Thursday, December 3, 2015

The "Wahl"flower

On the ride home from my parents' house tonight, Jeffrey and I fell into a deep conversation, or rather, I aired out all my grievances as he patiently listened while every now and then throwing in his two cents. Several times on Facebook this week, I've mentioned or hinted at how these next two weeks are some of my most stressful ones of the year, worse than spring semester even. This is the time where my grading load becomes almost unmanageable, and while ten years of teaching has shown I'll get it all done by the deadline, I never believe that I'll actually get it all done. This is the time where students show up to my office stressed out, begging for a do over, and this is the time where I have to tell them, "No," not because I don't care about them, but because I neither have the time to come up with and grade an extra credit assignment nor do I believe I would help them out in the long run by letting them have extra credit. And then it becomes the time where I feel like a complete asshole for saying "No" because it's Christmas after all, and my heart probably bleeds even redder in the excitement of the season.

That's just my work stress. I can't even go there with the children and Jeffrey's job.

This year, though, this year is particularly special. For the first time since Jeffrey and I got married, come Saturday, he will sport his tuxedo and I will wear one of those dresses that makes those swishing sounds when I walk and attend an event that benefits Jude's  Catholic school. There will be music, good food, libations, silent auctions, and...lots of people I don't know. Sounds exciting, yes, but I can't get past the part where I'm scared. My dress, a rental, (because what woman on a teacher's salary can actually afford to buy a Badgley Mischka gown), will arrive tomorrow along with its back up size, and what am I going to do if either one doesn't fit? For the last few weeks, I've pacified myself the best way I know how: with food. Seriously, every time I think about that dress, my next thought shifts to "I want a cookie." Why is that? I don't think I've ever pondered cookies so deeply as I have since the rental cost of that dress was debited from my bank account.

Then there's the people part. Don't get me wrong; everyone I've met at the school so far--teachers, staff, other parents--have all been perfectly nice. However, I just don't know them. As much as I want to get out on the dance floor and shake a tail feather or two, is that even o.k. in front of people I don't know? Plus, I usually like dancing only when I'm surrounded by my good friends. I'm not good friends with these folks, at least not yet. As far as I know, about the only thing I have in common with these folks is our shared belief in transubstantiation, but I hardly think bringing this up in conversation would earn me many new friends. It may, however, earn Jude the utterance "Explains a lot" whenever he tries to "freeze" someone with his hand or "move" them with his Magneto powers. (The kid inherited my eyes, and unfortunately, my social retardation.) So does this night promise to be full of awkward small talk, toothy smiles, and other wallflower antics? Because all of a sudden, I just want to hurl (but I won't because of what damages to that dress might cost).

There's also the setting up and getting ready for the gala. Tomorrow, Jeffrey and I will help with set up, which has actually gone on all week, though we're coming in at the tail end of it. Neither one of us know what to expect with that, and we both imagine a lot of awkward standing around figuring out how to make ourselves useful, which we agree isn't our ideal Friday night.

To say I've been on edge over this is a big fat understatement, and I imagine many would find a #firstworldproblems appropriately inserted here. The anxiety I have over this event has my emotions in complete overdrive. It's why halfway through a class of essays, tears well up in my eyes. It's why Jude has watched more television after school this week than he probably has  all year. It's why I can't muster the energy to clean up my mess from when I made potato soup last night. It's why I keep forgetting we have a faculty Christmas party at work tomorrow, and even worse, that I have forgotten that I love the faculty Christmas party. It's why I got offended over something my mother did tonight that really wasn't even a big deal. It's why I decided to write this all down because surely someone will read this and can relate.

On the ride home, as Jeffrey and I talked, it dawned on me that I wouldn't go at it alone. Jeffrey doesn't want to wear a tuxedo any more than I want to look like a busted can of biscuits in a designer gown. He would talk to me, about transubstantiation and anything else I brought up. (He will probably  still utter "Explains a lot" whenever Jude does something strange, but then again, that utterance could apply to himself just as well.) Jeffrey may even dance with me that night, though we're both fairly pitiful dancers and likely resemble the Peanuts characters in their dance scenes (though can't we just look like Johnny and Baby just once in our lives). Jeffrey doesn't realize it, but he made me feel better. Eleven and a half years of marriage and I don't just love the man, but I still really, really like him!

The party may be a lot of fun, or it may be this awkward wallflower's nightmare. However, God bestowed on me the gift of making fun of myself, so while I dread the anticipation leading up to the party, I look forward to laughing at myself afterwards.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

School Days

Jude started school about three weeks ago, just Pre-K, though. Then again, I guess Pre-K is more significant than it appears on the surface. This is Jude's first time in a structured school environment, though he's no stranger to structure itself. I had always marveled over how his baby-sitter had lunches, naps, and play time at the same times every day. Even though Jude took naturally to a solid routine, I still wondered how much a school environment would shake up his world.

For the first time, Jude has to put on a uniform, shirt tucked in. Some days, he even wears a tie.

For the first time, Jude sits in a room with thirteen other children all vying for both teachers' attention.

For the first time, Jude realizes that some children are more likeable than others, but he still loves all of them anyway.

For the first time, Jude sits quietly in daily assembly, keeps hands to himself throughout the day, speaks respectfully to his teachers and classmates or face the consequences of having is clip pulled off the behavior chart.

For the first time, Jude has a behavior chart.

For the first time, Jude eats lunch off a tray in the cafeteria.

For the first time, Jude discovers girls don't quite play the way he thinks they should.

For the first time, a teacher assesses Jude's academic abilities and motor control.

For the first time, Jude can assume titles throughout the school year, such as "Helper of the Day" or "Student of the Week." 

For the first time, Jude receives formal instruction in mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, art, music, P.E., computer, Spanish, and most importantly, his Catholic faith.

For the first time, Jude participates in after-school activities (just more art, music, and athletic stuff).

Three weeks into the school year, Jude has loved every second of all of it. He made that apparent when on the second day of school, he told me and Jeffrey that he would rather walk into the building by himself. Every afternoon when I pick him up, he comes running toward me with a big smile on his face. I know he is in good hands just like I knew he was when I would drop him by his baby-sitter's.

Jude doesn't tell us much about his school days, but his sunny disposition and willingness to go to bed by 8 every night tell me everything I need to know. He is cared for, he is safe, and he is challenged. A folder containing his assignments and behavior report comes home to us every day. He seems to follow directions well, and he's gotten stickers for behavior every day so far. Although, on one of his assignments dealing with shapes and numbers, he pasted two squares instead of four. I simply showed him the assignment without making any reference to the error, and he said, "Oh, that has two squares; I should put three and four on there." 

As far as Jude's academic abilities go, I believe he is right on par with the other children. Some things he does well, and some still need improvement. I'm o.k. with that as long as he tries. I don't send my child to school to be THE best. Instead, he goes to be HIS best. If he ends up at the top of the class as a result, that's an added bonus and an honor belonging all to him.

As far as Jude's athletic abilities go, well, let's just say HIS best probably won't ever be THE best, but as long as he enjoys himself and burns some calories, who cares?

Perhaps my favorite part of the school year so far are the moments when Jude gives me insight about the other kids in his class. He was talking about one child, a little girl, and how he didn't think he liked her. I asked him why, and he said, "I don't know. I just don't." So I asked, "Well, is she nice" to which he responded, "Yeah, she's nice" so I asked, "Is she pretty"..."Oh, she's really pretty." I then asked about other girls in his class and if he liked them and finally asked about one, we'll call her "A", and he immediately perked up, "I like 'A'!" When I asked why, he said, "'A' plays trains and stuff." And there you have it. "A" is the total package.

As it turns out, all these "firsts" for Jude are exciting for him but a little unnerving for me.
For the first time, I have truly let go of my child so he may have all of these opportunities.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Mama Taught

Warning: This post is gonna ramble! I've got much on the mind today.

Yesterday, Jude received a letter from his first school teacher welcoming him to the class and informing him of the first day of school and Back to School Day (not night--it's Catholic School. They do Back to School Day immediately following Mass on Sunday. There's a hidden meaning in that letter, too. You better have your butt in a pew before you trek up there to drop off your nap mat. Ok, ok, maybe there's no hidden meaning. That's the curse of the literary personality who reads what's there and isn't there, even in her child's pre-school welcome letter. There ought to be professional help for this.) 

I like that the teacher, a Mrs. Burns (hadn't met her yet but like her already), addressed the letter to Jude. I like how she stated the information with nursery rhyme clarity. I like that she included a fun pirate theme in her letter. I like how when I handed Jude his letter, he immediately said, "I don't like school" yet smiled so big and proud for he could not help himself.

And I like how, God willing, Jude will be a part of this school on up through sixth grade where he'll then go on to its feeder school.

I have no doubt this particular school will prepare Jude for academic success. Will he be the smartest kid in class? Will he end up the valedictorian of his senior class? Honestly, I'm not that concerned about any of that. I mean, sure it would be nice to brag on him, but his daddy and I weren't first in our classes and look how we turned out! (Shit. We're in trouble.)

Of course, as I get ready to send my first born off to a place where he'll continue and eventually conclude his childhood, I can't help but feel somewhat emotional about it. While I believe his school will provide the setting that encourages him, nurtures him, inspires him, and challenges him, I know there are lessons he'll learn that won't get taught, and those are the lessons that will stick with him. I'm not scared of what he'll learn in school; I'm scared of what can't get taught in school.

For instance, bullies...

School bullies exist. Maybe my child won't be one. (Today, at the sitter's, I heard him telling his friend, "Now, remember, we don't hit with our toys, we play with them," so I hold a little hope.)

However, one never escapes bullies. Where school bullies exist, so too do workplace bullies and bullies of other kinds. Those feelings of inadequacy a child may feel at school, well, those feelings will come back later in adulthood, and you can bet that someone will be there to remind you of them every chance he/she gets.

But hopefully, if I've done my job right, Jude will learn to not let the jerks get to him and to keep on keeping on.


I have to admit, sending my child to a private school freaks me out considering that Jude will not have the best of everything.  I don't have the financial means to provide for him all the latest gadgets and wingdings. If he wants that stuff badly, hell, he's getting a Catholic school education that could possibly prepare him for some career that pays better than a teacher's. (Although, I wouldn't oppose him going into education so long as his heart is in it.) Even though I can't get him the latest and greatest of everything and don't really want to, I know he'll see kids in his class with all the cool loot, and he might wonder, "Why can't that be me?" And then I'll go on to tell him about how the stuff doesn't define him, and it's all about his good character. He may even believe that eventually one grows out of wanting to have stuff until he realizes in his thirties that people still try to shove their fancy cars, name brand bags (well, I guess a boy wouldn't notice a bag, at least not a boy walking around with half of Jeffrey Brown's DNA), and other flashy stuff in everyone's faces.

But hopefully if I've done my job right, Jude will just view those people as slightly pathetic, maybe likable still, but pathetic all the same.


I've never been one of those "who you know" types. I know a lot of people, some of them successful. However, I don't run around any particular social circles. People don't envy me, don't really notice me even. There's actually this formal event the school hosts in December that I'm already freaking out about because I'VE NEVER BEEN TO SOMETHING LIKE THAT BEFORE! To top it off, I'll have to go in a formal dress and totally live out of my comfort zone. Seriously, I love new clothes, but formals are foreign territory for me. I never pick the right one. This upcoming event has me remembering the jr. high dance where I wore this skirt and sweater combo while all the other girls wore these sparkly puffy creations. Someone even told me, "You look like a teacher." Ouch! So, to say I'm a tad socially awkward is an understatement, and I'm afraid I may have passed that trait on to Jude. However, some kid's going to like mine because some kid liked me well enough back in the day even though I've worn the wrong thing a time or two. Jude may not become popular, but he's funny enough that some folks will like him. I'm proof of that. However, he may want to hang up the idea of becoming a status symbol. Between Jeffrey's slight geekiness and my superpower of clamming up when someone new and cool tries to speak to me, that kid's screwed.

But hopefully if I've done my job right, Jude will learn to love who he is, love and accept the friends he has, and won't even care or notice that someone cool is speaking to him.

Bullies, materialism, and status are things Jude will witness in school, but he won't really learn from them until he is older. School will teach him many things, but only I can teach him how to lessen the hold bullies, materialism, and status can have on him. None of these things ever go away, but how we handle them is within our control. That's what my Mama showed me, and that's what I'll pass on to my children.

In a few weeks, I will watch my son get out of the car and walk through the doors of the place where he will begin his academic future. I will cry, hopefully one of those pretty, sweet cries, but I may as well gear up for the snot slingin'. Jeffrey will do his thing where he becomes silent and won't look at anyone (I guess I'll drive that day). At the end of the day, we'll hug Jude tight and ask him what all he did and he'll respond in classic Jude fashion, "Nothing" leaving us to guess. And thus our new normal will begin.