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.

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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.

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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

 

I Have a Lenten Plan…..

image
(image from This Quiet Lady by Anita Loebel

In a flurry of trying to call in sick to work and the college class I’m taking, two of the texts I got back said:

1: Yikes!

and the other:

2: Feel better.

I’ve decide that these three words are going to somehow become my theme for this year’s Lenten observance. I’m not sure what will come of these thoughts. But, one of the good things about having bursts of unthinkable busyness is that it gives something to reflect on when those calendar pages are done and turned.

If life were different I would challenge myself to blog along the way to this Easter.

My intuition tells me to stay focused on the marathon spring ahead for our family, and enjoy that circus until school’s end.

A teaching mentor and dear friend who held me on his shoulders when I was a wee lass sets those boundaries to prevent total exhaustion. Creative juices go wild in the summer. This was my mother’s creative calendar too now that I think of it…

In any case. I miss the solitude of connecting with others and the spirit while writing and posting, yet am so thankful for the way life has fallen together for me and interrupted my blogging journal tool.

Here’s a link to a Free Jesuit Retreat

There is a great summer resource out there for those who want toCaringAndCourageousKids website, part of bday project reconnect or be introduced to the Society of Jesus prayer structure that comes from St. Ignatius.

In my case, I’ve packed my July with hopes and to-do’s because I am hopeful that another teaching job will come our way when school opens again on August 12.

Therefore, I’m on the speedy (15 minutes or so a day), reconnect tour of reading a few sentences or paragraphs about the spiritual exercises of Ignatius. The plan is to grab a quick break each day of this July.

Here is the link: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/31-days-with-saint-ignatius/

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My husband and I both have emotional and spiritual ties to the Jesuits by way of The Milford (Ohio) Retreat Center and Xavier University (Cincinnati, Ohio). We’ve both dreamt of a month alone at a retreat house on silent retreat.

At which point the laundry dryer sound goes off or a basketball hits the side of the house and we are reminded that our current life phase is in no way monastic.

And,
the first fifteen minutes of this online mini retreat included the suggestion that with each basketball slam, or burned hamburger, we could choose to just think or say,”God is here.”

Have a great day and weekend, talk to you on Monday,

~ Kate

p.s. The tree photo is from a Facebook page I follow called “Caring and Couragous Kids,” a site that advocates healthy name calling.

My Family Brought Me Home From the Beach

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Oh.

And this is what they got me for Mother’s Day 2013. I call my sweet new to us ride:

“Monsieur Percy PanFromage”.

In English that means

“Mr. Bread Cheese”.

Don’t tell anyone, but our first trip “to the store” was an accidental side trip to Le Claire, Iowa.

We got a pizza on the way home.

Safe travels to all.

AP wire: Fatal Shooting at Empire State Building

In the longer post I just put up, I researched muppet images. My hope was to sweep away my worry and sadness about current and very real cosmic powers of darkness.

Because it was fun, and my sons are safely in their corners of the world for a few more short hours, It helped.

A lot.

Yet, at exactly the same time, folks were gunned down in Grover’s own fair city.

“Fatal Shooting at Empire State Building” 

~ New York TImes, AP report, 45 minutes ago

Saints preserve us.

Recently, City Life Was strEssfuL

until our youngest son, along with his dad and I, exhaled into a pew just on time for mass last weekend.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that getting ready for the new school year was a bit intense this year for one reason and another.

image: art parts clip art

As part of his warm welcome back to campus sermon, the college chaplain repeated a phrase from one of the gospels that said something to the effect of:

“Come in here.”

My brain was still buzzing with post week one of elementary and high school forgotten or screwed up back to school purchases, so this repeated phrase was all I could gather from that hour of rest.

“Come in here.”

Kate’s brain: “JesusMaryandJoseph where are those stupid receipts?”

I did manage to hear Fr. Chuck say,

“As a chaplain, I’d love to have a big sandwich board sign out front that says just that:

 

‘Come in here.’ “

It felt so incredibly good to sit still, yet my two adult sons were at work and rest, so it was a three person attendance.

That was a little bittersweet.

And,

rather than feeling sad that the college students we sat with are the

same age as our older sons, somehow,

my mind started to wander about this theme of signage and coming in and out of various doors.

Which led to a series of odd, I admit, but calming images about turnstiles and revolving doors.

Here goes one about revolving doors. (I won’t bore you with my communion service turnstile idea):

Being a parent is like being a fancy hotel guy with a gilded cap who says “good afternoon” as stressed and giddy folks push through a revolving door. Our off spring, their friends, our nieces and nephews, and a host of others, come through our doors,

hour after year,

after, “was that day ago, or did I lose my 2nd cup of coffee again?”.

I can think of at least 10 doors that belong to houses that we’ve been in as a family that have seen such action.

Yet, unlike the gilded door guy,

parents don’t get a paycheck for politeness.

Or a raise for anxiety and stress management.

Or a maintenance crew to keep the thing flowing and unfogged.

Or a secret panic button that will hail Super Grover to save another day.

But, we do get invited back. To church, to the gym, to the dog park, a knit n’ gripe group, an over the fence chat with a neighbor. The list is pretty darn long of the spots where faith in a Good God dwells.

I do miss Super Grover every so often though. 

From Sesame Street Workshop press archive. I told you the guy was cool. He has press agents.

Stinkin’ cute you must admit.

(p.s. If you have an extra 4 minutes and 32 seconds, click above on the blue JesusMaryandJoseph for a very sweet Irish back to school YouTube video)

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.

ExhaleNSayRealFast: VWXYZ

…thanks for your patience and consideration with this Blogging A-Z Challenge…it’s been fun! (pictures to follow, hopefully tomorrow)

Here is the rest of the alphabet…

Made up “v” word of the day: VeryVerily

Definition: When a person gives that extra “umph” to a church reading which makes the sleepy parishoner wake up just a bit.

Example: The enthusiastic reader found himself saying “and VeryVerily unto the Lord” and no one actually noticed because they were distracted by the incredibly cute twin boy and girl three pews ahead. (I was anyway this week!)

Made up “w” word of the day: Whoopsie

Definition: When a blogger who agreed to participate in a challenge that included posting all of the ABC’s in some cool way over the month of April realizes that she has three letters to catch up on. And she sees this fact on May first. (well, it’s 1:00 a.m. and my friend messaged me on FB with a Scrabble Cheez-It Crisis, so count me in on the human race!)

Example: Yesterday she got most of the final post ready for the challenge and assumed that today, the last day of April, time would allow finishing the task. Not so. Tempted by the quiet and solitude after the rest of the house was asleep, she got on the computer in late hours to put a sticky up of a quote she’s heard twice this week that is really quite cool.

Then she googled Steve Martin and his blue grass band.

Then she copied and pasted a Martin gig on Lento to her son so that he could watch some good comedy.

Then she opened the Scrabble Cheetos and grabbed a glass of wine.

Then she started the rollicking messaging with her friend.

Then, she messaged “whoopsie! It’s already 1:00, but it’s so damn quiet and everyone is asleep…let’s pretend we aren’t old moms and stay up all night chatting!”

“Sounds great.!..laptop battery dyyyyyyying. TTYL. Nite!”

Made up word of the day: YohYohYohY

Definition: The act of persistent questioning.

Example: YohYohYohY am I still awake when tomorrow is the day that I need to be awake and energized for?????????????????????

and

last (yawn) made up word for the  (mmm, stretching) 2012 Blogging A-Z Challenge….

 

ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz

 

Blogging A-Z. “K” is for Kooky

Sign Language letter "k" as seen by the "listener." If you wiggle this sign on your nose (face your palm toward your nose) you are saying "clown" in sign language. Kool, eh?

Made up Word of the Day:

kooky

Definition: (adj.) Odd, silly, strange, off-kilter, or a bit off the rail.

Sometimes the one stress reaction that she can’t contain is to laugh at something kooky.

The Letter H : Blogging A-Z

Presenting, the sign language letter "h"

Presenting, a fish-eye view of the sign language letter "h."

Huffffffff

Definition: Huff (adj.) The sound of a chair back padding poofing out air after a person eats an Easter feast and finally leans back to take a rest.

Eg. The truth of the matter is that she was so stressed by the time they got to Grandmas, that in the night, she secretly downed a goodly part of one of the cartons of marshmallow eggs. A couple of days later, while sitting next to her exhausted and pregnant cousin, she felt fine about the Hufffff of the chair after delighting in each bite of the home-made biscuit. No exchange of words needed.

Anyone else doing some toe-touches this morning? 🙂