How I Tried to Teach a tiny Kid to Shake Hands like a Man

“Look at that moon. Potato weather for sure.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

A grace potato moon

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about redemption the past few weeks.

No, really.

These are the kinds of topics that keep me awake at night and interfere with my ability to remember that my husband sent me to the store for milk and not a new dishwasher. When I say I’ve been thinking a lot about redemption- I mean, like, well,

                                                           pretty darn frequently.

I am thankful for some time to relax, because it has been several weeks now since some tricky things happened on the playground at work. They weren’t funny happenings, and they got my attention. Funny things happened as well, don’t get me wrong! Yet. Now that I am on break and am responsible for hardly any brain work, my mind can wander and contemplate all it wants.

So, for now, redemptive cogitation and the family rodeo it is…

My school and job for 2012-2014 was a most wonderful and wearysome one. I was a para educator in a school located in our downtown. There were several things going on last year that made it a very tough building to go into every day. I’ll just mention a couple. Maybe you can relate.

One thing that was happening was that tragedy had struck the previous spring and impacted the school community as a whole. A shocking accuasation had been made against the previous principal and the legal and practical fall out was ugly. It was a situation that didn’t impact just one child or family or school staff member, it involved everyone. Who was hurt the most by it? I’m still not sure. There were some paces that the students had to go through that I’d be willing to bet was boring, frustrating and annoying to them in their spring 2013 year. I’m guessing that the kids were rewarded with some extra recess time and other than the impact of parents not keeping adult conversation among themselves, the Mighty Mustangs had a fine summer break last year anyway.

So, what made the job difficult? Was it just because I was newcomer amongst some really plucky and fun little kids? Not so much.

In the very beginning it was a very angry, sad and tense work environment. The students were fine! But, with a new principal to deal with, the local media still buzzing with legal proceedings, and a vast amount of educational outcomes to catch up on – the joint was jumping when I was hired a few weeks into the school year. Overall, my coworkers were welcoming and friendly and amazingly resilient. The teachers were top notch professionals and the students were excited for new routines and comforted by old traditions.

Either wasted energy on catty banter was not common place or I was deaf to whatever was going on behind the scenes in the parent parking lot or elsewhere.

Well, I did fall into one cat fight in the making right after starting my position, but skeedadled out of the situation it quickly with just a teeny scratch.

“Yes, now you know. Now you know!

That’s what it was to be alive.

To move about in a cloud of ignorance;

to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you.

To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.

To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know — that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to.

Ignorance and blindness.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Thankfully, with the impossibly generous support of the new administration and a minute or two of fun banter while meeting various teachers as I helped them corral the Mustangs into their seats, it wasn’t long before I was having a great time indeed. What made leaving my comfy home and cute dogs every morning difficult was the heartbreaking realities of the majority of the families that attend our school.

I’m not a talented enough writer to try and describe some of what was going on for these children and families. I can’t do it without breaking confidentiality. To tell the story of one kid, or one family, I would want to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The truth of MY experience of trying to distract a kid who is struggling to read away from hunger, or anger, or frustration, or the shame that had been piled on him or her in a short few years. I really would like to post a photo of this one little, long and grouchy face. Or YouTube a voice recording of his ear piercing tantrums when life built up and he felt picked on or didn’t want to cooperate with carpet time rules.

20131014-061632.jpg

I’d like to describe in detail how incredibly guilty I felt the morning that I found out he had been waiting in the hallway to say good morning to me and practice “How to Have a Firm Handshake Like Mr. Cooper and His his Sons.” He had to get to class because the last morning bell rang. Rules are rules.

The whole story on that day isn’t just about a cute kid or moment.

Since the very short time since I moved from Ohio to Iowa, school work (public, private and home school) has changed drastically.

That missed chance for a handshake was one event of many that added to my already bigger than it should be sense of guilt. I was becoming grouchier as a coworker and educator by the day because of the ending school year. As a staff we were trying to do our best to do what the boss ordered which was to keep them reading and in routine until the final bell of the year.

Thankfully boxes of coffee and trays of fruit and home baked goodies kept popping up in the teacher lounge as the final 2013-2014 count down continued for everyone.

For many of the little kiddos I met at this school, routines and structure at home are frequently lost to the fight to put food on the table and a safe roof overhead.

This creates an interesting, challenging and resilient atmosphere.

480201_10151552955388810_1938698632_n

I can’t tell you my affection for the kid that I mentioned above about without telling you his whole story, and trust me, I know very, very little. My few classes in counseling not only taught me that it is not wise to ask too many questions, but it’s usually against the law. I just know that there were days that he hung on my promise that developing a firm handshake like a man could help him rule the world. I explained to this tiny person that Mr. C wears a suit and has a very important job, at a very big school. I confided to him that that sometimes grown men want to cry and scream at school too, but they aren’t allowed to either. (My husband is a college administrator). I tried to encourage that with some hard work he and Mr. Cooper could handle their job to learn and teach just a few hours longer until it was time to go home and play.

“We all know that something is eternal.

And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . .

everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.

All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it.

There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

-Stage manager, in the play OUR TOWN”

If anyone has any additional cool ideas on how to get a kid, or a teacher or an administrator through a school year on ANY educational campus since the events of Sandy Hook (I added an interesting link that maps some of the recent trends that administrators are working to prepare us for), do tell me.

All I’ve got in my tool kit at this point is to take a knee and let the funny things crack me up.

Thank God funny seemed to happen all of the time last year, and I trust that future years will offer the same. I hope that those who are getting a bit of summer break are getting some rest, or at least enjoying the view.

peace, Kate

 

Advertisements

Photo: Fearless

How timely to find this old post from the fall of 2011. Two years ago, is just a few winks of time for my friend (the mom of this girl) and I. For her though, much growing and changing has happened in the two and 1/2 years that have passed since I asked her if I could use her sweet photo.

Attendance Please

She is clothed in strength and dignity,

she can laugh at the days to come.

Psalm 31: 25

View original post

Forgiveness Friday: Son Joe’s Movie Review was “I Can’t Believe It!”

*note: I’m looking forward to company, camps and work this week. Usually this is something that I’d publish on a Friday, but before I get confused, I’m sticking it up a bit early. thanks!

I’m having a fun discussion about mustard seeds with a blogger who is a botanist, theologian and pastor. We had a chat by way of blog comments about a “lectionary spark” article she posted about the classic mustard seed reference from Jesus. I guess that there is a big debate that I’ve missed all these 20 years. I’m remembering why I used to love theology.

Is, or is not,

Was, or was not

Jesus referring to a mustard tree, or was it a mustard plant?

Was, or was not,

Jesus teasing with many of his parables?

In any case, I really like what Pastor Warren wrote about how, when all comparisons and studies are done, the point is that Jesus encourages faith in the form of willingness to take another road home. Warren says,

Basically—to explain away the funny—Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God doesn’t show up the way we expect it to. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is weedy and dismiss-able. Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God surprises us about where and when it comes about. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God makes waste-places, abandoned places, unimportant places (where weeds grow) into places of new life and if we are determined to only see the Kingdom of God in the big, glorious, obvious places of the past, we’re probably going to miss out on the sprouting taking place by our feet and the fields of gold blooming in front of us.

(From Lena Warren, in her blog: Jabbok Dawn http://jabbokdawn.wordpress.com/)

This is exactly how I feel about our move to Iowa. Who would think, a year or even two ago, that last night I would have celebrated Father’s day by being wrapped up in a blanket with our youngest and a puppy as he was enthralled with his first viewing of the movie Field of Dreams. It made the rest of us watch it again, but through his little kid eyes.

He kept asking why the music was scary and if there was going to be death and gloom. “Watch!” we kept saying. And as baseball hero (he’s a sports history buff) after baseball hero came to the field he would fist pump the air and say something like: “I can’t believe it!”

Pure joy and forgiveness. (Forgiveness because I’d yelled, LOUDLY, a few minutes before that I was not willing to watch another minute of a Rocky Movie. For good measure I then guilted them all that we didn’t watch a girl movie on Mother’s day, so I should have a solid voice in our movie selection).

I’m hoping that this busy summer allows time for me to finish marking up a book called Between Heaven and Mirth that I got for my husband self for Christmas. Fr. James Martin tells us that St. Paul’s First letter to early Christians in Thessalonica is not a scolding letter, like some of his other spit fire letters. Much of what Paul preaches includes harsh demands of faith and warnings of doom if fragile Christians don’t comply. Martin suggests that 1 Thessalonians in the bible is a gentle invitation to joy.

This idea works for me, since when I was trying to woo my husband away from becoming a Marianist Catholic priest, and he was trying to woo me away from my sullen ways, we closed or began our love letters with St. Paul’s phrase, “holy kisses.” St. Paul’s harsh side never has tripped me up, because I stumbled into a dating fog while at the same time studying for my masters and writing a thesis on St. Paul’s dreamy side.

“Greet all brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.”

St. Paul, 1Thesallonians:5

Like several of my friends, with and without partners or kids of their own, we have had some very sad and tragic hills to climb at this middle point in life. At a minimum, we’ve all at least been asked to struggle up a crazy climb with someone else. Cancer, divorce, death, job loss, disease, bankruptcy, failed dreams…you get what I’m saying. The works of life.

For me, the past three or four years have been quite the haul. The best of these friends though, the ones who I’ve trusted the most with the blow by blow details of my particular climb, have the very, very best sense of humor. The list is short, not because I don’t have great friends and family, but because I am very guarded and private with things in my life that feel like a boxed up Tasmanian devil. This handful of friends, when I tell them the truth of how I am, greet me with some form of “it’s okay, I know who you are,” and most often they send me off with some form of laughter. Either I’ve cracked them up, or them me about the most tragic of situations.

This approach to handling life works with what I just read in Martin’s book. He says in a chapter titled  A Study in Joy,

“Even in the midst of great tragedy,knowing that God accompanies us can lead us to a deep-down joy that can carry us through difficult, and sometimes unbearable,times.” ~ Fr. James Martin, S.J.

Two of my small fist full of friends that I just mentioned are experiencing great tragedy this weekend. I heard from both yesterday, they are having an unbearable couple of weeks, and both situations seem to be at a seemingly endless place of pain. They even bear the same first name. What can I do? What can I say? I’m at a loss. I’m too summer fuzzed tired to cry, and I can’t imagine finding a way to make them laugh. Yet.

So, I’m banking on the good advice I’ve read this morning, and will try to trust that praying for a light heart for them will be good enough work for today.

Worried Wednesday: Hell in a Handbasket, or What?

So, on Wednesday, when I post, I almost always call it “Worried Wednesday.”

This is because, particularly since I have become a mom, I worry. I came up with this theory, I think it was last winter, that I would take my mother’s suggestion to worry with abandon at least one certain time a day for “x” amount of time. I can’t remember if she said ten minutes or an hour, and that for her, “poof” – the worry chore is done and off she would go to the groceries or art or library or lunching she would go.What more could she do until the next wave of anxiety hit? Do something – plan a garden, whip up a poem, make some soup. And then meet worry at the door at “x-o’clock” the next day.

At any rate, at some point in the last year I decided to take up that idea and to work as hard as possible to worry all day on Wednesdays. I was thinking along the lines of the old-fashioned Monday is for laundry rule that my children’s great-grandmother still stands by.

It started as a good plan and worked well for a long time. As a matter of fact, it became a great joke between a friend who was battling a sudden and intense bout of cancer last winter and spring. She knew about my Wednesday plan of sorts, so I could leave phone messages to her or her daughter saying: “It’s Wednesday what’s the deal? Give me some worries, call back with white cell report, having a good day – bring on the worry.”

Okay. I’m not sure if I left that message. I do know I thought of lots of strange messages to both my cancer friend and her oldest daughter.

It’s either very sad or very funny, or a mix of both that social networking has my brain wired this way…into bits and pieces and messages.

At any rate, oddly enough it was me needing to say good-bye on a fairly short notice as we started our adventure to Iowa. My good-bye to her was one of the hardest. We held hand on her porch for a while and she and I exchanged out loud our bottom line mom worries

(hers being – “what if I die before our youngest turns into a teenager?” and mine being, in a nutshell, “now that mine are flying nest, what if the world sucks ALL of their confidence, imagination and serves the devil on a platter and it is, God forbid, one of them that we bury first, then what?”)

I will also admit that, for a fact, I left no less than six bizarre fashion messages to these same friends since last year saying something to the effect of: “No. Not joking. DyING in the changing room. Dress emergency…” Yada.I hate to shop. They love to shop. It’s a fair exchange.

Actually, the last fashion bizarro message, aka: “let’s change the subject about death diversion tactic message” involved a forty minute dash in my new city to find something “appropriate” to wear. The only way I managed the stress of being the new girl on the block that week was to call and leave one more fashion message for my friend (the one with cancer)’s phone saying (tongue in cheek and laughing at this crazy dress situation):

“Okay – I’ve devoted a year’s worth of Wednesday’s to your stupid cancer – drop a knee NOW! and start your crazy novena’s because the next hour is about me and the damn black dress that I never found last year.”

It turned out to be perfect timing because the message ended up on speaker phone to not only my friend, but her other six daughters she was in the car with, as we were all apparently whipping down highways trying to save the day by way of consignment salvation.

I

know

I’m not the only one, nor the first mom, dad, uncle, aunt, person to lose many, many hours of sleep over worries that the fact of the matter is that the world is, generation after generation going to hell in hand basket. It is!

As I did some research to write a post on a racism vigilante tragedy in Florida, I found some other headlines for articles I could have read:

HLN must see, must share:

  • A road made from toilets,
  • coach accused of biting winning coaches ear,
  •  child’s fingers found in dumpster ,
  • cops catch mom choking an 11 month old,
  • sister salutes brother in Afghanistan,
  • Hunger Games and the $140 million weekend?,
  • and in other news Ashton Kutcher is heading to space

You know what I’ve decided this year if I’ve decided anything?

The world has always been going to Hell in a hand basket for children the adults who work to make it, one would hope, the safest, most fun, and maybe even funny place to live.

Not a bad realization to sit with as I think, I am half way done with my first Lent while living West of the Mississippi river.

And yeah. I’ve lost several hours of sleep this week over, no, not needless worry about my son’s becoming men and flying our nest – it’s the real thing! Oh yeah, violence, racism, drug addiction, poverty…. Ack! It keeps me up most of the night every few months.

Last night was one of them.

And the other thing that I’ve decided this year if I’ve decided anything?

I can’t make it through this mom job of getting my sons to adulthood, reasonably in tact, without a lot of laughter.

Maybe it’s just me, but the ’70’s Sesame Street clip in this article I found while avoiding what really has me worried, is for now, the thread of sweetness that I’m going to hang my hat on while I wait on the sun to rise here in a few minutes.