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.

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The Science of Dog Biscuits

My kid eats dog biscuits. I don’t encourage this. I’ve given up.

“It’s the only meat I eat, Mom, it’s good for me.” I can’t control it. He gets out of bed or sneaks around when I’m not looking, stealing them from the cookie jar like they were chocolate chip cookies.

The dog sighs. She doesn’t challenge him. She knows she’s going to snag the roast off the table anyway the moment I turn my head. I’m fighting on two fronts. I suppose Milk-Bones are healthy for boys if they’re good for dogs. Declan tells me they are.

dog biscuit

Look carefully. You are seeing a dog biscuit fragment sailing high above Kung Fu Panda.

Two things my boy loves–dog biscuits and science. On Thanksgiving, he managed to integrate the two. His goal was to determine the size a dog biscuit would have to be in order to float on a mylar balloon. My job was to tie and secure the slipknots around the biscuit, cheer if it flew and look disappointed if it did not.

First, we tried a full Milk-Bone, which securely anchored the balloon to the ground. Declan’s face scrunched, finger to his cheek.

“I guess it’s too big,” he said.

“Not necessarily too big, Buddy,” I hinted, “Too heavy.”

“I gotta fix it.” He broke the Milk-Bone in half. I started to tie the knot. He switched the halves, giving me the small piece. He knew it would weigh less. I put the slipknot around the smaller piece. Meanwhile, he ate the bigger one.

The balloon sank to the ground. Even the smaller part of the biscuit was too heavy.

“Can’t we just use pencils or crayons or something? I can weigh them on my bread scale. This is disgusting.” I try to be a good Mom.

“Nope.” His word was final. He took a bite off of the small biscuit piece and handed the remaining fragment to me. I tied the string around the slime. It sunk to the ground. But bounced once on the way up. 

“Look, we almost did it!” Science. It’s exciting when science goes right.

He looked at the biscuit. He poked it a bit. The biscuit very much wanted to soar free like the bird it once may have been. I’m not sure what “meat byproduct” actually means. It all tastes like chicken, I’m told.

He picked up the piece, nibbled a bit off of each end, held it back, examined it, and nodded his approval. Not only did he intuitively recognize the relationship between size and weight, he knew about balance, too. The string had to be centered.

He had also figured out a bit about efficiency by simply biting off the ends instead of untying and retying the string around the biscuit. Efficiency is big in science these days. It makes money in business, too, I’m told. Entrepreneurs read and write books about it, must be important.

He released the string and biscuit. It flew. It flew around the living room. The dog considered reclaiming it, but she was in her post “I begged for turkey” slumber. Every dog knows half a turkey is better than a Milk-Bone.

photo 1One Milk-Bone gone, several principles of science learned. Today, he is measuring things and making comparisons. He usually writes these things in his field journal, a spiral notebook filled with pictures of animals, dinos, and bugs. It’s the holiday weekend. He’s taking it easy.

But if I ask him about school, he says, “Boring.” Already. Despite his fantastic teacher who is the definition of awesome. So maybe it’s not about school but about the methods of inquiry and intrinsic learning. He wants to learn about dinos and write them in a field journal. And measure things. And learn about photo 2balance points, gravity’s relationship with dog biscuits. And entrepreneurship–because I had to pay a lollipop, again, to secure the rights to these photos.

I think school could be fun. Kids have the ability to knock things out of the park. We just have to let them.

Then someone has to let us do just that.

Sit and Eat Chicharones (Or Find Your Passion)

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.06.52 AM

“What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning and exercising?” 

“How do you write every day?” 

“Why do you teach even though the climate is so bad for teachers?”

These are three questions that crossed my feed this week. On the surface, they’re all unrelated, but in truth, it’s the same question.

“How do you….(insert habit here…)” There’s a one-word answer for every one of these. Passion. Stop reading. Continue drinking coffee. That’s really the essence of the solution.

Never having been one for brevity or one-word answers, I’ll elaborate.

Exercise:

I exercise because I love the feeling it gives my mind. Most view it as a chore. If you view it as a chore, you should sit on your couch and eat chicharones (fried up pork rinds…dead pig crisps apparently taste better than vegetarian things like carrots and chips). I love to run five, six, seven miles because it clears my spirit and gives me ideas.  I’m grateful when I can exercise–I remember being on crutches for months after a bad game of basketball wishing I could get off the couch and run. I try to see each opportunity to work out as a privilege. The feeling of freedom I get when I run, lift, do yoga, go kickboxing, or pick up a game of basketball makes my body and soul smile. Once, when my doctor grounded me, my friend said “Man you’re lucky. I’d love to have a doctor tell me I can’t exercise.”

If that’s the case, you’re viewing exercise incorrectly. See it as a privilege. Only then will passion develop. You will exercise. You will eat well. You will respect the limits of your body. And your body may decide to treat you well, too. Life’s too short. I try not to do much I don’t feel passionate about these days.

Write Every Day: 

Use the Nike method, “Just do it.” I write at the same time each day. 4AM. This means I don’t have to shove my family in a closet or ignore them to concentrate, and I can enjoy the most beautiful time of day, the sunrise. I sit with my cup of coffee and the glow of the wood stove. Because I carry a little notebook, I usually don’t run out of ideas. I scrawl them when they gift themselves to me, and I develop them when I have time–4AM. So many people want to write, but view it as a burden. It’s not. It’s a privilege. Think, “I want to do this every day…I’m grateful I can. I’m grateful to have something to say, and furthermore that someone out there might enjoy it or find it helpful.” I look forward to 4AM because I’m deeply honored by my readers–the friend’s I’ve made through my writing journey. I owe them my best. Life’s too short, I may have said, to do things about which I don’t feel passion. 

Teach: 

Sure, the climate’s bad. Awful. There are days I feel the press hates me, and times I’m convinced I should’ve majored in accounting or stat, because the pendulum has swung in that direction and–the kids say–away from all the things that made them love school. This breaks my heart. But to get in there, roll up my sleeves, and give them something to love anyway, even if I have to fall on the sword once or twice, gives me passion. To watch their eyes when I connect them with a noted scientist or author, or see them generate ideas about their future?  It’s worth chopping through all the vines in the jungle, I think, to give them that same passion. Remember, life’s too short to do things without passion.

Who knows, maybe the passion for these things will leave me. That’s okay. Then I’ll find something else to do every day. More art, more calligraphy, animal husbandry…rekindle old passions, and discover new…let a few present ones ebb away to make room for more. Nothing’s permanent, and there’s a ton out there to discover. To feel passionate about.

Exercise, writing, teaching–or anything else, really–it’s all the same. It all boils down to passion. Do the things you love. Because passion is what makes life so beautiful.

 

[image: famousquotes.com]

Irish Blessing for Teachers (God Help Us, Every One)

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.28.26 AMI need a prayer to inspire the first day of school–a prayer useful to the religious and secular alike. I took a philosophy course on a bet once, learning about the nature of prayer in the process. My friend, the future electrical engineer, said he was smarter than me–that engineers, moreover, were smarter than liberal arts majors.

My major was Russian–it was an amalgamation of history, bad economic forecasts, political upheaval, and really long depressing literature–it’s the reason I make people cry with my emails, having earned the nickname “Madame Tolstoy.” I’m improving–wouldn’t trade my academic path for all the engineering salaries in the world. The spirit of the Russian people taught me a lot about teaching–about creativity, making something from nothing, about getting the job done without a lot of resources. Russian philosophy is a little like zen, but with a despot lurking in the background.

For our bet, we chose a neutral class.  The academic DMZ. Philosophy 101. He skipped class. I learned about how to spend an inordinate time fixating on the smallest detail, the meaning of God, what constitutes a pile, and other useful things. For example, if you have one piece of hay, it’s not a stack. If you have two, it’s not a stack. If you have a stack and take a piece off, it’s still a stack. At what point does it become a stack or lack of a stack? You can use this in life. Just substitute manure. If you’ve got a bit of manure in your life, it’s not a pile. If you add a bit more, it may not be a pile, but at some point, it becomes a pile. You have to shovel it away. Farm wisdom that can help you transcend the day-to-day BS in any career and still smile.

The second thing I remember was about God. Many people believe in God and many do not. If God exists, and you messed up on earth, that’s an epic fail. You’re going into the inferno forever. If God doesn’t exist and you were good just in case–well, you don’t go anywhere for eternity but you make people smile in your time on the planet. Is that so bad? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis.

My friend won the bet. He is smarter than me. He showed up for two classes–the midterm, and the final. He smoked me. I got to learn about the great Western philosophers, the nature and philosophy of prayer, and earn my first C-, my only low grade unless you count Calc, which I dropped twice before finally getting a “just go away” C, escaping higher-level mathematics forever.

Without further adieu, the prayer, “The Irish Blessing,” in its original form and it’s adaptation for education: The original is in italics.

May the road rise up to meet you. May you not get a flat tire on the way to work, and may the potholes not wreck your oil pan.

May the wind be always at your back. May you avoid hurricanes, storms, and floods that force you go to school until July.

May the sun shine warm upon your face; Likewise with snow days.

the rains fall soft upon your fields Don’t drink too much, because there’s no bathroom nearby. You’ll have to wait till 2:11 to pee.

and until we meet again, I won’t see you for 180 days.

may God hold you in the palm of His hand. May the school year not kill you. God help us all. 

May we have the best school year yet. May we do the greatest of things.

Google Can Get Peach Salsa Out of Your MacBook Pro

The phone rang. I don’t use the phone for calling much anymore–it’s sort of a mini dictator that chimes and pings, commanding me to do certain things–answer you, be amused by your blog post, watch a video, work, attend something, look at photos of your kid, submit something…As I get sucked over to the dark side of tech and more and more dog-trained, I use the phone part of the iPhone less and less. Eventually, Apple will name it the “iCommandCenter,” or the iBigBrother because it knows what I’m doing before I do.

Which is why I wish iBigBrother could have predicted that I’d be startled when the actual phone app rang at the exact moment I was testing out a bowl of my freshly made peach salsa, sending salsa sailing out of my hand onto the right side of my keyboard. I swished it off immediately, but it was liquidy salsa–salsa needs to set awhile after it’s made.  Peach salsa and electronics are bitter enemies.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 2.36.37 PMI started to Google “spilled peach salsa on Mac.” Google knows everything. Google is my friend.

“Wait!” I thought. “Won’t typing squish salsa into the keys more?” I reached for my iBigBrother who’d predicted this all along.

“How can I help you?” asked Siri.

“I spilled peach salsa on my MacBook Pro.”

“You’re stupid,” she replied.

“No, Siri, I need to clean it, what do I do?” This is important!

“Cry. You just fried it, idiot.”

“Isn’t there anything I can do?” This is SERIOUS! School starts MONDAY!!! Answer!!!!!

Siri mocked me. “Nope,” she said, “You’re screwed.”

Google. Google won’t let me down!

Google is your friend,” said the voice in my head. If Siri isn’t my friend, kiss up to Google. I hold no malice toward Google for being a mind-reading megabrain selling my information to the highest bidder. Google’s free. I use it in my classroom. I’ll sell my soul to anything that’s free and not blocked in the classroom. That’s the truth.

I had to act fast. I could hear the computer translating the salsa into Spanish, playing Mariachi music on the way to circuits frying.

Time to learn a new skill. I picked up iBigBrother and Googled. “Unplug your Mac IMMEDIATELY.” Immediately had passed. I went for ASAP. Unplugging complete. Salsa seeping through the keyboard. “Invert your Mac.” Despite the fact I didn’t have enough common sense to unplug a liquid-deluged electronic device, I had turned it upside down until salsa stopped dripping. I sopped up the keys.

“Clean the keyboard.” Every time I wiped the keyboard I felt the sticky ooze under the letters and numbers.  The speakers crinkled. Turns out it wasn’t fried speakers, just an old “I get chicks” Barry White song popping into R’dio unsolicited. Phew. Not frying yet.  Turning off the computer–good idea. Easier said than done when there are eighty apps  open. A week’s worth of WIP (works in progress) leading my machine toward RIP. It finally went black.

“Take off the keyboard. If possible, take out the battery.” More Google. Praise God for the half-hour video teaching how to rip off keys with parts smaller than the IQ of someone who dumps salsa on the keyboard in the first place.

A couple of keys were different. Panic. Deep breath. There was no one around but me–and Google. It was my moment of truth. Dive in–if underpaid children in China can do this, so can I.  Two swears and an “I wonder if I need my F-12 key” later, the keyboard was reassembled, any remaining liquid deep in the recesses of the machine. Time for prayer. And more Google.

“A classic newbie mistake is trying to turn the machine on after an hour or two. Leave it for 24 hours minimum. 48 or 72 is better.”

I had a premonition about this last week, “I’m not properly backed up.” Backup was last week’s project. This week’s–to spill salsa on it, making the backup worthwhile.

I’ve finished canning the salsa and peaches. If the computer works, I’ve learned a new skill, thanks be to Google. If not, this is the most expensive peach salsa I’ve ever made. Sixteen jars divided by the cost of a new computer breaks down to a total cost of $93.75 per jar.

Put in your orders now.

Do It My Way! (No Apples for You!)

Declan's tree

Declan’s tree

I am coloring with Declan. We are making trees. I start to make my usual tree, which will emerge with owls, a couple of flowers, a graveyard off in the distance, and maybe a kid fishing by a stream. The kid might even fall in. I never finish the picture. I never finish any picture because I am a mom, and it’s not allowed. It’s why I like sumi-e–the Japanese style that looks unfinished to the Western eye. I can’t practice sumi-e with a six-year old around. Permanent ink attracts six-year olds like when I try to do yoga or take a shower or anything that requires a modicum of modesty or meditation. Permanent ink is a disaster.

He starts a kid-style apple tree sans apples. He looks at me and screams.

“Mommy!” he says, “You can’t do it like that!”

“This is my tree,” I say.

“That’s the WRONG tree!” He is adamant. I protest.

“How can there be a wrong tree? We each can draw the tree from our imagination,” I explain.

“Your imagination is WRONG.” Funny, I’ve often been told that. “You must do it MY WAY.”  He hands me the crayon. “Do it like THIS!” He proceeds to instruct me as to the correct way to shape and form the tree. Even the coloring process has a method and direction.

My tree

My tree

“You CAN’T go around with the crayon in circles.” I have been shading the tree quickly. “You have to go back and forth like this, HARD!”

Kid, you’re starting to remind me of standardized test prep.

“Put the sky in here.” I pick out a pretty light blue.

“No! Not like that, like this.” His sky is a different blue, and goes back and forth along the top edge of the paper. I take the right blue and do it correctly. Soon, he discovers my paper is portrait, not landscape.

“Ohhh!! Mommy, you’ll never be able to make a tree. You’ll have to do it again!” Maybe he’s not like test prep at all–you only get one shot there.

My tree makes me a renegade. The world may judge me. I hope not harshly.

“Mommy, do it like THIS!” he corrects a finer point of my bark-coloring technique. I obey. I pick up the red crayon.

“What are you DOING?” He is concerned I might step off the beaten path into creativity again.

“I’m making mine an apple tree.” The red crayon in my hand heads for the paper.

“NO! There are NO apples in this picture.” No pie, no apple sauce, no jelly…

“There are no apples in your picture, but I’m putting them in mine.” He snatches the red crayon and places it back in the box. Instantly. He glowers. No apples. It has been decided.

We are done. My tree looks exactly the same as his tree. He smiles.

I want to tell him this is just the style of teaching from which I flee–in my class, you can put apples, oranges, or key limes on your tree. But key limes don’t grow here, you say? Just wait two years…global warming. I fear he won’t listen. And he has stolen my red crayon.

Alas, there are no apples on my tree today, but there are a few on my counter, and I’m hungry. I eat one. I’ll put the art aside…for awhile.

Blueberries and Pickles–No, I’m Not Pregnant

Rocky Point Blueberry Farm, Warwick, RI

Rocky Point Blueberry Farm, Warwick, RI

Last week, I picked blueberries in the rain. It wasn’t that pleasant. I was cold. When I reached into the bush, water shook from the leaves, soaking me to the bone. I got colder and wetter. I started to frown. There was one drop of rain on my glasses I couldn’t get off. When I wiped it on my wet shirt, I smeared both lenses until I couldn’t see the blueberries. And I had a migraine. Annoying.

I thought about homesteading. How I planted my garden, how my husband chopped the wood, how we try to get off the grid. How the stuff we can’t do–produce eggs or meat–we get from the farm around the corner. About how close I am to getting rid of boxes, store jars, and tin cans. As I sat in the middle of rainy blueberries wishing the weather would clear, I thought, “A couple hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have had a choice to make homesteading my…(dare I say)…hobby.”
Not picking very fast. Pioneers didn't check email while farmingI never thought of homesteading as a hobby. It’s a good activity–I started out intending to save money, produce better quality food, and maybe stop global warming, prevent a few small nations from blowing each other up, or attain enlightenment. It doesn’t save money. Farming is expensive and I give stuff away.  Friends visit and remind me they like my peach salsa.
“Homesteading” is cool, though. What people once mocked me for, comparing me to their grandmother, is now chic, hip, and in. I’ve never been any of those things–I’m enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame.
But whining about wet blueberries–weak. I could never be a real homesteader on the prairie…I felt somewhat disingenuous. The pioneers didn’t have an option. They would’ve picked blueberries in the rain. And been grateful. The work would’ve been there every day. No one’s great-grandmother in Oklahoma would have skipped a day because of a weather, a lunch date, or a migraine.
Because if they did, they would have died. I watch homesteading shows on the Discovery Channel. The Alaska ones are cool–no one comes to their rescue. “Excuse me Stop & Shop Peapod…can you deliver?” I think not. Conversely, I watched a few shows where modern families pretended they were pioneers–shows where people dress up and cry after the first few days. The Alaska people never cry. I have to toughen up and be more like them. Today, In the true spirit of Alaska, I’m weeding my garden and making pickles again because I killed my last crock of kosher dills.
“HOW did you ruin pickles??” asked my friend of Russian Jewish descent. No Russian ever ruins food–that might be the last vegetable you’d see until the reincarnation of Lenin. And a Jew ruining a Kosher Dill? Heresy. Doesn’t happen.
“I didn’t weight them down. The top ones molded.” I asked around, “Can I eat them anyway?” I was so looking forward to them–I’d just eat one off the bottom. My husband said no, it’d kill me. I rationalized that cheese is mold, and the life insurance is paid up…would the pioneers scrape off the mold? They wouldn’t have had mold to begin with. Because if they did, they’d have starved.
Prairie women. My heroes.

Prairie women. My heroes.

I googled in case everyone was wrong. Google said, “Don’t eat it, moron, you’ll die.” Not trusting Google is sort of like not trusting Jesus or the threat stated in a chain letter. I tossed the pickles.

I’d be a crappy homesteader. I didn’t pick enough blueberries–too busy finishing off a text conversation and dictating ideas into Siri. Pioneers wouldn’t have stood for such behavior. And I killed the pickles. I’d have eaten them anyway because Google wouldn’t have been there to save me. I must drink some imported french-roast coffee and contemplate ways to improve.
The weather cleared midway through picking.  I remembered why I love it. I go deep into the middle of the bush, where lazy people don’t pick. Then, I crawl under the bushes, where no one goes, either, except the grandmothers who are serious about their homesteading, and little, tiny kids.
When I’m  looking under the bushes, I see an entirely different view. Seeing the berries under the leaves where no one goes reminds me of teaching. The berries at the top shine for the world. They hog all the sunshine, tasting nice and sweet. But when you climb in and under the bush, you see the berries the world forgot. They’re there, clumped together waiting for someone to pick them. I like those best–they’re bigger and sweeter because they were left alone to grow at their own pace. They leap into the bucket with excitement ready to become part of something great. This reminds me of my students, the ones who get left behind by traditional academics and need someone to peel back the branches and leaves to let them see the sunlight, too. But when they do, it is always magic.
Maybe I’m a bad pioneer and homesteader, but thinking about the blueberries this way, I decide I’m a pretty good teacher.
I smile. And I pick one more bucket before it’s time to go home.
[image 3: candgnews.com]