Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year/New Ideas

I've always approached the New Year as a clean slate. It's a do over. No matter what the problem, you have a chance in this year to solve it. The past few years have been so personally overwhelming, with my father's death on Christmas three years ago and a rising tide of debt and disillusionment, that it was easier to dwell on the past than to approach the future. For whatever reason this year I find myself thinking ahead. At the age of 50, one would think I knew how to navigate this society, but instead I find myself standing back and making commentary. In reviewing this habit, I think that those of us who spend our days looking for flaws often fail to move on and live in the moment. I understand the whole grasshopper vs. ant lifestyle arguement, but at what most people would call Middle Age, there has to be some sort of action taken or your life stagnates and you end up as nothing more than a blip on the census. I want to take action, to live in the moment more. I want to take care of the problems that do occur rather than anticipating the problems that might occur. I want to resolve issues like messy, uncompleted home projects efficiently which doesn't always mean doing it ourselves. I want to use money wisely without hoarding it. I have observed that many older people are so obsessed with money that it becomes a litany. While I have been known to haunt a Big Lots or Dollar Store now and then, I don't want my life to boil down to a listing of every vitamin, toiletry or device that I bought on the cheap. I don't live an extravagant lifestyle, but I find myself wanting to live a more purposeful life. (With apologies to those who have read that book, I haven't and won't, but I don't think he's trademarked the phrase and I will use it where applicable.) I want to create, I want to change, I want to adapt and more than anything I want some time to be my own person. For so long I have been Mommy and Wife and Teacher and such. I want a chance to do all the things I denied myself during those busy years. I want to paint and to write. I want to take classes in Italian and visit famous places. I want to feel that I have the freedom to reclaim what little is left of my personality. I want to be able to sleep without waking up more tired than before I slept. I want to be able to afford dental work without complicated scheduling. I want ziploc bags that open as easily as they do on TV. For right now, I will start with the small stuff. So here's the list and let's see how well I do:
-Get dental work done ($$$$!)
-Get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
-Redo the bedrooms and jettison old stuff.
-Pack away daughter's high school stuff.
-Redo son's room
-Redo the bathroom
-Take an art history class
-Take a painting class
-Learn about fine dining and cooking
-Eat less but enjoy more
-Stop making lists......

Friday, December 22, 2006

Why It Shouldn't Matter About Christmas Trees

This is a copy of an article from Ben Stein. I admire him greatly for his thoughtful and wise observations on what the media tells us is our "culture". From my perspective, if you look to the likes of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or even Miss America, there is more bacteria than art to our current state of affairs. I have found that kids and their parents are woefully ignorant of literature, art, music and theater that used to be part of our collective make-up. Instead we fill our lives with shallow diversions, meaningless endeavors and overpriced objects that the prevailing and popular stars of the limelight tell us we MUST have. But I have said too much and I don't want to spoil the punch of Mr. Stein's piece.

The following is Ben Stein's commentary on CBS Sunday News from December of last year. -------------------------------------------------------------- "Herewith a few confessions from my beating heart: I have no freaking clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important? I don't know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise's baby. Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are. Is this is what it means to be no longer young? Hmm.. not so bad. Next confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in GOD are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat. Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship GOD as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to." --------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bad Day

This is a rant. If you don't enjoy rants, then I suggest you tune in to something even-toned and bucolic, like Michael Bolton or whalesongs. I want to be joyful. I want to be happy and enjoy The Season, as it is popularly called. But I can't. I can't because I am weighted down with the burden of dealing with all this STUFF. School stuff, home stuff, family stuff...stuff...stuff...stuff. And it's all on me. There's no backup, no substitute Mom and Teacher sitting in the wings with bated breath waiting to take my place. I have so much to do that I am imobilized. I can't think straight. I have "Christmas" stuff to do, a great deal of it begun and never finished by my husband who is out of town until Christmas Eve on a combination sales trip/visit. I wish I could see the generosity in his gesture to visit his father's friend, but where does the generosity to me and our kids start? It's like we are always supposed to do for everyone else, but it's never ever our turn to be on the recieving end. I hate sounding bitter and I hate feeling this way, but I do things for people all the time at work, at home...I am tired. And I need to think that someone gives a damn about me. But lately, it seems likes I am just the housekeeper with outside income. I am everyone's handywoman, everyone's source of solace and support, but nobody is there for me. I am really not trying to have a pity party, but I am exhausted and at the end of my rope. I nearly broke down in tears during class today. The kids were awful. They just don't care. They break stuff and throw stuff and you can call parents and send them out, but NOTHING CHANGES. And I need this job. I need it to help my kids get through college. And to pay off debts. But sometimes I fear that I will be one of those pathetic teachers that they find lying dead on the floor of the classroom. Today my heart was pounding so hard because I was so angry and disappointed with those kids that I honestly thought I might be having a heart attack. I had this horrible vision of dropping to the floor clutching my chest and having them laugh and dance around me like some bad permutation of Lord of the Flies. Scary. I wish I could be more upbeat, but this schedule and this long term are sucking any enthusiasm I ever had. I keep telling myself that I can endure anything for six hours a day. But I am beginning to think I could be wrong.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blackberry Orphans

In this season of family and joy-or so the media and department stores would have us believe, there is a group that isn't being served by any charity or foundation. It's the Blackberry Orphans. They are the children of the self-absorbed generation that expected parenting to come in a box with instructions. These are the folks walking around with bluetooths in their ears looking for all the world like they are constantly talking to themselves. They would rather talk on a cell than talk to their own kids. They can find almost any number of things to do other than communication. It's sad. I heard this one 15 year old on the radio who makes good grades and doesn't get in trouble, but her mother spends all the school commute talking on her cell phone. I see these people all the time. I see them early EARLY in the morning. I wonder who in the world they are talking to. To my way of thinking anyone who calls me before seven in the morning or after eleven at night either better have won the lottery or be in dire straits. But these folks in their neediness to be connected are missing out on the biggest and best connection of all-children. Their own children. What is sadder still is that these kids WILL find someone to talk to them and if you leave that to a kid's own choice, you may end up with a kid who thinks it's cool to break into cars and smoke meth on the weekends. These aren't the needy kids in the classic sense of the word-but emotionally their parents are teaching them some sad lessons. Like family means nothing, relationships are based on what you can do for someone and worst of all, never trust anyone. I wonder down the road as these thirty and forty something narcissists become older and less independent if their children will hang around to help them out. After all, what goes around, comes around.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

This Is Why I Teach

For every teacher that complains to their spouse, their boss, their coworkers there is a reason we are here. Among the gauntlet of testing and accountability, what we are supposed to be doing is filling young minds and giving them in incentive to test the waters, explore the horizons and move beyond the limits of conventional wisdom. Teaching is a hard job. It requires a backbone of steel and a skin of titanium. Now more than ever, teachers are regarded as mere workers by the public rather than professionals. Some of this is the result of the smudges of unionization and some of this is really more about PAC's organized using the money from teachers' organizations than the actual abilities of the classroom teachers themselves.

I have quit teaching once. I had been a teacher at a well respected high school. I had a student who was highly valued as an athlete and he never showed up for class. I gave him the lowest grade my district would allow. They never investigated my repeated claims that he was skipping class. Imagine my surprise when he came in THANKING ME FOR PASSING HIM. I was appalled and when I went to the counselors office to see where this glitch in the system occurred I was told that "it was a better reflection on the school and district if this student graduated and recieved a four year scholarship to 'Presitgious State School' than to fail him." I quit that summer. Looking back, I was young and idealistic. I still don't agree with the decision, but it did reinforce some ideas that I have about education and the Art of Teaching.

I must admit, I used a great deal of my teaching expertise as a stay at home mom. I think my kids' benefited down the line. They were often better prepared and much of the time they had a valid sounding board for their ideas. When I returned to the classroom, I had been a parent for 14 years. I think parenting gives you insight that a mere education class cannot achieve. That's not to say that you must be a parent to teach, but a parent who teaches brings with them experience and motivation that non-parents don't understand. One of the key teaching guidelines I have undertaken it that every teacher MUST teach the WHOLE CHILD. This means that you can't expect them to learn when they are hungry, scared or worried. And those issues can take up huge loads of situations.

Kids who are hungry simply cannot concentrate on anything other than their hunger. I often kept granola bars in my desk for just such a situation. And these kids aren't necessarily needy, just too rushed or too crammed with activities to stop and care for their own needs. They have to learn to do this, but often cannot due to inordinate pressures to succeed. And sometimes they aren't hungry for food, but for attention, for positive words, for kindness. A kind word can go a long way in helping a kid make it through the day, yet too often I see people who would rather drag kids down than build them up. Kids who are scared may be scared of gangs or bullies, or their parents, or the situation. I know of kids who panic in classes because of a personal history of failure. If you allow a child to fail enough they don't push themselves to succeed, but instead become the worst example. If that's the only way they can get attention, they can and they will resort to this type of negative behavior. Being an art teacher, I get alot of these kids. They come in expecting to disrupt. I tolerate enough, but draw the line at threats and violence. While I have had kids who were menacing, they were able to talk to me, because I didn't talk to the image-I talked to the person. I find we have a large number of kids who worry. They worry to the point of neurosis. The worry so much that they sometimes don't even try because they are fearful of failure.

What kind of backgrounds do these kids have that they are afraid to put their own emotions in writing, in drawing, in painting, in performance? Have we taught our children to stifle their opinions in the desire to fit in? Have we limited them by telling them to stick to the books and not look for the meanings behind the words? Have we cut them off from questioning, debating, or doubting in the name of political correctness, respect or other inane philosophical reasons? We, as teachers, must return to the true vocation of teaching. By that I mean, we must start teaching children where they are and bring them to where they can go on their own. We must stop trying to punch children into molds and cease expecting every child to hit the same mark. There must be room for kids who are potential Einsteins as well as those who are workers on the assembly line. And we must value them all the same because we aren't here to judge, we are here to teach.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

TV and Me

I am a child of the Television Generation. I like TV. I am not one of those closet snobs who claims not to watch TV, then spikes the ratings of vapid non-entertainment such as "reality television" or any of the current soap opera in the guise of humor offerings. I like two types of TV-things that help me forget the boring, dull, frustrating path of my workday and shows that make me laugh. If you can do both, you are a winner in my little award show. Sadly, it seems that most of the Arbitron raters are either humor impaired or stupid because the shows that usually rank in the top ten aren't shows I would voluntarily watch. Let me add here, that while I said I like to laugh, I have never been really fond of adult shows masquerading as kids shows-so the Simpsons, Family Guy and the like give me that odd, queasy feeling-like when you were a teenager and discovered that your parents had have had sex to have you. Yuck.

I do like shows that have a message. I don't like shows shoved down my throat. And no, I don't like Ugly Betty or 30 Rock or any of those shows that all us hipsters are supposed to like. Sorry about that, I guess "hipsters" no longer means "with it" but instead refers to a type of underwear, but I digress. What I do like right now are show such as those listed below. Sorry if I offend you with my middle brow taste, but it's what I am and I like it. Just like Norman Rockwell and Jello Pudding.

Law and Order-any of them
Heroes (!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Lost (whenever they have it...."whining")
My Name is Earl (okay-but it DOES have a moral)
The Office (Please, if you don't love this then you don't work in a normal office.)
Scrubs (So underrated-the Wizard of Oz episode itself was award worthy.)

And to the critics-I HATE Two and a Half Men and most of the shows you like. So deal with it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


There are only so many days in a year. And it seems that lately every single one of them is a holiday, holy day, celebration day of some sort for some religious, ethnic or cultural group in my school. I don't mean to complain, but there has to be a limit. Right now a friend of mine who teaches elementary is looking at a Winter Holiday spectacle that has to offer paeans to the Three Major Religions AND seven or eight cultural variations. Nobody likes anyone else's music. Everyone hates the commercial stuff and what ends up happening is that some parent will get their knickers in a twist and file a formal complaint about how their child was "damaged" by not having every little essence of the holiday meal, show or celebration to their liking. Talk about people who know how to suck the joy out of everything...

I can understand that some religious issues are touchy. I get it that some Muslim kids wouldn't like singing "Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel" and some Jewish kids might balk at singing "Away in the Manger". But like it or not, we live in a society of pluralities. And contrary to what many think, that doesn't mean you get to cover your ears and mutter nahnahnah until the bad song or sight passes. It means you make the choice to GET ALONG. Let me repeat that for all the upstanding Baptists, observant Jews and active Muslims-it means that you deal with it by letting others do what they want and they in turn, will let YOU do what YOU want. That's what this whole Freedom Of Religion thing is all about. It's not me telling you what to do, it's not the ACLU telling me what NOT to do, it's not mayors shutting down nativity scenes or atheists picketing midnight Mass. It is about being grown-up enough to realize that everyone, even those who are in your own family, have slightly different perspectives on life and religion. Rather than focus on building walls, isn't it about time that we start concentrating on the values we share? I am personally tired to death of one religion poking at another one for some slight that happened so long ago that nobody remembers when or what or why it happened.

In the meantime, take a moment, and no matter what you believe or if you don't believe in a Higher Power at all, and consider how you can let go of your anger and prejudices and make your part of the world a better place.

BTW, contrary to popular views, I am a conservative.