Monday, May 31, 2010

The People in My Neighborhood

When we moved to our current house, we weren't so much moving to something as away. Let's just say I didn't get along with my old neighbors and leave it at that.

We expected to be happier here, but how could we have imagined this.

There's a name for neighbors like these: magic. And I hope it never ends.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Three Hour Tour

My new best friends forever, Sherry and Dallas, just bought a boat. And she's gorgeous. I felt just the slightest pang of envy when the first pictures appeared on Facebook — the beautiful vessel, the happy new owners, the promise of endless summer fun. Then yesterday, they posted pictures that told a different story. Their most recent trip to the lake was a disaster — engine malfunction, stranded for hours in the searing sun, then lost in the pouring rain. Everything that could have gone wrong did. It looked horrific.

When our mutual friend, Susan, called me early this morning, the first words out of my mouth were, "Wow, weren't you glad you didn't get invited on that trip?"

"Funny you should say that, because we're invited today!"

I was out of the shower and in the car so fast it didn't even register that they were calling for the same weather today. And why would it? It looked so pretty.

At first.

And then, well, who could have predicted this? I mean besides everyone with a TV, newspaper, radio, or computer.

It didn't just rain. Have you ever been in one of those showers where the water spigots come at you from all directions? It was that, but with a broken water heater.

We all huddled low, trying to shield ourselves from the freezing torrent. Which seemed like a good idea, until the floor got so saturated that icy streams began to flow around us. In case that wasn't quite cold enough, the sky opened up and began pelting us with ice cubes. I am not making this up.

Just then, a menacing swarm of birds appeared out of nowhere.

Okay, I am making that up.

The truth is, the weather couldn't have been worse if it tried. But the company couldn't have been better. And if they ask me to go again next weekend, rain or shine, I'm there.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Houston, we have a problem

Here's a riddle for you:

What do the Houston Chronicle and Houston Nutt have in common? As of this minute in time, they are the only things Houston that Google finds more interesting than Houston Teacher Beats Student.

Houston Teacher Beats Student!

Holy Headlines, Batman! What could be more delicious than a teacher, the epitome of noble trustworthiness, completely losing her shit on tape? We're gobbling it up, salivating all over our front row seats as a human being self-destructs before our very eyes. Boom! One minute, a highly respected and effective educator, the next minute, a horrible monster, the target of international ire and disgust.

Maybe you haven't seen the video yet. Maybe you can't bring yourself to watch, to see a child brutalized by a trusted adult. I understand. It is gut-wrenching. Don't watch if don't think you can stand it. But I hope you'll listen.

From what I've read, the victim, 13-year-old Isaiah Johnson, was making fun of a mentally challenged girl in his classroom. The girl became angry and threatened to hit him if he didn't stop. Isaiah provoked her and encouraged the fight. And the teacher, Sherri Davis, snapped. “You want to hit a girl? Hit me!” But by this point, her thought processes were choked off by rage. She was reacting, not thinking, propelled entirely by her reptilian brain—her fight or flight response.

People are quick to say that teachers should be patient, should be in control at all times. And of course, in a perfect world, that would always be the case. But Sherri Davis doesn't live in a perfect world. She lives in the real world, where real children cause real stress. And in one horrible moment, she lost her head. All logical thought was gone, replaced by irrational, animal instinct. You want to believe a teacher is immune, but we're not. Sometimes we snap.

I'm not excusing her behavior. She has been fired and justly so. A teacher has to learn coping mechanisms to handle the stress of the classroom. One teacher I know says you should always wear clothes with deep pockets, and shove your hands way down in them the minute you start to feel anger. Another uses the STAR treatment: Stop, Take a deep breath, And Relax. Jim Fay, of Love and Logic, encourages teachers to adopt a special empathy phrase to call up when blood pressure begins to rise. “Oooh, I wish you hadn't done that,” one might say to the child who is misbehaving. It's not designed to remind the student of his misdoing, but to stall the teacher (or parent) just long enough to get back into thinking mode.

But Sherri Davis wasn't thinking, and she'll pay for her one minute lapse for the rest of her life.

It bothers me to see an adult lose control in such a brutal way. It does. But what bothers me a whole lot more are the abusers who carefully choreograph their cruelty. The adults who put great thought and planning into the pain and humiliation they inflict on children. Adults like the parents, teachers and principal of Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi. Last month, they put their narrow-minded little heads together to hatch a clever plan to discriminate against a handful of students. In order to protect their children from the discomfort of interacting with the weird kids, the lesbians and the learning disabled, they staged a decoy prom for seven losers and a secret prom for everybody else, the normal kids, who will no doubt follow in their bigoted parents' footsteps, growing up to spew hate for another generation to come. Normal kids like the girl who told Constance McMillan, her lesbian classmate, “I don't know why you come to this school because no one likes your gay ass anyways.”

I'm probably in the minority, but I'll put my kid in a classroom with a teacher who would kick a bully's ass rather than kiss it any day. And I think the administrators and teachers involved in the Itawamba secret prom scandal should suffer every drop of the same shame and punishment Sherri Davis will.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Teach Your Children Well

Katie* is a perfectionist, which isn't usually much of a problem, because as luck would have it, Katie is practically perfect. She's the oldest child in my Pre-K classroom, easily ready to move on to Kindergarten where she will spend another in a certain endless progression of years at the top of her class. Her hair, yellow and sleek as corn silk, flows down her back. When she runs, I expect to see a camera crew in hot pursuit, capturing the lustrous beauty for a Baby Breck commercial. Her skin is peachy perfection and her eyes, blue as the sky. Another teacher at my school calls her Jennifer Aniston, but when I tried to find a childhood photo of Jennifer Aniston to give you an idea of Katie's beauty, turns out Jennifer Aniston was no Katie.

I like being employed, so I won't post her actual picture, but this may very well be her sister. The homely one.

Katie's special talent, as if she needs one on top of all her other natural gifts, is art. The spectrum of artistic abilities in my room ranges from mad spastic scribbling to, well, Katie. She has an unusual eye and the intense focus to stick with a project until she reaches the goal she's envisioned. Which brings us to the problem.

Katie is a perfectionist.

When Katie's hands won't produce a perfect replica of what her mind has created, she falls apart. I try to assure her that her work is wonderful and she should feel proud, but she's too busy flogging herself to hear.

This is a picture of her most recent hysteria-provoking failure.

Did I mention this is Pre-K? And this, in case you haven't seen Pre-K work lately, is AWESOME! The butterflies had just emerged in our Science Center, and I'm telling you, she nailed them. She even tried to spell it, in perfectly formed little letters. But when she was finished, she threw the paper on the floor and kicked it, crying hysterically. It wasn't good enough. She wasn't good enough.

I got my Googler warmed up and tried to see if I could find some answers to Katie's problem. Lurking in the text of the very first website, I discovered something I hadn't expected to find: myself. Each of the ten traits they listed had my name neatly typed all over them, from the tendency to be particularly self-critical to the low self-esteem to the oddly paradoxical penchant for procrastination.

It made me wonder: Am I teaching my kids more than I intend? If so, I'm sorry Katie.

*Katie is not her real name. Her real name is much more beautiful and perfectly suited to her.