Sunday, October 30, 2011


          Middle school students are usually very aware when they are going to be pulled out of school early for an appointment.  It adds sparkle to an otherwise dreary day.  Leaving school early is a little bit of Christmas at the end of the day.  It’s also fun to announce it to your fellow students like it’s a prize you won that they didn’t get.  We all look for our little shots of joy where we can find them, and checking out of school early is like winning $100 for a middle school student.

            I was surprised when I got a call from the office 7th period saying Naomi’s mom was checking her out early.  Naomi hadn’t said anything about it, so I decided it was probably a surprise to her too.  Her face lit up with a big grin when she was told to report to the office.  She actually skipped out of the room to her locker.

            I was curious (snoopy actually) about it the next day.

            “Naomi, did you forget about an appointment you had yesterday?”

            “No.  I didn’t know I was going to leave early.”

            My inner adult told me to mind my own business, so I let it drop.  But Naomi wanted to talk about it.

            “I had to go get a shot.”

            “Oh yeah?” eyebrows up.  “You got your flu shot?”

            “No, I got the flu stuff in my nose.  I got a Gardasil shot.”

            Oooh, I thought.  Not going there.  End the conversation now!

            “It’s a vaccine shot,” Naomi added.

            “I got a vaccine last week along with my flu shot,” I offered trying a diversion.

            “What shot did you get?”

            “Well, I got a Tdap.  It stands for Tetanus and some other things.  You have to get it every ten years so you don’t get Tetanus.  Now I’m done with my shots for the year.”

            “What was my Gardasil shot for?”

            “Well, (Oh phooey) it keeps you from getting sick in the future.  That’s what vaccines do.  They help you not get sick.”

            “What does Gardasil keep me from getting?”

            How do I get sucked into these conversations?
            “What did your mom tell you about the shot?”

            “She just said I had to get it.”

            “Because your mom loves you and wants to keep you safe.”

            “Safe from what?”

            We were now in the stupid realm.  Naomi knew when I was evading a question, but if her parents wanted her to know what the shot was for, they would have told her.

            In the movie, “Chicago,” there is a great scene where Richard Gere plays a lawyer skirting around the truth in the courtroom.  A voiceover announces, “And now ladies and gentlemen – a tap dance.”  Richard Gere verbally dances around his arguments, while literally tap dancing.  I suddenly had the mental picture of me tap dancing in front of Naomi.

            “Weeeeelllll, the vaccine prevents you from getting warts.”
            “How will I get warts?”

            “You won’t get them.  The vaccine keeps you from getting warts.”

            Ta da! I thought.  Great save.

“Oh.  OK.”

            Success!  I had effectively tap danced my way out of the conversation.

Two periods later Naomi was back in my room with Roberto for a reading class.  As I was putting the attendance in my computer, I overhead Naomi talking to Roberto.

            “Is that a wart on your hand,” Naomi asked.

            Roberto studied the side of his pinky finger.

            “Yeah.  I’ve had it burned off twice, but it keeps coming back.”

            Naomi studied his hand closer.  I could see it coming just like a train.

            “You really should get a Gardasil shot.  I got one and now I won’t get warts.”

            Roberto studied his finger closer.

            “I don’t like it when I have to get the wart burned off.  I’ll ask my mom about it.”

            I minded my own business and stayed out of the conversation, but a part of me wished I could be a fly on the wall when Roberto asked his mom when he could get his Gardasil shot.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Getting Ready For Christmas

            Hobby Lobby set a new record this year.  A week after July 4th, they were clearing shelves and setting up Christmas trees.  A week after July 4th!  So I don’t feel too silly telling you I finished putting a Christmas picture together for the fireplace mantle this weekend.

            About three years ago I stumbled on a painting by Gerrit van Honthorst called “The Nativity,” and I fell in love with it.  It’s the typical Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, and two shepherds nativity scene, but the two shepherds are two young boys who are absolutely enthralled with the baby. 

            Honthorst was a Dutch painter in the 1500’s whose paintings tend to be dark, interior scenes with a light source only from candles.  The center of his paintings is usually lit, but the edges often fade into darkness.  In “The Nativity” the source of light is, of course, the Baby Jesus. 

            It’s the expressions on the two young shepherds’ faces that drew me to the painting.  Most nativity scenes show Jesus surrounded by somber worshippers, but Honthorst’s painting shows Jesus being looked on by two young boys who appear to be absolutely delighted with the baby.  The expressions on their faces remind me of how young children look at Christmas.

            It took me two years to crank open my wallet enough to buy a print of the picture, especially since it would only be on the mantle for two months out of the year.  But then had a 30% off sale and life is short, and you know how it goes.

            I had a frame I found at the Goodwill store this summer that’s been lonely for a picture to fill it.  Hobby Lobby had their mats 50% off, so it was easy to spend a few more dollars buying the mats so the picture would fit in the frame.

            Here comes the fun part.  I painted the frame white this summer, because I wanted a beach picture, but that never worked out.  After I got the mats home for my Nativity picture, I slipped the picture under the mats and laid the frame on top.  It was obvious the frame needed to be painted black.  So I hauled it out to the garage and spray painted the frame yet again. 

            I was so eager to get my frame painted that I didn’t notice that it had picked up all sorts of fibers from the rug I had laid it on in the living room.  As I sprayed on the black paint, tiny hairy fibers became very visible all over the frame.  It was too late to do anything about it, so I let it dry (kicking myself for being in such a hurry) and then grabbed some sandpaper.  As I sanded off the fibers, the frame took on a really neat distressed look.  I took it back inside and laid it over the matted pictures.  The distressed wood looked perfect framing the stable scene.

            So what’s the takeaway?  Get on’s email list?  All good things come to those who wait?  Dust the fibers off before you spray paint?  Haste doesn't always make waste?  I don’t know; take your pick.  And check out my Christmas picture while I go get some Halloween candy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

White People

            Naomi was absent.  Whenever there is a planned absence, Naomi announces it several times a day for the two weeks prior to the day she will be gone.  She had said nothing about being gone, so I was pretty sure she was sick.

            Around one o’clock in the afternoon I got an email sent from Naomi’s phone:


            Naomi is never sick, so I was sure this staying at home business and calling for your schoolwork was a new, exciting experience for her.  I was so glad when I saw the email.  The day had been pretty dull, boring actually, without Naomi.  It was funny that she asked for her homework.  It was like paying the devil to get work out of her during a regular school day, but somehow she felt compelled to do homework when she wasn’t in school.

            I was not going to telephone her because I didn’t want to set any kind of precedent, so I decided to send her an email instead.  Three minutes after I hit the “send” button, my telephone rang.  It was Naomi.

            “This is Mrs. Jones.”

            “Hello Mrs. Jones.  This is Naomi.  I’m sick.  I didn’t come to school today.”

            “Yes, I noticed that.”

            “I called you to find out what I should do because I wasn’t in school today.”

            “Well, are you feeling OK?  Do you feel well enough to do schoolwork?”

            “My throat was really sore this morning.  It got sore last night and I woke up.  I had a fever too.”

            “That’s sounds awful.”

            “And I got really pale.  I was white.  Really, really white.  You should see how white I was.  You wouldn’t have recognized me.”

            “Are you still white?”

            “Well, my fever went away, so I’m not white anymore.”

            I worked hard at not laughing.  Naomi was always a pretty healthy kiddo, and being sick was something new for her.

            “We had a test in Math today, but you can make it up when you get back.”

            “So I don’t have any homework to do?”

            “Not for today.  We’ll start the next lesson tomorrow.”

            “Well, I might still be sick tomorrow.”

            “We can work things out when you get back.”

            “I hope I don’t get a fever and turn white again tonight.  My mom said she would take me to the doctor if I did.”

            “I hope you don’t get sick again either.  You should rest and get better.”

            “Thank you Mrs. Jones.  Goodbye.”

            “Bye bye, Naomi.”

            Sick days are fun!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Letting Go

            We bought new glasses this weekend.  I also let go of a fantasy I’ve had for 38 years.

            When I got married 40 years ago 10 different people gave us glasses.  We had harvest gold glasses, avocado green glasses, Libby-leaf glasses, clear glasses, even some blue glasses – several sets of glasses.  It was kind of a joke that we could go a week without washing dishes and still not run out of glasses.

            But we didn’t have a dishwasher in our first apartment, and we washed everything by hand.  At least once a week we broke a glass.  It took a year before I figured out I should buy a rubber mat to put in the bottom of the sink.

            After two years we finally moved into an apartment with a dishwasher!  I also ordered a huge set of monogrammed glasses.  I associated all those green, and gold, and leaf glasses with that first apartment that didn’t have a dishwasher (or air conditioning).  With the move to the new apartment, we would now use lovely new monogrammed glasses. 

            I found the set of glassware in the back of a magazine.  The order came with a set of twelve glasses in five different shapes.  There was the tall 12 ounce tumbler, the short, fat 8 ounce glass, the small 6 ounce juice glass, the 8 ounce glass on a stem, and then the small dessert glass on a stem.  I guess the theory was you could use the 8 ounce stem for wine (sparkling grape juice in our case) or a lovely parfait.  The dessert stem was not really for any beverage, but it matched everything else.

            The sixty pieces of glassware came in a huge box.  It was so clever how every piece had a little cardboard cell that held it perfectly.  My new glassware was so elegant with the engraved “J” on its side.  Forty years ago, everyone wanted their property engraved, and now all of our glassware advertised our name and how elegant we were.  It was all crystal. 

            I discovered that our water was very hard and our crystal got etched when we put it in the dishwasher.  I knew washing glasses – no, I mean washing crystal – by hand was tricky, and things were easily broken, so my monogrammed, elegant crystal would now be just for special occasions.

            Sixty pieces of glassware take up a lot of space in a cupboard, but I kept it where I could see it even if I only used it fewer than half a dozen times a year. 

            We moved twice and eventually bought a dining set that had a large china cabinet with it.  I dutifully loaded all my crystal into the china cabinet.  Sometimes I had to take it out and wash it all – by hand, of course – because crystal gets dusty even in a closed china cabinet.  But I   wanted to have it ready for all my elegant dinners.

            When the children, four boys, came along, it was a long time before we let them use the crystal at the special dinners.  I would set a lovely table with my Noritake china on a blue tablecloth with the lovely monogrammed crystal, but my sons would get a harvest gold Tupperware glass until they reached puberty – sometimes not even then, depending on how they had been acting.

            As careful as I was over the years, one by one the pieces got broken.  The fewer pieces I had, the more careless I got with them.  By the time we made our last move, I left any remaining stemware for a garage sale and moved the 12, 8 and 6 ounce glasses into the everyday cupboard.  I was throwing them into the dishwasher every day, and despite a water softener, they continued to get cloudier and more etched – if they survived getting broken.

            For the past year my husband has been asking when we’re going to get new glasses.  There’s only the two of us here 90% of the time, so as long as there’s something to drink out of, I don’t see a need for new glasses.  My husband, however, likes a clean glass several times a day, and he’s been getting tired of there not being enough glasses.  He’s baffled by my reluctance to replace the cloudy, etched, glasses with the monogramed “J” on the side.

            It’s probably something only women understand (or Australian hosts of shows about “hoarders”), but those glasses always reminded me of the silly fantasies I had at the beginning of my marriage.  We would eat in the dining room.  We would eat on a tablecloth with china and crystal.  And we would have company and special, elegant meals several times a week.  Our children would never spill grape flavored soda on the pale blue tablecloth.   And glasses would never break.  Our life and family would be perfect and elegant.

            My real life was Corelle dishes, Tupperware glasses, washable table tops, spills, paper towel napkins, food on faces, and lots of laughter.

            Every time we broke one of those monogrammed glasses, I could almost hear the cosmic laughter mocking my newlywed fantasy, but I still enjoyed remembering it.

            So now I have a 16 piece Anchor Hocking set of glasses – 8 tall glasses and 8 short glasses.  They’re heavy because older hands more easily hold heavy glasses.  If one of them breaks, no big deal.  Walmart has plenty more.  They also come with no fantasy, because after 40 years of marriage, I’ve learned that it’s not what’s ahead that’s important.  It’s what’s right here and now that is my life.

            But I still think they look better on a tablecloth.


Monday, October 10, 2011


            Monday morning started off with a bang.  The announcements were short, assignments were quickly stacked on the desk, and we were on our way to the library for a book talk five minutes after the bell rang.  As we moved down the hallway, I asked Naomi if she had a nice weekend.

            “I fasted on Saturday,” she announced.

            “You fasted?  Why did you fast?”

            “It was Yom Kippur and we fasted,” Naomi explained.

            Naomi told me on Friday that it was Yom Kippur.  She also told me how unhappy her mom was with their rabbi.  We were walking with several other students and Naomi’s announcement caught Nyla’s attention.  Nyla began the school year in the middle of a month-long fast for Ramadan, and she knew all about fasting.

            “My whole family was fasting Saturday,” Naomi continued.  “But I ate a bagel around 11 o’clock and my sister yelled at me.”

            “Why did you eat the bagel?” I asked.

            “I didn’t know fasting meant you couldn’t eat anything,” Naomi declared.

            Now both Nyla and I were staring at Naomi.

            “What did you think it meant?” I asked.

            “Well I knew my mom wasn’t cooking that day and I thought that’s what fasting was.”

            Naomi’s family hovered back and forth practicing their faith.  Naomi either wasn’t quite firm on all the observations yet, or she was pulling the old “I didn’t know” strategy with her parents.

            “You’re not supposed to eat if you’re fasting,” Nyla offered.  “If you do, you have to make up the day.”

            That one still confused me.  In September Nyla “made up” several of her fasting days.

            “When you fast, you’re not supposed to eat or drink anything.  Not even water,” Naomi continued.

            We made our way into the library and the kids moved into the rows of chairs set up. 

            As they were settling in, I heard Naomi mutter, “It just doesn’t seem fair not getting to eat.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday (sigh)

            There are days when you accomplish absolutely nothing.  You have a schedule and material.  You have lessons.  But nothing gets done.  It happens when you’re not prepared, or the kids are wound up about something, or it’s a Friday.  Some days it’s a perfect storm of all three.

            I got to school late.  I got into my room late because I had hall duty.  The bell had already rung and the kids were in the room.  I hadn’t opened up the attendance program on my computer yet.  I also needed to open up the lesson for the Smartboard.  I also needed to turn the projector on.  While I was scrambling to do all these things, the kids were milling around talking to each other.  Being prepared and ready to start the lesson is rule number one for teachers.  The first five minutes of class set the tone for the whole period.  My room was shouting, “Teacher’s not ready, so just play.”

            I was irritated with myself for not being ready.  As I was frantically trying to get everything open on the computer, I kept looking up at the kids and telling them to sit down, open up their workbooks, and turn to the correct page.  No one was listening.  To make matters worse, it was a Friday.  Kids aren’t any different from adults.  Sometimes only their bodies are there on Fridays.

            “OK kids,” I said as I finally got the attendance into the system, “I guess Carl’s not here today.”  For some reason the projector was coming on really slowly.  If the kids’ eyes were up front, all they were looking at was “Panasonic”.   “Naomi, please sit down.”  For some reason Naomi was across the room, standing in front of Maddie’s desk, staring down at Maddie’s pencil pack.  “Naomi.”  No response.  Naomi!  I got a head turn on that one.  “Naomi, go back to your desk and sit down.”   Robert was still standing over by Cassie’s desk.  “Robert, please sit down and open your workbook to page 218.”  Naomi still hadn’t moved.  I walked over to Naomi and touched her shoulder.  “Naomi.  Go sit down.”  She slowly walked across the room, but kept staring back at the pencil pack.  I never knew what would catch Naomi’s attention on any given day.  Today it was a pencil pack.

            She finally got to her desk, sat down, and opened her workbook.  The Smartboard had come on, and today’s lesson was displayed on the screen up front.  Just then the door flew open and Carl burst in, grinning ear to ear.  “I’m here!” he yelled.  “My mom couldn’t find the keys and made me late.”  I walked back over to my computer and called up the attendance program.  If I didn’t change it now, I’d forget.  I’d forgotten to freeze the Smartboard screen.  Everything on my computer was now displayed up on the screen.

            “I can see your grade Carl,” shouted Robert.  “You’ve got an F.”  Everyone began laughing and searching the screen for Carl’s “F”.  No one’s grades were visible.  Just names with boxes.  I removed the check in the box next to Carl’s name.  “See, you do have an ‘F’” said Robert.  Everyone was still studying the screen intently.  It was so exciting to see private teacher information on the big screen up front.
“He does not have an ‘F’,” I said.  “He is present today and that’s all you can see.”  Naomi had gotten up again and was back over at Maddie’s desk staring at the pencil pack.  “Naomi!  Get back to your desk and sit down.”  I didn’t even wait for her.  I walked over and led her back to her desk.  I walked back to my computer and switched from the attendance to the lesson page.

The page in the workbook that the kids were working on was displayed on the Smartboard.  I called on Marcia to read the directions.  She was my best reader and I wanted to get this day started.  There were several pairs of sentences.  The second sentence had a pronoun in it.  The kids were to find the antecedent of the pronoun in the first sentence, circle it, and draw an arrow from the pronoun back to its antecedent.  Fortunately it was a task the kids had done before.  I asked if everyone remembered pronouns and antecedents.  I heard a chorus of “Yes, I know how to do this.  This is easy.  I can do this.  This is boring.”
            I told them to finish the sentences then raise their hand when they were done.  I always let the kids go up and put their work on the Smartboard.  It is a great tool to keep them engaged in the lesson.  Everyone was bent over their work except Naomi.  “Naomi, do you remember how to do this?”

            She just stared down at her workbook.  “Naomi, do you need help?”

            She turned slowly and looked up at me.  “No.   I can do this.”

            “Go ahead and do number one,” I said.  If it’s correct, I’ll have you put it up on the board.”
            She looked longingly at the Smartboard.  She loved writing her answers up there.  She looked back at Maddie’s desk.  “I need a pencil,” she said.  I knew she wanted a pencil from Maddie.  I also knew Maddie would not give her one.  Naomi never gave pencils back. 

            “Get a pencil from my desk.”  I motioned to the cup of pencils that was always available up front.  Naomi walked up to my desk, all the while staring back at Maddie as she walked.  She got a pencil and slowly walked back to her own desk. 

            “I’m done,” announced Robert.
            “I’m done too!” shouted  Marcia.
“Raise your hand when you’re done,” I reminded them.  Naomi just kept looking at her pencil and then back at Maddie’s desk.

            “I have to sharpen my pencil,” Naomi suddenly declared.  I walked over to her desk.  She had picked up the one pencil in the cup that had a broken point.

            “OK Naomi, go sharpen your pencil.”  Let’s get started, I thought.  “Robert put the answer to number one on the board.”  Robert jumped up, delighted that he got to write first on the Smartboard.

            “Why does he get to go first?” Marcia whined.

            Naomi just sat looking back at Maddie’s desk.  “Naomi, go sharpen your pencil,” I reminded her again.  Are we ever going to get anything done today, I wondered.

            Naomi got up, but was immediately distracted by the box of tissues on the table by the pencil sharpener.  She set down her pencil, pulled out some tissues, and began blowing her nose, continuing to stare back at Maddie’s desk.  I watched Naomi and wondered how long it would take her to sharpen her pencil.  She was always good for making a two act play out of this task.  Blow your nose first.  Then sharpen the pencil. 

            “Do you have any hand sanitizer?” Naomi asked.
OK.  We’re going for three acts today.   I walked over to my desk and picked up a bottle of hand sanitizer.  Naomi held out her hands and I squirted a few drops into her palms.  She began rubbing her hands together, looking back at me with a huge closed mouth smile.  How she loved sanitizing her hands!

Suddenly everyone else began laughing.  I looked at the Smartboard where Robert was writing.   One of the mysteries of a Smartboard is that every so often someone pokes something and the board loses its calibration.  Robert was writing, but the writing was appearing about twelve inches above where he was moving the marker.  This was extremely cool to the rest of the class. 

“OK Robert.  Sit down so I can fix it.”  I walked over, restarted the board, and began touching the “x’s” to calibrate it.  In the meantime Naomi had taken a detour past Maddie’s desk on her way back to her own desk.  She stopped again in front of Maddie.

“Naomi.  Did you get your pencil sharpened?” I inquired.  She turned around and held up a second pencil she had picked up from my desk.  It had a nice point on it.  “OK.  Go back to your desk and sit down,” I told her.  Maddie was hunching over her desk.  Her arms were wrapped protectively around her pencil pack, and she was glaring up at Naomi.  Naomi took her time making the sad journey back to her desk.

“Robert, put your answer to number one on the board please.”  Robert strutted up front and wrote his answer in, but it was not nearly as fun when the board was functioning the way it’s supposed to.  Just then the intercom came on.

“Mrs. Jones, is Marcia Keys in your room?”

“Yes she is,” I answered.

“Could you send her to the office?  Her mom’s here to pick her up for her appointment.”  Marcia slowly stood, relishing her moment.  She turned and gave everyone a big grin as she packed up her books.”

“She’s so lucky,” Cassie said.  “Where you going Marcia?”

“It’s private,” Marcia shot back.

“Class, it’s not polite to always ask things like that,” I announced.  Everyone, even Naomi, watched Marcia walk out of the room.  Their faces clearly displayed their longing to also begin the weekend early.  Even I was jealous.  “OK guys.  Let’s finish up this page,” I said walking past their desks.  Naomi still had not written a single thing in her workbook yet.  I began sending kids up to the board to put their answers in.  I bent down and whispered to Naomi that she could go up and write the answer to number four.  She had just finished marking her workbook when the bell jolted all of us.  Everyone jumped up.  Class was over already?  Boy had I blown it today!  The sad truth was that I wanted it over too.

“OK kids.  See you Monday,” I said wearily.  I walked to the front, thankful my students didn’t carry too many tales home.  I shut off the projector and went over to my computer to close out the workbook program.  Naomi followed me over to my desk.

“You really must love kids to do this job,” she said, then turned and walked out.