Friday, March 7, 2014
I got there just a little before eight. My mom and sister had just finished breakfast in the dining room/restaurant and were waiting for me in the lobby.
We went up the elevator to my mom's apartment on the second floor. My sisters and brother-in-law have done a fantastic job getting the place together- since last weekend, they've bought a new couch and chair, moved beds, dressers, dishes, sheets and towels, and just generally made the place home.
This morning, I talked to the hospital billing department. And went to the grocery store. And cleaned up a little bit. Then my mom and I went to the dining room for lunch, exchanged her medical alert necklace for a medical alert bracelet and looked for the library (a girl has to have her priorities, ya know?). I had planned on staying for the afternoon, but a Colorado snowstorm blew in, so I headed back to Denver about 3.
I think the new living situation is going to be good for my mom. She has her own space, but there's an alert button in every room if she needs help. She has a kitchen, but she can eat meals in a dining room if she wants to. There's a bus for group events and a driver for individual appointments and meetings, which will be good, since my mom can't drive right now, or maybe ever. And there are people around and all kinds of clubs and activities and things to do.
At the same time, the whole process feels a little like leaving a reluctant five-year-old at the door of the kindergarten classroom. You know, one of those kids that watches everyone painting or building with blocks or writing stories, but hides behind her mom, not quite sure she wants to try it out herself. My mom is that five-year-old right now. She's not quite comfortable, yet, with going down to the dining room by herself. She hates using a walker and is embarrassed to have her friends see her. She doesn't know whether she will try any of the clubs and activities. She misses her independence.
I close her door this afternoon and walk away with a huge lump in my throat. I wonder how long it will be before my mom will jump in and get comfortable in her new life.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
My friend Kathy and I leave school at 4:15, drive across town through rush hour traffic, and usually arrive just in time for our 5:00 class. Kathy has never spoken Spanish. She took a weekend class about a month ago, and then signed up for the Thursday night classes. She really should be in the beginner class, but she has another commitment on Tuesday nights, so the group offering the classes suggested she should take the intermediate class. I speak a little more Spanish than Kathy, but still have a long, long way to go. For me, the intermediate class is about right.
We've only gone a couple of times, but so far it seems like the class consists of several different segments. It starts with book check in and out. Then there's a story, usually something about school. Last week the story was about a teacher calling the parents of a student named Victor. Victor was very naughty. he hit. Bit. Pulled hair. It turned out his mother was a roller derby queen. Tonight, the teacher was calling the parents of another child, a girl named Cecilia. Cecilia's father thought something was wrong-- and then it turned out that she was calling to invite them to the science fair.There's usually a vocabulary lesson. A music segment. And conversation time.
Every week at Spanish class, I am reminded of some big truths about teaching.
1) Learning is social. Kathy and I go together. I know, even when I'm exhausted and would just like to go home, that Kathy is expecting me to go with her.
2) Sometimes it helps to front load. Last week was really hard for Kathy. She doesn't know much Spanish. She didn't understand a lot of what was going on. Last night after school, we sat down with today's lesson. We practiced the vocabulary. We read through the story, talked about it, and worked a little with key vocabulary. Tonight Kathy felt much more comfortable in class.
3)An experienced mentor helps. During the story segment, the teacher does most of the talking. I like listening to her. It helps me know what Spanish should sound like.
4) Like ability partners are not always helpful. We always spend part of the time working in conversation partners. While I appreciate this opportunity, I don't know how helpful it is. None of us are fluent Spanish speakers. Most of us have issues with vocabulary, and verb tense, and pronunciation. We are practicing, but we are really not getting any feedback, and I'm not sure that's it all that beneficial.
5) Checks for understanding matter. Our instructor committed to making sure we can understand what she is saying. Every two or three minutes she stops and asks, "How much do you understand? Show me your percentage with your fingers
6) Laughter matters. Our teacher has a great sense of humor. We laugh a lot. Which makes us relaxes us. And makes it much easier to learn.
I love Spanish class. I love that I'm learning something new. And I love that placing myself in the position of learner helps me to think carefully about my own teaching practices.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Son #2: What am I doing for spring break?
I have been asking this question for several weeks, but with only minimal response, "I don't know. I'll let you know."
And now: What am I doing for spring break?
This seems like a conversation that might be easier to have in person, and so I dial his number.
Even though it's been less than a minute since he texted, I am surprised when he answers his phone. Son #2 is not the most conversant guy I know. We talk briefly about Spring Break, about school, and about his new job as a car hop at a fast food place.
I think we are about done talking and I am about to hang up, when K says, "Wait. I want to ask you about something. I mean, I'm ok and school's ok, and everything, but I just want to ask you about something."
My heart beats a little faster. I wonder what he wants to ask about.
"Well, see, there's this guy. A teammate. He's kind of crazy. I've talked to you about him before. He's the one that drags his girlfriend around by the hair."
I do know about his kid. In October, when I went to see K, he told me about several incidents with this player and his girlfriend. He said the kid was abusive. Wondered what he should do about it.
K continues talking. "So anyway, a couple of weeks ago, he and these other guys got drunk and started kicking in doors. And they got arrested and a couple of them are in jail. They've been there two weeks."
My heart beats faster still.
"I wasn't involved or anything, but they want me to put the title of my car up for bail, so they can get out of jail."
I am shocked. "What? Your car?" I don't even have to think about this one. "Absolutely not!" I don't totally understand the ramifications of putting one's car title up for bail, but I am pretty sure it's not a good idea.
"Well that's what I thought. But some of my teammates keep calling and texting me. And the kid's mom even called and asked me to do it. They are saying I'm not a good teammate."
I try to stay calm. We talk for a few minutes about possible ramifications. About the meaning of team. I suggest that K go and talk to the coach and explain what is going on.
And then I think we are ready to hang up again. But then K says, "So I talked to Coach Burton."
"Yeah?" I say. Coach Burton was K's quarterback coach in high school. It was his connection that took K to where he is now. Last I heard, Coach Burton was interviewing for a position at a college in Colorado. He wanted K to apply there.
"He wants me to join the Air Force," K says. "He says I will probably never make it in the NFL and I should just join the Air Force now, so I can start making money."
And for the second time in this conversation, I feel like I have been socked in the stomach. I fight to stay calm. My boys' mental health has been a hard war. I cannot imagine sending them to Iraq or Afghanistan. I wonder if the fragile, hard fought inner peace could survive something like that.
"Really? What do you think about that?"
"I don't know. I don't think I want to do it. I don't want to go to war."
"Well then don't do it," I say, more than a little relieved (and also feeling really selfish when I think about all the moms that actually are sending their sons and daughters to war).
"But I don't know why he would say that. He sent me all the way out here. And now I'm here and he wants me to drop out and go to war. I don't get it."
I don't really get it either, but I try to listen as K thinks aloud for a few more minutes. We talk about the difference between jobs and careers, and careers and hobbies.
And then finally he is done. Tells me he loves me. Hangs up.
And I stand in the middle of the kitchen, holding the phone, pretty sure I missed another page in the parenting manual.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I make the rounds, conferring with J, who wants to be a WWE wrestler, then P, who has aspirations of becoming the guy who wears the Chuckee Cheese suit, and R, who wants to play for the NBA. Finally, I kneel down next to L, who barely looks up when I kneel down next to him.
L is an English Language Learner. And he has a visual memory problem, which makes reading, writing, and spelling really, really tough.
I look over his shoulder. Almost every word, even words me and my are spelled wrong. And even though he's in fourth grade, L is still reversing his b's and d's, which makes it even tougher to read his writing.
I take a deep breath. Try not to think about the tests. Listen for Don Graves' voice in my ear. "Always respond to the content first. Let the writer know that you hear what he has to say.
I read L's first paragraph with all the expression I can muster.
Wot du u wont to di wen you grow wp? I wud lake to be a titur becos its fon to lon. Onodor risin I wont to di a titer is we could majc jocs with prodloms. Onodor rison I wont to di a ticr is to play gaims in math and odr things. I like when kids rid cuaiet.
I want to dia tichr dicos I could si kids lafing dat maics my japy.
Translation: What do you want to be when you grow up? I would like to be a teacher because it's fun to learn. Another reason I want to be a teacher is we could make jokes with problems. Another reason I want to be a teacher it to play games in math and other things. I like when kids read quiet (ly).
I want to be a teacher because I could see kids laughing. That makes me happy.I look up from the writing. L is watching intently. "So you want to be a teacher?"
L smiles shyly.
"And you are going to tell jokes and make kids laugh?" L nods. "Kids will love that. People love to laugh. "
L smiles a little more broadly and I keep reading. L wants to be a teacher because he wants to make learning fun for kids. He likes when they learn something new. He likes to watch them when they play outside.
L goes on to clarify a little. He wants to be a teacher "when he is tall, not when he is small, because he doesn't know that much about teachers right now." He thinks that if he became a teacher when he was small, kids wouldn't listen to him. And they "always talk when they are working and never respect the others all around them."
I compliment L on his thinking. Tell him that I know he will be a great teacher. Make him promise that he will come back and teach with us at our school. He grins and nods happily.
And then I have to teach something. L already has an introduction and a conclusion. He organizes his writing. He uses paragraphs. I don't even know where to begin to tackle the spelling. And so I teach a really simply trick about b and d. I draw a picture of a bat and ball. I show L how he can say, "First the bat and then the ball." Then we talk about how when a dog comes around the corner, you see the head first, then the tail. I show him how to make a d by saying, "First the dog's head and then the dog's tail." And L goes back through his writing and finds every single backward b and d and corrects it. We also talk about the difference between the e sound in English, made by an e and the e sound in Spanish, made by a letter i. L fixes everyone of those too.
I don't touch L's last line, because it's already absolutely perfect.
"I wont to di a ticr dicos it's the dest jod in the wruld."
I agree, L, I totally agree. It really is the best job in the world. Mostly because of kids like you.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Maybe I should back up and begin at the beginning. When I was in high school. I was involved in a Christian ministry called Young Life. The ministry had a powerful impact on my life. I attended weekly meetings, went to winter and summer camps, and eventually, worked at their summer camps. When I graduated from college, I became a Young Life leader. Again I attended weekly meetings, winter camps, and even drove a vanload of 14 teenagers all the way to Canada one summer.
As much as I love Young Life, I pretty much thought that chapter of my life was over. I still helped raise money and attended special events, but I thought I was past the point of being a leader.
Until this year. I work at a K-8 school. That has Young Life. That needed teacher leaders. I attended a couple of organizational meetings and felt myself being sucked in.
Seriously God? Seriously? You want me to be a Young Life leader again?
But God, I'm way too old to be a Young Life leader. Do you see all this gray hair? I'm too old to be a Young Life leader.
But God, Young Life leaders go to camp with kids. They have mud wars and play wild games and stay up all night. I wasn't great at all those games and stuff the first time around. I don't want to do it gain.
I want you to try it, Carol.
This conversation went on for several weeks. OK, maybe even a couple of months.
And finally I gave in.
And went to a meeting where I am easily twice the age of most people in the room.
I don't know the television shows they talk about. Or the bands. I'm not invited when the other leaders hang out with each other.
But I go.
Every other Monday.
And I admire people's engagement pictures.
And their new babies.
And listen to their stories.
Just waiting to see
what the next surprise
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Just in time to watch Heidi, the Occupational Therapist, work with my mom. "All right," she says. "We'll work on balance again. Do you remember," she says, "How we talked this morning, about feeling the spot in the middle of your foot?" Heidi seats my mom at a machine that looks like bicycle pedals for your arms. And continues to explain to my mom how her brain has to relearn some things. Like moving her head or eyes from side to side and balancing at the same time.
And then Heidi stands my mom up.
She stands close, in case my mom loses her balance.
Instructs her to look at a bug cutout on the window across the room.
Reminds her to feel for the sweet spot on the bottom of her foot.
My mom does fine.
So Heidi makes the task a little harder.
"Turn your head from side to side," she says.
"Pretend you're saying no to one of your kids," she says, smiling at me.
My mom complies.
"Now move your head up and down, like your saying yes," she says.
Again my mom complies.
All the while, Heidi is prompting.
"Feel your sweet spot," she says again.
"Move your eyes, not your head."
And then she makes the task a little harder.
"Pick a spot on one side of the room. Then the other.
Look from one side to the other," she says.
Again my mom does fine.
Heidi pushes the wheelchair close.
"Ok," she says, "We're going to take a break."
My mom sits down for a few minutes,
then stands back up,
repeats the whole process.
Again with Heidi right behind her.
And then the session is over and I realize I have been watching
through not one, but two sets of eyes.
First, I am a daughter.
Watching my mom.
Hoping and praying that her balance is improving.
That she will be able to live at least somewhat independently.
Marveling at her strength.
Her desire to reclaim her life.
But I am also a teacher.
And I watch this very skilled occupational therapist/teacher
through the eyes of a teacher.
How she reminds my mom of what she already knows.
Explains the steps in the process.
Encourages my mom to try
Coaches her through the process,
Specifically praises her efforts,
Gives my mom a break,
And asks her to try again.
It seems like good teaching is good teaching,
whether the learner is eight or eighty.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Saturday morning. The alarm goes off at 4:30. I drive two hours through snow and fog to see my mom. She is in the hospital recovering from emergency brain surgery. Has spent the last week on the rehab floor.
I am still trying to get used to this new mom. Two weeks ago I went to visit her in Colorado Springs. She wanted to go to Target. And, like always, I had to hurry to keep up with my almost eighty-year-old mother.
Two days after that, I got a call that she had collapsed. Was in the emergency room. Needed a shunt installed in her brain. And now she's learning to get around again. She still doesn't have very good balance, so she's using a walker.
On Thursday, she will be released from the hospital. But not to the patio home where she has lived for the past twenty years since my dad died. Instead, she will be heading to a an assisted living facility.
So today I spent time with my mom. I went with her to occupational therapy. I sat with her while she ate warmed over French toast after occupational therapy. Went and got her coffee from the Starbucks in the hospital lobby. Talked about dismantling her home as she prepares to move from a 3000-square-foot patio home into an 1100-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment. We talked about who would take the Christmas decorations. The patio furniture and grill. Twenty years of books.
Then my sisters arrived and we went to look at the facility they have selected. It's very nice. A dining room/restaurant where my mom can eat meals as often as she wants. A movie theater. Craft room. Swimming pool. Gym. Beauty parlor. Gift shop. Lots of activities. The apartment is sunny and light. It has lots of storage space. An alert button in every room.
I think my mom will like the new place. I think she'll be less lonely than she has been for the past few years. And it will be safer, should she fall and need help.
At the same time, my heart is really heavy tonight. Somehow, until this month, my mom has never seemed old.
And now she does.