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Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloweens Past and Present 

I just got back from taking the kids trick or treating. It was a cool Oklahoma night, a pleasant evening, and the kids loved getting their loot. Patrick was a most enthusiastic vampire and Aubree was quite cute as a friendly ghost. I've inspected their candy and turned them loose to munch away. The sugar levels at this house will be at an all time high for the next few days. They've negotiated their exchanges....Aubree trades most of her chocolate for Patrick's sour candies.

We went downtown where several city blocks in the business district were roped off and businesses passed out treats. This little slice of small town Americana saw hundreds of kids getting candy while the crowd danced in the street to "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Rockin in the Free World." We dropped by the fall festival at the local church. Then I followed them while they walked my old neighborhood, knocking on the same doors I knocked on as a child. Patrick wore out after awhile. He sat in the car with me as I followed Aubree, my niece, and her friend. He leaned back, relaxed, and said, "Dad, I'm done for the night. I'll just sit here and do trick or tricking." I noticed that not nearly as many houses pass out treats as when I was kid. When I knocked on those doors as a child, the people who answered them knew me by name or at least by sight.

When I was their age it was all about the candy. I was never terribly consumed about having the right costume. I just wanted that big bag of candy. I knew the lady in the neighborhood who gave out candy apples and popcorn balls. That was a house you hit early in the evening, because once it was gone, she turned off her lights and retired for the evening. I loved those popcorn balls. We roamed my neighborhood, up and down the streets, trying not to miss any house. By the time I was Aubree's age (10), my parents didn't go with us anymore. We just roamed freely on those autumn nights, reveling in the idea that you could actually get candy just by knocking on doors.

When I was a little bit older, we combined mischief along with the trick-or-treating. We'd make water balloons and assault the unsuspecting neighbor kids. I'm pretty sure that an egg or two found its way into our hands. That grumpy lady down the street who put a sign on her door on Halloween that said, "Don't take candy from strangers"? Somehow eggs ended up on her house. We sprayed each other with shaving cream. In between our mischievous deeds we found time to get our sack of candy.

Then of course, there came a time when we were too old to trick-or-treat. The year before the adults gave us a fishy eye when we showed up at their doorstep, towering over the little kids who competed with us for that candy. It was also starting to have a slightly uncool feeling. Who wants to wear a Superman costume when you are battling zits and trying to impress girls?

One Halloween evening I picked up a few of my friends and went for a drive in my pickup. Someone brought a bag of very ripe persimmons. A few cans of shaving cream were strewn about the old truck along with a few cartons of eggs. We were gonna go out there and have a wild evening! We drove my truck up and down the streets of the small town where I attended high school. Other teenage revelers pelted my poor truck with eggs or shaving cream. We fired back. The town was a silly teenage war zone that evening. We pulled the truck to a stop when we saw a couple of guys that had messed with us early in the evening. I jumped out and fired an egg at the fleeing boy. It missed him but landed perfectly on the windshield of a parked car. Uh oh...time to get outta there.

We drove to a local car wash where I used the hot stream of water to wash the debris off of my truck. I got it all off and still had some time on the clock and I switched the water off. My friend came around the corner, both hands full of shaving cream, a big grin on his face. He ran toward me, I took one step, flipped the switch to turn the water back on, and sprayed the cream all over him, drenching him in the process. So sweet! He was telling that story twenty years later.

Halloween is an interesting holiday, isn't it? It is tied to ancient traditions, but has evolved in the modern world as something unique. We dress up to be something or someone else and engage in silly revelry. I enjoy seeing the autumn colors, the leaves blowing across a quiet street, children running excitedly from door to door, and a sense of openess and community that you don't see very many other times in the year. When else can you feel safe to knock on a stranger's door and be greeted with a smile and a treat?

Happy Halloween everyone!

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Normalcy 

It may not seem like a grand statement, but I'm feeling almost normal. Normal? So what? When I compare where I am today to where I was a year ago I can tell such a huge difference. I'm starting to feel more like me. You know what? Thats a really good feeling. I'm caring about the things I've always cared about, enjoying the things I've always enjoyed, and casting an eye to the future. I like the feeling.

There is something to be said for being who you are. This doesn't mean my world is hunky dory or that I'm walking around giddy. Its not and I'm far from that. I have significant challenges ahead of me to face and some really huge issues to work through. Whats different is that I feel capable of facing them. I look at my kids and think to myself, "you can do this. You can raise these children into adulthood, by yourself if that is how it works out." I look at my career challenges and think, "you can handle this, big guy. This and a whole lot more." I look to opportunities to further my writing and think, "maybe, just maybe you've got it in you." I think about relationships and think, "I've got another one in me. I can be loved for who I am and feel the same about someone else. " None of it will be easy and I may stagger along the way. But I've got the tools I was born with, life experiences, and a good education to carry me through the hard times. I had them a year ago, but felt paralyzed and defeated. Existence and survival aren't good enough. Making it through the day isn't enough anymore. Living in the past doesn't work for me now. I'm moving on with my life. Such a trite expression. I never really understood what it meant until now.

Let me give some examples. I've been a football fan for my entire life. Last year I really could've cared less. I watched very few games, and when I did watch it wasn't the same. When my favorite teams lost I just yawned. It didn't matter. Nothing much mattered when I was so absorbed in myself. Now? I'm enjoying the games again. I feel the passion I always enjoyed when watching high level athletic competition. That is normal for me.

I did things with the kids, because even through the fog I knew it was important. I went through the motions at Halloween, buying costumes, taking the kids trick or treating. I wanted them to enjoy it but I couldn't find any enjoyment myself. This year? We've had a blast searching for the right costumes. We sat on the front porch carving a really cool pumpkin. I can't WAIT until we go trick or treating. I want to see the costumes and I want to enjoy this childhood experience with the kids. That is normal.

I'm taking on more challenges in my professional life with gusto. I'm loving that. I savor the feeling of getting up in the morning, knowing I have a big day ahead of me, and knowing that there are things that will happen that I can't anticipate. I enjoy the feeling that my experience has prepared me for this and a whole lot more. This is much more me than I've been in a long time. My professional future is incredibly bright and I can't wait to make it happen. That is normal for me.

I'm taking more chances in my romantic life. Affairs of the heart always carry a measure of risk. I'm strong enough to take a setback if that is what happens. I'm optimistic enough to think about a future that involves someone in my life. Come what may, I feel like I'm ready to face it. If getting dumped again is the worst thing that ever happens to me then I guess I can count myself lucky. That is normal for me.

The holiday season is approaching and I'm actually looking forward to it. I'm not thinking about how to survive it. I'm thinking about how to enjoy it and make memories for myself and those I love. Last year at Thanksgiving I slept the entire afternoon away in my parent's chair. Part of that was fatigue, but part of it was just not wanting to face people and interact with them. Christmas? I made sure it was good for the kids but I hated the feelings that surged through me. Not this time baby. We're going to celebrate these holidays and celebrate them with enthusiasm. That is soooo normal for me.

Feeling normal feels so damned good. Hey world? Its Brian and he's back. He doesn't have it all figured out and maybe he never will. He is facing challenges instead of ignoring them. He's not always looking for the safe way or the road with the least risk. He wants to live. He doesn't know what his destiny is, but he's ready to face it. He is rediscovering old passions and finding new ones. He knows that this life is too short to do anything else. His time is now. That is normal for him.

Feeling normal doesn't mean that I won't feel down, won't get discouraged, or won't hit walls that fail to move for me. But it does feel like I'm me again, with a full toolbox to confront whatever comes ahead. My hands are on my destiny and I'm not looking back.

I feel normal. Anyone got a high five for that? *SLAP*

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Weekend Roundup 10/28-10/29 


Its Halloween weekend. Boooo!!! Scared? Nah, I didn't think so. Before you go trick or treating, pass out candy to munchkins, or getting into trouble, I thought you might like to peruse the scary excellent posts I came across in my blog travels this week.

Irina was sleepwalking through her day. Colleen was trying to sleep but had bad dreams.

Aka Monty got to compare her school behavior to that of her daughter. Joan got to show off some of her wedding pictures.

Annabel Lee doesn’t like the U.N. Breazy doesn’t like getting undeserved tickets.

Margaret enjoyed her parent conference night. Trucker Bob enjoys sharing some of nature’s beauty.

Bec was looking for a miracle. Walker was looking at travel plan options.

SonSon wants to know if it is ok to read a kid’s diary. Simply Satisfied wants to take a bite of Eve’s apple.

T. Marie was pondering Wilma’s destruction. Bsoholic was pondering his new work duties.

Joe is happier than he’s ever been. Amanda was quizzier than I’ve ever seen her!

Fly Girl thinks about a lot of things….sometimes. Mind of Me thinks about his alcoholism.

Veronica will miss her friend. Cheryl remembers a friend who was right about stretching.

Andie celebrates her third blogiversary. Sleeping Mommy celebrates her son’s first birthday!

Keb reports on her defensive driving class. Lime reports on her RIF book distribution.

Jack is feeling a little beat up. Lisa felt like writing about sex.

Mary Lou shares her little house of horrors. Mona shares her thoughts on mantras.

Karen actually enjoyed her visit to the dentist. Lu enjoyed her time in the great outdoors.

Pat tells us how her blog got its name. Seshat tells us about and shows us a cute little girl.

Sarah shares an intriguing soundtrack playlist. Melanie shares the two new guys in her life.

Is it really a marriage if you don’t live together? Check out Chicky Babe’s thoughts. Is rock n roll dead? Not if you ask Trusty Getto.

Buffi remembers a scary night. Stationery Queen remembers some Halloweens past.

Thomai reminds us that the majority is sometimes wrong. Mercy reminds us of the difficulty with stepchildren after a divorce.

Steel Cowboy went to a Halloween parade. Babs went a little panicky when her son brought a mouse into the house!

Ellen had lunch with an old friend. Monica made up with a friend of hers.

Teresa comments on the day’s headlines. Roselle comments on the legacy of Rosa Parks.

Jules translates pre school lingo for the rest of us. Robin shows us what a week of blogging can do to your desk.

Anne called her little brother. Stacey took a friend to the hospital.

Pearl shares some ideas for Halloween costumes. Leslie shares some tips about genealogy research.

The Funky Cowboy reports on how his diet is going. Asp reports on putting her bra on backwards.

Hillbilly Mom remembers a trip to Ketchikan. Jac remembers a swimming test and shares the beauty that came from it.

Ginger and her new TV boyfriend are happy together. Kathy is happy about wishes coming true.

Vickie shares some information about the history of Halloween. Phoenix shares a photographic walk down memory lane!

Feisty Girl wasn’t terribly pleased with her mother. Dawn was pleased to be able to sleep.

Laine got a hickey. Trick got to meet a fellow blogger.

Lil Bit does some female bashing. Susan does some reflective blogging from work.

M_D talks about family holidays. Tish talks about the remodeling going on at her place.

E was up at 4:30 a.m. The Real Me was waxing poetic about eyes.

Stephanie was wondering a few things. New Wave Gurly was wondering where her year has gone.

Restless Angel heard a funny line this week. Redneck Diva had to deal with mean people.

Poopie shares her philosophy on life. Boo shares a picture of her destroyed mailbox.

Have a fantastic weekend my friends. Boooo!!! Still didn't work did it? Ah well.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Blog World's Dark Side 

I have written here often about the friendships I've made, the relationships I've built, and all I've learned from the blogging community. All that is so very true. I have come to appreciate and know such a diverse group of people and been lucky enough to count a great many of them as friends of mine. We share so much of ourselves out here and it is amazing to me the bonds that can be created.

But there is a flip side to everything, isn't there? I've successfully avoided "blog feuds" for the past two years, and if I have my way I will continue to do so. I don't thrive on drama, don't need it, and have no desire to engage anyone in a war of words. But I've seen people I respect devote energy and time to what I think of as senseless feuds. Its really a simple concept. I tell kids at school almost every day, "Don't like that person? Then don't go around them. Don't talk to them. Leave them alone. If you continue to perpetuate the argument, you are the problem. It doesn't matter who is right or who is wrong. Stay away!" I try to take my own advice to heart. If your blog offends me in some way I just don't read it. I don't offend very easily, so this situation hardly ever comes up.

I have real life issues that can cause me stress, take my time and attention, and make me need a good stiff drink. I don't come here for those things. I blog because I like to write, because I feel a need to express myself, and because I enjoy the interaction and sense of community that I've found. We write about and discuss difficult issues but I've always viewed this community as being a support network. Lets say that someone writes about cheating on their spouse. I think its perfectly reasonable to comment that you think cheating isn't a great idea for a variety of reasons. I don't think its appropriate to engage in name calling or petty insults. We don't have to be cheerleaders but neither do we have to be catcallers. If I write something here that someone disagrees with, I would encourage them to make that known in a comment. Explain their reasoning, educate me, allow me to see it in a different light. Thats what its all about. Gratuitous insults? Count me out.

There is also a gossipy side to the blog community that gets under my skin. Sometimes it feels like junior high school. I'd like to say that I possess angelic innocence in this area, but that wouldn't be the truth. I do try to catch myself if I find a conversation going in that direction. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Some of it is natural and harmless, but I've seen it in a petty and destructive way that only serves to harm people. Is that what any of us really want?

It may be the "online world", but the relationships, friendships, alliances, jealousies, and rivalries can mirror their real world counterparts. I'm not advocating for bunches of warm fuzzies where we sit around and sing a virtual "Kumbaya" all the time. I guess I'm advocating for civility, restraint, and a respect for the huge diversity of opinions and ideas based on the vastly different lives that so many of us lead. I've seen some superb bloggers just give it up rather than be mired in an unpleasant war of words. That is a shame.

I want to make it clear that these are general thoughts and not directed at any one person or situation. This post has been coagulating in my head for months.

For myself, I came up with Brian's Blog Rules. Since I've been reading a book about "Seven Steps", I made seven of them. Feel free to join up if you're so inclined, disagree, or add something.

1. I will never lower myself to name calling. I may think it but I'll never write it.

2. I will respect the opinions of others in a way that I wish my own to be respected.

3. If I can't be polite, I'll click my little mouse to another location.

4. I will try to understand the difference between liberty and license. I'm free to write anything I please here or in someone else's comments. That doesn't mean I should always do it.

5. I'll try to keep reminding myself that other people's experiences are different from my own, and that before I'll cast a judgemental eye I will remind myself about walking in other people's shoes.

6. If I feel the need to gossip, I'll stand up from my chair, walk to my bookshelf and read one of the books there that can enrich my mind or provide a pleasurable escape.

7. I like a good debate as much as anyone else. Maybe more. But I'll confine my debate to ideas or philosophies and not personalities.

There now. Another post that has been rolling around for awhile finds its home in print. I feel so much better!

P.S. I'd like to thank my wonderful friend Carol who sent me some books about writing. She's a gem, and I hope to put her reading material to good use!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Midweek Meanderings 

Its Wednesday already and my week is flying by me.

I've been studying and reading the "Seven Steps to Effective Instructional Leadership". I've been making notes in preparation for the next session of the principal's academy tomorrow. I think I'm ready to discuss the book after I make a few more notes tonight.

An angry parent called me a "motherfucker" after I suspended her daughter. Separated from the girl she was having a conflict with, she went after her again in my presence and I had to physically restrain her. That earned her a suspension. Mom didn't agree. She threw a hissy fit, called me the name, and stormed out of my office, leaving her daughter there with me. The girl looked at me wide eyed. I just shrugged. So did the girl. After a couple of minutes mom came storming back in to take her.

My vice principal friend who always teased me about moms giving me hugs last year now had a new reason to tease me. He said, "the honeymoon's over baby. Welcome to my world!"

One of the things the mom chewed on me was that her daughter got elbowed in the face during the basketball game the night before. She said, "she got elbowed in the face. What do you call that?" I said questioningly, "basketball?" Getting elbowed is part of the game. She'd better hang it up now if that is going to be an issue.

Patrick has decided to be a vampire for Halloween. We have the vampire makeup kit ready to go. He loves the blood red amulet that came with it. He's also been threatening to suck all my blood and steal my soul. I told him I'd rather keep both. Aubree is going to be Tinkerbelle or some kind of little fairy.

Its Red Ribbon Week at school with a different them every day. Today was "crazy hair day". That leaves me out, right? Not quite. The people I work with wouldn't allow me to get out of it that easy. This guy got loose in the building to everyone's amusement.

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So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Opposite of Darkness 

Patrick walked in last night and said, "Dad, do you know what the opposite of darkness is?" Quickly, I said, "light of course." He laughed, rubbed my head and said, "no silly, the opposite of darkness is love." Love? "Yes dad. Just like darkness is infinite, so is love. There is no darkness when you have love." I asked him where he'd heard that and he said, "a movie." Of course, a movie. Then he expanded beyond the movie lines to talk about the infinity of love. "Dad, if you love me, then I love you twice as much. Then you love me twice as much as that. It can go on forever!" My son, the philosopher romantic. Where could he have gotten that from?

Is darkness the absence of love? I'm a sappy romantic in many ways, so the idea has merit for me. I'm trying to picture a world in which I neither give nor receive love. Is that even possible? Don't we all love someone or feel loved by someone? I say that and then I think of some people I have known who seem to have a loveless life. How tragic is that?

I think that you need to give and receive love to be a whole and complete person. Remember the movie "Castaway" and Tom Hanks' relationship with "Wilson" the soccer ball? I don't know if you could classify that as love, but Hanks poured out his emotions and feelings to that soccer ball. He even empathized with it and imagined it communicating back to him. Prisoners of war have written how the love of their families and friends help sustain them through the darkest times. They'd lay in their filthy cells an imagine those mundane exchanges we all take for granted. Kissing their wife goodbye. A family picnic. A night out on the town with their friends. A hug from a favorite aunt. Playing a game of chess with the kids. We express love in those simple events and gestures almost every day.

Patrick is right. Its love that shines light into our dark corners, nourishes us when we are ill, and provides the sunshine to our souls. The way romantic love can make you tingle and make your heart sing. The way that love of your children can make you feel warm when the world seems so cold. The way that the love of a good friend can help fill in the tiny holes that you just can't patch. The way that loving whatever God you worship can nurture your spirit. The way that even lost love, however painful, can help you grow in ways you never thought possible. The way that the love of a precious family pet can touch you in such unexpected ways.

I used to ask my students to define "love" and always enjoyed the responses. I think its like what a Supreme Court justice said of pornography: "I can't define it but I know it when I see it." I'd paraphrase that a bit. I may not be able to define it but I know it when I feel it. I feel it when my kids kiss me goodnight. I feel it when a good friend and I work through a problem in a chat or phone call. I feel it when the romantic interest in my life tells me she thinks I'm special. I feel it when I have dinner with an old friend. I feel when I sit around my parent's kitchen table and talk about life. I feel it when I help a kid work through an issue. I don't have to look for it. Its all around me.

I feel it and I know that what Patrick said is true. Without it there is only darkness.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Old Hickory 


Its Monday history post time. I generally avoid doing posts on American presidents, but this one seems to call out to me to write about. He was the seventh president of the United States. His picture graces the twenty dollar bill. His name was Andrew Jackson. He was among the most complicated of presidents. A president of the common man. A persecutor of Indian peoples. A military hero. A founder of what would become the modern Democratic Party.

Jackson was born in the backwoods of the Carolinas to a Scottish immigrant family and grew up in poverty. When the American Revolution began he joined the Continental Army as a courier at thirteen years old and was captured by the British army. While in captivity he refused to clean the boots of a British officer and was slashed with a knife, leaving a scar that was visible his entire life. His mother and brothers died in the war and the experience left him with a hatred of the British and a strong distrust for people of aristocratic backgrounds.

After the war he moved to Tennessee and became a frontier lawyer. He was known for his brilliant mind and fiery temper, fighting several duels over matters of "honor". He was a popular figure in Tennessee and served the state as a congressmen and senator when it became a state. He returned home and became a judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court and was also appointed a colonel of the Tennessee militia. It was his military exploits that brought him fame.

Jackson's militia waged war on the rebellious Creek Indians in the "Red Stick Wars" and imposed a treaty on the Creek nation, taking 20 million acres of land for white settlement. Sam Houston and Davy Crockett served under his command. He was regarded by his soldiers as being "tough as hickory", earning him a nickname that would last a lifetime. When the War of 1812 broke out he again fought Indians who took the side of the British. He was sent to defend New Orleans from British attack and won a major victory. Jackson Square is a major landmark in New Orleans to this day.

Jackson was ordered to take his army into Florida in 1817 to fight against Seminole and Creek Indians who it was said were attacking American settlements and sheltering runaway slaves. In this "1st Seminole War" Jackson occupied the state and the facts on the ground forced Spain to give up Florida to the United States. Jackson was appointed as governor of Florida Territory.

Jackson's military exploits brought him nationwide fame and he ran for president in 1824. He received more popular votes and electoral votes than any other candidate, but failed to win a majority, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. John Quincy Adams was chosen president by the House and Jackson spent the next four years railing against what he called the "corrupt bargain" that installed Adams in office.

He ran for president again in 1828 and won an overwhelming victory as the candidate of the new Democratic Party. In many states this was the first election that non-landowners were allowed to vote, and they voted for Jackson in large numbers. He was the first president that was not from one of the original thirteen colonies. He was the first president to come from a "common" background. He was the last American president to have been a veteran of the Revolutionary War and the only president to have been a prisoner of war.

Jackson was enraged that questions about his wife had been brought up during the campaign. He married Rachel in 1791, believing that she had been divorced from her husband. However, questions about the legality of the divorce forced them to marry for a second time. Jackson killed a man who insulted his wife's virtue in a duel and threatened many others. When his wife died shortly after he took office, he blamed his political opponents and never forgave Adams.

He threw open the doors of the White House for an inauguration party that lasted for days. A gigantic cheese was laid out for visitors to carve from. Kegs of beer flowed freely. Drunken revelers passed out in the hallways of the president's house. Jackson himself became ill and spent several days at a nearby hotel. The aristocracy of the country was aghast. He was demeaning the dignity of the office, they believed. How could a such a ruffian be president? The elite that ran the nation's financial and business affairs found themselves for the first time at odds with the president.

In those days the White House did not have the black fence that you see today. You could literally walk up and knock on the front door at any time of the day or night. Many people, seeing Jackson as their champion did just that. The White House staff was small, and it was not uncommon for the president himself to answer the door. People came and asked for jobs. Women came to complain to the president about their cheating husbands. Salesmen hawked their wares. Citizens lodged a complaint against a government agency. Can you imagine people having that kind of access to the president today?

Jackson fought a battle with Congress and the nation's financial elite over the Bank of the United States. Federal money was deposited in this bank which also made loans to the government and private industries. Jackson believed that the bank was undemocratic and favored the wealthy elite. He refused to deposit money into the bank, instead placing deposits in dozens of smaller banks around the country. He vetoed the reauthorization of the bank and succeeded in killing it off.

When the leaders of South Carolina threatened to "nullify" or ignore federal tariff laws, a national crisis appeared to be in the making. Jackson's own vice president, John C. Calhoun, supported the effort of his home state to ignore federal laws that they believed violated their rights. Jackson threated to personally lead an army into South Carolina and hang the leaders. Although sympathetic with his native South, he strongly opposed the idea that states had a right to secede from the Union. The arguments that ensued were echoed thirty years later at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Jackson supported the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which authorized the president to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes to exchange their tribal lands in the East for land west of the Mississippi River. He ignored a Supreme Court decision that stated that Georgia could not forcibly remove Cherokees from their land. Jackson's actions resulted in the "Trail of Tears" in which thousands of Indians from the "Five Civilized Tribes" died during a forced march to the newly formed "Indian Territory". Millions of acres of tribal lands were opened to white settlers as a result. Many Creeks felt personally betrayed by Jackson, having fought beside him during the Red Stick Wars and the War of 1812.

Jackson was the first American president to have an assassination attempt made on his life. David Lawrence, an unemployed painter pulled a pistol on Jackson, but the gun misfired. Incredibly, he pulled out a second pistol which also misfired! President Jackson proceeded to beat his assailant with a cane.

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After eight years in office Jackson retired to his Hermitage estate in Tennessee. He died there in 1845.

Jackson was a complicated man and so is his legacy. He made great contributions in the expansion of democracy and including the common man as a voice in national affairs. He was a bulwark against the elites who tried to run the country no matter who was in office. His strong stand against secession averted a possible breakup of the country. He was a skilled military commander and a strong leader of men.

His brutal treatment of native tribes tarnishes his legacy. The greedy land grab of historic tribal territory is a blot in the history of this country and a blot on Jackson's reputation. How do we square the good and the bad? How can someone who was such a champion for the poor have also been an owner of slaves until his death? Does the good done on one hand redeem the bad done with the other?

This is of course a question asked about many presidents. Lincoln saved the Union but shredded the Constitution during the Civil War, Johnson pushed through historical civil rights changes but got bogged down in Vietnam, and Nixon achieved great diplomatic successes but squandered it all in a burglary coverup.

Jackson was one of the most fascinating of all presidents. Colorful, controversial, opinionated, strong-willed, and sure of the righteousness of his actions. Over 150 years after his death historians are still trying to figure him out.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Meet the Kids 

I mentioned in previous posts that I had a friend coming this weekend. What I didn't make clear was that this was a female friend and that she was going to meet my kids for the first time. Furthermore, I was going to meet one of hers. They came in Friday evening and left this afternoon.

I've written here many times about the trepidation I've had about allowing the women in my life to meet my children. Given everything they've been through, my heart aches at the thought of them becoming attached to someone and getting burned again. I feared they'd fall for her and then it wouldn't work out. I feared they would'nt fall for her and I'd be looking at a situation of having feelings for someone that my kids didn't care for.

I've been dating for over a year and the only woman who met the kids was someone they already knew. The other women were practically unknown to them. When I'd go on a date I would dodge questions about who I was seeing. "I'm just going out to the movies with a friend", was a common reply. What friend? "Just a friend." Whats her name? "Dont worry about it. You don't know her."

So why the change now? Why did I allow her to meet them? This has been on my mind for some time now. First, I thought I was being overly paranoid in the cautious direction. Its not like I'd be saying, "hey kids, meet your new mommy", or anything like that. I'm introducing them to a friend, someone I'm interested in, someone whose company I find enjoyable. I decided there was nothing wrong with the kids being part of that. Second, this woman is someone I've got to know well enough to get a strong sense that it would be ok. It just felt right. I've also come to believe that before I can really get serious about anyone I have to see them around the kids. I suppose I just decided that if I didn't make a big deal out of it that the kids wouldn't either.

A woman coming to my house? Operation "Clean The Pit" was in full swing for a week. Nooks and crannies got attention they hadn't seen for awhile. She tried to assure me that all that wasn't necessary. I thought it was. The kids were good sports about helping out with the knowledge that a weekend of fun was lying ahead of them.

How did it go? I'd have to say that it went great. We had a fun time at the movies on Friday night. We came back to my house and the kids collapsed in exhaustion after a big day. On Saturday we went to Oktoberfest, spent some time at two local parks, had a nice dinner out, and came home. I was trying to wear the kids out, but it was me who had to take a nap for awhile! Today it was back to the park again and the kids played outside with our dog.

The kids seemed to like her. Patrick told her that she had, "nice buttocks" and "the face of a 20 year old." My son, the charmer. Of course, he also knocked a drink out of her hand swinging a blanket around and farted in the car. Aubree had a magnificent time with her daughter. They stayed up last night, giggling and watching movies, until late at night and were practically inseparable for most of the visit. Patrick played with both of them in the park and at home, and that seemed to go nicely as well. I found her daughter to be a lovely girl, charming, funny, feisty, and good with my kids. Everyone seemed relaxed and at ease, and that includes me!

This feels like a milestone of sorts, a marker that I haven't been able to force myself to meet before. After a fantastic weekend, I think I made the right decision. No one can ever be certain about the future, but I do know that the kids and I were able to enjoy the company of a lovely woman and her daughter. Whats wrong with that?

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Weekend Roundup 10/21-10/22 


It looks like a cool autumn weekend. We have visitors coming. We plan on going to Oktoberfest. Schnitzel, streudel, or sausages anyone?

But before I consume any Bavarian pretzels I thought I'd stroll around the blogworld. What a week its been! Here, take my hand and go for a walk with me. See over there? How about over here? Keep looking.....

Restless Angel is ready for the rain to go away. E was ready for her headache to go away.

Aubree is happy about her new frog. E is happy that her son got through surgery and is just fine.

Chicky Babe wants to know if chocolate is better than sex. Boo wants to know what will make her not feel so overwhelmed.

Feisty Girl’s breasts have slain many a bra. Karen’s essay will make you think. (scroll to “What Doesn’t Kill Us”)

Breazy had a spiritual experience. Want to experience a work of art in progress? Check out this post from Veronica.

Irina misses some things about the country of her birth. SonSon wishes she’d missed out on the book series she’s been reading.

Margaret wonders if her daughter is too old to trick or treat. Walker wonders why a man should go to jail for having a cell phone.

Cheryl’s son changed his mind about his Halloween costume….with a little of mom’s help. Phoenix’s son was born twelve years ago but not without a little drama!

Ellen has been checking out National Geographic’s wildcam. Babs was checking out nature.

Hillbilly Mom just rocks. Trick just needs to let off some steam.

New Wave Gurly is thinking about Wilma. Lewis is thinking about the definition of peace.

Keb is nursing a sore boob. Pat is rolling her eyes at Madonna’s plans to bring back disco.

Shirazi discusses the earthquake’s impact on Pakistan’s economy. Monica discusses her different selves.
Simply Satisfied has some cravings. Dwayne has a clean garage.

Sally went for a ride on a four wheeler. Steel Cowboy is taking a coworker for a ride.

Teresa shares 100 things about herself. Robin shares her thoughts on letting her kids cuss.

Lime introduces us to her kids. Roselle introduces us to “her song”.

Joan thinks Halloween is getting a little carried away. Pearl thinks those serendipitous moments had their purpose.

Kathy reports on a “ride for kids”. Scorpy reports on her new job!

Colleen has a confession to make. Justin has a new place to eat lunch.

Janine has some thoughts on hazing and bullying. Buffi has some random thoughts of her own.

In this corner Bsoholic has a fighter. In this corner you’ll find Vickie, a dreamer and a fighter.

Mel just returned from Bali. Lori just took the road less traveled.

Seshat is taking a vote on what to write about. Ginger is getting desperate for “Desparate Housewives” to get better.

Darla shares pictures of the South Carolina sky. Thomai shares her thoughts about the “spark” that some people have.

Stacey got rid of a toenail. Chrissy got rid of sodas.

Maddy wants to know how people turn away from the horror. Frani wants to know how to keep burglars out of her home.

Mercy remembers being lost. Tisha remembers when people weren’t thinking of suing fast food restaurants for causing obesity.

Lil Bit writes an ode to the fall. Chosha writes about a man who reported a missing car but not his missing son.

Leslie has the washing machine blues. Bec had the restless blues.

Wanna see Fly Girl when she’s worn out? Wanna find out about Lu’s true lies?

Jules shares some snippets from a day on the job. Rachel shares thoughts about being a failure.

Jazzy had a lover’s lunch. Melanie had some rotten eggs and a most interesting conversation about them.

Mind of Me talks about a narcissistic coworker. Betsy talks about taking advantage of being offline.

Aka Monty liked this description of her blog. Asp likes Mark Darcy.

Dawn is trying to improve her sleep. Sarah is trying to be a better boss.

Mystic knows how she likes it. Anne knows what her needs are.

Mona discusses being open to new things. Anica discusses a lot of things about herself.

Michael discusses the death of Rick Nelson. Stephanie discusses her dad’s birthday and fathers past and present.

Trucker Bob is thinking about a trip to Florida. Lisa was thinking about finding the right deodorant.

M_D’s blog was taken over in a very canine way. John wishes someone else would take over the New Orleans Saints.

Lisa’s husband got a new job. Someone might need a new nose if they don’t stop messing with Andie while she’s in her tae kwon do outfit.

Stephanie reports on a guy who faked being a doctor to pick up girls. Wanda reports on things she hates.

Amanda is so over playing the lottery. Annabel is featuring a “song of the day”.

Kim reports on a mansion on wheels. Christine is reporting on Wilma and how it might affect her plans.

What a stroll eh? Don't forget to wave and smile and let them know how great they are. Because they really are......and so are you.

Have a fantastic weekend my friends!

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

If You Build It 

Fulfilling a long made promise, I took Aubree to the "Build A Bear" store to let her have a stuffed animal. She was so very excited and her excitement must've infected Patrick because he chose to spend his money on a bear as well. She picked out a frog, selected a heart, got her stuffed and outfitted, and chose to name her "Jenny". Jenny the Frog. Patrick chose to name his bear "Junior".

I watched as the syrupy sales girl had them rub the heart against their own before it was sewn into the stuffed animal. I watched as air and stuffing blew the stuffed animal to life. I watched as the kids found the clothing and accessories to make their creation personal. I watched as they printed out a birth certificate with their new loved one's name. I watched their delight as they hugged them for the first time.

My mind has a habit of going the strangest places at the strangest times. In the midst of this very bubbly kiddy store I started thinking about genetic engineering. I thought about articles I've read that outlined a future where parents could choose their children's eye and hair color, eliminate genes known to cause cancer, alcoholism, or homosexuality, give them that extra boost of athleticism from an athletic donor, or an extra dose of intelligence from some PhD student.

It would be a "Build A Kid" world. Perhaps some perky nurse would show you all the possible selections in a nicely colored brochure. For enough money your kid could be a dynamo, a cross between Michael Jordan and Albert Einstein. She could be beautiful and long-legged and not have to worry about dying her hair. He or she would have all the necessary characteristics to make you proud. Go through the checklist, get out your checkbook, and your tailor made child would be ready for you soon.

This got me to thinking. If I was going through a checklist like that, would I have chosen to have a son with autism and ADHD? I'm guessing I wouldn't have. Would I have picked my daughter to be exactly as she is? Probably not. I would've wanted all those same things people dream of when they think of having children. My kids would be smart, attractive, and the envy of their peers. Thats the nirvana, isn't it?

But then I thought some more. I thought what I would've missed out on. I would've missed out on a son who can't walk by me without kissing me on top of my head. I would've missed all those funny things he says and all those magnificent inventions he's created. I would've missed out on the way his eyes light up when he sees me come in the door. I would've missed out on my daughter and her unique personality that I adore so much. Perhaps she wouldn't laugh the same way or have that way of bouncing when she walks. Maybe she wouldn't run with her hair flying in the wind the way she does now.

When I think of it that way, perfection isn't so desirable. What matters to me about them is their heart. Just as their little stuffed creatures had a heart sewn into them, my kids were born with a unique nature that I treasure. They aren't something to be built to standard. They are human beings to be nurtured and loved just as they are.

I'd like to think that I've metaphorically rubbed my own heart and given them a small piece of it to carry with them, just like they did with their bears. I'd like to believe that I've given them the best of me and that they will shed the worst.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Midweek Meanderings 

Its Wednesday. Yay! Not only is this the middle of the week, but it feels like Friday. There is no school for the next couple of days. Gotta love a long weekend!

My apologies to all who have had trouble commenting the last couple of days. Just when I thought my comment problem was permanently cured, they start appearing and disappearing at random again. I'll be damned if I understand what the problem is. Hopefully it will clear up soon!

I've been remiss in not mentioning the terrible earthquake that hit Pakistan, home of my friend Shirazi. Look at some of the pictures he has chronicled here. Thousands are dead and many more have lost their homes in this beautiful nation. This site is taking donations for the relief effort.

One of our low functioning students has a propensity for groping the female staff members that assist him. They lower their guard for a moment and his hands are where they definitely shouldn't be. They asked if I'd like to assist them today. I told them I regretfully had to pass.

Another low functioning student decided to pee where he wasn't supposed to. In the handicapped bathroom we have a plastic trashcan with gloves, wipies, and extra clothes. He walks right past all the urinals and lets it fly into the container, ruining the supplies and causing us to have to wash the clothes. Argh!

Patrick is hyper charged about the upcoming Halloween festivities. He so LOVES Halloween. Sometime in the next few days we'll get his costume together. Aubree? She likes to trick-or-treat but the costume thing is just the price she pays to get what she wants....free candy!

This time of year tends to pass quickly for me. A fall holiday this week, work a few weeks, Thanksgiving, a few more weeks, and then Christmas holidays. Its the spring that seems to last forever!

I'm looking forward to the weekend of course. We are having a couple of visitors whose company I know we will enjoy!

I have a little light reading ahead of me in the next week. "7 Steps to Effective Instructional Leadership" is my assignment for next week. I've read about half of it and actually enjoyed some of the ideas. I may even write a post about it.

We have a school policy against having cell phones in the classroom. Kids may bring them to school, but during the school day they must remain in the locker and turned off. We had a mom that instructed her daughter to carry her cell phone with her at all times. I explained the policy to her. She said that her daughter needed the cell phone in case of emergencies. I asked her to explain what emergency she was going to have in math class that would necessitate her having to use a cell phone. No good answer, but she didn't trust that it wouldn't be stolen out of her locker. Well, then don't bring it to school! This was a nice cell phone. I really don't understand the logic of sending a $300 piece of electronic equipment to school with an eleven year old. The odds of it actually ever being truly needed? Almost zero. The odds of it getting her in trouble, getting broke, or being stolen? Fairly high.

After crawling on my hands and knees through my mother's attic tonight and laying on my stomach covered with old insulation to diagnose a roof leak, I came to a conclusion. I'm too old for this shit! My knees are still throbbing from planting themselves on ceiling joists.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Shelf Life 

I was reorganizing and dusting off my bookshelf a couple of days ago. Yes, I do try and do that every now and then! I picked up my high school yearbook from my senior year. Every so often I do this and go back and look at the pictures. I can’t really call high school my “glory days” like many people can, but I did have some great times and some great friends.

What I rarely do is look at the inscriptions. This time I paged through the book, reading what classmates had written to me twenty six years ago. I was amused by some of them and others gave me some warm fuzzies. I thought I’d share a few here and respond to them.

Steve: I know its tough to put up with kids like me. You have a good sense of humor and helped make this a good year for me. Good luck in college!

Thanks Steve. You weren’t really all that bad. On a pain-in-the-ass rating I would’ve only given you about a “5”. You really shouldn’t have put that glass of water on the top shelf of my locker and got me wet. That was uncool!

Lori: You are really a sweet guy and I’ve enjoyed being in 2nd hour with you. You’d make a nice “Paw” and you make a really cool friend. Remember us when you grow up to be a famous coach or maybe the president. OK? Your friend always.

Lori, I remember that 2nd hour class very well. You were a pretty decent “Maw” yourself. (Lori and I co-starred as hillbilly parents in a school play). I’m not famous, I’m not a coach anymore, and its safe to say that I’ll never be president. I did have a crush on you. Its too bad that play didn’t have any kissing scenes in it.

Bart: I’m really glad we got to know each other. We’ve had so many laughs together. I hope for the best in your life Brian and I know you’ll go far. I hope you catch the biggest fish every some day.

Bart! My man! You were one of my favorite people in school. I loved how you could climb anything…the rock wall of the school, the flagpole, or any fence in existence. I remember our baseball field trip where you talked one of the girls out of a pair of her panties, climbed the pole at the other school, and hung them from the top. All the adults were mad, but none of them were willing to climb up and get those panties down. They all knew it was you but couldn’t prove it. It was so cool that you graciously volunteered to climb up there and get them down. No surprise to me that you went into high wire construction and made a fortune. The last I heard you married my prom date from our senior year. Hope all is well with both of you!

Eilena: To a sweet “man”. I’ve enjoyed sharing the fun of P.O.D. class with you and wish you luck. I know you will succeed. Love, Eilena Marie (not Sue)

Eilena, I was thrilled to see you finally acknowledge my manhood status at last. I know you teased me enough about the difference between being a boy and a man. That’s only fair I guess. I teased you about our trip to the state capital and that senator standing right in front of you with an unzipped fly while you sat on his office couch. I had a mega-crush on you. (Did I have a crush on every girl?) Remember when you worked at Wal Mart and I was always coming in? I must’ve spent every minimum wage dollar I had in that store so I could “bump into you”. For some reason I always thought Sue fit in better with your name. Tell you what…you call me a man and I’ll get your middle name right. Deal?

Ben: I’m sorry we couldn’t get to know each other better. Too bad we couldn’t go on a date (just kidding!). You were a great friend when I first came here and you helped me out a lot. I thank you for that.

Ben, I’m glad you put that just kidding thing in there. You had me worried just for a second. I remember your first day there at school. Dude, you had some serious hair! I remember your mom paying me gas money to bring you home from basketball practice each day. She financed the gas and the cold Coke I just had to have every day. I never saw you after I graduated and I hope things have worked out for you.

Larry: Its been real fun going to school with you. We’ve had some real good times playing jokes on people. Remember when Craig kissed that girl?

Larry, you had to bring up my practical joking past. The never-ending locker jokes…cups of water (and worse) in lockers, super glue, and tacks. The tools of the trade. It wasn’t me who let all the air out of Ricky’s truck tires. I thought that was you! That Craig-kissing-the-girl thing? I just contributed a couple of bucks like a bunch of others did. It was her first day of school. We paid Craig to walk up to her in the hall and kiss her fully on the lips. We laughed when he got slapped right in the face. Yeah, I was laughing too. Kids are so damned mean, aren’t they?

Rebecca: To a totally nice guy that I like a lot. This year has been fun, just talking or smiling when we see each other in the hall. Good luck in the future.

Rebecca, we never quite got it together did we? You were crushing on me big-time when I was a sophomore. All those notes you wrote and your friends telling me, “she likes you!” Alas, I was crushing on someone else at the time. Then I decided I liked you but you had a boyfriend. Then you decided you liked me but I had a girlfriend. All those notes, all those times in the parking lot, all the little glances we exchanged. We somehow managed to like each other for several years and the only thing that came out of it was a few kisses at the band contest and me playing Yahtzee with you and your mom that time. I do sometimes wonder how you’re doing. Is that weird?

Derek: Its been cool going to school with you and we had a lot of good times. If you ever need a good laugh just think of the time we cheated in P.O.D.

Derek! My long haired California friend. I could use a good laugh, so don’t mind if I do dredge up the P.O.D. (Problems of Democracy) cheating episode. I actually knew that material pretty well, but you and my other friends didn’t. Our class was in the same room where math was taught the rest of the day. The board was full of algebra problems. So I converted all the test answers to mathematical formulas. Need to remember that the president made 200k a year? I wrote on the board “PxS=200,000”. Brilliant but devious if I do say so myself! The teacher never even noticed all the odd math equations on the board. Almost everyone made a perfect score on that test. We got rewarded with a free day of Cokes and playing poker in class.

David: Stony, haha! I’ve enjoyed going to school and playing basketball with you. Keep practicing and maybe you’ll be able to slam dunk like me! Good luck with your Dodge. Maybe you’ll actually get it running right one of these days. Keep straight and stay in touch with the Guy in the Sky.

David, you were just one of those people that was impossible to dislike. Such a funny guy! No one has called me “Stony” for more than 25 years. Unless you grew six inches after high school I doubt you ever got to the slam dunk stage. Of course, I can’t do it now either! My Dodge wasn’t THAT bad. It ran. Do you remember that Halloween night when you and some other guys were riding in back? We passed the local hangout and the guys in the parking lot starting pelting those of you in the back with bottle rockets and persimmons? You weren’t happy that I stopped and let you guys suffer the barrage while I sat safely in the cab of the truck. But you had a sense of humor and got over it quickly! Hope you’re doing well my friend. Something tells me that you are.

I wonder what I wrote in their books? Something witty and impressive I’m sure. When I watch kids signing yearbooks I sometimes remind them that their classmate’s grandchildren might be reading some day, so please be nice!

Why is it that I can read those words and feel instantly back there? Perhaps I really haven’t changed all that much. I’m older, wear better clothes, and don’t have the funky hairdo. But I can see myself in everything I read. I hadn’t had the successes or the failures I’ve experienced in life. But my essence, what makes me unique, was the same then as it is now.

I don’t play practical jokes like that anymore. Much.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

The Assassin 


History isn't all heroes. Today's history post will discuss one of the best known criminals in American history.

His brazen act shocked a nation. The big sigh of relief that had been spreading turned into anger and grief. He was at the head of a plot to decapitate the government of the United States. He shot and killed a president. His name was John Wilkes Booth.

He was born in Maryland, son of a well known and respected Shakesperean actor. He attended boarding school in the winter, and was encouraged by his often absent father to indulge himself in the classics. He studied and memorized Shakespeare and the best known literature of the day. He was known for his ability to recite long passages from memory. Like his brothers he set out to be a famous actor.

During tours of the South he fell in love with the courtly customs, rituals, accents, of the southern states. Considered quite handsome and dashing, he had a string of lovers across the South. He met influential and wealthy people and began building a name for himself. Never before political, he began to strongly sympathize with the southern states view of sovereignty, economics, and slavery. He felt that the wealthy, industrial northern states were bullies, oppressing a proud and tradition-minded southern people. He joined a local militia in Richmond called the Richmond Greys. When abolitionist John Brown was hanged after his raid on Harper's Ferry, Booth attended the funeral as part of the honor guard. He felt the fire burn within him. How dare Brown and others try to impose their views on the South and threaten to use force?

Booth's acting career continued to soar. By the time the Civil War broke out he was one of the best known actors in the nation. His name on the playbill was a huge drawing card. He was making over $15,000 a year, a princely sum for the time. He wore finely tailored suits and moved in high society circles. His reputation as a womanizer continued to grow as well. He was rumored to have a lover in dozens of cities.

When the Civil War broke out, Booth continued his acting career rather than joining the Confederate Army. He'd promised his mother that he would avoid combat but he wanted desperately to help the South. So he used his connections, wealth, and ability to travel to carry messages between the Confederate government and its sympathizers in the North. Even though his sympathies were well known, he continued to draw large crowds in northern cities. He even played in Washington, D.C., and in the audience was Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States.

His network of spies and sympathizers carried on their activities throughout the war. By 1864 things were looking bleak for the South. Lee had suffered a devastating defeat at Gettysburg and Sherman was marching through the South and setting it afire. Booth and his friends devised a plan. They would kidnap the president of the United States and hold him for ransom. The ransom price? Release of Confederate prisoners. A large sum of gold. Perhaps an end to the war itself.

He assembled a network of associates to pull off his plan. John Surrat, whose mother ran a boarding house in Washington, D.C., Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Blaine Arnold, and a few others were at the core of his conspiracy. They met and plotted. President Lincoln was to attend a play at Ford's Theatre in January, 1865. Their plan? Turn out the house lights, enter the president's box, knock him unconscious, lower him on to the stage, drag his body out the back door, load it on a carriage, cross the Potomac River, and make for Richmond, Virginia. There was only one problem with the plan. Lincoln decided not to attend the show that night. The plotters were frightened that someone had been tipped off and left town quickly.

Lincoln was re-inagurated president in March, 1865. Guess who was in attendance? Booth's privileged status enabled him to have a front row seat. He watched, seething in hatred, as Lincoln gave his second inaugural address. He could've easily pulled out a gun and shot him right there, but was still focused on the kidnapping plan.

During this time he courted Bessie Hale, the daughter of a northern Senator. He gained her father's approval for marriage and she became his fiancee. The wedding would be put on hold for awhile while Senator Hale took up his new position as ambassador to Spain. In spite of Booth's southern leanings, the Hale family was thrilled that their daughter was engaged to such a well known actor.

Then everything changed. On April 9, 1865 Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. The war was over. Washington, D.C. erupted in celebration. Parties were thrown and people danced in the streets. Booth and his followers watched as Lincoln appeared on the balcony of the White House and gave a victory speech. An angry Booth came up with an entirely different plan.

He and his followers would decapitate the northern government and throw it into chaos. Four assassinations were planned to be carried out on the same night. His followers would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, Sec. of State William Seward, and Sec. of War Edwin Stanton. Booth cast himself in the starring role. He would kill the president. Booth believed that this would throw the government into chaos and hearten the South. Maybe things weren't really over. A rejuvenated, revived Confederacy would not lay down their arms after all.

Booth read that Lincoln would attend the Ford's Theatre production of "Our American Cousin"on April 14, 1865. Sending his other agents to slay their targets, he went to a bar near the theater and had a couple of drinks. Booth was familiar with the play and knew that only one actor would be left onstage at a certain point in the show. The crowd was roaring in laughter as actor Harry Hawk stood onstage belting out his lines. Booth climbed the stairs, opened the door to the presidential suite, and stepped inside. He drew his 50 caliber derringer and fired a bullet into the back of Lincoln's head. After a brief scuffle with Henry Rathbone, Lincoln's guest, Booth stood up on the edge of the balcony. The crowd was still laughing. Booth leapt off the balcony, but his foot caught on the bunting that decorated the presidential box. He landed awkwardly on the stage, instantly breaking his leg. Hobbling to the center he looked at the crowd. Many were still laughing. Is this a surprise? The great Booth making a guest appearance? He yelled out, "Sic semper tyrannis", Latin for "thus always to tyrants", hobbled across the stage on his broken leg, and exited out the back door to his waiting carriage. No one knew anything was wrong until Mrs. Lincoln's screams pierced the air.

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His friends? They all failed. Atzerodt got drunk and never even tried to kill the vice president. Herold knocked on the Sec. of War's front door and left when a police patrol seemed to eye him suspiciously. Paine succeeded in getting into Stanton's home, cut him with a knife, but was forced to flee. He spent the night in the Washington cemetery as the rest of the conspirators rode south.

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There was an all out manhunt for Booth and his friends. Paine and Atzerodt were caught as was Mary Surratt. Dr. Samuel Mudd was arrested after admitting to tending Booth's broken leg. Federal soldiers cornered Booth and Herold in a tobacco shed. Herold surrendered but Booth dared the soldiers to come and get him. The soldiers set the shed on fire, and violating the orders they were given, one of the soldiers fired into the shed, killing Booth.

A few months later, Paine, Atzerodt, Herold, and Mary Surratt were hanged in a public ceremony. Several other conspirators were given life sentences. Booth, in death, went from being one of the most popular men in the nation to among the most reviled. An assaassin and a killer.

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The South didn't rise again. Northern soldiers occupied key southern cities for the next ten years. Slavery was abolished. Lincoln became a martyred president, the first of four to be assassinated while in office.

John Wilkes Booth achieved the fame he had always strongly desired, but it was not the kind of fame Junius Brutus Booth had hoped for his son. He goes down in history as a killer who greatly damaged the ability of the country to come back together after a bloody Civil War.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Ones You Lose 

Doctors have patients that die on the operating table. Lawyers lose big cases in court. A psychiatrist's patients sometimes commit suicide. Marriage counselors can't save every marriage. A house burns in spite of a firemen's best efforts. A preacher can't save all the souls they reach out to.

I often write of my pride in former students of mine. Not that I claim any responsibility. But you have the privilege of teaching them or working with them, see their potential, and do your small part to help them move along their path. I have former students who are in their late 30's now. Is that really possible? Some have been neurosurgeons, N.F.L. football players, lawyers, teachers, scientists, state political party chairmen, stunt men, actresses, or military officers. Some have settled into happy lives as husbands, wives, partners, or parents. When I run into them or hear from them I am thrilled. See there? I always knew it! There is a small measure of validation that balances out the frustrations of my profession. Kids grow up and achieve success. Its a thrill to think that you were even a tiny part of that.

Then there are those kids that you know are destined for trouble. You can see it when they are 11 years old. The kids you work so hard with. You see the path that is before them and you desperately want to help them avoid it. But you know that the odds are against you. You see the anger. You see the totally dysfunctional family situation. You know about the drugs.

A man recently substituted in my building and we were chatting. He noted that he grew up in the rural area of my hometown and had relatives living there. He told me his name and it rang a bell. I told him that I once had a student by that name. He said, "thats my nephew." I asked how he was doing. He said, "he's in prison now." Big sigh. This was a big kid, a good athlete, who struggled in the classroom. His father had died a violent death and his mother had big problems. He was being raised by his grandmother when I knew him. He fought everything and everyone around him.

I went home and looked him up on the Corrections Department offenders website. When I click on his name a man stared back at me in the picture. Currently incarcerated on a charge of shooting with intent to injure. Gang tatoos. Drug and firearm convictions. I look into the hardened eyes of a 23 year old man who ten years ago spent many hours in my office. Almost always it was for fighting. A young guy practically bursting at the seams with anger at the world. Albert would sometimes challenge me to tetherball games during lunch. He loved playing basketball and football and I leveraged that to try to get him to do better in the classroom. He would tell me, "I can't be weak. I can't let anyone diss me." I told him that violence wasn't the answer, that there was another way to live your life. I remember telling him, "Albert, if you act this way when you're out of school you'll end up jail." His chilling reply is clear in my mind to this day. "Mr. S, it doesn't really matter. I'd rather go to jail than let anyone mess with me."

I felt depressed looking through his photos and reading about his convictions. I could see this back then. I told his grandmother that I was very concerned about his anger. She didn't want to see it. She loved the boy, always made excuses for him. He always had a good reason for what he did in her mind. She refused my offers of counseling services and interventions. It could've been different for you Albert. A tiny part of me feels like I let you down.

This made me think back to other students I was sure were heading for trouble. I looked up five kids. Four hits.

Chris was a student I spent a lot of time with. I've been in his house numerous times, driving him home when I suspended him or was just giving him a "time out" for the day. His dad was a long haul trucker and rarely around. His mother was a hysterical woman, unable to really exert much control over this very angry teenaged boy. I walked in a classroom once and Chris had the teacher pinned behind her desk and was throwing pens and paper clips at her from the desk. He wouldn't stop and I ended up tackling him to the ground. I held him on the ground, talking to him, trying to calm him down. You could feel the anger just seep out of him. Then he cried and pulled me back when I attempted to let him go. I saw his father backhand him once and knock him over a chair. I reported it but nothing was ever done. Chris lived not far from me and would come by sometimes and stop to talk. A tough kid. Once he came by with a friend on skateboards. We talked for a few minutes and I invited them to have a soft drink on my porch on that hot summer day. You could see the boy in him still. He liked comic books and skateboards. Now I look at a picture of a man in his twenties, hardened by years of meth abuse and with five criminal convictions. It just breaks my heart.

Then there is Tracy. I worked with him during the same years I worked with Chris. They were friends, got in trouble together quite a bit. Not as physically aggressive or volatile as the others were, but seriously troubled. He was also very childlike in many ways. I used to keep baseball cards and candy in a desk drawer. When he was having a good day he would be rewarded by a trip to my office. I'd give him a card and a piece of candy. Sometimes that was a great motivator and sometimes it didn't work at all. You never knew with Tracy. He was a sneaky guy, smarter than many people thought he was. I once caught him with cigarettes secreted in a toothbrush holder, stuck in his shoe. I think of him back then, smiling when he came into my office to show me a "good note" from his teacher and waiting for his reward. How we talked once about the designated hitter rule. The way he would hang his head when he knew he was in trouble. I see that he was recently released from prison after serving time for grand larceny. It so fits the pattern I saw in him as an early adolescent. Very sad.

I knew A.J. would be there. He was perhaps the most volatile, violent adolescent I have ever worked with. During his two years at my school I was called on to restrain him probably twenty times. He could explode at anything and you never knew when it was coming. He was believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome and was adopted when he was a year or two old. I was called once to get to his classroom in a hurry. When I entered there were two male teachers holding him down on the ground. He'd apparently attacked another child and the teacher. These two grown men were having a hard time restraining this 13 year old. I joined them and tried to talk to him. He was so angry that he couldn't speak. Eventually, four of us held him on the ground, each taking an arm or leg. For almost an hour he fought against us. His parents and the police were called. When the police arrived they rolled him on his stomach, handcuffing his legs and hands together. Even trussed up like this he continued to fight the cuffs, his arms bleeding. The police were sure he was on PCP or something like it. His father arrived and tried to talk to him. Nothing worked until he finally just collapsed of exhaustion. His jeans, shirt, and socks were completely soaked in sweat. He was taken away in an ambulance, an IV running for fear of dehydration. A.J. had several short stints in the hospital but always came back quickly. The reason? His parents had no health insurance. They were in the famous "middle", blue collar workers who didn't make enough to afford insurance but made too much to qualify for state aid. In his second year with us I was able to persuade a friend who worked for a local hospital to take his case up the ladder. We got him free treatment and counseling but it was difficult for everyone.

A couple more A.J. stories. I once took him to his mother's workplace when he was acting out. This was a procedure we sometimes used with him. She was expecting him, waiting by the door. As soon as I stopped my car he jumped out and bolted. We spent the next couple of hours looking for him...me, his parents, the police. When we found him we took him to a local branch of the hospital, staffed by therapists. His therapist, his mother, and I were talking to him in the lobby when he suddenly produced a rather nasty looking knife and calmly began scraping mud off his shoes. We all asked him to hand over the knife. He kept scraping. I looked at the therapist who nodded impercetibly. I reached over quickly, grabbed his arm, and after a brief struggle, wrestled the knife from his hands. He didn't get angry. He just looked at me and said, "I'll just get another knife."

Twice in one night I was awakened by the police calling. The burglar alarm at school kept going off. The third time they found out why. A.J. had not gone home that night. He was sitting in his classroom, eating candy bars and drinking cokes pinched from another room. He said he just didn't want to go home. He'd even actually done some of his schoolwork while he sat there that night.

I'm saddened to hear that A.J. fulfilled the prophecy that was so clear back then. He was such a challenge to work with, so difficult to reach. I still held out hope that with proper support he would be able to function in society.

Robert was another child I was quite familiar with. He was so familiar with my car that he always noticed when I got a new cassette tape to listen to. I walked into a room one day and he was being restrained by our wrestling coach. He was kicking, fighting, and cussing, and I very warmly said, "how its going Robbie? Whats the problem?" He looked up and said, "fuck you, you bald headed bastard." All the people gathered around gasped in shock. I smiled and said, "Robbie, I really resent being called bald headed." Then they all laughed, including Robbie.

He was very physically aggressive with other kids. He just couldn't seem to keep his hands off people. Devious and cunning, he always had a semi-plausible story for almost everything he did. But like some of the others he could go off on a moment's notice and have a fit of total rage. I remember him stabbing a girl in the arm with a sharp pencil because she wouldn't stop hiccuping. I also remember calling his bluff once. I happened to be in his classroom once when he was angrily explaining why he didn't have his work done. He left it at home! Indignantly, he told her, "let me go home and get it then!" I said, "ok, lets do it then. Come with me." I loaded him in my car, drove to his house, and waited while he went inside. No homework of course.

Robbie is currently serving 10 years probation for rape by instrmentation. How does someone just get probation for a crime like that? He probably still lives somewhere in this area.

You always think about the fish that slipped off the hook or the girl that got away. These kids are some of the ones who got away. I picture them sitting across my desk as angry young adolescents. I remember them when you could see the dark side of human nature draining out the last vestiges of childhood innocence. I remember thinking there was still time to save them. I remember being frustrated that every tool I had in my box couldn't reach them.

Now I look at the faces of young men in their 20's, hardened by years of experience on the streets or in prison. It didn't begin with that first stolen car, that first hit of meth, or that first rape. It began long ago with dysfunctional family lives, undiagnosed mental illnesses that went untreated for years, bureaucracies, and a system that didn't know what to do with kids like this. A system that still doesn't. It should've been obvious to anyone with a pulse that these guys were headed in this direction while their classmates were still learning how to do long division. Everyone blames everyone else. Mounds of paperwork are dutifully filled out. The juvenile justice system is a cruel joke. Every one of these boys had a juvenile record. None of them were even a blip on the system's radar. When I begged for one of them to be placed in a treatment facility, the probation officer laughed at me. The pitiful number of beds available for the most violent of children are so limited that you practically have to commit murder to get in. The kids know it too and are happy to share it with you. Parents in are in total denial, never wanting to believe what is so obvious to everyone else. Schools are understaffed and teachers are undertrained to deal with kids like this. Hospitals run them through 30 day programs and dump them back out once insurance is exhausted.

I read all the time about the construction of new prisons or the expansion of old ones. This country imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the western world. How about we take some of that money and pour it in to early intervention and aggressive treatment of kids like this? Its like we just watch helplessly as they glide through the system, committing crimes, getting suspended from school, using drugs, and defying their parents. Most of these kids RUN their houses by the time they are 13 years old. Parents mollify them in every possible way just to have peace at home. Schools can't wait until they move on to another grade. The courts wag their fingers and tell them not to do it again. But no one DOES anything other than wring their hands and play the blame game.

Then they become adults and do what they've been destined to do for most of their lives. Now that they are the magic age we take notice. We incarcerate them at enormous cost to society. We 're proud of being so tough on crime. The greatest anti-crime program would be to aggressively identify and treat children who exhibit early signs of being at risk. Its many times cheaper than locking them up as adults. Adults should be held accountable for their actions but doesn't it make sense to attack the problems earlier? It pisses me off that we are so short sighted.

I hope that somehow these young men are able to turn their lives around and live peaceably in society. I'm sorry that I wasn't more help to them. I'm sorry that they made such terrible choices. I'm sorry for their victims. I'm sorry that I see others following in their footsteps. I'm sorry that I won't be able to stop some of them from ending up the same way.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Because 

She showed it to me with a tinge of pride in her voice. "Dad, its a song I wrote. Its for my band." Your band? "Yeah, my friends and I are going to make a band and perform. I've been trying to write songs for us."

Christmas Eve
by Aubree

Its time to get the party up
So don’t frown
Just touch the ground
Its time to open presents
So mama don’t be late tonight
Cause its Christmas Eve!

Mama, why you leaving?
My life is hard
Cause I lost someone of my life tonight
She didn’t want me or that’s how it seemed to be
She left me when I was 10
Now she’ll never come back for me again.

My life had a full heart
But now I have one question
Mama why you leaving?
I can’t go on without you so please answer my question
Why you leaving?
Please tell me

Why?

She then performed part of the song musically for me. In something of an R&B beat she belted out the words as we stood alone in her room. I hugged her and told her it was beautiful. The good thing about hugging is that she couldn't see the tears that formed in my eyes. I asked her if she was feeling sad. She shook her head and said, "no, but when I think about Christmas Eve, this is what I feel. I know I'll be thinking about mom."

I could feel the sadness and the emotion in the written words, but thats not all I felt. This was good for a ten year old girl. Really good. One of Aubree's strengths is her ability to express how she feels very clearly and her ability to talk about it. I've met few children her age who are as articulate and in touch with their emotions as she is.

She's a "because" kinda girl. "Dad, I'm mad at you because...... ". I love you because......". "That movie makes me sad because......". "I don't like that boy because....." "I don't want to go to my friends house today because.........". I think its a gift. She's better at it than I am.

A lot of kids, and for that matter a lot of adults, have a hard time with the "because" part. They bury it somewhere down deep or just aren't comfortable discussing it. "I just don't like him." "I'm pissed off. Don't ask me why." "I just feel uncomfortable around her." Maybe we're afrad of someone's reaction. Maybe its just too personal. Maybe we have a difficult time pinning down what exactly it is that we're feeling.

We have a long road together, my daughter and I. We've laughed together, cried together, played together, done homework together, argued and fought, and talked about life. She's been through a lot for someone so very young and tender. I've learned from her. She isn't satisfied with simple evasive answers from me. She wants to know the "because".

She is still going strong. I met with her teacher yesterday and picked up her "straight A" report card. Her teacher told me she was a remarkably mature girl for her age. She said, "when the other kids are acting goofy, Aubree will look over at me and roll her eyes. I roll mine right back." I sometimes worry now that she is too intense and too serious. Then she'll say or do something in such a ten year old girl fashion and I'm reminded of her essence.

She told me that when she's a big star she'll record Kiss' "Beth", a favorite of mine, and dedicate to me. It won't fit in well with the R & B style she loves, but hey its for her dad, right? She'll do it

because.....


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