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.