Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Favorite Day of the Year

What do you get when you combine lots of excitement, a little anxiety, a good breakfast, and new shoes? You get my MOST favorite day of the year. . . THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL! There’s nothing like new crayons, fresh faces, well rested teachers, and those great “first day of school” outfits. The classrooms are ready and as clean as they’ll be all year. The bulletin boards are a peek at what’s in store for the next month and the books are just waiting to be opened and read. Each August is a new beginning – a time to put aside all the past and start again.
Now, no one said that the first day is free of what I sensitively refer to as “situations.” Take, for example, the criers. You get the crying children who are fine less than five minutes after mom leaves and you get the crying moms who are a wreck for a week. You get the dads who get a little misty and you get the grandmothers who, surprisingly, rarely cry. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which are the happy tears and which are the “Oh no, what am I going to do with my day” tears. I always tell moms who don’t work outside the home, “Go get a manicure,” or “Clean out your closet” or . . . and this one works miracles; “you know, this means you can actually have some private time in the bathroom or carry on a phone conversation without interruption.” Then you have the parents of middle school children. They do not cry. . . they drop their children off and thank their lucky stars that summer is over, leaving quickly and I’m sure meeting friends for celebratory activities.
Teachers often find themselves involved in countless other first day “situations”. There are the students who can’t wait to get started because as much as they looked forward to summer, it got boring quickly. You get the students who can’t wait to get their new crayons with a sharp point and no breakage, and the students who can’t wait to tell you about their summer, talking non-stop. Teachers have new lunchboxes to see, new backpacks to break in and new smiles to love. There are questions from students and parents, there is laughter, and the hustle and bustle is electrifying. It’s just about as good as it gets.
Then there are those “situations” that no one can predict. A few years ago a young boy, new to our school, arrived. He was adorable with curly blond hair, beautiful eyes and a charming personality. He looked like he was about 7, but his vocabulary and speech patterns were very advanced. When the teachers went to the yard to collect their students, he got in the middle school line. The teacher politely confirmed that this was the middle school line and he stepped right up. She added him to her list and off they went to start their day. Noticing that our little friend stood amidst a sea of much taller students, I asked the teacher about him. She said that he had assured her he was an eighth grade student and since he was so bright she assumed there was a growth problem. There was no growth problem. There was a “student who outsmarted the teacher” problem. Our sweet little boy with the curly blond hair belonged in second grade. He was kindly delivered to the second grade teacher arguing his case the whole way; an obvious lawyer in the making
On another first day of school we were greeted with television cameras. I immediately ran to put on extra make-up, compose myself and rushed out to meet them. The reporter wanted to do a story on the first day of school. That was great news and I was proud they’d chosen us. “We’d like to do a story we’re calling KID’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.”
“Fabulous,” I answered.
“Where can I find them?” He asked politely.
Thinking that this wasn’t the brightest of reporters, I responded slowly, “They are in the classrooms.” As we entered the first room, he looked a little confused and frankly, that caused me a little confusion.
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
“These aren’t the kids I was talking about.”
“They’re not? Would you like to film younger children?”
“No,” he answered. “I was talking about kids as in baby goats – the kind that eat homework and cause mayhem. I’m told they help teach children all kinds of things.” While it wasn’t unusual to have people interested in our petting zoo, he did catch me off guard. As we walked I filled him in on the kinds of things our animals do for our children. He happily filmed BOTH kinds of “kids” and we saw ourselves on the nightly news.
Another first day of school was made memorable by our difficult, spoiled rotten goose, Boss. Boss did not like me and each time I walked across campus he would chase me, honking and snorting and biting. He was plain obnoxious. It was not a good situation and when I complained to my real “boss”, she laughed and said I’d have to figure out a better way to get along with my co-workers. Boss was NOT a co-worker, although he did keep morale high as he gave everyone a great laugh while chasing me. On this particular first day of school Boss decided to expand his horizons and pick on another innocent woman. . . the mom of a new student. He came out of nowhere as she was showing her child the playground, ran over to his unsuspecting new victim and bit her right on the thigh. She was hopping around on one well heeled pump, screaming and using her purse in self defense. It was a good thing my friend Travis came to her rescue (he never came to mine). He grabbed the goose by the neck and escorted the darn honker to the horse stables. I was quietly thankful – Boss was put into immediate retirement and spent his remaining days in Tomball where he was the king of over 60 acres.
As I wait for our first week of the new school year, I’m filled with excitement. It’s the wonderment of childhood that fills my heart and the opportunity to turn that wonderment into knowledge feeds my soul. I just love being an educator!!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I’ve known this for years, but the reasons are elusive. For those of you who haven’t heard. . Band-Aids can cure almost all ills. They are good for the obvious cuts, scratches and scrapes, but they can also cure rashes, itches, bumps and those formidable invisible boo-boos that, without a Band-Aid, are sure to kill anyone under seven. The thing that stumps me is that children need band-Aids, want Band-Aids, crave band aids only to scream louder when the band aids are ripped off. The manufacturers have made Band-Aids with super heroes, Band-Aids with cartoon characters, flower power Band-Aids, Band-Aids that are ouchless, Band-Aids that breathe and there are even Band-Aids you can paint or spray on. It’s a treasure trove of ways to make our youngsters feel better.
We all hope, wish and pray that all our children ever need is a Band-Aid to make their hurts go away. Their mental and physical health is the supreme gift. It makes everything else possible. So, if our children are blessed with good health, how do we communicate that nothing less than their best is acceptable?
As the mother of two young women I know that my ability to make everything better wanes as they get older. Combined with the fact that their problems become more complex, you soon realize that the hard work and time spent preparing them for adulthood was extraordinarily worthwhile. It merits a big swipe of the forehead and a loud “Whew!” Believe me, it wasn’t always a walk in the park. There were dramatic outbursts, crying, screaming, threatening and door slamming. And my kids were great kids! They, in spite of my “meanness” and “unfairness,” are amazing people. So I’m often asked, “What did you do?”
First of all, they came to me with their own set of individual gifts and personality traits. I got lucky on that count. They also had their own set of challenges. They were stubborn, manipulative and occasionally downright disrespectful. They grew, in fact, into teenagers. Often I felt that the punishment affected me more than them. It was certainly harder on me. I had to stay in when they had to stay in. I had to listen to the crying and last longer than they did. I had to stick to my guns even after the thousandth time they asked me to change my mind. I had to NOT kill them while WE were suffering the consequences of a bad choice THEY made.
So now I have the opportunity to help others get through the years of child rearing. After I get beyond the sympathy I have for parents, I remember the feelings of pride. It’s got to be the greatest plan ever! Children grow inside a mother. She feels them kick and move and can’t wait to meet her new baby, face to face. The pain of childbirth is replaced in seconds with love and gratitude. The newborn is totally reliant on mom and dad for EVERYTHING! The nights of sleeplessness are replaced with the baby’s first smile and first words. Children then become adorable and funny. They provide endless entertainment. Parents get to see the world again through new eyes and partake in each “first” their child encounters. There is the first step, the first tinkle in the toilet, the first day of completely dry big girl or big boy pants. Those firsts are followed by the first day of kindergarten, the first goal in soccer or hit in T-ball, learning to tie their shoes, learning to read, and the first school play. Parents delight in the lives of their children. It seems like our very existence was meant to parent. And then those sweet things wake up one morning and they are teenagers. By then, and this is where the plan really starts working, we are hopelessly in love with our children even though they can make an hour seem like days and an ordinary day seem like a soap opera. We put up with their ridiculous antics, try to guide them as best we can and they still seem like they are working hard at making us miserable. Something takes over their bodies and their brains function in a strange and unusual way. The phone is attached to their ear, their fingers can’t seem to do anything but text, and the computer is their world.
Teenagers can have a dozen or two people that they are Instant Messaging with and they keep up with each conversation, including the one on the phone, but they can’t seem to get a one page paper done with any degree of clarity.
They can manipulate you, all the while seeming logical, yet they have trouble figuring out how to get their rooms clean. They sulk, they cry, they seem depressed, their very lives are a drama, yet they don’t want to be in the school play. They can’t wait to get out of the house to be with their friends because, all of a sudden, parents don’t know ANYTHING! They get more expensive and less appreciative.
There are respites from the challenges of living with a teenager. There are more wonderful firsts; the first honor roll, their first crush, the first formal dress or tuxedo, the first dance, followed by graduations, college acceptances and first jobs. It’s quite a journey, full of ups and downs. It’s the hardest job in the world, if done well. It’s the most rewarding, too.
And when they leave to live the life you’ve spent years preparing them for, you are left with an empty nest and memories. You are laid off from the best job you ever had, or at the very least, the job description undergoes a major change. You miss them and you miss being their full time Mom, all the while being proud of who they’ve become. It’s exciting and sad, and it leaves a wound that doesn’t heal easily. Oh dear, I think I need a Band-Aid. I’m going to put it right over my heart.