Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Anyone Want Videos?

We took a ginormous step this weekend.  In moving "into" our new TV console, from a piecemeal shelving unit, we didn't have space for our VCR, so we eliminated it!  It didn't really bother me when my spouse ran the concept by me - it wasn't until he asked me to discard about 40 VHS tapes that I got worried.

Going through the stack of videos I found my kids' first "long" movie, Dinosaur, that we watched over and over again in those early years of  G-Rated TV watching.  Then I found the classic duo, Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews were my kids' heroes back then, and we all love a good musical now because of these two amazing actors.  There were a few more modern movies, like October Sky, (labelled with my mom's name...sorry mom, I'll return it now) as well as Amadeus (my personal favorite) and Shawshank Redemption. I got really nostalgic, however, when I found a short VHS tape called There Goes an Airplane, an educational video that we used to show the littles, a very long time ago.

Looking through these videos gave me a chance to re-live the Friday Movie Nights at our house. Traditionally the evening began with pizza and ended with a movie in the basement, all members of the family snuggled together on the couch.  For close to fifteen years, I'm pretty sure, most Friday nights we all curled on the couch with pizza and a movie.

I sure do miss those movie nights.  This past Sunday evening my daughter, who had been helping her dad reorganize the DVD collection, found Pitch Perfect and put it on the TV.  A few minutes later she asked if we wanted to join her, then if we could eat dinner downstairs.  For a few precious hours more I relished the special closeness of Family Movie Night.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Don't Want to Go!

I was out of the office today for a conference thanks to  Learning Forward Virginia!  Loved Joellen Killion's presentation on Feedback, and I got a new book - which I am excited to read.  But, the point of this slice is...I don't want to go back to the office tomorrow. I'm kind of filled with dread about what I have to face there.  

Already a boatload of referrals have been emailed to me.
Two emails with phone messages that I don't recognize the numbers for.
And I have loads of observations to do.

I just want to put my head under the pillow and escape.

Two weeks until spring break.  C'mon, Ellen, you can do this.

Right?


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dog Lovers - Help!

Our little beagle has been remarkably healthy - for which I am so grateful, however she has been smelling funny this week.  When I walk into the house in the afternoons and she runs over to greet me, I run over to the back door to let her out quick and air out the kitchen.

The smell has seemed to come and go in the last week.  But finally I tasked my daughter with bathing her - just to see if that helped.  Maybe she had rolled in something outside...a bath would help regardless.

She is not a dog that loves to bathe - in fact, she really doesn't like water much.  So when my daughter hollered from the bathroom, "Mom, c'mere," I assumed she needed help getting her into the tub.  When I opened the bathroom door, though, she was scrubbing Canela, the Beagle's, backside. "Mom, she has poop all over her rear end."  I didn't know "Poopy Butt" was a thing, but Google gave me lots of information about it.

I took her back to the groomer today, as the smell continues, hoping that perhaps something was blocked back there and they could fix it.  They scrubbed her again and recommended a trip to the vet. So, next on the list is to get an appointment with the vet, which I will visit with my fingers crossed. We'd like to keep this perky girl around for a while longer - 12 is still young for a beagle, isn't it?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Aging Gracefully

I don't ever feel a day older, well, except for the pain in my hip; however, this day I experienced the passage of time as I attended a colleague's daughter's baby shower.

We used to tease Tom about being "older than dirt."  In fact when my husband and I were new teachers we used to take every opportunity to remind him that he was older than we were.  In pictures from camping trips we took, when we were "Dinks" and he had two small children,  we look relatively calm - and he looked slightly harassed.  These pictures happened yesterday - except for the twenty years that quickly passed us by.

Today we celebrated his daughter's baby shower - the little girl who, when we were camping, was certain to make sure that the dog was taken care of and really everyone was taken care of, she is having her own child.

I came across a picture of my husband and I on one of these camping trips.  I am wrapped in a dark blue sweatshirt, proclaiming my allegiance to Western Washington University - despite being on the East Coast; and I am pregnant.  My face shines with the same joy that I saw in Jess today - healthy, happy, and hopeful for the future.

I'm sure I'm not older, well, that much older.  She has aged wonderfully.  I look the same.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Are they losing their minds? I'm talking about the children...

It's easy to get wrapped up in the hectic pace of life...and this week has seemed especially hectic.  In fact, "Is it a full moon?" was a common question flying around the main office today.  I, myself, asked a number of times as I came up for air (a metaphor for the amount of time I spent in my office disciplining middle school students).  I am a firm believer that barometric pressure, and other atmospheric changes, can impact student behavior in an uncertain way.

So, let's do a quick poll -

Are your students responding extraordinarily impulsively to "normal" situations?

Have any of your students displayed unusually temperamental behavior?

For example, these are the behaviors I saw today:

  • shoving their teacher, 
  • tossing a chair, 
  • bursting into loud wails and sobs that cause you to worry about a student's ability to breathe 

Do they seem unusually focused on inappropriate behaviors?

  • perhaps you are finding drawings of penises on items around your room?
  • are you collecting their personal devices because they are distracted by other things on their IPads?  
  • making decisions that you have just told them are WRONG - and yet they do it anyway?  


Perhaps it's just me...Please let me know.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Still Looking for the Silver Lining

I was anticipating the rush of talking to other people who love to teach, the enthusiasm, the way eyes light up when they talk about what has worked for them in the classroom. This excitement is infectious - at the end of a recruiting trip I always feel buoyed with positivity about my wonderful students, the amazing school at which I work, and the school district that supports us.

So, on Sunday night when I checked my calendar, my heart leapt just a little in anticipation of my trips to Virginia State University on Tuesday and to George Mason University on Wednesday. Both recruiting trips would include interviewing potential candidates and persuading young education majors that working in Arlington County was a goal they should shoot for!

On Monday, after coordinating calendars with the whole admin team, we realized that there would be no administrators in the building on Wednesday.  My heart sank when I realized that I should probably stay at school - one missed opportunity for energy and revitalization.

Today, Tuesday, I collected the recruiting suitcase, checked the map, and my colleague and I hit the road for VSU.  Two and a half hours later we rolled into Petersburg, excited for the opportunity to explore VSU and meet some future educators.  After driving through the beautiful campus, we headed into the Expo Center to set up our booth.

"Career expo for educators, today?" asked the man at the front desk,  "I don't know anything about it."  Much shuffling of papers occurred and then phone calls to various offices.  Finally at Career Services we heard, "Didn't you get the email we sent?  It was postponed until next Tuesday!"

Seriously?  No recruiting today either?  And a five hour road trip?

I'm a little bummed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Wilderness Adventure

My legs ache, my head is throbbing, and I'm feeling exhausted.  I trekked for miles this afternoon, dodging obstacles placed in my way, pursuing a hard-to-follow trail, and tracking my spouse who regularly disappeared without a trace.  I never want to see the dotted lines of the map again - marking shortcuts that twisted and turned and leading us into different temptations.  

I was at IKEA.  

It was supposed to be a short trip.  Sig O and I had a plan for shelves, we knew what would work, we knew what we wanted to spend, but all hell broke loose with our plan when we ventured out of the bookshelves section and into the kitchen cabinets. "Because," he said, "we should really look around to see if anything else might meet our requirements."  

In Kitchens we found a reasonable set of shelves that were more sturdy than the bookshelves and just slightly more expensive.  Hmm, now we had to think.  Over Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes we hashed things out, then returned to Kitchens.  After deciding to go with the more expensive cabinet, we paid and I looked for our escape.  "Your cabinets won't be ready for you for a while.  Take your time while you walk to the pick up," said the helpful cashier.  

So, we looked in dressers and bedroom furniture.  We surfed through living room furniture where I got slightly distracted by the comfortable looking couches.  We almost got stuck in the wardrobe section where we might have found the perfect product to meet our needs...but no, we reminded ourselves, we had already purchased and we were happy with the cabinets.  Right?    

Downstairs into the Marketplace we ventured.  The crowds there seemed more harried, or maybe that was just me.  We were, after all, three and a half hours into this shopping trip.  As well, the children around us seemed more cranky, and the "trail" we were following seemed narrower with more evil traps set for us, like new storage options for holding silverware or new light fixtures and light bulbs.  

Finally, we escaped.  We are home now, and the car is unloaded.  We survived this venture to IKEA - but let me assure you, I will not be heading there again soon!  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Call Me Crazy

Call me crazy, but I love going to school to work on the weekends.  Sometimes I have loads of writing to do, but today I just wanted to clean my desk and take care of some loose ends.

There is often something going on in the building, as the school system shares the building with the county we live in.  Dance classes, theater performances, and volunteer groups all use various rooms. Today, the main floor, where my office is, was empty.  I opened the door into the half-lit hallway and sauntered through my domain.  Glancing to the left, the library was dark except for the electric blue of the television that scrolls our announcements.  On the right, a silent hallway stretched into the gloom.  It doesn't make me nervous to be there, though.

My office is bright and cheerful - and once inside there is a feeling of being insulated from the world. Surrounded by darkness, knowing there is no one around, I'm able to focus on my mental to-do list.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Crazy Day

My head is full of the day's images:

Chasing students inside
Crunching numbers for next year's staffing
Cheering on our test takers
Handing out mints
Reappearing students - we didn't know were missing
7th grade lunch indoors - the chaos
Test takers - moving to library
Calls to auditorium and gym
450 students in each presentation
2:24 - School dance - raucous music and gyrating middle schoolers
Wall flowers and shell-shocked onlookers
Home - drivers license - it's official (big week!)
A perfect workout - 30 minutes of positive support and coaching
Stations of the Cross with Mom and Dad and nephews
Nephews home with me
Pizza and Princess Bride - classic Friday Night!
Green Oreo Cookies and Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream for St. Patrick's Day
Bedtime - I'm exhausted.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Warming Up the Holler

This morning, I stood outside for morning duty, as usual.  7:10 our first bus arrives, and the children leap, sway, stumble, or swagger out of their giant yellow transport.

On days above 32 degrees - we stand outside.  Today, however was a brisk 25 - so I sent the students inside to stay warm before school actually started. I remained outside with another staff member, welcoming students to school and telling them where to go to stay warm.  Towards 7:30 I migrated down to the corner of the school's property where our crossing guard safely escorts our walkers across the street and towards the school.  Between the school and the street is a lovely field, often, on warmer days, used by students to toss the football or kick a soccer ball.  Today the field was covered in snow and ice - it was a veritable skating rink.

What does every middle schooler who sees this want to do?  Of course, walk across this field of ice - or the joy and fear of slip sliding around on the field.  All I could envision was a broken limb.  So, I posted myself on the school side of the field, and for the next 20 minutes I found myself hollering, "Ice - take the sidewalk!"

That which we might consider common sense, as an adult, (ie - avoid the ice field) is just a dare to a middle school student.  Having said that, the kids were very responsive to my hollering - and I quite enjoyed the opportunity to stand in the sun while hollering...with the kids' safety in mind, of course.  :)


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Agony...

She plopped the laptop onto the kitchen table.  I was washing the dishes after dinner and enjoying watching the sun gleam pink across the park behind our house.  I glanced her way - she didn't look up, but typed and entered and typed again, and entered.  Finally she sighed, and I asked, "What's up?"

"Someone heard," she whispered tersely, without lifting her eyes from the laptop.

"Heard about?" I asked.

No answer...but I knew.  I knew she was talking about her last college application.  I kept scrubbing; when I finished the dishes I carefully wiped down the counters, then returned to the sink.  The empty peanut butter jar was waiting for me, and the stress of not asking, of not saying anything pushed me to begin to rinse that sticky container.  She continued to type and enter, type and look intently at the screen.  I trembled inside.

"What's happening?" I asked casually, hands in the sudsy water.

"I can't remember my password to get into my account," she whispered, and looked at me, agony in her eyes.  "I think my account is frozen."

She got up and closed the lid on the computer.  "I'll just have to wait until tomorrow," she stated bravely, and she headed back up to her room.

Ten seconds later she cluttered down the stairs, again gripping the laptop.  "Mom," she squealed, "I think I got in! Look."  We both peered at the email that started, "Laura, you got in. Take a look at this video..." and she clicked the link.

Wordlessly we watched the beautiful faces of these young people expressing their joy at their college choice. Occasionally we looked at each other hopefully.  Finally "Take the first step, pay your deposit." rolled across the screen and we believed.

She's in - She burst into tears, and I did as well, and we wrapped our arms around each other.

Go Dukes!  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Perfect Day to Escape

I love the opportunity to read, and read, and read during the day.  It doesn't happen very often, but today's snow day was perfect for it.  After slapping the alarm and checking my messages, I rolled over for a very welcome couple more hours of sleep.  It would have been nice to know last night that we would have no school, but I was grateful for the late notice this morning!

Waking, refreshed, I grabbed my favorite weekend mug (since I drink my coffee "to go" during the week) and snuggled down in front of the fire with a brand new book from my library bag.  Knowing that the teenager wouldn't wake for hours gave me the freedom to forsake my mom duties (breakfast, dishes, laundry) and escape into the world of a young woman in Macau.

I struggle with feeling guilty for spending that much time engrossed in a book; but then I get over it and just enjoy.  


Monday, March 13, 2017

Walking in Someone Else's Shoes

While our substitute list was surprisingly short, I'm grateful to say, our admin assistants were all out this morning - and my life as an Assistant Principal went into a tailspin.  Who runs the school really? Well, we all know that the front office staff usually has the best handle on what is happening, what needs to happen, and what may happen in the near future.

This morning sick children, sick staff, and doctor's appointments meant that I was manning the front office - eek!  It's a non-stop hamster wheel in there!  Students coming late, late passes, documentation of reasons why they are late, parent phone calls regarding sick students, parent phone calls period - and me not knowing how to transfer a call, parents dropping off lunches, or cheerleading shoes, or rsvp's for the sports banquet, or chorus money, and getting the right subs in the right place, finding replacements for the subs that didn't show, finding coverage for the classrooms where no sub was put in - but there was no teacher???, cobbling together schedules for subs, printing class rosters for subs, and making sure they had plans.  Whew, that was mostly in the first hour!

The half day in the main office left me grateful for the Admin Assistants' calm, positive, and efficient handling of the situations that arise when you have 963 middle school students entering your doors every day.  Jessica, Carla, and Kesha, you were missed this morning - Please come back tomorrow!

Umm, or I'll take a snow day?  Fingers Crossed

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The End of an Era

The temperature was downright frigid, but the sun shone down on us this time.  I had a spot on the sunny side of the street for this parade, and I was prepared to enjoy the show.  After dropping our dancer off at the staging area my husband and I, clutching our coffee cups, wove through the waiting crowd to our traditional spot across from the American History Museum.  There we basked in the sun, glancing to our left every few minutes to see if the parade had started and reflecting on how much Rebecca and her friends had grown up.

As a new dance mom I was constantly trying to keep track of stuff (wigs, shoes, capes); we had our share of  (now hilarious) mishaps early on.  I'll never forget the first time she danced a parade; one of the parents came up to me at the end waving Rebecca's wig and telling me she'd help me put it on correctly the next time.  Or the time Rebecca danced in her socks because her ghillie shoes had fallen off.  I learned pretty quickly that everything needed to be strongly attached.

As an experienced dance mom, I am just a sherpa.  I carry the bags to every performance and I carry them home.  She is responsible for the makeup (thank goodness) and wig, the dress and the shoes.  Now that she is older - it is fun to just observe her in action while lugging the gear.

A transformation happens to Rebecca and her friends before an Irish Dance performance.  They usually arrive at the performance venue with hair and makeup done - wigs and tiaras attached, but dressed in sweats and jackets.  They are an interesting contrast, often drawing stares from people walking by.  After warming up, the dancers change into their full costumes - sweats and shirts are tossed aside for glittery and colorful Irish dance costumes.  Worn sneakers and Uggs are traded for taps and ghillie shoes.  The giggly girls transform into stunning and poised performers - smiling and posing for cameras and ready to perform.

Today these grown up and gorgeous girls danced Irish Jigs on a float pulled by a massive truck.  They were amazing; what a wonderful day for the last of her St. Patrick's Day Parade performances.







Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sweet Snuggles and Warm Cuddles

There is nothing that compares to the sweet snuggle of a sleepy baby.

Last night I babysat for my little sister's three delightful children.  The oldest, 5, is at the perfect age to be a helper.  During the evening she checked off the things on her mom's helpful list that we accomplished, and she orchestrated the evening's events.  "Aunt E.M.," she'd say, "now it's time to order the Chinese," or "Aunt E.M., don't you think we should play school now? I think so," and she'd nod her head with all the wisdom of her age and proceed to help me count.  

The second is almost three, and he is a constant source of surprise.  Yesterday's library trip got him a book on The Avengers - and of course we read it probably 15 times.  This morning when he woke up he asked for the book, and immediately pointed out to me the names of the characters and unique characteristics of each.  "This one is Captain America," he said proudly, and rattled off the rest.  "And, this one is Thor, Aunt E.M. - the one you like, right?"  I'm going to have to perhaps censor a little of my sidebar commentary while I read to this youngster.

The third is just 14 months, and as cute as his brother and sister with their blond hair and big eyes. He was not happy to see me yesterday afternoon, and proceeded to act "strange" for a while.  I finally won him over with organic cheddar bunnies. As the evening progressed he relaxed some, but he remained slightly unsure of who I was and what I was doing at his house.   He went down easily enough, and slept through the night.  I heard a whimper then a wail at about 5:30, waited a few minutes and he didn't fall back to sleep.  He was standing up, holding on to the side of the crib, and looking at me with hopeful eyes.  As I walked closer he wailed a little louder and held up his arms.  Ok, I thought, it's morning time.  I picked him up and he nestled his warm head into the corner of my neck and shoulder and sighed a huge sigh for such a little guy.

We climbed back into the big bed and I laid him on my chest, where he remained for the next hour, only picking up his head to look curiously at me in the dark.  I wasn't sure if he was wondering why his mommy felt different or if he was sure I wasn't mommy and wondering who I was.  Regardless, he was content to stretch out on me, and I relished the cuddle of a warm and snugly little person.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Feeling Honored

I didn't post last night - I'm feeling so guilty!  But, when the teenagers (including the college one home for spring break) hang out at the table after dinner - for two hours - you don't leave.  I just reveled in their laughter and teasing.  A lovely memento of these years.  

Tonight I was recognized for 25 years of service in my school system.  It was important to me to participate in this recognition - even though many don't participate.  Educators do not get recognized publicly very often - and I do think that it is an important rite that validates the years and the service. 

My dad's experience in the military sets a high bar for recognizing and celebrating service.  Every time he moved from one duty post to the next, or got a promotion, there was a recognition ceremony that both honored his work and celebrated his successes.  The Army also celebrated and valued the family sacrifices that are part of being in a military family.   My dad and mom, now retired, have plaques and pictures reflecting their years of service that serve as the framework for the story of my childhood.  

I don't have pictures and plaques, but I did receive a lovely pewter tray that will grace the credenza in my office as a token for my service.  And, I have years of memories of children and adults who have helped me grow as an educator and person over the last 25 year.  


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Good Advice

Instant headache boiled up under my scalp as I pulled the weights down, pinching my shoulders, working my lats.  In previous workout sessions I had just pulled through when I didn't feel good - but my trainer lectured me the last time, "Tell me when you have a negative physical response, like a headache.  I'm able to adjust your workout right then to better meet your needs."  So today, I stopped, and told Kenny.
 
As we moved from the lat machine over to the leg curl and extension machine, Kenny asked if I had eaten today - how much, and what, and how much water I'd had to drink.  "What?" he asked, surprised, "you haven't eaten since noon and it's six thirty now?  Your body needs nutrition."

Instantly, my eyes welled with tears.  It had been a long day, and I was feeling defeated.  I began the leg extensions, my least favorite exercise, ten seconds up, ten seconds down.  "Keep breathing," Kenny intoned gently.   His positive support, I think, pushed me over the edge, and the tears I had been barely holding in just poured down my cheeks.  We stopped there.

I wish I could say I cried because I had challenged myself physically and succeeded - but the reality is nothing so pleasant.  I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of situations I dealt with today, and underwhelmed by how successful I felt at handling them.  And, when the headache rushed upon me, I felt like a failure yet again.

Kenny listened empathetically as I recounted my worries - reminding me that he takes the "personal" in personal trainer very seriously.  "You have to take care of you," he advised, "Otherwise, you can't take care of anyone else."

Monday, March 6, 2017

In Search of a Slice...Here is What I Found.

Today, as I meandered through the cafeteria during sixth grade lunch, touching shoulders, saying hello, and checking to make sure everyone had gone through the line, I wondered what my Slice could be about.  So many possibilities, I thought, the weather frustrations, the upcoming St. Patty's Day parade, my favorite students...usually a topic makes itself known during the day.

While chatting with two of our custodians, one commented to me that the sixth grade seemed pretty quiet today, which was unusual after a three-day weekend.  After we adults high-fived each other, I glanced around - and sure enough they were very quiet (low roar, rather than loud).  Why?  Not altogether shocked I realized the answer quickly.

Almost all of the students that stayed in the cafeteria (rather than going outside) were attached to a device, either their school-issued iPad or a phone.  My joy over the quiet dissipated and was replaced with a feeling of discomfort.  In relaxing our rules about devices so that students can be on their devices during lunch, what problems have we created?

Would these kids never enjoy the outdoors?  The National Parks?  The amazing things to see and do that are just not the same on a device?  Would they read and enjoy books, actual books with fascinating covers and folded down corners where the person before them marked their page?  Would they explore other worlds and lives by reliving history at museums and historical sites?

So, I know (intellectually) that I went to worst case scenario in my head during this lunch period. I know, too, that there have been many unknowns in the world and we human beings have adapted to and adopted many new practices to adjust to these new things.  But I can't help but worry about how things will change.

Must be a sign of my age.  


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dream of a Day

I love a quiet Sunday.  After the hectic week and a busy Saturday, I was delighted to roll over this morning knowing that there were no demands on my time, outside of those I put on myself.  How freeing!

A trip to the grocery to gather what was needed for...
Pumpkin flavored pancakes with Sausages and fresh fruit
Eggs for protein
Orange Juice in little cups for extra vitamin C
Washing dishes while looking out the window at the bright sun
All's right with the world.

A trip to the warehouse style store allowed for some great people watching
Loved the snacks and freebies  :)
Seltzers, shampoo, cheese, lunchmeat and bread -
I think we are ready for another busy week.

Sheets and towels gathered and thrown into the laundry
Teens' laundry too!
Up and down the stairs many times
Laundry in, laundry out, fold, fold, fold
Laundry done...
What a wonderful feeling.

Next:
Family dinner with both kids
Schedules, spring breaks, calendars
Fun, then
Reading time

Dream Day!





Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Chill in the Air

For weeks I have longed for a barrage of white flakes or even enough chill in the air to be able to see my breath; instead, we have had the warmest February on record.  Today, however, Old Man Winter blew back in to Northern Virginia with morning temperatures in the 20's and us with a parade to attend.

The dancers parade in short performance dresses, with thin leather Irish dance shoes wrapped tightly around their feet.  They toughed out the pre-parade wait, socializing and huddling with their partners until their spot in the parade opened up.  Dancing down the street, their broad smiles and clenched teeth disguised their shivering.

Spectators clung to the sunny side of the street.  Children perched on curbs, covered with blankets while their grown-ups huddled behind them.  Finding no space on the bright side, I crossed to the dark side - and quickly found a lovely space to call home for the duration of the parade.  The military bands opened the parade, the Kena Shriners followed in their glittery Fez caps and tiny orange cars. The Ancient Order of the Hibernians from all over the area marched by followed by fire trucks and Irish Wolfhounds.  Soon, my Irish dancer daughter kicked and twirled by, and vigorous clapping and cheering warmed us all.

Having enjoyed today's St. Patrick's Day Parade, I am home and looking forward to curling up in front of perhaps one of our last winter fires.  I can hear in the next room that my wonderful spouse has built a snap, crackle and popping fire, and I'm headed there to thaw out my toes.


Friday, March 3, 2017

On the Road Again!

I roared out of the parking lot of school somewhat gleefully - the radio wasn't blaring yet, but when I got on the highway I was going to blast it!

I left a little early today (well, I arrived pretty early too) to pick up my oldest for his spring break. "Mom, I couldn't find a ride that worked, most left too early," and he didn't want to miss his last class of the day.  I couldn't fault him, so I volunteered to head down I 95 to pick him up.  Driving South on 95 is always risky - if it is early in the morning you will go against the commuter traffic, but if it is after 1:00 p.m. (not to mention a Friday) you are definitely going to get stuck in the Southbound commuter traffic.

Today, with the radio blasting, I struck out on 95S - at 1:45.  Things moved pretty well through the Springfield Mixing Bowl (for those of you not familiar with Northern Virginia, this is a cobweb of concrete that weaves together multiple major highways, smoothly and gracefully), and I headed toward the Occoquan River with hope in my heart.

Past Quantico the traffic slowed and I reluctantly embraced the congestion caterpillar.  You know how caterpillars pull together and then push their head forward slowly?  That is what the traffic did on I 95 S today.  We would speed up, catch up, then slow down....then speed up, catch up, then slow down.  Truly, we "inch-wormed down the highway."  (Future title of my first country song hit! Can't you hear it?)

The one benefit of the congestion caterpillar is that I'm able to really consider my fellow caterpillars on the road.  I love people watching - and driving down the highway at 25 MPH gives plenty of finger tapping, glancing to the left and right time to explore those people in the cars next to you!  There were two cars, obviously in tandem (NJ licence plates) that must have been moving.  He was driving the Uhaul and pulling a F150 behind.  The truck was loaded (even the cab) with laundry baskets and other containers full of stuff.  He, I noticed had long brown hair and a full beard.  That and the black ear expander helped me surmise that this probably wasn't a military move (the kind I'm most familiar with!)  He was trailed by a station wagon, stuffed to the gills, driven by perhaps the other half of the couple.  We inched by each other, mile after mile.

I surreptitiously glanced at them (at least I hope I was) anticipating some sort of eye contact and a smile, but both were very focused on the road.  The lady occasionally sucking in puffs of what must have been an e-cigarette.  As we got closer to Fredericksburg, I noticed there was a car seat tucked into the second row of the station wagon. A blue blanket tucked around the little being safely riding sidesaddle.

What adventures I dreamt up for this little family as we crept down the highway.  What fun it was to imagine the possibilities in the anonymity of my cocoon.

Luckily, after reaching the university, my oldest was ready - bags of schoolwork and laundry tossed into the trunk - and we turned around to head North on I 95.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Year of "Lasts"

Cliche' Alert:  It's shocking how fast time flies!  But seriously - my second (and last) child's senior year began in September and at that point June seemed so far away...so many milestones and "lasts" that were yet to come.  She and I smiled at each other, anticipating these exciting events.  The cliche' is true.

Here we are, in March, and the milestones and "lasts" have begun to reflect a real sense of finality. She's enjoyed her last "First Day of School," her last Halloween at home, her last winter recital, and her last semester of school.  She has begun counting down the days until she begins her senior experience - and she's having long discussions with friends about dresses for Senior Prom and whether or not there will be a limo?  dinner?  breakfast afterwards?    

This evening she was notified of one very big "last" that will now be extra special.  Her Irish Dance Coach has let her know that she will get to ride and dance on the float during the DC St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 12th!  For the last nine years she has marched and danced down Constitution Avenue with great joy and pride.  She has also watched the beautiful, talented dancers who get selected to show their Irish dance moves on the back of the official school flatbed truck, and she has hoped to be one of them someday.  Well, she made it.   

This will be the first of the "big" lasts.  I wish I could slow down time.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Learning from our mistakes

We are reaching that time of year during which I have to work hard, like everyone else, to maintain a cool, calm approach to working in a middle school.  I consider myself pretty unflappable, but these weeks of spring - way before spring is supposed to arrive, are causing me to flap more often.  Tension and stress levels are rising, staff's last nerve is being tested by students and time demands, and the plate just keeps getting piled on.

Consequently, when a student tells me he was "just playing around" when he whacked the other guy on the back of the neck, or when another shares that she doesn't think it was dangerous to slide down the banister over a 15 foot drop onto the concrete floor, I'm having to work hard to communicate my thoughts about these actions without screaming ...."WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"

And then, I reflect back on a younger (much), less thoughtful me, responding sheepishly, "I don't know," to a frustrated parent. And the absolute certainty at that time that I didn't know why I had done what I did.

I take a deep breath and remind myself that every situation can be a learning experience - and we can and should process our way through the conflict to resolution.

When the young person leaves my office I count the days until the end of the year, and meditate for a minute on my goal:  helping young people accept responsibility for their actions and the consequences of these actions.  It's not always a slam dunk, sadly.  I've had a number of repeat offenders this year; learning from our mistakes is hard work.

Today though, one student had a victory.  Chaos occurred in yesterday's "Mardi Gras" celebration in a French class - one young person responded physically.  Today he and I spoke about the situation and he said, "I've already spoken to the other person involved, and I told him I was sorry, and I asked him to forgive me."  He looked at me from under long bangs, questioning with his eyes if that was the right thing to have done.

"Congratulations," I said - in a stunned and happy response.  "You did a fantastic job."