Friday, March 23, 2018

SLICE #23- A foray into the organized life

I am not an organizational goddess. In fact,  my organization typically sounds like, "Hmm, spring break starts today. I really should take my car in for a tune up next week." And then I call my mechanic. And he tells me he's full for the next two weeks, but that I could come two weeks from Thursday. And so then I have to drop off my car, and take the bus across town to work, work, take the bus back to the garage, and pick up my car.

But not this time. Nope.

This time I really was an organizational goddess.

About a month ago, on Presidents' Day, to be exact, I had a flat tire. So while I was at the garage getting the tire fixed, I made an appointment to get the car tuned up on Monday, the first official day of spring break.

I was so proud of myself!

Today, I called to ask a question. The handle had come off of the car door on Sunday. I wanted to know if the garage could fix that as well, when I took the car in on Monday.

"Monday?" said Christy, the office manager at my garage. "I don't see your name on Monday. Who did you talk to?"

"I talked to you, " I said, "Do you remember when I had the flat tire on Presidents' Day? I made the appointment then. "

"You did make an appointment," she said, with kind of a surprised voice, "but you aren't on the books now. We had some computer issues a couple of weeks ago, and it erased some appointments. Yours must have been one of them. We are pretty booked up on Monday. Can you come on Thursday or Friday instead?"

I thought about how carefully I had arranged my schedule for the week. Saturday taxes, Sunday Colorado Springs to see my mom, Monday, car in the garage so I would do some cleaning, Wednesday, lunch with a friend, Thursday take the dog to the vet.  I really was trying be organized and proactive.

And now this.

So much for being an organizational goddess. I think it's highly overrated.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

SLICE #22- Angels among us

Six o'clock tonight. Star and I are out for our evening walk. I have had a super busy week and between weather and that, we haven't walked much. She is pulling extra hard tonight (no one ever asks me for the name of my dog trainer), so when I see a couple coming toward me, I pull her off the sidewalk, so we won't run them over.

We pass each other and then I look again. I know this man. It's Coach Mark,  from the boys' high school football years. Immediately, I am taken back about ten years.

Summer 2008. Son #1 is just starting high school. Football workouts start in June. Zay doesn't drive yet, and we live about 15 miles from the high school, so I spend many hours sitting in the car, or in the grassy area outside the football field. Today, I am sitting in the car reading. I hear a tap on the window and look up. It is Coach Mark. 

By this point in my motherhood career, many coaches have approached me. It's usually about one of two things:
- They need someone to ______________(wash uniforms, head up the fundraiser, organize a team meal).- My son has committed some infraction. 
I wonder which it will be, but Coach Mark does not want either of those things. He wants to know if he can take my son to lunch.

"To lunch?" I say, "Is everything ok?" 

Coach assures me that it is. He just wants to get to know my son. I offer to pay for the lunch, and he tells me that isn't necessary. I think I shove a $20 into his hand anyway. 

Over the next four years, Mark is Zay's coach, but he is far more than that. He is a math teacher by trade, and spends many hours tutoring my math-challenged son. He handpicks teachers to fit Zay's needs as a learner. He checks on his grades every week, and makes sure he is caught up and eligible. When Zay has trouble- with a teacher, or with a girlfriend, or with another student, he heads for Mark's office.  

Tonight, Mark and I chat for ten or fifteen minutes. We talk about the boys and about Mark's current job, then we go our separate ways. And I am so thankful, once again, for the angels that have been placed in my boys' lives, exactly when they needed them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

SLICE #21- Who I am

"I remember when she was in kindergarten," I say, as the third grader rushes past me, carrying a guitar that is almost as big as she is. "It goes so fast."

"For them it does," he says. "But for those of us waiting to retire, it goes really slow."

I look at him, "Are you waiting to retire?" I say.

"Yep," he says. "I'm done."

I look again. He does not look that old.

"How much longer are you going to work?" I ask.

"Nine more years," he says. "I have nine more years. I have to wait until I am 55."

"Then what will you do?" I ask.

"Work as a technician," he says. "I like working with computers."

And then I do not know what to say.

I am 13 years older than he is.

Could retire pretty soon, if I wanted to.

But I really don't.

I love my job. I love working with kids.

I can't imagine what I would do if I had to retire.

I would probably come back and work as a full-time volunteer.

Teaching is not what I do.

Teaching is who I am.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

SLICE #20: In which I am not a very nice person.

Tuesday night. Eight o'clock.

Three of us are walking out of Spanish class.

I have had a 14 hour day.

I am tired.

I still have several more hours of work when I get home.

My head aches, as it always does after Spanish class.

I have done way too much thinking.

A woman approaches us.

Her car is dead. She needs someone to jump her. She has her own jumper cables.

D, one of my classmates says that she is driving a Hybrid car and doesn't think she can jump people.

C, the other woman walking out with us doesn't have her car. She is riding home with D.

I know I should offer to help, but I am so tired.

Before I can say anything, D jumps in.

"Our Spanish class is right in there," she says. "I'll bet someone in there can help you."

I wonder who might be able to help.

I picture L. She usually leaves her two small children at her sister's a few blocks away, then dashes away afterwards to pick them up. 

I think of Bex, our instructor, who has bronchitis and has coughed her way through class.

I slide by quietly without saying anything.

I know I should offer to help.

But I don't.

Instead, selfishly, I get into my car and drive away.

Wondering why I don't offer to help.

Wondering why I am not a little nicer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Slice #19- The Newcomers

9:15 on Monday night.
Forty-five minutes until slices for today close and I have not sliced.
But I have a good excuse.
Or at least a kind of good excuse.
I have been trying to slice in the morning, but this morning I had a lot of school work left to finish.

And tonight I went with my book club to see Helen Thorpe.
Helen Thorpe is an award-winning Colorado author who writes narrative nonfiction.
Her first book, JUST LIKE US, details the life of four high school girls, several of whom are undocumented immigrants, trying to graduate from high school and navigate the world of the university. Her second book, SOLDIER GIRLS, is about veterans. Her newest book, THE NEWCOMERS, just released in November, is about a classroom at Denver's South High. The classroom is what's known as a "newcomers" class, for students who have just arrived in the United States. Helen Thorpe spent a year in this classroom, following teacher Eddie Williams, and his 22 students from places as far away as the Congo, Burma, Iraq, and Mexico. Tonight, the South High PTA sponsored an author talk about the book.

And it was stunning.

First four women, all immigrants- one a paraprofessional from Sudan, Mariam from Iraq, then another young woman who just won second in state wrestling, and finally, a 9th grader, who stopped several times during her talk to wipe away tears. Finally, Thorpe got up and showed slides and talked for almost an hour.

And it was one of those talks that left me feeling like I need to do more.
More to better the lives of people who need the riches the wealthiest country is more than capable of providing, if we choose to do so.
More to better the lives of the refuge students at my school.
More to help all of my students understand that their voices really do matter, and it's important to learn to write well, so that you can tell your stories and bring about change in the world. 

My slice is really late tonight.
But I have a really good reason.
Tonight I was inspired by a writer who really knows how to use her voice to make change in the world.
I want to be a writer like that.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Slice #18-Thinking about feedback…

Tonight I'm thinking about feedback…

I got up early this morning and read writing that our kids had done on an assessment that our district uses three times a year. We did it last week, two weeks before our state's "blessed event." Some of the writing looked really good. But a lot of it did not look that good at all.

So now I'm thinking, "OK, I have to give people feedback. I have to give feedback to kids and I have to give feedback to teachers."

And I know it's a matter of staying calm. Of breathing deep. Of finding that one good thing that the writer/writing teacher did and building on that one thing. Of looking forward to the next teaching point, the next desired success. Over and over and over again.

But how do I do that for A, a student's who entire essay consists of three quotes that he lifted from the text. The quotes might work, if he can explain that. But how I explain that in a way that makes sense to him?

And how do I address half of the third grade class, who wrote short constructed responses instead of the five paragraph essay they were supposed to write? And whose typing is simply not that good yet? And who still are not using their and there correctly?

And how do I address those almost successes- those kids who aren't there yet, but whose approximations are pretty strong, and are just in need of a little tweaking, and they might even be proficient, if they get a decent prompt? Or those kids that write really, really well and just need to buckle down and bring it on the day(s) of the test.

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

And how do I talk to their teachers? Adults who have poured their hearts and souls into teaching kids to  write. Adults who know that it takes a lot of slow to grow. Adults who need to teach their hearts out for the next two weeks, but then let it go, knowing that they have done the absolute best that they can. How do I communicate the urgency of the situation and yet not send a message that is critical or stressed or unkind or accusatory? How can I help us stay together and push forward and do our best for the next two weeks?

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

And then I am thinking about my own sons, limping their way into manhood. How do I affirm the positive aspects of their character? How do I communicate that I love them, but that I will not allow them to live in our home and do nothing? How do I help them understand that some things may be legal, but are not necessarily profitable.

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

Tonight I'm thinking about feedback…

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Slice #17- Saturdays start with Weightwatchers.

Saturday morning. It's still dark and a little cold when I left myself out of the house at 6:20. This has been my Saturday routine for the last 15 months. First thing on Saturday morning I go to Weight Watchers.

Last January, I decided I really needed to do something about my weight. My clothes were getting tight. And maybe ore importantly, I'm not getting any younger, and my joints, especially my hips, were starting to hurt. I had been successful at Weight Watchers before, and decided to try it again.

I'm what people at Weightwatchers call a "turtle." I lose weight really slowly. But over the course of nine months, I lost 28 pounds. And I've kept it off for about six months. The things I have learned at Weightwatchers are strategies that work in most areas of life, I think.

1) Show up every week. 
Weightwatchers has several different programs. You can do it online, or you can go to meetings. For me, the key to Weightwatchers is showing up at a meeting every single week. Or at least almost every single week. Even now, when I could only go and weigh in once a month.  Every week I get up on Saturday mornings, drive the five miles in the cold and dark, and weigh in. And I always stay for the meetings. They get a little redundant sometimes, but I need the showing up, and stepping on the scale, and listening to other people's stories. That keeps me going.

2) Practice the three P's.
After I had been attending Weightwatchers for about six weeks, I had a really bad week. Or maybe a couple of bad weeks in a row. I was feeling really frustrated and was about ready to quit. My leader, Cheri, said something at the meeting that day that stuck with me. "It's all about the three P's," she said. "Patience, positivity, and persistence." For some reason, those three P's really resonated with me. Losing weight takes patience-- the weight came on over ten years, after I adopted the boys. It probably won't come off instantly.  Losing weight takes positivity- you have to keep telling yourself that you CAN do this. And losing weight takes persistence- just doing the right thing over and over and over again. Day after day after day.

3) Create patterns you can sustain. 
It's important to create patterns that you can sustain. You can't give up everything forever. And if you can't give it up forever, maybe you shouldn't give it up at all. Last Saturday night, for example, my mom and I went out to dinner before we went to see HAMILTON. I had salmon, but I also had a glass of wine. And a piece of bread with a little butter. And we shared a dessert. I'm going to continue to do that once in a while. And it's really ok.

More regular patterns are ok too. I like having milk in my coffee. I like thousand island salad dressing.  I love a good hamburger. I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and have a margarita and chips and guacamole once in a while. For me, it's not about giving up those things, instead it's about making the choice to have them. And knowing that it's ok, as long as I plan ahead.

4) Do what works for you. 
In December, Weightwatchers introduced a new program. I tried it for a few weeks, but it just wasn't working for me. I had gained two pounds in two weeks. So I went back to the old program, which did work for me, really well. I don't say a lot about it at meetings, because I know it would probably be considered heretical. I just go and listen and then go home and eat the way that works for me. It's important to be true to yourself. There really is something to be said for marching to your own drummer.

5) Be kind to yourself. 
This morning, two things happened at Weightwatchers that really made me think. First, a woman was talking about being proud of herself for setting a goal of getting 10,000 steps a day. She said that she had lost six pounds this week (not typical!) and then said, "But I'm really big." People shut her down immediately. It's not ok to say bad things about yourself. "You lost six pounds. Period. And that's absolutely terrific!"

Another woman said, "When I'm having a bad week, I think about the most supportive people I know. I think of Kathy (the woman sitting next to her) and I think, "What would she say to me if I gained weight? And then I try to be that kind to myself." I think that's important and it's something I'm not all that good at. I really need to work on being a little kinder to myself and not beating myself up when I do make bad choices.

I've been doing Weightwatchers every Saturday for about a year now. I anticipate that I will be doing it for probably the rest of my life. And that's ok. It's a lifestyle I can sustain.