Friday, August 13, 2010

Five on a Friday

It's been a pretty low-key week, actually ... no summer school or professional development, so I've been just sort of enjoying the quiet (other than the road rage guy in the grocery store parking lot).

But here are five things for the week:

1. Addie flew home from visiting my sister in Maryland all by herself. She'd driven down with my mother but had a party she wanted to go to on Sunday, so she flew back all by herself. I was thrilled to see her, but I wasn't half as thrilled as Belle was.

2. Addie got a job! She's volunteering at a library, which basically means cleaning a lot of shelves, but I'm glad to see her getting a taste of helping out ... not to mention it's something to put on a resume, plus it's going to look good on her National Honor Society application.

3. Belle has been bored all week. She's spent the past six weeks attending summer camp which, even though it was only three hours a day plus a weekly all-day field trip, kept her pretty busy. She's one of those kids that never stops moving, so it's been interesting trying to accommodate her activity needs when I finally have an actual week off for the first time in forever. I think we've figured it out, though :-)

4. I brought four bags of old clothes to Goodwill today. This doesn't sound very impressive, I know, unless of course you actually know me. Packrat doesn't begin to describe it ;). Going from a four bedroom house to one tiny bedroom at my mother's house resulted in most of my clothes (and Belle's clothes--we share our tiny bedroom, although Addie has her own room)living in trash bags for the past year.

5. I'm on a wicked Ann Rule kick at the moment. She writes true crime books, which are usually not my thing (other than Helter Skelter, which is one of my all-time favorite books), but one of my friends suggested I read Everything She Ever Wanted because the main character (this passive aggressive, controlling woman who makes herself sick for attention and poisons people with arsenic) sounded a lot like my former mother-in-law. Haha, it was an accurate prediction.

So that was my week ... I probably won't have another one this quiet until next summer ;-)

Traumatized by a Nutjob in a Parking Lot

You know how sometimes the things that make you unspeakably happy, terrified beyond belief, and so angry that you don't know what to do are often lost in translation when you try to explain them? I suspect that this is going to be one of those times. It's coming off sounding stupid and maybe even a little funny when I write it down, but I will never forget how upset I was yesterday.

Okay, so I went to the grocery store yesterday afternoon to get peaches (I had a craving) and Swedish fish (because Addie had a craving). I pulled into the parking lot and noticed that it was crowded. Very crowded. It's been my observation that people (myself included) tend to drive like idiots in a parking lot, so I was automatically paying close attention.

Grocery store parking lots theoretically follow the rules of the road--namely, you're on the right side of the road, you use your blinker to let your intentions known, and so on.

I was driving down the last parking section (I'm telling you--ridiculously busy) when I passed a spot on my right that I didn't notice until I was just past it ... and there was a truck coming the other way that had his blinker on. I assumed he was going for the spot I'd driven by, so I put my left blinker on and pulled into the empty slot at the end of the row of cars.

And looked into my rearview mirror to see the truck almost hit me. Evidently his blinker was supposed to serve as fair warning that he was planning on reversing into the parking spot I pulled into ... and I guess I should have had ESP to figure that out since it was his LEFT blinker and there was an open parking spot on his LEFT as I drove past him.

It scared me a little bit, but I was like, "Eh, whatever." I mean, if I got all worked up every time there was a near fender bender in the grocery store parking lot, I'd be pretty strung out.

So I'm sitting in my car replying to an e-mail I'd gotten on my BlackBerry when all of a sudden there was this pounding on the window of my car. Like, "could-have-broken-the-glass" level pounding.

I opened my window to hear this guy scream in my face (with a spit shower, which made it somehow worse), "Didn't you see me backing up? You almost hit me!"

I was shaking and scared. "No, sir, I saw you going straight that way, and I was going straight this way, so I--"

"You stupid fucking bitch!" he roared, then marched off.

And I just went to pieces. I sat in my car and cried for probably ten minutes, then I went to a different grocery store and got a peach and candy bars for my kids (since they didn't have Swedish fish). Andy called, and I let it ring because I was so unbelievably shaken up.

The thing is, if he had came up, knocked gently on my window, and said, "You know, could you try to be a little more careful next time?", I would have been okay with it. I would have disagreed with his evident impression that every driver in America has to follow a "Yield to Blue GMC pick-up, New Hampshire license plate #147 84-- because he is the king of the road" clause that I never learned about in driver's ed, but I would have just nodded, smiled, and apologized, because that's how I roll.

I hate confrontation, and I especially hate that I can think of a million things I could have done differently after the incident was over. I should have gone into the store and talked to a manager. I should have called the police. I should have made some sarcastic, cutting remark about the clause that should clearly be taught in driver's ed.

But instead I cried like a baby.

The reasons that this affected me so viscerally:

1. The man was 10-15 years older than I am. I am still young enough (heh) that I have a certain amount of automatic respect for "my elders". The idea that someone in an age demographic that has my respect just for being in that age demographic would consider my respect so cheaply just ... traumatized me. And if I were a different kind of person, it might make me reconsider that respect that prior to this I gave 100% freely. I'm me, so of course this won't happen, but it sort of made me realize why so many people in the world are bitter, suspicious, and negative.

2. I am neither stupid nor a bitch. I know what my I.Q. is (it's in the "superior range"), I have a graduate degree, and I am a teacher. I am also in general a kind, giving, self-sacrificing person (I have my faults, but those things really are true). What right did he have to insult me using such inflammatory (and, in my case, blatantly false) words? It just made me feel like vomiting.

3. Angry, violent men turn me to Jello. I spent much of my childhood scared to death of my father's anger--just to give one example, the window of our oven was broken for quite some time because my dad got so mad that he slammed the oven door. I lived in fear of slammings, bangs, and crashes when I was a kid (the fact that I've ended up with far too many violent, angry men of my own volition is kind of a warped irony, I suppose). Anyway, that fist pounding on my window was like a time machine, and I was suddenly three years old again.

Again, I know that the true horror this was for me is cheapened by words. Sometimes this is the case ... several years ago, my brother, sister, brother-in-law, and I jumped off a moving train (yes, a real train). It's a hell of a story and I usually end up telling it to my students at one point or another (usually when I'm having them write about peer pressure) and they think it's just hysterically funny. However, I've tried to write it down probably a dozen times or so, and it just doesn't work as a written chronicle (or maybe I'm not a good enough writer, I don't know ;-)).

Anyway, that's a really weak retelling of what was probably in the top five in terms of traumatic events in my life.

I will never, ever forget it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Am Hated (And Strangely Excited About It)

I don't think most people go through life intentionally pissing others off (there are, of course, exceptions, but in general I have a pretty Pollyanna-esque view of my fellow human beings). However, I think we all do it to some degree, often by accident or by thoughtless actions that blow into drama-filled chaos or even just by a misconstrued statement.

I never thought I'd be in the position of ticking off another person so badly that she felt compelled to write an entire blog post blasting me.

I also can't believe that I'm laughing about it. I'm ridiculously sensitive (to a fault, to be completely honest), and a lot of times the tiniest bit of criticism has me virtually in tears.

I've toughened up a lot in the past year, in large part because of the divorce situation but also through working at Zelda Lily. There is a great core group of readers over there that leave thought-provoking comments taking what my colleagues and I write to a whole new level--but I have been ripped a new one on more than one occasion.

To wit:

The author here is pretending her values are absolutes that everyone should abide by, and seems outraged that there are other people don’t share her values, to the point of degrading and mocking them. Why aren’t these women allowed to like their lifetyles, exactly? Is Katie Loud going to go on a Middle East tour and tear off burkas too?

I cried when I read that comment. Bawled like a baby. And then I realized that the commenter had a point. I might feel that he misconstrued my point (the piece was an admittedly hard slam of an extremely religious website that operates under the "Husband is Master ... and Wife's Job is to Cook, Clean, and Raise Perfect Children" philosophy), but if the message I was sending was that I felt like everybody should agree with me all the time, then shame on me. You know?

So instead of flying off the handle and doing something stupidly impulsive (See? I'm getting better ;-)), I thought really hard about what was said, wrote a piece here on my personal blog explaining my frustration with the challenges of balancing feminism with religion, and resolved to be more aware of all sides of a story in the future.

In retrospect, I'm glad that that comment was made, as painful as it was for me at the time. It was a tremendous learning experience for me both as a writer and as a human being.

It has also made me able to laugh--and laugh hard--at the recent incident that's really at the heart of this post.

So back in late May/early June, when I was still a newbie at Zelda Lily, I wrote a piece about an ad featuring a bra by plus-size store Lane Bryant being refused by a couple of news networks that went on to feature ads by Victoria's Secret.

Well, evidently I really pissed somebody off ... She wrote a vitriol-filled rant against me personally and the company I work for. My words and intentions are taken completely out of context for the purpose of her piece, and for the first time I feel like I am actively hated by someone that doesn't know me from Adam.

You can read her piece here, if you're interested.

I was really angry at first, actually. Then I reread my piece almost obsessively, and I of course knew what I was trying to say so her interpretation seemed even crazier to me.

And then it occurred to me how sad it is that someone has that much hate stored up from a piece posted on June 1 to let me have it with both barrels.

Then, of course, I just laughed.

The thing is, it's fine to disagree with people. I learn a hell of a lot from people that disagree with me (or play devil's advocate) since it makes me think on so many dimensions.

What's not cool is the meanness. The comment about "Katie Loud tearing off burkas on a Middle East tour" bordered on mean, but I could see where the guy was coming from when I put it into a greater context. Ultimately, it helped me a hundred times more than a compliment would have.

I'm not being mean here. I even linked to her post so she can get page hits.

I'm not used to being hated ... and I'm kind of proud of myself for 1) not going to pieces over this, and 2) realizing that I am not the one with a problem here.

On a different note, I had one of the most traumatic events of my life happen to me today, and I'll be blogging about it tomorrow. I'm not proud of my actions (mostly because there were no actions on my part ... I was, like, the anti-feminist, ashamed as I am to admit that), and I'm still too shaken up to write about it yet.

But it's quite a story!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do Teenagers Get a Bad Rap?

I have the opportunity to interact with teenagers virtually every day. The school year goes without saying, of course, and then there's summer school. Oh, and the incidental fact that my precious Addie is about to turn sixteen.

Yeah, I guess you could say I'm kind of an expert at the adolescent beast.

When people hear that I teach high school, I inevitably get some form of, "You must be very brave." The thing is, though ... nope. It's not bravery and it's probably not stupidity or masochism or any of the other negative stereotypes tied to teenagers.

Adolescents are young adults ... they are forming their moral cores, their values and beliefs, and learning the skills--both academic and real life--that will serve as the foundation for who they will be as adults.

Honestly, it's a true honor and privilege to be a part of that.

I was reminded of the bad rap teenagers get when I took the girls school shopping at Target the other day. We got binders, looseleaf, pens, pencils, and that sort of thing for Addie, then we got Belle some clothes. Addie a few shirts. Me a couple of things. Oh, and a birthday present for a party Belle was going to later that afternoon.

Anyway, our basket was pretty full. One of those weird ingrained things my mother passed on to me is the need to watch the cashier ring everything through. I've gotten double charged for things on more than one occasion, so I always watch just to be sure. Belle was clinging to my arm, but I suddenly noticed that Addie was nowhere to be found.

"Where's your sister?" I asked Belle.

"She went running outside," she replied with a shrug.

Just then, Addie came back into the store and walked over to us. She started putting the bags into the cart, and I couldn't help noticing that she was near tears.

I waited until we got to the car before I asked what was wrong because, like me, Addie is going to cry if she's close ... and she hates crying in public.

Basically what happened was that there was a woman with four children in the next check-out line over. One of her children was in a wheelchair, and she obviously had her hands full on many levels. When she went to leave, trying to push a wheelchair, balance a toddler one a hip, and keep track of two other kids, she forgot one of her bags at the cash register.

Addie saw what had happened, told the cashier she was going to catch up to the woman, grabbed the bag, and went running after the woman. The woman was extremely appreciative for Addie's help and thanked her very much.

The Target cashier? Not so much. She basically told Addie that she was wrong to do what she did and that it was basically stealing. Even though Addie's motives were obviously pure (the cashier saw her chase down the woman in the parking lot and hand the bag over), the message that my daughter got was that she was wrong to try to help someone out ... and that she was worthy of an assumption of guilt simply because of her status as a teenager.

Now, I hate helicopter parents as much as anyone. I cannot stand it when parents have this idea that their kids will always tell them the truth and go all Mama Grizzly when told that their child cheated on a test or something.

I also have no illusions that my children are perfect. I could easily write blog posts chronicling the negative sides of both my daughters. I don't do that because it feels wrong to me, but I am not one of those "my kids are perfect" parents.

This incident just really bothered me ... mostly because it really bothered Addie. I think this was the first time that she was unfairly judged by an adult, with the irony of course being that she was going out of her way to help a poor woman who would have had a hell of a time trying to get her kids all buckled in just to have to go back into Target to get a stupid bag.

There are bad teenagers, and I won't argue that. However, there are also bad adults.

Is it fair to judge all teenagers by a stereotype that, when push comes to shove, is really pretty unfair?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Teacher Questionnaire (Yes, I Took it Seriously ... Mostly)

My school has a new principal starting this fall, and he recently mailed out a questionnaire for all teachers to fill out so he could get to know the teachers and staff. I thought this was a really neat idea, actually, so I did it right away (because I'm just that on top of things ;))

It occurred to me that, while I write a lot about thinking and family and writing and that sort of thing here, I tend to keep my life as a teacher a bit more distant. Here is a glimpse at the "teacher-me".

And just to be clear, I've changed the name of my school and the other districts I've worked at. After all, a workplace deserves a pseudonym, too.

Ahem ...

Why I am here:
I became a teacher because I love showing students how to look at the world in a big-picture kind of way. If kids are able to make connections between their own lives and, say, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I feel like I have been successful. It’s often a great challenge for students to see how virtually everything connects, that the greater the body of knowledge and thinking strategies you can amass the better off you are, but it is incredibly rewarding.

How did I get here?
Growing up, I was the one who wrote plays and organized productions featuring all of the neighborhood kids. Starting when I was in second grade, I was asked to go read to the special education class twice a week, an event I looked forward to greatly and continued doing throughout elementary school. I started babysitting at a young age and continued doing it even after I got slightly more lucrative jobs such as lifeguarding at Water Country and running birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s. This is my ninth year teaching; I spent two years in the JONES (lol) School District at the middle school level and four years in the SMITH (haha) School District. However, my two years at DOE HIGH SCHOOL have unquestionably been the most fulfilling of my career.

My education and certifications are:
B.A. in English (cum laude)from the University of New Hampshire and M.Ed. (Secondary English Education with a Reading Concentration) also from UNH. My teaching certification is Secondary English (Grades 5-12, and yes, I passed the Praxis II) although my coursework and trainings also evidently qualify me for alternative certifications ranging from Reading Specialist, Special Educator, ESOL, and some sort of computer teacher certification.

What I like most about DOE HIGH SCHOOL:
DOE HIGH SCHOOL is full of decent people, both students and adults. I can’t think of a better word than “decent”, although that seems to fall short. I liken it to my M&M theory … if I was carrying a giant bag of M&Ms down the hall at DOE and dropped it, scattering little pieces of candy everywhere, probably 95% of the school would be running to help pick them all up. This is not true of any other school I’ve worked at or volunteered in nor of any other workplace outside of education I’ve ever experienced (especially Chuck E. Cheese’s ;)).

What I would like to see improved most at DOE HIGH SCHOOL to improve student learning:
There is an unsettling sense of apathy among a large percentage of our students. Many of them do not see the value of education and will quietly and respectfully fail a class or settle for a D-. One of the greatest things I’ve seen happen is students responding to connections made with staff that have allowed faculty to personalize instruction, to put the individual needs of each child into their teaching, and to strive to intentionally create authentic learning experiences that will allow the highest level of student buy-in. I would really like to see all teachers (myself included) work more on knowing who students are, how students learn, and what we can do to ensure that every student will succeed.

Who am I outside of school:
Most importantly, I am the mother of two amazing daughters. Addie, a musician and a scholar, will be a junior at YET ANOTHER HIGH SCHOOL, and Belle, the only kid in America counting down the days until school starts, will be starting first grade. I have a part-time job as a writer for a women’s issues website, which has been a great opportunity to hone my journalism skills as well as to get my name out there (since my ultimate goal is to be a novelist … I’ve written one book and three-quarters of another, although they are sadly unpublished). I like to read and hang out at the beach in the summer (although my surfing days are unfortunately over) and ski in the winter.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Confession of the Week

Of all the toe-curling, embarrassing to admit events of the week, it is very easy to boil it down to one.

I like the Nickelodeon television show "iCarly".

There. I admitted it. I like freaking "iCarly". It makes me laugh. I'm kind of excited about upcoming episodes. And I might have sort of said to Belle today, "Come on, let's see if 'iCarly' is on".

I can't believe I just admitted this ;)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Drama at the Beach

When my grandfather took up golf as a very serious (and time consuming) hobby, he bought a summer house on the beach so that my grandmother would be busy indulging in one of her great passions (the beach in all its manifestations) so he could pursue his own. It worked out well for them--they had an incredibly loving marriage, by every account I've ever heard.

I cannot remember a summer that wasn't beach-infused. There are epic sagas of the time my father had to float my mother out of the beach house on a raft when the tide came in too quickly during a storm, tales of my first steps on the shores of the Atlantic, my sister's passion for microbiology taking early root in the tidepools of Hampton Beach. My cousins have similar memories, and I cannot express the gratitude I have for my grandfather's generosity in giving us the great gift of a house at the beach. His eight grandchildren are ocean freaks, and the mantle has been passed as Belle and my nephew Pete spent this past weekend in hard-core beach mode.

Anyway, one of the oddest perks is that our location is such that we have a view of the main road that runs from "the strip" of Hampton Beach (where it gets a little dicey and was definitely a good time when I was a late teenager but kind of makes me sick now) to the coast of Maine but also of the small side road where our house is located.

We have a screened-in porch that runs all around the front of the house. Sitting out there reading a book or with a nightcap is a little piece of heaven. And yeah, okay, one of the highlights is people watching, not gonna lie.

Belle and I went mini-golfing with Andy and his daughter one night last week. When we got back to the beach (rather late ... Andy runs on "manana time"), Addie was in freaking hysterics on the porch. I put Belle to bed then went out to see what she was giggling about.

This probably sounds sick, but it was so funny. There was a couple over on the beach having a rip roaring fight. That in and of itself isn't funny, of course, but the fact that they were obviously intoxicated and screaming things that were pretty private just made it seem like a soap opera.

"You won't even put your arm around me! I make you sick, don't I, Tony? We're alone on this romantic beach and you won't even touch me! You don't want to fuc* me! What did I ever do to you?"

And so on in that vein. The funniest part was that we actually observed the nefarious Tony staggering drunkenly up the beach path and down the street, swigging from a bottle under the streetlights. We never got a look at "Mrs. Tony", although we tried.

This probably sounds sick to you, to sit there and listen to the conversations people are having as they walk by (some CRAZY shiz ... you cannot imagine), hoping that the stupid kid who rides a skateboard without a helmet tied up to his buddy's motorcycle doesn't crash and burn (my mom has this Hippocratic responsibility to help an injured person, I guess, but she doesn't suffer fools like this lightly and wouldn't be thrilled to have to help someone hurt doing something so foolhardy), judging people based on our dogs' reaction to them (my black lab is a very good judge of character, strange as it sounds, so we always pay really close attention to who Sonja barks at), and just in general making fun of people walking by. It's kind of an art form, really.

Tonight, for example, there was a couple walking over to the beach and the guy was carrying his dog like a baby. I mean, I know there are some dogs that are kind of meant to be carried, a la Paris Hilton's Tinkerbell, but this dog was big enough that it just looked kind of ridiculous. I took a picture, but we were in the middle of dinner so by the time I grabbed my BlackBerry, they were pretty far up the beach path (it's also shot through a screen, so the quality's pretty shoddy).

I share this with you not because I want you to know how petty and twisted I am (and I'm really not ... it's just a temporary summer thing) but because I had a crazy epiphany while watching the man carrying his dog. I started wondering why he was holding the dog instead of just laughing at how stupid it looked. Was the dog sick? Very old and about to have its last jaunt on the beach before that final trip to the vet? Was it a true beach dog and as such not fond of walking on asphalt? Did the guy have some need to be carrying something due to a recent loss? Had the dog been left to him by his recently deceased mother and he was holding onto the dog so tightly because he missed his mother so much?

Yup, it struck me like a bolt of lightning that sitting at that porch for thirty-three years taking in the people walking by, questioning their motives and the tiny slice of their life I was experiencing ... well, it made me a writer.

So thank you, Papa. Thank you for this day of Belle boogie boarding with her uncle

and thank you for my writing.

They are both gifts I will cherish forever.