Saturday, September 29, 2007

Alone in a crowd~

Today while Bruce is busy, I take my camera and drive to Blue Hills Reservation. Twenty minutes away, this reserve with miles of hiking trails makes a nice Saturday afternoon jaunt.

The beautiful weather drew crowds-- families, couples holding hands, friends, and the occasional loner like myself. I don't mind being alone. I thrive on it.

I watch people, I listen, I speculate, sometimes correctly, and sometimes not. Sometimes I start up a conversation.

I decide to climb Great Blue, a hill not much more than 600 feet, but high enough to have a weather observatory on its summit, and offer a panoramic view of the Boston skykline. I choose the red trail, rockier, steeper and more of a challenge than the green dots. I weave through the hikers and move ahead at my own pace. I'm not a meanderer.

Around a curve is a woman taking pictures of three boys. She's patient as she gets them to look at the camera. I wonder where her husband is, and think he may be just ahead. Often the men move quickly with a toddler on their shoulders while the mother herds the siblings at a slower pace.

I see her again at the summit, and later at the observatory. She's squatting in front of the boys. I'm impressed that she is taking such care with her pictures.

One of the boys makes rabbit ears behind his brother. "Oh, Tommy has such a nice smile. Why don't you smile too," she says and he drops his hand and smiles.

"So handsome," she says.

I remember how hard it was to get a picture of my three without the rabbit ears, or one with crossed eyes and his tongue stuck out, while the other two looked angelic.

Later I stand behind her as she encourages one of the boys to read information about the weather station. She's giving him all her attention.

"What grade is he in?" I ask. He looks too young to read such big words.

"Second," she says. "He's a good reader."

Then the rest of the story comes out. Two of the three boys are her neighbor's. Their father has just gone to Iraq. Her husband is also in Iraq. She is taking pictures to email to them. She has the boys for the day to give her friend a break. She plans to speak to her son's class about the war. She seems glad to talk. I'm happy to listen.

But I don't do what I want to do, which is give her a hug. I was by myself today, but she was alone in a different way. She will be alone until April, if all goes as she prays it will.
For more information about the Blue Hills Reservation click here:
Blue Hills Reservation
Wikipedia Information

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Betwixt and between~

I got some good news a couple of days ago. The Chicken Soup series is going to include an essay I wrote in their "Chicken Soup For the Empty Nester."

They asked for a brief bio-- no more than fifty words. Me in a nutshell-- the traditional paragraph written in third person where I tell about myself as if I weren't me.

Actually, I have five versions of me in my "brief bio" folder, because some publications allow more words, and each publication warrants a different style.

None of my bios would do, though. They all began: Ruth is a teacher, or, Ruth has been teaching for more than . . .

The book will be published in June 2008. I will be retired then. I need a new bio for the future. In the publishing world the future is always ahead of reality. The future is now.

I revised my bio to say: Ruth is a retired teacher . . .

No big deal. I liked the sound of it, but my subconscious had something to reveal.
I dreamt I had given birth to a baby girl. I was thrilled, but I wasn't taking care of her. I was going about my surreal dream business, leaving her in the care of others. No worries. I felt safe doing this, and thought about her often.

At some point, I asked that she be brought to me. Whoever had been taking care of her-- I don't even know-- carried her carelessly, nearly upside down, not protecting her head. She was tossed down in front of me looking nearly dead.

I began taking off layers of her clothing that were making her sweat. (It figures I'd get a baby who has hot flashes, too.) She perked right up, and became alert. I noticed how beautiful she was.
I think too much, analyze too much, my husband tells me. Just live, he says. Don't try to find a reason for everything. So I've been ignoring the odd feelings lately, the betwixt and between, neither here nor there sense. The feeling of metamorphosis, of being squeezed in a cocoon, but it's too soon to emerge. Asking the proverbial adolescent question tweaked for midlife: Not who am I? But who will I be next?

I am a teacher. I've said that for 34 years. Next year I will say, I am a retired teacher. But that's not enough. Who else will I be? My dream . . . am I pregnant with a new me?
I took a walk today, the first day of fall. Summer to fall transitions were everywhere. It was beautiful. I took comfort.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sick day~

Sick day~

I'm home from school today-- sick. I stayed home yesterday too.

I'm never sick. Hardly ever, anyway. I say that confidently, without knocking on wood. Years of teaching have given me a cast iron immune system.

While others manifest full-blown symptoms of the germ of the month, I get-- at most-- a day of feeling sluggish. I figure that's from my antibodies fighting, and winning. But barely a week into the school year, I've been hit by the prevailing virus.

Taking a sick day doesn't come easily to most teachers. For one thing, it's far more work preparing for a substitute than it is just to go in feeling lousy.

Plans and schedule need to be spelled out in detail. Extra work must be planned because kids tend to whip through their assignments under a sub's less demanding eye. There are loose ends to pick up when you return: work to correct, lessons to reteach because the kids say, "the sub didn't explain things good enough."

Teachers by nature tend to be a conscientious group. Getting sick isn't responsible. We're like parents; the show must go on. So when we feel the start of something, we discuss our symptoms around the copy machine.

"I have a tickle in my throat, and my stomach is kind of queasy."

"Oh, that's exactly what Ginny had last week. She was out for three days. Karen has it now."

"Really? Three days?"

"Yeah, the nurse sent home four kids from my class today. All stomach bug stuff."

"Really? I was thinking maybe I'm getting it too."

This is what we need-- the permission: "Stay home. It's better to nip it in the bud. Take care of yourself."

The call to the "substitute hot line" brings back memories of telling my mother in a croaky voice that I felt "wicked sick." Her response was to whip out the thermometer, shake it down, and slip it under my tongue.

No fever. I went to school.

The classroom is a caldron of germs. Kids fall like dominoes. Teachers aren't immune.

I'm thinking of moving the tissue box off my desk. I don't think it helps my cause any when students stand three feet away from where I sit, blowing their noses in my direction.

I told the students that they should blow their noses back at their own desks. "Please don't stand in front of me and blow in my face." I say it funny. I make a joke. I pantomime. They all laugh.

Later a sniffly little boy comes up for a Kleenex and . . . I end up staying home sick.
In the sick room, ten cents' worth of human understanding equals ten dollars' worth of medical science. ~Martin H. Fischer

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Thanks to him~

Welcome my son as my guest blogger. He wrote this for his freshman comp class recently. (He hates the picture.)
Thanks to Him
by David Douillette

Who does this guy think he is? I was six years old and my mom was taking me to my weekly soccer game one fall Saturday afternoon.I didn’t know anybody who lived on this side of Bridgewater, so when the man got out of the red Porsche parked on the side of the lot and started walking toward us, I had no idea who he was. Apparently my mom had told this man I had a game today and to stop by if he wanted to.

I came to see a lot of this guy I would eventually call Bruce over the next couple of weeks. I found out that my mother and he had met at the fitness center in Bridgewater and as you can probably guess, had become fond of one another. He started coming over every so often and my mother, sister, and I went over to his apartment sometimes too.

It was extremely hard on me every time I saw him and my mother do anything remotely affectionate toward one another. Whenever I saw them getting close, I would immediately leave the room. The sight of it was too much for me to handle at first.

My father had moved out of our house because of the divorce with my mother. Having another man around whom I did not trust at first was extremely difficult. This guy was a stranger to me, but the feeling of distance between us would not last very long.

If there’s one event that finally made me realize that he wasn’t “playing” father, it was one Saturday afternoon in the summer, not long after Bruce had moved in with us. My mother was out doing errands, he was mowing the lawn, and I was in the living room watching TV. Like any kid of that age, I had a vivid imagination. That Saturday afternoon, I was watching a movie that involved people climbing mountains.

I didn’t have any actual mountains in my living room to climb on. The closest thing to one was my sofa. I was climbing along the back like a cat trying not to fall down into the “valley” below, when I heard the door open. In walked Bruce who immediately saw me conquering the couch.

I didn’t have a chance. That was the first time he punished me. I got sent to my room for what seemed like forever. I was shocked when he first told me to go. He didn’t have the authority to punish me did he? I had to obey of course. I had been taught by my mother to respect my elders.

In my room I thought, I wouldn’t want my kid climbing all over the couch either. That’s when it hit me that he thought of me as his kid. Bruce could have come in and ignored me, thinking that I wasn’t his responsibility and just let my mother deal with me when she got home. He took charge and he did what he thought was right. That was the moment I knew he wasn’t “playing” father.

My mother is the strongest person I’ve ever met; and having her and Bruce in my life has molded me into the man I am today. Bruce hasn’t missed one of my sporting events since I met him. I played football, basketball, and baseball since I was ten, so to make every game isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. I’m going to be playing basketball in college and he vows to make everyone of those games as well. When we first met him he already had put his biological son through college. He was done being a father, and yet he chose to start all over again with two new kids. It’s impossible to convey how much that means to me.

There are times when a change in your lifestyle is all you need to accomplish your goals. Bruce gave me the tools that I needed. He didn’t move in with us thinking,
“I’m going to give this kid and his sister a better life.” He fell in love with a woman and just happened to get close to her two kids as well. In the process, her two kids grew fond of him too.

I will never stop loving my real father, but Bruce has made an impact on me that I will never forget. My stepfather has taught me discipline, hard work, and many other qualities that I probably don’t even realize yet. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and I thank my mother for meeting him in the first place. With him, my life changed for the better. Bruce changed the way I think; he and my mother are the most influential people in my life, and will be forever.

I hope you have someone in your life that you think of the same way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm a teacher~

I'm a teacher.

This is how I answer the "What do you do?" question.

I chose this profession when I was in first grade-- in truth because I wanted to hold the soft, white chalk, and make those magical marks on the blackboard-- they really were black in those days.

I was fascinated with the tools of the trade: the elastics worn around the wrist, the pitch pipe that hit middle C before we sang My Country 'Tis of Thee, the playground whistle, the contraption that held five pieces of chalk and drew five parallel lines all at once. The stickers. The red pens. The bulky teacher manual teachers referred to while teaching.

Teachers had a vague sense of power. Never abused, but definitive. I wanted to please them, but I also wanted that strength of presence. I wanted to sit in their basement room and listen to what they said about us while we played at recess.

Except for a brief stage in fourth grade when I wanted to be a veterinarian, I never wavered from my goal. I commuted to the state teachers' college 18 miles away.

With my new teaching certificate, I got a job in my hometown, the same system that schooled me.

Thirty-four years later, I'm still there, although I've changed grade levels, subjects, and buildings many times. The light at the end of the corridor--retirement-- glows brighter.

As much as I've loved, still love, the profession I chose fifty years ago, I've had spells of wishing I'd challenged myself more. I'd make one heck of a lawyer-- ask my husband. I could have been a vet. I could have been most anything that didn't involve algebra.

But I became a teacher.

Today, the fifth day of the new school year was frustrating. I forget how "entry level" these new middle schoolers are, how unorganized, how needy, how young. I forget that they never have a pencil, that they forget their folders and their books, that they don't listen and then they ask me the very questions I've answered moments before.

Today as I get ready to leave school, two young ladies are waiting in the hall.

"Mrs. Douillette! Remember me?" says one. She hugs me. I do remember her. She was in my fifth grade math class. She's a junior in high school now. A beautiful girl with careful make up and jangling car keys.

She tells me what she's up to these days. We talk about the "good old days." She tells me she'd been looking for me, but had gone to my old classroom, the one she remembered.

"I wanted to see you. You are my favorite teacher," she said.

I became a teacher many years ago. I could have been most anything. But I am a teacher; I have no regrets.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Technologically challenged~ (Part 2)

My husband called from the town football field. He had to film two games today for the coach.

Problem: He'd miss the New England Patriot's game.

Solution: He'd have me record it for him.

Problem: Me.

We just got a new upgrade for the TV. Whatever we got was cheaper than whatever we had. We got added benefits, most of which I didn't pay attention to when Bruce showed me the new remote and its functions.

All I know-- because he said it so many times, interrupting my writing over and freakin' over again-- is that this new remote has an "all on" button. Push one button and the TV and the three other electronic devices under it turn on.

Bruce says to get the "quick start" card and follow the directions. He seems to have faith in me, although he does ask, "Is Joanna awake?" She's techno daughter. She's sleeping.

I follow the directions, which are so simple a six year-old could do them. At the push of the button all four things go on; red, green yellow lights wait for my next command.

I consult the DVR Quick Tip Card for "easy steps to use the features of your DVR." It can record with "just one touch of a button." I relax.

I do exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, what the directions say, but no red light appears by the selection to show it is being recorded. I shut it off. I'll start all over.

Then things get confusing.

Not all the lights go off. They should, I think. So I push another button that says power to make them go off, but it doesn't work this way. Now it says "video 1" on the screen and I have to make that go away, so I try one of the arrow buttons; it seems logical that it might revert back to the normal TV. But no, the screen becomes a blank blue color.

Damn! I hate these illogical remotes. Intuition is lost on them. They are so finicky and not at all user friendly.

Joanna wakes, and comes to assist, but not after making a few comments.

"Mom, you must have been pushing buttons again."

"No, I did exactly what it said. Exactly. I don't know why I'm . . ."

" . . . so technologically challenged," she finishes.

She does exactly what I did (minus a few extra buttons here and there), and the red light appears.

I call Bruce and tell him it's all set. It was easy I say, but for some reason it didn't work for me. Joanna set it up.

"That's because you're technologically challenged." He laughs lightly, glad to know he can come home to the game.

"I could have saved all this trouble," I say. "I could just call and tell you who wins."

"No!" he says. I won't but it is so tempting. Technology be damned!
Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. ~Aldous Huxley
Read part one in the ongoing technology series: Remote chance~

Thursday, September 6, 2007

School bells~

There is nothing like the first day of school to pump you up and exhaust you. I'm both excited about the 179 days remaining in the school year, and ready to go to bed as soon as I get home.

I got up today at 5:45, my rise-and-shine time on school days. Not shine in the traditional sense. More like rise and shower-- dully. I stood under the spray in a semi-comatose state.

I dressed, grabbed a banana, a tomato from the garden, some nonfat plain yogurt and a box of tea bags and stuffed them into my bag. I made sure I had my cell phone, and left the house, stepping over the morning paper.

The morning sky is worth getting up early for, although I never do unless I have to. Still, its beauty eased the shock of being awake hours before normal wake up time.

I turned on the car heater for my feet, which are in sandals. I opened the moon roof for the rest of me, which is in menopause. On the way home, I'll use the AC, I know. The seasons are fighting for supremacy.

The first day of school is really about the kids, my 25 that I will get to know and love during the next ten months. They are excited, but anxious.This is a new school for them.

This I know: they will like me, but mostly they want me to like them. And I will. I do already.

I can already tell who the artists are; it's apparent by the care they take on their locker decorations. The athletes move about the room with grace, and the musicians hold invisible drumsticks and tap to an inaudible beat.

There is a girl that has obvious leadership skills, who might be class president in high school if she stays on the right side of the law. She has a presence that is compelling and I need to make sure it stays positive this year.

I tell another girl, "You need to relax and let me be the teacher." She has her mind made up and even on this first day challenges what I ask of her.

I tell two boys that the "men's" room is for grown up teacher men, and that next time they have to use the boy's room.

I sent several home with their padlocks to practice the combination, because they couldn't quite open it two times in a row without help. The locks go on their lockers. They've never had lockers before, and most have never opened a padlock; considerable time is consumed getting 25 ten year-olds to follow the right-left past the first number- then right sequence.

There was nothing remotely academic about today. It was a day of setting the stage for a good year, a day of laying the foundation for what will follow, a day of easing my students into the year.

We all need this buffer zone before the rubber meets the road.

Monday, September 3, 2007

It's over~

I had my annual school starts soon dream last night.

At the end of every summer, several days before school is to resume, I have vivid dreams. This is typical, and similar to the way a pregnant woman dreams she has lost her child, or has forgotten to feed the baby who is now a parched leaf on the kitchen floor that she is sweeping out the door, all the while knowing that something is terribly wrong.

In last night's dream, I was driving my truck somewhere. Out my window I saw the most beautiful view; everything that is beautiful in nature was in the scene that unfolded as I drove: mountains, a waterfall, mist, cumulous clouds, vivid colors and pastels. Sunrays slanted across the view.

I had my camera with me and wanted to get a picture. I stepped on the brake to slow and pull off the road, but the truck didn't respond. I pushed harder, and harder on the brake pedal, nearly standing in my seat, but the truck kept barreling along.

The view grew more and more beautiful as I raced past, and I was torn between keeping my eyes on the road and staring at the beauty. I was desperate to stop and capture the most beautiful scene I'd ever witnessed.

Finally the truck began to slow, but by then the view was mostly behind me. I thought, I'll stop and get out, and walk back to take some pictures. But when the truck stopped, the sunlight had dimmed. The scene looked ordinary, and too far away. It was too late.

Ahhh, all things must end, and so my lazy summer of wandering with my camera is over. I have two days of meetings with teachers and administrators, and then the kids arrive.

The annual fall excitement fills the air. I'll adjust to a tighter schedule, setting my alarm, eating on schedule, and going to bed earlier, and I'll still travel with my camera and snap pictures of the New England autumn-- on the weekends.