Saturday, August 30, 2014

All the Madmen

Abe locked eyes with me and wiggled his finger at me clandestinely to come over.  He sat with his legs in a strange tangled position, eating a small pile of grapes in the school cafeteria.  I like this kid and was glad to walk over.
"Why are you just standing there?" he asked.
"I have lunch duty" I responded.  He looked at me blankly.
"They make me do it.  I used to just stand here on Thursdays while everyone ate, but the schedule changed so now I will just stand here on Mondays".
"Oh, okay...." he responded, nodding, as if that was a logical explanation. 

I watched another child drive his finger into a long bread stick and stuff the hole he had created with mashed potatoes before eating it. 

I checked my phone, which was filled with texts and voice mails from a new neighbor that did not like our decision to not allow encroachment on our property.  I did not have time for this. 

As I walked from the classroom after finishing my lesson, Hassan sidled up next to me during their locker break.
"Do you think I am skinny?" he asked randomly.  I was surprised that he was engaging me in conversation.  I have been riding his ass for four weeks because he talks to much.  Because of this, I just assumed that he would not like me and avoid speaking to me if he didn't have to. 
"Yeah, you're on the skinny side".
"The doctor told my dad that my brother and I are both underweight and have to eat more, but I don't really like a lot of foods".
"Where is your family from again?  I can't remember".
"Pakistan.  EVERYONE is skinny there".

Suddenly, Oliver's face crumpled and he put his face in his hands and started to cry.  I was horrified.  He is one of my cognitively disabled students and I like him very much.  I can tell when I talk to him that we are not fully connecting, or better said, not connecting at all and it frustrates me.  I didn't know what had made him cry and without thinking, stopped what I was doing to try to help him.  His hand brushed at something and I saw a wet spot on the front of his shorts.  He was crying and humiliated and I didn't know how to get him out of the classroom without the other ten and eleven year olds noticing that he had peed his pants. The class was silent and staring as another teacher ushered him out of the room, head in hands. 

"To what degree does Bailey identify as male?" I asked the teacher of one of my students. 
The child is biologically female but in every other way is clearly a case of gender misalignment.  I have read about this, but never have seen such a clear cut case, especially at such a young age.
"None of her classmates know that she is a girl.  And that's how she wants it".
"Okay, I wanted to be sure.  I want to support Bailey and be sure to use the male pronouns and shit, with Spanish, be sure to make the adjectives male".
"Fuck, that's right!" the teacher responded.
"That's a can of worms!  I just don't know what she is going to do in middle school....I mean, what is he going to do?"
"The middle school will accommodate him, they have to" I answered, feeling frustrated that that could even be a source of speculation. 

I sat in the back of the house at the kitchen table, decompressing with Alec.  Through the window, our new neighbor came into sight, mere feet from out home yet thankfully, on her own land.  My phone began exploding with texts requesting that we come outside. 

I pulled the curtain shut and looked at Alec, wondering how many different ways "no" could be interpreted. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I'm not sure if I have mentioned this but my dog, otherwise known as the love of my life, is a bit of a handful.  Instead of it making me love her less, I think it makes me love her more.  Lola is a large dog, a ninety pound Pit Bull.  Ninety pounds of gorgeous.  She, unfortunately, is not very fond of other dogs.  The sight of one basically turns her into a barking, jumping, lurching terror that frightens everyone on the street.  Various dog trainers have said that she actually is not aggressive toward other dogs, but afraid and putting up a big show.  Others have said that my poor Lola basically has no social skills.  With people, she's a charmer.  But with other dogs, she doesn't get it that barking and snarling is not a way to get other dogs to play with you, even if your tail is wagging and hackles are down.

Alec says that my relationship with Lola is evidence that if we ever had had kids, I would be the mom blaming everyone else's child for my kid's misbehavior.  I have noticed that though I pursue positive dog training for my princess girl, Alec always seems to light up at the mention of "prong collar", "electric shock collar for barking", "muzzle", "choke hold" and "drugs". 

He thinks one day he'll get his way, but he won't.  Lola and I simply won't have it and there are two of us and one of him. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

I looked at Lola, fast asleep and rolled up in blankets like a burrito on my bed, wishing I could curl up and go back to sleep with her.

"I just have the worst writers block...." the nine year old wined, grasping his large head in his hands.
"You can't have writer's block when you are copying something off of the board" the tiny, Indian child with giant black rimmed glasses responded, writing casually with a Ticonderoga pencil that seemed too large for his small hand.
"But I have just had it for months!" the other continued, eyes to the ceiling and hands outstretched.
The little Indian boy sighed, shaking his head slightly from left to right, his hand continuing the required copying.

"Well, as for future goals, I plan to be a rocket scientist by the time I'm twenty-four".  I gagged on my coffee.  The scholarship applicant was pushing twenty years old and had a 1.3 grade point average.  Nice.
"But since my grades in science aren't so great, I might try switching majors.  If that doesn't work, I'll just stick it out and be a rocket scientist".
Nice B plan, I thought, wanting to send him a personal bill for taking ten minutes out of my Sunday before giving him the lowest possible rating for the scholarship. 

"So, you really have to let me try that tocino.  I simply can't stop thinking about it!" the large headed boy stated on his way out, waving his hands in the air.
"Lola's dog treat?" I asked, incredulous.
"Yes!  It just looks great.  Promise me you will make it for me".
"Uh, okay, I promise.  Do you have any allergies?"
"None what soever" he answered, giving me a direct look in the eye and a quick nod, as if we had just closed an important deal.
 "By the way, I got my behavior clip moved back up from yellow to green after you left".
"That's great.  I am glad you got back on your game".
"Of course" he stated, turning on the stairs and walking down, his backpack hanging unzipped and wide open.

I rushed home and got on the virtual conference to caucus about the scholarship applications.  Buzz whir and we were all connected to DC and staring at the same spreadsheet that reflected our common applicants, organized by who we had ranked the highest to lowest, as well as a comparison of our individual scores for each applicant.
"I just didn't see a lot of leadership there and her grade point average wasn't that great..." one of the co-judges commented, his voice ringing through the speakers of my computer into my kitchen.  I crept across the room and quietly opened a beer, hoping it couldn't be heard through the speakers. I clandestinely sat back down, took a deep breath and moved closer to my computer.
"She is undocumented.  Her whole family is undocumented.  She is working multiple jobs at sub-par wages to contribute to her household.  She has completed two years of college, paying out of state tuition and has a 3.3 grade point average, without the ability to get federal loans, though there is no reason for her to think an education will ever pay off for her in any way.  If she finishes, she still won't have papers.  For me...., for me, that is a tremendous burden for a young person to carry and I stand by my top rating".
"I would like to raise my score..." the third judge announced.
"I could go higher as well" the other acquiesced.
I sipped my beer quietly.
"Are we ready to move on?" the moderator asked.
"Yes, we are" we answered in unison.

The Italian triplets skipped down the stairs waving goodbye, their skin so transparent it was almost blue, but their eyes were large and excited, accompanied by little shy smiles on their faces.

"Ciao...." I called and raced home myself, to rip Lola's cage open and let her run free into the backyard, butt wiggling and legs galloping. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Well Hello There

“¿Qué hiciste el fin de semana pasado?”  I asked the fourth grade class.  I am back with the little ones again, all day, no more high school.
“Hice plans for our vacation,” a small boy with a largish head answered, lowering his voice an octave. 
“And I am so flipping EXCITED!”  he shrilled, his voice pitched in an Esther Merman vibrato as his eyes widened and glowed.

“Theo says to tell you he loves you and wants to know why you aren’t teaching him Spanish this year.” Emma announced, tossing her bag into the car as I picked her up from the high school, my former job, after my day at the elementary.

“Okay, next step.  After you have your hombrecito, your little man, cut him out, then you can decorate him for a minute before you attach him to your carpeta de español”.
I wandered the room as they finished up the project.  I have a few kids in this class with some pretty severe cognitive problems.  I like them.  They remind me of Emily.  One of them grabbed a peach colored crayon and began coloring in the face of his hombrecito.
“I like…this…skin….” he whispered definitively, his breath heavy, while dragging the crayon precisely across the hombrecito, though the color was a complete opposite of his own skin. 

The fire alarm went off. 
“Line up”. I instructed, forcefully.  Fire drills are normally a joke, but for some reason, with the little ones, I feel a greater sense of urgency.  The sound of the alarm is shrill, blaring.  I plug my ears while I walk with the students; it makes my teeth clatter and oddly makes me nauseas.  The worst part is the corridor right before we get to the exit.  The alarm changes to an air raid-like siren while an automated voice repeats over and over again:  “There is a fire in the building”.  I always feel a panic in that room.  I don’t know why.  I look out at the sky so that the students won’t see it in my eyes.

It is the same kind of feeling I had a couple of months ago, late in a summer night.  I was awoken by the low wail of an ambulance.  Alec was out of town.  It was a lonely sound.  I could tell the ambulance was driving slowly.  Someone was already dead in there and the horrible wagon rolled through the streets, it’s shrill yet low sound echoing through the night.   The smell of blood filled my nostrils and I felt bottomless, down in the sea like the time I floated over a coral cliff and couldn’t see what might come up at me.   Drifting, looking into an abyss. 

“Are you doing okay here?  Are you happy?” the administrator asked me.
“Yes, I really am.  It’s awesome,” I answered.
“Good.  GOOD!  Because we are so happy to have you”.
I swiveled around backward in my chair to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else. 

I was on my way out.  Certain mornings, Alec is NOT awake and at work before me and I actually leave the house before he does.  This morning, I was on my way out.  Alec sat at his computer with his coffee, Lola halfway in his lap.   I bent down while he kissed me on the cheek goodbye, and Lola simultaneously reached up and licked my chin.

Then, the sun came out and the clouds parted as the day greeted me and whispered, “Hello, gorgeous, YOU are amazing”.