Thursday, April 6, 2017

The French Connection

I can’t believe I have to do this again, so soon after another beloved family member was taken too soon. Worse, when Mike Connors passed away, he did so knowing how much he was loved and appreciated, but I’m not sure if Steve French ever got that same feeling  As much as he hated it, much of Steve’s life was dependent on others, and I fear he died feeling more like a burden than a benefit.  And while 1000 words will not be enough to set the record straight, I’m going to try. To do so, I will focus on MY relationship with the guy, as to try and capture the incredible story behind my brother’s bond with him would take a book. In short, my brother Richard has done some pretty impressive things in his life: traveling the world, getting into top schools, becoming a doctor, running several practices - but what he did for, and with, Steve is what makes me most proud to call him my brother.

Back when I was 12, Richard was in a terrible car accident that left him with two shattered legs and a broken jaw, and during his year-long recovery, he spent some time at Gaylord Hospital, where a classmate of his was “recovering” from an even more horrific accident that left him in a coma due to a traumatic brain injury. His name was Steve French.

Prior to the accident, Steve was not what you would call a good guy. From what I understand, he was a bit of a bully with a mean streak and short fuse, and the Gold Glove boxing skills to back it up. So much so, that at the time of his accident, there were people saying it was karma, and he got what he deserved.

I’m not sure anyone deserves to go through what Steve did, but I do know that he came out of it a better man. Even while still in the hospital, he was making changes. I’ll never forget wheeling him through the hospital so he could deliver a daily orange to his friend Gary, who was in even worse shape than Steve was. It took ten minutes for Steve to pass the orange to Gary, who could hardly hold it, never mind peel it. Gary lacked speech, and his face was typically contorted into a grimace, but he always managed a smile for Steve. I have no idea what he did with all those oranges, but they certainly brightened his day.

So, regardless of what he was like before the accident, Steve left that hospital a good man. A true source of inspiration and living proof about the power of the human spirit.

He was also a pain in the ass!

From Day One, when I first met him slumped in a wheelchair (which in itself was amazing, as he spent weeks in a fetal position that doctors thought he would never come out of) he was a prankster. Mind you, I was 12, and unaccustomed to dealing with brain damaged people in wheelchairs, so I was nervous the first time I wheeled Steve into an elevator and pushed the button for his floor. Next thing I know, he’s screaming, with his finger apparently stuck in the door. I start to panic, and the guy pulls his hand away from the door and starts laughing, pointing the finger he faked getting stuck at me in a “Got you!” manner

That was the first of many.

After he graduated to using a walker, his favorite trick was to pretend to be falling. He’d flail his arms and yelp, and I’d come running to catch him. Every time. And every time, he’d laugh, happy that he had fooled me again.

And when he started driving, he’d convince me to check his oil, or windshield wiper fluid, or headlights. And EVERY time I stuck my head under the hood or on front of the grill, he’d beep the damn horn, causing me to jump and bang my head.

But it wasn’t just me. He had a knack for tricking pretty girls into groping him. His posture, gait, and garbled voice gave away that he had a brain injury, which made people more inclined to be helpful - so when he’d approach a stranger and ask for help getting his keys out of his pocket, many obliged. They’d reach into his front pants pocket, feel around, and come out empty. He’d then convince them to check the other pocket., then his back pockets, and so forth, until they caught onto the joke. Some never did!

I’m sure most of it was pure fun and games, but I think part of it was Steve doing whatever it took to feel in control. He had lost so much control over his own life, physically, mentally, emotionally, that it must have felt good to have some situations he could take charge of.

What I don’t think he realized though was how much of an influence he did have on me, and pretty much everyone he met. He was not easy to deal with. He was slow, hard to understand, and stubborn - and to this day, I attribute my fairly high level of patience and tolerance to him.

And he was equally tolerant. I've seen him in pain, but never heard him complain. For Steve, every thing was a struggle, but he insisted on doing everything himself, no matter how much extra time it took. And for someone who was never supposed to walk again, he sure got around. He traveled Europe, worked in a grocery store, frequented Danny O's, lived on his own, retaught himself how to drive, and had an active social life.

He was proud. Maybe even a bit of a bragard or show-off, always flexing his muscles and squeezing my hand in a death grip - and well, since that annoyed me, I learned to be humble! But the way he went about getting those hard-earned muscles; the hours spent in the gym, willing his body to do things deemed impossible by others, taught me about perseverance and dedication.

But under all those muscles, Steve was still a little mama's boy! He bought a house right next to his amazing mother, and when not visiting with her, was talking about her. Not that I needed any help in that department, but it was still nice to see their sweet relationship. Same goes for his siblings and nieces and nephews. He was constantly pulling out his wallet to show me their latest pictures and raving about their exploits.

I was a teenager during the years that Steve was an integral part of the family, and while I’m sure I was no less self-centered than your typical teen, there was never any resentment over him being there. Sure, I got frustrated and annoyed with him, like any brother, and I had to train my girlfriends not to fall for the “Find my Keys” trick, but he added so much more to my life than he took.. And really, all he “took” was a little more time, patience, and understanding; three things we should all be grateful to share. And in return, he taught us all that life truly is what you make of it. People can change. Adversity can be overcome. Friends and family are important. And when life gives you lemons, give someone else an orange.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Last Call

He went by many names, and worked at many bars, but I've only seen one expression on his face: a giant smile. And I do mean GIANT! Mike Connors was literally larger than life. Whether it was his raspy "Heyyy!' or gnarly handshake,  he enveloped people with warmth every time he greeted them. And it's beyond shocking that he is no longer with us.

I knew of Mike before I knew him. I worked in a restaurant across the street from The Black Duck, and there was much talk of Wolfie. I lived a somewhat sheltered life, and always thought of the Duck as a biker bar. And to tell you the truth, the first few times I ventured in there, he scared me. Quick with a wink and drink for the girls I was with, he was not as cuddly towards me. He was big, and gruff, and clearly In Charge, and, well I was intimidated.

But I quickly saw the softer side (and, really, the only side) of Big Mike...after learning he really did not like being called Wolfie by just anyone.  And over the years we went from being patrons to friends to family. Like actual family, as he ended up marrying my sister in law (technically former sister in law, but we don't play that way!)

Mike could not have been a better choice for husband and step-dad to Kelly and her kids. My brother loved his family and brought them much joy, but he also left them in sad shape, and Mike just picked them all up on his strong shoulders and carried them through some tough times. I feel very confident speaking for my entire family when I say we not only accepted Mike, but respected and felt indebted to him for taking on such a challenge and keeping the family together.

And that's what Mike did. He brought people together. I lost count of how many couples and marriages are attributed to his doings, but I've got two nieces who owe their significant others to his presence. I also remember being at Viva Zapatas, sitting on the patio with some friends, being annoyed by these young kids who were acting like obnoxious dicks - until Mike showed up, All of the sudden, there was a hush, and I could hear them whispering, "It's Coach Connors!" Without his saying a word, or even knowing what they had been up to, they changed their attitude and were on their best behavior for the rest of the night.

He was big, but his physical strength was no match for his emotional side. Looking back I truly don't remember him ever saying an unkind word about anyone. Well, anyone NOT wearing a Dallas jersey! He was big, but not afraid to show his love for his furry little hamster-sized dogs! He was big, but had the gentlest of touches for the frailest of Grandmas.

But as big as he was, the hole that he is leaving is even bigger. It's only been six hours since I heard the news, but I've seen his face a dozen times on the digital frame in my kitchen, and each time it pops up, I smile along with him, until it hits me that he is gone. I know that no one that big, that important, that involved in so many lives can ever truly be gone, but right now, that doesn't help.

 I hurt for his family. I hurt for his friends. I hurt for his former players and teammates and customers. It broke my heart having to tell my mother, as it felt like she had lost another son. And since he was technically not my bother in law,  I always jokingly called him my brother in love. But it was no joke. I meant it

Mike spent a lot of time in, and behind, bars (not the jail kind!) and made many a Last Call - but tonight, instead of turning the lights on, an incredible light has unexpectedly gone out :(

RIP Mike Connors

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Total Lack of Diplomacy

My town has made the news again. For whatever reason, the powers that be seem intent on making national news every May, even if it means making a mockery of things many hold sacred.  It started when James Tate turned the side of the high school into his own personal bulletin board, using masking tape to post a sign asking a girl to go to the prom with him. He was subsequently banned from the prom for his “vandalism”, but after pressure from the community and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel and the Today show, the decision was reversed. A few years later, the school administration was back in the national spotlight, this time regarding an 11th hour dress code that suddenly surfaced regarding the style of prom dresses, threatening to ban any student who showed up in a gown that had cut outs, side-slits, or exposed backs. Again there was an uproar and influx of satellite trucks and news teams, and again the administration backed down, or at least softened their stance.  

In both cases, I found myself sympathizing with the administrators for trying to do the “right” thing. Sure, I was also shaking my head at the stupidity of their seemingly knee-jerk reactions and complete lack of foresight in not seeing how these decisions would blow up in their faces, but I could understand and appreciate where they were coming from.  

But their latest May headline grab is absolutely disgusting and indefensible. The Shelton High senior pictured above was recently killed in a car accident, and his parents were hoping he would be posthumously awarded his diploma at graduation, along with his classmates. They were told no.  No. No, we will not allow the name of your dead son to be read aloud with the rest of his classmates. No, we will not award a diploma, even though he was already accepted into college. No, we will not provide any sense of closure, comfort, or common decency.

And why? Is there some legal issue we are not privy to that would give them a legit reason for not honoring such a reasonable request? The answer is no. The excuses they are giving range from rhetoric about World War II and Korean soldiers receiving honorary degrees to the board of ed not being able to find anything in their records to guide them and are therefor unwilling to set a new precedent One BOE member even said “The implication was that others in the future would expect similar treatment” Really? And that is a problem, why? We won’t award your dead son an honorary diploma because then we’d have to give every kid who tragically passes away a diploma? Is paper that expensive? Is decency that difficult?

I truly don’t get it. This is not the first time Shelton has dealt with such a situation, and sadly, it won’t be the last. But in every other instance, they did the right thing. The only difference in this case are the people in charge – and to me,  if I can’t count on them to do right by a single dead student, how the hell can I trust them to make the truly difficult decisions that affect the thousands of kids still in the school system, including my own son? I mean, budget cuts are hard to make. Curriculum choices are very difficult. Safety and security concerns are extremely challenging. I would expect board of ed members to struggle with such decisions. But no one could have expected such a no-brainer “decision” to show a little common sense and compassion to become such a problem. And that is a problem. I have lost all faith, trust, and patience with this board of ed – and even if they repeat their May pattern of reversing their decision, it will be too late. The damage has been done. If they require past precedent in order to be decent, then we need some new people in charge.

I say this not just as a concerned citizen or upset parent, but as a teacher. One, who every year, gives his students the same advice: “Don’t be the kid they dedicate the yearbook to.” They look at me a little strange until I explain that, chances are, when they show up in September as freshmen, one of the kids in their high school will not live to see his or her graduation.  And while that kid will get a special page in the yearbook, and have balloons released in his or her honor, and have the school rock painted in their favorite color, and get the loudest cheer at graduation, you do NOT want to be that kid.

And you definitely don’t want to be that kid if you live in Shelton.

Monday, February 8, 2016

S'no Fun

As I sit home, courtesy of a “snow day” called hours before the first flake fell, and watch as the pitiful amount of accumulation finally approaches the one-inch mark, and it’s already well past noon, I have to wonder: How did we get to this point?  

Granted, I get it. Snow makes for dangerous driving conditions. And the safety of our kids really is our first, and second, priority. And I even understand the overabundance of caution mentality and safety first approach that has overtaken this country in light of some terrible tragedies.And I totally agree that even one life saved is well worth the inconveniencing of thousands. 

But what I don’t get is how that is any different than 30 years ago?

Did parents back then care less about their children’s lives? Did they not understand that snow+roads=slippery? Did society value education more than safety?  Were weather reports more accurate and reliable? Were vehicles and clothing better equipped to handle snow and ice?

Or did we turn into a bunch of titty babies?

I’m thinking it’s the later, as back then, we did not have Doppler radar and AccuWeather forecasts. Or four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. Or the latest Nike dri-fit clothing. We had a daily newspaper and the 11:00 news for weather, rear-wheel drive with sandbags and bricks in the trunk (or kids sitting on the back over the drive wheel) for traction in the snow, and hand-knit hats and mittens that collected snow like lint-rollers, and kept out the cold about as well as a screen door.

I clearly remember leaving for school in snowy conditions that today would have caused the governor to close the roads and declare a State of Emergency. Yet I somehow managed to walk through the unplowed streets to the bus stop, where my fellow grade-schoolers were eagerly discussing the chances that the snow would keep coming so that maybe they would send us home early. Our conversations would be halted every so often so that we could assist a struggling motorist by pushing their rear-wheel drive cars up the hill. Sometimes it worked, and we would cheer as they fishtailed their way up the road, honking their horns in gratitude.  Sometimes it didn’t, and we’d jump out of the way as the out-of-control cars slid backwards into a snowbank.

When the bus finally came - it could be counted on to be up to an hour late (and we waited!), we’d place our bets (with our bodies!) on the spot we deemed most likely for the bus to skid to a final stop. If the roads were really bad, this practice turned into a rather dangerous game of Chicken to those who dared to hold their ground as the bus slid sideways down the street. But it was worth it for those rare times when the doors opened right in front of you, and you got to step right on the bus as your classmates slipped and slid their way from their ill-chosen spots. 

Now, the mere hint of snow is enough to cancel school. And while I sometimes appreciate the unexpected time off (say, on a day following the Super Bowl!), I can’t help but wonder what message we’re sending to our kids. Plus, I really miss the thrill of driving in the snow! 

Back in the day, it was expected that you went to work. We were ALL like the mailmen, making our way through rain, sleet, snow, and hail to and from our jobs (which apparently, were all essential back then. Now, roads are closed to all except emergency vehicles and douchebags.) Which makes me think that our kids are going to be ill-prepared for doing battle with the weather - even though their cars and trucks are 4 x better equipped (see what I did there) than ours ever were.  My fear is that what they have in four-wheel drive, they’ll be lacking in fortitude 

I’m not gonna lie, there is something thrilling and exciting about driving in the snow…but only when you have to. Taking the truck out and tooling around for fun just makes you a tool - but needing to get to work (or home again) makes you feel like a hero. 

I still remember the time, after working a double through the heart of a major snowstorm (at my “essential” job at Stop & Shop) and driving home in my trusty Chevette. I had trouble even leaving the parking lot. I put the car in reverse, and tried to back out, but the car refused to move. Thinking it was a snow bank, I floored it, and suddenly found my rear wheels off the ground and my nose pointing down. I got out to see what the hell happened, and realized I had backed over a shopping carriage that was buried in the snow. I somehow managed to extricate myself and continued on my way. Literally, 10 seconds later, I was rear-ended at the stop light at the exit of the parking lot! It was just a tap, and not wanting to get back out, I just rolled down my window, gave an “It’s okay” wave of the arm, and drive off. 

The flakes were falling so fast and heavy, it looked like warp speed in the Millennium Falcon through my windshield. I had, of course, turned the radio off (Guy Rule #1 in Stressful Driving Conditions)  and my knuckles were whiter than the snow, but it was exhilarating. I’d slowly pass the muted glare of snow-covered hazard lights of cars “parked” at odd angles on the shoulder, looking sharp for the slumped shadows of drivers who had abandoned them, wondering which of the upcoming hills and turns would be my turn. 

But somehow I made it home safely. I’m sure the fact that I was driving a shitbox made me less concerned, and perhaps a bit less cautious, but I couldn’t help but feel proud of my car, and myself, when I finally pulled into my driveway. Not only did I show up to work, when many did not, but I also made it home when others could not. Sure, it was scary, but it was also satisfying. 

So, yes, I sort of miss that feeling. I know, I’ve still got lots to be proud of, but nothing that involves real risk, you know? Not that I’m advocating taking foolish chances, mind you, or even saying that we should have had school today. In fact, when it comes to other people’s kids, I would always err on the side of caution. But I don’t want my own kid growing up to be intimidated by few inches!

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Guest Blog from Julianna

NOTE: Below is an essay (written at the very last minute!) by my step-daughter for an Art class - which, she wants me to tell you, explains why some of the paragraphs towards the end are "boring" - but her mother and I found them ALL pretty amazing! Enjoy

Julianna Kriston
Professor Nichols
Art and Human Needs
11 November 2015
Hometown Assignment
            When I think of the past, I think of tradition. Traditions are in a sense, the past reincarnated. Commitment to traditions and other family ties can remain constant even through change, pain or loss. There is a certain healing power in being surrounded by those you love and participating in familiar activities as a whole. Traditions not only facilitate the reunion of loved ones, but also the commemoration of those who have passed away. By continuing traditions started by family members in the past, we can be comforted by familiarity while simultaneously paying tribute those who can no longer participate. Physical works of art such as monuments or mausoleums also help fulfill our natural human need to remain connected to those we love both near and far. Both tradition and art are necessary and effective forms of expression that aid in the process of commemoration and acceptance of loss.
            With the holiday season soon approaching, the decorating of our family Christmas tree is a specific tradition that comes to mind. This is a ritual many people observe, that mixes both art and spirit to create a unique experience. For my family, this tradition begins with finding a tree. It seems each year we take home the most “Charlie Brown-esque” of the lot. We laugh as we turn it every which way in an attempt to expose its fullest branches. Whatever eccentric Christmas themed playlist my step-dad has created that year is always the soundtrack. I am usually the first to disagree with our choice of tree, however after it is finally in its stand I do take a step back and appreciate its unique beauty. The bright colors glowing in the dimmed light of our family room, is quite a sight to see if you make sure to squint your eyes just right (“squinty eyes” being another tradition that always takes place upon that first igniting flick of the switch).
Once we have collectively admired the lights through squinty eyes, my step-dad retrieves from the attic what somehow seems to be way more boxes of ornaments than we had the year before. As they pile up we wonder where they all came from and, more importantly, how we will fit them all on our scrawny Charlie Brown tree. Regardless, we begin to pull ornaments out of their boxes, unwrap their protective newspaper layers, and place them on the tree. It seems my step-dad naturally gravitates toward the top branches, while my mom and I gravitate toward middle branches. With the birth of my younger brother, who is now 6, even the very bottom of our tree manages to become riddled with our eclectic Christmas ornaments and the answers to our aforementioned wonders begin to unfold. Even as time changes the size of our family and the number of ornaments we possess, we still make the tradition work. Tradition trumps change, and the ability to realize and appreciate that fact, as well as watch it unfold is a gift in itself.
As we miraculously manage to find a place for each piece of our excessively large ornament collection it is an unspoken yet unavoidable part of the tradition to discuss the history and origin of every ornament we pick up. We have naturally given each piece sentimental value, as each has been consistently present in the tradition. After participating in this tradition with my family every year, I have concluded from my experiences that Christmas ornaments of any kind are tiny works of art that we purchase or create to be included in a sacred family tradition. We place value on the artwork or even the artist if it happens to be someone close to us.
One work of art featured on our tree each year is especially close to my heart. The piece is a large ceramic bulb with a simple gold ribbon tied around the top for hanging. A soft, but bright emerald green envelops the entire sphere serving as a backdrop for the focal point of the piece. Occupying most of the front surface area is a 3-Dimensional image of a hearty, and highly detailed Santa Clause face. His beard is snow white and carved in a way that gives it a texture similar to braids or curls. Only a small portion of a cheery, bright red mouth is visible through its density. Chubby cheeks, painted a subtle rosy pink protrude above his full beard. A crimson red Santa hat sits atop more billowy, stark white hair. Most notably, two small almond shaped eyes are accented with dainty black lashes that help draw attention to their deep blue centers. The bright colors offer a drastic contrast to the pure white of the beard, which makes the image stand out. Santa’s facial expression is joyful and friendly, just as he is most commonly depicted. He even seems to be making squinty eyes (a tree decorating necessity, as previously mentioned). Volume is only evident where the 3D shapes of Santa’s face and features are raised from the original spherical shape, giving the illusion that Santa is peeking his head out from inside the ornament. The lack of chiaroscuro gives the work a simple, clean look. Overall, the style of the piece is very classic, because of its clean lines and use of traditional Christmas colors. The piece is essentially the epitome of a typical Christmas ornament. Contextually speaking, it is clear from the generic materials and design that this piece is not the work of a professional artist, although it is still neatly and accurately done. The artist of this particular Christmas ornament was in fact my grandma, Kathleen Cribbins. During a ceramics class with her friends in 1975, she crafted this heavy ceramic bulb featuring this cherubic Santa Clause because of her love for Christmas. I imagine that between chatter and laughter with girlfriends, she carefully created what I consider to be the most beautiful ornament featured on my Christmas tree to this day. Its bright colors and simple, yet bold image have always stuck out to me. I often admired it as a child and fondly remember seeing it prominently displayed on my grandparents Christmas tree every year when I was young. Forty years have gone by since my grandma created this work of art, and began the tradition of hanging it on her own tree with her daughter. Today, 4 years have gone by since the passing of my grandma. With her passing, the ornament made its way into the possession of my mom, who now carries out so many family traditions in place of her mom, including of course decorating our Christmas tree. For me, this simple Santa Clause ornament that was once held and cared for by my grandma, now holds so much of her spirit. Each year when we finally stumble upon her creation during our tree decorating tradition, it is as if we have the privilege of opening one last Christmas gift from her.
In dealing with loss, commemoration is a natural human need. The loss of a loved one is not easy to accept or endure. Humans are comforted by the idea that those who have passed can somehow still live on. To facilitate this, we project significance onto worldly possessions, like pieces of artwork that we can connect to our loved ones, as a means of physically experiencing and enjoying our memories of them through these possessions. Throughout history many cultures have decorated tombs, named grave stones, built and visited shrines, and erected monuments, all for the sake of remembering and honoring their pasts. These are all examples of both art and tradition being utilized as means of commemoration.

Each year, in accordance with tradition, my mom and I choose a spot that catches our eye and display my grandma’s artwork proudly. In doing so, we transform our tree into a sort of monument commemorating the spirit of my grandma. Her hand crafted Christmas ornament will always be one of my favorite works of art, as it serves as a constant reminder that she is with us not only in our family traditions, but in our memories always. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Inside an Inside Joke

I’ve always been intrigued by inside jokes.  When everyone is laughing except for me, I want to know why. And when “my” people are laughing and others are left looking on, perplexed, I feel almost powerful. To me, inside jokes are a defining characteristic of “family” – whether it’s the traditional family, a football team, actors on a movie set, or colleagues at work, there’s something so intimate and personal, yet typically silly, about sharing in such secrets.

And needless to say, I’m on the inside on many an inside joke. So this morning, when I found myself singing to Eli, “Who’s got a big red ding-a-ling?” and then wanting to share how funny that was with the rest of the world, I realized, it would not be all that funny without a lot of explaining. So, here it is…

First, the ding-a ling, which surprisingly, has two parts.

Part One: The Ding

My wife, Sarah, and I are both teachers, so from the time our son was 6-months old, getting him up and ready for the day while getting ourselves up and ready for the day by 7:00 a.m. is quite the challenge. So, to meet the many needs, we had to establish several routines, one of which revolved around breakfast. Our son, Eli, is pretty easy going and easy to please, so pretty much every day, he has frozen waffles for breakfast. Typically, I wake him up, carry him downstairs, and deposit him in bed to snuggle with Sarah while I boil the water for his hot chocolate and toss two waffles in the toaster. And for about two years, the “ding” of the toaster indicating it was done was enough to have him come running into the kitchen to eat.

As he got older, I had to enhance the ding with my own voice to drag him out of bed, so when the waffles are done and cocoa is ready, I now holler “DING!” (or "Ding a ling ding DING!” – see below) and he comes running.

Part Two: The A-Ling

For the past few years, we’ve been doing lots of camping with our cousins. To keep the kids busy, and ourselves entertained by the locals, we tend to participate in lots of the campground activities. At one place, Heath, the BINGO caller, ended every game with his own personal catchphrase of “Ding a ling ding DING!” He had a raspy, somewhat tired (maybe slurry) voice, and after 10 rounds of Bingo, it had become a thing. So much so that we continue to use it years later anytime one of us (including the kids) wants to celebrate a success or indicate approval.  In fact, we liked it so much, we actually returned to the same place last year (even though we prefer to try out new places) just to play Bingo with Heath!

Now that we established that members of my family are prone to shouting out "Ding a ling ding  DING!” at seemingly random moments, let’s move on to the next part

Part Three: “Who’s got a big red…”

Eli LOVES to sing. And I love to hear him, so even though I am NOT a singer, while we’re in the car, or alone, we often play singing games. Our latest is a seasonally appropriate one based on the Mitch Miller version of “Must be Santa” – the song where Mitch sings, “Who’s got a big red cherry nose?” and a chorus of kids shouts back,” Santa’s got a big red cherry nose! Mitch: “Who laughs this way, ho ho ho?” Kids: “Santa laughs this way, ho ho ho!” and so on. Only, we’ve modified so that I’ll sing out things like, “Who’s got to go to school today?” And Eli responds with, “Eli’s got to go to school today!” Me: “Who likes beer on a special day?” Eli: “Daddy likes beer on a special day!” And so on.

So, now that we have all three parts, you might find it amusing to hear how this morning, when Eli came running into the kitchen JUST as the waffles were ready, negating my need to shout out “Ding!” Or “Ding a ling ding DING!” I heard myself sing out, “Who’s got a big red ding a ling?” And without missing a beat, he sang back, “Santa’s got a big red ding a ling!”

Or, you might not. In which case, yots of yuck on your yawn! Sorry, that’s an inside joke

Friday, June 19, 2015

Change, Not Chains

Today was my last day at the school I've been teaching at since 2001. A population decrease in the district necessitated lots of cuts and movement, and while no one lost their jobs (this time!) many people were displaced. Before I knew I was going to be one of them, I spent a lot of time talking to people about the benefits of change and I guess I must have convinced myself, as I wound up volunteering to leave (even though seniority would have allowed me to stay.) Below is the letter I sent out to the staff, explaining my decision, and even though it's personal to my situation, I've heard enough talk of change and transition out there (and not just about Caitlyn Jenner) to justify sharing it with you all as well. So, for what it's worth, here it is...

Hello, when I walked into school last Tuesday, the only thought on my mind was how relieved it felt to be "safe" from getting moved down. Sure, I felt a little guilty knowing others were getting displaced, but mostly I was just glad it wasn't me.

 6 hours later, I found myself VOLUNTEERING to be the one to go!

I was as surprised as anyone, and frankly, am still trying to wrap my head around it. But basically my thought process was: I LOVE teaching LA. I live in a world of words. I've read close to 40 books just since January. I've WRITTEN a couple books. I think and act and cope with life through the knowledge gleaned from books. I even have an English degree (which, apparently my professor was right, is not worth the paper it's printed on!) Plus, for the past 14 years, I've worked on the local, state, and national level to develop and improve the LA curriculum and assessments, as well as my own instruction and practice. So when I was informed that I'd be teaching Math next year, it just didn't work for me. I'm HORRIBLE at math. It's not a strength. It's not my passion. And while I'm sure I could have been good enough, I think the kids deserve better than that.

I only had a few short hours to process and decide all this, and in that time, I kept asking myself, "Why?" Why leave the comfort and security of a place I've known for the past 14 years? Why leave the friends and colleagues that have welcomed me into their classrooms, their homes, and their lives since 2001? Why have to pack up ALL my stuff and move? Why change my routines? 

The answer was NOT because I don't like math!

No, the answer was, as much as I fear it, I LIKE change. I truly believe that change keeps us young and sharp, and fresh. Change slows down time and keeps us from going through life on auto-pilot. Change is good.

Yes, I hear some of you wondering, "Well, isn't teaching math enough of a change?" And to that, all I can say is, I found myself more excited about the scary prospect of establishing myself in a new building than the safer choice of learning how to teach a new subject.

Granted, this all happened over the course of an evening, so I may soon be regretting this decision, but I know I made it with the best intentions, for me and the students. If all works out, our math teacher will stay where HE belongs, teaching 6th grade math, and I'll still be doing what I'm highly qualified to do...just away from the people I love. 

And that's the hardest part. We've been through so much together. Forget the school stuff. Over the past decade and a half, we've gone through everything from wakes to weddings, funerals to bat mitzvahs, concerts to happy hours, and from tailgating at retirement parties to illegally dumping a colleague's ashes! 

I do not expect to find another group of people who are more dedicated and generous in the act of teaching children as you all, but I promise to carry that spirit with me wherever I go. And for what it's worth, I don't plan to be gone long!

Thank you all for everything, especially your understanding. 

See you in town and around,


PS - don't worry, this year's staff party will still be at my house!