Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shipwrecks

A writer I adore, Black Hockey Jesus, once wrote that "we are all made out of shipwrecks".  Man, that's an image.  Have you ever seen a shipwreck on the shore?  Car wrecks and train wrecks... they all get cleaned up, erased from public view.  But a shipwreck stays, forever, molding and rotting and junking up the scenery.  They are constant reminders of the pain and loss.  I like that image because that's how I felt yesterday.  It's how I feel about most of my pain.  That I am navigating the shallow waters, eyeing the shipwrecks of my past, dodging the jagged rocks.

My post yesterday was shared by a few friends who took solace in my feeble attempts to make sense of the senseless.  It's why I made the attempt... because words are my weapon, my shelter, my compass.  If they gave comfort to no one but me, I'd still be glad I wrote them.  And then this morning it was shared by a few relative strangers -- people who know me in only short spaces -- my 140 character friends, if you will.  And their words gave me solace and comfort as well.  For a while.

I went back to bed in the late morning, and I slept until mid-afternoon.  This is my fall-back.  I avoid the shipwrecks by never leaving the dock.

But I couldn't stay in bed forever.  I had made a promise to see my little buddies, Elliott, Brooklyn, and Kellen, and deliver their ornaments. 

As soon as I pulled up to Chris and Courtney's house, I saw Brooklyn and Ell out front with their dad.  By the time I'd gotten out of the car, I could hear Ell's squeals of "Deana, Deana, come find meee!" 

Just FYI, if you ever need to find a 3 and a half year old, just pull a Christmas gift bag out of your car.  He'll find you instead.

We went inside, unwrapped gifts (because they need to be hung upon the tree), and then were back out to play.  Elliott's new favorite game is Hide-and-Seek.  This involves me counting, VERY slowly, to four while Ell hides.  At the announcement of "four", he jumps from his hiding place and squeals in anticipation.  Which makes Brooklyn giggle.  Which makes everyone giggle.

I'm telling you, if we could harness the power of squeal giggles, we'd solve the energy crisis.

Then Ell wanted to take a walk to look at the Christmas lights.  Not to be left behind, Brooklyn came toddling behind us, arms raised, eyelashes fluttering.  So I picked her up, placed her on my hip, and asked Elliott if he was ready to go.  He said "yes" and stuck out his hand.  It's hard to be sad when someone so beautiful wants to hold your hand.

And so we walked, my tiny navigators and I, cruising the shallow waters together, making way for open sea.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hands

It's been 24 hours since I learned about yesterday's tragedy in Connecticut.  Given 24 years, I don't think I would still be able to find my words to register my true feelings about what happened.  It's been 11 since September 11th, and I still don't have any for that either.

Grief is a funny and terrible thing.  It stalks you, hanging around just until you think it's gone, and then it rears its head once more.  Now, our country grieves again.  When I think of our nation's most mournful times, I see incredible things.  Heroes emerge.  Kindness appears.  Strangers connect.  And in those moments, the impossible seems possible, and change can happen.

Yet so often, it doesn't.  Or at least it doesn't happen quickly. 

All over my social media, there are shouts and rumblings.  And blame.  There's always blame.  Fingers point at the other side, and arguments occur.  Gun control.  Second Amendment.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Right-wing.  Left-wing.  The absence of God.  God's will.  Your fault.  The President's fault.  The shooter's fault.  His parents' fault.

Let's get real, people.  It's our fault.  And it will continue to be our fault as long as we, as a nation, refuse to meet in the middle.  It will continue until we all stop needing to be so right that we are all wrong.

But I don't know how to change a whole nation.  If I did, believe me, I'd tell you.  The trouble is, I don't know if anyone would listen.

I do know this, however.  God is in our schools.  You can't take God out of a school anymore than you can take him out of your home or your heart.  He is in my basketball team as they pray for the health of a fellow teacher's mom -- our #1 fan.  He is in my students as they refuse to break Fast for even the thrill of a Snicker's bar won on a correct answer.  He is in my moment of silence each morning as I pray for the health and safety of those I hold most dear.  He is in the mouth of the child who told me, "I'd never let anyone hurt you, Miss Naz." 

I get it though.  It's easy enough to blame the absence of God when tragedy strikes because how could God let it happen?  But tragedy is a continual undercurrent of our entire history.  The atrocities that one human can inflict on another are a daily, moment-by-moment occurrence.  And I don't always know where He is.  Admittedly, He and I have always engaged in a cosmic version of Hide-and-Seek.  My only hope is that He's with those who have been left behind, giving them the strength to survive now and live later.  Those are two completely different things, you know.  Surviving and living.

I also know that the answer to school violence isn't by putting a gun in my hands or in my classroom, as a few have advocated.  To be honest, I can barely find my own keys most days.  I'm not sure I'm cut out for the vigilante lifestyle.

The only answer I have is to love one another.  Listen when someone needs help.  Ask for help when you need it.  Let go of your platform and have a conversation.  Seek out beauty, and, where there is none, leave some.

And, maybe, just this once, we use our hands to help or to pray or to hold... but not to point.

Monday, November 12, 2012

True Story: John Deere Changed My Life

When I was 10, I was a Girl Scout.  In fact, I was a Girl Scout for a really long time, but at 10, I was a scout who was desperate to go to summer camp.  I didn't realize it at the time, but my family didn't have the extra money to send me to a week of overnight camp.  The year before, my mom had recruited the local junior college basketball team, the Lady Bulldogs, to buy and sell hundreds of boxes of Thin Mints in order to send me, but I think that the next year, there was some kind of Cookie Moratorium laid down by the coach.  I was devastated at the possibility of not returning to camp.

Somehow, my dad -- the King of the Trade -- worked out a deal with the camp's site manager that he would mow the camp property all summer in trade for my time at camp. My dad had a big ol' John Deere tractor that he and my brothers ran tirelessly all summer to supplement our income, and now that I think about it, that tractor changed my life.

  • I went to camp for 4 more years until Camp Cibola closed.
  • My wonderful memories and realization of camp's influence never left me.
  • In 1995, on a trip through the student union at ASU (a school I chose because I'd been to student council camp there), I applied for a job at Camp El Tesoro in Granbury, TX.
  • At El Tesoro, I met the best friends I've ever known.
  • I kept going back to El Tesoro for 8 summers as a counselor, program director, assistant CIT director, and, yes, even the camp nurse.
  • At ET, I decided to change my major from Elementary Education to Secondary Ed.
  • At ET, I met Heather Wilson who introduced me to Linda Denson.
  • Linda Denson hired me at Nichols Junior High (even when she didn't TECHNICALLY have a job open yet).
  • Thirteen years and over 1,200 students later, I am still at Nichols Junior High.
  • Also, while at El Tesoro, I met Laurie Johnston, one of my many mentors in how to work with children.
  • Nine years ago, LJ talked me into volunteering at Camp Carter YMCA to help start a camp for blind and visually impaired children.
  • I became the day camp bus driver, the camp nurse, and the assistant camp director.
  • In 2012, I became the director of overnight camping for Camp Carter.
  • In 26 years as either a camper or staff member, I've worked with thousands of children and hundreds of staff members.
  • Over 200 of my most valued, creative, generous friends and acquaintances came either directly from my time at camp or from a connection at camp.
  • Statistically speaking, if you're reading this, you're one of those 200. 
Almost every decision I've made, every goal I've accomplished, and every dream that I've dreamed has been a result of my time at camp.  Nearly every person I interact with on a frequent basis is somehow a result of my time at camp.  Every place and moment and friendship is connected, and camp is the undercurrent of them all.

All because of a John Deere tractor.

This year, Camp Carter YMCA has set a goal to raise $63,000 to provide scholarships for both day and overnight camp for area youth.  As of this morning, we had $14,000 left to go.  We are hoping to raise that amount in the next 6 days.  I cannot promise you that I'll run a marathon to earn your donation.  Or walk 60 miles.  Or jump rope a thousand times.  But what I can promise you is that your donation, if you choose to make one, will change a child's life. 

Remember... not everyone's parent has a John Deere trade up his sleeve. 

If you would like to donate, you can do so in one of two ways: 
A) Go to Camp Carter's website, and follow the "donate" button located at the top.  Choose "Camp Carter's Annual Campaign". 
--OR--
2) Email me at coachnaz@hotmail.com or DM me with your mailing address and your pledge amount.  You don't have to pay right away.  You can pay out your pledge in installments if that makes it easier.

And, for the record, apparently there's a Kindle Fire being raffled off for those campaigning for Camp Carter.  Y'all know how I feel about e-readers, so if I win, I'll raffle it off to one of my donors!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On Saying Good-bye to Free Wine and TV

Everyone knows I love a good book.  And, yes, I mean everyone.  I've made it my goal this year to share literacy and my belief that building better readers = building better thinkers.  And thus, better citizens. 

Each of my students has a 40 book goal. All of my classes are over 10% of the way toward their class totals. Ten percent in 5 weeks... I'm going to call that a success. Especially since it took almost a week for all my students to realize, truly, that I was not pranking them. 

Since August 27, I've also read 15 books of my own 40 book goal.  They've been delightful and beautiful and wonderful.  I found that by asking my students to read more, it's encouraged me to read more as well, and I've been provided an opportunity to find new, incredible authors and stories and to share them with every kid I see.  I find myself asking, "Whatcha readin'?" to almost every under-18 face I see -- even those I don't specifically know.

I've spent quite a bit of money on my classroom library this school year as well. It's meant a few cuts in other areas of my budget, and that's been tough in the moment. I waited a month for new Back-to-School sneakers. I've traded golden highlights for good hardbacks, and I've missed almost every tv premiere this week. I haven't even had a pedicure in over 8 weeks. That's a lot of free wine that the salon has saved itself. And it's been hard. Although I don't consider myself high-maintenance, I do have a streak of self-spoiling behavior that I do enjoy. It hasn't been easy to choose what's most important.

But, you know, it's been worth it. Cracked heels and overflowing DVR, be damned!

I looked around my desk today and counted over 20 books piled around me.  Usually, piles are overwhelming.  I wandered to my shelves and found books sitting askew and out of sorts.  Usually, messy shelves are frustrating.  And, in all my classes today, I had to wait 4-5 extra minutes to gain students' attention.  Usually, it's because they're talking.  Not anymore though.  Now, piles warm me and comfort me.  Messy shelves mean that students are constantly browsing, discussing, trading, taking. 

And the quiet? Don't worry.  I'll wait for you to finish that page, kids.  I'm busy enjoying the silence and dreaming of my next good book.  And maybe, possibly, a glass of wine to go with it.


Monday, September 3, 2012

The Only News Worth Knowing

Dear Kellen,

Since you don't know me well yet, I will tell you this:

I'm not any good at 4:38 AM.  In fact, I'm downright unpleasant.

So, knowing that, there are only two acceptable reasons to dial my number at 4:38 AM.  One is death.  The other is life.

And in the wee hours of September 2, 2012, your little life made its way into my heart.  At 4:38 AM.  That is how miraculous you already are.  Your mere arrival in the world brought a smile to my face, even at 4:38 AM.  It even brought on coherent thought and a heartfelt reply.  Miraculous.

I went to see you last night.  Your Auntie Laurie and I planned it out by text... the exact right time of the day to visit where we would only have to share your chubby cheeks and new baby smell with only one another.  It's a small concession to make, to share with one another, but I knew I would get there before her anyway.

Aunt Laurie brought dinner for all of us.  Now, forever, I will think of you when I smell garlic bread baking in the oven.  It seems only natural.  One of the closest links your mother and I share is an unnatural attraction to freshly baked bread.

Aunt Laurie entertained us with a slideshow of her trip to Yellowstone.  Don't tell Aunt Laurie, but I didn't really look at her pictures.  Not when you were sitting so warm and snuggly and squeaky in my arms.  She'll show me those pictures again.  I think she was really only filling time until her turn again anyway.

Your mother laid in bed, let us hog you, and asked questions of everyone else.  Sometimes I am amazed at how nonchalant she can be even just 15 hours after bringing someone so glorious into this world.  She sat, drinking her Diet Coke, laughing at our stories, and pretending that it was an ordinary day.  An ordinary day where she produced 9 lbs 4 oz of perfection without the aid of either drugs or a doctor.  Like I said, nonchalant.  And amazing.

Your dad lamented that he didn't have a chance to go buy a newspaper to mark the day you were born.  I can't imagine that the Star Telegram would think to put your face on the front page, so I can't help but wonder what the use would be.  You, sweet boy, are the only news worth knowing on September 2, 2012.




Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The First "First Day"

I always say that the best part of my summer job as a camp director is bearing witness to the moment that a child falls in love with camp.  It is, truly, a magical moment. 

The other amazing part (and privilege) is watching that child grow up and bearing witness to the change he or she has upon the rest of the world. 

This is Katie.  She is the human, of course.  I'm sure I have clearer, better pictures of Katie, but this just happens to be one of my favorite pictures of her because I think it encompasses who she truly is and has always been: loving, kind, and generous.
Katie is a kid that I've known as a camper, Counselor-in-Training, Junior Counselor, Senior Counselor, and, for the last two summers, as one of the CIT Directors.  In every one of those roles, she has been the same: loving, kind, and generous.  And incredible.

And, tomorrow, she'll be a second grade teacher.  An incredible second grade teacher, I might add.

So, my Katie-did, as you begin your very first day in this new career, I want you to remember something.

You are more equipped for success than 90% of the teachers in the field.  You have lived with your classrooms for years, surrounded by a tribe of dirty-faced, question-filled, needy (and sometimes whiny) children for weeks at a time.  You've taught them to chop vegetables and cook over an open fire.  You've hiked and played and explored and prolem-solved in the 110 degree heat.  You've held the hands of countless homesick children, dried their tears, and found a place for them to belong.  You've explained the multi-step mysteries of the shower to dozens of clueless 7 year-olds.

Reading and fractions can't be much more difficult.   

Tomorrow, seventeen tiny faces will stream through your classroom door.  You will probably not feel ready, but believe me, little one, you are.  You've been ready for this since the first day I met you.

Tomorrow will fly by before you know it.  As a teacher, your life will be filled with a great number of "first days of school", but you will only have one first "first day".  Savor it.  Whether things go perfectly (they won't) or completely fall apart (they won't), it will be a day unlike any other.  And this is the beauty of teaching... every day, every moment, is a brand new chance for the best day ever.

Those 17 faces?  They will wear you out.  They may drive you crazy, even.  Remember: that's every kid's job.  So what do you do?  Love them.  Be kind to them.  Be generous with your time and attention and spirit.  I know you will because that's who you are, sweet friend.  It's who you've always been, and they are going to adore you for it.  They will be, I predict, the luckiest 2nd graders in the state of Oklahoma.

Have the best, most wondrous, first "first day" ever, Ms. Krambeer.  And then, maybe a drink and a nap.  You're gonna need it.

I love you, kiddo, and I'm so very, very proud of you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Waiting For Inspiration

Hey, friend.

Remember me?

I didn't leave you forever.  I've just been busy.  And tired.  Really tired.

But I'm still here, waiting to be inspired.  Waiting for something to write.  But nothing amazing seemed to happen for a while, so I have just been waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.

You know that feeling, don't you?  That emptiness -- that loneliness -- that comes with waiting?  If there is a Hell, I'm sure it will not be a pit of fire; it will be a waiting room.  Or the line at the DMV.  Nevertheless, it will be a feeling of doom, underscored by the lilting insanity of elevator music and boredom.

But today, I was asked to list the interesting things I've done this summer.  (It was the first day back to school for teachers, and, inevitably, whether you are 13 or 35, this is the first assignment.  Teachers... we never change.)  I panicked as I stared across at someone who I knew had traveled and lounged and done "interesting" things for the past 2 months.  What would I say?  "I worked.  At camp.  I slept a coma-like sleep on every break."  Believe me, exhausted comas do not equal "lounging".  It took me a few minutes, but I eventually came up with a couple of answers.  I still wasn't happy, and the question nagged at me the entire drive home.  It itched my brain while I shopped for sneakers, waited on my take-out, and priced refrigerators online.

Only now, hours later, do I realize what I wish I'd said.

  • I worked at camp.  All summer.  It was exhausting and stressful.
  • I worked at camp.  All summer.  It was exhilarating and full of renewal.
  • I watched my best friend's son spend his first 2 nights at camp.  He only stopped loving his counselor, activities, and friends long enough to hug me twice.  Well... once.  I stole the second, fair and square.
  • I saw my favorite campers -- kids I've known since they were 8 --  graduate from the C.I.T. program and then come back as junior counselors. 
  • I spent 49 days working alongside my third generation of camp friends.  They are the most dedicated, supportive, and talented groups of people I've encountered in a long time.  Well... since my 2nd generation at least.
  • I watched children from all over the world -- literally, from Mexico to the Czech Republic to England to China -- fall in love with the magic of camp.
  • I laughed.  My God, I laughed.
  • I cried.  My God, I cried.
  • I busted kitchen raids.
  • I narrowly escaped the clutches of Grandaddy Raccoon during one of his late night dumpster dives.
  • I lured the camp dog out for a swim in the lake -- much to the delight of the canoeing class.
  • I sang beautiful songs, with wonderful friends, on a gentle breeze by the light of a dying campfire.
  • I sang loud and silly songs, with wonderful friends and giggling children by the roar of a fresh fire.
  • I saw children become more than a stereotype. 
  • I saw children without a home find the home they never expected.
  • I witnessed friendships forged, stronger than steel, and bridges burn with the spark of regret.
  • A circle completed itself as one of my campers from my cabin at grief camp became a counselor at the same camp, fifteen years later.  Her healing helped to heal another cabin of litle girls.
  • I waved goodbye to one friend to finish his bachelor's degree, one to finish his doctorate, and one to ready her very first classroom. 
  • I prayed that they won't be gone for long.
  • I spent far too long from another best friend's children this summer, only to be welcomed back into their home with squeals and giggles and kisses from their grown-up faces.
  • Just days ago, I saw another friend's son, one of my favorite miracles, walk to me with steps that were never guaranteed.
  • I cried about that one too.
  • And I read.  I read 14 books this summer, and I've got about 24 more on the stack.
But I didn't write because I didn't feel inspired.  Man, sometimes I'm blind.  And dumb.  And tired of waiting.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Slightest Touch

Camp is hectic right now.  Hell.  It's been hectic for a month because that's what camp is -- hectic -- the very nature of the beast.  But I try hard to slow down a few times each day and snap a mental picture of the beauty that truly surrounds me.

Tonight there was a moment -- a sweetly perfect moment -- that summed up all the reasons I do this job, this crazy, hectic, tiresome job.  And it was a moment so innocuous and slight that it overpowered me with its sheer simplicity. 

It was one of our campers, completely blind, who stood unknowingly in the middle of the "last song circle" at the dance. It was another camper, completely unknown to her, reaching forward to place his hand on her shoulder, including her in the fold without forcing her into line.  A touch that allowed her to be connected without being swallowed up.  He held it there for the entire song, never breaking that connection.  I'm not sure anyone else noticed, but it caught me so unaware that I felt the hot tears of surprise building in the back of my eyes.

And that is what all of our campers and CIT's and staff have done this week for our Lighthouse kids -- welcoming them in without swallowing them up.  Moving the circle instead of moving the child.  Accepting that we don't all fall into line the first time but saving a spot for when you do. 

I think often about the beginning of a wave -- the tiny splash that creates the ripple that builds to the wave that washes over us all.  It begins with the slightest movement:  a raindrop, a fish flop, a breath of breeze.  Is that how all great movements begin, how all great revelations occur?  With the slightest touch? 

My Lord, I hope so.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fact:

Fact:  There are certain moments in one's life when you must realize that you are old.  These moments are inescapable and somewhat disheartening. 

For example:

  • When you can't "understand a damn word they're sayin' in that song on the radio".
  • When your knees ache after a game of tag.
  • When you trade the 9:00 PM pool party for some "peace and quiet".
  • When you realize you need to leave the pool party because, perhaps, you nodded off on the deck of the pool and a bug flew in your mouth, causing you to choke, panic, and re-evaluate your life choices only to realize that you just fell asleep at a pool party for crying out loud, and when did that start happening?

Not that any of those things happened to me today. 

Nope.  Not. At. All.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It Only Takes a Spark

So, in my last post, I told you about the most beautiful book riot I'd ever seen.  Well, it's the only book riot I've ever seen, and it happened to be beautiful.  Wondrously so.

I've been writing this blog for just around two years, and that post is, by far, my most popular with almost 95 pageviews in just under a week (It doesn't sound like much, but, believe me... it's huge.).  This is funny to me as each time I read over it before publishing, it just didn't feel right.  I didn't feel as though I'd perfectly captured the moment.  I'm not sure, however, that any number of words ever could.  But somehow, it struck a nerve. 

Actually, I don't think it was the post at all.  I think the Book Giveaway in itself struck a nerve.  A great nerve.  A friend of mine reposted it on Facebook (thanks, Debbie Schmidt), and someone I don't know at all decided to give away books on her next trip.  Our school's lovely theatre arts teacher and her boyfriend picked up and went to Half-Price books so that she could purchase books for students to choose as their end-of-year gift.  Other teachers, from other schools, in districts far away filed the idea for next year.  Throughout our school, teachers and principals alike have been astounded to see our Mustangs with their new books.  The kids have shown them off proudly, compared with one another, and then promptly stuck their noses between the pages.  One of my fellow English teachers witnessed a child's heartbreak over not getting his copy of The Hunger Games and relayed the story to her college-age son who promptly told his mother that they'd just go get him a copy at Wal-Mart.  You wouldn't believe the smile that $6.95 can buy.  Another of my fellow English teachers saw a student not choose a book (a student that we debated over whether he'd buy in or not, really), and when another young lady found out, she traded a bag of Takis for him to go choose a title that she'd wanted but couldn't get because she was only allowed one choice.  A bag of Takis buys a pretty good smile, too.

It was a huge risk -- that Giveaway -- and I had steeled myself for "The Look" many times leading up to it.  You know... that "what-would-I-need-with-a-stupid-book" face.   But it never showed, even from those few that didn't choose a book.  No eyerolling.  No exasperated sighs.  Just smiles.  And isn't that the only look that truly matters?

It certainly matters to my shopping list.  I'll give you one guess what you're all getting for Christmas.  Or your birthday.  Or next Wednesday.  I'm prepared to risk "The Look" from now on because this week, I saw a hundred more smiles than I could have ever wished for.

Thank you all for reading and sharing in the joy my students and school have had this week.  I pray that this small reading revolution will grow and continue for a long time after this school year has ended.  But my truest wish is that my sweet little rioters have given you some hope or some laughter and possibly even sparked an inspiration for you to spread the love of reading to all those children hungering for it. 

Pootie recommends Scat by Carl Hiassen. 
Maggie the Cat (in the background) is clearly finished with her selection.

UPDATE:  That lovely theatre arts teacher, Angela Stidham, just sent me this message:

".....and after a long, hot, joyous day at the zoo Friday- those students of ours that couldn't afford a yearbook, ran around the gym asking their friends & teachers to sign their new book. Oh yes they did! :-D You know that long after they've finished reading that novel our school so generously gave them, they'll still keep it forever now because it's filled with the signatures of their classmates from 2012: the year they were given the gift of reading. I thought that was pretty cool."

More than just pretty cool.  It's the beginning of a wildfire on the horizon.  I feel it. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Most Beautiful Riot...

Last year, I gave an assignment which required kids to classify the books in their homes.  I went numb as I saw kids turn in pages with the names of only 2 or 3 books listed.  When I questioned them, they explained that these were the only books in their homes.  Many had none.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  I'd estimate that 30-40% of my kids had fewer than 10 books, and most of those books belonged to their parents or younger siblings.  I have plenty of kids show up to my classroom, hungry for food, and it makes me ache.  I was just as heartbroken by their hunger for words.

I have 7 books in my school bag right now.  I have 2 stacks of books, begging to be read, waiting for me on my bedside table.  I have a tiny bookshelf, overflowing with books that I've read but cannot bear to part with.  When I think of their faces, I am embarrassed by my literary riches.  Embarrassed, but thankful beyond belief.

Books were one of the few things which were never denied in my childhood home.  Raising two avid readers, willing to entertain themselves with a story and a quiet corner, my mother was happy to indulge this behavior whenever possible.  And while I adored the library and used it vigorously, the first time I realized that a book was mine -- all mine -- was a delirious and delightful moment.  My brother now has an entire room dedicated to his book and comic book collections, and I am furiously jealous of it.  For me, there is nothing like the possession of a story, of characters living upon my shelf, of plotlines untwisting before my eyes.

I've spent every day since that failed assignment trying to feed my students with words.  It turned out, I wasn't the only heartbroken one in my school.  At a literacy summit in April, one of our 8th grade teachers talked about how her church sets up book-laden tables on street corners for strangers to come collect their knowledge.  The passion she felt for those few days, giving away what she loved so dearly, gave all of us an idea.

So, today, instead of collecting fines or scavenging textbooks out of lockers filled with gym socks and week old lunch bags, we gave away books.

You heard me.  For the first time ever, we stopped clutching our text with suspicious hands and just let them go.  In fact, we ordered them all with the hopes that no grown-up hands would ever touch them save to unpack the boxes.   Brand new books.  Gave 'em away.   No cost.   No strings.  No test or required reading.  Every 7th grade student at my school will travel home with one book of his very own this summer.  That's 450+ books leaving our doors to live upon the bedsides and bookshelves of these homes.  The idea of it leaves me breathless.

My 2nd period went first, and as it's primarily a group of rowdy and wildly inattentive boys, I tried hard not to set my hopes too high.  We'd talked about the 18 available titles yesterday.  They appeared disinterested and rather sleepy as I described each one, so I worried that I'd be picking up titles up all along the hallways as soon as the 3:55 bell rang.  I worried that I'd have to beg and plead just to get them out of their chairs to walk to Mrs. Hines's room.  I shouldn't have worried at all.

Have you ever seen a video of piranhas attacking?  Because that's exactly what it was like.  They picked that book table clean. 

When we returned to the room, I gave the students the opportunity to spend some time reading their new books.  After about 10 minutes, one of my boys announced to all the other kids, "This book goes HARD!  I'm serious!  I don't even like to read, but this book goes HARD!"

My first instinct was that he was joking, mocking my excitement over a dumb book until I realized that he was talking to no one and everyone in particular.  And please understand that this is a child that literally could not read at the beginning of the school year and visited that lovely Mrs. Hines, our instructional facilitator, 3 times per week for tutoring.  Today, he read 16 pages.  I have never seen him read 16 words in front of anyone else.  Ever.  I'm glad he was enthralled with his book so that he didn't see me pick up my jaw off the desk.  In case a child asks you why reading is important, please feel free to let him know that it's because, as E. would say, "Books go hard."  It's the most rousing endorsement of reading that I've ever had in 2nd period.

And it continued on like that all day.  Sure, there were a couple of kids who didn't want to pick a book.  There were a few who picked a book only to turn around and give it to my classroom bookshelf.  That was hard for me, but I reminded myself that there will always be those people who exercise their choice by simply choosing to not choose.  Of 123 book shoppers today, they were in the almost extinct minority. 

In 5th period, my first of two 29+ classes, I walked in after the bell to catch my two smallest boys talking in hushed and conspiratorial tones. 

I asked, "What are y'all talking about?"

"Strategy," they whispered with a wise nod, as I bit back a giggle.

It seems that they had been the only kids listening the day before when I warned that there'd be just a few copies of each book... that not everyone would be able to get their first, or even second, choice.  So as soon as I called the class to line up, they were right behind me, leading the way, and claiming the closest space to "The Hunger Games" and "The Lost Hero".  Quickly thereafter, I walked in behind my last student to see a mass of sweaty and anxious 13 year-old bodies crowded around a single table, anticipating the shout of "3...2...1" to make their grab.  And, sure enough, quick as a cat, my two smallest slipped out of the crowd with the most coveted bounty of the day. 

I overheard one exclaim, "It's like a riot in there!"

And the other replied, in complete shock, "I know!  Over a book!" As if they hadn't been plotting their attacks only moments before.

They were correct.  It was a near-riot.  Over books. 

It was the most beautiful riot I've ever seen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One

Brooklyn Claire,

Exactly one year ago, your momma called me on the phone.  She told me, "No false alarm this time.  When can you get here?"  I told her 15 minutes, and I prayed for no traffic on I-35.  You were not the only miracle granted that day; I made it to your doorstep in only 11 minutes.  After some quick instructions on how to manage your big brother who I was charged with keeping and some frantic hustling of your parents out the door, the race to the hospital was on.  The third miracle?  Your father's lead foot. 

And then... there was you, with your chubby bunny cheeks and deep blue eyes.  This is the first picture I snapped, you with your mother's hands and your father's mouth, already wondering what all the fuss was about.

It's a long, strange journey into the world...

I've thought a great deal about that number today.  One.  One year.  One word.  How could I describe you in one simple word?  Which would I choose?

Sweet.

Relaxed.

Peaceful.

Hairbows.

Tutus.

Smiles.

Cautious.

Precious.

Glorious.

Adorable.

Adored.

Tiny.

Delicate.

Hungry.

Healthy.

Happy.

Amazing.

Loving.

Beloved.

Sister.

Niece.

Granddaughter.

Daughter.

Beautiful.

Perfect.

Yes.  That's the one I think I'd choose of the millions available -- the one we'd all choose.  Perfect.

Happy 1st Birthday, Brook-Brook. You make the number 1 mean so many incredible things.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For My Mom...

Mother,

All my life, you have considered me to be a Daddy's Girl.  He was the one to coax a smile, share a laugh, say "yes" when everyone else said 'no".  He was the one charged with teaching me, the most stubborn student, the unteachable things... to ride a bike, to drive a stickshift, to change a tire.  I still don't know how to change a tire though.  I considered him to be the essence of strength and compassion while you delivered the rules and consequences.  All my little girl life, I was a Daddy's Girl.

But I'm not a little girl anymore. 

Now, as a grown-up, I see the world so differently than I did before.  Now, it is you I share most of my laughter with, and I treasure those moments.  Laughter doesn't come as easily as it once did, so its value is limitless.  It was you, knowing my stubborn streak, who let me learn in my own time, make my own mistakes, and comforted me in the fall-out.  You taught me so many things, mostly while I didn't realize I was learning.  You taught me to listen to my instincts, that when a person reveals his true self, I should believe it, and that sometimes, you have to let go of the people and places holding you back.  I learned to trust a first impression, to see others for who they are, and to forgive them when they earn it.  I studied you at the make-up mirror applying eyeshadow and the card table shuffling cards and the stovetop while you made cream gravy.  I'm good at make-up and cards, but I still don't know all the secrets of gravy though.  Yes, you were the bearer of rules and consequence, but I have never once not known where I stood with you in both the bad moments as well as the good.

And now, when someone tells me I'm strong -- when you tell me I'm strong -- I know that this strength isn't from one source alone.  The strength of the mother lives within the daughter, and it flows like a river through life, cutting rock and carving majesty, leaving its imprint on this world.  And what I've come to know about strength is that it is not without weakness and trial.  It is only through the most vicious wind that the strongest trees still stand, and we're still standing, you and I.

So, yes, I am a Daddy's Girl.  But I'm a Momma's Girl too.  And I'm pretty proud of that fact.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Truth and Consequences

School will end for me on June 1st.  Camp will officially begin on June 2nd.

Camp, for me, will end on July 27th.  School will begin on August 1st.

Within that time span of summer vacation, I will spend 42 days and 35 nights away from the comfort of my own bed.  My days will begin at 7:00 AM and end anywhere between 12:00 - 3:00 AM.  I will be hot, sweaty, and filthy.  I will plunge toilets and make schedules and start unstartable fires.  I will possibly fill out CPS reports and call parents and send at least one kid home and maybe even a staff member.  I will endure both homesick tears and at least one vomiting episode.  I will cry and question my choices at least weekly if not daily.  I will work harder than I feel capable of, and I will still not be the hardest working staff member on the property.  Not by a long shot.

Most people think that I must be crazy to leave one world of teaching for another with only hours to spare in the transition.  But here's what they don't realize: I will also laugh harder than I have ever laughed.  I will sing silly songs.  I will watch someone grow up in "just a week" or "just a summer".  I will go to free swim, hang out with the camp dog, and maybe hit a bullseye at archery.  I will have a s'more (or ten).  I will sit on the rooftop and find the meaning of my world with my friends and then whisper it on to anyone who will hear me.  I will work harder than I feel capable of, and I will witness so many others doing the same.  And hundreds of kids will stay for every one that doesn't.  But here's the real secret why I trade one world for the other:

Because, in the other, the kids are happy to be there.

The hardest part of being a teacher is to realize that sometimes -- many times -- my students don't want to be at school.  And after a day like today, I get it.  I didn't want to be there either. 

That's hard for me to say out loud.  Really hard.  For me, school was never a difficult place; it was a second home.  Yes.  I am a school nerd.  I like to read.  I love to write.  I want to learn.  I love it, and I always have.  Even as a teacher, I feel comfortable at school, and I feel as though I have been called to work at my school.  Called.  Like by a Higher Power.  And I don't always know how I feel about that Higher Power, but I know that I didn't wind up here by accident. 

But I have to tell you a little secret.  I am a shitty disciplinarian.  This is probably because I never really had to be disciplined as a child.  Purely motivated by guilt or shame or fear of failure, I obeyed the rules pretty well, and I typically spent my time with other kids who did the same.  Here's another secret.  I don't think I'm alone in this. 

Sure, teenagers are mentally wired to push boundaries and piss adults off.  It releases endorphins or something probably.  Yet, most kids -- most, not all -- generally want to do the right thing.  I truly believe this.  No matter who they are or how they were raised or what friends they have, they want to do well.  It feels, however, as if the majority of conversations with my peers are all about discipline.  And I'm guilty of it too.  Lately, here are the things out of my mouth.

"What are the consequences?"

"What are we gonna do?"

"When are they going to learn?"

"How will they/you/I be held accountable?"

"ISS.  Tardies.  Shirttails.  ID's."

"That group is a cancer."  I'm quite ashamed of that one.  That one disturbs me.

On and on and on and on.  I'm not proud.  I'm just being real.  And I'm not the only one which bothers me.

I work with some pretty amazing people.  I really and truly do.  If anyone ever asks you who it is doing God's work, you tell them this, "Junior High teachers, that's who." 

But I feel like I've lost my purpose.  Maybe we've lost our purpose.  Do we spend so much of our time wondering how to deter bad behavior that we forget to encourage the good?  I mean, look at society.  I don't think that any meth addict thought, "You know what?  Today, I'm going to smoke some starter fluid/battery acid/Sudafed combo so that my teeth rot out of my head, I lose all my money, emaciate myself, and possibly wind up in jail."  Show a picture of a meth head to anyone and ask them if this is what they want.  They will all, invariably give you a big HELL no.  Yet they do it.  Not because they're unafraid of what will happen as a consequence but because they are so unhappy where they are, they'll do anything -- risk everything -- to be somewhere else.  Jail?  They have shower rape in jail.  And if shower rape isn't a deterrent, I don't know what is.  Yet think of how many of them will go back. 

I know it seems like a drastic jump... untucked shirts and ID badges to meth and jail, but I guess I'm trying to prove a point or scratchy an itchy thought inside my brain.  I spent an hour and a half  today with people I love trying to decide what would best deter kids from breaking rules and only about 15 minutes solving the logistics of how to encourage great behavior.  I hate the imbalance of that statement, but I really don't know how to solve it.  I don't think ignoring bad behavior is acceptable, and I also don't believe that the whole world should be or can be full of fun and games with me at the head of the classroom doing a soft shoe to entertain otherwise bored students.  Don't get me wrong.  Every day, however, I feel as though I see more and more negativity creeping into this world, into our schools, into our hearts and the hearts of my kids.  And I don't know how to beat it back.  I don't know how to get a little camp excitement into the drudgery of school.  If you do... I really want to know.  Seriously.  Leave a comment, shoot me an email, send a carrier pigeon.  Anything.  Something.  I want to know what makes/made/could make school a place kids want to be.  Or at least a place they're more willing to be.

All wasn't lost though.  Don't fear.  Here's what I did decide today.  I am a shitty disciplinarian.  It's true, and sometimes the truth is an ugly thing to face.  Everything others count as "good", I am not.  But I'm okay with being a shitty disciplinarian because, tomorrow, I have a chance to be a better teacher.  To face the truth about what's good so I can keep doing it and what's not so I can change it.  And I'd rather be a good teacher because I just don't believe those two things are the same.

In the meantime, I have 18 days to end this year on a good note, and 18.5 to ready myself to start again.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

When a Home Becomes a House

In my classroom, we always talk about the power of words, about denotation (the literal meaning of a word) as opposed to the connotation (the emotional effect or appeal) of words.  To begin the lesson, I ask my kids to write down the difference between "house" and "home".  Inevitably, most of my students get it right away.  They'll tell me that a "house" is just walls, a floor, a roof.  But a "home" is all of the things that make this structure into a place of comfort.  "Home" means family and memories and holidays and friends and love and warmth.  A "house" is just a shelter, but a "home" shelters your soul.

One of my best friends has a house around the corner from me in my neighborhood.  At one point, almost all my friends lived in the same neighborhood.  One put down roots first, then another, and another, until finally about 7 years ago, I gave up and moved to the 'hood as well.  Since then, the first moved out, then the next, and now we've arrived at the last.  Laurie got married about a year and a half ago.  She has tried, in vain, to sell her house for 18 long months, and on Monday, she'll close at last.  So tonight, after a very long and tiring day for us both, she still had to go and finish cleaning out all of the things she left so long ago.  She's been working for a week now, with her husband, and she's arrived at the last few things.  You know, those things that clutter the shelves with their sentiment and possible use.  And because she'd do (and has done) the very same thing for me so many times, I walked around the corner for one of the last few times to help her come to a close of a different sort.

See, this is the friend who has constantly been the primary caregiver and ceremonial figurehead for our little group.  Laurie hired us all at camp 17 years ago and eventually became our friend, taking us and all of our twenty-something childishness, letting us crash upon her couches and floors, did our laundry, fed us when we were too poor to eat, blended our margaritas, and helped us figure out how to be adults.  Over the course of those last 15 years, the two houses she's lived in naturally became the gathering point.  Maybe because she had complete sets of silverware or the softest floor or the best blender.  Maybe because we were all so used to doing whatever she said at work that we just let her continue to boss us around outside of it as well.  Either way, her home(s) have always felt like our home(s).  Her first house sold in two days.  She decided on the house around the corner in a spur of the moment, walk in to an open house and "just know" kind of decision.  And the move from the first to the next felt natural.  Her first house was new construction, in a new development, and the only history it held was her own.

But this house, the little house around the corner, is different.  Built in the 20's, it holds several lifetimes of memories.  The abandoned treehouse in the backyard.  The glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling in the front bedroom. The concrete engravings.  Sometimes the ghosts of the past would creep past us, not to haunt but to welcome.  As we cleared out bathroom shelves of expired medicine and threadbare towels or made decisions about which pile to put her hundreds of CD's in or questioned where to put her dozens of quilts, I'd stop and look around for a minute.  And I'd wonder.  I'd wonder what ghosts we were leaving behind.

This is the house where we drank hundreds of margaritas.  We shared at least 10,000 laughs and probably half as many tears. 

This is the house where the back porch is famous for Heather leaning back in her patio chair until she eventually/nearly would tip over backward.  Where Courtney's infamous snort-laughs and my infamous cussing, blue-streak rants would ring throughout the neighborhood.  Where Laurie would get the giggles so intensely, we feared she might stop breathing.  Where we ate many meals.  Where we cried many tears.  Where we sat, amidst clouds of mosquito spray and talked the night away more times than I can count.

This is the backyard where Angel (the sweetest-cranky dog ever) ruled the possum population with an iron fist and an equally strong bark.  It's the house where her circus dog, Lady, was taken too soon, and where the world's greatest cat, Mellie, held on too long.  Where Courtney coaxed Sammy and Doodle into her lap so that they could one day live the life of luxury far from the harsh reality of the life of a stray.  The porch where Crisco the cat would make her escape to the great outdoors and the house where she brought home the smelliest kitten with the world's biggest ears to bathe in the sink.  Where Big Sam, the camp dog, made his first big city home after leading a lonely existence on the family ranch.  Where the animals in the house loved Laurie almost as much as we do.

It's the backyard where we talked Laurie into buying a horrendous, inflatable, above-ground swimming pool which we used exactly four times.  They were a pretty fun four times though.  It's the porch where Courtney told us she was pregnant with her first baby.  It's the porch where Heather showed us a picture of the son she had chosen.  It's the porch where Laurie first told us about the man who would someday become her future husband but that she, at the time, viewed only as a friend.  That is until we got the giggles and said, "Girl, that man is flirtin' with you!"  And it's the back porch where I first sat down to decide whether I thought he was good enough for Laurie, and, in turn, if he could put up with all of us who came with her.  Laurie's friends are kind of a package deal.  Turns out that he was, and he could.

It's the birthplace of Girls' Night where we'd place our bets and roll our eyes at the latest season of The Bachelor.  It was the meeting place for a few snow days.  The Lotus Cafe that produced chicken spaghetti, Laurie's "everything but the kitchen sink" salads, and the world's greatest guacamole.  It's housed dozens of birthday cakes, Rock Band parties, and card nights.  It's where we all gathered to pass out Halloween candy to the neighborhood kids.  It's where she held the "EscapeYour Family? Come on Over" Christmas night party.  This is the house where my darling friends threw me a 30th birthday party, special not only for its "Trivial Pursuit: Deana Nazworth Edition" party game but also because it is one of the last times I can remember having my brothers and my mom and dad together with me in a happy and peaceful moment.

It's a place where we stated our opinions and defended our points.  It's a place where sometimes we all argued, and then sometimes had to swallow our pride.  It's been a place to fight but also to forgive.  It's been a place of love and friendship and warmth and comfort.  It was a home, even after we all got our own homes.  It gave shelter, and it sheltered our souls.

Laurie essentially moved out of that house the day she fell in love with her husband, but even after her clothes and shoes and pets found a new address, we'd still gather there, meet for dinner, come back to catch our trashy reality t.v., and sit on the back porch to laugh and snort and rant.  In the last few months, however, we've begun to meet elsewhere, landing at new restaurants or in the backyards of other's homes, including the home that Laurie now shares with Pat.  Not shockingly, no matter where we are, the laughter and love and comfort has gone with us (and we didn't even have to pack it in boxes). 

I'm glad that the stress of selling this house will soon be over for Laurie.  I'm happy that she and Pat are making their new life together (and graciously inviting us all over to build new memories).  That little house around the corner is adding another lifetime to its collection, and for me, the girl who battles change and grips sentiment in her fist, it is bittersweet.  As we packed up tonight, our voices and laughter echoed through this empty shell, and I realized that this is the moment that a "home" becomes a "house", and I said my goodbyes. 

But hopefully for the new owners, we left a little echo inside, a ghost of our strange and wonderful little family of friends who loved this house and the life it all lent us, to whisper a welcome home.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Enough

I went to a cook-out tonight with friends.  I had a wonderful evening, but there are times when to be surrounded by such love -- such fun -- is difficult.  Because inevitably, I come home lonely and wistful.

See, all my life, I hoped it would be my house hosting the cook-out.  My husband manning the grill.  My kids running around being spoiled by everyone else.  Dogs in the backyard.  Dishes in the sink. But things just didn't work out that way.

Most days, I'm fine.  I have a career that I am truly passionate about.  I have a roof over my head and money to keep the lights on.  I have good friends.  Sometimes, though, when I've had a fairly terrible day at work, I want someone to tell my troubles to, to take my hand when I am afraid, to pick me up when I fail, to share my successes -- big or small, to hug, to hold.  So, there are moments, and I'm not proud to say this, when I dread the wonderment and beauty of others joy.

But not tonight. No. Tonight is not one of those nights. Tonight is one of the nights that I don't come home empty and envious, but rather I am fulfilled. Because these are the people I love. These are the people who talk me off the ledge, feed me when I am hungry, celebrate me even through my shortcomings, laugh at my jokes, dry my tears. They shelter me from the storms of my past and wait patiently for the next clear and crisp dawn. They share their holidays and homes and children and joy, and all they ask in return is to love them back. And what's not to love?

Auntie LJ and Baby Brooklyn. 

Chris and Elliott

Heather and Marcus.  The giggles are totally contagious

Best dressed at the cook-out.  By a landslide.

Kathy -- totally enjoying the fact that her kids are grown, and now it's time to spoil everyone else's kids.

Note to self: don't leave my phone unattended around Chris.

Elliott with some frisbee skills.

Sweet Brooklyn and her beautiful mama, Courtney

Every cook-out is significantly improved by tractor rides with Pat.

When tired of playing frisbee, use said frisbee to "pan for gold".
No.  Tonight was joyful... relaxing... beautiful... and enough.  I didn't come home wishing for what I don't have;  instead I was thankful for the tiny people with big hearts and loving arms.  For the women who know me best, never leave me behind, and shared the last 17 years with me. And for their husbands and families who may not fully understand us but never try to stop us.

This.  This is me.  Everything I was, everything I still hope, everything and everyone that I choose.  It's me.  And for tonight -- at least for tonight -- I am enough.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Puzzles

My mom's latest obsession is jigsaw puzzles.  They keep her mind occupied and present the detail-oriented challenge that she always seems to enjoy. 

I hate them.  They're tedious and time-consuming.  They're not terribly exciting, and one too many times I've worked and worked only to find a piece missing.  And then, all I can think of is that missing piece.  I forget about all the hard work and effort I spent on the other 999 pieces and feel like a failure for the one tiny hole left in the picture.  Even in the completed work, I manage only to see the cracks and lines and rough edges.  I never take the moment to just enjoy its wholeness.

In the end, no matter how beautiful the image or how well connected all the parts might be, the puzzle must go back into the box.  And as it crumbles, I catch my breath at how easily and quickly all that work is undone.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Not For the Faint of Heart

To everyone who knows me and knows how much I love Duke basketball, let me reassure you.  I am alive.  I am still breathing, and all breakables are still intact in my house.  I'm not even drunk and irrational.  Well, not yet anyway.  I'm disappointed, but you can't be disappointed if you're not fully invested.  And if nothing else, I'm always fully invested in Duke basketball.

I've lived the majority of my life with a heart broken by college basketball.  Even in '91 and '92 and '01 and '10, I wound up with a broken heart simply because the season of my favorite team comes to a close.  Sure, those 4 years were easier to take as they ended on a victory, a glorious victory, but still they ended.  And no season like that one will ever be again. 

I've also lived the majority of my life with people crowing about every Duke loss.  In the 4 championship years, I also endured the bitching about how they won.  When it comes to Duke basketball, most of the world will always have something to say, and if you can't handle it, you better find another team to support.  Being a Duke fan is not for the faint of heart.

Am I satisfied with this outcome?  Of course not.  No competitor wants to go out this way.  Have I enjoyed the hell out of it?  Absolutely.  My favorite coach became the all-time leader in men's Division I basketball.  We won the Maui invitational in the most thrilling of fashions.  We fought back in so many games that seemed desperately far out of reach, including snatching a win out of some powder blue clutches on their own turf.  I witnessed Miles Plumlee snag 22 rebounds in one game.  I saw Tyler Thornton emerge as the unlikeliest of heroes.  I watched the White Raven soar.  I fell hard for Austin Rivers' game and saw a level of swagger I haven't seen since #32 strolled the court.  The best part of college sports, of any youth sport, is bearing witness to the emergence of men from the footsteps of boys.  There is profound pride in their joy and empathy to their heartbreak.  And I found, after 25 years of searching, a hardcore Duke Family of fans via Twitter with which to share this roller coaster season.

There are lots of corrections left to be made, and no coach or player ever fails to realize that.  The wheel keeps turning, and work must be done.  My favorite tweet of the night for me was via Ben Swain (@thedevilwolf):
"Austin on what he'll do tomorrow.  Wake up.  Go to the gym.  This is my life.  This is all our lives."

And the saying is true, "Duke basketball never stops".  It never even takes a break. 

I don't know what the next season will hold, but I know I can't wait to see it.  Let's go, Duke.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Telephone Tomfoolery

Last night, I got a call from a friend in England.  The call woke me up (although I claimed that it did not, I am sure), to talk about our mutually shared third job.  The third job which I have resisted discussing because I'm just too tired to think that far in advance.  May seems so far away.  So, this afternoon, I had a small rant about how someone so incredibly smart could "STILL NOT UNDERSTAND THIS TIME DIFFERENCE".  I mean, for real, you just subtract like 6, estimate whether a normal working person would be awake, and then decide whether to call or not.

Shortly after my rant, I was scrolling through my recent call list, and I noticed something.  He called me at 8:20 PM.  So... uh... my apologies, Jamie.

8:20 PM.  This is when I was asleep.  There are octogenarians who were up later than I was last night.  Apparently, I'm now "that" person who complains about all of you hooligans calling me up after lights out.  Oh, you hooligans and your telephone tomfoolery.  I shake my tired, gray head at you.

Tonight, my only goal is to make it past 9:00 before hauling my weary ass into bed.  This is not a goal that I'm especially proud of.  And the two celebratory "school's out" vodka tonics I consumed during the Duke game are certainly not helping matters.  They sure did taste nice though.

Spring Break 2012 is off to a... start. 

Woo.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How My T-Shirt Caused a Convenience Store Showdown

It's a cool spring morning in Texas, and there's a familiar scent in the air -- rivalry.  It seems to have drifted the 1,201 miles from Durham to Fort Worth.  Today is an exciting day for any college basketball fan, and the wait is almost unbearable for any Blue Devil or Tar Heel.

I've been up for almost 3 hours, rising without the use of an alarm clock.  A small miracle to anyone who knows me.  After waking, with nothing much to do so early in the day, I got up, dressed in my favorite Cameron Crazies shirt and some sweats, and headed to the Quik Trip down the street to grab a Diet Coke.  As I walked to my car in the parking lot, a man in the next car over rolled down his window and shouted, "I LOVE YOU!"

Since I had basically rolled out of bed with no makeup, glasses on, and only a haphazard use of a hairbrush, I was slightly confused as to what might have brought on such attention.  And then, from a gas pump, I saw a man point to my shirt and shout, "DUKE SUCKS!"

Then I saw Mr. I Love You flip the bird to Mr. Duke Sucks, and this morning's mystery was solved.  Even in a Texas parking lot, 1,201 miles and 11 hours from tip-off, enemy lines had already been drawn. 

Oh, how I love the smell of rivalry in the air. 

LET'S GO, DUKE!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

From Apathy to Outrage

Life can be a pretty frustrating endeavor sometimes.  It's unpredictable and challenging.  So when the people I depend on to keep it steady begin rocking the boat, I get a little pissed.  And that was how my morning started off -- with people who should know to sit the hell down while in a mother-bleepin' boat.

But remember how I said that life can be unpredictable?  (Come on now.  I said it like 3 sentences ago.  Keep up.  Stop wondering if you're the boat rocker because I'm so over all of you boat rockers.  Done.)

Well, it is unpredictable, and that can be a wildly beautiful thing too. 

Today, in my class of charming ne'er do wells, we were reading from the novel Tangerine when my little unpredictable miracle occurred.  I had just finished reading a passage in which the narrator explains how little respect his school has regarding the on-field death of one of its football players (making no mention, not canceling classes -- not even canceling football practice) and its ensuing need to continue practice as is, with little regard for future players' safety.

At this point, I usually have a few kids with the "WTH is wrong with these people?" look upon their faces.  But not today.  Today, I had *Sally up in arms. 

She slammed her book shut, catching us all off guard, and proclaimed her hatred of the fictional Lake Windsor High School and all of its cold-hearted staff and students.  "That's so disrespectful, Miss!  What's wrong with these people?  They don't even care!"  And then she began to rally her classmates to anger as well.

I couldn't believe my ears.  Was this the same *Sally, who for 25 weeks has been hell-bent on getting me to just leave her alone?  Did she really just move from apathy to outrage in 55 pages?  Because she totally did.

And when a classmate tried to calm her down by saying, "Sally, it's just a BOOK", she fired back, "But it's not just a book.  People act like that all the time.  And it's wrong. They should be ashamed of themselves."  Oh, dear Lord, be still my heart.  Righteous indignation AND a moral compass?  AND real-life connections? 

I wanted to be all, "Holy Jesus!  You care?  About other people?  And doing the right thing?  I wasn't so sure!"  But that's unprofessional, and embellished for storytelling's sake, so I didn't.

I didn't even know what to say.  I just beamed. 

But this is what I wish I had said.   "You're right, kids.  It is just a book.  But that's what books and words do.  They move people.  They push people to be better.  They challenge you to question and think and defend your own beliefs.  They teach you what is right by showing you what is wrong.  They make you care so deeply, so passionately about someone you've never met -- someone who may not even exist in reality -- that you are enraged by his maltreatment, causing you to slam your book shut and declare that you're done reading it only to pick it back up 30 seconds later because now you can't resist knowing what will happen.  And then maybe, just maybe, it forces you to treat the next person you meet a little bit better than you would have before.  That's what books can do."

Perhaps I'll lay my diatribe on them tomorrow.  Or not.  Maybe I'll just let that glorious image of Sally, with her nose in that dog-eared copy of Tangerine, do all my talking for me.

*Name changed to protect the utterly fabulous.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Do You Remove a Rabbit From a Sousaphone?

Remember when I confessed to y'all that I'd never been to the ocean?

Well, check that one off the bucket list.  Sort of.  I guess it depends on who you ask.  I technically went to Galveston and the Gulf.  There's lots of argument about whether the beach of Galveston counts and whether to qualify the "gulf" as an "ocean".  But for a kid who's always been able to see the opposite shore of whatever body of water she's looking at, it's the damned ocean.  It was mesmerizing.  The wind, the waves, the seagulls fighting over dead fish.... all of it.

I wound up going to see my friend, Allison, who is in nursing school down there.  Allison was one of my favorite campers like a 1,000 years ago at summer camp.  Since she's 30 now, I guess I can stop referring to her as one of my "kids".  Allison leads the kind of life of adventure that I always think I want to lead.  She's been so many different places -- studying in Mexico and Guatemala, doing desert conservation in Arizona, leading canoe trips on the Canadian border, blowing up dams, and measuring tree growth in Alaska, just to name a few. 

Then I remember that I really treasure things like television and microwaves and toilet paper.

Allison's adventures both make all the "responsible" adults in her life insane and jealous all at once.  Now she's settled into pursuing a career in nursing.  I think it's just a cover to work a couple years in civilization before she's off delivering Pygmie babies in the Amazon, but whatevs.  I'm just hatin'.

Here's a little photo re-cap of my Bucket List weekend:
This is Allison.  Allison went to OU.  The burnt orange scrubs are both required by school and sure to cause a fierce rash to her Sooner blood.  I will not take this opportunity to point out the obscenely white tennis shoes.  I will also not point out that someone advised her to get Skechers Shape-Ups.  Or that she took their advice.  That would just be cruel.
The Skrehart family is one of the most intelligent and creative thinking families I've ever known.  It does not surprise me at all that Kathy used her evil genius to exploit Pinterest for this:  Skittles-infused vodka.  Literally, you just take vodka, drop in a handful of Skittles, and then strain out the weird gelatin coating that melts off.  What you're left with is neon-colored jars of Heaven.  I drank a lot of Neon Heaven.
 Oh yeah.  We went to the beach.  It was dreadfully, dreadfully cold.  I did not stick my foot in as planned.
 Kathy and Allison looking for shells on the beach.  And freezing. 
 If you live in Galveston, in a house without a verandah, I'm thoroughly convinced you're not doing it right.  I wanted to knock on doors of houses without verandahs and ask the resident within what the hell they were thinking.  This is a relatively tamed down version of a Galveston home as it's not hot pink or turquoise, like below:

This is the view from Allison's verandah.  It was a dreary day, so my camera didn't really capture the vibrancy of the house colors.  We had a weekend-long debate about what color we would all paint our houses if we owned homes here.  There's also a marigold yellow house directly across from Allison's apartment that I kind of coveted.  It mattered very little that they *might* have drug deals happening on the front porch or that there was a port-a-potty stationed in the front yard.  Truthfully though, I think that if you don't go with some sort of rainbow sherbet motif, you're really letting the entire city down.
 Apparently, if you cut down a tree at your house (or it's blown down by a massive hurricane -- whatevs), this tremendous artist with a chainsaw will come carve it into something magical.  This yard's tree stumps turned into the Tin Man and Toto from the Wizard of Oz.  The Tin Man and Toto happened to be celebrating Mardi Gras at the time.
 Back to drinking.  If you look closely, you'll see that, in celebration of Mardi Gras, we drank the grape, lemon, and lime vodka first.  You'll also see, if you look closely, that we drank out of Allison's "Sip and Strip" glasses.  When the glass temperature changes, the rejects from CHiPs begin to shed their tank tops and tighty-whiteys so that they're wearing nothing but unbelievably out-of-date facial hair and a smile.  I really can't describe how proud this child makes me.
So... apparently the coast is Hurricane Country?  Hmm... I seem to remember something in a book somewhere mentioning this.  All around the city, there are water line markers from the big storms.  The middle silver plaque is the big storm of 1900.  The blue mark at the very top?  Hurricane Ike in 2008.  Allison's there for reference, and she's like 5'6".  I took this moment to have a very serious discussion/review I entitled, "Hurricane Warning = Get the Hell Out".  Really.  Get the Hell out.

So... to recap.  I saw the ocean.  I hung out with great friends.  I drank delicious drinks and ate delicious food.  Additionally, I was introduced to the delightfully awful 1970's tv show "Emergency!" whereupon I learned about the history of paramedics (a couple of upstart "rescue men" and one young doctor's willingness to put it all on the line for 'em), what to do if a child swallows a quarter (pick him up and shake him -- literally, this is what the doctor did), and how to get a bunny unstuck from a sousaphone (hint: chloroform and a strong air flow, but I'd just recommend not putting your rabbit inside a sousaphone.) See for yourselves here:

http://www.hulu.com/emergency

I am now chock full of wildly irresponsible medical know-how.  And views of the ocean.

All in all, time well-spent.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Face...

I've been pretty down lately. Morose. Gloomy. Downtrodden. Plain ol' run-of-the-mill sad. 

I've been angry. I've been doubtful. I've been questioning.

But tomorrow, I will refuse to be any of those things. This is my pledge. Because on February 24th, I plan to think only of something amazing -- the birth of one of the sweetest pieces of joy I've ever seen. 

It's this guy. 

Sam and Rachel at Halloween.
"I pity the fool who doesn't think I'm cute!"
This is Sam. This little dude beat some incredible odds and defied almost every medical expert's opinions just to make it into this world. Born at just 30 weeks, with little to no amniotic fluid to support him for more than half of the pregnancy and 4 months of bedrest for his mom, Sam made his appearance after what I can only guess must have been the most exciting episode of American Idol ever.

When I think of hope, I see his face. When I think of faith, I see his dad's face. When I think of strength, I see his mom's face.

I am ever grateful for those three faces. They fill my heart.

A few years ago, something told me that my school friend, Chris, and my camp friend, Rachel, should meet. I had known them both for years and never thought this thought even once. But as I was talking to Chris in the hallway one day, Rachel's face flashed in my mind. I had never before set anyone up on a date, but I wondered if maybe they might like one another. Just about a year and a half later, they were married. I would jokingly tell people that it must've been God whispering in my ear. Jokingly, because I had never (knowingly) felt God tell me anything before.

Yet when I look at that face, it's hard to think that it was a joke. When I look at that face, I listen closely for the universe's plan. Because when I look at that face, God doesn't whisper. He shouts.

And what a joyful noise it is.

Happy 1st Birthday, Sam Drury. Your presence is the greatest gift of all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going Home

So, this weekend, I took a trip up North to the beautiful Texas Panhandle to see my parents.  This is a pretty significant trip as it's the first time I've been home since my dad was moved to a nursing home.  It was something I'd been dreading, not because I don't love my parents, but rather because I love them so immensely that to see them in pain brings about actual physical pain for me.  To make a long story short, it was a worthwhile trip that I'm now ashamed to admit I had dreaded.  And -- I love my parents.  No matter what has happened in the last 4 years, I don't know that I'd ever wish for a different two people to have raised me.  It's good to remember that all the best parts of me were inherited from them, and all those parts are important.  I don't think any of us do that enough.

If you're in for the longer, and more random, version of the story, here it is -- transcribed via nursing home observations, tweets, and ramblings recorded on my trusty iPhone recorder.

2/18/12
10:30 AM:  Just leaving the MetroMess.  Where the crap are all of these people headed this morning?  Get out of my way.  I have painful emotional scarring to attend to!

10:35 AM:  Listening to the Edge (102.1 -- not the guitarist from U2).  Heard "Landslide" by the Smashing Pumpkins.  Almost had to pull over to sob like a baby.

10:38 AM:  Next on the Edge: Rage Against the Machine.  Almost had to pull over to beat the crap out of a random stranger.  I shouldn't be allowed to listen to Rage.

10:42 AM: New song by Florence and the Machine.  Rolling down the window to scream the lyrics into the driving rain.  Because her songs make me sing loudly, damnit!

10 seconds later: I am an idiot.  The driving rain doesn't give a flip about my righteously indignant shouting of lyrics.  The driving rain has only one goal -- to drown dumbasses like me.  Darwin's theory at work, people.

3:15 PM:  Surprise my dad in the dining room of the nursing home.  Huge tears for 12 seconds and then immediate introductions to every person wheeling by his table.  My parents are those furiously proud kind of  parents.

3:17 PM: Whispered gossip and low down about every other person in the dining room, including how he and my mom got ousted from a table by a 102 year old woman (named Granny) on my mom's first visit.  Apparently, no matter how old you get, the hierarchy of the cafeteria remains.  Good thing my dad has his own table now.  I made sure I quickly learned how to make that woman's coffee.  I am well-versed in the art of kissing ass.

4:05 PM: Received my first (but not last) beat down at dominoes by my dad.  I was then quickly beaten by my mom in the second game.  In 35 years, I'm fairly certain my parents have never "let" me win at anything.  My competitive streak is definitely genetic.

8:00 PM:  Came home with mom.  Realization that my dad is not at home fully sets in.  My dad is the type of person who fills a room even when he's not trying.  His empty chair is difficult to look at.  The only safe place to cry is the bathroom, but I knock over my make-up bag into the sink causing my mom to shout, "What in the hell are you doing in there?"

8:01 PM:  I am thankful, for the millionth time, for my mom and her ability to bring me back to normal.

My mom, by the way, has found jigsaw puzzles as a means to occupy her mind during the evenings, and she chooses the most incredibly difficult ones.  You know, the ones with millions of flowers and greenery and no discernible differences within pieces.  I am amazed at her ability to focus on something I find completely insane.  I feel the same way about her addiction to golf and her handheld Scrabble game.  When she claims to have no patience, I remind her of these things.

10:30 PM:  I am sleeping under the same bedspread I used when I was in the 5th grade.  That makes it a quarter of a century old.  It's a verifiable polyester heirloom.

2/19/12
I go to my dad's room at the nursing home to get him when we arrive.  His room is too small for visiting, and his roommate is a hardcore napping machine so we spend most of our time in the dining room where I endure my public beatings at dominoes.  On his bedside table is a vase full of moldy stems from the flowers I sent him 2 weeks ago.  He refuses to throw them away.  Note to self: either send a plant or fake flowers next time.  My dad is far too sentimental for things with a 3 day shelf-life.  This, too, is a genetically inherited trait I have.  In his bottom drawer is a stash of Little Debbie Nutty Bars and Tums.  This makes me smile.  Some things never change.

Additionally, everyone calls my dad "Pappy".  This is a nickname an orderly gave him during a hospital stay several years ago.  I didn't realize how much he liked it, and I wish I could tell that orderly that he truly did have an impact on my dad.  I can't even remember that man's name, and this thought makes me incredibly ashamed.  Throughout my visit, I notice how when the nurses and aides pass by my dad, they lay a hand on his shoulder even if they don't speak to him.  I am grateful to these people I've only just met.  I don't know how they do what they do, but I pray they continue to do so.  A few days ago, my dad was voted as the Valentine King.  He got a crown and a teddy bear and a chorus of "All Hail the King".  The nurses told my mom that when they announced his name, he turned his baseball cap sideways, gave a big goofy face, and wheeled himself up to the front.  Like I said, my dad fills up a room wherever he goes.  I smile at this too.

I spent most of the afternoon trying to eek out a couple of wins at dominoes, and I did manage a few.  Progress is slow but sweet.  They also had church in the dining room.  I realize that I don't know that I've ever been to a church service with both of my parents (unless you count funerals or weddings).  It was weird to see them singing from the hymnal.  Weird but comforting.  My mom's singing reminded me of when I was little and she would sing along with the car radio.  She always knew every word and blended perfectly with whatever singer came on that old Thunderbird radio.  I still maintain that she has a beautiful voice although she will vehemently deny it.  This is not a genetic trait I inherited unfortunately.  The singing, not the vehement denial. 

10:00 PM:  Watching the local news with my mom at home.  This is another comfort.  No matter what you're doing, at 10:00 PM, you watch the news.  I so rarely watch the local news here.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's because the DFW doesn't lead with stories that inspire Tweets such as this:

At the Amarillo Civic Center today, you could get a tattoo, a handgun, and an antique teapot. Texas, in a nutshell. #WTFAmarillo?


For real, the lead story was about the 3 different events all being held at the Civic Center that day: the Live Ink tour (apparently tattoo artists tour the nation and you can get inked or pick up tattoo tips or get a blue mohawk), the GUN SHOW (handguns, switchblades, brass knuckles, anyone?), and an ANTIQUE show (pick up a delicate china pattern to go with your AK-47).  So, you see, my randomness is not a genetic trait. Purely environmental.  Nature vs. Nurture, live and in action.

2/20/12
Woke up to 55 mile an hour winds this morning.  It's been a while since my first question of the morning was "Is the roof still attached?"  In case you've never visited, the Panhandle is the land without trees or tall buildings, therefore, the winds of Mother Nature know no boundary.   If these winds happened in the metroplex, grocery store shelves would be picked clean in anticipation of the Apocalypse.  And Channel 8 would have named the windstorm some ridiculously awful name.  On a side note: I follow many people on Twitter who happen to live in the Raleigh-Durham area (go Duke!) where apparently they had a little snowstorm this weekend.  They too, believe in weather overreaction and liberally apply sarcasm where needed.  I saw many, many tweets about hiding your milk and bread from the looters.  They also hashtagged the storm as #SNOMG.  This never failed to make me laugh, and I found myself hoping for a snowstorm of our own so I could steal their hashtag.

On the way to see my dad (about a 35 minute drive), this was my view of the road at times.  The tiny speck up ahead is my mom's car.  This was one of the clearer moments, believe it or not.  I actually had a 30 minute detour on the way home because of a gigantic wreck on 287 which was I'm sure was due to the dirt storm and the severely decreased visibility.  Sometimes the ridiculousness of the Panhandle weather is terrifying.

After 3 days in a row of visiting, my dad was clearly tired.  Whipping me at dominoes takes a lot of you apparently.  But so does holding it together, so I was tired too.  I was afraid of the moment when I'd have to leave.  This is usually a time of many tears for all three of us, and I was terrified for the first tear to fall. because the first tear is just the precursor to the dam burst.  But that tear never fell from any of us.  I'm not sure why.  Resignation?  Acceptance?  Stubbornness?  All three?  I just don't know. 

I said my good-byes.  I hit the road for my now 4 and a half hour drive home.  I stopped for fuel and the customary Allsup's burrito.  I felt pretty good until it got dark.  There is no dark like the Texas dark, even on a fairly busy highway.  And it hit just as a patch of almost non-existent cell phone coverage begins (which means no calls to friends to fill up the lonely downtime).  I stopped one last time at the world's most disgusting bathroom -- which I was forced to go to because it was on the "right" side of the highway.  Even though I'm a grown-up, with my own car and everything, I still follow my family's travel rules -- start 30-45 minutes later than you planned and never, ever cross over a highway just for something as trivial as food or a bathroom where you probably won't catch a third world level case of dysentary.  While I was waiting in line to pay for my fried pie (stop judging me) and Diet Coke, I downloaded a podcast I'd seen on Twitter earlier in the day (from another sportswriting Duke guy), and I'm so glad I did.  It was not his usual basketball podcast which I always enjoy.  Instead it was basically him and a friend just talking about random and ludicrous articles they'd read.  I loved it because it was the Raleigh-Durham boy version of me and my friends on any given night -- various tangents of conversation, lots of laughing, and the obligatory poop reference (although they upped the ante with crocodile dung).  Shane's and Jim's voices and laughter in my ear gave me 42 minutes of peace from the tears that were waiting for the right lonely stretch of road to appear.  If you have a spare 42 minutes, here's the link:

http://tobaccoroadblues.com/2012/02/20/selfish-young-americans-episode-2/

Shane's also a pretty good follow for all things sports-related (@tobaccordblues on Twitter) and a wonderful writer for Grantland.  And thus my totally unsponsored plug for a total stranger.  You're welcome, America.

The tears stayed away right until I began seeing the lights for Fort Worth.  For some reason, that was it, the trigger.  Maybe it was the nearness of the end of the journey.  Maybe it was the fact that in just a relatively short time, I was suddenly a world away again.  Because they are two different worlds -- There and Here.  Then Green Day sang "Time of Your Life", and I was a mess. 

But sure enough, 102.1 wouldn't let me down, and they followed it with good ol' Florence.  And this time, there was no driving rain to drown me out.  And if you watch the video, ignore the "Eyes Wide Shut" masquerade theme.  At least it's not creepy clowns in the woods this time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbN0nX61rIs&feature=player_embedded&noredirect=1

"It's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off."