Breaking News: Polar Vortex Swallows Teens

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“You there! In the shorts. Did you take my geography class? Didn’t I teach about climate? It is cold outside.” A balmy New England 12°. With a windchill of 150 below.

Today was the first day I didn’t see teens in shorts. I was looking–there’s always one.  Just hoodies with no coats, and shirts falling off the shoulder. Which is just as bad. School gets canceled in places because it’s so cold and kids won’t dress right. My thoughts–dress right! Now, I’m not talking about preschoolers with no body mass whose faces will freeze off at the bus stop. I’m talking teens who know better. Dress warm. Come to school.

There’s black ice on the roads, piles of snow on the sidewalks, police directing traffic in ice skates…a few clues for teens that it’s cold. If that’s not enough, get the Weather Channel app. It’s free.”Nah, miss, I’m not cold.”
I explain the science behind skin cells bursting, how frostbite works. That teens can’t defeat the laws of nature–water freezing and expanding inside the cell wall, exploding the cell, not a simple game of no brain no pain. Wind whistles in one ear out the other making the sound of a barely boiling tea kettle.
I once thought I was too cool for winter gear. Earmuffs “looked silly.”  One mile of 20 below in the Rochester winter holding my ears the whole time…they’re the hottest fashion on the runway.
That’s what teens must do. Convert ridiculous winter fashion to trends. Then sell it. Make a million. Teens have the power to make the most ridiculous fashion look amazingly cool. Instead of getting windburned butt cracks, try bringing back warm.
Pants without holes–a great place to start. Ones that fit over the buttcrack and even up to the waist. Warm. Trendy. No one is doing it… You, kid, could start the next big trend. 
Legwarmers are back. Bad 80’s fashion–get two sets and call them arm warmers, too. Large circle scarves are in. Wrap them twice around the head if you’re cold, and around the face if you’re ugly. That’s versatility.
For the kid who always wears shorts, be advised–there exists something called “convertible hiking pants.” These allow you to wear pants at the bus stop, then quickly unzip and ditch the legs before your friends beat you up for dressing right. The legs roll up and fit in the pockets most people use for hiking gear. You can use the extra pockets for gum.
And lastly, put away your shiny new shoes. No, I don’t have any sneaker cleaner. I’m sorry that you got snow on them. I feel you. I really do. Wear boots. That way tomorrow you won’t tell me all day that you’re cold and your socks are wet.
If you’re truly renegade and wish to transcend fashion, go balls to the wall and create a new fashion, called “winter coat.” Pick a big, fluffy one, so if anyone throws a snowball at you for looking too cool, it will just bounce back and hit them in the face. More science–angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. You see–this stuff we teach you really does have an application in real life.
Disregard me if you must. Disregard science. You may find it boring. And I’m old and out of fashion. But I’m really, really warm. You could be, too.

All’s Fair in War and Christmas: Weapons Make Great Gifts

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

In my family we don’t give gifts. We give aggravation. No one likes a Yankee Swap where people regift candles to an unsuspecting aunt. That’s small time. We’re far more clever than that.

Anyone who’s come near our family has suffered the wrath of the gift. There was once a plastic silverware sorter that got regifted for years indicating the fact that the recipient had been tagged with shame and would have to wait gift it to the next unsuspecting victim.

We gifted twelve packs of socks, individually wrapped because everyone took one turn before the next person went–this meant you knew you had twelve turns of socks to find and all the disappointment, discovering boxes you thought had something cool had…another sock wrapped so cleverly that a customs agent wouldn’t pick up on the contents if it were a sock filled with drugs.

I’m not sure how Christmas became a time for pranks rather than generosity, but that’s the way things are. We had good stuff below the tree, too, but it was always bulked up by things that people needed that were saved and wrapped for Christmas, like food items. Most families just grocery shop for food and eat it. Our family wrapped it and put it under the tree. Pepperoni, olives, candy bars, treats, ramen noodles…it’s all been there.

This isn’t normal behavior I’ve discovered. It’s why my husband was mystified to unwrap barley this year–he likes my mushroom barley soup so I wrapped barley. My son, however, loved that I wrapped marshmallows and chocolate Goldfish crackers. He’s going to fit into the gift spirit just fine.

This whole gift thing got particularly nasty when everyone had kids. Instead of individually wrapping socks, we tried to give gifts kids would love but would secretly torture parents. Mess, noise, disaster, global conflict and warm–all’s fair in war and Christmas. The more parts, mess and batteries the better. Directions in Japanese–a plus. I started studying Japanese. Mostly I can order beer and talk about the day, but soon I’ll be able to build a hybrid from a manual and defeat any toy.

This year, I tried to win by sending the boys science stuff and socks. They cringed at the thought of getting clothes for Christmas but everyone needs socks. I was tired. Socks are beginner strategy. So two decades ago. I set myself up for a big loss.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ali (names not disguised to protect the guilty) sent us the mother of all gifts…the trebuchet. Or as Declan calls it, “The Cannonpult.” It’s not just a trebuchet The Cannonpultcapable of launching rocks and things a full 30 feet through car and house windows, it’s a build your own trebuchet, complete with wood glue and about a million parts with multistep directions. That makes them the clear winner in this year’s gift category. Although the cannonpult came with a harmless rubber ball, everyone with a brain knows that it’ll never be used to launch that ball. The ball has exactly one flight before it’s lost in the woods forever. After that, we switch to rocks.

“Mom, is it hunting season?” Declan asked.

“It’s over in a week.” Surprised I know that. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if my cannonpult ball goes into the woods, I don’t want to get shot. What happens if I get shot?” he asked. Fair question.

“It’ll hurt. Try not to get shot. And don’t shoot your cannonpult into the woods.” Good solution. He scrunched up his face. “If you lose your ball, I will get it,” I said.

“But then you’ll get shot.” I’d thought he’d realize I could go Matrix and avoid the bullets.

“Don’t worry about it. I have life insurance. If I get shot, you’ll be fine.”

“Too bad you don’t have State Farm. Like a good neighbor…” He began to sing and lecture about my choice of insurance companies. I have USAA. Somehow being paid out by a good neighbor would make things better than a random lump sum by a company which doesn’t have a song?

So, we–no, I–set about building the trebuchet that will get me shot and give someone other than State Farm something to do. Declan sanded pieces of wood he could not destroy and I carefully read directions in seven languages and glued parts together, bonding with the boy by saying, “Don’t touch,” and “NO!” while being filled with gratitude for things like pre-drilled holes for hardware.

I discovered this project was going to take a couple days. That’s a fantastic learning experience for a six-year old, although the cannonpult box clearly said “Twelve and up.” That really means (translated into Japanese and back) “Even someone as old as dirt can’t possibly put this together. We’re laughing at you for trying.”

We had to let the parts dry. When he slept, I glued the second stage together. I told him it was an elf so he wouldn’t get mad that I did stuff without him.

Today, we’ll go out and toss rocks into the woods and break a car window or two. He’ll have fun with his cannonpult. I’ll smile. Not because I’m happy about getting shot and breaking windows, but because I’m already planning my revenge for next year.


Learning the Vowels

I was doing hallway duty. That’s where I stand at the top of the stairs and greet everyone as they come in–ask them about their weekend, compliment the new hair-do. Really, I’m supervising, but I don’t like to feel like bad cop when kids clearly haven’t finished their energy drink and I’m only into my third cup of coffee, which is getting cold in the front office.

There are a bunch of rules I have to attend to–taking off of headphones unless you are a member of the CIA, removing hats as one enters the building–the roof leak has been fixed and we have no  outdoor classrooms, and please pull up your pants–the full moon is next week, and “say no to crack” covers sagging.

Today, I heard the “Ohhhhhh!” chorus. That’s when one person says “Ohhhhh,” and everyone follows suit because they have nothing better to do. Usually this is just teen behavior, but at times it precipitates a larger event, so I attend to this religiously.

I walk over. I give “the eye.”  I don’t have “the eye.” They said I’d get it as a teacher, but I don’t. I just can’t pull off mean. I was listening to peer this weekend at the Ed Camp Boston session on “How to be a Badass Teacher.” More on that in another post. But suffice to say, he couldn’t pull off being mean either, “Mr.” his students said, “You just don’t look right when you’re mean.” Neither do I.

But I can pull off annoying. Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 8.02.43 AMI go to the circle of “Ohhhhhhh!”s and I stand. I invade the space. Now no one can secretly check a message or put on a hat. They can’t say the “f” word or be rude. And the “Ohhhhhh”s stop.

“What’s going on here?” I inquire. “I’m reasonably sure this isn’t Vinnie Barbarino training school.”

Blank stares. No one knows who Vinnie Barbarino is. I am old.


More blank stares.

Then, the perfect answer.

“Miss. We’re practicing our vowels. Reading skills.” Suddenly the chorus re-erupts. This time, it’s a little different.

“Aaaaaaaaa, eeeeeee, iiiiiiiiii, oooooooo uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” I stare. I turn. I leave. I am clearly defeated. Game, point, match, circle of Ohhhhh-shouting guys. Time to go.

But not before someone adds in, “AND SOMETIMES YYYYYYYYYY!”

Literacy Common Core achieved.

The bell rings.

I am saved.