Wednesday, November 23, 2005


21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24 The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. 25 The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. 26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. 27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28 He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. 29 He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.

I’ve been reading Lamentations every morning this week, just reading the entire short little book straight through in a different translation each day. This morning when I read the above verses I just for some reason thought of Pandora’s box. The hope part, of course, is what made me think of it. So I thought I’d craft a piece about Lamentations and weave in portions of Pandora. But. That’s just how things are with me right now. My notebook is crammed with notes, little things I want to write about here, and that’s all there is. Notes. Notes about Hannah, about Lizzie, about children in my class, about Pittsburgh, about each of the books I’m reading. That’s the problem, I think. I’m reading too many books. I’ve always done that–kept at least six books going at a time. Right now, there’s Lamentations, a novel about a man taking a bicycle trip across the United States in an attempt to come to grips with the loss of his parents, an anthology of the best teen writing of 2005, a book about using poetry to create community, and a book about fighting for intellectual freedom in public schools. What I need is a reading/writing retreat. I need to find someplace to go, where I can take a box of books and a box of notebooks, and read and write. I need that. Because until that happens, I’m going to have all this inside me, this going in six different directions, and no sense of rest or resolution.
So, there will be no Lamentations/Pandora piece today. Just hash. A reflection of my current state of being.

Speaking of reading/writing retreats, Bill is converting to Catholicism. His wife is Catholic, and they had been attending an Episcopal church as a sort of compromise. But she wasn’t happy with that, so he is taking conversion classes. I wish I had talked to him more about his classes while we were in Pittsburgh, but there was just no time. What that has to do with reading/writing retreats is that his wife goes on lots of retreats. Sometimes they are solitary/silence retreats. That is fascinating and very attractive to me. It makes me think of Philip Yancey–when he spent a week or so in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest and read the Bible straight through and saw things he’d never seen before. Anyway, Bill is taking these classes. He told us this when we were at an oyster bar we’d walked around in circles trying to find, in 20 degree weather, gale-force winds. So I was still pretty much frozen and couldn’t really find it in me to enter the conversation. Even when the whole discussion they were having about genre turned to an argument over the Left Behind book Lisa is reading right now. The Catholics, Methodists, and Episcopalians at the table wanted to label it fantasy; Lisa held out for another genre, I can’t remember what. It is always interesting to me, being with this wide array of backgrounds. Patricia, Leslyn, and now Bill are Catholics. Rachel is Episcopalian. Lisa is Baptist. What am I? Friday night at Morton’s (a famous Pittsburgh establishment with no prices on the menu) I tried to talk to Patricia about the Catholic Bible, but she said she’s never read it, so we didn’t get very far. The food at Morton’s was almost too good, if that makes sense. Every course was a meal in itself, and by the time dessert came, we were almost too full to enjoy it. But only almost. All the food we had in Pittsburgh was good. We’d been told we could not leave the city with having pierogies and Yuengling. Both were excellent. So I’ve had to practically fast since I’ve been home, and I’m finally starting to feel somewhat normal again.

Back to the retreat thing. I’ve been thinking about it, and even though I’d really like to go on a solitary-all-by-myself trip, I also think it would be very edifying to go with a group of people. We could all read and write and come together every five or six hours to have a meal and share. Maybe at a state park. So I’m going to give some thought to who I’d like to do that with. You’d really need a broad range of people to make it work. Obviously people who read. I’m just thinking out loud, but maybe we could read through the Bible. Divide it up into books among the participants, then come together to share insights. Anyway, it’s an idea. Maybe over Christmas break. It’d be a good way to end the year.

Which leads me to another question I wrote in my notebook: If I were stuck in an elevator, who would I want to be stuck with? Usually every year during Thanksgiving week I make a list of the people in my life for whom I am most thankful, and I try to drop them a line and tell them so. I didn’t do that this year. Not that it’s too late or anything, but I just can’t get my thoughts together. I think I would like to be stuck in an elevator with all of those people. Because I am beginning to really understand that I don’t spend enough time with the people who mean the most to me. I take them for granted. I don’t treasure them. I mean I do. Privately. But I don’t tell them so often enough. Would I tell them if I were stuck in an elevator with them, away from the distractions of daily living? Would I? Or would I say, "Hey, I saw the funniest e-card that had a turkey singing I Will Survive?" You never know until it happens, I guess. Maybe I would start with the turkey, and then say "So, tell me about your relationship with God." Maybe.

Bill was stuck for 40 minutes in a small elevator at the Omni with 12 other people. He is good at picking out places to eat, and he called from his room to tell us he’d be right down and then we waited 40 minutes, wondering where he was. When he came in, he was in a state. Apparently the experience was not a good one, not like my own imagined elevator retreat. He’d just been to a special session that Mary Kaye had done on writing about Katrina, had seen her slides of the devastation in Bay St. Louis, had heard her share her experiences, and then right after that he got on the elevator and was stuck with people who are not made of the same stuff as we are. He said the more they whined and complained, the madder he got at them. He wanted to scream at them, "This is nothing, people! I just left a room full of people who are still looking for family heirlooms two blocks away from the concrete slabs on which their houses used to sit. If you’d ever sat in a gas line for five hours, or waited two hours every single day for a tiny bag of ice, you’d know this is just a blip on the screen. Shut the hell up." While I kind of understand where he was coming from, still I think of the Laura/Caller syndrome. I mean, here are these people right there in front of you (and behind you, and all jammed up against you) who are agitated and uncomfortable and they’ve never been through Katrina. Never been "wiped clean" of their minor irritations, and so they can’t be expected to not need comfort. Love the ones you’re with, is what I think. Take all those horrible experiences you’ve been through and allow them to make you more compassionate toward others, more patient with their narrow comfort zones. Katrina definitely changed us. We are not who we once were. We’re just not. My friend Katherine from Long Beach was in my first session Thursday morning. I saw her across the room early on, then during the break we talked and finished out the second part of the session sitting next to one another. When people would see our name tags, they’d ask us about Katrina, about how it was, how it still is. After the session, Katherine told me she is uncomfortable talking about it with people who didn’t go through it. That it feels right to discuss it with survivors, but now with outsiders. I know what she means. It is sacred somehow. Maybe we’re just not ready, and maybe we will never be. Mary Kaye told me the name Katrina means to wipe clean. I looked it up and found that it means "pure". And yes, I think there is a purity that came to us from having been through it. It just sort of swept away all the things that were extraneous, that didn’t matter. And the things that do matter–people and relationships–were left. I can’t even talk about it here, it seems, even though a total of two people have this link. What I know is that the lessons I learned, about loving and valuing people, were hard and lasting lessons. Dreams about heads in jars and other things perhaps didn’t make those lasting impressions.

Having time off always makes me want more. Yesterday the girls and I spent the afternoon shopping in Hattiesburg, and then we met Tim for supper at O’Charley’s. I’m eating my leftover Bayou Pasta right now with a glass of ginger ale, and later we’re going shopping again. Hannah and I daydreamed yesterday about quitting my job and homeschooling. She would like that, she says. But I don’t know. I have 19 years in the retirement system and I make $50,000 a year. I could still make money from my side jobs, but not what I make now, of course, working the main job and the side ones too. In Pittsburgh, we learned about some different ways to fund staff development personnel and co-directors. Kim wants to figure out a way to buy two-fifths of my contract from my district. I think even if she can find the twenty thousand, my district is just not that progressive. There’s never been a job-share done there. I can think of only a couple of people I’d even consider sharing a classroom with, and they might just be interested since they both have pre-school age children at home. So then if I worked two or three days a week, and Tim rearranged his schedule to be home more during the week and maybe work on Saturdays, we could probably home-school the girls. Well, this is the kind of stuff that goes through my head all the time, and I always just end up doing the same thing I’ve always done, going to work five days a week, and then working all these outside jobs too because they’re the ones that keep me intellectually stimulated, and we are stretched way too thin. Did I learn anything from Katrina or not? It all makes me tired. This is why I don’t have enough time for reading and writing.

Lizzie seems to be going through a crisis of faith or something. She has so many questions, and then when I answer them, my answers don’t always line up with her experience. She rode home with Tim from Hattiesburg last night and he said she sobbed most of the way home and asked why God doesn’t do what she tells Him to do? She’s told Him over and over that her stomach hurts, and He doesn’t make it better. She has told Him. I think it may be time to read the Narnian chronicles to her. She’s watched The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I think maybe the Horse and His Boy would be good for her right now. He’s not a tame lion; He likes to be asked. I was having my own deep conversation with Hannah; one that ended with me in tears. I don’t know about this teenage thing. Can I do this? I have no choice. Also, Lizzie is going through a very emotional time. She is crying a lot. Last night, we picked up several DVDs to watch and we all watched The Two Brothers together. But only for a little while, because Lizzie couldn’t take it. She could not relax and watch the movie, because of the threats to the lion cubs from the very start of the film. She was building up to a breakdown from the very start, and then when the daddy tiger was shot and the cubs were separated, she was undone. Absolutely undone. She was sitting in my lap and I kept telling her it would all be okay, that people who love one another are never permanently separated, that it’s only temporary, and that they would find one another. I was telling her all these things about the power of love, and she was in convulsions in my lap. Hannah took her back to her bedroom and put on a Strawberry Shortcake movie and the rest of us watched The Two Brothers. Can I do this? I have no choice. I should be able to, really, because Lizzie is exactly like me. I come undone over separation, too. Sometimes, often really, I wonder why, of all the mothers in the world, my children had to get stuck with me?

There are some other notes in my book that I want to write about, but I guess it’ll have to wait. I want to write about Brett Favre and all he’s done for Katrina victims on the coast, about being attacked by an ironing board at the Omni, about dancing with Dick (or not dancing with Dick) at the jazz fundraising dinner, and about how teachers will walk a mile in the snow to avoid paying cab fare but don’t blink twice over shelling out a couple of hundred dollars at the Heinemann exhibit.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Lonely Night

I may write several times tonight because Tim is out of town and I’m scared slam to death to sleep alone. I’m trying to pretend everyone is not at Sugar Creek without me. They all had a big supper together and are having a grand time right now, finishing up the Saturday night meeting and getting ready for the campfire, and I had boxed macaroni and cheese and watched the Food Network’s All Star Thanksgiving. Emeril made cranberry compote and cornbread; Paula Deen made dressing and mushroom giblet gravy; Giada D Laurentis, who is model thin and has a concave stomach (which just makes me wonder whether or not her food is good) made green beans and parmesan crisps. I missed Rachel Ray. I turned it on just as she was saying ". . .then you serve it up to your family and enjoy", and when I realized I’d missed Rachel, I just about cried right there in front of the TV with my bowl of macaroni-and-cheese-from-a-box. To have to miss Sugar Creek and then miss Rachel Ray, too. It’s just too much. Last night I watched Rachel make Porterhouse steak and mussels at 5:00, then pierogis with kielbasa and sauerkraut at 5:30.

I always take extensive notes and lots of photos at camp meetings and then post them on the forum for the people who couldn’t make it. They call me the photojournalist. Yesterday I considered doing a spoof on myself and taking notes on my weekend, documented with photos of me cooking and getting ready for bed and ironing, etc. , but I couldn’t decide whether that would be funny or just silly, so I didn’t do it.

Hannah did not get to Taylorsville until 10:30 last night after the game in Union, so we were midnight getting to bed, then had to get up early this morning to get to the cheerleader competition. Lizzie and I sat there for three hours watching girls flip and twist and gyrate and build human pyramids. Some of the stuff they do is incredible. Hannah is a flyer on her squad, but her stunts are fairly tame compared to some of the things we saw from the 5A squads today. One girl fell not once but three times, and every single time she bounced right back up with her smile in place and was flying through the air seconds later.

Kim dropped by the school yesterday to bring a copy of last year’s annual report and budget for our writing project site. Next Saturday in Pittsburgh we’re going to write the new one to submit to the national office. She asked if I’ve made myself miserable yet, thinking about the trip. I have. She knows how much I miss Tim and the girls, and that I don’t sleep when I’m away from them. So why are we staying two extra days to have a site meeting and write the annual report? Why? And I just check the weather forecast for Pittsburgh. It looks as if we’ll be flying into snow showers Wednesday. Great. It’s 80 degrees here. I did the only thing I could do, of course. I went shopping this afternoon and bought a bunch of new clothes to take. I could get out last year’s winter clothes, but that’d be a lot of trouble, and this way I took my mind off what they were doing at Sugar Creek. Saturday afternoons are always fun there. Anyway, I got a great black velvet jacket with a tie at the waist, a green velvet (I just realized they’re both velvet) pea coat, a green shirt to go under the coat, a pair of brown trousers, and a really great pair of jeans that, according to Hannah "make your behind look cute, Mama". So I don’t know if I’ll keep those or not. Oh, and a pair of really comfortable flannel pajamas. I picked out a new winter coat and carried it around the store for a while, but then I put it back because I already have about 15 winter coats and it rarely ever gets coat weather here. When we got home, Hannah coordinated all the outfits for my trip and I tried them all on for her approval. She has a good eye for fashion. But still, I’m miserable about leaving.

I can’t believe the girls are already asleep, but it was a hard day on all of us. Lots of driving and sitting and waiting, and shopping. Lizzie watched a movie about Jonah when we came home, and she came back here and told me there was a lady in Ninevah who was eating too much and not sharing her food with her neighbors. That made a big impression on her, it seems. I’m glad it did. Lizzie is getting to the age that she has lots of questions about the Bible. She is fascinated by the goings-on in Eden, and troubled by the disobedience that led to Adam and Eve getting "thrown out" of the garden. "Why’d they get thrown out, Mama?" She asks me over and over. She hopes I’ll change my answer, I think.

I just realized I don’t really have anything to write about tonight. I’m just writing because I’m missing Tim so much, and I’m trying to put off getting into an empty bed. I've been reading a lot at the calm and a little at the zolaboard. It's funny how I can go to the RSS feed and read just a snippet of a calm post, and I know exactly who posted it. I am amazing in that way. I saw that someone had posted a Johnny Cash song, I Walk the Line, and I knew it was James. I knew it. I'm thinking about posting Johnny's Matthew 24 song, but I can't figure out if it would be funny or just silly. When did I become afraid to live my life?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bridge may ice in cold weather

Genesis 2:21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
Genesis 15:12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
1 Samuel 26:12 So David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster; and they gat them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked: for they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from the LORD was fallen upon them.
Isaiah 29:10 For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
Acts 20:9 And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.

You never know what might happen when someone goes into a deep sleep, it seems.

I did not sleep at all Thursday night--Lizzie was up all night with an earache. Tim took her to the emergency room, the second time in less than a week, and they gave her a shot, a Tylenol suppository, and some ear drops, all of which barely dulled her pain. Tim stayed home with her Friday and, as the doctor advised, gave her breathing treaments periodically. So I kind of thought I'd sleep really well Friday night, but I didn't. I had the most horrific dream and then couldn't shake it at all, and finally just got on up around 5:00 Saturday morning. I did sleep three hours Saturday afternoon, though, and then again Sunday afternoon after this virus hit me. Hannah had it two days last week, and I thought by Saturday maybe the rest of us were home free, but it hit me hard and I'm still running fever and throwing up water, which is all I've ingested. So, anyway, I don't know what might happen if I were to actually ever go into a deep sleep. I wouldn't want to fall out of a window or anything like that.

I should've named this entry "deep sleep", and I considered it. Had planned to maybe expound on it and share some insights I've had about it, but then it just seemed I wanted to write about a road sign I saw yesterday: Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather. I remember when I was little, that sign used to scare me. We'd go to Forest or Newton and cross these little tiny bridges where that sign was posted, and I'd think it sounded so sinister, and I'd be afraid that one day it would be cold and we'd have to go to the A&P and risk our lives to cross the iced bridges and I'd begin to miss Mama and Angela and Harry because I somehow knew that they would not survive the crossing, only me, and I'd have to walk home the six or seven miles and tell Daddy they'd perished and then the two of us would sit in the rocker, with me on one of Daddy's knees and the other knee, Angela's knee, would be empty and it would be just the two of us, two instead of five, and life would never be the same because of the iced bridge. Never mind that in Central Mississipi the temperature only gets below freezing once or twice a year, and even then maybe only 28 or so and only until the sun comes up. Never mind that. It was one of those irrational fears of childhood. One of those ever-present-just-below-the-surface thoughts that kept you from going into a deep sleep.

So today I'm at home, and I'd thought I could get some sleep, but my stomach won't settle down long enough. I just read back over the last entry, and I did stop before I got too ridiculous. I hope. I'm still upset about not going this weekend, but I'm not blaming anybody or anything. And really, I will need the weekend to get ready for Pittsburgh, to cook and get the girls' things ready and my own things too. And after being sick, and Hannah was sick two days last week, I don't know about going anyway. But. It's Sugar Creek.

I think I'll try again to sleep and if I still can't, I'll get out some winter clothes and put away the summer things. Even though it's 86 degrees and I'd even considered sunbathing.

Friday, November 04, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour or so of my Saturday morning in Stein Mart shopping for an outfit to wear to a wedding that afternoon. I didn't find anything, but I did hear a conversation that has somehow managed to burrow its way inside me and every once in a while it'll stir and stretch and change positions, reminding me that it's there before it settles back down.

So this is the way it went: I was in the petite skirt section, wondering whether to go mid-knee length or ankle length, tiered or straight, when I heard a cell phone ring. Not mine, of course, because I have this thing against cell phones and also people who use them in public. At first, I planned to just tune it out and, if the caller got too close to me, give her a few disgusted looks and a snort or two. But this whole conversation was different right from the start. I could hear not only the woman two racks over; I could hear the caller as well. I don't know what kind of phone she had, but it was just kind of strange, hearing both sides of a phone conversation and all. I ditched the skirt hunt and tailed the woman as she moved from skirts to jackets to handbags to belts to jewelry, and what follows is pretty darn close to the exact conversation between the caller and Laura, the shopper.

Laura: Hello?
Caller: Laura? What on earth is wrong with your home phone?
Laura: We still don't have any phone service. Katrina.
Caller: I've been trying all morning to call your house. Is Helen over there this morning?
Laura: Yes.
Caller: I need her. I'm having some people in tonight. I have to talk to her right away.
Laura: Um, I could have her call you when I get home.
Caller: How?
Laura: She can use my cell phone.
Caller: When are you going home? I have to talk to Helen right away. I need a few rooms cleaned and a tray or two. Not dinner, just heavy hors d'ouvres.
Laura: I'll tell her. Listen, while you're on the phone, I've been wanting to ask you about Helen. How do you pay her?
Caller: Laura, that is between me and Helen. It's nobody's business. We have an arrangement. Nobody else should need to know. See, the way we do it is I pay her ten dollars an hour. Most people pay her by the room, but I pay her ten dollars an hour because she does a good job for me. That is between me and Helen and nobody's business. You get your own arrangement. It works for us. How are you, Laura?
Laura: Worn out. We have way too much work.
Caller: Laura, do not complain, do you hear me? You be glad you have a job, Laura. Be glad. There are people who'd give anything in the world to have a job, and you're complaining about yours.
Laura: Well, but it's just that we've been swamped since Katrina and it would be nice to have some rest.
Caller: Laura, there are people who don't even have a house to go home to at night. Have you seen the news? Those people on the coast? They're living in tents and FEMA trailers. How much rest do you think they're getting? Think of that. Those are the people who should be complaining; not people with jobs and houses, Laura.
Laura: I'll tell Helen to call you.
Caller: I just need a few rooms and a couple of trays. Not dinner. Tell her that.
Laura: Talk to you later. Bye.

I was mumbling under my breath, "You're an ingrate, Laura. People are starving in China and I'll bet you ate breakfast this morning, didn't you? You're shopping in Stein Mart and there is no Stein Mart within miles of Bay St. Louis anymore. How could you, Laura?" And then I looked at Laura. She did look tired. Worn. Weary. On the verge of tears. She'd gotten no sympathy at all from Caller, only a reprimand, a calling down, a slap on the hand. She'd been dealt the Whining Complainer card, while Caller played the role of Champion of Katrina Victims on the Gulf Coast. And then I wanted to walk over to where she was looking at reading glasses and say, "Laura. Laura, I know. I know. Hand me the phone, Laura." And then somehow I'd figure out how to find the number of origin of the last incoming call, and I'd dial it and say to Caller: "Caller? I've got something to say to you, and you keep your mouth shut til I'm finished, okay? What is it about you that makes you incapable of having compassion for somebody right under your nose--right at the other end of the line? My friend Laura here just told you she is tired, she needs rest, and what did you say Caller? You said, 'I don't have any compassion for you. My compassion is reserved for other people, people who are not here right now, people who I am not in any danger of actually helping; people I can feel sanctimonious talking about and pointing out their sad plight.' Yes, Caller, that's exactly what you said. Tell me this, Caller. What is the minimum distance from which you can show your fake brand of compassion for people, hmm? One hundred miles? One hundred fifty? You know what you are? You are a cruel person, and not only that, but you are the worst kind of cruel person. You are the kind of cruel person who is cruel under the guise of being compassionate. Why couldn't you say to Laura, 'Laura, you must be exhausted. It sounds as if the hurricane took a big toll on you. You know what? I admire your strength, your work ethic, your stick-to-it-ness. Is there anything I can do for you? You hang in there. I'm pulling for you.' Why, Caller? Why?" And then I would hang up on her and take Laura in my arms and hug her and say, "Laura, I can't tell you how many times I've been on the receiving end of what you just received right here in the middle of the luggage section of Stein Mart. Blow it off, Laura. There's nothing wrong with you. It's not you. And it's not me. It's them. And Laura, don't forget to give Helen that message, okay?"

After I left Stein Mart, I stopped by the bakery and picked up a few things for our weekend guests--a loaf of sundried tomato bread, half a dozen petit fours, coconut macaroons, cheese straws, and white chocolate chunk/walnut cookies. Driving home, I wondered if Laura had given Helen the message yet--if Helen could even now be en route to Caller's. I began to examine the drivers of the cars around me. Is that Helen? Is that? That? I felt an overwhelming urge to find Helen. I needed to find her right away and tell her I knew about her arrangement. And not just me. Me and all the other Saturday morning Stein Mart shoppers. I needed to find Helen and tell her that I knew Caller paid her ten dollars an hour to dust and sweep and make spinach dip and stuff mushrooms. And that if she had any problems, to just keep them to herself and not expect Caller to offer an ear or a shoulder or any other body part than a foot to kick her in the seat of the pants.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Four Four Three Two

The county nutritionist came yesterday to do her first lesson with the children. She unveiled the new food pyramid, called "My Pyramid". Seems the government has decided that all bodies are not the same, so there are no across-the-board nutritional requirements; different RDAs dependent upon factors such as age, weight, gender. Imagine that. The same administration that insists all brains are the same (or will be by 2014) has decided all bodies are not. My own personal needs, I found, are six ounces of grains (half of them whole), two and a half cups of vegetables, one and a half cups of fruits, three cups of milk, and five ounces of meat or beans. How will I remember that? There’s no catchy song or slogan anymore. No formulaic prescription. When I was in school all those years ago, we watched Mulligan Stew and learned to sing "Four, four, three, two. That’s the formula for me and you." Turns out me and you are not the same after all. At least our bodies are not. Our brains and learning styles are exactly the same. Exactly. Makes it easier for the big corporate textbook and testing companies to design curriculum for us. Lucky them. You’d almost think somebody had planned it to work out so well for them, wouldn’t you?

This morning on the way to work I was thinking about The Christmas Program, the one that stands out among all programs in the history of programs at Taylorsville Elementary. There was a new music teacher that year, and She had the first through third graders put on a program for the parents and the student body one memorable morning in December. This was my second year there, seven years ago, but we all retell it for the new teachers every year. I don’t know what we’d talk about in December if it hadn’t been for that program. We actually crawl around on the floor re-enacting it for our disbelieving listeners. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t been there. Her first mistake was that She didn’t practice. Said She couldn’t because the stage was tied up with music stands for the band concert the night before The Christmas Program. Maybe so, but still. A run-through the morning of would’ve been helpful. A hundred some odd children on one stage and no run-through? But no, She said it’d all work out and just to deliver the children to her backstage around 8:30, which we did. Then we took our places in the auditorium to watch. And watch we did, as the curtain opened and the children were all-in-a-bunch, not assorted by height or any other discernible characteristic. Just all-in-a-bunch. A moving bunch. We watched as they inched forward, jockeying for position, closer and closer to the edge. We watched as fights broke out among some of the more aggressive third graders. As children fell and were stepped over as the bunch moved closer still to the edge, in penguin fashion. So we kept looking at one another, wondering if we should somehow go onto the stage and try to control the children. Who knew what to do? Not the principal. I spotted him standing against the wall just at the foot of the stage steps, his body tense, his jaw clenched, his teeth grinding. Then Precious bailed. Precious, a tall eight-or-nine-year-old African American first grader, fell right off the stage and rolled down the steps. Tumbled down to horrified gasps from the audience, while cameras rolled, ensuring that this horror of horrors, this nightmare of a morning, lived forever in infamy. Margaret whisked Precious out the door and to the office, and the rest of us made our move to the back door of the stage. Several of us dropped to our knees and crawled out amongst the children, hissing and pulling on their shirttails to get their attention and break up fights and hush them up and it was then that I caught a glimpse of Her face and she seemed totally oblivious to the fact that pandemonium had broken out all around her. She was coaching Carolee through her speaking part; Carolee began to cry and her mother got on stage and did her part for her and after that Warren went on stage, even though there were several more songs and speaking parts left to go according to the printed program, and thanked the parents for coming and I saw his jaw still working and I saw the look he gave Her, still in oblivion, it seemed to me, and then Carolee’s mother screamed at Warren, "This was the Christmas program from hell, I tell you! From Hell!" And we all herded the children back to the classrooms and later, when the principal came to ask me if we’d practiced the day before and if not, why not, I said wasn’t it funny that out of all the children on that stage, all one hundred twenty or so, wasn’t it just too funny that only Precious, poor little retained-three-times Precious, was the only one with sense enough to bail out, to get off the sinking ship. But no, he didn’t find it funny. He was not at all amused. I still try to make him laugh about that program, but without fail he just clenches that jaw. Every time.

So on the way to work today I was thinking about Precious bailing, and I asked myself for about the fifteen hundredth time why I don’t have sense enough to bail out of public education and the mess the Bush administration has made of it. I mean, it’s like we’re all on this stage, trying out this program that nobody really ever even thought through, and we were just delivered to the stage, and the leaders seem totally oblivious to the fact that it’s not working, and here I am right in the middle of it. Don’t I have options? Can’t I just exit stage right? Stage left? I know people, have friends, who have done just that. Some of them were pushed, maybe, like Precious. But others walked off. One even walked straight down the steps and into the audience. Mary Kaye retired to get off the stage built of rotten planks and spent her days in the stores and restaurants of Bay St. Louis, telling parents and grandparents all about the immoral things being done to their children under the Bush administration. So at least part of the audience will not be oblivious to the pandemonium on stage.

The Corn

I was teaching Lizzie how to silk corn one night this week, thinking her slapdash, haphazard manner would never pass my own mother’s inspection. "The Corn" was a big huge social event when I was little, all set up under the big shade tree in the side yard, with extended family members enlisted to help. It was a well-organized operation, with Daddy pulling the ears and bringing them in big galvanized washtubs to dump under the tree onto a large sheet (so Mama could easily gather up all the husks later for her compost heap), Mama and Detsie and the aunts manning the corn cutters, and all us children doing the silking. The Quality Control on the silking was top-notch. No silk could remain between the kernels; no kernels could be punctured if the corn was to be put up on the ear or whole kernel (you were given a little leeway for the creamed corn as to puncturing, but there was a tighter screening for silks). Mama was a tyrant about those ears, too. Not for her the larger yellow-kerneled variety, which was easier to silk. No, it had to be the white kind with tiny rows of kernels impossibly close together. I hated silking; counted the seconds until it was over. But what else would I do? Shell peas? Snap beans? Bag okra? Wash figs? There was always a vegetable or fruit to be canned or frozen. No trouble at all back then to get your four four. (Or your three two, either, for that matter.) I remember one year when Aunt Sandra was home from Oregon during "The Corn". She ate the ears raw, which I found fascinating.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Mondays are always hard because we don't get home until after 6:00 and that puts me in a rush to get supper on the table and clean up and make Lizzie's lunch and make parent phone calls and iron clothes and work on school things. But today there was an envelope in the mailbox that made this Monday a good one. From the president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and he is pleased to inform me that I have recertified--for ten more years. I'm glad it's over. I wasn't expecting the letter this early in October--the National Board is always always always late with every single thing.

Anyway, we celebrated, and that put me behind on everything. I still haven't ironed, and I didn't get around to figuring out how to use my new digital camera, an item left over from yesterday's list. I got the battery charged and the software loaded though, so I'm closer than I was before. If this works out, it'll be really nice not to have to go to Wal-Mart every time I need photos for my website. I was in there today--stood in line for 28 full minutes, Red Cross debit cards everywhere. Looks to me like they'd have all that figured out by now, how to ring them up, etc. They don't, though. Course, if you ask me, Wal-Mart cashiers aren't the best and brightest of today's youth. Or maybe they are, which is a real scary thought.

I read some more of A Patchwork Planet, looking for excerpts to use in the Trait-Based writing study group. There are some really good paragraphs for sentence fluency, which is mainly what I'm looking for. The book cracks me up, too, because the main character is a lot like me: a snoop. I used to tell myself--and others--that I'm always doing research, just being an observer of human nature, etc. But really I'm just a snoop. I should be embarrassed, but I don't think I am.

I also spent some time trying to figure out how to put a chat room on the SMWP forum; I think it would really help when we get into the swing of things in our online course. It would definitely help out just with talking to one another; Kim sent me 57 e-mails today (not really, I just pulled that number out of the sky), and she was sending e-mails at the same time I was checking, which means we were online at the same time. Dane, too. While Dane and I were e-mailing back and forth is when I got the idea for the chat room on the forum. We could've just gone over there and had a conversation. It would save time. Anyway, I found a couple of places that offer free chat rooms, but I don't want to step on anyone's toes and just make that decision myself so I didn't add one tonight, even though I wanted to try it out. It just occurred to me that I could've added one to atwoodforum. I don't need permission to do that.

Lizzie is asleep. She read her book earlier tonight; it had a four marked on it, but I think Carrye has her books leveled wrong. It's a book I have, and I leveled it a 6. Oh, well. Carrye is doing a really good job. Today in Wal-Mart, we were in the produce section and Lizzie started telling me the names of all the apples. That's a Granny Smith. That's a Golden Delicious. That's a Red Delicious. That's a Gala. She's still a baby to me, yet she's reading first grade books and classifying apples. They grow up fast. She and Katelyn tried to dig up the devil today on the playground. Katelyn has decided he lives in a hole under a tree out there. Personally, I think they should just leave him alone.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Long Time No Blog

It's been so long since I wrote here, I couldn't remember my username or password. I tried all sorts of things last night to no avail, but now I've managed to get in. It's robinvanceatwood instead of robinatwood or robinvatwood. I can't remember why I used that; I never have before.

I think it might take me awhile to get back into the swing of writing. I kept a storm journal the first two weeks after Katrina, but since then I haven't done any writing. Ricky, our snack vendor, told me yesterday he kept a storm journal too. I was a little surprised because Ricky doesn't seem the journaling type. We talked a little about those first several days after the storm, and I was further surprised that he seems to have such good observational skills. About people, I mean. He told me that a lot of his journaling was about his observations of the way people reacted and how those reactions changed as the days passed. It made me feel pretty egocentric because my own journaling was mostly about my own thoughts and feelings.

Speaking of vendors, I got a haircut in Hattiesburg this afternoon and on my way home a little while ago I saw Bubba, our old Coke vendor. He was standing out in someone's driveway, talking to some people, and at first I didn't recognize him because he was smiling. I can't remember the last time I saw Bubba smile. He's not our vendor anymore, but the last several months he was there he was going through a bad divorce and he'd come in my classroom twice a week after he'd filled the machines to tell me everything that had happened between him and his wife since the last time we'd talked. It ate up my planning time, but what could I do? He'd come to the door and I'd ask how things were going and he'd start telling me and he'd be crying before he was four sentences into it. The poor man was sitting across the road from his own house every night, spying on his wife and her lover. He was pitiful, telling me over and over how much he still loved her and I'd say yeah, Bubba, but you absolutely have got to raise some hell; you cannot go around whimpering all the time and begging her to come back to you. And I'd be thinking that,in his present state of wimpishness, he was not at all attractive. Give her an ultimatum, I'd say. But he'd say he wanted her to know she could always come back, he'd always love her, he'd always be there. You're wrong, Bubba, I'd say. You're not her father, loving her unconditionally. You're her husband; adultery is not okay. She cannot think it's okay with you.

The same thing has just happened with my aunt and uncle. He had an affair; she wanted him back no matter what and did everything she could to hold onto him and let him know she'd be there no matter what. Don't these people read the bible? Don't they know about God and Israel? Spurned lovers raise hell. Period. I remember several years ago my friend Martha came to me and told me her husband was having an affair. She said she was doing her very best to woo him back to her--buying new lingerie, getting a new hairstyle, losing weight, being a perfect homemaker. She was desperate to keep him. I could not even begin to imagine myself doing that, and I told her so. She said oh, but she loved him so much. I told her I love Tim so much too, but I don't think that'd be the way to get him back. I'd shock him back to his senses and leave him no choices. And do you know what? She came to me several weeks later and told me she'd been to a Christian marriage counseling service and the counselor told her the same thing. That she absolutely was doing the wrong thing and to stop it right now. To get angry and let him know it. To tell him to stop that mess or else. To forgive the sin, but not if he continued in it.

All this has been on my mind lately because of my aunt and uncle and then the dream I had last night and seeing Bubba really made me want to write about it. Last night, I dreamed I was watching television and there was "The Bimbo". That's what Mama calls my uncle's lover. I always laugh when she says it, because it just sounds funny to me. But anyway, in the dream, there was the bimbo on TV. I don't know how I knew it was her, but I did. So I started watching very closely, checking her out. She's forty-five, I happen to know, the same age as my cousin, my uncle's daughter. That's just pretty dang sick to me, but anyway I was trying to see what he might see in her. She was attractive in a cheap sort of way, with a couple of surgically altered body parts. Well, the dream goes on, but it's embarrassing, so I won't go into all of it, but in the dream I was afraid Tim would come home and see her and be attracted to her. I turned the television off and thought about what I could do when he got home to distract him so he wouldn't turn on the TV. Silly.

I just registered online for the sessions I want to attend in Pittsburgh. One of the sessions I wanted was already full. Right now I'm planning how I might could get sick or something so I won't have to go. I always hate the thought of leaving home, but once I've gone somewhere I enjoy it. Especially NWP stuff. I checked out the Katrina blog while I was there. Elaine had written about TCs on the coast, but not any of the names I'm waiting to hear. I am desperate to hear from Kathleen, Stacy, Connie, Peggy, Robin. I know their homes must be gone because everything in Waveland and Bay St. Louis is gone. I need to know where they are. I'm checking the NWP blog several times a day.

The school year is still going well except that I'm just about fed up with all the rigmarole surrounding Lakyra. I love having her there, but I'm sick to death of all the mess going on with the adults involved. Her mother kept her out of school for seven days because she was holding out for the district to send a bus with a hydraulic lift to pick her up. The district had been paying Erisha (her mom) to bring the child to and from school every day. But now Erisha's decided it's too much of a strain on her back to get Lakyra, the chair, and the backup vent in and out of the building twice a day. So we met for two hours Wednesday morning and the district agreed to send the bus. Trouble is, now Melissa has to ride the bus to and from school and push Lakyra in and carry the back up vent, which weighs about fifty pounds. The chair is really heavy because it has a vent on it too. This afternoon at the pep rally, in the middle of the captain's speeches (my favorite part) Melissa told me she might quit and not be back Monday because she's strained her back when they took Lakyra home and none of this was what she'd agreed to when she was hired. She's right about that. She was hired to be a personal assistant to the child in the classroom, not to ride the bus to and from and transport heavy equipment. It's just all a big mess, and all we ever do is have meetings but never get anything resolved.

This was a long week, and Hannah's schedule has really gotten the best of me. It's just too much. There's something every single day after school and two nights on top of that. And there are band contests the next two Saturdays. After I've worked all week, and stayed after school until five or later, the last thing I want to do is get up on Saturday morning and go sit at a football field watching high school bands perform.

Shoot. I just remembered Daddy and Mama are going to the game tonight, and they'll expect me to be there. I missed them already Tuesday night when they went to see Hannah cheer. Tonight they're going to see Hannah and Morgan in the band. I'm already down to the smallest black iron skillet, but Mama told me if I'm very careful I can work my way back up. Now I'm thinking Angela and Harry will get them all. You can't beat a good seasoned black iron skillet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Yesterday, the unthinkable happened. Lakyra's vent stopped. Stopped. Well, it was still running but it was not getting any air to her. It just messed up. It is, after all, only a machine. Our classroom was turned into an emergency room for about 45 minutes. When she first told us she couldn't breathe, we started checking all the connections, plugged her into two different outlets, grabbed the ambu bag, buzzed the office, made phone calls. It all happened pretty fast, and this is hard to believe, but most of the other children never knew anything had happened. It seems almost unreal really. I was making calls and trying to talk to her until help came and I glanced at the children a couple of times and they just kept right on with what they were doing. Unreal. We were talking very calmly, of course, for Lakyra's sake, and as soon as help arrived I got them out of the room, but still I would've thought more of them would've noticed something was amiss. And Lakyra herself surprised me, too. She seemed so calm throughout it all. I was really very moved by the complete trust she seemed to have in us. A lot more than we had in ourselves. And I was convicted about what I wrote last time about not trusting people. Life is too short, too fleeting, to hold things in.

Lakyra didn't come today. There've been meetings, phone calls, more meetings. I've learned more medical terms in the last three and a half weeks than I learned the three years I worked in a hospital emergency room. It's so strange that this is happening. Today, I was filling out an order for supplies and I was thinking "Okay, pattern blocks, sentence strips, highlight tape, back-up vent, paramedic?"

I'm really liking these children a lot. Cole is probably my very favorite. Full of spunk and conversation. He makes me laugh every day. Today, I was feeling kind of down this afternoon and when that happens, I'll sometimes send a child across the hall to Shontelle with a post-it note on which I've written "Betty Frank". Betty Frank was Shontelle's grandmother who she tells really funny stories about. I was sitting at the computers trying to get a few more children going in AR and I didn't have a post-it handy so I said to Cole, "Run across to Mrs. Barnes room and tell her I need Betty Frank. Say it." I always have them repeat messages I'm sending them with. Cole said, "I've got it, I've got it." But I said, "Just say it, Cole." He rolled his eyes and said, "Easy. You need Freddy Banks." So I had my pick-me-up.

And then there's Jack. There's always something with Jack. He sits by me at lunch every day and carries on these grand conversations that I do try to stay tuned into, but sometimes I do wander off. The other day, he was telling me his MiMi was going to Hattiesburg to the drugstore to try to find him some Willy Wonka candy, either the kind with the golden tickets or everlasting gobstoppers. Hunter, who was sitting next to him, asked, "What kind of candy did you say?" Jack said, "Look, buddy, just eat your lunch, okay? We're trying to talk here." Then a little later, Alexis came over, as she does every single day, and handed me her milk carton to open. I took it from her and Jack said,"Hey girl. You gon' hafta' learn to do that yourself. She's tryin' to eat her lunch. Can't you see that? If I can open my milk, you can open yours. We the same age." He is also very proud of the fact that he can read "without talking". I'm impressed with it myself. He and I had a rather long, rather scholastic conversation about it recently. He said he'd noticed that not many kids can read in their head. "But I can. I'm one o' them that can." He looked around the room. "I'm probably the only one you got in here that can read in my head." He is. He read on second grade level at the end of kindergarten, so I've made him AR trainer. The tech guy, we call him.

I actually do have a roast in the oven and baked potatoes and some vegetables going, too. Today is the last Tuesday we can come home from school instead of going to a ballgame at 4:30. The thing that bothers me most about that is the mealtimes. The whole family table thing. And also, I just like a good meal. So part of it is just about my stomach.

Speaking of stomachs, I had a meeting in Hattiesburg Saturday--met Kim for lunch and we had a great visit and got some work done, too--and afterwards I stopped in Walgreen's in the pouring, pounding rain, looking for mints so I wouldn't have to make them for the shower Sunday. Kim had mentioned that I might could find something suitable in the Russell Stover section. No luck with that, but when I went in I saw Natalie and she insisted I go out to the car to see Latasha. I taught all three of Natalie's girls back when I was in my twenties and teaching in the 'hood. So, I went back out and stood in the pouring, pounding rain, soaked through to the skin, and Latasha told me I hadn't changed one bit and didn't look a day older. And there she sat with probably the biggest, ripest mid-section I've ever seen. I looked at it, touched it, and she said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Atwood", which was I guess because maybe she's not married. Turns out she's having twin boys and she's 32 weeks along. The very day before that, Angela came to my classroom and told she'd just been having a conversation with a parent in an IEP meeting and I somehow came into the conversation. Angela said Chris didn't believe her when she told her I'm 40. She thought I was maybe in my late twenties. So, I'm thinking the Signature Club A stuff is working, even though I cannot manage to do anything about the lines around my eyes at all. I've tried every line Adrienne offers: vitamin C, caviar, vinoplex, olive oil. Maybe I just laugh too much. Or frown.

I ended up making the mints anyway, and I was really glad about it in the end. Just kneading all of it together, and rolling it, and molding it. Great therapy, which I needed.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


I actually do have a Bible verse to post tonight, but I'm in a big hurry and I don't have the time to copy and paste from crosswalk and I don't know it by heart. There are 5 bibles right here on my bedside table, but not a King James and I just like posting from the King James. Anyway, the verse is about the blessings of Abraham and I even had some commentary I was going to post--just things I've been thinking about--but,well, I truly am in a hurry and I've had a lot of trouble staying focused on biblical things lately. I've been listening to tapes and reading notes regularly, but that's not the same as having thoughts of your own and I haven't had very many of those since August 1st.

I'm sitting here eating Lay's potato chips and needing to do other things, but this is how I clear my mind to do those things, I think. I take a break and, well, procrastinate, really, and then when I go back to it I work more efficiently.

Today we were eating at Chili's before John Tate's shower and I was saying something about the Russell Stover white-chocolate-covered toffee in my purse and when I looked up at Tim, he was looking at me in a strange way. "What?", I asked. "I love you," he said. "I love every single thing about you." That kind of thing just slows you down, or at least it does me. I've tried to get a lot of mileage out of it today, too. Just now, before Tim left to get Hannah, I said, "Hey, Tim, you know how you love every single thing about me? Then that means you love how I hate mayonnaise, right? You love how I hate to even be around it, right? So, will you make Lizzie's ham sandwich for her lunchbox?"

I really do hate mayonnaise, and I'm finding there are a lot of other things that I really hate. Not food things, but other things. I didn't really know that about myself. I mean, I knew I had strong convictions, but some of those are beginning to turn to hatred. For instance, there's a certain person who lives in a large white house in the nation's capital, and truly, I used to think he just wasn't quite bright, but now I'm saying things like, "He is evil continually." And, really, I can find nothing in my heart for him except resentment. And that's not a good thing. It says something about me that I don't like. Another thing is I just don't trust people anymore the way I used to. I just don't want to give many people a glimpse into who I am and what I believe or think because I feel the need to keep that to myself. To stay safe. I never used to feel that way at all.

So here I sit eating these silly chips and knowing that when I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror my face will be puffed up and I will have fluid pockets all around my eyes. I don't like that about myself, either, but that's probably an easier thing to change than the hatred and the lack of trust. Those are things that affect more than what I look like in the mirror. I don't think even Tim would love those things about me.

And I'm wondering why in the world these things would even exist in a person who has inherited the blessings of Abraham. How can it even be? I'm thinking that admitting they do dwell within me is evidence of the fact that I am desperate to be rid of them. It's embarrassing to admit they're there. Mistrust and hatred? Terrible. Embarrassing. But when my desperation factor exceeds my embarrassment factor, I am a prime candidate for the grace of God.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Few Moments Alone

I'm feeling very old right now, and it's not just about these wrinkles that have suddenly appeared. It's other things, too. Like, for instance, I don't feel challenged by new things lately. Just frustrated. But, for a while, I've managed to keep it together somewhat.  The lesson plan format changed at school, but I kept calm throughout and will be the first to say that the new format is better. The TST referral process changed, but then it changes every year because, well, the word "idiot" should be somewhere in this sentence but I really don't want to get into it. And there are several other things that have changed in the last couple of weeks that added to my stress level, but I worked my way through. So, really, I thought maybe it was beginning to seem that I will be mellow in old age. Until this morning. I have chewed the same Trident gum for the last 20 years. The original flavor Trident. I am never without it. The children went to P.E. today, and I went to my purse and pulled out the new package of Trident original flavor gum I bought at the gas station yesterday. I could open a package of Trident original flavor gum in my sleep, and I don't guess I ever look at the thing while I'm opening it. So, I turned from my purse with the gum in my hand and started walking to the trash can to throw the little end piece of the package (the one that comes off when you pull the red plastic strip) into the can. Something felt wrong. I looked at that package of Trident original flavor gum and saw they've messed with the packaging. They. Changed. It. That did it. I lost it. Lost it. Lost. It. I flung that package of Trident original flavor gum just as far away from me as I could get it. And stomped. And mumbled. And fumed. I don't even know where that package of Trident original flavor gum is now. I hope the cleaning crew swept it right into the trash. I am disgusted with the whole business.

And then the other thing that has really brought home to me just exactly how old (or maybe just tired) I am is the faculty meeting we had yesterday afternoon. But to tell this story most effectively, I need to set it up a little first. We met in the high school library. Even though we have a perfectly good (which means air-conditioned) cafeteria on our side of the street, which is where we always have our faculty meetings, and a perfectly good (which means air-conditioned) auditorium where we have meetings when there is a guest speaker. But no. The announcement sheet read "Faculty meeting in H.S. library from 3:00 until 4:00." Maybe the high school faculty will be there, too, we assumed, which is how they could justify having us walk over there in 98 degree heat after we'd spent twenty minutes on bus duty in that same heat. When we got there, we found that the announcement sheet had indeed been in error. The meeting was not in the library at all, but in the small library annex that is un-air-conditioned and is the size of the very bedroom I am sitting in at this very moment. I am not kidding. So we all squeezed in, with several people standing and, let me tell you, some grown women don't smell very pleasant at 3:00 in August in South Mississippi in an un-air-conditioned room. They just don't. But there we were. And then the principal, who was standing at the back of the room, did some sort of computerized presentation on MCT scores. He projected it all onto the wall and I'll just say it (and I don't think it's because I'm old). There is just something flat-out wrong about calling a meeting of educators and flashing images onto a wall and reading the captions to them. Wrong. Flat-out wrong. There's no way any good teacher would ever, ever, ever teach that way. I mean, I'm not saying some teachers don't. A lot of them do. But not good ones. This whole computerized presentation business is just crap and educators should not fall for it. When you are meeting with a group of people, educators or not, then for crying out loud talk to them. To their faces. And hey, why not go all out and invite input from them? So, anyway, there we were, looking at graphs and tables and charts of test scores from last spring's MCT. And, of course, even though we are a high level four and just a hair's breath away from level 5, we got the whole lecture about analyzing those test items closely and teaching harder and paying special attention to main idea, details, and expanded comprehension (what in the cat hair is that, anyway?) because those areas were the lowest--though not really low--school-wide. And the poor sixth grade teachers had a fairly large percentage of children who did not score in the advanced or proficient range. So they've got to really, really buckle down even though those students are not even at our school anymore, but at the junior high.

I'm changing paragraphs just because that one was getting too long, but we're still at the faculty meeting in the un-air-conditioned library annex that is the size of the very bedroom in which I am sitting at this actual moment. So, this is what I was leading up to all along. The principal starts flashing these graphics onto the wall that are explaining to us the importance of aligning the curriculum with the test and the correlation between design and implementation. And he said, he actually said, "You can be teaching your heart out all day long, but if you're not teaching what's on the test, it's not doing any good." So, I scooted forward to the edge of my seat and said, "Excuse me. Could I interject a word or two here? Because as an educator, as well as a parent and a citizen of the world, I'm finding it very difficult to understand why everyone is just sitting here nodding. Maybe it's the heat? Maybe the droning of your voice has put everyone to sleep and they haven't really heard what you're saying?" Now, I could go on and write all about the rest of what I said. But. If you'd been in that un-air-conditioned library annex that is the size of the very bedroom where I am sitting at this very moment, if you'd been one of the forty humans crammed into that room, you wouldn't have heard me say a thing. Why? Because I didn't say a thing. And that's how I know I'm getting old. Because this is the first time ever I've sat in a room and listened to NCLB crap spouted off and not said a thing. The first time. I always, always, always say something. Always. Even if it's just making a light-hearted joke about it. It's something. But not yesterday in that un-air-conditioned library annex that is the very size of the very bedroom where I'm sitting at this very moment. And this is another thing. The bed that is right behind me in this bedroom at this very moment? I slept in it. All night. Soundly. I don't even know who I am.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


"When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. " Proverbs 3:24

It would be good to have some sweet sleep--any sleep at all, really. Lizzie has been sick--allergy/sinus type sick--for the last couple of days and not sleeping at night. Which means none of the rest of us are getting any sleep, either. I was up three times with her last night, and Tim took a turn or two. Even Hannah, in an unprecedented act, got up around midnight and told me to go back to bed, she'd sleep with her. But when Lizzie called for me at two, Hannah never even heard her, I don't think. The girls and I stayed home today, and Tim went to Philadelphia for Bible study.

Starting school was especially hard this year, but the worst should be behind me. It's always hard, no matter how much you prepare, and the worst part is knowing how hard it's going to be. It's like childbirth, in a way. Once you've birthed the first one, you know what to expect and that you've just got to get through it. You even know that you will get through it, but that doesn't make the prospect of it any easier. The first two weeks are always physically and emotionally exhausting, with little time for eating or sleeping or rest of any sort. Letters and e-mails and phone calls from parents to attend, and all the while administrators and support staff are doing everything within their power to make things harder for you. But, again, the worst should be behind me. Should be.

And so much good lies ahead. It is so good to settle back into morning meetings and footrubs and chapter books. And stories. Always stories. A level of a house is called a story, and we are building our shared dwelling one story at a time. On day one, we shared our fears: fire, nightmares, dogs, even an anaconda. Day two was about love and the people we adore: Blackie, Mama, T.J. All last week, we talked about our families and the things we do with them. When I pull a child's word envelope out of the basket, I can spill out the contents and find words and stories that help me to understand that child. And there's something different this year. We are moving through the day to the click, click, click of a ventilator. When things get quiet--while the children are writing, or I am reading, or we are having a quiet meeting--I can hear the steady beat of the machine that breathes for Lakyra. One day when the children went to P.E. I grabbed paper and pen and wrote about the breathing machine. It's a piece I'd like to work on a little more.

I have to go give Lizzie another breathing treatment now.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Great is the Lord

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." Psalm 48:1, 2

Usually when I push the mower, I solve the world's ills or, at the very least, plan the next week's menus. But this morning I mostly just sang the psalms. Growing up, we would listen to the tape of Brother Roloff's girls singing over and over and over, and they sang a lot of psalms. I know God is always with me, but this week it seemed he was very, very present to me, guiding my path and speaking peace.

Today is our anniversary--16 years. We had planned to get away for the weekend, but I am exhausted and so are the girls, so I think we should just spend the weekend doing some things that will make next week a little easier on all of us. There are so many things I could write about the last 16 years, but I need to get back outside so I'll just say it gets better every day, every minute, in every way.

The week flew by and there was a lot to deal with mentally and emotionally and physically. Lizzie started school, and she did really well. Better than I did, I think. Until she gets home. She is so overwhelmed and exhausted by the school day, she just is a wreck by the time we get home. She and I have had the bread and cup more times in the last week than I can count. Her teacher is out on maternity leave, and I wish that weren't the case, but I've known the substitute for several years and Lizzie really likes her. Her favorite part of the day is music, when she gets to go to Mrs. Margaret. She likes breakfast, too. I haven't gotten used to having her there just yet. It was a lot easier to take her to the babysitter's. The mornings are more hectic than ever now and so are the evenings. Surely we'll settle into a manageable routine soon.

Yesterday afternoon, I talked to Elle, a special education teacher I worked with several years ago, about L. She was very surprised to hear that she is being served in a regular ed. classroom and even more surprised to hear that I was not given any type of plan for her. These are things she wanted to know: Did an occupational therapist talk with me? Did a physical therapist talk with me? Did a special education teacher give me an IEP for her? No, no, and no. But. She told me some things I need to ask for and advised me to start leaving a long paper trail. I felt so very much better after talking to her. Empowered, somehow, and revived a little. I am blessed with good friends.

I spoke with Katie earlier in the week. Mary Frances got a hospital-borne infection when she had surgery last month to have a kidney repaired. Bad news. They tried giving her oral antibiotics, but that didn't work, so now she's walking around with a backpack on her back that weighs six pounds and holds an IV pump. IV antibiotics 24 hours a day. She's been in the hospital 6 of the last 12 days, and Katie had to go back to work this week, too. Bad news. But Katie takes it all in stride, as she does everything. She is an inspiration.

I am trying my best to keep notes about classroom interactions each day. I really want to try to write some things about my children this year, maybe put them into some kind of publishable format. Already, I've had some great exchanges with a few of them, and I can't wait to get to know them more. I really want to make a transcript of a conversation I had with Cole Thursday about sharks in his creek. We were talking about our fears, and he jumped right in telling about the sharks in his creek, but then changed his word to anaconda. Then yesterday, Jack and I had an interesting conversation about inner speech. I need to go to Wal-Mart and get the photos developed and onto the class website. It's very hard, though, to make the break from last year's group. I think I'll create an archives page and keep them on the site. Most of them come in to visit and hug every morning. They're having a hard time with the separation, too. I know I don't need to prolong it; I need to cut the cord and start establishing connections with this year's group.

I'm glad I didn't go to Lake Tahoe with Kim this weekend, even though it would have been nice to talk with her about my children and bounce ideas off her about teaching Lakyra to read and things I can do with her when the other children are writing. But, I can't do it all. I can't. I keep telling myself that. I can't do it all.

I need to get back outside, but I don't think I can even stand up. I was very inspired last Sunday at the Y hearing about John's yearly physical challenge. Every year on his birthday, he gives himself one. He turned 57 last week, and he swam 57 laps in the pool (114 lengths!), did 57 minutes of aerobic exercise on the treadmill/elliptical/and some other machine I can't remember, then finished up by walking 5.7 miles. Another inspiration.

This morning while I was eating my oatmeal, the TV was on and Lizzie was watching The Wiggles. I read somewhere that they are the highest paid performers in Australia. They hop around and say "romp omp a chomp, romp omp a chomp." Incredible.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sometimes You Cry

"Jesus wept." John 11:35

I do know the context of that verse, and I am not pretending to have that same grief, but there are some things that are weighing heavily on me and it helps sometimes to remember that the Second Adam wept.

I don't have to be at work until 11:45 today, and I had planned to sleep late. I set the alarm for 7:30, but the phone rang at 4:40 and I've been up ever since. I did try to go back to sleep. I am dying for some sleep. But it doesn't seem that I'm to be allowed to have it.

The children and their parents will come for Open House today. It will be a long, stretched out period of time and, even though we officially close at 6:00, lots of parents usually walk in around 5:55 or so and we end up staying until almost 7:00. I do hope they all come, though. I'm ready to meet them.

It's been a strange week so far. Some things about the year are looking very good, yet there are a lot of changes, so it'll take a while to get adjusted. And, as I knew would happen, I am not the same person I was a week ago. Then, I was reading novels by the pool. Now, I am consumed with trying to learn all I can about teaching a quadriplegic. I am told our school has never before enrolled a child with this many physical problems. There was another child a few years ago who had the same paralysis, but she was not on a ventilator and she had neck control. In fact, that child is now doing very well in college and is considering attending law school. But. . .and this is where I'm really torn. . .that child was served by special education teachers who were trained to work with her. Now, as a result of NCLB, all children must be given the same education--in a regular ed. classroom--which is just the biggest pile of garbage because all children do not have the same needs. I just feel that it is a huge disservice to this child to have to be with a teacher who has no experience at all with this kind of thing. So, while I find it a tremendous professional challenge, which I thrive on, I can't help thinking it's selfish to feel that way because this is not about me. It's about Lakera.

So there's just so many things going on, and some of them are really sad. Emily lost her mother Friday, and now she has to start school-- which is a monumental and exhausting task to begin with-- after having gone through the emotional horror of finding her mother dead on the floor four days ago. It's just really hard to know how to help her, when my own hands are full with school and home. Lizzie starts this year, and that's a big, big deal and I'd like to have been able to spend more time with her this week, preparing her for some things and just being a better mother. I have this feeling in my stomach, like I've swallowed a rock or a ball of wire or a clod of dirt or something, and it just sits there undigested and I don't want to eat or anything.

I'm still thinking a lot about a book I read last week on eugenics and genealogy charting and sterilization laws. It was pretty disturbing and we are not that far removed from it. I really didn't know much about that time in American history, probably because it's a dirty little secret, especially after it was discovered that Hitler based his own sterilization program on the American model. Again, I feel I've swallowed a ball of wire.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Stepford, Harlem, Praise

"Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God: for it is pleasant and praise is comely." Psalm 147:1

Today was my first day back to school, and I am tempted to write about the bad things that happened except that it is not comely to complain and it is comely to praise. So, instead, I'll start out sharing a really funny dream I had last night or, rather, this morning. I hardly slept at all last night, tossing and turning and staring at the clock for long periods. But there were a few short stretches of sleep, filled with fitful dreams.

The (kind of) funny one was this: I went to the school for the first day of work and when I got there, there were children in my classroom. I saw the principal in the hall and asked why they were there. "I thought they weren't coming until Thursday". He said, "I decided to have them come on in early." I walked into the room and there were about 12 of the grungiest looking little kids I'd ever seen, running around yelling, slapping, kicking, laughing. Before I could get them settled, Mr. Walton said, "Mrs. Evans couldn't make it today, so I need you to take care of both classes. They're right across the hall. You'll figure something out." So I put my purse down, told the hoodlums to sit down and hush, and walked across to Emily's room. Her room was filled with about fifty of the most beautiful children, all with shiny white teeth, smocked and monogrammed clothing, and smiles that didn't quite reach their eyes. So I said to the Stepford children, "Um, let's see. . .Oh! I see a stack of work here on the counter." I handed them all out a bunch of worksheets and said, "Just hang on and I'll see if I can find some pencils." Whereupon they each pulled a sharpened pencil out of their pockets and began to write noiselessly. I then ran back across the hall to my room (from Stepford to Harlem) and found them just as I'd left them: wild and uncontainable. One little scrawny kid with lice hopping around his hair was standing on his head in a chair. I said, "What in the world are you doing? What is your name?" He rolled his eyes at me and said, "Look, I done told you four times what my name be." I got in his face and snarled, "You will tell me as many times as I ask you. Got it?" He rolled his eyes again and told me his name was Tyler. I yelled at them all again to sit down and hush while I checked on the other children. When I walked back into Stepford, I recognized Laine and Allie, who I'd taught several years ago. "What are you doing in first grade?" I asked them. Laine said, "Our teacher didn't come today, either, so they told us to come in here." I knew I couldn't take care of all those children by myself, so I went back out in the hall and knocked on Shontelle's door. When she stuck her head out, I said, "Look, you've got to help me out. I. . ." But before I finished she snarled at me, "I can't help anybody out. I've got five wheelchair children in here." Then the alarm woke me up.

Most of the time when I dream, I know I'm dreaming. If it's a bad dream, I can make myself wake up. But that dream seemed really real and I had no idea I was dreaming until the alarm went off. It was kind of funny, and I told it to several people today, including the principal.

Most of the day was pretty good--I have a great schedule this year, a great roster of children (according to the kindergarten teachers). Mr. Walton came to Shontelle and me today and told us he had to decide where to put Lakera, who is paralyzed from the neck down. I volunteered to take her, and I don't mind really. I met her today, and she is a delightful child. She was in a car accident when she was three, and has been wheelchair bound and on a respirator ever since. However, she comes with a personal assistant and, even though I have large numbers of people come and observe me every year and I usually have a student teacher or two, I really am not real big on having an assistant in the room. It will be very hard for me to adjust to having another adult there from 7:20 til 3:15 every single day of the year. I'm used to being alone with my children and having time to rest, think, plan, and reflect when they go to activities. This is a life-changing thing for me. I am concerned.

But, praise is comely, and I am praising God that I am not in Harlem. Or Stepford.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

You Will Be Changed Into a Different Person

"The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you." I Samuel 10: 6, 7

I've spent the last few mornings reading about Saul and David and Ish-Bosheth; this morning I turned back to the above portion of scripture. I've always been fascinated by the account of Saul's anointing and the loss of it--his subsequent insanity, etc. To have had the Spirit upon you and then lose it, well, I don't even like thinking about it. "You will be changed into a different person. Do whatever your hand finds to do."

My hand has found lots to do the last few days, with school starting Monday. I woke up yesterday morning, my last "real" day off, since I don't count weekends, and mentally walked through my plans for the day ahead. The strains of a violin accompanied my thoughts and my plans to bid summer good-bye. I'd get up and read awhile, then fix Lizzie a little breakfast, do laundry, push the mower awhile, swim. Then Lizzie and I would go to Collins, the final Collins trip of the summer. We'd go to the library and return the books, tell Allan the librarian that we wouldn't be back for awhile. We'd go to Shirley's and browse through the salvage stock, maybe find some real deals on things we didn't need. Then we'd go to the IGA deli, and I'd say a silent good-bye to Miss Nan, the elderly black woman who makes me tremble in my flip-flops when she comes out to wait on me, glaring and snarling, "What you want?" We'd come back home, and I'd go out and attack rogue vegetation in my zinnia bed. (In other words, I'd weed the flower bed. I read that rogue vegetation phrase somewhere and wrote it down in the notebook I'm trying to make myself keep, listing phrases I'd like to try out sometime. I'm not sure it works for me.)

Lizzie and I did some of that, but not all. The day sort of got away from us. Hannah called to say that band camp would be over at 4 instead of 5--an hour lost. It poured rain most of the afternoon, so I mowed for only a half hour or so and we didn't swim at all. Angela called and talked for over an hour, then called later and talked for 45 minutes. So we didn't get it all in.

In other news, Angela did have something pretty interesting to share. She and Warren were driving up Hwy. 37 Thursday night, and she saw a man on the side of the road, stark naked. Warren called Charlie the Sheriff, and according to Charlie, they've been trying to catch that man for over a year. Charlie said if they pick him up, they'll be sure to have Angela come in and pick him out of a line-up.

So I have just a few more hours before school starts, and then I'll be changed into a different person. Really, it started already, a few days ago and, as always, I fight it. But there's not any point in that, and it only makes me physically ill. I don't know why it matters anyway, because whatever my hand finds to do, God is with me.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Dashed Hopes

"Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly." Proverbs 13:16

I knew when I opened my eyes this morning that today would be the day. I was up most of the night, unable to get comfortable because I pulled a muscle in my lower back yesterday when I moved a filing cabinet at school. When I looked in the mirror, my face was puffy, my eyes almost swollen shut. A fat face for a fat day. If I don't sleep at least five hours, I feel fat and lethargic all day. So I knew. I knew I'd take the Mensa test today, because if I didn't do well, I'd have the excuse of not having slept well the night before and of waking up fat and lethargic. I drove Hannah to the school to band camp at 8:00, even though she didn't feel well and the heat index was predicted to reach one oh five. Lizzie and I came back home and spent an hour or so in the pool, then jumped on the trampoline for a while. I skipped lunch because I woke up fat and because I didn't want to nourish my brain in any way at all for the Mensa test--in case I didn't do well--then I sat down at the computer to take the plunge. The phone rang. Hannah was calling from the band hall, sick. Back in the car for the one hour round trip, stopping on the way home for Lizzie to tinkle on the side of the sizzling pavement, then getting Hannah settled after taking her temp--one oh two, with vomiting--and back to the computer to take the test. I'd now piled up several excuses for not doing well. But the phone rang again, so I decided to put it off until after supper. Tim was at a dinner meeting, and I knew Hannah wouldn't want to smell food, so Lizzie and I headed to Sonic for fast food and a chocolate malt. I have a milk allergy, and I knew it would make me uncomfortable and cloud my brain. The perfect pre-Mensa meal.

But. Here's the thing. The Mensa test is not free online. They prefer that you schedule an appointment at a local chapter for a supervised test. I mean, I guess that makes sense because they are, after all, a very exclusive organization, but I've been building up to this the whole summer long and now it's just the biggest letdown. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. I did find a "Mensa-like" test at Tickle, and I took it as a sort of consolation, but I only scored 136. Not exactly top 2% I don't guess. But here's my results profile:

Robin, your Super IQ score is 136

Your overall intelligence quotient is the result of a scientifically-tested formula based on how many questions you answered correctly. But it's only part of what we learned about you from your answers on the test. We also determined the way you process information.The way you think about things makes you a Creative Theorist. This means you are a highly intelligent, complex person. You are able to process information of nearly every kind with ease, using both creativity and analysis to make sense of the world. Compared to others you also have a very rich imagination.
How did we determine that your thinking style is that of a Creative Theorist? When we examined your test results further, we analyzed how you scored on 8 dimensions of intelligence: spatial, organizational, abstract reasoning, logical, mechanical, verbal, visual and numerical. The 3 dimensions you scored highest on combine to make you a Creative Theorist. Only 6 out of 1,000 people have this rare combination of abilities.Find out which 3 intelligence dimensions you scored the highest on and how your IQ score compares to others in your personalized, 31-page Super IQ Report.

They want me to pay for the 31-page report, so I won't be finding out my 3 highest intelligence dimensions. I wonder if those other 5 people are smart enough not to have a chocolate malt for supper if they have a milk allergy.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Call and Response

"Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." Isaiah 59:1, 2

This verse was in a responsive reading I read from the Cokesbury Hymnal earlier today. All Methodist hymnals have a responsive reading section in the back, with portions in bold for the pastor to read, and italicized portions for the congregation. Sort of a call-and-response. A typical Methodist service is highly structured and liturgical, with recitation of creeds, the singing of the Doxology and the Gloria Patri, the responsive reading, and communion. The church I grew up in did not use a common cup; we went down to the velvet-padded kneeling bench two pews at a time and drank from tiny glass communion cups that the church ladies washed in the kitchen afterwards. It was a beautiful old church with stained glass windows, high ceilings, and dark wood. My favorite portion of the service was the responsive reading. I learned to read when I was four, and the responsive reading played a large part in that. I use choral reading daily in my own classroom at the beginning of the year to accelerate children's literacy acquisition. I would track the print with my eyes as the pastor read and the congregation responded. When I read this Isaiah verse this afternoon, I was thinking of the unchanging character and attributes of God and I don't understand why people can't see that the Atonement did not change Him in any way. He is still the same in His relationships and dealings with man. I love reading the old testament because of all that it reveals about the character of God and how He relates to His children. And yet what seems to hang people up is their lack of understanding of the Redemption. We who are resurrected, regenerated sons are living in a different kingdom in which there is no death at all. It is an eternal kingdom in which every single thing is eternal. But God Himself has always been eternal, and He has not changed. It just doesn't seem that difficult a concept to me, and yet people will go round and round and round about whether or not a regenerated citizen of the eternal Kingdom can lose his Life. Death cannot strike twice. It's as simple as that. But salvation? That's another matter altogether, and I'll leave it for another day, but I think that even as a small child reading those responsive readings I knew that. I knew that my Friend and I would always be together, always, but that there would often be situations and circumstances from which I'd need salvation that only He could give.

I got the Cokesbury Hymnal from Carr Methodist Church in Smith County, not Lake Methodist Church that I attended as a child. My mother's family has their Weems reunion there every first Sunday in June. Daddy's family was Baptist, and lukewarm at best, but Mama's family was and is and evermore will be staunch Methodists. My great great grandfather sold a mule to donate to the building fund of Millsaps College and most of the family attended there. The Weems House ( is their pride and joy and we hear this story ( told fairly often. I never had any desire to attend Millsaps myself, but Tim was offered a football scholarship there. I tell him that if he'd gone there, maybe I'd have a higher status in the family.

Tonight Tim and I went to my classroom to do some work. He goes with me every year to help with the arranging of furniture and lifting of heavy items. He's going to go back with his tools to move some cubbies and lower some bulletin boards for me. He is so good to me; I don't want to ever take that for granted.

I pulled the old labels off the cubbies, and it was really a difficult thing for me to do. To see those names come off, names of children I love and spent so much time with and made so many memories with. I know the names will be replaced with new ones who will come to mean just as much to me, but still. . .

Today I bought Lizzie a new watercolor paint set. She spent the afternoon painting picture after picture. I just can't help but wonder if her kindergarten teacher will have paint. Children need paint. And how many construction toys will she have, and how much time will she allow the children to play with them. Would it seem intrusive if I bought and donated paint and construction toys? Pattern blocks and tangrams and unifix cubes and gears and puzzles and Legos?