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08 November 2009

Never Too Old To Be Cool in School

Friday was the last home football game for the seniors at school, and the tradition has been for the seniors to bring their home jerseys and ask one of their favorite teachers to wear them all day as a show of support. Frankly, I'd forgotten about this until a very large former student of mine, who I taught two years ago and whose girlfriend I've taught in yearbook now for three years, dropped by my room early in the morning, white and blue #82 in hand, and asked me if I'd wear it all day. My wry reaction was to ask, "Did you wash it?", but I agreed, and it fit pretty well since I had on clothing underneath it.

What I wouldn't have predicted in those first moments was how much this one little - er, big - jersey thing would make my day. After it started dawning on me how much of an honor this was (one I'd never had before), it also started dawning on me how ennobling this was, especially when everyone was making comments about it, or asking me about it, all day. Plus, a couple of other teachers were faux crabby about not being asked to wear a jersey this year, so my esteem climbed even higher, and I started standing a little straighter, chest stuck out a little more. When I had lunch duty, I purposely walked the busier routes and lingered longer at my post. When I had my planning period, I found myself inventing reasons to go walking about on small errands (to be fair, I do this on most Fridays during planning anyway). And, after school was over, when my former student came back to take some pictures with me and get his shirt back (his girlfriend, one of my all-time favorites and my son's babysitter, was just giddy about this all day), I was quite reluctant to take it off. I mean, I felt so coooool.

C.S. Lewis warned about the dangers of wanting to be in "The Inner Ring" and all the false esteem that comes with that, so I'll happily surrender the mantle o'cool. But beyond that I won't regret indulging in my day of being a BMOC. It's not like it happened for me back when it really mattered...

And, as mentioned before, it really was a tremendous honor, one that made my day not just for vanity's sake, but for the opportunity to feel blessed.

Quick Update: She Hasn't Killed Us Yet!

After three weeks with a newborn in the house, we have been surviving quite nicely, thank you. Baby Daughter has consistently been gaining weight and consistently gets a little more aware of her surroundings, and family members. She's not overly fussy except for the usual reasons. There is really not much more to be asked for at this point (easier to speak for myself than the nurser-in-chief, of course).

The Girl has also figured out that night time is for sleeping longer hours, which in her terms means four in a row at the most, but she's ahead of where her brother was at this point. We'll chalk that up to a combination of her nature and having calmer, more experienced parents who are, frankly, too old to get as worked up about every little thing as we did eight years ago.

Another difference this time around - which makes things more difficult on a dying-to-get-out-of-the-house mom - is that our pediatrician basically doesn't want the baby going anywhere in public for as long as possible, due to our good friend the Swine. The doc is actually not freaked out about the Swine in the larger pandemic sense, but is when it comes to infants who can't take any vaccines. So, Wyfe is pretty much homebound until Thanksgiving, and yes, we're all paying the price for that (wink, wink).

17 October 2009

Living Proof

"Well now on a summer night in a dusky room
Come a little piece of the Lord's undying light
Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon
In his mother's arms it was all the beauty I could take
Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make
In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused
Searching for a little bit of God's mercy
I found living proof"

- Bruce Springsteen, "Living Proof"

Well, o.k., in her mother's arms, and it wasn't a dusky room, but a triage room (click here for the official, if only 99.9% accurate version of the incredible delivery happenings - I don't recall saying "Holy Crap", mainly because I didn't say anything!). In any case, say hello to Holland Elizabeth:

12 October 2009

The Wages of Age

I'm going to be perfectly open and honest, and perhaps not too uplifting today. But, I'm going to guess that if people were closely observing me and my reactions over the past month to questions regarding the impending birth of my daughter (impending as in, due date is Friday!), they would have noticed a certain hesitance in my voice, a certain shift in my gaze, and a dampening in the enthusiasm in my voice. Fact is, the closerwe we get to D-Day, the more nervous and weary I grow in inverse proportion.

Why? Sure, it's my nature, but I also think it really comes down to one factor: I'm eight years older than I once was.

Count out your life eight years at a time, and I bet you'll agree that at each interval you've learned (or will learn) how much more fragile everything is than you thought, how much more dangerous everything is than you thought, how much less control you have than you thought, how much less you know than you thought.

We've been through so many worrisome days and weeks since about late March that you might think these would be the salad days. We got in the new house just in time, and Mom and baby are wonderfully healthy as far as some of the best doctors in the business are concerned. But I can remember, even when taking off the rose-colored glasses of fond recollections, that eight years ago I was much more upbeat, much more enthusiastic, and almost literally had no worries about the Boy's birth. My responsibilities (at least from my earthly perspective) have increased exponentially since then, it seems. The number of hours in the day seem to have dwindled, and I don't sleep enough as it is. Our parents are older and antsier, and fretting. Unlike eight years ago, I now have other people's children to worry over in addition to my own. And like most everyone else, we wonder how secure our jobs are, or at least how much real income we'll have in the coming years. I'm not even going to go down the national security road...

Sorry, little girl. It's not your fault, but Dad's not always a little ball of sunshine.

06 October 2009

The Edge? Yeah, He Can Play!

After almost a decade of not seeing any concerts beyond the NC Symphony's children's series, I've reverted to early-20's form and have now seen (and blown lots of money on) Bruce Springsteen and U2 in the last six months. And, well, they were both more than worth it.

Look, I can get as cynical about celebrities, music stars, etc. as anyone, and the ticket prices are decadent. But for now I just want to gush a little about these guys based on the work they do on stage and in the studio.

The U2 show Saturday was the first outdoor stadium show I've seen since the late 1980's, and what a spectacle it was, with the giant stage-set of doom holding up the giant 360 degree kazillion dollar video screen. These days, the video screens have HD t.v. quality pictures, so they are really hard to take your eyes off of. When I wanted to just concentrate on the stage, I lowered my head and let the bill of my ball cap block out the screen. Just, you know, to verify that I was at a concert and not a movie.

As for the band, they were fantastic, and when there are only four band members (only three of which play instruments the whole time) in the middle of this huge stage, amidst a sea of people, there is really nowhere to hide. Really, this should have been no surprise, but watching U2 live, I realized immediately just how much rides on The Edge's guitar work. He provides every bit of melodic atmosphere that each of their songs has, almost as if his guitar is a stand-in for three or four different instruments at once. Again, no surprise, but that guy is damn good, and how often can you say a performer was better than you thought he would be?

Similarly to Bruce, U2's shows, as with the major thrust of their recording work, are life affirming. Over half the show was comprised of the three most recent albums, and anyone paying attention knows about the spiritual nature of many of these songs. However, in spite of the stage and the religious coloring of the songs, there was never a feeling of overreach on the part of the band or the audience. Instead there was just a sweet affection between the two. When Bono spoke of "issues" (and yes, it would be more than fine with me if "issues" never came up at these concerts), they involved oppression of democracy in Iran and Burma (friend Brad pointed out that Bono sounded positively forceful in defense of democracy compared to certain elected leaders we could name). So, there was minimal damage on the political front. He did give a shout out of thanks to both the Edwards and Helms families for their support of his foundation, but I think the unintended main effect of this was to completely embarrass North Carolinians of all stripes ("Oh, those political figures are/were from our state? Really? Who knew?").

Best moment of the night? There were several terrific moments, but I'll take when Bono pulled a boy, around 10 years old, up on the outer ring of the stage with him and sang "City of Blinding Lights" to him as they strolled about, like a father singing to his son. During the song's intro he found out the boy's name (Brian?), and they even went for a jog together. Imagine being 10, minding your own business, and having tens of thousands of eyes suddenly trained on you. The boy's reward? Bono took off his omnipresent sunglasses, put them on him, and gently sent him back to his parents. I'm an easy sucker for this stuff - anyone who's seen Bruce's shows recently knows he regularly includes kids as well, and it is great fun for me to see big rock stars, who also are quite upfront about how much they love being fathers, letting that side of them show up in performance. Second best moment? "Where The Streets Have No Name" completely blew the place up - I never would have guessed that that would have been the show-stopper, but it was.

The cherry on the top for me came at school yesterday, when a couple of my students from the spring, who remembered I was excited about getting tickets, found me to tell me they were at the show as well. They were positively beaming when I asked them how they liked it, and I remembered (with just a tinge of melancholy), that I was about their age when I first heard, and was mesmerized by, U2. Nice symmetry, huh?

22 September 2009

Quick Update

If I had any energy I'd tell you about bizarre school happenings, bizarre family happenings, 8 year-olds and baseball, yet more un-settling down in the new home due to yet more re-arranging of furniture due to yet more home improvement projects, putting together a trampoline, the 60 personal narrative papers it's taking me forever to grade (fully 54.6% of them are about grandmother deaths - perhaps we should make "Grandmother Death Essays" a genre of their own), X-Box vs. PS3 dilemmas,and the much-hyped U2 concert in less than two weeks.

But I'll save it, at least until tomorrow.

Incidentally, yes, when the time comes I promise I will blog as quickly as possible on newborn news for the benefit of my, and the Wyfe's legions of loyal readers.

However, I hope to get in a few posts before then as well... stay tuned!

07 September 2009

On "The Speech"

More from me on our big move in the next post (hopefully), but since tomorrow is the the ballyhooed presidenttial speech to school children, I thought I should oblige with a few thoughts:

1. Happily, since our lunches will be taking place during the time of the speech tomorrow, my school is recording it and "making it available" (direct quote from principal, and I'm not sure what that means) during 4th Block. Why does this make me happy? I have planning period during 4th block, so I get to avoid the issue altogether!

2. Literally, I have watched 4-5 campaign speeches, two inaguaral speeches, no press conferences, no other presidential speeches, and no state-of-the-union addresses since about 2003. That has been it for me and political speeches - I loathe them, and can catch the re-cap the next day. So under no circumstances would I be looking forward to another speech, no matter how unoffensive, from a political figure.

3. Having said that, I've been perfectly confident from the beginning that this would be an unoffensive speech, and positive in tone.

4. Still, even when I was a kid and political rancor seemed a bit milder, no one would have expected people to be enthused about a speech given by someone they didn't vote for and have no particular enthusiasm about. Just part of the deal we all have to deal with. When I heard about the speech last Thursday, I rolled my eyes, and agreed with the Wyfe that we would check off on the form sent home that it was o.k. for our son to watch it. This is the response I suspect most of my family members would have had if a form had come home about a speech Reagan was addressing to school kids: eye roll, and check "yes".

5. Much has changed since then. If Obama had decided to do this in February, say, it would have been much less of a big deal. Now he is indisputably a figure of controversy on a fairly high scale, just as Bush was before him. If Bush had decided to do this at any point after his 9/11 bump had waned away, we would have had a similar explosive reaction on the part of many who opposed him.

6. I understand , and mostly (?) still subscribe to the notion that we should respect the presidency and other elected offices no matter what. But, I'm pretty sure that the ship has sailed on that as a civic ethic that more than half the country, if that, still wants to abide by. And, given the sorry state of our political elites these days, it is harder and harder to maintain that automatic respect is completely desirable. After a while, it is almost impossible to separate the abstract offices from those who occupy them.

In addition, that ethic implies that it is good and necessary on the part of citizens to do all they can to respect someone they will often disagree with, since at some point we all have to endure having those in office that we don't support. Truly, that is how it should be. But what if the elected officials don't also extend such respect to those who disagree with them? Isn't that even more important in a democratic country? That was a complaint with the former administration, and it has already become one with the current. Brooks Brother's Brigade or Angry Mobs, anyone?

7. I know people who have decided they don't want their kids to hear the speech, not because they think it will be a controversial speech, but because they don't like the president much, and don't like the precedent set of him being beamed into classrooms. I'm not much bothered by the precedent (it's happened before, apparently?). If the president tried this even once a year after this, or Lord forbid more than that, I'm convinced even his supporters would say, "Leave the kids alone already, will you? Let them get to work."

8. I'm also not worried about teachers trying to twist this into another chance to swoon over the prez. Sure, many of them will use it as an excuse to do so, but in my observations over the years, even the kids who agree with their teachers who show political leanings in class don't really care, and those who don't agree don't have their minds changed. Rightly, the kids don't take their high school teachers seriously over this stuff, unless it somehow affected grades. It would be immeasurably better, though, if it never came up at all in the classroom.

9. While I don't think this is part of a cult-of-personality conspiracy, I do think the president and his handlers like the iconography and hero worship that the support groups and the media have fostered for lo these many months, and don't mind tapping into it a little bit. The original lesson plans that go with the speech may or may not have been part of a "tapping" effort, but they were unnecessary (not to mention lame and artless) and provided fuel for the fire. It also doesn't help the president in a situation like this that his administration has already become associated with the phrase "Don't let a good crisis go to waste" or with the book "Rules for Radicals" (now an equal-opportinity tome, I guess).

10. I despise nanny-statism, and understand sensitivity to government elitists trying to do parents' jobs for them. I've heard that objection, but it doesn't strike me as particularly relevant here because of the content. Nothing there parents can argue with, probably.

11. I have my disagreements with the president on many issues. That put aside, it seems to me the more he speaks in public, the more damage he does to himself, and the more I wonder at all the hype. Could be wrong, but I suspect the ole' cult of personality thing may not be an issue for that long. So, hey, unless it's going to do the country catastrophic damage, maybe we should encourage more of this stuff!

12. No one can better display the truism about unintended consequences than government policy makers. Someone at the White House, or the Dept. of Education (hey - quit laughing!), probably thought this would help teachers and administrators in their work, at least a little. Instead, this has just added a complication to our jobs for a day. Thanks guys!

13. When all is said and done, though, it is just one day, and this too shall pass...

24 August 2009

Cue The Long March

"There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm..."
-"The Promised Land"
Bruce Springsteen

O.k., perhaps that intro. is a bit dramatic, but we begin anew at the old school house tomorrow, and I can't imagine much more of an unsettled horizon for moi, though I hope it will be mostly positive unsettling. Still, unsettling is unsettling...

Aside from moving, birthing, and infant care issues, I have been curious and concerned for a while about the work atmosphere this year. With the combination of budget cuts, salary stagnation (actually a tiny cut), increasing student enrollment, and larger average class sizes, I expected sour attitudes from the start. But, I have to say, everyone (meaning faculty) seems much happier and settled down than they were at the beginning of last year. Maybe the tough times have given some needed perspective. Or, maybe it's just because there's not some damned election this year.

I have mostly sophomores, but one class of juniors has been added, and as usual I'm also messing around a bit with what I'm going to do so as to be more effective and, most importantly, avoid getting bored with my curriculum. The yearbook needs to make money, the students need to shut up and sit down, and I need to sleep well every night (ha!). Any questions?

By the way, yes I know The Boss is coming to Charlotte in early November, and that tickets go on sale Friday. Yes, that is two weeks after the Wyfe's due date, and a couple of months into the new steroided-up mortgage payment. Yes, the boy and I just saw him in May. And yes, like a good soldier I have ignored these realities anyway and have tried to prevail upon the fair Wyfe for permission to go. Alas, to no avail. Pretty unreasonable, wouldn't you agree? Anyone want to help argue my case?