Sunday, January 24, 2016

Donald Trump, Really!?


OK, if you haven’t seen this breathtaking take on Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump from The Late Show (Colbert), you must.  I don’t laugh aloud like I used to, but this made my face hurt.
DT and SP.  Now THAT would be a ticket!  Scary, but loads of fun.  In a scary way.  
Trump himself doesn’t scare me.  There are always freaky, self-absorbed, narcissistic nut jobs.  There are always politicians who will say anything to get elected including fear mongering, Islamophobic, bullying, know-it-alls.  There have always been misogynistic, philandering, creepy, power-mad, lying, exploitive, simple, disgusting, weirdoes out there.  It takes all kinds to make this wacky world go ‘round.  I accept that.
What frightens me is that he… is… somehow… popular?!  LOTS of people in America not only don’t find him objectionable, they would actually vote for him to be the leader of the free world.  Make America Great Again?  It would be funny if it weren’t so terrifying.  Trump himself is a laughable buffoon, but to think that he could actually get the Republican nomination is like a poorly written comedic movie script.  
Only it isn’t funny. 
It’s scary.  
Because many people think he would Make America Great Again.
No, the spooky thing is that many people (although I don’t think I know any) say they would actually go to the polls and vote for him.  This despite uncountable ridiculous statements, any one of which could have eliminated him from the race if he’d said them four years ago. "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," Trump said at a campaign rally yesterday. (http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/23/politics/donald-trump-shoot-somebody-support/)

Here are a few, just a few, other absurd notions right out of his mouth…
“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud"
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” 
 “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” 
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.” 
“Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.” 
“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” 
“It’s freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming!” 
“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” 
“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.” 
"The point is, you can never be too greedy." 

"My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault."

 
Hi IQ?  While almost everything he says in his shoot-from-the-hip campaign speech style is outrageous and laughable, the way he says them prove – if there were any doubt – that he is no rocket scientist.  I heard one of his campaign people say the other day that one of the reasons people adore him is because he is NOT nuanced, NOT politically correct.  They love his HONESTY and his INTEGRITY.  Right.
On Saturday, the Columbia, SC newspaper The Statewrote a piece that included an analysis of an hour-long speech he gave in Hilton Head last week.  Here is Donald J. Trump in his own words…  
And, you know, we’ve been a little bit — we had to respond to Hillary. She came out with that — she came out — remember, she wrote — she said, “He’s got a — he’s demonstrated a penchant” — I demonstrated — “a penchant for sexism.”
Can you believe it? Me? Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump. That I can tell you…
So, we have to do it. You can’t let people push you around. You can’t let people tell lies. You can’t do it.
Note: The Pulitzer Prize-winning website Politifact gave the Trump campaign its 2015 “liar of the year” for misstatements ranging from claiming to have seen “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating when the World Trade Center came down, to claiming the Mexican government channels criminals to the United States to a tweet that suggested most homicides of whites are committed by blacks.
And they said all of these people that are going to come in new, that never vote — they never vote, they don’t care — they’re going to mostly — I’ll tell you what, they’re going to vote for Trump.
That’s why they’re coming in, because they’re so fed up with the system — this corrupt, horrible system. They’re fed up with it and they’re fed up with those guys back there, the media.
They are the worst.
No, no, no. They’re fed up. They’re fed up with the media. I mean, I’ve got — and you know, not all bad, but there’s so much dishonesty in the media. And I like to call it out.
Note: Dishonesty!? Really?  “POT/KETTLE”
Our leaders are stupid and — and/or — you have to say and/or they have deals, because what’s happened is all of this money is being given to them by special interests, by all of these people, including lobbyists, and these lobbyists make our leaders do — our leaders, can you believe our leaders?
But I go home (after a debate), and I watch, and the pundits will say — and they can’t totally kill me, because we know it is happening, we know what’s happening — well, Mr. Trump was OK tonight. He was — I won every single online poll, I won.
Isn’t that nice? That’s a very — every once in a while, somebody can say something that hits you. Where are you? Who said that? Wow. So nice. Thank you. That is a nice one. That’s like, you know, every once in a while, there is a statement that is either nice or brutal. I think low-energy was a brutal statement, right? [Referring to a statement he made about Jeb Bush.]
If we have Hillary — I’ve got to tell you. I just saw where for the last week she’s been hitting me really hard with the women card, OK? Really hard. And I had to say OK, that’s enough, that’s enough. And we did a strong number. She’s not going to win. Any by the way, I love the concept — I love, love, love having a woman president. Can’t be her. She’s horrible. She’s horrible.
And you know really don’t — I’ll tell you who does not like — yeah, we’ll get Ivanka. Good. Let’s do Ivanka.
I’m number one by a lot and I spent no money. I mean, my plane cost me some money, but I spent no ads. Took a little radio ad in Iowa. But I didn’t do that — I took — I think the station is so lovely if you want to know the truth. But I spent essentially no money.
But I hear where they don’t want me to use hair spray, they want me to use the pump because the other one which I really like better than going bing, bing, bing —
(Crowd laughter)
   and then it comes out in big globs, right, and you — it’s stuck in your hair and you say oh my God, I’ve got to take a shower again. My hair’s all screwed up, right?
            If I had a third grader who spoke like this, I’d ask for the intervention team.  And yet somehow, his self-proclaimed brilliance has caught on in a dangerous way.  And while he is funny to listen to, to laugh at, I don’t know that I have ever been so uneasy about the future of the United States.  
And when I started this journey, and it is a journey, and I do love you people. You’re amazing people. And by the way, you are so smart.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Hospital



Some places seem built to house stories and emotion. Like airports, churches, and bars. School classrooms for sure. Neighborhoods where kids play and tease and grow into the adults they become. Tree houses. Beaches.

And hospitals. I have spent time in these. Not considerable time, but important time. My father’s own death in 1989 was in a hospital room. He was surrounded by my mom, and siblings and the caring nursing staff. The very last time I saw my dad was in that hospital room. Tears, sadness, worry about our mom, loneliness.



Another time, many years later, was when my mom had made up her mind that she would have just one more blood transfusion, just one more burst of energy to get her from her home in western North Carolina to New Mexico and my sister Ruthie and her final days.

And during that stay when my mom was saying goodbye to her home, her friends, her belongings, her life – Heidi and our sons said their last goodbyes to my mom.  Some dear friends who hadn’t said goodbye yet, happened upon us while we were waiting for that blood transfusion. They invited more dear friends to come. There was a brief, spontaneous send-off party while my mom was sitting in a fairly comfortable lay-back chair receiving her last pint of blood; her last pint of life. It was a sad parting with many farewells as well as tears of joy at having known each other; at having shared life paths for a little while.  No one lied and said, “You’ll get better,” or, “You’ll be back,” or, “You can beat this.” I appreciated their honesty. They all had too much integrity for that. Their friendships were deep and honest. They all knew that their farewells were final. I felt humbled to be there in that little group of best friends.

Heidi’s brain tumor, three years ago, a life affirming event – where my love for this good woman grew beyond any bounds I’d known. Where, at Johns Hopkins, on a single elevator trip, I shared the good news of a young dad who found out that his child would be all right.  I also shared moments with a woman who just received the news that her husband did not have much time left.

Heidi’s mom died in a hospital room just over a year ago, with her loving husband of close to 60 years, her kids, grandkids, all holding hands and wiping eyes, and singing hymns – singing her home.  It was a privilege to be there for her final hours.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Heidi once again, had serious surgery. We were in the hospital for four days. Those four days sort of took on a feeling that went way beyond the actual time we spent there. Even from this distance. It's only been two weeks since we left the hospital and it already seems like it was part of a much longer dream.

Calling friends and family with the good news that everything would be fine. That, true to form, Heidi is strong and beautiful and recovering even faster than even her doc thought was possible. That time we spent in the hospital was almost pure emotion.

I did a lot of running around while Heidi was in the hospital bed. Out of the room to make calls while Heidi snoozed, down to the cafeteria for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. Down the road for a chocolate shake when Heidi felt like her stomach could handle it.

During those comings and goings there were so many emotional scenes playing out in front of me. One gray haired, stubble faced man, with his door constantly open, never had a single visitor. He was there when we arrived, and still there recovering from some kind of surgery when we left. He always seemed so sad, so miserable, so alone.

woman-hospital

In the room next to ours there was an Indian man – or rather his whole family.  His wife and children and grandchildren were constantly coming and going. The patient’s wife and grandson were often riding the elevators up and down playfully passing the time. She was so beautiful with her rich brown skin, her silver white hair and her sari. She had that beautiful red mark on her forehead – a bindi.  Her little grandson, or it may have been her great-grandson, laughed that joyful, holy, toddler laugh every time the elevator descended.

Once, quite late at night, maybe 2 AM, I went out to seek a nurse because Heidi’s IV bag had emptied and the machine was beeping out its little alarm. While I was out in the hallway, I noticed a woman, probably in her 80’s, wandering alone wheeling the IV set-up next to her. Later, when I went to get some ice water, I saw the same gray haired woman walking slowly with a young nurse’s aide. Gray hair could easily have been four times the age of the young woman with the high blond ponytail. They were speaking together, leaning into each other, talking quietly, seriously. They walked arm in arm.
HOLDING HANDS HOSPITAL 

Maybe an hour later I walked by the old one’s room and she was lying down, IV pole on the far side of the bed, the young blondie on the near side. Old one was crying. Not loudly or theatrically, but softly. I could see her chest and shoulders heaving. That young one held her hands and had her pretty face right next to old one’s face. She was whispering something I couldn’t hear. Soft. Purposeful. Gentle.

I was so moved. While I couldn’t hear the words exchanged, I could feel the caring and heartfelt emotions. That young woman, working that late shift, in the middle of that dark night, was a lifeline for the old one. I could feel the intimacy and intensity of those moments. Something special passed between them. Something sacred.

That young woman and I crossed paths the next day in that same hall while I was on some errand. I tried not to seem too weird, but I wanted to talk to her, to let her know that I had seen her tenderness. TAYLOR, her nametag read. “It was so beautiful what you did last night,” I said. “That woman needed someone. You were there for her. I don’t know you, Taylor,” I stammered, “but you were made for this work.”

Tears filled her bright blue eyes. “She just found out that she has terminal cancer,” she whispered in response to my awkward compliment. “We walked around for while. When I finally got her to lay down I prayed with her.”

Taylor was the one to wheel us down to the bottom floor and the waiting van when Heidi was discharged. I am glad that she saw us off. She told us that she had been the primary caregiver for her own grandmother as she lay dying of cancer.

I am so in awe of that young woman. That kid, who is so wise, so nurturing, so pure in spirit.

It’s interesting and exciting when lessons of the power of life and love unfold before us. It probably happens all the time. But I am grateful that my eyes were open that dark, late, December night, when those two people came together and that child (just months out of high school) demonstrated such loving compassion for someone she had just met.

I pray that when I grow up I can be just like her.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Out of the Mouths of Babes


My wife Heidi is an instructor at The University of South Carolina.  She teaches her class of graduate students on the campus of our little elementary school.  At the beginning of each year, her students are paired with mine in an arrangement we call Tall and Small Teachers.  We get together for about an hour every week and the Tall/Small teachers have literacy engagements.  We read, write, sing songs, talk.  It's an ideal situation because both groups learn so much.  It's what Heidi calls Curricular Heaven.  Heidi and I have been collaborating in much the same way for about 30 years.  

At the end of our time together, the Tall teachers wrote my kids beautiful poems.  My kids wrote letters of appreciation.

My children wrote advice for their Tall Teachers as well.  I asked them to think beyond the stuff they should have in their classrooms, and consider who they should be with their own students in the future. I’ll include some pearls of wisdom from the kids' letters...

Be fun, silly, playful and kind with your class. Let them share their opinions... 

Be a great friend and not just a teacher... 

You should tell jokes... 

Always be nice. Never have a paddle... 

Play with your students outside... 

Sometimes be nice, sometimes be kind, and sometimes you have to be kind of mean – but it will be OK... 

Never get too mad at a kid... 

Be yourself because you have a nice, friendly spirit... 

Tell your kids the truth about our culture... 

Let your kids read and write a lot... 

Always smile and joke around... 

Love your kids and they will love you back... 

Never fuss at somebody unless they deserve it... 

Teach your students to respect, be kind, and be grateful... 

Read a lot of books to your class... 

Don’t be rude or mean... 

Treat your students the way you want to be treated...

The kids have insight that adult teachers don’t have. They are students. Who better offer advice to young perspective teachers? Heidi Mills is their most powerful USC professor (OK, I’m biased. But it’s true!). But our class has been compelling teachers as well. I’ll end this section with Trip’s advice to his tall teacher.

1. NEVER USE A SCHOOL BATHROOM WITHOUT LOCKING THE DOOR.

2. Play with your kids at recess. It is OK to act childish at times.

3. Encourage your kids when they can’t do something. Don’t just jabber, “Practice makes perfect,” at them.

4. Be funny and kind. 

5. Don’t lie to them. They can handle the truth. 

6. If a kid is bad, don’t send them to the office. Try to resolve it yourself. 

7. Don’t be the strictest teacher in the school. 

8. Kid around with them, but get serious when it is time.


I couldn’t have said it better myself – and I have 35 1⁄2 years teaching experience under my belt!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Giving the Terrorists What They Want




Excerpt from New Colossus – From the Plaque on The Statue of Liberty
"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
– Emma Lazarus

This morning the Donald was on the TV talk shows stating his case for not allowing Syrian refugees into the US.  He doubled down on his previous rant about creating a registry for ALL Muslims in our country.   [Does this registry sound vaguely familiar?]  "I'm putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they're going back."  

Ted Cruz said that President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees is, “nothing short of lunacy.” "I recognize that Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country, that he may have been tired of war, but our enemies are not tired of killing us," he added.

Ben Carson suggested that bringing refugees to this country is like having a rabid dog in the neighborhood. “For instance, if there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably going to put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “It doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.”  

Weeks ago, Ben Carson said, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."  (“Meet the Press")

Just prior to Carson's interview, Donald Trump fielded a comment from a supporter on the campaign trail who said, "We have a problem in this country; it's called Muslims."  Donald Trump did not disagree.

 


So what do the terrorists want?  I have a sense that the feelings expressed above are exactly what they desire.  They would like for mainstream America to hate and distrust their Muslim neighbors.  They would prefer if there were a huge rift in our culture between Muslims and non-Muslims.  They would like us, as a nation, to fear Muslims and alienate them; to consider them dangerous.  They would prefer it if we were to leave the refugees to starve.  They would prefer for us to give the world the impression that we are fearful and isolated and that our “Christian nation” is not open to helping our Muslim brothers and sisters.

The candidates above all espouse Christianity.  They wear it like a badge.  They use it as a tool in this campaign.  Trump even likes the Bible more than his own book, The Art of the Deal. “The Bible, is special. The Bible, the more you see it, the more you read it, the more incredible it is. I don’t like to use this analogy [wait for it - he will], but like a great movie, a great, incredible movie. You’ll see it once it will be good. You’ll see it again. You can see it 20 times and every time you’ll appreciate it more. The Bible is the most special thing.”

Ted Cruz  announced the creation of a “national prayer team.”  Mr. Cruz, who has aggressively courted the support of evangelicals, said the creation of the team would “establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.”

Well played.  Really.

Sanctuary: Although the vast majority of Syrian refugees live in Middle Eastern refugee camps, they are now landing on European shores (pictured) in record numbers

But how Christian is it to turn our backs on refugees who need our help?  This is a matter of life and death for many thousands of people who fear radical, murderous terrorists as much as we do.  Only more.  Many who are fleeing Syria are running for their very lives.  They are trying to protect the lives of their children.  They are trying to leave violence behind.  They are begging for help. 

Today when I was in church, the scripture was from Revelation.  Honestly, I don’t get Revelation that much.  I have heard people try to decipher it, to parse its words, to peel away the meanings like the layers of an onion to find the hidden value beneath. 

Have at it. 

Me?  I’m sort of a red-letter guy.  You know, the stuff that Jesus said.  That’s what I hang my hat on.  That is what I trust.  I don’t need anyone to analyze it or explain it to me. 

Try this from Matthew. 
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

When we look back on our American past, there are things we should be ashamed of.  Much of the world considers the annihilation of Native Americans to be the greatest genocide in history.  There were millions of African American slaves in our country.  Then Jim Crow.  Manifest Destiny.    Internment camps.  Dropping The BOMB.  Vietnam.  Invading Iraq on false pretenses. 

And, oh yeah, we are a nation of immigrants and refugees.  Unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors probably came to these shores to seek a better life, to flee persecution or famine.  Or perhaps your ancestors came here as slaves, barely surviving the brutal middle passage at the hands of white... terrorists.

Right now, we have a chance to create our history in a way that reflects what we know is right.  We can be brave.  We can be altruistic.  We can be patriotic.  We can do the right thing.  

There will come a time when we will look back at what we do concerning the refugees.  And when we look back at these scary times, will see ourselves as a nation who succumbed to fears spread by those who seek only political gain, those who seek to spread hatred and mistrust, those who would rob us of our kindness? 

There are people who need us.  We must make a choice that reflects what we believe at our core.  I am a Christian.  My faith dictates that we should help those in need.  These refugees are hungry.  They are thirsty.  They need clothes and comfort.  We have so much. 

How do we wish to write our history?

Do we wish to give the terrorists what they want?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Grand Day




 Grandparents' Day.  Lots of schools do this now.  Grandparents and any older special friends in lieu of Grandparents come to school for an afternoon.   At our school we serve a lunch, the older folks get speechified, they come into the classrooms for a while, then we come together as a whole school and sing a few songs to round out the day. 

I admit that while we are gearing up for it, Grandparents’ Day feels a little like a chore.  Especially this year.  We lost a lot of time with the flooding in South Carolina.  We were out of school for an entire week.  The following week we had a two-hour delay.  The week after that, a one-hour delay.  It’s not like I count the minutes of instructional time – but that was a lot of missed school. 

During those weeks of late starts, I nixed recess.  I figured that the kids could have a lot of extra time to recreate before school started.  When we saw other classes out on the playground on our way to lunch, there was a lot of, “MR. O’KEEFE!  Why do they get to have recess and we don’t? 

“Because we only have a 5 hour school day.  Think of all of your recess at home.”

But why do THEY get to have recess?

“Hmmm.  Their teacher is a lot nicer than yours?”

So Grandparents’ Day was approaching.  Last year we asked the grands to talk to us about race relations when they were young.  Ours is a beautifully integrated school and the grandparents could share personal insights we could only read about in books.   We had been thinking a lot about Civil Rights and who better to inform us than folks who had lived through segregation/integration?  It was as wonderful as I could have imagined.  Some grandparents got teary as they recalled the struggles, the triumphs, the personal changes in attitude.  It was magic.  They were slow to begin their stories, but once they got started, there was a flood of responses. 



Once again, the grandparents would come into our room for about an hour.  It doesn’t seem like a lot of time to fill, but I had put off thinking about it until just a couple days before.  I asked the kids about it.  “Maybe we could sing some of our best songs.”  Check.  This is a wonderful class of singers. 

“How about we tell about the food drive and all of the math we do?”  Check again.  My class is so generous.  Kids are buying food with their allowance, doing chores to exchange for food for the food drive, talking their parents and grandparents into making donations, spending their birthday money.  We are charting the number of food items, the number of servings, the weight, the number of total calories.  Good stuff. 

At sort of the last minute, I suggested that we ask the grandparents to share their advice with us.  Given their experiences and life lessons, what kinds of advice could they share with young ones about how to be happy, healthy, successful people?   It seemed rather bland to the kids, but I thought there could be a lot of payback from that little question.

Grandparents jpg

When the grandparents came in I invited them to consider the question.  There were pencils and papers on each table.  While we sang our songs and presented what we were currently working on in the classroom, I urged them to take a few moments to jot down their guidance, encouragement and wisdom. 

The last song we sang before turning it over to them is a little known tune by John Denver called “60 Second Song for a Bank”.   It was the perfect set up.

Oh I love the changing seasons

Green and growing all around

Smiling faces laughing children

Making such a joyful sound

In my dreams I see tomorrow

Time and children of my own

Someone who will stand beside me

Helping me to make ourselves a home

If your eyes can see tomorrow

Though it might seem far away

If you have some dreams to build on

May we help you today
The sharing began slowly.  Then, as we passed the microphone around, more and more elders shared their bits of wisdom, their personal philosophies.  It was wonderful.  There were tear filled eyes, nods of agreement, a few “Amens” as the grands filled us up with words to live by…

old woman and young girl holding hands 


Be kind to the poor...  Never tease others…  Use humor to diffuse an embarrassing situation. Learn to laugh along with others if you do something embarrassing... Be all that you can be... Don’t be afraid of challenges. Always strive to do your best...

 If you say that you can’t– you have already defeated yourself... Continue to keep a song in your heart. Remember all that you are learning and the way you are learning. Your kindness to others is a tribute to your teachers and your parents.

Believe in yourself then do your very best. Be a good friend then you will have good friends. Enjoy learning. Love books! Always give thanks... Be kind to each other always. Eat your vegetables.

Never stop learning even when you are old... Make sure that you will be happy and proud of what you said and did... Exercise regularly. Get enough rest. You must endeavor to persevere. Learn something every day... Remember life’s lessons as well as the “facts”.

Your teachers, parents and elders really have your best interests in mind, no matter how you might disagree... Never speak badly about someone...
Learn to write well and write a lot. Learn a useful foreign language... Be aware of current events. Enjoy being outside...

Greet those you meet with a smile. Be respectful to those around you. Help your family with. daily chores... If you see someone who is sad, go give them a hug. Then ask if they want to talk about what is making them sad...

When the day is over go and rest. Give 110%. Only be satisfied if you have given your best... I advise my grandchildren to be obedient to the teacher... Always make time to play while you are young and carefree...

Give generously. Love diversity! Love one another. Cherish family and friends.

            When the grandparents and older special friends left our classroom, going to find a seat in the Great Room (our little auditorium at the center of our school) to wait for the finale – the whole school singing a couple of our favorite songs – there was a lot of hand shaking and patting me on the back.  So many of the grandparents were proud of the work their young relatives were doing and many said complimentary things about my teaching and me.  I found a few notes left on my table thanking me anonymously for the fine work we do at the Center for Inquiry.   But for me it was a humbling moment. 

That afternoon wasn’t about me.  I was not even looking forward to it, honestly.  I was thinking it was one of those little hoops to jump through to get successfully to the end of the week.  It was the Grandparents who made the difference.  It sort of made me sad to think that having them in is a “special occasion” when they have so much casual wisdom to share.  I only hope that those words of wisdom had half the effect on my students that it had on me. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Perfect Gift


I got this really cool gift the other day.  It was from one of my third graders.  I arrived at school early.  I’m generally the first one in my building.  Now it is dark when I arrive from my commute.  I switch on the lights.  Feed the hamster, the fish, and whatever other animals happen to be visiting the classroom.  We recently hatched out these little prehistoric animals called triops.  


I look at the lesson plans for the day, shift around things we haven’t gotten around to from days before.  Write the morning stuff on the board.  Run any papers that have to be run for the day.  I like that time a lot.  Its quiet.  I'm in my space.  There is a sense of anticipation every day.

I was out of the room for a while, chatting with another teacher.  When I got back, there were several children sitting outside the door reading, waiting patiently for me to arrive so they could settle in.

When I got to my table, there was a fancy little box on my lesson clipboard.  Hmmm…  I picked it up and one of my little ones walked over.  “I got you something," she almost whispered. 

“Wow, cool box,” I said. 

“Well, I’ve got to have that back.”

“Of course,” I said.  "A box like that, you want to save.  You could give other gifts in that box.”

“Mmm hmm.”  She was sort of hopping from one foot to another.  “Wanna open it?”  She was so excited that her eyes were shining.  Big grin. 

I shook the box gently.  It was so light; I thought maybe she was playing a trick on me.  We do that kind of thing.  But she was too expectant.  Too happy-nervous.

“Well, I don’t usually get gifts on random days.  This must be really special.”  I opened the lid.  Cotton. 

“You’ve gotta take the cotton off.”  She was going up and down on her toes.  Her smile a little image of beauty.  “First, our morning hug.”  We hugged.  She is a hugger.

I lifted the top layer of cotton off.  There was a tiny bird skull.  Very small.  Very delicate.  Very beautiful.  “I knew you’d like it,” she said.  “I just knew it.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said.  “I wonder what kind of bird it might be.”

“I wondered too.  We found it on our neighborhood.  It was laying there all by itself.  You think maybe it’s a hummingbird?”

“I don’t think so.  Those have longer, more slender beaks.  Almost like a curved straw.”

“Oh yeah.  I remember.  Like the hummingbird skeleton we have on the wall.”

“I think this might be a wren,” I said, still a little breathless from the tiny exquisite skull.  “I don’t think we should put this in the science area.  Too fragile.  Someone could damage it by accident.”  Our science area is filled with bones - from the vertebrate of a pilot whale, to the skulls of deer, a wild boar, a fox, an opossum, a mongoose from Hawaii, a great blue heron, a green sea turtle and many more.  This little guy could get lost.


“Let’s hang it up on the wall.  We could put it with those other skeletons,” I suggested.

“Oh yeah.  That would be cool.”

That’s just what we did.  It is up there along with our prized bat skeleton that my class recreated after leaving it buried for 3 months or so in a mesh bag.  There are bird skeletons, a frog skeleton and small rodent skeletons we recreated from owl pellets. 




What was so special about that little scene is how much affection is shared in our little community.  There is so much care.  There is so much love. 

Love. 

It isn’t something that my college methods professors ever talked about.  Even the best ones.  Respect maybe.  But I don’t think love ever came up in our heady conversations.  We talked about best practice.  Varying instruction to meet children’s needs.  We talked about progressive education.  Democracy in classrooms.  Not love.  Never love.


But love is what it is all about it seems to me.  I never said the “L Word” to my young friends for many years.  I felt it to be sure.  But it has only been in the last 15 or 20 years that I said it.  Out loud.  And it feels good.  A little awkward at first.  Even a little scary.  But after getting it out there, it helped with all kinds of things.

I’m not saying our group of friends doesn’t have challenges.  We do.  Almost every day.  There are unkind words.  Times when we just don’t do our best.  Times when I have to talk privately about some management issue with someone “in my office” (a.k.a. the hall outside our room).  Most of the time I preface these remarks with, “You know how I feel about you, but…  You are such a good friend, but… Listen, we care about each other in here, right?”  Then on with the lecture. 

But that preface part?  The love part?  It makes a difference.  

Truly. 

I’ve been in this business for a long time.  36 years?  A lot of teachers I have known didn’t stick it out.  They got burned out.  I get it.  It is hard.  There is a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility.  Young lives at stake.

What has helped me is that I try – as much as possible – to be myself.  And I encourage kids to do the same.   So when I read something that makes me angry in the paper, something that seems outrageously unfair, the kids know it.  And when I read the “Last Day” chapter in Charlotte’s Web, the kids expect me to get a little misty, to lower my voice to a whisper, to take long pauses before reading on. 

For the most part we are like that with each other.  And that little bird skull?  That little spontaneous token of appreciation?  It meant so much because that child knows me.   She planned out that little surprise to wow me, to make me feel good, to let me know that she was thinking about me when I wasn’t even there. 

Now it is often dark when I get to school and dark before I get into my car at night.  But sometimes I leave feeling that no one could have a better job than this.  Who else gets to plan with a group of friends how to learn amazing things, have interesting conversations, read incredible books, and write beautiful stories?  Who else gets to spend this much time with so many people they love?