Thursday, May 8, 2014

...and the bravest teacher award goes to...

All teachers are exceedingly brave, just by nature of being teachers. I feel super proud of myself, and also very exhausted, after half an hour volunteering in my first grader's class.

But some teachers seem to go above and beyond any normal person's expectations of courage. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week--which should last all year by the way--I would like to say that the most courageous teacher I've ever seen is my children's music instructor, who willingly and repeatedly gives entire classes of elementary students something called "Boomwhackers."

Hand one of these to any kid and I guarantee the first thing they will do is look for something or someone to hit. Not only that, but they make noise. Educational, musical noise, but still.

I sat in my son's class the other day as they presented what they've been working on this semester. There were only 17 kids, and these are fifth graders--the oldest kids in the school, the last month of the school year. In other words, this is the most mature level of students this teacher ever works with.

Each kid got two Boomwhackers in preparation for a really cool rendition of "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog." While the teacher was talking, the kids fiddled with the Boomwhackers. Well, of course they did. How could they not? They banged them together, they knocked them on the floor, ever so gently, but naturally, they made noise.

She told the kids to please keep them quiet. She looked to one side of the room, and Boomwhacker noise came from the other side. She glanced in that direction, and little Boomwhacker sounds came from the other side. This went on and on. I didn't get the feeling that the kids were being mean at all, or even trying to be ornery or silly. It was just the inevitable result of handing a bunch of kids two Boomwhackers apiece. Meanwhile the teacher continued talking, unruffled, occasionally asking them to please be quiet.

By this point I think I would have yelled at these kids. Heck, I never would have given anybody Boomwhackers to begin with. This teacher is relentlessly positive, a trait I very much admire and unsuccessfully aspire to. She is also so, so very brave.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all of you brave and wonderful souls who teach and nurture our kids.

Monday, May 20, 2013

ten hours on I-70 E

In the ten hours I spent going east on I-70, I passed the same Penske truck three times.

On any given drive across Kansas, I'm sure we're all passing and being passed by the same people several times. I happened to notice this particular truck because of the two mountain bikes strapped to the back, secured with bungees and resting on the ramp that was sticking out just enough to provide a platform.

I've moved enough times that I could just imagine them in front of their house, packing up that truck and leaving the bikes for last. And then came the part where it was packed to capacity and they remembered the bikes, but there was no space left. I wondered who came up with the idea to use the ramp and some bungees. I wonder who went out to buy the bungees, because nobody could find the rope. (The rope was packed neatly in a box located near the front of the truck.)

I wondered where they were moving from and where they were headed. I wondered how they felt about the move. Were they leaving someplace they loved and moving to someplace they hated? Or were they just going back home? Was it job related, or just a personal decision to explore someplace new?

Ten hours on I-70 sure does give a person a lot of time to think.

Monday, April 1, 2013

where is the fully automated bathroom?

Have you ever noticed how most public restrooms have one or more automated devices, but they are different ones? It might be the toilet, the faucet, the soap dispenser, a hand dryer, or paper towels that come out when you wave your hand. Some bathrooms have no automatic anything, and some have several, but I'd say only once or twice in my life have I been in a restroom where every single thing was automated.

Oh, you haven't ever noticed? Well, I have. Maybe because I spend a lot of time in public restrooms. Wait, that sounded weird. It's just that I hardly ever go in any kind of retail establishment or public building without visiting the bathroom, because even if I don't need to go, one of my kids usually does.

Anyway, now that I've brought it to your attention, you have to admit that it seems a little strange, right? I mean, there's a real person behind each of these decisions. Somebody had to make the choice: "Automatic soap dispenser, yes. Automatic faucet, no, those things freak me out." Meanwhile, next door someone else is deciding: "Automatic paper towels, love it. Automatic soap, no way."

How come nobody ever goes, hey, let's just make everything in the whole place automatic. I don't get it.

A fully automated restroom, have you ever seen one? If so, where was it? Please leave a comment with the full report!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

most cats won't make you LOL

My kids want a cat. Or preferably, several cats. They believe that having a bunch of cats would be nothing but constant laughs, cuteness and cuddles.

I blame the internet for this.

It's like cats got together and hired the best marketing team ever, and now they're widely known as funniest, most adorable animal on the planet.

It's deceptive, in the same way TV commercials make it seem like if you just buy this car you'll have all kinds of fun zipping along scenic, secluded mountain roads. When in fact you'll be sitting in traffic on the interstate with everybody else, on your way to work. Most of the time, driving simply isn't that fun. Neither are cats.

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against cats. Cats are fine. Many of them are indeed very cute. Some cats are nice and will sit on your lap and purr. Sometimes they do adorable and funny things, although this mostly happens in the first few months of their lives. Occasionally a cat will have a humorous expression on its face, and if you're lucky, you can snap a photo of this and post it online with all the others.

Mostly though, cats just kind of sit around. They sleep. They shed. They poop in a litter box, which can get stinky and requires regular cleaning. They lick themselves a lot, and every once in a while they'll hack up a hairball. Also, let's be honest--some cats are not very nice. Some cats try to bite or scratch people, even the people who provide them with daily food and water. Some cats spend most of their time under the bed, making you start to wonder why you didn't just buy a nice soft pillow and call it good.

The internet is a powerful force. I doubt my kids will ever be convinced that domestic felines aren't the most awesome species ever to exist. We've informed them that when they're 18 and move out, they can get all the cats they want, but until then they'll have to be content with photos and videos. Fortunately, the internet has more than enough of those to keep them busy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

magna cum clean

Fresh out of college, I sat down across from the career counselor, anticipating some much-needed direction for my future.
Her eyes skimmed over my college transcript. “Communications major...honors program...magna cum laude. Hmm, not bad,” she said, glancing up. “What’s with this ‘B’ in Rhetoric?”
“I didn’t realize I was supposed to answer the test questions,” I explained.
She nodded, straightening the paperwork on the desk in front of her. “Well, all in all, you look like a fairly intelligent, capable young woman. Tell me, what are you really terrible at?”
The question took me by surprise, but I quickly came up with an answer. Just that morning I had left behind a sink full of dirty dishes and tripped over a pile of laundry on my way out the door. “Cleaning,” I told her. “I am really, really horrible at housework. Always have been. As a kid you couldn’t even see the floor of my room, it was such a mess.”
She gave me a wise, kindhearted smile. “That’s it, then. You should pursue a life path that involves lots of housework.”
Her suggestion took me by surprise. I was kind of expecting her to recommend something more in the area of the arts, a writer of some sort maybe. My major was communications, after all. “Um...but...I really hate cleaning,” I protested.
The career counselor nodded. “You know,” she explained, “we need to work at our weaknesses in order to strengthen them, so we can become complete, well-rounded human beings.”
“I see,” I said slowly. Well, she was the expert, after all. So I took her advice.
Okay, so the above scenario didn’t actually happen. I did get a “B” in Rhetoric, and I really am terrible at housework, but I never even went to a career counselor. I guess maybe I should have, though, because as much I despise cleaning and how horrible I am at it, cleaning is how I have spent the majority of the past 15 years.

The only good explanation for this is that I wanted to be home with my kids, and that tends to involve a lot of messes and household chores. Then I decided to homeschool, ensuring that my day would continue to be one long counter-wiping, dish-washing, clothes-laundering, stain-removing experience. (Side note: I’m not a very good teacher, either, yet I worked as a substitute for three years, and have been flailing about trying to educate my kids for the past five.)

For all the practice, I am still no good at housework. If I couldn’t manage to clean up after myself, it stands to reason I had no chance keeping up with three kids and two dogs. And I still hate cleaning. The repetition of it bores me to death, it’s never, ever finished, and although I feel like I clean all day long, the house is always a mess.

I don’t need a career counselor to tell me I should be cleaning less and writing more. Maybe I should quit trying so hard to overcome my weaknesses and devote a little more energy to my strengths. Now, if only I could find someone to tackle that sink of dirty dishes...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

those who can't teach

Although we swore we would never try to teach our own kids to snowboard, my husband and I just couldn't contain ourselves any longer. Their lessons wouldn't begin for another month, and the powder was fresh, white, and inviting. The first day, we were only planning to show them how to strap on their board and glide around. But the kids wanted to GO.

The first few times, on the hill behind our home, went amazingly well. All three kids picked up on it right away, gliding down the hill like pros. Then, when the slope flattened out, they gradually slid to a stop. All in all, it was a complete success.

But then we had to push our luck and take them to the ski resort. Again, just a tiny hill, but the difference was it didn't flatten out at the end. We needed to teach them the most important lesson--one that about a quarter of the people on the slopes apparently have never learned--which is how to control their board. Before we could let them GO, we had to teach them how to STOP.

We're not expert snowboarders, but we both know how to put on the brakes. Neither of us, however, had any idea how to convey that knowledge to our kids. This is why ski lessons cost so much, and why you see so many frustrated parents and crying children halfway down the mountain. Most people, even if they are skilled skiers and riders, simply do not know how to teach a beginner.

Trying to teach my kids something that I am only marginally good at myself was not only impossible--it was terrifying. After watching my daughter nearly run into a fence, I immediately called the whole thing off. I was afraid that even if they didn't get hurt, we would confuse them and/or scare them before they ever had a chance to take their lessons with a qualified, skilled, experienced instructor.

Teaching kids how to live well is kind of like teaching them to snowboard. I haven't come close to figuring out this whole "living life" thing, so how am I supposed to know how to teach my children about it? It's every bit as scary as watching them careen down a hill while I (very helpfully) yell, "Watch out!"

I can send my kids to snowboarding lessons with full confidence that the instructor will know exactly how to teach them. Life lessons aren't like that, though. They happen everywhere, all the time, and there are no certified teachers. Mostly we can only learn about life by living, and the process continues until we die.

It's a scary, messy business, trying to teach kids how to navigate life and guiding them as they learn from their own experiences. The longer I live, the more I realize just how unqualified I am to teach anybody else how to do it right. But like all parents, I just have to teach my kids what I can, let them experience life, and hope they pick up some wisdom along the way.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

my goal is no more goals

I love the concept of a New Year--the fresh start, the clean slate. And I enjoy making New Year's resolutions. However, by the time April rolls around, I usually can't remember what it was I resolved to do. This past year was different, though--I not only remembered my resolution all year long, but I also kept it.

My resolution was to quit quitting things, specifically caffeine and alcohol. This wasn't quite as easy as you'd think. There were a few close calls when I considered trying to stop drinking one or the other. But I always recalled the commitment I made in January and stuck to my guns. Not once in 2012 did I make a serious attempt to quit drinking coffee or beer. (Yes, my family is very proud.)

Why was this such a great resolution? It was easy to remember, reasonable, and attainable. It made my life better by steering me away from futile and pointless attempts at self-improvement that would no doubt result in failure.

That success spurred me on to an even bigger and more challenging resolution for 2013: This year, I'm resolving to quit setting goals.

I'm kind of a goal-setting junkie. This wouldn't be such a problem if I could keep it under control. If I attempted realistic, manageable, challenging-but-obtainable goals, it would actually be a good thing. But I'm a goal-setter of the worst kind. Realistic goals bore me, so I try for the impossible. And time and time again, I fail.

Sure, I always learn something from the experience. Sometimes in shooting for the stars, I hit the moon. And a few times, I even achieved my seemingly impossible mission. But mostly these lofty goals have gotten me nowhere except Stressville. I get all tightly wound, snapping at my kids, missing out on fun activities, sacrificing exercise and sleep. And in the end, all I'm left with is a feeling of failure. No matter how much I did manage to accomplish, I didn't make it to my goal. I failed.

Who needs that? Life is hard enough without adding unnecessary stress, frustration and failure to the mix.

My lifelong goal was to be a self-employed writer and to live someplace beautiful. Now here I am, living my dream, and I just want to live it. It's not that I don't want to work hard. Doing what I love makes me want to work harder than ever. I write because I enjoy it, because I'm committed, and because I want to get paid. No goal is going to make me work any harder. When I'm working, I'll work, and I'll do the very best job I can.

But on Sunday mornings when I go out with my family for homemade donuts, I want to just be there, drinking coffee, playing cards with my kids and laughing. When I'm walking my dogs by the lake, I just want to breathe in the mountain air, enjoy the view, and greet people that pass by. Whatever I'm doing, I don't want some arbitrary, unfinished goal hanging over my head the whole time.

So here's my resolution for 2013: No more crazy goals. No more goals, period. Just living and working and experiencing and being. Because as I'm constantly reminded, we only get one shot at this life thing.