Sunday, April 25, 2010

The World Between Worlds

There is a world between worlds, and my dad has been residing there this week.  His body is here, but his mind is somewhere else. It hasn't really left here yet, because he has been talking about things from his past, but whether his eyes are closed, or open, he most definitely has NOT been in the hospital where I have been sitting with him all week.  Thankfully, as the week wore on, where he was became less and less important to him, to the point where I finally stopped feeling it necessary to "bring him back," or "convince him" that he really WAS in the hospital in Rochester. Finally, today, I just simply thought "Who cares - as long as he doesn't." 
It's been an interesting week. He went in Monday night - well, Tuesday at about 4 am, actually, and since my sister had already left for North/South Carolina for her week of school vacation, they called one of my two brothers and he went in to the hospital to be with my dad. But as has been typical of my dad for the past year, or so, and especially lately, he was very combative and argumentative about the fact that he was NOT staying there (not that he knew where "there" was, particularly) and pulled out his IV line, and ripped the heart monitor pads off his chest, etc. And, because he is at his worst with my brother, for whatever reason, my brother finally left him about noon. I couldn't go up Tuesday because of obligations here, but left Wednesday morning to go up, and spent the day. He was hallucinating most of Wednesday afternoon, which was strange to witness, but actually turned out to be pretty funny. For someone who has been pretty close to prudish most of his life, to watch him try to take his clothes off, and hear him complain that no one would let him "get naked" was slightly shocking. But, I rolled with it. What else can you do? When I asked him WHY he wanted to get naked, he said he thought he should stand in front of a school assembly in his "wherewithall," which I assume means his birthday suit? because "it would give the kids quite a start" didn't I think? Yep, I did. My dad worked in a public school as a teacher and a guidance counselor/administrator for more than 30 years, so I guess it isn't too surprising that his mind would go back to those days. When I caught him fiddling with his "parts" and asked him what he was doing, he told me he was trying to open his fly. "Why, dad?"  "Well, to expose myself, of course."  "Uh, for what?"  Without ever opening his eyes, he just smiled a beautiful, silly smile, and said, "For the bumblebees."  Oh my gosh, dad!  :)   He also rambled on about nanny goats (?), wondering why they were called that, and then was telling me about a red, white and blue striped bucket. First it was a wastebasket, an Americana one that he was trying to find in his art magazine (the non-existent magazine that he clearly was turning pages in, in his hands), then it was a bucket. I asked him what he would do with it, and he said, "Fill it with horse poop. Then you put it on the fence on a post so people can look at it. Bernard would like to do that."  (Bernard is his neighbor - the same neighbor that he told me today to go check  to see if Bernard got a deer yesterday, because he "drags them down to his sidewalk by putting grain out for them to eat."  Now, I know he DOES actually feed the deer on his sidewalk, but in his defense, I also know he does not SHOOT them there!)  Then, that day, he went from a red/white/blue striped wastebasket to a bucket to a beer can to a beer barrell. They were all striped. My dad doesn't DRINK. I doubt he has ever had a beer in his life, but he was all about beer Wednesday afternoon. He even mentioned one of my cousins, he couldn't remember which one, opening a beer and "taking a big chug" at one of our family reunions.  He reminisced about an art teacher who moved to Vermont, and said that his wife often wore s "gingham dress" but he could NOT get the word "gingham" out. He finally gave up on it. So strange, the paths that he wandered Wednesday. I kept thinking of that Dr. Suess book title, "Oh the places we'll go."  Oh, the places he went! I know I have already forgotten half the crazy things he said that day that I wanted to remember.
     Thursday he was much less animated, and was quieter.  He actually slept most of Thursday, in bed. In fact, I was pretty worried that, sleeping the day away like that would make him alert (as in awake, not cognizant) and confused and therefore more likely to be aggressive that night when I wouldn't be around, but according to the reports on Friday, he slept most of the night, too.  The worst part of Thursday was the afternoon 1:1 aide they sent who would NOT STOP TALKING.  I am just NOT a big talker. I prefer to sit silently, even with my dad. He's not big on conversation at this point, either, so it's comfortable for me to just sit with him, to just BE there. And although I appreciate the fact that the aide was kind, and nice, and a good person, I really didn't feel the need to know all about the new carpeting or the choir in her church, or the pastor, or her neices and nephews, or her new hair cut and her search for a new apartment with her room mate and her sister. I was exhausted and tense after two hours with her, and feeling guilty that I felt that way on top of that. Sigh.
     Friday and Saturday were more of the same, although yesterday I noticed that he seemed exhausted by every little thing, and isn't eating anything. He just slept, and rambled on incoherently in his "sleep."  It doesn't really seem like sleep, but more like he simply closes his eyes and takes instant flight with his mind. His body is still held here, in this hospital bed, held captive by his terrible terrible cough and filled lungs, and his discomfort because he can no longer seem to pee on his own, but at least his mind is free enough to go. I think he must be getting close to my mom, because he has been talking about her all week, too. He keeps saying he wonders when she'll be home - and she passed away 5 years ago. Initially, I corrected him once, then let it go every future time he wondered. I wonder if he just has his sentence syntax, or pronouns, mixed up. I wonder if what he REALLY wonders is, "I wonder when I"LL be home - to see your mother again."
     Today, Sunday, he slept all morning. When he came to, around noon, he looked through me and said, "Boy I miss your mother so much."  Me, too, dad. Me, too. But I'm going to miss you more, because you're the only parent I have left, and the only parent I've had for the last five years, and I have depended on you as much as you have depended on me.
     I wish that I could send him on his way to meet her.  He's ready. And I think I'm getting there. I'm not sure I'm ready yet, but I'm getting there. Oh, the places he'll go...  places we won't be able to follow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"May You Live an Interesting Life"...AKA "Dream Big and Dare to Fail"

I heard that wished for someone once, and it has never left me. "An interesting life"   That is something that I hope I can sit back and say about my own life when all is said and done. That's really important to me. No, wait, let me rephrase that. It's absolutely, positively ESSENTIAL to me.  I can not BEAR the thought of that not being true. And I'm not about to sit around and wait for life to happen TO me. I am more than willing to go find it, but right now, I'm wondering where. Where do I need to go? What do I need to be? For how long? It's all very complicated for me, by me, maybe, or simply by life's circumstances. I'm thinking lately. A lot. I think it's too hard to explain, even to myself, in one sitting, so I have decided just to post some thoughts, and come back to them when I have some new insight or moment of clarity. Assuming that will happen.

Another quote that has defined me for the past few years is one by an arctic adventurer (yeah, go figure - my hereos are mushers and arctic adventurers...), Norman Vaughn.  He said, "Dream big and dare to fail."  My dreams have never seemed particularly big - and I don't know how I feel about that. Do they need to be bigger? Do they just need to be more defined?  Do I even have any?  Is dare to fail" part down just fine.  Several things I've done, and "accomplished" in the past few years have had a high chance for failure. I guess it is the fact that they also had an equally high chance of success that led me onward.  And both occurred. I feel like it might just be true that in my life, at least, there is no great success without a little bit of failure.  I can live with that as long as what remains when all is said and done is the success. So at least I guess I can take comfort, a little, in the fact that I'm not afraid of failure. I just need to clarify what my dreams, or goals, are - and then do all the prerequisite foot work that goes with having dreams.

I love most of my life right now. I love raising my kids, love being owned by a feisty, energetic Border Collie and three other dogs, love raising chickens, growing things in my garden, planting perennials that come back every year, finding new important things to plant, like saskatoonberries and elderberries this year. I love reading, and sewing, and working on quilts and crocheting afghans for my children. I love my morning coffee and thinking and sleeping late and going to bed early because my children don't need me to get up at 5 am anymore. I really do love my life. But it's missing something. It's missing adventure, and I can't stand that.  And, if adventures and goals are not the same, then I need to figure that out too. I think I need BOTH in my life, and both are missing right now. There is something comforting about being able to drift from day to day and get by - for awhile. But it's not "an interesting life" and I so need it to be.


Once a year the middle school (grades 5-8) has a Read-a-Thon. They have to raise at least ten dollars in pledges in order to participate. The money goes to fund other middle school activities, and the plus side is that they get to read instead of attending classes. It used to be a full day, and is now only a half day, and the other half of the day is spent swimming at a nearby college pool. I think it's a good mix for the day. An entire day was just too much sitting still for these guys. I was totally looking forward to it, not only as a break from teaching for a morning, but also because, well, hey, it was three hours to just read, read, read for me. I would have been the PERFECT candidate for this in middle school. Still am, I guess.  First period is my prep period of the day, and since I didn't have to spend it getting ready to teach on Friday, I spent it finishing one book, TWEAK:Growing up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff.  (Last year I read a book written by his father called Beautiful Boy, writiten about the same experience, but from the father's perspective.) At any rate, I finished that one about a minute or two before I had to head over to the auditorium for my three hour turn sitting and supervising. I grabbed a new book that came from my book rental place, called Confessions of a Pagan Nun. I think the author is Kate Horsly - can't remember. No matter. It was just a VERY strange experience for me to go from being deeply involved in a modern tale of drugs and the fast-paced life in Los Angeles and celebrities and all, to going back in time to ancient druidic Ireland during the time when Christianity was just being introduced.  I had to keep re-reading passages for a long while before I was able to leave the California drug culture still playing in my mind and immerse myself in the monastery where the "pagan nun" was copying the stories of St. Patrick and taking care of her sister nuns in their clochans. My reading choices seem ever more eclectic, even to me!
Unfortunately, I would say at least half of the middle schoolers do NOT love the Readathon. Having to read even for a few minutes a day is pure torture to some of them - imagine being "forced" to read for three solid hours. For some of my kids, it is as it is for me - three hours of pure joy. But for many, I can say I doubt they read, literally, even a page. It's almost funny, if it weren't so sad, to see the ways they go about trying to PRETEND they are reading, when really they aren't. And then they swear up and down that they are, when you KNOW they aren't. It was the last day of school before a week off - so for me, it was a great way to kick off my vacation. Once I finish the Pagan Nun book, I have about 4 more lined up to read. Can't wait.
This quilt was raffled off yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn't win it, despite putting in 27 tickets for it. It is a 5th grade literary quilt, designed by the art teacher at school who is fantastic, and created by my reading class. Each block is a book title of that student's favorite book. I wanted to own it for several reasons: one, it is my current 5th grade class, who I really, really enjoy teaching; two, many of the books are ones we have taught in school, and that makes me feel good to know that we are giving them good reading experiences; and three, it was put together and quilted by my elementary principal/superintendent, who I really like, and would like to have that reminder of her, should she ever decide to move on before I retire.  It was won by a second grader who only put in ONE ticket (figures!) whose mom works at school as an aide. I'm hoping I can offer the kid 50 bucks and he'll sell it to me!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A life full of Grace

A year and a half ago, in August, we were on our way to Rochester to spend a day school shopping. Coming down a hill outside of town, a few miles from home, I spotted a little lump in the middle of the road. I pulled over because I thought I saw it move, only to discover it was a tiny, tiny kitten. It was literally curled up on the center line, and had I not pulled over and picked it up, the next car coming along behind me, would have run over it, I'm sure.  It was sickly - sneezing, runny eyes, coughing. Of course it would be my luck to not only be the one to find another cat (I had 6 already at that point, most of them rescued) but to have it be sick. So many people have just laughed, shaken their heads, said "I wouldn't have picked it up; I would have left it there."  Well, unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess, that is so not me. I don't WANT to have, to feed, to pay vet bills on, to take care of, 7 cats. But I also CAN"T leave it laying there, facing certain impending death, or worse, set it off to the side of the road and drive away, either,knowing, or wondering, did it crawl back out and get run over later? Did a wandering dog shake it to death, or a coyote eat it? Nor could I drive back home with it, nor take it shopping. So, I dropped it off at my dad's and asked him to just let it stay there while we went shopping, and I'd pick it up on the way home. And that is how we came to have our 7th cat, Gracie. I don't even know WHY we named her Grace. Certainly, we had a million other names we all liked, and tried out, but in the end, Grace stuck. And she was full of it. She became everyone's favorite cat. There are 6 people in my family, and with 7 cats, everyone has his or her favorite cat ( except one, Katie, who is NO one's favorite cat, but that's another story for another day) but Gracie became the favorite favorite, of EVERYONE. She snuggled, she purred, she licked kisses graciously and daintily on your cheek. And at night, she would curl up under your chin, stretch out her front legs and paws as long as she could stretch them, wrap them around your neck or pat your chin with them, lick you until you couldn't stand it any longer, and then purr herself, and you,  to sleep. For some reason, she quit doing that to everyone but my youngest daughter. She slept with her EVERY night, and I was so jealous. Not so much my husband, as he didn't necessarily love being poked and prodded and sniffed and licked in the middle of the night, but I always loved it and always felt lucky when she would snuggle down with me. If my daughter was gone one night, she would sleep in there on her pillow anyway, alone, but if she were gone two nights, or more, by the second night, Grace would come looking for company, usually mine. I was always glad for it, since I didn't get much snuggling time anymore, and loved being purred back to sleep, much like I like thunderstorms or wind or anything in nature to lull me back into sleepy oblivion. I can't explain why I loved it so much. Maybe because animals, cats especially, don't always bestow you with lots of affection. I know they love and adore me, but I always feel like I love my animals more than they might love me. I know I often drive them crazy with my need to pet them, hug them, kiss them. I guess it's just good to have it returned? I don't know. I do know everyone loved Gracie and everyone felt like it was total karma that we rescued her, and in return, were granted the best, most affectionate, silly, loving cat out of all that we have. She was a sweetheart, though and through.
     Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night, she was crossing the street in front of our house - we live in a small town, on a side street - not a busy main road - and some kid in a jeep with big tires who frequently feels it necessary, as only 17 year old boys do, to drive fast and recklessly, ran her over. It could have been avoided. Should have been avoided. My girls found her literally seconds after it happened.  She was still warm when my husband picked her up gently from the street, and laid her in the grass, the laid her,  gently again, in a box I went and got.  I put my hand on her still warm fur and felt sad, and hollow and lonely without her. But I also felt blessed to have had her in my life for a year and a half. The kids said, "What was the point of saving her from being run over a year and a half ago, if she was only going to die that way tonight anyway?"  I don't know. I guess the point is, we gave her a year and a half of love she might not have had? That she filled our home, our nights, our hearts with love that we wouldn't have had if we had left her there? That we aren't the kind of people who COULD leave a kitten laying in the road, nor can we predict the future? That we did the right thing, and sometimes, doing the right thing hurts. Sometimes, love hurts. But it's still the right thing. Love is always the right thing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Testing: 1..2...3...

Oh. My. Goodness.  I have had this nagging feeling for quite some time that I haven't really been the best teacher ever, this year. My teaching would be fine, if I didn't know better. If I were still in the dark, then what I'm doing, what I've done, and not done, wouldn't really be much of a problem. But over the past few years, I've learned a LOT more about what good teaching is, and yet, I haven't really employed much of it this year. I'm not really sure why, other than sometimes it is just easier to do what you know best, and it's hard to do new things. Not that that is a GOOD excuse - it just might be the reason why, though. Or part of it. And, part of it is because I seem to have so little time, and it takes me hours every night just to do what I'm doing now - where would the time come from to do more, better? Again, not a good excuse, just the truth. BUT, today, I have proof that I have to do more, and do it better. We have started reviewing this week for the NYS ELA exams that are given every year from 3rd through 8th grades. Part 1 consists of short stories, articles, essays, poems, etc. and mostly multiple choice questions with a couple of very short answer questions.  Part II is a listening and writing exercise, and part III for my 5th graders is just a paragraph to correct punctuation, grammar and capitalization errors in. For the 6th graders, Part III is a much longer reading/writing section, testing their writing abilities.
     We began going over the multiple choice answers today in 5th. One question from a previous exam we were using for practice was something to the effect of "David said he 'gets his fill' of reading during the school year. David is comparing his feelings about reading to... a,  b,  c, or d .  A was "being lazy."   Answer D was "eating enough."  GUESS WHAT THEY PICKED???  Yep, BEING LAZY.  Ummm, hello?  Upon further inquiry, hardly any student understood that "get your fill" had to do with eating, with "filling up" on food. To me it wasn't nearly as astounding that they would pick being lazy - not that there was one single iota of support for that answer, but the fact that they had no idea that "get your fill" had to do with food. Huh??
     A second question said that David said his backpack of books felt like bricks - why would David compare a backpack full of books to bricks?  Choices were that bricks are a) heavy    b) sharp    c) square   d) large.  They had varying choices for this answer, based on whether they were thinking of size ("well, bricks COULD be large, couldn't they Mrs. P?"  - hmmm, well, no, typically bricks are sort of a uniform smallish size...) or, "The corners of bricks are sharp, I think" or are geometrically-challenged - "No, sweetie, bricks are NOT square - look outside the window at the bricks in the school wall - see how they are sort of a RECTANGLE shape? No, a rectangle ISN"T really sort of like a square... that's why they call it a RECTangle..."   What absolutely floored me?  How many of my students claim they have never heard the comparison "Heavy as bricks," or "Heavy as a bag of bricks." 
     They also didn't know what alliteration was, nor hyperbole, simile, metaphor. Nor could many of them explain the difference between Science Fiction and Legend.
     The literary terms and genres? Yeah, I should have been emphasizing that all year. And we probably should read more genres than just fiction (to be fair, however, I did not pick the books - I am simply teaching the books that have been ordered and taught by the other two teachers, and their predecessors, who are at that grade level - which means, at our school, 5th and 6th graders have been fed a steady and FILLING diet of fiction for years - which I COULD, and SHOULD, have changed... and will, next year, if I'm still teaching in that I said, I DO know better, and have just been lazy this year, Bad me.)
     The lack of cultural references to knowing what "get your fill" means, and having heard/understood the simile "heavy as a bag of bricks"? I don't think I can fix that.
     In too many ways, we are failing our children, and today I can see what my part in that is - and is NOT. Does no one eat family Sunday dinners with Grandma anymore, where she passes the food around the table a few times, and a few MORE times, and then asks, when you requesst to be excused at the end of the meal, "Did you get your fill, honey?"
     Don't answer that. That was a rhetorical question. Don't worry if you don't know what rhetorical means. My 5th and 6th graders don't either. Let's hope they don't ask THAT on the ELA.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I have a list that I started a million years ago. Almost literally. OK, so I THINK I was 15 or 16, a sophmore in high school, but it seems like a million years ago. It was a list, just that, a list, of things I love. I am pretty sure I know where it is and it's important to me. I've never lost it, that single, original piece of notebook paper, in 30+ years, and I can usually find it within a few minutes if I go looking for it. I will, sometime soon. It's funny, but I bet most of the things on that list that I loved thirty years ago, I STILL love. I remember that it has grape popsicles on it. I loved anything grape flavored then, and I still do now. It's my favorite flavor of anything  It's a list that I have, at times, added to, over the years. Not very consistently, probably only two or three times in all these years. And I'm thinking it's about time to add to it. But instead of getting up to go find it right now, I think I will just add it here. And then, later, when I do find it, I'll just copy it over onto that same piece of paper, and tuck it away for another ten years.
  • warm brown chicken eggs
  • green-blue Auracauna eggs
  • Bramble
  • marshmallow peeps
  • Girlyman music
  • rediscovering old friendsI
  • composting my garbage
  • making jam
  • crocheting
  • chickens
  • buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup
  • sleeping with the windows open
  • The Genesee River
  • Alaska
  • flying
  • Tractor Supply store
  • sleep
  • traveling long distances alone in the car
  • sheep and goats
  • brown faced cows with soft looking eyes
  • Twilight, and Edward
  • fresh sheets on the bed
  • losing weight
  • Law and Order, SVU
  • Pear flavored jelly belly jelly beans
  • coffee from the Mobil
  • slobbery dog kisses
  • making lists 
  • fireweed
  • local honey
  • berry picking
  • fields of pumpkins
  • fields of sunflowers
  • growing potatoes
I feel like I could go on and on. But that's a good thing, It's supposed to be a list, a laundry list, of all the things you love lots and lots in life. And it a good thing to keep around, and pull out every now and then, especially when things start getting you down, to remember all the things there are in your life TO love. Start a list, write down all the things that come to mind quickly that you love, and when you have to start really thinking about it, then put it away. Take it out again in a month, a year, 5, 10 years, and add to it. But keep it. Always. I KNOW peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches were on my list from 30 years ago. They still are.
What's on your list?