I just re-read an e-mail I got this afternoon from Kati’s mom. Mary Kaye was letting me know that Rita had called her at work to tell her Kati had gotten in trouble for hitting a bus with her slingshot. Well, shoot, I thought, why can’t people stay out of my business? Why? I got the e-mail around 2:00 this afternoon. There were only a handful of children left who’d not yet been checked out for the Homecoming parade, so I’d gotten out the pattern blocks for the six or seven who wouldn’t be riding parade floats and sat down to answer e-mail.
"Rita called me about the slingshot. I thought I had it put up. An old retired man from here in town made 2 and brought them to Kelli and Kati one night. Ricky was there when he brought them and told him he shouldn't have brought those to these two- they will surely get them in trouble and how right he was. Tell Kati that Aunt Rita will keep it. She is not getting it back. We will talk to her when she gets home."
Of all the people who could’ve caught me dropping a ball, it would have to be Rita, another teacher at the school who has made a hobby of trying to catch me dropping balls. Great. She gets a kick out of seeing me do something wrong; has even called and tattled on me to the school board before. So I called Kati back and asked for the story on the slingshot. Seems she’d taken a slingshot to P.E., put a big rock in the blasted thing, and fired away at a school bus. "You remember. I showed it to you before we went outside. Remember?" Well, yeah, I remember, but good grief. She showed it to me and it sort of halfway registered in my mind that I should make her put it in her backpack but, before the thought could settle in, just at the very same moment she was showing it to me, Darlene walked up from second grade and asked me a question and poof! It was gone. Gone. Until the e-mail. So I asked how her Aunt Rita got the slingshot. Come to find out, Rita was taking her fourth graders back to class from the cafeteria and saw the whole thing. Great. "She asked me if you knew I had it and I told her yes." Great. What to do? There’s that thing in the handbook about bringing weapons and all. So I thought about that defense/offense thing and what’s best and I wrote, "Dear Mary Kaye, What a total idiot I am. I guess you’ve figured that out, though, huh? Would you believe Kati even showed me the slingshot before she went out and I let her walk right out the door with it? I did. It was a really hectic moment right then, seeing the children out and trying to confer with a second grade teacher at the same time, but still. I should’ve been more on the ball, more on top of things. If only I’d taken that slingshot from her, she’d have stayed out of trouble. When I think what could’ve happened! Thank Heaven Rita was looking out for her. By the way, did you know Kati brought $23 to school today in a zip-loc bag? She wanted to buy Tartar bracelets with it. I only let her buy 2. I hope I did the right thing. Call me tonight if you want to talk about the slingshot or the money. I’ll be in all evening."
The insurance adjuster finally made it by yesterday. It’s worse than we thought. We have to have new ceilings in addition to the new roof. I’m thinking that’s going to be a mess. I don’t want to live in a house that’s having new ceilings put in. But the adjuster said you don’t play around with mold, so we have no choice. I’m sure all the boxes of seasonal decorations are damaged, too. There just hasn’t been time to assess all the damage from that storm. I have so many heirloom ornaments and stockings that can’t be replaced. I’m afraid to get into it and see if there’s mold. I just don’t want to know.
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 Warren. 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 Warren 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 special ed 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, when there was a 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.
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. Like Mama, she was fit and tanned and beautiful. I adored the very thought of her, and watched her every move. To think of her now, on her face on the floor of her bedroom last Sunday night, after she and Mama and Joey and Anne had packed all her belongings in the U-Haul to be taken back to Oregon. It’s almost more than I can bear. Makes me feel sad and violent at the same time. The last time I talked to her, she told me to just remember you can't count on anything in life. I said well that just couldn't be, shouldn't be. I didn't know what to say. How do you say, "Well, maybe you can't, but I can."
I was reading a novel this week, and I added two phrases from it to my notebook: "the man who was dessert" and "Did I fully inhabit my life?" I might write about each of those another time. Also, I'm trying to decide whether or not to be concerned about avian influenza. And what to do about my growing addiction to Sudoku. I think we should all get into the habit of using the term "avian influenza" instead of the other one because if there is indeed a pandemic and people do begin to die from it, I think it would dignify the dead more to say they died of "avian influenza" than of "bird flu".
I'm wondering what percentage of the time it is acceptable for one to be a goofball and what percentage of the time one should strive to be a serious, reasonable deep thinker. I mean, it seems to me this would definitely be one of those areas in which one would wish to be unbalanced, you know? Maybe no more than 15% goofball, probably. I don't know. And I was wondering too about dowdiness. My co-worker is really dowdy. Not much older than me, but dumpy and plain and well, just dowdy. I can look at her and tell that she could be attractive and might once have been. But she seems to have settled into dowdy. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, either. But solid and dependable and dowdy. Has these rules she lives by, too. Not at all impetuous like me. At all. Has rules. Thinks she has answers to most everything because of her rules. Cut and dried is everything in her life. She doesn't know what to do with me, I don't think. She doesn't seem to understand half of what I say. A mutual thing, too, because sometimes she'll ask me a question and I'll be thinking to myself, "How in the name of Heaven have you lived this long on the planet and not known that?" I'm almost sure she has the same thoughts about me. For instance, today she was asking me if I knew what the new substitute needs in her apartment. She is an evacuee from the coast and came to Taylorsville to relocate. My co-worker is on the Benevolence Committee at her church and she wants to go and buy something for this woman. I said I was really glad she'd brought it up because I'd been meaning to give her some money. She said, "Not cash, though. You do know that, don't you?" I said, "Huh?" knowing we were getting into my biggest pet peeve. And yet I don't like to use the word "pet" really, because that evokes the image of something domesticated, like a puppy or kitten or cockatiel (cockatiel?) and the feeling I get about this issue is more like the fury of a tiger or something wild and jungly. "You can't give a person like that cash. You never know what she'll do with it." "If it's a gift, then I relinquish stewardship of it. She becomes the steward, right?" I don't know why it is that when somebody makes me mad, I go into using this whole different vocabulary than what I would normally use. Why is that? But anyway, she was confused and I walked away and left her with her formulas, her rules, her four four three twos. The dowdy old thing.