I’m Terrible…by the Numbers

I woke from a nightmare. I was taking standardized tests. I bombed. I’m glad it was a dream.

It’s standardized test season, a time that strikes more fear in the hearts of schools than a life-sized poster of the Bieber mug shot. Everyone’s defined by these numbers. The media has a frenzy like Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

We say we want schools to succeed but it’s completely untrue. Let’s be honest. We want to see blood. It’s a proven fact that Americans produce, consume, and enjoy more bad news than ever. My friend designed a blog dedicated to good news in education. She doesn’t have as many readers as a news story about drama, destruction, and gore. It’s what America wants. 

So, just to prove pundits wrong, teachers spend our valuable time compiling numbers to show our students are learning. I’ve spent an entire year this year logging numbers in spreadsheets. My husband laughs at me and calls me a bean counter. I’m a historian. I’d rather tell you the history of beans than count them–I’m not very good at that.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 6.08.26 AMAnyway, numbers can prove anything, depending on what we want them to show. 

I recently read this TechCrunch article where Facebook and Princeton duke it out using big words and math nobody can understand. Princeton intellects prove Facebook’s about to die and Facebook retaliates by showing on graphs and charts that in five years, Princeton will have no students. And it’s all “good” math.

What it shows is this–I should stop worrying about all these numbers that affect my life and start graphing. Do it in color to boot. In my first job, I prepared diagrams for arbitrations. This was before cool computer programs, so I’d sit down with rulers and colored pencils. Nobody else used colored pencils. I rarely, if ever, lost an arbitration. The key to life is colored pencils. When people see pretty things on paper, they are always predisposed to nod and say, “Yeah…” and agree. I have to make my numbers look pretty. And use colors in my graphs. 

Incidentally, this is why I spend so much time teaching my students to detect bias. 

I wish our educational system wasn’t based on testing and numbers. It’s hard to look at a student and say “Well… you look like an 85….Yes, you, indeed are a 92.” I’ve had smart students miss midterms and had to give them zeroes, as if that one grade made all the difference in their success. It does to the grade book, however. 

So, back to my nightmare. I have taken every standardized test alive. I sort of enjoy them because I didn’t grow up with video games. SATs were the nerd way of beating our friends. I enjoyed the idea that someone out there was trying to defeat me and I had to stop them. Nerd “video” games.

But I fell asleep on section three every time. The silence. The lack of communication. It was like meditation with multiple choice questions. Trivia questions. I fought sleep…then…out cold, drooling. But I always scored well. I wondered what I’d have scored if I stayed awake. 

The point is, test numbers aren’t a solid measure any more than Facebook or Princeton’s predictions. I don’t like basing graduation or teacher careers on them.

If the numbers don’t prove much to me, what does, you ask.

Vision. Creativity. The ability to work and stick with a problem until it’s solved–the recognition that learning has changed and that students have the power to blow things out of the water and follow their passions. All I do is connect it to success. I’m the guide, not Alex Trebec.  If students have those three things they are well on the road to amazing. 

In my dream, I failed the standardized test. In real life, if every adult out there took these standardized tests, I think the media would have fun. It’d show I’ve forgotten all the trivia that once made me great. Made me able to defeat tests even while half asleep. I bet we all have, but we’re still successful. I am. I do a lot, and I like the person I’ve become. 

But if you give me that test, the numbers will show you I suck. 

So today, I pause for a moment to tell students how awesome they are. “You are not defined by the numbers. You are defined by you. Do the work. Stop at nothing to keep learning things you are passionate about–for your whole entire life. Be great…No, don’t be great. Be amazing. Regardless of what the numbers told you you’d become.” 

 

 

[image: valdosta.edu]

On the Subject of Eggs, Pornos, and Tech Not Replacing Teachers

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 6.13.37 AMMy son is walking around talking to eggs. He takes one from the carton and introduces it to me. “This is my son, Steve. I’m finally a dad.” I tell him to put the egg back.

“It’s my son.”

“It’s not your son…” We argue.

“Kids come from eggs.” I don’t want to discuss this now. I want to bake cookies. I tell him to choose between his son and the cookies. I need the egg. After a heart wrenching moment, he chooses cookies.

“Goodbye, dear son. I love you. I’ll miss you.” He caresses the egg, a tear coming to his little eye. He kisses the egg goodbye.

“It is not your son.” I crack the egg.

He waves a sad little wave as the yolk membrane crushes and the egg blends into the batter. “Take care of yourself in there….”

I feel like a real jerk, making the kid kill his son so we can eat cookies…Is this what every mother chicken and cow feels before humans eat dinner?

No. He will not draw me into his insanity. It’s an egg…I wipe his tear. We make cookies. We eat cookies. A person can really question their sanity raising a six-year old. I start to see, talk to, and put plates out for imaginary friends

He takes another “son” while I’m not looking.

“Put that back before it…”

Splat.

Too late. Eggs are impossible to get off the floor. I’m unhappy. Declan’s devastated. I clean the floor and plan a funeral at the same time–good thing I baked cookies for it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 6.12.58 AMOne day, my boiled eggs went missing. “Look, Mom, twins!” I was hungry, but at least boiled eggs don’t splat all over the ground. Turns out, they crumble. “This is Steve’s heart.”

Back to cleaning floors…

I still need to eat so I attempt a frittata . As soon as the carton comes out, there’s Declan, reaching in…

“I’m having another child. I’m a good Dad.” If that were true, Steve wouldn’t be on his fourth life.

“No more children!” I say. “Dinner!” His little lip quivers. He wants to be a dad.

“But eggs are where children come from.” This question’s not new. I’ve answered it–we watched medical videos on YouTube. YouTube is where every parent turns when they don’t want to answer. If I don’t answer, he’ll just ask Siri or Google. He thinks they’re real people. I think they’re jokesters–they sometimes show inappropriate things.

When Declan has something on his mind, he’s all in. He’s focused. He gets the answer. If he’s not interested, there’s nothing I can do to keep him on task. It’s no different in my classroom. We’re so busy standardizing curricula, we don’t see the tree through the forest. Each individual tree is a beautiful thing to behold.

People ask me if technology will replace teachers. No, it won’t. Technology won’t replace teachers because not all teachers have technology that works. Mostly, it’s broken, blocked, and banned. But when it isn’t, kids still need a guide–someone to help process the information. Someone to who will clap, say “great job,” guide them to the next level, and tell them the amazing things they can be.

There are many paths to the top of the mountain. Tech allows kids to meander around looking at the flowers and trees on the way. They’re engaged. They learn. And sometimes parents get a moment of rest.

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 6.13.22 AMDeclan still wants eggs. I try something different. Plastic Easter eggs.

“Here’s your egg.” I pick a shiny blue one.

“Thanks, Mom!” He hugs the egg, “I missed you, Steve.” He turns to me. “I need four more. We’re going to school.” I get them. Soon, the egg-kids are lined up efficiently in school. Steve gets broken. I explain we can’t keep replacing Steve. Good moms and dads take care of their kids. Declan cries. I get him a new Steve.

Steve’s the troublemaker at school. He stays in for recess.  He’s a lot like his “dad.”

“Hey, Mom,” Declan says. “Kids come from eggs. Let’s watch those videos again!” We watch medical videos that speed up nine months of pregnancy. We skip the ones that show how the baby got in there and how it gets out. No pornos here! Nothing to see!

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 5.13.17 AM“Hey Mom,” he says. “Can we watch a video about how the baby gets in? And how it gets out?” Kids don’t miss a thing.

“No. And don’t ask Siri or Google.” I pick another plastic egg out of my pocket and tell him Steve’s friend is here to play.

“Come on, Steve, you can get out of time out. Hondo’s here to play…”

Steve and Hondo play, I eat my frittata sans guilt, and I hide Siri…so she can’t make trouble later on.

Using Your Head: Not the Same As Getting Hit

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.17.39 AM“You box?” asked my friend.

“Boxing” is a specific art. I can’t say I box. Do I own boxing gear? Full contact safety stuff with a gag reflex mouthpiece, “get bashed in the head” Olympic headgear, and 14-ounce gloves because I don’t need the full pound? Yes. I own boxing gear. I’m trying to give it away. I don’t need it anymore.

I sparred as full contact as I could when I was able. My opponent always survived. For me, sparring was a chance to use my head–if only to protect the wall behind me. Fixing walls is hard. If the dent’s small, it’s not so bad–just patch it up. Matching the paint is a whole different matter. It’s never exact. Bigger holes are much harder. Better to keep the wall whole or it’ll be more work for me.

I confessed I don’t “box” box. It’s an art best left for those tougher than me. I’ve knocked myself out before, I don’t need to step in a ring and let someone else do it. Good fighters get angry–fired up. I’m calm. I’d rather shake hands with someone than punch him out. Japanese sword was better for me. I still got hit in the head, but first I got to meditate.

I’ve fought in and won competitions though.  A lot of times I won because there was no one fighting in my bracket. I guess girls don’t want to stand in a square and get duke it out. I got trophies just for breathing. 19th century swordsman Yamoaka Tesshu, one of my favorites, called this “The sword of no sword.” To win a fight without fighting is the ultimate victory. He was known for stranding challengers on islands, saying, “Oh, I forgot my sword…back in a minute.” It worked pretty well for him. He lived.

When I did fight, it was all very simple. No smoke and mirrors. No “wax on-wax off.” Step back, side kick. Point.  My opponents were serious. How could something that simple cost them the match? They got mad–they were highly rated. I was not–I competed for fun. I repeated the strategy–it worked. Angle, side kick, point. Something a first-grader would do. Why does everything have to be complex? Why can’t it be fun?

Regarding real life fights, someone much older and wiser advised, “If you get into a real fight, you’ll never use this stuff anyway. Better to keep both feet on the ground. And run.” 

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.19.42 AMRun. That’s a strategy I like. It served me well in the day. I like to think mankind is good, but truth is, there are bad guys out there. I used to live in the bottom floor of a house near the psych ward, not too far from the jail in Rochester, New York. Once in a while the criminally insane waiting at the bus stop in front of my window would rattle on the front door. I learned to leave the shades open and twirl my French knife in the air. I don’t think I looked menacing, though. I think I looked equally crazy standing there in the living room hacking up an air turkey that wasn’t there. I suppose I could have glared into their souls and said, “Vegetarians–that’s how we roll,” or if I were a better actor, “I ate the last one that touched my door.”

Running’s effective when the insane finally catch up. When a guy gets out a car with no pants on–in Rochester, where the windchill is a million below rendering man’s best friend a popsicle in five seconds flat–something’s not right.  Running is nothing short of perfect.

“He who lives to run away, lives to run another day.” Tesshu had it right. No fight’s a good fight. He had wits. I had run.

I’m old now. I know the best way to deal with an opponent isn’t to avoid fighting him–it’s not to have one at all. Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. He kept his friends close and his enemies closer. If you hated Lincoln, he’d give you a job. You’d love him before long. If Lincoln were a boxer, he’d show up, touch gloves, and take you to lunch instead.

I’ve watched a lot of fights in my careers–people fighting others, fighting policy, fighting the workplace bully, and fighting themselves. I’ve been in some of those fights, and I’ve done a lot of running. I don’t like to fight and running isn’t always the right choice.

“Not fighting” doesn’t mean being a doormat, either. There’s a fine line between fighting in vain and challenging a wrong, standing up for oneself. There’s an equally subtle distinction between ignoring and outflanking. But sometimes a person has to be willing to step in the ring.  As I get older, I have few hits to the head left in me. So, I work on my strategy and try a little harder not to protect the wall.

Finding the Vegan Worcestershire Sauce

2043_AnniesNaturals_P-300x300I was at a large store. I don’t often go if I can avoid it. So many boxes, and bags, all that extra wasted packaging. I prefer to go to the farm and get a carrot. But there are some things the farm doesn’t have, like King Arthur Bread Flour and vegan Worcestershire sauce. Besides, the farm is blanketed in snow. There are no carrots in the winter, only eggs and meat. And farms don’t grow vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Even living the simple life, there are things I can’t make. I’ll never completely live the dream of ridding myself of bottles, boxes, and bags. I’m resigned to the fact that being a food extremist is just too–extreme. I’ll bring my iced tea in mason jars and get locally roasted coffee. I’ll rid myself of processed sugar and look with disdain at grocery carts filled with Captain Crunch, for a moment allowing my feeling of superiority decrease my overall daily dose of karma. Who’s better, really? I’m at the big store with everyone else hunting down a product no one can identify or spell. I have to ask a helpful employee.

“I know you probably don’t use this every day. You can make up an answer if you don’t know…” I say to the friendly employee sweeping up a mess in aisle 5,430. I phrase the question to give him an out should he not know. “Would you happen to know where I can find vegan Worcestershire sauce?”

He blinks two times. I continue, “Do you know where either the regular condiment aisle is or where the vegetarian stuff might be?” He blinks at me. He furrows his brow. Just when I think he might give me directions to the store where people like me usually go for things no one but second-generation hippies and world-saving sustainability nuts can identify, he speaks.

“Oh, I never make up answers. I always tell the truth. God will bless you that way. The truth will set you free. It’s done so for me,” he says. He pauses. Good. If anyone can guide me to the vegan Worcestershire sauce, it’s the Almighty. You might not think vegan Worcestershire sauce is worth the hunt, but it’s very helpful in soups, dressings, and stews.

“Go down this aisle. Look through these products here.” He waves his hand back and forth over the aisle. I look. “If it’s not there, check on the other side. Then follow the helpful green arrows to the next aisle. Check there…” Great. Vegan Worcestershire sauce is close by. Right around the corner. I start to thank him and go.

But he’s not done. “If it’s not there, look up. You’ll see another green arrow that’ll take you to the next aisle over. Follow that one and look on both sides until you find it. If you don’t, check the green arrow at the end of that row and then…”

Is he busting my prepackaged canned beans? He’s sending me row by row through the megastore. This happened to me once in Boston. I was running late for my sister’s concert.

“Yeah, it’s close by,” said the Bostonian. “Go to the end of the block. Take a left. Then, go to the end of that block and hang anotha left. Go down to the end-a that street. Take a left. When you get to the stop sign, take a left. You’ll be the-a.”

We did. Four lefts. A perfect block. Right back where we started. I wasn’t falling for that trick again.

I smiled and thanked him. He God blessed me, looking deep into my soul through my eyes. As quickly as if I’d never seen him, his gaze broke away. He continued sweeping aisle 5430. And just like that, the connection was broken.

I never did find the vegan Worcestershire sauce. The soups, dressings, and stews will have to do without. But I didn’t get sent down the wrong road this time–a lesson in and of itself. There are lots of things we think we need in life. Like vegan Worcestershire sauce. They’re superfluous. Clutter.

The important thing is staying on the right road, even in the face of distraction.

I succeeded. For once.

That Moment Where Kids Discover Life’s Not Magic

Declan’s six. Every time I say, “no,” which is quite often, he says, “Can I do that when I’m a teenager?”

“I’m going to watch every show when I’m a teen,” he says. No. No, you’re not.

I’ve banned cartoons with a strong correlation to acting out and one that revealed a girl’s chest hidden by blurry stars.  “HAHAHAHAHA, those were her boobs!” Inappropriate–error in supervision.

“I’m going to swear when I’m a teenager. I’ll say ‘crap and…'” I break this train of thought.

“Nope. Not gonna happen.”

“Dad swears,” he negotiates. “Brittany swears.”

“Well, you don’t.”

“I’m going to eat all the candy when I’m a teenager. Can I?” This answer’s more important than permission to say a thousand f-words. He leans in for the answer.

“I suppose. Once I ate a pound of M&M’s I bought with my babysitting money. If you earn your own money, you can buy candy.”

“I have to use my own money?” This concept is extremely disturbing. Money, you see, comes from the pockets of parents, from the magic machines we drive by, and from the card in every adult’s wallet that lets us get all the stuff we want.

“Sure. I don’t buy unhealthy food a lot. If you want it, you can work when you’re a teen. Spend your money.”

“Can I pick up my puzzles and get five dollars?”

“It doesn’t work that way. See, I’m paying for your food and house. You should give me money. But I’m in a good mood, so I’ll let you stay.”

“Will you let me stay if you’re in a bad mood, Mommy?” I shouldn’t have said that. He doesn’t yet realize nobody ever really moves out of their parent’s house. We’ll be celebrating Brittany’s 21st birthday tomorrow. Well, not really, because when you’re 21, you don’t celebrate at home.

“Yes. You can stay even if I’m in a bad mood.”

“Well, when I’m a teen, I’m going to do whatever I want!” He stomps away. Note to six-year olds–getting the last word doesn’t mean victory. Carry that pearl into your teens.

I get to school and recap this conversation with my teens. They come to a general accord that teens cannot do whatever they want. That being a teen sucks.

“All we do is clean and do homework.”

“I have to babysit all the time.”

“My parents are stupid.” Yes. Yes, we’re all stupid. Until you’re 30 or run out of money in college.

I decide to let them into The Parent Inner Circle. “I’m going to tell you the truth. From a parent point of view…” They listen. They’re about to learn the secret of life.

“The reason we have you is so you can find the remote control when it’s lost. And do the dishes. And get our drinks. And watch the other kids we continue to have so that when you leave there’s always someone available to take out the trash. You babysit those so we get a break. That’s the real reason we have you.”

They stare–I might just be telling the truth. I figure I’d better iron this out.

“Everyone spends life wishing to be someone else. Kids want to be teens, teens want to be adults, adults want to be kids again. Being an adult sort of sucks, to be honest…we’ve got to pay the bills, listen to you whine, make sure you get some kind of food and don’t grow up to be criminals…If something bad happens, it falls on us to fix it. That’s a lot of pressure.”

A couple nod. Teens ready to agree?

“You’re just getting a taste of that pressure. Believe me, the pressure increases…you ain’t seen nothing yet…” I continue, “There have been rough times for me. Ask your parents, maybe for them, too. Some of your parents work more than one job…they do a lot for you.”

I get a “That’s true.” I’m being heard.

“So, yes, if I want, I can leave here today, drink two six packs and hit the clubs. I can eat anything I want, say anything I want, and do anything I want. I’m way over 21. But do I?Nope. Because I’m an adult. The pressure’s on me. I work hard to be better just like I tell you to do. We’re all playing the same game. I’m just on a different level.” Smiles. Good sign.

“The truth is, most adults want to be teens again. Not me. I work hard at things I love and feel passionate about. I didn’t always–but it’s what makes the difference. Doing things that you love–especially work…it’s the secret to having a good life…being great. Does anyone master it? I don’t know…Life’s about being under pressure. The wrong kind of pressure crushes you. The right kind turns rocks into diamonds. Find positive people–good friends. Work hard. Do things you love. Be great–let pressure turn you into a diamond. Being a teen won’t be so bad…being an adult will be even better.”

They smile. I feel a little like Mel Gibson after the “Freedom” monologue, and I wonder how long they’ll remember…I go home and inform the six-year old that teenagers don’t want to be teens. He doesn’t believe me. He continues listing all the things he’ll do when he gets there.

Having won one intellectual battle, I sit down to do something purely adult. No swearing, partying, or candy. I make tea, and sit down to write. Heaven.

http://youtu.be/KWRPzdedeyY

Training The Boy to vacuum. I said, “If you’re a really good boy, you can vacuum.” It worked. 

Why This Teacher Hates Gum

Gum is evil.

It’s something I didn’t understand in my younger days. Now I do. I used to think gum was good. When kids’ mouths are closed, I teach, kids listen. I used to use Jolly Ranchers for this. I’d give loud kids two Jolly Ranchers each. I wasn’t rewarding students for misbehavior. I was punishing them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 6.15.05 AMIt’s science. When a person chews a Jolly Rancher, the mouth fuses shut. There are two choices–fight it and lose teeth, or go with it, enjoy. Then wait twenty minutes or so until it releases its death hold. It’s almost like meditation training. Forced quiet. I was a new teacher. When you’re new, you use what you got. It was a good strategy–using the principles of adhesion to get kids to listen. Does that count as integrating curricula?

Fast forward to present time.

One student offered me gum. I politely refused, telling her I don’t chew gum.

“I don’t see the point in it,” I said. She looked mystified.

“Candy, yes. Good chocolate, absolutely. But gum gets chewed twice and tastes like an eraser. Why do all that work for nothing?” I recently saw an article correlating teen gum chewing with migraines, too.

In principle, gum’s cool. In reality, it’s nefarious. Why do kids put it under desks? They’re only going to stick to it later. They can’t remember to pull up their pants or bring their homework–how will they remember where they stuck their gum? Maybe there’s someone from Wrigley’s out there who can invent gum that doesn’t stick? A gum version of a Post-It note.

Once I had a vandal scrape gum. She flicked dirt near her eye. Then everyone was scared about kids poking eyes out cleaning messes they made on purpose, so now we have to make them say sorry instead. The gum remains.

It’s the middle of class. I’m explaining something. A kid stands up.

“May I help you? I’m about to impart the meaning of life here.” I’ve lost my thoughts.

“Just throwing out gum.” He saunters in front of me to the can farthest away. This gum, which has been flavorless for two class periods, cannot wait another moment.

It’s a teachable moment.

“Picture a business meeting.” I say, waving my hand across the imaginary board room. “My boss is giving a presentation. I stand up. I walk in front of him, sagging my pants. I nod. The Board of Directors look on…”

You sagging, Miss?” someone says. It’s an image that once imagined cannot be unseen.

I explain etiquette. Walk on the outside, don’t disturb, when eating or gum chewing at a meeting, be polite. Don’t crunch, munch and chew. If you have trash to toss, do it at a break in the activity, not while The Boss is speaking. Etiquette’s important. Conference etiquette. Meeting etiquette. Arriving late etiquette–there’s a finesse. We don’t teach it enough in schools. Maybe I should be grateful to gum for the opportunity to teach higher-level skills.

Classes ban food, drinks, and gum rather than teaching what to do with them in high society. I want my students to behave properly at fancy functions. “Gum” and “food” aren’t in the curriculum but food is a central focus of business. Employees are hired over lunch, companies built over coffee, investments solidified over cocktails or tapas. No one sticks gum under the table while talking with an investor.

But that’s not really why I hate gum. I hate gum is because Declan discovered it.

“Mommy, can I have gum?” At first, it was cute. A six-year old walking around chomping like a cow. Every once in a while, he’d spit a piece across the room like he was shooting a cannon. “I’m blowing bubbles.”

Next, he’d play with the gum, taking it out of his mouth, looking at it, wrapping it around his finger. What followed, naturally, was gum on things. Gum on shirts, furniture, toys. Gum strings, gum residue. Gum slime trails that looked like little slugs walked across my counter. Gum sculptures. “I made a dinosaur.” The germy “I’m saving this gum for tomorrow. I’m going to chew a world record of gum.” He chewed that piece for days, placing sticking it on stuff while he ate, drank, and slept.

The last straw was gum on my computer. Understandable. With iPads, phones, and tablets around, who’d know the iMac wasn’t touch screen? It’s the digital generation. I explained.

“Oh, I know that, Mommy.” What six-year old can’t program a computer these days?  I was talking down to him. “I wasn’t touching it. I put gum on it. I made a picture. It’s nice.”

There will be no more gum. I’ll ban it like Singapore.

I banished him from my computer for willful destruction of parental property.

“No more computer? Don’t you want me to learn?”

“Yes. I want you to learn. That’s why I’m giving you this paper. It’s what Mommy had when she was little.” Meanwhile, I used the computer to learn “How to remove gum from computers.”

Gum–a tool for learning. An instrument of utter destruction. It’s here to stay. The best I can do today is hope not to step in it.

The gum, I mean.

 

[images: jamiewasserman.blogspot.com]

How to Escape America for $203 or Less

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 5.29.38 AMI haven’t traveled out of the country in a long time. So long that my passport has Soviet stamps on it. It’s old–extremely expired. I’ve been meaning to get a new one for a while.

“Want to go on a trip?” said my friend. It was an amazing trip. The mere invitation’s an honor. My heart sank. My passport…I can’t even go to Canada now, and no American gets banished from Canada. It’s like a slap in the face. When I lived in Upstate New York, we’d go to Canada to tap dance on the border if we were bored.

If we were bored and up to no good, we’d bring some Canadian quarters back and spend them in the United States, earning an eight-cent profit for each one. Once, I had a cold and I bought some Sudafed. It was still prescription here. I felt a little bit like a rebel. A rebel who could breathe. The Canadian economy is better than the US’ now so the quarter thing doesn’t work, and it’s legal to buy cold medicine now, you just have to fill out a million forms and promise not to make crystal meth. All the fun of going to Canada’s gone.

Besides, Customs Guy was on to us. He didn’t have a sense of humor.

I’ve said it before in my writings, and I’ll say it again–there are two types of people in this world that have no sense of humor. First is IRS. The second is customs.

“Purpose for your trip?” he asked.

“Tap dancing on the border.”

He heard our answer. He scowled. It’s never good to see a customs agent scowl. He scowled and stared us down. Neither side flinched. This could end very, very badly. Did Canada have it’s own Guantanamo? Probably not. These were the days before 9-11. Security was much lighter. Detaining us would result in paperwork for him. What was Canada going to do with two Americans, anyway? Give us free medical care? Torture!

I really wanted to go on this trip. I looked deep into my webcam and pleaded at the NSA agent assigned to me, “Please–you listen to my calls every day. You know I’m good.”

I took a deep breath and started the process. I had only eight weeks to get my papers in order–to prove I’m a dull American with simple hobbies like growing food, writing about education and crazy six-year olds, and practicing yoga. I said a quick prayer. I wondered if God Almighty could get a passport in eight weeks.

First, I read the State Department’s website. It’s pretty helpful. Next, the passport picture. State requires one small picture that looks like the person was just released from an INTERPOL lineup. I went to AAA. I  paid $8 and got the INTERPOL shot in two minutes flat. The helpful lady handed me all the forms and a list of the places I could go to turn them in. I cringed, expecting it to say Boston, New York, Mars, or Stamford. I’d need a bureaucrat who specialized in making people take a day off from work to give fingerprints and blood samples.

But it said…my town clerk’s office?

“Oh, we’re one of two towns that still does this.” How amazing! There must be a hidden camera with the real bureaucrat and a reality TV show. I gave her a couple of checks, and looked over my shoulder. No bureaucrat with a TV waiver emerged. “This should be about two weeks.”

Two weeks? I might be able to get a passport faster than the Lord.

All told, it was $8 for the INTERPOL approved photo, $170 for the passport and expediting, and $25 to reimburse the town for overnighting the packet. Amazing. All told, I can escape the country for $203 dollars. And probably get back in again.

That’s a bargain.

Time to see the world!