How a Rhombus Ruined my Relaxation

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 6.02.33 AM“Mom!” I can see we’re going to have the nightly bed struggle. I just sat down, fantasizing about relaxation.

“I put you to bed, get back there.”

“But I made you a rhombus,” said Declan, extending a white rhombus of paper.

Oh, in that case, stay up all night. If I’d have known you made me a rhombus…A rhombus does not get you out of bed. A fifty, maybe, but not a rhombus.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer says.

“No,” I say, “but I made you a rhombus. Can I go now?”

I don’t think that’s an effective life strategy.

“Mom!” he says. We are having parallel conversations. I want him in bed. “I MADE you a RHOMBUS!”

“Great. I like rhombuses. Or are they rhombi? Anyway, you’re out of bed!” I refuse to be cheated out of my one hour of peace before my bedtime by an inanimate geometric shape. Moms never get peace.  The world waits for me to sit before it needs something. And if I don’t respond right away, it stares me down until I do. It’s not like I can enjoy my dinner when someone “needs juice NOW!” “Do you know where the thing is?” “Do we have any more….” “Wipe my hiney!” “I NEEEEEED YOU!!!” No. I am not getting up. Not now. Not even for a rhombus.

“It’s a rhombus. See, it’s made of two triangles.” he pointed out. That’s pretty advanced. I’m fairly impressed, to the point where I’m almost distracted from the mission. Bed.

My husband chimes in. “Yeah, he brought that to me today, and I thought, like, WTF is a rhombus? In my day we called it a diamond. We had normal shapes–triangles, squares, what’s the heck is a rhombus?” I help him out with the geometry. He’s right, though. As a high school teacher, I think it’s odd that everyone knows what a rhombus is but no one can tell time on an analog clock or remember their multiplication tables.

“Excuse me,” Declan says addressing our side conversation. “It’s not a diamond! IT’S A RHOMBUS.” he said.

“Great. Get back to bed. It’s a nice rhombus–see, no ninety degree angles. A square is a rhombus, but a rhombus is not a square.” I reiterate.

“I know.”  You KNOW? You’re in kindergarten. Tell me how this isn’t a problem.

“Time for bed. Go.” No movement. Just a study in rhombus.

“Okay, you forced me.”  I pick up my iPhone. I pretend to hit an app.


“Putting notes in this app.” I say

“What app?” he asks. Something…is…not…good.

“The punishment app. It sets an alarm and makes up a punishment. It’s not a wise idea so close to your birthday…” He believes me. I hold it up and click an imaginary something. “See, it has a scanner. It knows you’re not behaving.” That’s actually a great idea for an app. I make a note to have someone make this for me. It’ll be a killer startup. I’ll use it every day.

“Ahhhhh!!!!” He runs away.

“Hey, wait!” I say. I pick up the little white piece of paper. “You’d better take your rhombus with you.”  He snatches it from me and runs off into the sunset.

I look down at my watch.

Ten o’clock. Bedtime. No relaxing for me.

I have been….defeated.

By a rhombus.

Thank you, kindergarten teacher. Thank you.


Who’s Bringing the Ramen: Finding Your Roommate on FB

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 10.05.13 AMOne of my seniors was on Facebook. It wasn’t a big deal–it was only advisory, but still…

“No one pinged you except your mom. Get off.” I said.

“Nah, Miss, I got seven replies.”

“Wow, how many of those ‘friends’ are related to you?” I’m going to miss these seniors.

He laughed. “None. It’s for college roommates.” Sure enough, the Facebook group was University of Overpriced Class of 2017. On that feed were a bunch of almost freshmen. Next year’s cream of the crop, all looking for roommates.

“Hi, my name is XXX, I like kittens, unicorns, and American Idol. Justin Bieber’s my boy.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 10.11.02 AM“Hi, I plan to increase the per capita drug consumption of this university by 50% and get my fraternity kicked off campus by sophomore year.”

“Listen, if you plan to be my roommate, you’d BETTER DAMN WELL NOT TALK BECAUSE I’M PREMED AND I’LL BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF YOU.”

“I’m like, so fun and AWESOME, LOL. You can be my roommate.”

And the list continued. I told my senior his profile picture made him look angry. No one wants to room with “mad.” Of course no one wants to room with Bieber lovers and stoners either…

Maybe we’re all just a little challenged when it comes down to marketing ourselves and laying bare our souls.

In my day, it was different. The University gave you a roommate and you liked it. Chances were you’d go Greek and be able to move into the hall or house anyway, or you’d be too poor to live on campus and have to go off campus with the rest of the med students. You probably wouldn’t like your roommate, so asking critical questions wasn’t necessary–he or she would steal your food, smoke, bring home boyfriends or girlfriends, or play the one type of music that made you want to die.

But somehow, in the middle of the year, you’d bond over “tea,” and decide you weren’t so different after all. All for the reasonable tuition of just under a million dollars a year.

Burton Hall, University of Rochester. My room was 3rd floor on the left, behind that tree.

Burton Hall, University of Rochester. My room was 3rd floor on the left, behind that tree.

Getting into college is way different today, thanks to social media; it makes sense that finding a roommate should be done on Facebook, too. I wonder who I’d have picked if we’d had that option. Would we have had as much fun striking out to meet people at the TKE Beach Bash our first weekend on campus, or bonding with the seniors on our hall–the ones who made sure we locked our doors at night and stayed safe? Would we have rushed sororities together–even though we choose different organizations? Would we have bonded over midnight intramural floor hockey with the fraternity next door when they came up looking for the two token females necessary to enter the co-ed league?

Part of university is exploring–making those random connections and taking that class you never thought you could take–expanding horizons, finding your path, joining things, gaining perspective you can only get meeting people from all over the world.

I’ve been a bit disenchanted, as a teacher, about the cost of college. It’s difficult to rationalize recommending my students rack up a lifetime of unforgivable debt. But some of them have played their cards right and gotten someone else to foot the bill.  Watching them get ready, plan their majors, talk about their orientation dates, and now find roommates–online of all places, brings me back in time just a little bit.

To my first days at the University of Rochester so long ago. To the hall in Burton, to Delta Zeta, Gospel Choir, dining center, gym weightlifting, Tina, my roommate who disappeared off the face of the earth but I’d very much like to see again sometime, YellowJackets and Vocal Point concerts, stealing trays from the cafeteria and traying down hills in the winter, social gatherings, DJing, waitressing, Wassail, Venetian Ball, ROTC, Greek God, Greek week, foose and pool, double overloading, expanding my horizons…to the people who are still among my closest friends and the great scholars who shaped my thinking. Oh yes. And studying.

Watching my seniors get ready for life, it seems, like just yesterday, it was me.


Drive Thru Coffee’s Slow–Make It Driveby

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 12.22.40 PMI look at the clock on the odometer.

I want to stop for coffee. The drive thru is right there, beckoning. It’ll just take a minute. It’s quicker if I run in.  I look again. I’m already three minutes past my time–I’ll have to make it up on the highway. Can I make up five or six minutes? I’ll drive efficiently.

I find myself wondering how cool it would be if someone were standing outside the coffee shop at the edge of the driveway with my coffee ready. If I could just call ahead and have it balanced on a pole like the old train mail sacks waiting for a pickup.

I pass the coffee shop. If you want a cup of coffee, leave earlier, you idiot. The voice in my head chastises me. It’s tough to leave on time lately. The boy wakes up, I try to load the dishwasher, I lose my keys… I berate myself again. If you can’t leave one simple minute early, you moron, you don’t deserve another coffee. You haven’t earned it. 

I’ve got The Junes.

It happens to every teacher–The Junes.

I find myself envious of my friends in offices who can have coffee anytime they want. Heck, they can pee any time they want, too–no small thing. Regardless of whether they are a minute early. Some even have their own baristas and get lunch shipped in. I miss those days.

I don’t need a drive thru worker to stand at the edge of the road with my coffee. I’ve already had four. And I don’t deserve five. Maybe tomorrow, if I leave early.

I race toward school with a list of things in my mind: Finish copying final exams. Finish processing teacher evaluation data. Help the kid who is supposed to come during advisory. Clean the fish tank. Clean my desk… Let’s be realistic. I don’t think I’ll clean my desk. Maybe next year.
We still have so much to do. About a million safety drills. Final exam reviews. Chasing kids down for work they owe me.
End of the year. It’s coming fast. Not fast enough. And too fast all at the same time.
I’ve got The Junes. So do the kids. They started in April, though.
There’s no cure for The Junes.
Except, maybe, July.

Lies Parents Tell: Preparing for Age Six–Age of Diablo

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 6.10.49 AM

We’re watching TV. I’m writing, Declan is watching a show designed to sell stuff using anime characters pretending to fight evil. I’ve stopped arguing. For a long time, I tried to censor these screechy, annoying cartoons. I tried to keep him on the little kid channel that teaches. It’s not going to work. He’s outgrown little kid channels, and is deep into marketing TV.

“I want…” There are commercials every second. No, you cannot have that cereal which  food-colors sugar and puts it in a box. No, you can’t have that toy you’ll break or the next trend in teen-tween marketing at age five. No!  I tell him, “They’re just trying to brainwash you and steal your money. Then you won’t be able to save up for your junior bow.” He really wants this junior bow. He’s been snatching my quarters and putting them in his bank–his idea of working hard to achieve a goal, my idea of entitlement. He only needs about 600 more quarters. Life is about opportunity cost, kid. The money Uncle Sam doesn’t take is precious.

Every darned show is designed to market. As someone who enjoys the psychology of marketing, I think, “Wow, this is genius.” As a parent about to get fleeced, I think, “Evil.”

So, I make up stories. “Oh, you have to be seven to get that.” “They’re on backorder.” “They don’t make those in Rhode Island.”  On the rare occasion I step into a store with toys, I offer to “visit the toys.” I tell them they’re not for sale. So far, it’s worked, but he’s sort of smart and my powers of illusion and distraction are waning. It’s harder to make up effective lies.

As he gets older, he gets more and more stubborn. He says no. He touches my stuff. He disobeys, albeit without sophistication. “Who put this chair here and went into my baking ingredients?”

“Me! I ate all the brown sugar and those chocolate chips.” he admits. No kidding–I see the trail of spilled chips ending at his feet.

“No dessert for you today or tomorrow.” I say.

“That’s okay, I had the chocolate chips. And I hid the jelly beans. I’ll get them when I’m hungry.” No compunction. Just a statement of fact.

I am out of parenting tricks, so I say, “If you don’t start behaving like a six-year old, I will not allow you to turn six. You’ll stay five forever.” That oughta do it.

“You can’t do that. I’m going to be six on June 6th.” He is pulling out the glove. Issuing the challenge.

“I’ll FREEZE five!” He knows the concept of time. Time passes. But he also knows you can freeze shows while you do things like finish cleaning your room or go to the bathroom. Just maybe she can freeze five. Forever. I see the thought cross his little face. After all, I am magic.

“Mom! Make this domino disappear.” He likes it when I make things disappear. I’m not very good at the illusions now that he is approaching six. I try. He sees my slight of hand.

“It’s in your pocket.” It’s hard to be Criss Angel when the weather’s warm and I have no sleeves and folds.

“Listen, buddy, I have to talk to you. I’m not really magic. These are tricks.” I say.

His little eyes fill up, tears streaming down his face. Loud wailing ensued–the type reserved for the death of a dog or the loss of your favorite toy. “You….lied…to…me….” Kid, I lie all the time. It’s how parents control kids. I was about to lie again. Time to retract the remark.

“Just kidding.” While he was crying, I sat on the domino. “I am magic. I was just having a tough time because I didn’t eat enough vegetables.” He smiles.

“Vegetables help your magic?” I nod.

“That’s why we have to eat them.” I said. “Do you want some?”

“No, thank you. I ate all the chocolate chips.”

Back to square one. At least he wasn’t disappointed in me for life. He knows I’m magic.

Sometimes you just have to have a little magic. Whether you’re six or forty-two or frozen at five forever. Whether you find it in a flower, a butterfly, or you have to resort to the extremes and make dominos disappear.

I guess I can’t stop him from watching shows with more commercials than substance, saying “no,” and developing his inner resistance to parenting directives. But I can make a domino disappear now and again, tell him lies that keep the mystery of childhood alive, preparing him for a time when making up outrageous stories and consequences just won’t work. When life can get…blah.

So, today, I’ll freeze five. Tomorrow, who knows. Maybe I’ll commission battle gear and get ready for the teens.

Only time will tell.

Only One Blue Cheese? Struggles in a Small Town

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 7.53.25 AMI went to the local store for buns and blue cheese.

There was only one kind of blue cheese. My heart stopped just a little bit. I panicked and shuffled the cheeses around a bit. No Stilton, no Roquefort, no Maytag? No local vs. French dilemma? Just two choices: that industrial blue cheese in over-salted wedges wrapped in three layers of cellophane, versus the uneven crumbles in the huge oversized plastic box we Americans use to make us think we’re getting more product…drying out as I watch. They didn’t even use cheese paper.  I picture the one short use the blue cheese box will get before it starts it’s life as litter. I pick up the box and turn it over. Overpriced, as well. I’ll pay that price for a nice Stilton…but for an oversized box of drying blue cheese crumbles…Inconceivable!

I’m shopping at the local store, getting acquainted with the people in my new town. Nodding near the produce, listening to the girl at the checkout line ask every customer about Their Thing. She even recognizes me just a little bit.

“Where’s your boy?” She knows my boy turns into a dinosaur.

“I ditched him so I could get some peace.” I say.

I like the peaceful life.

I like that I don’t have a plane flying a hundred feet over my head every minute or government agencies telling me they refuse to admit to what the airport will do with the land they commandeer. And no, I can’t organize a park or community garden. It’ll just stay empty and deserted, looking like a desolate wasteland behind my house.

I like that the local school has so much involvement and so many things for my little dinosaur to join when I sort them all out, and that I’m not arguing with the school system over their regulations about what they permit parents to allow their students to eat–it’s not like I packed him bar nuts and a beer. Juice and a cookie we baked together. Lighten up. I love New School.

I like that the only time I see a police officer in the neighborhood is when I wave to the troopers at the bottom of the hill, because that’s the home of the barracks. Getting out of the city back to my husband’s hometown was nice.

I look at the blue cheese choices again. Air-dried crumbles in oversized wasteful box or over-salted inferior wedge. I pick the air-dried crumbles. I tuck aside my inner food snob for just a minute. I tell myself I’ll go into the Big City and make the cheese run sometime soon. Today, I simply need to put blue cheese on portabellas for a family picnic. Even in the country music-classic rock town, vegetarians gotta eat.

Having only one blue cheese is the price you pay for peace, tranquility, and sanity.

I guess it’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make.

Honesty Is Such A Lonely Word

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 8.05.00 AM“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” –Thomas Jefferson

I was reading a message from a friend who wants to improve his product.  I said I’d give my honest opinion. The other day, I looked at a website. I said, “Looks good–news features are solid, a little intellectual for the topic, it’s clean, designs okay.”  It seemed like there was a disconnect I couldn’t put my finger on though.

“Really?” said my friend, “You’re the only one who likes it.” Well, then, either I’m stupid or a renegade. Either could be true.

“Who’s your market?” He told me. The market wasn’t me–it was my students. I knew exactly what needed to be done. I was honest.

Honesty’s tough to get. When you have people who will be honest, it’s gold. Not simply honesty–you can get that anywhere… “Do you think I look fat?” “Yeah, actually, I saw a picture of a cow and thought of you…” “If there’s a dumber person in the universe, I haven’t met him.” Not that kind of honesty–honesty with love.

Honesty’s no good unless it comes from place in the heart and soul that makes you want to be a better human being, even while you’re having the tough conversations.

I’ve learned volumes about honesly. I was setting up this blog. None of the names worked. My friend Kamal, the author, was helping–he’s plays the “no BS card” well, so he often gets veto power somewhere in the process. It goes like this:

“I was thinking of doing…”

“No, that won’t work.”

“Oh.” Repeat convo ten times. I used to get frustrated–nearly gave up on this blog.

If you’re not going to do this right, don’t bother doing it. Quit right now!” Doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. I set up a template under cover of darkness, so I wouldn’t be caught and told “no.” I’d get it running and surprise him. Truth was, my ego was bruised. Didn’t want to hear “no” again. Even if he was right.

“Is that you following me on WordPress?” How did he catch me? “You can’t call it that. “Wittischism?” That’s no good.”

Too clever. You can’t use words no one knows. NO ONE can spell that. Don’t use double letters. Short as possible. Try again.

The arrows flew. I hung my head and slunk away. Eventually, I succeeded. I love where I am today. Honesty with love…it’s magic.

Anyone can be a critic. But “honesty with love” means you want that person to succeed. “What do you really think of this?” When I am open to that conversation, I leave the table a much better person. My work is better. I am better. I am excited to improve. It’s game changing.

We are trying to do this in education. We’re not there yet. We’re in a very destructive place. We’ve set up a system intended to open the doors to feedback and dialogue, but made it so high-stakes and data-oriented, that it’s become “subjective honesty with fear” instead of “honesty with love.”

This year, I was afraid–terrified. Bad evals based on rubric checkboxes, coming up short on goals I wasn’t quite sure how to design…I was depressed. My husband told me I needed professional help. And that I was forbidden to talk about education at home anymore. Instead of getting help, I planted vegetables. There’s no copay involved and I can eat them.

The Right Kind of Feedback Matters

The Right Kind of Feedback Matters

We can solve issues in education by using “feedback with love.” Include the voice of the students, and do the hardest thing of all–set our own egos aside, and be willing to really listen and handle the truth.

When I look at someone’s manuscript, blog, or product, I know if I say, “Yeah, it’s good,” and it’s not, they suffer down the road–their product won’t be useful and it won’t sell. All because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. That’s how it must be in education–groups of straightforward people inspiring each other to greatness. Right now, I do this with EdCamps and Twitter chats like #satchat and #edchatri,  We can do better. The technology’s there.

If we get this right in education, the paradigm shifts. Recognize everyone’s talent and promote feedback by taking away certification-ending fear. Everyone needs growth and we’re all experts in Our Thing. Put the politics aside and say, “It would be helpful if you’d…” or “Let’s try…” Game changing.

Can we think outside the box on this one?

Can we think outside the box on this one?

When fear, not love, is present, we shrivel up. Instead of seeking out others to exchange ideas, we sink further into our shell. It’s what’s happening now. It’s a place we don’t want to be.

Education needs “honesty with love.”  I asked my friend to tell me how he knows he’s a good doctor. People still get sick and injured. He’s the best. He knows. Even without a rubric.

Here’s the key: Hire good people. Treat them like they’re gold. As a business owner, this is critical. Because of this, we saw growth off the charts in one of the worst economies. We trust our stars to do their jobs with integrity and enthusiasm. The results don’t lie.

Loosening up the reins isn’t easy, but it’s the highest form of leadership. Nothing makes me work harder than when a visionary high-fives me. Nothing stifles my spirit more than micromanagement and fear. Let’s get out of the fear zone and into the vision zone in every area of our lives. It makes all the difference.

I can do better. We can do better, with a lot less effort–using honestly, openness, and feedback with love. Our results won’t lie either.


Can Too Many Veggies Kill You?

Garden partyI stop. I look around my garden, which just six weeks ago was a 44×33 section of lawn. Odd dimensions, I admit. Rusty bought a tiller for my birthday and turned over the soil. Best birthday present ever! Since moving to the sticks, every gift-giving occasion, we get a new Swamp Yankee Thing. I got him a tow bar for his birthday. He got me the tiller, I got him a trailer for the lawn tractor so he can Indy 500 around with loads of wood and leaves and stuff. He bought himself a chainsaw. My chainsaw is wimpy. We split the Jeep trailer. Now we can forage wood. By “we” I mean “he,” but I can stack it up nice and run the wood stove. I’m learning my rustic skills. I’d like to be off the grid someday. Just a bit.

Rusty is better qualified for this. His first teen job was felling trees and taking care of horses. Mine was working at a real estate agency finding house listings and spell checking ads before Google and spell check were invented. Mostly, I learned to drink coffee and call WHCN to win concert tickets back when radio stations were local and had fans. I’m not sure that prepared me for getting off the grid. 

Rusty made the mega-garden mostly to “keep (me) the hell out of the front yard.” He said I should not even think about planting a horseradish or spring onion border in his flower beds. I totally would. I don’t plant much I can’t eat. Veggies are beautiful. I’d line the sidewalks with rainbow chard and use mint as the groundcover near the road. You can’t eat portulaca. It’s not very useful. Weeds are beautiful, too. They have flowers. I’d get rid of the grass if possible. Plant the whole thing with food, with English-garden pathways. In my mind’s eye, the front yard is simply a canvas for food. In fact, many lawn weeds are edible if you just let them grow. Though the lawn’s stunning, I’m a bit sad each time Rusty outflanks weeds with chemicals, defeating the chickweed, dandelion greens, and plantain leaves that are just trying to say, “Hey, here I am, tomorrow’s salad. Celebrate me!” 

“Thanks for growing, guys, but you have been sprayed with RoundUp. I think I might grow another hand if I eat you.” I think twice. The prospect of growing another hand is actually pretty attractive to me–I’m super busy. I could take multitasking to a new level, but since the Roundup label has too many big side-effect words, like a Viagra commercial, I give up contemplating eating weeds, and go back to my birthday garden, which has way too many veggies anyway. 

I empathize with Rusty. I understand the strict warnings. Every time he turned his head in our former urban paradise, I planted something new; constructed a new raised bed. I didn’t do this to annoy him, I just saw places where vegetable plants should be. You might call that obsessive. I think it’s a metaphor for life. You see an opportunity for growth; you plant something. Plant enough seeds, and you’re guaranteed a decent harvest. He does this all the time in business and entrepreneurship, but when I do it by planting, say, seven  hundred beet seeds and carrots in cracks in the sidewalk, it’s somehow not as cool.

My friend called my garden “big ass and ugly.”  He’s forgiven. It’s either jealousy or he’s glad he doesn’t have to put up with my carrots in the sidewalk. Indeed I am going overboard. I will to eat from this garden from now to late fall. It’s already begun. Eight days of kale and spinach. Priceless.

I’ve been told document the money spent on the garden to calculate the real cost of food. That reminds me of a great book, “The $64 Tomato.” I’m sure I’d be shocked. I tell everyone I just want to enjoy the beauty of life popping up where no life had been. It’s an excuse–I’m terrified that the bottom line will officially prove I’m insane. 
Besides, I don’t want to measure everything. It would remind me of work. I feel like I exist to measure stuff. Test, assessment, goal, target, graph, pie chart…I don’t want that to be the spirit of my garden. It’s my soul.
“How will you know what you did so you can be successful next year?”  Good question. Oh, I will take notes and information. I’ll remember that my cucumbers died and I swore.  I’ll remember that my farmer told me I planted the carrots too early and I need to reseed. No need to measure. My only goal–to weed, eat, and share the deliciousness with some aphids, and maybe some of you.