Stonehenge and Boxing Day is literally about boxes that were used to hold presents from Christmas that were filled up with charitable things to give to the poor so it’s basically a glorified re-gifting day.  Yalda is the celebrations of the birth of Mithra, the Persian Sun god and has something to do with pomegranates.  Why the people who make POM haven’t picked up on this holiday for a marketing campaign is beyond me.  And then, there is Hanukkah or Chanukkah.  The spelling varies but the story is about this cool guy named Judah and his brothers the Maccabees who held off the Syrians or the Lybians or some middle eastern sect who hated the Israelites and then there was a miracle with the oil and it lit the lights of the temple for eight days.  Or something like that.  It’s been a few years since I went to Saturday School.

Let’s face it, if it ain’t Christmas it is barely accepted in this country.  I don’t care how liberal, how democratic or how I-believe-the-whole-world-should-be-treated-equally you are.  Christmas rules and all of the other holidays drool. 

Sometimes this totally sucks.  For example, try being the only Jewish family in New Hope, Minnesota during the month of December.  There were no other Jews for miles and my parents were from The Bronx.  They had a totally different accent and had no freakin clue what a “hotdish” was.  The whole city drank “pop” while my parents drank “soda”.  It was a challenge for all of us.  However, I have to say having that half New York/half Minnesota upbringing worked out well (now that I can look back on it with a sense of humor and lots of therapy) and probably made me more interesting than the average Minnesotan.  Or the average bear, for that matter.

During the month of December, being the only Jewish students in our school, it came down to my sister and me to explain the story of Haanukkah or Chaanukkah to our peers.  There was no Google back then.  It all came from Saturday school for us which meant we actually had to listen to what our Saturday school teachers were saying.  Plus, we actually had to remember what they told us.  Seriously, that was just too much pressure.   Of course teaching the kids in my class to play dreidel was like teaching them to play craps.  They loved it.  I was like the Hanuukah or Chanuukah Bookie to some of them.  I really should have charged more than just chocolate coins...

Anyway, being the only Jewish family was confusing during this time of year for several reasons. Number one:  Hanukahh or Chanukahh was always being referred to as “the Jewish Christmas”.  This was as offensive as the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”  (I often respond to that phrase with “Funny, you don’t look ignorant.”)   It’s just that Haanukah or Chaanukah is so NOT the Jewish Christmas.  It’s about a miracle of light not a miracle of a baby without sex.  I used to love to remind my peers how Jesus was actually a Jew first before he became Christian.  Sometimes there was nothing more fun than going to my friends’ bible study classes and making sure I brought that up during the class.  I always loved the look of the Sunday school teacher who usually stood there perplexed and not knowing quite how to respond to that.   Bad little Jewish girl…

Number two:  Telling the sweet little Levine girls that only good Christian kids received presents on Christmas from Santa was like, the meanest thing you could possibly do to a kid.  Wasn’t I good?  Hadn’t I been good all year?  I mean, before I was a rebellious teenager who thought Madonna was the role model I should follow.  When I was five or six years old all I wanted was a tree that was all sparkly and pretty and a red felt stocking with presents in it.  Jeepers, I was a good kid.  Didn’t Santa like Jewish kids?  What was his problem anyway? 

Ya see, at five, we didn’t equate religion with Santa.  I knew I was a different religion from all of my school chums, but was I really so different?  Seriously!  Good kid here!  I didn’t understand any of it.  Was Santa just mean or did he not know there were Jewish kids who believed in him too?  I decided to take matters into my own hands and write Santa a letter one year and tell him this.  I told my mom afterwards what I had done and she pretty much had no choice but to make sure my heart wouldn’t be broken.   So, being the emotionally supportive parents that they were, they opted for “holiday stockings” for Christmas morning.  We put out cookies and milk the night before and of course a few carrots for the reindeer.  Every year I told my parents I could see reindeer tracks in the snow.  And even though we didn’t even have a chimney, I believed in my heart that Santa knew I was a good kid who just wanted a few toys and like, a Pez dispenser in the shape of a snowman.  This made me happy and validated the way only a fat, white-haired, red-suited man could do.  I have wondered since if it made my parents uncomfortable…hmmm…ah, who cares, there was Pez.

The irony of the two holidays was the myth of the Jewish kids collecting eight presents for the eight nights of Haannuukkaah or Chaannuukkaahh when really, we got like, two really cool presents the first two nights and then socks and jammies and school supplies for the last six nights.  Yep, nothing says a present like Wonder Woman underwear. 

The sparkly and pretty tree was not going to happen in our house, no matter how much I wanted one.  Luckily, when I was in high school, my friend Chris let me come over and decorate her family’s Christmas tree.  I was in Jewish girl heaven.  They let me put on almost all of the ornaments and string the lights.  I can still hear the Carpenters’ singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  It was the 1980’s so back then I wore really huge earrings (usually one at a time) and I remember I was wearing this silly red Transformer earring that was huge so we hung it on the tree as a joke.  Apparently, to this day they still hang it on their tree every year.  Thank goodness for Facebook or I would never have known they still did that.  Ah, technology.

Today, my kids are half Jewish and half um, not-Jewish.  So we have half of a tree decorated in blue and white (Hanukahh or Chanukahh colors) with little white lights.  We name him Toby the Hannamas Tree every year and we have our Menorah right next to the tree.  Of course not too close because that would be a fire hazard.

I am still optimistically confused this December.  I am still unclear on the Kwanzaa origins, the connection between the Winter Solstice and global warming and have no idea how Santa fits in with Jesus (the whole bunnies and Jesus rising from his grave on Easter baffles me as well).  I do know that there is magic in all of the holidays.  I see it in my children’s faces and not just when they open their presents either.  I have Santa on Facebook and as much as I like to threaten them with Santa (“eat the damn broccoli or I’m Santa”) having them read Mr and Mrs Claus’s status updates is a wonderful way to start our mornings. They count down the days, draw pictures and sing songs and I sing right along with them because I still like to believe in the magic of the holidays.  Christmas or Hanukah or Chanukah who cares, it's all about family and wonderment.  Being rich in friends and not in gifts.  Seriously, do you know one person who can watch It's a Wonderful Life without tearing up?  Unless of course it's the colorized version.

My kids will be with their dad on Christmas so I will be celebrating the traditional Jewish Christmas which involves a day of movies followed by Chinese food.  Ask any Jew and they will probably tell you the same thing.

Happy Holidays.