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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

11- An open letter to my daughter 

Aubree,

Your birthday is a few days away. You will be eleven years old and I can scarcely believe it.

The first time I ever saw you was in May, 1995. The opportunity to adopt a baby girl had been offered, and after some discussion, we came to take you home. You were all of three months old and oh so tiny. My first thought was "she looks so little and frail." At three months old you barely weighed ten pounds. On top of that, your sleep apnea required the use of a monitor every night. Remember that monitor? You should. Every night I would carefully attach those sensors to your tiny body. Every night you would find some way to pull them off, usually at sometime in the middle of the night. I ran into your room, my head foggy, the alarm piercing my ears. Many times you would be laying there in that crib laughing, playing with the wires, and enjoying the noise. You'd laugh at me and want to play as I tried to hook you back up.

You went on your first foreign trip when you were still trying learn how to say. "Dada" or "Mama". We went to San Antonio and then dashed across the border into Mexico. I pushed your stroller around in the blazing summer sun, trying to dodge all the street salesmen while women stopped and cooed over you. You wouldn't remember the elderly Mexican lady who stroked your face. I couldn't understand a lot of what she said, but I knew what "bonita" meant.

You grew rapidly into a toddler. Your independent spirit was evident even back then. You were headstrong and outspoken, always challenging the world around you instead of just accepting it. When you started drinking out of my glasses I knew it was time for you to stop drinking from baby bottles. You didn't like it much. You went to that familiar drawer, found it empty, and threw such a fit. After a few days you never mentioned it again. I knew it was time for you to stop sleeping in the crib. We put a toddler bed in your room and you went happily to bed in it each night. The next morning I'd always find you in the crib. One day you were taking a nap and I dismantled your crib and put it in the garage. You awoke and were so not happy. "WHERE IS MY BABY BED?" No matter that you could crawl in and out of it in one swoop. Even now you still remember that day and remind me of it sometimes. Diapers? It was time for you to get out of them when you started changing them yourself. Yes, you really did. I watched you get a diaper and wipes. You laid down on the floor, removed your dirty diaper, cleaned yourself, and strapped a new diaper on absolutely perfectly. It wouldn't be the last time you amazed me.

I went through a divorce with your mom and found myself raising you alone. It wasn't easy for me, and I know it wasn't easy for you. Then I got remarried and moved you far away from every thing you'd ever known. It was hard at times but you adjusted to our new life. You've always been able to adjust. You learned about Mardi Gras, Cajun music, swamp tours, and those parades. Remember those parades? You always loved those. No wonder....you always came home with bags of goodies. I rememember your first day of school. You were nervous and excited, wearing your little uniform, all of your supplies in hand. You learned to read so quickly and it wasn't long before you were reading me stories at bedtime. Riding a bike? You fell down twice and never fell down again. Within a day you were speeding up and down our street.

Then we moved again, this time far away to Washington state. You'd only been there once, but you embraced that new life as well. You were such a social creature. We moved into our new home, and within an hour you had a group of new friends following you around. You have a charisma that makes other children want to follow your lead. You changed schools again without missing a beat. Our house became your social headquarters, a parade of your friends always coming by or spending the night. Your hot little temper and sharp tongue sometimes showed themselves.

Then you had to go through yet another change. I was divorcing again, tearfully telling you we would be moving back to our hometown. You cried with me that night and I know it was as hard for you as it was for the rest of us. Maybe harder. Your family was important to you, and I know how hard it was for you to see it all broken up. A few nights after that I went into your room to check on you. The moonlight shined on your face and I was filled with such guilt about what I'd done to you. I stood there with tears rolling down my cheeks, stroking your face as you slept so peacefully. I resolved that night that I would never the rest of my life subject you to something like that again if it was in my power to stop it. I let you down and I'll always be sorry for that.

Out of the darkest winter grew a new spring. We moved back here and I was thrilled to see you spend time with my family who you had hardly ever seen. You developed a relationship with my parents, my brothers, and my nieces. You plunged yourself into your new school, making straight "A's" and winning academic awards. You joined the church choir and played soccer and basketball. You and I have become closer than we've ever been. We talk about everything...school, boys, history, sports, popular music, and our feelings about our lives, our disappointments, our dreams, and where we want to go from here. We experienced a big downturn in our financial picture, and things that all of us took for granted were suddenly out of our reach. You didn't complain. You understood.

You laid down on the bed with me, our heads propped up on our elbows and talking about what we were feeling. Remember those talks? I thought I was being a strong daddy, helping you. Wanna know something? You helped me just as much. I marveled at your strength, your ability to adjust, and your ability to articulate what you were thinking. You saw the silver linings when I was still focused on the dark clouds. When I was sitting in my recliner you would plop down in my lap and speak what was on your mind. Your brother frustrates you, but your love for him always shines through. Remember how proud you were of him at the Special Olympics, how you ran the race beside him on the sidewalk, cheering him on?

You know how I always tease you about marrying some guy named Joe Nugipigilak? You will make someone a very fine wife some day, and whoever the lucky guy is better never do you wrong. You remember when I got angry with you and said that you were selfish? I was wrong. You are one of the biggest hearted human beings I have ever known. You know how I get on to you about your temper? I do it because I want you how to learn to deal with the frustrations that all of us will experience. You want to know what I'm thinking when I watch you play basketball? I'm thinking about how I love watching your spirit. You have such fun. I've never seen anyone do little dances on the court while waiting for someone to shoot a free throw. You want to know what goes through my head when you show me another one of those perfect report cards? I'm thinking that you've taken a lot of adversity and never let it stop you from accomplishing things. Want to know what I think when you talk about your goals and dreams? I hope that I'm around to see them fully realized.

Your school counselor told me that you were something of a student counselor to other girls at school. You listen to them, discuss their problems and issues, try to help them, and even go to the counselor when you're concerned that they might have problems that are beyond your help. That makes me prouder than those "A's" on your report card. It speaks to your heart and your love for other people. It shows that you are a treasure to more than just me.

As you turn eleven years old, cast your eyes toward middle school next year, and celebrate another year on this Earth, I am proud to stand with you as your dad. We're quite a pair, you and I. You make me want to be a better dad and a better person.

You've come a long way from that tiny girl on the apnea monitor. It has been one of the great honors and privileges of my life to watch you grow, be your dad, and share this journey with you. I love you so very much and I always will.

Love,

Dad

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Sabotage 

The girl sitting across my desk informed me seriously, "she (another girl) is trying to sabotage my relationship with my boyfriend." Sabotage. Its such a good word. Countries at war send agents to sabotage each other's industries, institutions, or military. Mess things up. Make them not work as they are supposed to. Saboteurs can do a lot of damage.

Those saboteurs. They came in all forms, shapes, and sizes don't they? You never know when or where you might find them. Most of us have met them over the years. The spited or jealous one who tries to sabotage a relationship. That nasty co-worker who does something to make you look bad. That nosy neighbor who sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong and does some damage. That person who just can't stand to see you happy. That anonymous writer who does it under the guise of "trying to help out."

I've been sabotaged by others, but do you know who the biggest saboteur in my life is? I look at his grizzled, bearded face in the mirror each morning. I've done more to sabotage myself than a whole ring of others could possibly do. I have tossed more wrenches in my virtual machinery than anyone else could ever dream of doing to me. Self sabotage is where its at. Its the "in thing."

Oh, its not always a conscious thing you know. I don't sit down and think to myself, "I think I'll screw up this relationship" or "I"ll take my life and make it a mess." Actually, most of the time, I don't think about it at all. For every time someone has done me wrong there are probably five times I did it to myself.

Lets take the area of relationships. I have messed up several good ones. Maybe they wouldn't have worked out anyway, and maybe it was all meant to be. I do it and then I resolve not to make THAT mistake again. Usually I don't. I just find another way to do it. Start an argument over something meaningless and insignificant. Do something that I know somewhere inside will not go over well with her. Extra points for acting surprised when she objects to it. Not pay close enough attention to her concerns. Display a stunning dose of insensitivity at the worst possible moment. The methods are endless! Don't want to do it myself? I hand the tools to someone else all wrapped up with a bow.

But Brian, you say, you're such a nice guy. A saboteur? No way! As the kids would say...."way!" Being a nice guy has nothing do with it. I won't hide behind that anymore. Maybe I have legitimate reasons tucked back there somewhere. Deal with those in a straight-out positive manner? Nah, way too mature and reasonable. Do the wrong thing for the right reason? Sure. For the wrong reason? Sometimes.

Don't get the tone of this wrong. I'm not angry, depressed, or upset. I'm not breakin up with anyone. I've been in one of those self-reflective moods the last day or two, and these thoughts kept coming back to me.

They say that an alcoholic can't deal with their problem unless they recognize it. Good evening ladies and gentleman. My name is Brian and I'm a self-saboteur.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bad Luck 

Last week everyone in my house was sick at one time or another. Our bad luck continued into the weekend. After numerous attempts to repair the hot water heater, we finally installed a new one a few hours ago. All weekend with no hot water is not something I'd recommend. Cold showers really suck, just in case you didn't know.

Then there was this squirrel. He apparently got tangled up in my power lines, got a jolt of juice, and knocked out the power to my house. He stumbled around the yard in what looked like a drunken state before succumbing. No power in the house. When the power came back on everything hummed to life. Everything but my computer that is. My hard drive was fried....."unrecoverable bad sectors on this partition". I tried reinstalling Windows....no luck. I I tried repairing it through the Windows Repair Console. No dice. Gone. Finito. My old hard drive was still sitting inside the computer disconnected. I hooked it up and here I am. Do you know how many changes you make on your computer in a year? This is like going back in time. All the settings are different. I've lost thousands of files...emails, pictures, documents, etc. Was I one of those very smart people who back things up all the time? Of course not. That would be too easy. Cover your ears while I scream. There, now that's better.

While grousing about the computer I walked across the floor and stepped on a very sharp piece of plastic. I uttered a few profanities and kept walking. I looked down awhile later and saw that I was trailing blood all over the place. Argh!

I decided to get away from my woes by doing some shopping. Down to the store we went. We loaded our packages into the trunk of the car and came home. We unloaded the packages and I tried to close the trunk. It bounced back up. The latch was jammed.

In the midst of all this chaos was a good thing. Aubree's basketball team won their first game this season. YAY! You would've thought those girls had won the NBA championship. They've worked hard and I'm thrilled for them.


Now that I'm done whining I can say that it could've been worse. We could've had no COLD water either. The only thing worse than a cold shower is no shower. I could've not had a backup hard drive and had to COMPLETELY start over. That would've been bad. There could've been an armed bandit hiding inside the trunk. I could've fallen after cutting my foot and broken my arm.

I should probably get out of this chair before it falls apart and I end up on my butt on the floor.

Another week? I'm so ready. Our luck is bound to change.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Weekend Roundup 1/27-1/28 

I'm so glad its the weekend. I'm just hopeful that everyone in my house can get over the nasty bugs that have inflicted us the past week. I think we're on the mend.

I hope you enjoy this walk through blogland as much as I did.

Joe had some revelations while talking to a friend. Sally got a new perspective on life while talking to a friend of hers.

Carol got the bureaucratic runaround. Deni got to work the day shift!

Buffi has a few words for her boys. Margaret has tragedy in her school. One of the students died in an accident.

Irina writes about remembering the Holocaust. Steel Cowboy writes about the lessons learned from riding bikes.

Michael pays tribute to Steve McQueen. Greek Shadow pays tribute to Mozart.

Susan had a blonde moment. Colleen had a very weird moment.

T. Marie is back on the South Beach diet. Breazy is excited about building her dream home!

Ellen says that things are looking up. Walker says that people shouldn’t blame God for their troubles.

Julie had a fun time on Tuesday. Teresa is in NYC but is working more than having fun.

Restless Angel took her driver’s test and passed! Lewis took some time to remember a teacher who made a lasting impression.

Stationery Queen has been cheating on Staples. Sleeping Mommy as a mother’s day out.

Lime writes about a song that brings back memories. Ms Vickie talks about the grasp of a hand.

Annabel had some frustrations. Karen had a birthday mom!

Thomai writes of forgiveness. Amerloc wonders about the world’s worst dog.

Kyra is ready for the flu to go away. Simply Satisfied is ready to head to the ocean.

Pearl’s grocery bagger was wondering about her fruit. Jazzy was wondering about an unusual request she received.

Funky Cowboy hasn’t been sleeping well. Amanda has a case of the blahs.

Jack wonders about women and the “look of death”. Keb was wondering where her teenager was.

Andie discusses her attraction to Asian men. Sweety discusses her readiness for her baby to make an appearance.

Monica makes herself a target. Aka Monty makes some true confessions.

Apple reports on a tragic accident. Patry reports on Oprah’s evisceration of a popular writer.

Ryan discusses how to spend time with his daughter. Roselle discusses her feelings about her writing.

Lil Bit is being a silly girl. Dawn is glad this week is over.

Inky shares some of her online suitor’s missives. Hillbilly Mom shares what she would do if she wasn’t teaching.

Janine writes about her strange sleeping patterns. Jerry writes about a blizzard.

MamaKBear introduces us to a friend. Sarah introduces us to her pick as the best movie ever.

Stephanie was grateful to her friends. I was grateful to Stephanie for this laugh.

Molly was hoping the art school president would get out of her dreams. Kim was wondering why Chinese adults would wear diapers.

Babs enjoyed the hockey game. New Wave Gurly really enjoys tater tots.

Steph announces her pick as the worst talk show host. Trick announces her latest purchase.

Have a wonderful weekend my friends!

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Footprints 

My local newspaper has been running a retrospective on the murder of the high school head football coach thirty years ago. I remember it so very well. I was a freshman in the local junior high school, and the horrific murder of Jerry Bailey shocked this small town.

I didn't know Coach Bailey all that well, but he was a larger-than-life figure on campus. In Oklahoma towns the head football coach is in many cases the most powerful and important person in the school system, and hence the town. I remember seeing him walk the halls, a figure of authority and respect, someone to be admired. His son was a year younger than I was, and through my involvement in athletics, I knew him as well.

Coach Bailey came to my town just as schools were desegregating. Racial tension was high and there were many incidents of violence in the high school. What I remember hearing back then was that the coach would have none of that. He had a reputation for treating his players fairly. He didn't live up to expectations in the win-loss department, but he managed a potentially explosive situation with skill and dignity.

There was never any doubt who murdered Jerry Bailey in cold blood on that January morning. It was one of his assistant coaches, Paul Reagor, a man hired by Bailey who had worked with him for several years. Bailey had resigned his coaching position following the last season and remained in his teaching job while looking for his next coaching position. It is believed that Reagor was upset at being passed over for promotion and blamed Bailey for it.

On that morning he met Jerry Bailey and his son as they walked across the parking lot into school. Reagor told Bailey he needed to talk to him, and Bailey waved his son to go on into school. I've wondered how many times Guy Bailey has relived that moment, seeing his dad for what he didn't know then was the last time.

Somehow Reagor persuaded Bailey to get into the car and go for a drive. They were seen driving out of town as school was getting ready to start. Neither showed up for their first classes, and people in the school began to be concerned. Where could they be?

Reagor brutally murdered Jerry Bailey, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him to die in the trunk of his car. Reagor was found with his clothes covered in blood and was incoherent. He spent the next several years in mental hospitals or out on bond awaiting trial. People from my town reported driving by his mother's house on the busy highway and seeing him sitting on her front porch. It didn't seem right. Coach Bailey was dead and his killer was free. Reagor was convicted of the crime but never served a day in prison for the crime. He died at his mother's home four years after the crime. He was still out on appeal and recovering from injuries sustained when he stepped in front of a truck.

I remember the swarm of police around our school that day. I remember teachers and kids crying as the news unfolded. My English teacher's voice was choked with emotion as she unsuccessfully tried to keep our day somewhat normal. The unthinkable had happened, right here in our small conservative town. I remember when his son returned to school, that awkward feeling, not knowing what to say or do.

His wife continued to teach in the high school and lived here until her death seven years ago. How does a person recover from something like that? I would see her at various meetings when I returned home to work in the school system. I could never look at her without remembering what happened that day. She was kind and gracious, but her face bore the lines of unimaginable sorrow. I saw his kids now and then while we were still in school and after we graduated. I can't imagine having your father ripped away from you like that, killed by a man who had eaten dinner at your family's table, by someone you regarded as a friend.

The local reporter included this verse in the article about Coach Bailey's life.

“Lives of great men remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”

–– Longfellow

R.I.P Coach.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Aaaah, it is Wednesday, isn't it? The days are going by rather strangely.

Patrick went back to school today for the first time since going home early on Friday. No temperature, no nausea, just a little congestion. He made it through the day ok, even though he's not back to his full-of-life self just yet.

Unfortunately, unless it is a big coincidence, he passed something on to me as well. I've felt sick all week. Ugh. This is a happening week at work and I just cannot afford to miss days. I stayed home with Patrick on Monday, but drug myself into work yesterday and today. Tylenol and DayQuil are my best friends these days.

You ever have a really bad night? Last night my washing machine inexplicably stopped working. There was no hot water for the kid's showers last night. No problem I thought....we'll just all take showers in the morning. I awoke in the middle of the night shivering and shaking with fever. I popped a couple of Tylenols and went back to bed. I awoke an hour later drenched in sweat. I tossed and turned for another thirty minutes and finally got out of bed. I went to turn on the shower and.....still no hot water. Damnit. No showers for any of us. The pilot light on the hot water heater somehow went out. I took the world's quickest cold shower, shaved with cold water, got the kids ready, popped more tylenol, and headed off to work.

Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in an N.B.A. basketball game a few days ago. Unbelievable. The last time someone scored more points than that it was the 1960's and his name was Wilt Chamberlain. Just an incredible feat of athletic prowess. I have a hard time really respecting Kobe after his recent past, but you can't deny how incredible that night was.

I guess I was wrong on my pick of the Broncos to win the Super Bowl. I don't think I'll make a prediction this time.

A local television station decided to send out a survey to the teachers in my district. They sent this out to all the teachers in the district, assured them that their replies were confidential, and urged them to reply to the survey. Some teachers did. The problem? When they replied, they were somehow replying to everyone on the mailing list. EVERYONE got to see their answers to questions such as, "Have you ever changed a student's answer on a standardized test?" and "Do you respect your principal as a leader?" There were some red faces around town this morning.

For some reason I'm really craving a margarita....or two.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Youthful Experimentation 

This afternoon I dealt with a young man caught with marijuana in his backpack. His father came to school, the police came and issued him a citation, and of course he is looking at a rather long suspension. It doesn't pay to have drugs in school.

In the course of the conversation between me, another administrator, the police, and the father, the phrase "youthful experimentation" came up. One of the things you look for in kids this young who are using is whether they are chronic users or just "experimenting". We see some of both. I know 13 year olds who are daily pot smokers and who have used much harder drugs as well. I also know kids who have "just tried it". Unlike a certain former president, they probably inhaled.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of all kids will try marijuana before they graduate from high school. Thats right....half. The statistics on teenagers experimenting with alcohol are much higher than that. There is a LOT of youthful experimentation going on out there. If you listen to the kids, they will tell you all about it. I can almost guarantee you that a very high percentage of my 8th graders can tell you how to get a bottle of Jack Daniels or where to find a bag. Even if they don't use themselves, they know who does and how to get it.

The majority of those youthful experimenters will not have serious problems. The police officer I was talking to said that he knew several members of the police force who had youthful arrests for marijuana possession and went on to be police officers. Of course, we know that some of them will grow up to have serious substance abuse problems that will dramatically harm their lives.

I experimented with alcohol starting around age 14-15 and marijuana as an 18 year old college freshman. In this, I probably tried both later than many of my peers. But I always knew it was there and it was always available. Even a naive little 7th grader like myself knew where to find the stuff. I knew who the dealers around school were. The kids in my school today know. Its likely that your kids know as well. I was curious. I wanted to know what it was all about. Your kids do too.

This is an area like teenage sex where parents struggle to find the right balance. It is not the end of the world if your kid drinks some wine at his friend's house or smokes a joint with her friends after the football game. Its not the end of the world, but it is a big deal. You've raised them better than that. You don't want them running around drunk or getting high. They are too young to be making such decisions. You don't want to condone it, but you can't chain them to the bed for their entire teenage years either. We all understand youthful experimentation in the abstract. We understand it when its other people's kids, but it is different when they are our own.

A lot of anti drug programs have been ignored by teenagers. Why? Because they exaggerate or outright lie to kids. You can't tell today's kids that everyone who sips a beer or puffs a joint is going to be a derelict drug addict, lying in the alley with a needle in his arm. They know better. They know a lot of people who use. Many of their parents do, and a lot of their relatives or friends do. I used to cringe at some of the DARE curriculum for just this reason. A better curriculum? Tell the kids the damn truth, all of it. Give them the information they need without losing your credibility in the process.

It all comes back to being able to communicate with your kids and being able to have an open dialogue with them. I've taken little baggies of marijuana from kids from the "best families", upright church-going, community involved parents with a lot of money. I've also taken them from the poorest of kids, the kind you are lucky to even find a parent somewhere in sight.

The honest truth? Even if you do everything right as a parent, it could be you sitting in an office like mine, watching a police officer read the riot act to your child, and listening while a guy like me suspends your kid from school and sends him to treatment. The child you nurtured, loved, and taught all you know. The lure of the forbidden fruit combined with curiousity and peer pressure is a powerful thing. It can happen to anyone. You think you know your kid well and know what they will or won't do. You don't. Did your parents know you that well? Kids have their own little world with their own little rules and their own little culture. Some kids will resist that and not yield to temptation. I've often thought someone should do a real study on that 10%-15% of kids who graduate from high school without having ever tried alcohol or illegal drugs. What makes those kids tick? What separates them from their peers? I'd really like to know.

Youthful experimentation has been going on for a long time. From the boy smoking his dad's corncob pipe behind the barn, the girl taking a quick nip of her grandmother's brandy, the kid's binge drinking on weekends, to the 14 year old toking a few joints with his buddies. Its here and its with us. Why are we continually so surprised by it?

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Welcome Back 

When I picked Patrick up from school early on Friday I walked the halls of my old junior high school. This was once my place, the school I attended after my sheltered years in elementary school. I found myself humming the theme from "Welcome Back Kotter" as I strolled down those familiar halls toward the office.

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out
Welcome back to that same old place that you laughed about
Well, the names have all changed since you hung around
But those dreams have remained and they've turned around
I had dreams here. This is where I hit puberty, decided I really liked girls, and hung out with my friends in the hallways. My locker was right here in this stretch of hallway. I was such a scrawny little guy then, painfully shy, and fairly socially inept. I attended my first school dance here, one of those typical junior high dances where most of the night was spent looking across the room at those girls you were to afraid to ask to dance.

The Vietnam War was topic on every evening newscast. I remember watching Walter Cronkite and Eric Severaid give the latest news from the latest battle. Vietnam was a major source of conversation in my classes and among my friends. Would we be going to Vietnam? The draft was going on then, and I knew many guys whose older brothers had been drafted and sent to fight in Asia. It was an open campus, and each day I ran across the street to spend my money on fast food. There was a large billboard there that listed the hometown boys who were fighting overseas. I remember watching a man paint yet another name on the billboard as I waited for my hamburger and fries. One of my teachers reminded us of a very practical reason to do well in our classes....."You boys can either work hard and go to college or you can dodge bullets in Vietnam".

I walked by Mrs. Ragsdale's room. She is still teaching here, just as she was when I was here thirty years ago. She wrote in my yearbook, "I never ceased to be amazed at how you can make A's on all my tests when you spend all of your time with your nose in a library book." When it came time for me to do my student teaching, I wanted her to be my supervising teacher. She expressed amazement that I had chosen teaching as a career, given my shy and bookish nature as a student in her class. I had a wonderful experience teaching under her tutelage.

There is the library over there. I was a constant visitor to the library, checking out a new book every few days. I always had a library book with me everywhere I went in school. I loved those times when I could finish my work in class early and leap into my latest book. The librarian was very friendly and she always had books that she would recommend to me when I came in. I read novels, science fiction, fantasy, and biographies. I couldn't get enough. I knew those shelves by heart.

Mrs. Heitman's office was to the left over there. She was my counselor and she seemed to have an intuitive sense about me, knowing when something wasn't quite right. When an older bully slammed my fingers into the locker, she convinced me to overcome my fears and tell her what was going on. Sometimes she would call me in for no concrete reason, just wanting to chat and see how I was doing.

The main office looks just like it did thirty years ago, only the faces being different. Going to the office was not a good thing, and we tried to avoid it whenever possible. The principal seemed like a godlike creature, appearing in the hall sometimes and dispensing announcements and wisdom over the intercom. I feared him and I don't recall ever having a conversation with him my entire time in junior high.

I was still humming when Patrick and I walked out the door and through the parking lot. My mom, concerned about my very slight size was once determined to put some weight on me. She would meet me in this parking lot every day at lunch time. I would go to the car, wolf down steak sandwiches and a chocolate shake, running back inside to get to my next class.

I looked at the kids, rushing to get from place to place, stopping by their lockers, chatting with their friends, giving out quick hugs to their boyfriend or girlfriend. They have dreams and anxieties just as I did. Growing up isn't easy in this time or at any other. I see the teachers, standing by their doors, talking to kids as they walk by. I'm reminded of how critical this time in a kid's life is and how important our work with them can be.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sick 

This was not exactly one of those banner weekends around here. I left work early Friday to pick up Patrick at school. He was running a temperature and was sick at his stomach. Unable to get him into the doctor on such short notice, I kept him at home and gave him Tylenol for his fever and some decongestant to try and clear him up a bit.

We might call this "puke weekend". Patrick was unable to keep anything down all weekend. He threw up repeatedly at different times and at different places in the house. He did seem to have puke radar built in for Monica's stuff. The very first time he let it fly he hurled perfectly into her open purse and all over the outside of the purse. Just so you know, cell phones don't react well to being drenched in such a way. He also managed to get her shoes the same way the next night. Aubree chuckled and said, "nice way to lose a girl there Dad." Patrick does have a way of making a memorable impression!

I was concerned enough this morning to take him into the hospital. Two straight days of high fever, no food, and little liquid left him feeling pretty puny. He slept on the floor of the E.R. while we waited about two hours to get in to see the doctor. They hooked him up to an I.V.("Dad, IVs are awesome. Can we have one at home?"), rehydrated him, gave him some anti-nausea medicine, and sent him home. The verdict? Some kind of stomach flu. A day or two of antibiotics, clear liquids, and bed rest for our boy.

It just knocked the spirit right out of him. I almost miss him being loud, making messes, and making wisecracks. I miss the color in his cheeks instead of that pasty white. I even miss him bugging me about what is for dinner, ten minutes after finishing his lunch.

Get well soon big guy.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Weekend Roundup 1/20-1/21 

I'm so glad its the weekend. I"m just as glad to be sharing some of my favorite posts from some of my favorite bloggers from this week.

Julie is having a margarita fest. Yummy! Colleen is weaning herself from anti-depressants.

Amanda writes about a good friend. Thomai writes about Martin Luther King and his compassion.

Carol is trying to learn to relax. Dawn was relaxing on a quiet day.

Margaret’s daughter didn’t have her best outing. Buffi’s husband said one of the sexiest things a man can say.

Irina wonders when you should pray for someone. Chosha wonders about the value of life.

Lime shares some Trinidad folklore. Teresa shares a story about the filming of “Hoosiers”.

Roselle rants about a guy who likes skinny blondes. Trusty Getto rants about insurance companies.

Joe is the proud owner of a new truck. Molly was queen for the day.

Keb sings the praises of women over forty. I sing Kim’s praises for sticking to her diet.

There are some things Hillbilly Mom can’t stand. I’ll bet she could stand to have a spiffy new computer like Karen has.

Breazy is on the mend. Sarah is making birthday plans and they involve a bearskin rug and Texas.

Mary Lou dug out a very old Afghan. Andie took a road trip to be there for her father.

Stephanie wonders about objections to “Brokeback Mountain”. Lewis wonders about the policies of Domino’s Pizza and urges a boycott.

Phoenix’s orchid is about to bloom. Jerry is going through computer hell.

Monica wants people to stop blaming God. Muse wants to share her anthem.

Deni refuses to be sick. Sally refused to tell a joke……and then she did!

New Wave Gurly talks about people who are into drama. Amerloc talks about the relative merits of beer and cucumbers.

Joan remembers the way things used to be. So does Jazzy…her granny cheated at board games!

MamaKBear gives an update on her legal battle. Stacey gives an explanation of why she kept her last name when she got married.

Susan’s mom is now a Canadian. Michelle’s son is now pretty sore…..he got hit by a car.

Funky Cowboy lost weight and did some singing. Betsy is in debt to the library.
Greek Shadow called in sick. Lil Bit calls on a black widow.

Ms E is much better now. Restless Angel feels better when she walks.

Steel Cowboys pays tribute to an angel in an apron. Cheryl pays tribute to her son.

Walker gives advice on how to deal with punks. Aka Monty gives some of her overused movie phrases.

Steph writes about her lovely daughter. Bsoholic writes an interactive story.

Babs was looking for environmental heroes. If you’re looking for a cat that likes to snuggle, Ellen has just the one!

Chicky Babe shows the power of words. Ginger shows that some people are out of their minds.

Fly Girl is having the week from hell. Lil Red is an awe of her new hero.

Have a wonderful weekend my friends. I certainly intend to!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

This is another one of those weeks where Wednesday seems like Tuesday. I'm not complaining.

I was really surprised to see the Indianapolis Colts lose last weekend. It looked like the Super Bowl was theirs for the taking, but that is why they play the game. My pick to win it all now? The Denver Broncos.

Aubree has recently decided that she enjoys watching college and professional basketball games. I walked into her room to find her intently watching an S.E.C. men's basketball game. She likes Kentucky because she thinks they have cool uniforms. As long as she has a good reason for choosing her team.

I've been discussing an allowance with the kids, with some financial incentives and penalties built in to encourage the behavior I want to see from them. Patrick's response? "Sounds good to me dad. Money talks you know." Uh huh. (I don't think he knows the second part of that cliche....bullshit walks)

I bought some Powerball tickets for the first time in quite awhile. I know my odds are one in zillions, but I couldn't wait to look up the winning numbers. Not this time, but I think that $70 million would look mighty fine parked in my bank account.

Patrick's teacher called and left me a message about some minor behavior issues he has at school. She kept apologizing over and over for bothering, saying she shouldn't have called about such small things. After several apologies I told her, "Its fine you know. You are Patrick's teacher and I'm his dad. If he has having some difficulties you are entirely correct in calling me." Then she apologized again!

I made the mistake of answering a cell phone call from an unknown number. Naturally, it was a telemarketer. The guy just wouldn't give up. I told him politely three times, "thank you for the call but I'm not interested at all." Finally I did something that I don't really like doing....I hung up on him. What else can you do when someone will not take no for an answer?

Me to a student today who keeps popping off at other boys when he is with his friends and then running to the office when one of them catches him alone and confronts him on it: "J, you know what the problem is here? Your mouth keeps writing checks that your butt can't cash. Don't say anything when you're hanging out with your friends that you wouldn't say alone behind the school with no one else around." He saw me later on in the day and said, "I haven't written any more checks!" Lets hope not.

The student I wrote this post about over a year ago was named our student of the year in a recent ceremony. I was thrilled that he won and even more thrilled to be the one to tell him. Things are looking up for him and I couldn't be more pleased.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Right To Die 

I noted that today the Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s “assisted suicide” law. This follows previous rulings that there was no constitutional “right to die” but left states free to define the boundaries of what health care providers could do to aid those who wished to end their own lives. This is an issue heavily laden with political, religious, and moral overtones and it won’t be the last we hear of it. The infamous Dr. Kevorkian made headlines helping people end their lives.

Is there a “right to die”? Should anyone be able to end their life whenever they choose for whatever reason is important to them? We know there is a “right to live” in the sense that the law punishes rather severely those who end the lives of others prematurely. But what if someone just wants to die? If they are successful in ending their life, you can’t very well prosecute them after the fact. People have been committing suicide throughout human history. Some are distraught over an event in their life and don’t find any hope for improvement. Others might be suffering from severe depression or other mental illness and believe that suicide is the only way to relieve them of their pain. Still others have a debilitating or terminal medical condition. This is the category that the Oregon law provides for.

There are countless ways to commit suicide without the aid of a doctor or pharmacist. Underneath your kitchen sink are chemicals that could end your life. There are bridges to jump off and guns available in every Wal Mart. A bottle of sleeping pills will do the trick. These are the ways people from the first two categories choose to end their lives. They do it every day. How desperate someone must be to overcome the natural will to live and to end their life, in many cases over what is a temporary condition.

But those with terminal or terribly painful chronic medical conditions often want help from a family member or medical professional. Its not just life we crave, it’s a quality of life. This happens every day without fanfare. The wife who looks at her husband of fifty years, in agony every single day, with no hope of recovery. She quietly slips him some extra pills to end his suffering. The nurse who does the same thing to a hospital patient who begs her daily to end his life.

In those conditions I support the ability of a human being to end their life with dignity, rather than allowing some damn disease to do it for them a few months later. I know that if I was chronically, terminally ill and in great pain, that I would like to be given the authority about what to do about my own life. I wouldn’t want to be hooked up to machines for years on end with no hope of recovery. I would beg those who loved me to let me go. This is my life and I would want to end it on my own terms. I really don’t care what learned Supreme Court justices or politicians say. This is a human event, only the business of the person who is ill and their family and loved ones. Maybe I’d choose to fight it to the bitter end or maybe I would choose to end it at a time of my choosing. I remember looking at Terri Schiavo and thinking, “dear God, please don’t let me exist like that, a shell of a once beautiful sentient human being.” Every time I think about it I remind myself that I should prepare a living will.

Our lives are our own, from the moment we gasp in our first breath of air until the moment our last breath leaves us. We didn’t give them over to the government to decide for us how, when, where, and how our lives will meet their end.

Personally, I hope to live to be 110 and die in the throes of sexual passion. That might be too much to ask for.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

The Table of Brotherhood 


I didn't work today. The Martin Luther King holiday gives us the day off. Government offices, banks, and schools are closed across the country to commemorate King's life and legacy. What is it all about? Why King and not the others who have contributed to this country in various ways? Why is King the only American in history to have a holiday solely dedicated to his memory? It is because Martin Luther King Jr. was an extraordinary leader of an extraordinary cause. It is the cause that counts.

"I Have A Dream" remains his best known and most quoted speech. I've always been touched by the line about the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners sitting down together at "the table of brotherhood." This vision is what made King great. He saw beyond the injustices of his time and thought of a future where the things that divide us could be put aside in the realization that we all have things in common that bind us.

We were always something of a schizophrenic country. A Declaration of Independence and a Constitution rooted in equality of all men, yet the matter of race made a mockery of those ideals for two hundred years. People in the north and south did their best to avoid and put off the question. The essential question. How can a multi-racial nation thrive when some of its citizens are treated by law in an inferior way to others? Race has been the snake under the table for the entire history of this country. As long as it doesn't come out from under the table and bite us, we just plod along.

When we couldn't plod along any longer we fought a Civil War largely over the issue of the bondage of millions of black people and its possible expansion to the western territories. The war was so bloody and long that when it was discovered that freedom from slavery did not mean equality, we put our national heads in the national sand. The issue of race simmered for another 100 years, and entire race of people were denied the basic rights that the rest of the country took for granted.

Then came the preacher man, the silver tongued son of a minister from the American south. The 1960's radicalized the country in a great many ways, and issues of race mingled with issues of sexual freedom, equality for women, and the debate about the war. What made King great was the way he took the righteous anger of his cause and refused to use it to ignite hatred. He could've caused massive riots with a few well chosen words, but he didn't do that. It wasn't in the interest of his people, it wasn't in the interest of the country, and it wasn't his way. He articulated a vision of a mult-racial country that no one had been able to do before. A vision of people of different colors cooperating together for the betterment of all. It seems so simple, but no one else was making that case as forcefully and articulately.

There are a great many good people in this country. They are our neighbors and co-workers. Republican or Democrat, old or young, black or white, gay or straight, we have so much that should unite us in common purpose. No one wants criminals to roam the streets and prey on the innocent. We all want clean, safe communities to live and work in. All of us should want good schools that give all kids a shot at the dream. We should all want a country where everyone has the chance to make good on their abilities and dreams.

It all begins in our neighborhoods and in our workplaces. There is a kid's park here in my hometown, built mostly by voluntary labor. People from all walks of life took hammers and nails and built something that all of our children can enjoy. They may not all go to the same church, be members of the same racial group, or vote for the same person for president, but they were able to unite in a common purpose to improve life for everyone. I don't think anyone on that project was too concerned that the guy building the large wooden fort might be gay, that the woman attaching the swings might be an evangelical Christian, or that the guy working on the fence might have voted for Ralph Nader. Wouldn't it be nice if we could take that spirit of cooperation and grow it into something bigger? This is what King was talking about.

King's "table of brotherhood"? We've arranged the seats and cleaned out the room a bit, but there is much left to do. The snake is still under the table. Sometimes he slumbers but he is always there.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Teacher's Pet 


The two students, a boy and a girl, sat in my office, heads hung, their behavior being discussed. Their teachers had reported that they were verbally harassing a girl, a straight A student who is on the student council. They had brought her to tears several times by calling her derogatory names and saying cruel things to her. The victim of the harassment is one of those kids that teachers love. She is polite and respectful, an adolescent who is almost more at ease talking to adults than to her peers. In short, she is a teacher's pet and she is resented for it. In the words of the harassing classmate, "the teachers always have her back".

I asked the boy why he would bother this girl? One of his examples was that she always got her work done first and was rewarded by the teachers with soft drinks, treats, and being chosen to run errands. He is in the middle of the pack, a "C" student, who never gets strokes like that. I reminded him that making others miserable is no way to make himself feel better.

I always tried to treat kids fairly when I was a classroom teacher. Did I have "pets"? Probably so, in the broad sense of the term. You have to work to overcome that human tendency to favor the kids who are compliant, the ones who are most enthusiastic, and yes, the ones who suck up and stroke your ego. When hands shoot up into the air, who do you call on, the one you know always has the right answer or the one who is probably just guessing. Who do you send to run an errand, the girl who always does what she is supposed to do or the guy who thinks classwork is optional? You should treat all kids equally, but that is often a challenge, human nature being what it is.

Its not even just true of kids. When I first started teaching there were several of my colleagues who were highly resentful of one of the teachers in the building. He might've been called the "principal's pet". He had a seemingly unlimited budget to buy cool things for his classroom. He always got sent to the primo conferences. He was always held up as an example for others to follow. Administrators can deal out perks to teachers just as teachers do to kids. You have a nice fat grant for technology but its not enough to go around. Who gets the new stuff and who remains stuck with five year old computers that creep along and crash all the time? Who gets sent to the curriculum conference in Orlando and who never gets to go anywhere? I've tried to be sensitive to these things as well. Just as with kids, the outstanding teachers and the very poor ones get the attention of the office and personalities are often a factor. It is hard not to favor your friends and the people who flatter you.

This creates resentment. People of all ages know when someone is being given special treatment and they don't like it. There are also those of all ages who know how to work the system and those in authority who fall for it. Its a failure of leadership to allow a climate like this to exist. In a position of leadership it is important to treat everyone fairly. You'll note that I said fairly, not necessarily equally. Sometimes being fair requires that you treat two people differently.

No pets allowed.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Off Line 

My internet service has been mostly down for the last couple of days. If you've emailed or IM'd me I haven't had the ability to reply. If the cable company shows up like they are supposed to, I should be back online tomorrow!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Its definitely a wacky Wednesday out there!

I drove to work yesterday with snow falling. It was those big, fluffy flakes. The temperature wasn't cold enough for much of it to stick anywhere but on roofs and a little on the grass. Still, it was very pretty and I enjoyed the non-sticking snow as it fell throughout the day.

We stopped for gas tonight and my gregarious Aubree engaged the state trooper next to us in a conversation. By the time I finished pumping gas she came back with a nice stuffed bear that he pulled from the back of his car and gave to her.

We used to attend a lot of Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana, and Aubree would always come home with a bagful of stuffed animals. People on the floats would spot her and hold out the stuffed animal until I could walk her up there on my shoulders. Being a cute girl does have its advantages.

I think that our judicial system is out of whack sometimes and that too many non-violent offenders are in prison. But I am outraged at this case. Rape a young girl repeatedly from the time she is six years old till she reaches ten? Your punishment? SIXTY DAYS in jail? That is insane. There are people serving longer than that for having marijuana. This guy is an admitted pedophile and rapist. What kind of message to this young girl is this? This guy does this to her for years and spends a couple of months in jail before he gets on with his life. She has to live with the consequences forever.

Serious discipline cases seem to come in bunches and I've had several of them in the last few days. I've meted out several serious suspensions of kids I've worked with quite a bit. Its sometimes difficult when you've become close to them and their parents, but when they cross a certain line you have no choice but to act. Maybe I need to run for judge in Vermont.

I awoke Tuesday morning to a darkened house. I realized that none of the alarm clocks were working and the cable box was dark as well. No electricity in the house. What time was it? I stumbled in the dark to my desk and grabbed my cell phone. It was exactly the time I normally get up each work day. I got the kids up and somehow we managed to get showered, dressed, and out the door with almost no light at all. Ever shaved in the dark? Its quite the adventure. I was just relieved that my socks actually matched my slacks.

Patrick's school had a "school store" fundraiser. He took the remainder of his Christmas money to school and bought something for everyone. For Aubree? A stuffed animal of course. For me? A baseball hat. For himself? A baseball hat and a button-up shirt. He also bought things for his cousin, and my mom and dad. He can be such a sweet and thoughtful little guy.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Letters To The Dean 

Just like last year, one of the teachers in my school assigned the kids to write me a letter. I have a huge sheaf of letters, some funny, some earnest, some silly, and some with a tint of sadness. Kids really do say the darndest things. A sample of the letters I received and a few comments from me:

You have done an excellent job as our dean, but I'm so sorry we're letting you go. (Yikes!) Just kidding! You are the best dean ever although I have no idea what that is. (Whatever it is, I appreciate the compliment!) Deans will come and go, but you will probably never have to get fired, or at least I hope not. (Thats a relief!)

Hello, I just wanted to give you a few compliments. First off, you reall are a great dean. You help people chill out when they freak out. (Thats one of my specialties) Second, you are hilarious and always make everyone laugh. You appear in places whenever you're needed most. (I work hard at that). Thanks again for so much help. (You're welcome!)

Thank you for hearing me out and listening to my side of the story. The talk you had with my mom was good. I only got grounded for a week. (Awww, I was shooting for two weeks!) I like the way you help people. Is your job cool to you, because my opinion is that it is cool! What do you do for fun and what do you eat?
(This student included his home address and phone number)

I'm glad to have you as my dean. You're one of my favorite people. I'm proud to know you. You keep peace with us. We really need that around here. (Don't I know it!)
I want you to know that the reason I don't play basketball is because I have no transportation.(You should've talked to us about this. I'll see what I can do) Basketball is my favorite sport. Thanks for the offer though. See ya! (You know it!)

Thanks for being there when I needed you. Thank you for everything like with the Joe situation. Now we're really good friends. (I'm really glad. That was a nice talk the three of us had) Also, thanks for helping with my math grade. The tutoring you put me into has helped me so much. I'm starting do better in math. (Thank YOU for putting in the extra time) You're such a good dean. Thanks for all that! (You're very welcome)

I really appreciate you at lunch. You give us the basketballs. You also joke around a lot with us. Sometimes you play basketball with us. You are also nice but you can be mean when you have to be.(Mean?? C'mon man!) You pick up the balls at lunch in a good way. (One of my many talents)

Thank you for being outside when we are. It makes me feel safe. Nobody can come and steal us or kidnap us. (Not on my watch buddy!) You make sure we are good and nice. You help us out when we're in need. You keep us out of trouble.

I know you don't even know me, but I know who you are and what you do. I want you to know you're doing an excellent job.
Every time I go through this building I hear your name. (Hopefully not prefaced by profanity) I even hear your name a lot in the lunch room. And I always see you at recess. By all the talk about you, you must be pretty cool. Thanks Mr. S. (I've gotta look this kid up)

I am so happy that you stopped all the fights. You stopped the boys from cursing, stealing, sagging, and fussing. (I wouldn't exactly say that I've STOPPED all that. But I do try!) I am writing you to tell you how much the kids here really appreciate you for all your help. I *heart* you Mr. S when you're our dean. I just want you to know what a great dean you really are. We all *heart* you. (Gulp)

Thank you for making this school a safe place. We need your help. You're a great guy even though you aren't THAT good at shooting hoops. (Hey now!)
Every time you talk to a kid I see them smiling and laughing. (I can tell you haven't spent a lot of time in my office!) I also think a lot of kid have respect for you.
Not a lot of teachers get the respect they deserve from us kids. So thank you for everything. Hope you had a good Christmas. ( I did. Thank you!)

I may quote a few more of these over time. Have I ever mentioned that I really love my job?

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Coach 

As I've related here before, there are a handful of people I work with who call me by the honorific "coach". It has been several years since I've been a coach, but the title can stay with you when people find out you once coached a team. I certainly don't discourage them. "Coach" is an honorable title.

The author of this article seeks to puncture what he says as hero worship of coaches. Rather than the dispenser of life lessons and knowledge, he talks about coaches who are cruel and arrogant, and believes that coaches are way overrated and falsely glorified. He relates his own bad experiences with the coaches of his youth.

I too had some coaches like that. There was the little league baseball coach who cursed at me and once roughly grabbed me by the shoulders when I struck out. This brought my normally mild mannered father out of the stands to have a few words with the coach. There was the 7th grade basketball coach who had a Phd. in something but no idea about how to relate to kids. Of course there was my high school basketball coach in my last two years, a cruel and manipulative jerk who once called me a "gutless loser". The next week he was calling me the greatest shooter he'd ever coached. I played for him anyway because I loved the game so much, but I despised him. My desire to show him up was a powerful motivator. A couple of years after I graduated he was found to be having an affair with a high school student, the school board president's daughter. He was fired and I dont' know what ever happened to him.

But I also had some of the other kind too. My 9th grade basketball coach was a wonderful man, calm and considered, a teacher on and off the court. I would've run through a brick wall for him. He was also a first rate classroom teacher. My coach in my sophomore year of high school was a mentor and role model for me. Passionate about everything in life, he exuded confidence and inspired me. He and I used to have chats in his office, just the two of us. We'd talk about sports, goals, college, and life in general. He is one of the primary reasons I decided to go into education. I wanted to be like Coach D.

Out of twenty years spent in education, I've only coached a few years. I once took on a sixth grade girls basketball team when I couldn't find anyone else to take it. In the first practice I told them to line up at the free throw line and most of them looked at me like I was speaking Swahili. So I started with the very basics and had a blast coaching those girls. Girls don't all think they are Michael Jordan. You can actually coach and they will listen. I also coached 7th-8th grade boys and girls basketball in Mississippi. Not only did I coach, but I drove the bus to all the away games. One of my teaching buddies volunteered to ride to most of the games just so he could, "have my back". I was a fiery, passionate coach and I enjoyed working with those kids. My fifteen players were chosen from tryouts of 60-70. They knew I had personally selected them and that there were plenty of kids who wanted to be where they were. They played hard and most of them were very coachable.

As an adult, I've been in education for a long time and known a great many coaches. In my first teaching job I taught next door to the head football coach. He was a distinguished man, a scholar of history, and a lover of horses. He was honest and straightforward with kids and was respected by his players. I worked with a coach in Mississippi who was practically an institution there, loved by kids and parents unlike. Yes, I've seen a couple of the other kind, the ones who are obsessive about winning and their own egos.

Coaching is an extension of teaching. The same principles apply in the classroom and on the athletic field. You motivate all of your students. You try to discover the hidden talents they possess and encourage them to develop those talents. You try to teach more than your subject. You try to teach about life.

They certainly don't do it for the money. The basketball coach in my school makes about $1500 for a three month season. Take that $500 a month and it breaks down to $125 a week. If the coach spends 20 hours at practices, games, and doing administrative chores, that is about six bucks an hour. The high school football coach I referred to earlier estimated that his coaching was done at below minimum wage.

The successful ones I've seen had three things in common. They loved the game they coached. They truly enjoyed being around kids. They were great teachers. When I call them "coach" it means something. They deserve the title and the respect that comes with it.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Forgiveness 


The man who attempted to kill Pope John Paul II twenty five years ago is scheduled to be released soon from prison. Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot the pope in 1981, will soon be a free man.

The most extraordinary part of this story is the meeting between the pope and his would-be killer a couple of years after the assassination attempt. It is reported that John Paul II talked about forgiving the shooter on the way to the hospital. After pictures were taken, the pope and the assassin met alone in the prison cell. They held hands and whispered in the cell and much of what was said is only known to the two of them.

Forgiveness is a central part of Christianity, but is one of the most difficult things to do. I know people my age who have never forgiven someone for something that happened while they were in high school. How could John Paul II truly forgive someone who tried to end his life? This seems like one of the most unforgiveable things someone could do. If Agca's bullet had danced an inch in either direction, this story would've ended with the death of the pope. Instead, it offered up to us all the notion that you can forgive someone for the most terrible of sins against you.

Forgiveness is not the same as excusing someone from their actions. The Pope never called for Agca to be released from prison. He never said that the killer's actions were in any way justified. What he did was to forgive him on a human level. Whether Agca accepts the forgiveness or not is immaterial. By all accounts Agca was astounded that the man he tried to kill would take the extraordinary step of visiting him personally in prison to bring a message of forgiveness and love. I would be too.

Have you ever had someone forgive you when you've done something truly wrong? I have. It is a humbling experience, making you feel perhaps even more ashamed. It makes you re-think your conduct and how it impacts someone else. When someone stays angry at you it makes it easy. You stay in defensive mode, keep rationalizing what you did, reassure yourself about what a good person you are, and give it right back to them. Forgiveness is disarming, taking those tools away from you.

I haven't lived an abnormal life, and I've been lied to, cheated out of money, had my heart broken, had my confidence betrayed, been betrayed by a close friend, and been the victim of many other sins. Some I've been able to forgive and others have been more difficult. Some things just cling to you, arousing anger and resentment. Its hard to let go of that. Its hard to forgive someone who has truly wronged you. Its sometimes harder when that person is close to you. They should know better, right? How could they? They knew how it would make you feel and they did it anyway. That is hard to forgive but it is perhaps more important than to forgive someone on the outskirts of your life.

If you've seen "The Godfather", you know that Michael Corleone was betrayed by his older brother. Even years later and after the repentant brother had begged his forgiveness and came home, Michael ordered his murder. He couldn't let go of his anger and resentment. Revenge was the only way he knew how to deal with it. Forgiveness wasn't how he operated.

We all know that anger and resentment are like cancer, eating away at us slowly from the inside. Being able to forgive is important to our own mental (and sometimes physical) health. That doesn't make it any easier. The need to get revenge on those who have wronged us is a powerful human emotion. It certainly is for me. You want them to feel what you feel. You don't want them to "get away with it". So you nurse the grudge and plot your revenge. It gnaws at you.

Having a forgiving nature is often seen as a sign of weakness. I submit that it is just the opposite. The Pope forgiving the man who tried to end his life was a sign of an inner strength that many of us still struggle to attain. We've all needed to be forgiven. Why is it so hard to do the same for someone else? One of the things I've really worked on in the last year is to let it all go, to put past grudges aside, and to truly forgive those I feel have wronged me. I need to do it for me, not for them.

I may not have the goodness of the late pope, but I don't have to have the vindictiveness of a Michael Corleone either.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Weekend Roundup 1/6-1/7 

After a two week absence it makes its long awaited return. Ladies and gentlemen? This week's weekend roundup for your perusal. Enjoy!

Irina reacts to Ariel Sharon’s illness. Breazy reacts to recent deaths in her family.

Colleen discusses some of her challenges. Lewis discusses his feelings about hunting.
Cheryl shares her experience as a maitre’d at a tendy restaurant. Sally shares her vision of hope.

Lis has big hair and she cannot lie. Betsy’s daughter swiped her coins and cannot hide it!

The Illustrious Mrs. E reviews the past year. Pat reviews some happy news.

Stacey’s parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Buffi’s daughter is celebrating her 9th birthday.

Margaret had a rough first day back at school. Angie had a night in her childhood bedroom.

Wendy discusses new and old friends. Ellen discusses her mother’s difficulty in adjusting to a nursing home.

Brunette was going to visit a ghost town. It sounds like Mary Lou’s computer might be haunted.

Monica and her son had “The Discussion”. Simply Satisfied had some guilty pleasures.

Thomai is not a fan of text messaging. I’m a fan of Sarah’s after reading her opera meme.

Kathy’s son beat the odds and received an award in math. Stationery Queen beat the advertised prices and got some discounts.

Teresa discusses her New Year’s resolutions. Carol discusses self esteem.

Susan shares some some new year’s thoughts. Lime shares some Trinidad superstitions.

Jerry found a cool new gadget. Kyra found her Christmas present.

Inky shares an awkward moment. Jack shares some confessions.

Joe got his singing groove on. You’ll get your laugh groove on if you read this post by Amerloc.

Joan spilled the peas. I almost spilled my drink when I saw this pic of Lil Bit.

Sanora has been running. Red Headed Gal has started the new year without alcohol.

Michelle started a blog for her students. Steel Cowboy checks his blog stats out.

Karen’s cat has a mind of its own! I wonder how well it would get along with Bsoholic’s feline?

Keb is letting us vote on which picture to put up. I vote that Phyllis should get some rest after the holidays!

Pearl discusses internal shifts. Wanda discusses a controversial TV sitcom.

Greek Shadow was watching some bowl games. Christine was watching infomercials.

Vickie invites you to come sit on her porch. Hillbilly Mom invites you to read the things her students say.

If you see Roselle listening to her IPOD, she probably doesn’t wanna talk. If you see Funky Cowboy walking around you’ll notice that he lost weight even during the holidays!

T. Marie has been reading Dr. Phil. Kim has been on holiday and is ready to go back to work.

Restless Angel went to a hockey game. Feisty Girl made hamburgers and her husband thought they tasted funny.

Babs writes about all the fires in her area. Mercy writes about how fun dating is.

New Wave Gurly’s holiday visitor is leaving and she has mixed feelings. Muses feeling? She just took the day off and went back to bed.

Phoenix had the day from hell. Nameless just wants a day with a little sunshine.

Rachel writes about an heirloom. Pauly writes about his blog in the event of his death.

Aka Monty isn’t happy with the gas company. Tisha wasn’t terribly happy with how her Friday went.

Meg is on the road to recovery. Lisa is on the way to clean up her house after a stressful week.

MamaKBear was calling out her lurkers. Walker was taking pictures in New Zealand.

Splendid is back in the daily grind. Chicky Babe is making note of some interesting searches.

Enjoy these excellent posts. I certainly did. Have a great weekend my friends!

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

God's Will 

Televangelist Pat Robertson made news today by suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke was punishment from God. Sharon's sin that brought on the stroke? His withdrawl of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the turning over of that territory to Palestinian control. Robertson said:

"God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone."

Another preacher, Jerry Falwell, stated famously that September 11th was God's retribution against the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality and alternative lifestyles.

I find it amusing that these men so often find themselves speaking on God's behalf. Something happens in the world and they are ready to put God's spin on it. From God's lips to their ears. Many of us think that Sharon might've suffered that stroke because of his general ill health, advanced age, and long history of ailments. After all, he has already lived past the average life expectancy for men. But that is too easy of an explanation. God didn't like a political decision by Sharon so he decided to strike him down. Previous prime ministers of Israel refused to give up Gaza and quite a few of them are now dead. Was that Satan at work there?

Maybe I'm not in tune with this like I should be. Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung killed millions of their countrymen and managed to live quite a long time. God would let murderous tyrants live, but would strike down an old Israeli politician who was trying to crown his career with peace treaty with the Palestinians? I was always under the impression that September 11th was carried out by a gaggle of fanatical terrorists. Is Falwell saying that those guys were really God's hit men? My daughter is home ill with strep throat. What is that....God's retribution for missing a problem on her math homework? Did God put an extra spring in Vince Young's step last night, enabling Texas to win a national championship? Was the death of those miners in West Virginia somehow a punishment from God?

I must confess that anytime I hear anyone say that something is God's will that it makes my hair stand on end a little. Who among us can possibly know what God intends? I've always believed that all of us possess free will. I don't believe that Ted Bundy's rape and murder of all those girls was "God's will". I don't believe that the lunatics who flew a plane into the Twin Towers were doing God's work. I don't believe that God strikes down public figures when they make decisions he doesn't like. I don't think God creates diseases to wipe out people who are sinners.

Call me a heretic, but I think that God doesn't interfere in our petty little disputes or take sides in our arguments. Those who say that they speak for him lose my attention very quickly. I can't take anything they say seriously. Actually, I think they are arrogant idiots.

I was disgusted by Falwell's comments during a time of national tragedy and I cannot believe the insensitivity of a supposed "man of God" during an old man's catastrophiic illness. Robertson has a big microphone and Sharon's family will undoubtedly hear his words.

If I were a relative of Sharon's I might some day be standing over Pat Robertson and saying, "your broken nose is retribution for the hateful bile that spews out of your mouth."

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

It feels so weird that this is Wednesday. Starting a work week on Tuesday will do that to you.

I'm excited to be watching the college football championship game tonight. These high stakes games are often a letdown, but I'm hoping this one will be a classic.

I'm in the middle of reading a Christmas gift, Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals", a history of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. It focuses on how Lincoln brought into his administration all of the men who ran against him for his party's nomination for president and other political rivals and enemies. How much strength does it take to set aside personal rivalries and inspire those who opposed you to work with you for the good of the country? There is much to be learned from modern leaders here. Anyone can bring in their syncophants to work for them. It takes guts and character to bring in those who have opposed you in the past.

There is also some practical politics there. Lyndon Johnson once said, "it is better to have a skunk inside the tent spraying out that outside the tent spraying in."

My first day back at work included an appeal of a suspension I imposed the day before we left for the holidays. People are naturally emotional when it comes to their kids. The parents thought the penalty too severe and I of course thought I'd done the right thing. The good thing was that it didn't get personal. The parents and I chatted amiably while waiting for the committee's decision and shook hands when they left. I recognized they were defending their child and they recognized I was doing my job. That is the way it should be.

Now that school has started again, Aubree is back in basketball. Her team practiced last night and has a game this Saturday.

I'm still trying to get my sleep pattern back to normal. Almost two weeks of staying up later and getting up later comes to an abrupt halt. The kids and I are slowly starting to get into the groove again.

One thing that often happens in my field is that divorced parents try to drag you into their disuptes. Both of them want to be able to say that the school is on "their side". I told a father today that I wasn't going to be put in that position and would tell both he and his ex-wife the same things whether one or both of them were there.

I guess its time to take down my little tree and meager Christmas decorations. For some reason this bothers me a little. I like the holiday feeling in the house.

The game is getting ready to begin. An inspired singing of the national anthem brought a lump to my throat.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Low Tech 

In my first day back at work after the holiday break we ran into an unexpected problem. A break in a fiber optic line left our network completely down for a good part of the day. No internet. No email. No telephones. Technology has become such a part of our lives that we don't even think about what it is like not to have it. I want to find a student? I can't access the mainframe to pull his schedule. A huge part of the communication in our school district is conducted by email. Teachers do their attendance online. I couldn't call parents unless I wanted to use my personal cell phone.

It reminded me of my early years in teaching when the only computer in the building was on the secretary's desk and she used it primarily for word processing. You took attendance, wrote down the absent students, and hung it on a clip on the door. An office aide would come by and pick it up. Want to talk to another teacher? You walked down to their room. Forms came in triplicate instead of being filled out online. The student's schedules were hand printed on a triplicate form and a copy kept in the office.

Technology has become so ubiquitous that we are enveloped by it, not even realizing how much it impacts our lives. Not all that long ago I didn't know anyone who had a cell phone. Now I'm not sure I know anyone without one. Email and instant messaging connect us with people formerly accessible by letter or long distance calls. We are more accessible, fitting in perfectly with an instant gratification society.

I've been intrigued by computers since I first went to work at my dad's company in the summer of 1976. As I loaded big magnetic tapes into the drives and stacked cards in the reader I was fascinated by the computer that took up most of the space in a large room. I'm informed by my dad now that the computer I operated had a memory of 1 megabyte. Thats right....1 mb. This was an expensive computer that only large companies could afford.

Then I went to college and was again fascinated by the Radio Shack TRS-80 that my dorm mate had. It stored data on cassete tapes. We spent hours playing an oil drilling game that allowed you to spend your budget on new wells, personnel, or research. If you didn't go broke, you won! We played Pong on our Atari game system, changed the needles on our turntables,and talked on our analog corded phones.

Now technology has become integrated into our everyday lives. It takes a few hours like I experienced today to realize just how much we've come to depend on it. It makes you wonder about the future. How much more will technology be integrated with everything we do?

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