Month: February 2020

Working on my Résumé

Logic says that this is not the year for me to try to write a story every day in March.  I have report cards to write this weekend. I have parent-teacher conferences later in the month.  I have a wife who’ll be having foot surgery in a little over a week, and, because the timing makes no sense, or because his ears look too floppy to resist, we’ve decided that this month will be a good month to adopt a new puppy.  I also have that pesky teaching thing that goes along with the report cards and the conferences.  

Last week I was reading a book that our staff is reading together this year.  In it, Jimmy Casas says that every kid should “build a résumé of failures…and so should the adults.”  He goes on to say, “Failure should not be something that brings us shame; it helps us grow!”  

I have failed more than a few times in my life.  There have been the comic fails, like when I was 30 and decided to ski for the first time. A low-stress day on the bunny slope with my four-year-old nephew would be a great way to ease into the sport, I imagined.  Somehow, though, I found the bunny slope surprisingly challenging. After I fell for the fourth or fiftieth time on that first run, young Thomas, all 3-foot-1 of him, shushed past me trailing an effortless cloud of powder.  “You’re getting much better, Uncle Peter!” he yelled over his shoulder, a blur as he hurtled fearlessly toward the base of the hill.

There have been the embarrassing fails, like the time that Sam Debone, my counselor at day camp, decided that I needed to be more of a leader.  He had me swim the final leg, the freestyle leg for the medley relay in our camp swim meet. My team was ahead by half a pool length when I dove into the pool for my leg.  We lost by nearly that much. I was a different kind of anchor for my team.

Then there was my high school graduation, where I failed to listen to the instructions at the rehearsal. Our class had about 700 students. Apparently, if the person in front of you was not in attendance at the ceremony, you were supposed to hand a red card to a proctor so that they would remove that person’s name from the list.  Failure to heed this rule might mean that when it was your turn to walk across the stage, after your family had waited hours to get to the V portion of the alphabetical roll, you might not get the introduction you anticipated. You might, instead be introduced by a slightly confused principal as…Elaine Voith, or something like that.  Yep, that could happen.

So, I guess, with that, I’ll take this approach as I enter into this March challenge:  If I manage to write a slice every day, I’ll be setting a good example of discipline and commitment for my students, and if I fail…well, it’ll look good on my résumé.

Where I’m From*

*Inspired by George Ella Lyon and Sara K Ahmed

Another revision…

I’m from a Lutheran Swede and a New York Jew,
From hard bread, herring and liver glop,
I’m from “tack för maten” and “oy gevalt.”
I’m a mutt.

I’m from a chewed-up ball, 
A New Haven souvenir,
I’m from photo-fed memories 
And “the man upstairs.”

I’m from a mimosa tree at the top of a hill, 
With feathery leaves and cottony blooms.
I’m from MLK and RFK,
The hopes and the hate of ‘68.

I’m from piano practices shirked 
and pop flies shagged.
I'm from Hondo homers, Unser snags
and loyalty to underdogs.

I’m from traipsing up trails and Deep Woods Off,
Tripping on roots and gasping for air,
I’m from filling canteens in mountain streams,
Then spreading arms wide on a rocky peak.

I’m from a date at a diner,
To artichoke feasts.
I’m from adoption angels
And bed-rest miracles.

I’m from a Hazel on the tube
And a Hazel underground, 
I’m from a Little House on the Prairie
And A Chair for my Mother.

I’m from out of sight, 
Out of mind, but
I’m from places I’ve left
And can never leave behind.

I’m from losing a child,
and butterfly sightings, 
I’m from night-long talks, 
And Out of the Darkness walks. 

I’m from scratching the chins
Of two white-muzzled pups, 
I'm from other mutts
Who carried on.

The Big Cheese

This, that, and the other.

I don’t have a story to tell today, but I have some snippets from the past week. 

On Thursday, one of my kids exclaimed, “Our cheese is so fuzzy!!”  They were really excited. Hearing that, I too was excited. I took out my phone and jotted a note, telling them that there was probably a slice in that exclamation.  To understand my excitement, perhaps you need to know a bit more about me. 

Friday was the birthday of a colleague’s daughter, who reached age two, a student’s dog, also two, and my father, four score and seven years…plus two.  I don’t know the significance of that, but we all wished each other’s significant others a happy birthday. The two-year-olds, having no idea who any of the others were, probably paid the wishes no mind, and the 89-year-old probably not hearing when I passed on the news, seemed equally unimpressed.

On Saturday, another colleague texted me to give me a heads up on the significance of the numbers on Sunday.  He knew I cared about these things, so he wanted to be sure that I didn’t miss the moment as the date showed 02-02-20 20, a fancy palindrome day that didn’t come around too often.  It was more spectacular because, unlike some other fancy dates, this particular palindrome could be celebrated in all countries on the same date, even if they didn’t strangely reverse the logical order of day, month, year, like the Americans.   I loved that the article also mentioned that Sunday was the 33rd day of the year and that there were 333 days to go. Yup. Leap Year!

Sometimes I believe that my friends are laughing at my number nerdisms when I’m not around.  They do not fully appreciate the excitement I get when there are days like this. Back in 2011, I had a little classroom celebration on November eleventh.  We all wore name tags with the number eleven written in different languages, and we made a toast with stick-like snacks (pretzel sticks, carrots, celery, etc.) when the digital clock on my Smartboard showed eleven minutes and eleven seconds past eleven o’clock.  C’mon, how many times do you get to see 11:11:11 on 11-11-11?    

To me, this was almost as momentous as that day when I was in high school and some friends and I went to see a midnight showing of The Who’s movie, The Kids Are Alright. We all headed to the lobby so that we could have a toast (Note: this was how I converted some friends to number nerdism in high school…with toasting opportunities) to the digital time at thirty-four minutes past midnight on the sixth day of May in 1978.  Apparently, the excitement over learning to count never really got old for me, so 12:34 on 5-6-78 was a banner moment in my childhood. In that instant, I felt like the big cheese as a bunch of my high school buddies huddled around my watch like it was the ball at Times Square and cheered with as much enthusiasm as I actually felt, in that fleeting moment.  

And speaking of cheese, this brings me back to my exclaiming student.  The moment had nothing to do with numbers, I’m sorry to say, but everything to do with feeling excitement over seemingly trivial things.  We’re learning about the food web in science, and we’re doing some experiments with decomposers. To some, this would be about as fascinating as the paint-drying observations that people always mock.  We put several types of food (crackers, bread, apple slices, and cheese inside a zip-lock bag, but before that, each team of scientists tried to think of something that might promote mold growth or decomposition.  Lexi’s team had sprinkled warm water on their foods before sealing the bag. Others had breathed their personal microbes into the bag, while another group had wiped the foods on the soles of their shoes. On Thursday, Lexi had that moment of elation when she examined her foods under a hand lens.  Like a gleeful football fan celebrating a Hail Mary completion, she turned to the room, arms raised above her head and shouted her triumphant observation…because, who really doesn’t get excited when they see mold finally…FINALLY growing on their slice of cheese!

Enjoy your nachos, everyone, and happy palindrome day. Oh, yeah, I hope the football game is good, too.