Giving Her “Grit”


There is a new buzzword in the world of education, and its a real eye roller.

The word is “grit” and it means the ability to handle difficulty; to persevere, to deal with opposition. It’s actually a fabulous idea, and one that a whole lot of parents need to learn. But I guess its an eye roller because so many parents of my generation already know this stuff.

Anyway, the idea of giving a child “grit” means that as adults we step back and let the kids struggle a bit. Its the idea that unless the child has worked hard and struggled at least a little, his success won’t feel like anything much.

I agree.

I was a teacher for a long time. I raised three kids. I grew up in a family of six kids with two busy, working parents.  I know about grit.

I know that too many children are rescued by well meaning parents when their social lives run into conflict. I know that too many kids are celebrated when they haven’t actually achieved their goals. I know that stressed out families try to shield their children from any anxiety or struggle, in a misguided belief that those are dangerous emotions.

But I also know that when I was a child, I didn’t feel particularly excited to get good grades in reading or writing. Ho, hum. I could ace that stuff with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back.  But I was thrilled to get a C plus in chemistry, because THAT was some serious crap.

Grit.

Years ago my youngest son, Tim, was learning to play hockey. Early in his skating life, he came across a mean spirited, nasty coach. I remember that I picked my little boy up from practice one night. On the way home, I noticed that my 9 year old was in tears in the back seat. When I pressed him, he told me that his coach had called him a “baby” because his wrist shot was so weak. I was outraged, of course. My very best Mamma Bear self reared up to defend my cub. But he was much smarter than I was. When I expressed my outrage and told my boy that I planned to talk to the idiot coach, he said, “Don’t, Mommy.  Just let me think bad words about him in my head. Don’t talk to him.”

So I didn’t.

A few days later, my Tim came home from school, put on his skates and his hockey gloves and headed out to our backyard rink. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I kept peeking out the window at him as the afternoon wore on.  Finally, just at dark, he came in the front door.  Throwing down his gloves, my sweet little boy looked up at me and said, “There! Now I have a damned wrist shot.”

The coach never teased him again.  Grit.

Now I am taking care of my sweet baby Ellie. She is a serene, happy little thing. Up until now, she has rarely cried.

But she has suddenly hit a point in her life when she desperately wants to MOVE! She can scoot on her butt and turn herself around. She can roll over and back again.  But she can’t quite get herself propelled forward to reach her toys. She can’t yet pull herself up.

So I sit with her on the floor every day. I watch her reach for the stacking cups, and pick them up. I watch as one rolls away and I watch her struggle to stretch herself out to pull it back.  She grimaces, she groans.  Sometimes she squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her fists and howls.

I sit beside her. I tell her “Keep going.” I smile and I nod.  I say, “Ellie, you can do it!”

Sometimes she fails.  But sometimes she manages to lean herself forward so far that she is almost on her knees, and she hooks one determined finger around that errant cup and she pulls it back and picks it up.  And then I breathe a huge sigh, and I cheer her on. “You did it, honey! You got it!”

Grit.  I hope that I am giving her a sense that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to accomplish.  I hope that I am giving her, even at this tender age, the realization that she doesn’t need Nonni to do what she wants; she can do it all by herself.

I hope that I am giving her grit.

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“I got it, Nonni!”

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Have a Happy New Year, Friends!


My old self......

My old self……

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my friends and colleagues in the district where I used to teach.  I know exactly and precisely how they feel.

They feel like today is the longest of days, as each second ticks-ticks-ticks away. They feel like today is the shortest of days, as each hour speeds by.

I’m sure that they are anxious.  I can imagine the thoughts that are racing around in their heads. “Did I label all of the cubbies?”  “Did I copy the classroom scavenger hunts?”  I bet that they are double checking their work bags on and off all day, making sure that the popsicle sticks have been labelled with all of the names. Reorganizing the folders into alphabetical order.

If they are like me, they are also mentally planning what they’ll wear all week, what they will bring for lunch, maybe what easy and quick dinners they can whip up .  If they are like me at all, they are also wishing that the next two days, the days of sitting in endless meetings, would fly by so that they could get to the day when the kids arrive.

I am willing to bet that a lot of them are very sad to see the restful days of summer ending.  My colleagues with children are thinking about the fact that they will miss their time together.  They will look at their sleeping babies just a little bit longer tonight, sighing a bit and thinking forward to the next vacation.

I know that they are all a bit excited, too.  They know that every year is a new start. They have new books this year, new materials to use, new lessons to teach.  They will have some kids who will be a challenge, and some kids who will be a dream. They are determined to do their best for both.

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my friends and former colleagues.  I won’t be with them this time around.  For the first time in 21 years, I won’t be there to swap vacation stories, to hug them hello, to hand out the agendas for the staff meeting.

I won’t be there. But I’ll be thinking of them.  Wishing them all a Happy New Year!

I’ll miss them.

THAT is a mighty mouse…..


It all started at about 11 o’clock. it was the first day back after a week of school vacation.  After a week of getting up at 9 and enjoying a leisurely breakfast at 10, I had found myself swaying groggily by my bed at 5:30 AM.  I’d managed to make and drink a cup of coffee before rushing out the door to school.

By 11 AM, I had put away the “American Revolution” and taken out “Water Transformations”. I had corrected a math test, answered emails, run morning meeting, met with the Librarian, set up bins of “Memoir” books, taught a lesson in spelling, taken the kids to chorus and picked them up again.

I was starved.

I was ready to eat anything that wasn’t made of plastic.

So hungry.

I got the kids ready to start our math lesson on “Customary Units of Length” and I casually pulled open my “Snack Drawer.”  Now, this is a drawer in my teacher desk where I usually store a couple of items that just might help me make it through the day.   I usually have a roll of rice cakes, a jar of Sunbutter and a whole bunch of coffee and tea.

I have never had a problem with these items in this drawer.

Today was different, though.  I looked into the drawer as I gave the kids directions about how to convert inches into yards.  I had just remembered that the day before vacation I’d placed a plastic container of salted, spicy dried peas in my Snack Drawer.   Yum-o-rama; just what the doctor ordered!!!

I am a highly skilled, highly paid professional teacher, as many of you know.  I am fully capable of pulling out a drawer, rummaging around for my snack and sneaking a handful of deliciousness into my mouth while I coach kids on how to convert feet into miles.  So I talked about feet per mile, blah, blah, blah as I rooted around for the container of peas.

Ahhhh, there it was! My fingers felt the familiar firm plastic of the dried pea container.  As I lifted up to my desk, my slightly preoccupied brain suddenly wondered, “Why is it so light?”  I gave it a shake, but I kept on talking. “So you can see, boys and girls, that when I convert from feet into miles, I am going from a smaller unit to a larger one……”

I looked at the container, and my voice trailed off into silence.

There was one corner of the little plastic box that was completely missing.  Chewed right off the box.  There were no whole peas left inside, although there were a few pathetic bits of pea skin and salt rattling around in the bottom.

I gasped a little, and every student was suddenly actually tuned in to what I was doing.

Not wanting to upset any of my delicate charges, I dropped the chewed box into the trash and leaned forward to peer into my Snack Drawer.

It’s a little messy in there, but even so, it was pretty clear that there had been an awesome rodent party going on while I was away on vacation.

I found myself looking at the remains of shredded peas, some bits of salt, a pile of tiny yellow plastic bits that turned out to be the chewed edges of my Sunbutter jar.

There was also a prodigious amount of teeny weeny mouse poop spread all over the drawer.  They looked like the world’s smallest sausages, all carefully arranged around the bits of plastic and tiny salted pea snacks.

I looked a little bit closer.

Along with the poopie piles, there were also a whole bunch of tiny black spheres spread out in the bottom of the drawer.

What the……..????

I moved a few things around.  Nope, they didn’t get into the packet of hot chocolate.  They didn’t touch the tea.

Wait…..what’s this……?

I started to laugh, and I couldn’t stop.

I lifted up a brand new, full bag of Starbucks Espresso ground coffee.  One corner had been chewed open, and a stream of coffee was pouring out.

I had a sudden image of the poor little mice, feeling all happy and festive, partying in the drawer full of spicy peas. Feeling all Saturday Night, dancing with the lady mice and pooping up a storm. I could just see the Alpha mouse, chewing away for all he was worth at the silver wrapping on the coffee bag.

“Just you wait, ladies” I can practically hear him gloating. “You’re gonna just love what’s in this awesome shiny bag!  Smells like a human, so its gotta be gooooooood.”

I can see his sharp little teeth finally penetrating the metallic shield and his mouth filling with an unexpected and most unwelcome pile of coffee grounds.

“Gah!!!!!!!!” I can just hear him scream, as he chokes down the pile of bitter, dry coffee bean flecks. “What the hell is THIS?”

The other mice must have cracked up and pooped themselves into a real uproar as they watched him try to clear the awful pellets from his mouth.

It must have been a hoot.

I looked up at my expectant students.

“Um”, I said. “I think there may be an incredibly hyper mouse racing around in our basement today.”

Then I made them go back to converting yards into inches and vice versa.  We got through the rest of our day without any more excitement.

But I can’t get the image of that caffeine crazed mouse out of my head.

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And did I mention that there wasn’t one single nibble on the package of rice cakes?   Who knew that mice were so smart.

It’s all in how you look at it.


 

When I was a little girl, my sister and I watched a Disney movie called “Polyanna”.  In the movie, a little girl (played by Hayley Mills, how’s that for a good memory?) comes to live with a grumpy old lady.  I don’t remember much about the story, except that there was a scene where Polyanna notices a prism hanging in the old lady’s window, and makes a big deal of the beautiful rainbow and all the colors.  The old lady notices the beauty for the first time, and the two of them take apart all of her lamps and hang prisms all around the house.

Not the most subtle of metaphors, but it stuck with me.

This morning I woke up to yet another school cancellation day. I have nothing to do, having prepared my lessons and done my corrections yesterday.  I have baked brownies, made meatballs and sauce, walked the dogs, done laundry, read a kids book for the class.  I am bored. And cold. And crabby.

I want sun!  I want warm breezes!  I want to barbecue, but the grill is buried in four feet of snow.

I look out my living room window, and see nothing but white.  I’m sick of watching snow fall; its making me dizzy.  The garden fence is almost buried.  My walk is only a foot wide, with five foot walls on either side.

The window is filled with icicles, handing down from every inch of the gutter.  Sharp, jagged, icy teeth, making me shiver just looking at them.

I decided to lie down on the sofa so I could fully indulge in my misery.  I wanted to look at the icicles, those threatening, terrifying blades clustered together, reminding me that I am falling farther and farther behind in the curriculum, and that the kids will be distracted little cyclones tomorrow.  I wanted to use the image of the ever growing ice daggers to help me enhance my total crabbiness.

But guess what? When I laid myself back on the pillow and looked out the window, I found myself looking through the beautiful fused glass wind-chime that my son and his girlfriend gave me for Christmas.  All of a sudden, the icicles were shining through the brilliant colors of the glass, and the little bit of sunlight that was leaking through made them gleam like rainbows.

My plan was thwarted; my crankiness went away.

I felt like Pollyanna!

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The Sound of Elementary School


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Ah, the magical sounds of elementary school in mid-December!  Such sweet music!  Truly.

Of course, I am not always able to appreciate the subtle loveliness of children’s voices in the week before the big vacation break.  I sometimes fail to appreciate the joy that they are sharing on the first day of Hannukah and a week before Christmas.

Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, I find my own voice raised to scary levels as I desperately try to corral them long enough to walk down the hall to music.  There are moments, I must admit, when I am hard pressed to find the positives as 24 just-about-hysterical ten year olds attempt to work together to solve math problems in this sugar heightened time of year.

At times, it is all I can do to remain calm as I patiently repeat my mantra, “If you can hear my voice, clap once. If you can hear my voice, clap twice. If you can hear my voice, clap three times.”   At any other time of year, there is silence by the time I get to three.

Today I had to resort to, “If you can hear my voice, clap seventeen times and then stare at anybody who is still talking.”

Sigh.

But you know what? The joyful noise manages to penetrate through to me in spite of my hoarseness and my minor frustrations.

The joyful noise of happy, excited, well loved, well nourished children seeps into my ears and my heart and my soul, and I end my December days thinking, “I am so incredibly lucky to be here.”

Here are some of the sounds of our school in the past two days.

One of my little girls was dancing around in the meeting area, twirling and flinging her arms out with joy.  Her hair was flying, and her gorgeous turquoise eyes were gleaming. “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, she sang in a husky voice.  I was trying to gather the children for a math lesson at the time.   “Honey”, I said to her, “I can see that you’re excited for Christmas.”

“No, I’m not!” she replied as she twirled, “I’m Jewish!”

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Two little first graders were walking in from recess, holding hands.  Both were flushed with the cold, and both were singing. “On the First Day of Christmas, my chula gave to me….”  The tiny blonde waved at me with the hand that wasn’t holding her friend’s.  Her black haired, dark eyed friend grinned at me, and the song resumed, “A partridge inapin free!”

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And there is the sound of tapping, drumming, clanging, pinging that goes on all day as little restless bodies do their very best to contain their excitement and hold in the giddiness.  Tapping on the desk, drumming on the book, clanging the pen on the back of a chair.

They can’t help it.  Music is joy, and they are joyful.

Sometimes I want to smother that joy, just for a second. Just so I can get them to sit still while I hand out the math paper.

Then I think of the children in other places, where war is raging, or famine is rampant. I think of children who are sad, or scared, or lonely, or lost.

And I look out at the churning mass of December joy in front of me, and all I can do is sing.

“On the first day of Christmas, my chula gave to me…….”

Time For Some Serious Smiting


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I feel the need to write a post to God tonight. Or least a post about him. And his whereabouts.

I have been listening to the news again.  And I can’t help asking about God.

Where is He? Where the hell is He?

I’m not all that religious, really.  I don’t know if the God I am looking for is the one who was born in the manger, the guy with the long dark hair and soulful eyes. I’m not sure if the God I am waiting for is the one who Mohammed talked about, or the one who Buddha revered. I’m not sure if He’s the guy that my Jewish friends are praying to, or the one that that was once thought to live in the mountains or the God who lives in the trees.

Whatever.

I don’t have a preference, actually. I just want to see or hear from God himself.  I am in need of some Godly reassurance.

I mean, every time I read anything about God, he seems to be all about peace and harmony and forgiveness and love.  He seems to be the God of a reasonable life.

So, pardon me, but where in God’s name is God?

A bunch of psychopathic lunatics decide that, in the name of God, they will attack a school and massacre as many children as they can possibly massacre.  Seriously?  Hello, God, you out there?  You couldn’t send a lightning bolt for this?

A twisted angry man in Pennsylvania decides to get back at his ex wife by murdering her and her entire family and then killing himself for good measure?  Ah, yo?  Allah, you listening?  Where ARE you?

The world is seething with war, most of it waged in Your name.  You couldn’t make even a cameo appearance for this nonsense?

I read about the horrors that are happening in Syria, about the babies dying in droves as the men with the guns duke it out over who will control the money and the military.  I read about the actions of the twisted, demented maniacs who callously behead innocents in the name of Islam and then post the videos on YouTube.   I remember the images from Newtown.

And I can’t help but ask, Where in all of this sickness and death is the God of mercy?

Dear God/Allah/Buddah/Vishnu/Jesus/tree spirit/Zeus: if you’re out there (and believe me, I’m not saying you aren’t), can you please, please, please flex your mighty hand, and drop it with a gloriously resonant thwack onto the heads of all those who murder in your name?  I beseech, thee, O Holy Person In Charge, can you please, please, please use some of your Heavenly power to smite the living crap out of those who slaughter innocent children?  Can you please reach down from your place on the throne of eternity and squash the life out of every single human who thinks that it is acceptable to commit murder just to make a point or just to even out the pain or just to express his psychopathology?

God, you seem like a very sweet and caring soul.  Don’t you think this would be a really good time for you to part the slivery clouds and send forth your thunderous voice to the mortal souls below?

You might want to say something like this, if you get a chance to reach out to those who carry out these horrors.  You might say, “Cut the shit, all ye who act in my name. I am the God of death and pestilence and if you touch the hair of one more innocent child, I will fill your bowels with the molten lava of Vesuvius.  You commit these acts of the devil just one more time in MY name, and I will smite the crap out of every single one of you.  And I am NOT fooling around.”

I’d feel SO much better if you’d do that. Just this once.

How To Tell If You’re a Teacher


There are “teachers” and then there are TEACHERS.

I’m lucky enough to work mostly with the latter. You can tell who we are, even if you don’t know us well.  We are the ones who are up and blogging at 6AM because let’s face it, there’s no one else around to talk to and we are gulping our coffee so we can get to the 7:15 meeting.

We are the ones wearing comfortable pants because today will be one of those sitting-on-the-floor-wit- the-math-groups days and we don’t that gracefully in either a skirt or (shudder) skinny jeans.

You can tell who we are by the giant bags that we carry around, pulling our spines out of joint so we can respond to all 24 writing journals when we get home.

We have baggy eyes, and if you talk to us, you will understand why.

Sometimes we dream that we are cooking huge vats of pasta sauce and every time we turn around, another one of our students has appeared, so we just keep adding more.    Sometimes we dream that we are trying desperately to get the kids to quiet down and come with us because the room is on fire and we are the only one who sees it.

And sometimes we look all pale and puffy eyed because last night we kept dreaming of the best way to teach long division to kids who can’t recall the multiplication tables!  Over and over, dreams of singing the nines table, tapping out the eights, making posters of the sixes.  There was a grand piano in there somewhere, too, and a woman dressed in a tree costume (luckily, I don’t think it was me.)

So if you happen to see a puffy eyed, wild haired, stoop shoulder crooked old lady walking around muttering “seven times eight IS…..”, just smile at her and wish her well.

Tonight she may dream she’s fighting in the French and Indian War.

It’s time.


Yeah.

It’s time.

Time for me to think about movin’ on.  Time to think about hanging up my teacher boots and setting out on the porch with some sweet tea.

Or something.

Why am I thinking this way, you ask?  Is it the increasingly difficult children, you wonder? Is it the demanding parents, wanting ever more care for their precious offspring?  Could it be the never-ending changes in the curriculum that have me so disheartened, you ask yourselves?

Could it possibly, just possibly, be the fact that my professional license is now going to be tied to the academic success or failure of my students? Could it be the incredibly insulting and upsetting fact that my entire career may soon come to depend on the test scores of kids who don’t speak English, or who are depressed, or who have autism or cerebral palsy or psychosis? Is it the fact that I know it will be impossible for me to bring every child to the same level of skill on the same day that has me ready to throw up may hands and cry “Uncle!”?

No, my friends, no.  It is none of these terrible stressors that is making me want to cash in my pension chips and get a job at the local Subway instead.

Its this:

My commute takes me along 37 miles of highway each way.  That highway has been under construction for every minute of my 22 years of driving it.  Damn you, Barack Obama and your stupid TARPS road repairs!!!!

And it is the fact that for at least 4 weeks before the “daylight savings times” change and 4 weeks after it, I am driving directly into the gigantic fireball of the rising sun.  And I am driving on a road where every single driver, even the 98 year old blue haired lady, is determined to get to his or her destination in under 7 seconds.  They all drive as if their gas tanks are about to explode. There are usually about 4 inches  of space between one bumper and the next.  Which means that, inevitably, someone sneezes and taps his breaks which results in a chain reaction, 11 car fender bender.

Which closes the friggin’ highway.

Which means that I have to travel at 1 mile per hour for the next hour and a half.

And every single time- I mean this. I am not making this up- the guy behind me every single time that I am stuck in traffic for hours, is a major nose picker.  I look in my rearview mirror to see how close the car behind me is, and I see Mr. Baseball Cap with his forefinger up to the first knuckle.

Glerg!  I have to gasp, take a breath and fight desperately to keep my English muffin inside.

Ten seconds go by, and my eyes are drawn relentlessly to that rearview mirror again.  JEEEZ!  Now his pinky is up the other nostril, and before I can look away, he pulls it out and flicks it.

I. Am. Not. Kidding.

I have to retire.  I just have to!  I can’t take one more winter of crashes-stops-traffic jams- big bald guy with finger up his nose.

Do you think there’s an opening at Subway?

This is really scary…..


I am thinking back to Halloweens of the past. Our neighborhood was filled with children, and our kids ran among them. Halloween back then was held on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, well before the sun would set. We are a rural community, and without streetlights, it only made sense to “Trick or Treat” in the daylight.  I can remember the anticipation, the excitement, the preparations for the big event.  I can remember putting on the make up, taping up the costumes, sending them out the door into the crisp fall air to mingle with friends and neighbors.

I remember standing at the door the year that our middle child was fresh from the hospital with pneumonia and asthma.  He stood by my side, his dyed towel cape trailing down his back, as we handed out candy to the troops of kids who came by the house.

I can remember going out with my three children,  laughing and smiling at friends and neighbors. I can remember pushing a stroller around our streets with a tiny “ghost” inside.

I am remembering what it felt like when the years went by, and the town began to embrace the more typical 5-7 Trick or Treat hours of bigger places. I remember standing by the door, the big bowl of candy in my arms. I remember greeting the little ones from the street, handing them chocolate as I exclaimed with delight over every costume. I remember the grins, and the cheeky jokes. I remember the somber stares of the smallest goblins who were still not entirely sure that this whole thing was a good idea.

As the year passed by, though, the little ones in our neighborhood grew up.  They moved out and moved on.

They left Halloween behind.

It’s been years since I last had a little “Trick or Treat” called at my door.  It’s been years since I last oohed and aahed over a tiny princess in her sparkly costume.  It’s been years since we have had a real Halloween here.

I haven’t carved a pumpkin in quite a while.

Why should I?  I don’t think that it will chase away evil spirits.  There are no little hands to scoop out the seeds or light the candle.  If I buy a pumpkin now, its to make a tasty and sophisticated pumpkin soup.

I miss those days.

A long time ago, when this blog was new and I was still grieving my empty nest, I wrote a post about missing the Halloweens of the past. You can read it here, if you are so inclined. It’s called “Haunted“.

As the years went by, and I became more adjusted to my empty nest and to my role as the older lady instead of the young Mom, I learned to embrace the pleasures of being a teacher. I get to enjoy the kids, love the kids, celebrate with the kids. But I don’t have to deal with the braces, the stomach aches, the forgotten homework or the failed tests. Its really pretty sweet.

Today I dressed up as a moose (in honor of the camp song that we learned this month at Camp Merrowvista.) In an homage to our trip, my colleagues dressed as a Penguin and a Jelly Fish. The kids got the humor right away.  They sang all three Camp Songs as soon as they saw us at the door.

It was pretty hilarious to teach about the Age of Exploration while dressed as a “Great Big Moose”.  They laughed, I laughed, all was right with the world.

I went through the day today being reminded, over and over again, of what it is that makes childhood so special, so wonderful, so fleeting.  I talked about Christopher Columbus as my moose antlers bounced up and down on my head.  I watched a child in a bacon costume writing an essay on his laptop. I conferenced with a girl in a vampire costume as we edited her story.

The kids were fantastic. Funny, silly, respectful and well mannered.  I had a fabulously fun day, surrounded by happy children. I remember what it felt like to be a child in a costume. I remembered what it felt like to be the mother of a child in a costume.

Thank you to my class.  It was a fun and silly and nostalgic day for me! You make it so much fun to come to work.

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And now I must say thank you and “bear with me!” to those who are reading this little blog.  I have decided to push myself a bit (to enter my “growth zone”, in the words of my students) and to join the crazy folks of NaNoWriMo.  I have never written a novel.  I have only written a few short stories. Mostly, I write these little stream of consciousness blog posts.  But I have had a story bouncing around inside my skull for a long time now.  It needs to get out of there.  So. I will spend the next thirty days trying valiantly to put my story into 50,000 words and into a novel format.  Wish me luck. I’m sure gonna need it!

I hope to see you all on the other side of this crazy endeavor!

Muscle memory= Muscle aches


 

Late night fun.

Late night fun.

Last night I learned something very interesting.

I learned that my body can actually remember what it felt like to be ten years old.   And I learned that the morning after it has had this wonderful memory, my body can experience what it will feel like to be ninety nine.

Last night I was one of four teachers who volunteered to host a sleepover at our school. Its part of an annual auction that the parents run to raise money for the school. Its a big job, because we arrive at work at 7 AM on Friday and we stay until 8 AM on Saturday.  It can seem like a really long night, but it can also be an absolute blast.  I have only done it once before, a few years ago, and sort of decided that I was too old to participate any more.

After all, I’m pushing sixty, and out of shape.  I figured that all the twenty and thirty somethings could handle the sleepover.  My auction donation is usually something easier, like a home made dinner or a bread baking lesson.

This year year, though, they were short one chaperone, so I let myself be talked into helping out.

It was a long week, and I was tired by the time the thirteen kids arrived at 6:30 Friday evening.  I thought I’d be able to serve the pizza and then just sort of watch everybody run around for a while.

But the kids had other ideas. They decided that it would be fabulous fun to have a big game of “capture the flag” inside the building.  Now, you have to understand that our building houses two schools with over 1,000 students. It has a huge gym, a cafeteria, two music rooms, a big sprawling library and a multi-purpose room filled with tables, sinks and ovens.  At 8 pm on a spring night, as the sun set, it was a huge challenge to play “Capture the Flag” over three floors of a giant, empty building.

The kids recruited the four adults, and we broke into teams. There were dozens of complicated rules that I don’t really understand, like “No jailbreaks!”  and “Seven minutes of captivity!”  I pretended that I understood, but mostly I just rushed around with everybody else, sneaking up the back stairs, giggling as we peeked around corners and trying to tag the guys on the other team.

At first I thought I would just trail along behind, acting like the aging observer that I see myself being. But my younger colleagues were all in, racing around the empty hallways, screaming right along with the kids.  I started to get caught up in the game, especially as the night wore on, and the darkness outside made the bright lights of the building seem cozy and safe. I started to relax and I started to run.

There were moments last night when I felt like I was in a crazy surreal dream.  At one point I found myself freed from “jail” by the tag of a little boy, who then grabbed me by the hand and yelled  “run!!!”  I could feel my sneakers pounding down the hallway, but I couldn’t believe that it was really me, running full speed down the hallway past the gym.

A little bit later in the night, I found myself creeping silently down the back stairs, hoping to find the hidden “flag”.  When I stepped into the hallway, I glanced behind me. There was a player on the other team, a beautiful grinning girl, ready to tag me. Now, I know this girl very well! She’s been in my class all year and her humor and sass and vibrant personality have made her one of my absolute favorites.

But there she was, ready to tag me and send me to jail!  My heart jumped and I let out a shriek that made us both jump. Then I took off running as hard as I could, careening around the corner to my “safe” area as if the FBI was on my tail, instead of a little girl with long silky golden hair and a glorious giggle.  As I skidded to a stop, I couldn’t contain my laughter.  We stood on opposite sides of the invisible line, my student and I, face to face and laughing like fools.  “OK, that was awkward!”, she said, “I just chased my teacher down the hall!”

There were dozens of moments like that one all night.  Moments when I found myself running around like a kid, laughing out loud, trying to play with a hula-hoop, putting on sparkly nail polish, baking cookies with a bunch of girls.  Slathering on green face mask with my pal to make the kids smile.

And what I loved was that my legs remembered how to run like a maniac. My arms remembered how to pump for extra speed.  My waist even remembered how to swing a hula-hoop, although it wasn’t very successful at recreating that particular experience! We finally wound down and went to sleep around 1 AM and I sprawled on a deflating air mattress in the music room, surrounded by my friends and the sleeping children.

I woke up at 6AM with every muscle in my body screeching in protest.  No one else was awake as I slowly eased myself to my knees and then to an upright position.  I could practically hear the sound of my joints and muscles trying to unkink as I straightened my spine.  I pulled on my fuzzy red robe and stepped gently over the mounded shapes of the kids, and made my slow way up the stairs to wash up and get changed.  I planned to make a pot of strong coffee and find the ibuprofin in my desk drawer.

As I crossed the empty lobby, I thought about how great it had felt to run full speed again, even if it was only down a short hallway.  I thought about how much pure fun it was to scream with the kids in the big echoing building.

I smiled to myself as my bare feet padded through the empty darkness of the cafeteria to my classroom.