Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get Well Soon

One of my kids is out of school for a while with surgery to both of his legs.  He was so brave about it!  He never showed fear about the pain or discomfort that surely lie ahead for him.  His wonderful parents let him know that all of this would be for his eventual good.  He is mature enough to understand.  He was actually kind of looking forward to it. 

“You know,” he confided in me a few days ago.  “I might come back to school in a wheelchair.” 

“Yes.  I figured as much.  That’s some pretty serious stuff you are going to go through.”

“Mmm hmm.   But you know what about the wheelchair?”

“What’s that?”

“People will think I’m a superstar.” 

“You’re probably right, my friend.  Not many kids get the chance to wheel around the school in one of those.”

“You know, you all could write to me while I’m gone.  If you want to.”

“Oh, we’ll want to all right,” I said, smiling.

“And you could call.  Here, I’ll give you my mom’s cell phone number.  You could put it on the speaker phone and all gather around so everyone could talk.”

“That’s just what we’ll do,” I said.  And that’s just what we did. 

I just love the fact that he didn’t think about the pain or the physical therapy, or even the fact that he’ll be so different from the rest of us when we have to wheel him around in a chair or that he’ll have casts on both of his legs for a while or that he may have to use a walker.  He knows that the kids in his class love him. 


The children in our class would do anything for him.  And I think that is pretty much the way it is for the entire school.  If anyone sees him having trouble with a door, or picking something up, or needing a book – it will be done.  Without asking.  

Here is a guy who accidentally hit a friend in the class last year playing dodge ball.  He hit her hard.  In the head.  When she cried, he wrapped his arms around her and cried along with her, saying how sorry he was.  She forgave him quickly. 

Here is a guy who hugs me regularly and tells me how much I mean to him.  And I tell him I love him right back. 

And so on Monday, the day of his surgery, the class sat down with Miss Liz, our student teacher, and wrote letters to cheer him up, to tell him to feel better soon, to let him know that he is missed.  The letters had colorful drawings with lots of stylized children playing O-Ball (our version of dodge ball), and peace signs, and rainbows, and sunglasses on suns.  There were pictures of unicorns and fairies and books.  And clouds, and butterflies, and silly faces with tongues sticking out.

And hearts.

Our class just started reading a biography together about Ann Frank.  We are studying geometry and geology and writing our own biographies about famous South Carolinians.  There is a lot going on.  But he is on our minds all the time.  His name seems to come up in nearly every conversation.  So here are some bits of what they wrote in their letters and cards. 

I dropped them off at the hospital on Monday afternoon.  At the time he was still a little dopey from his medication, but he was happy that I came, happy to get the notes. 

Kids say it so well.

I hope you feel better. That surgery must have hurt…  We miss your laugh, your love for history, your funny jokes.  Don’t worry.  We’ll catch you up on Ann Frank…  Tell me if you get lots of ice cream…  I hope you feel better history freak!  Just kidding.  You’re not a history freak.  You are a history wiz…  I’ll miss playing O-Ball with you and I’ll miss your humor.  This reminds me of when I gashed my leg…  When you get back we’ll play stinky sock tag and we will be beasts in O-Ball…  I’m sorry that you are missing the new literature study on Anne Frank.  It is good.  We will tell you what we have learned when we get back…  Did you see the double rainbow after the storm?...  I really want you to feel better because you are my best friend since kindergarten…  I hope this won’t mess up our playdate…  We will miss your happy face when you walk into the school. I will miss you so much.  I love to learn from you…  I bet you will be able to run faster now so you can run away from Mr. O. when he tries to get you in O-Ball…  Oh, you will be the O-Ball star when you heal…  I have a history joke for you. Q - Who was the sea creature in the Civil War?   A- Robert Eel E…  I miss your thirst for knowledge…  You always add so much to our conversations…  We are with you because we remember all the time you were with us when something was wrong…  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Insights from Brad Warthen and Barack Obama

I wanted to post something about Trayvon Martin, that kid in Florida who was killed.  And if I had written something it would have been reactionary.  I heard the 911 call from the shooter. I read  about the  cell phone call he was making while being stalked by the nutjob with the gun.

"He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man," Martin's friend said. "I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run."
Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he'd managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.
"Trayvon said, 'What are you following me for,' and the man said, 'What are you doing here.' Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn't answer the phone."  From ABC

I would have painted with a broad brush about lack of reasonable gun control or how racism isn't even close to being over.   But I heard what Barack Obama said about the case.  He had to be careful.  Presumption of innocence and all that.  What the president said was so human.  So right.  Respond like a human, like a parent - not like a liberal or conservative, or a gun rights advocate or a someone in favor of tighter handgun controls.  Then I read what one of my favorite bloggers, Brad Warthen, wrote about it.  Brad, and Mr. Obama, said it far better then I ever could.  

Trayvon could have been one of my sons too.  They are about the same age.  They wear hoodies too.  Except it's not that likely.  They are not black.

God bless that poor kid and his family.

Obama: ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.’

Written by Brad on March 23rd, 2012
On a previous post, Phillip said that he likes Bill Maher (or at least excuses him) because “I find myself agreeing with him about 99% of the time.” I made it fairly clear that I do not.
But there are people who I find myself agreeing with to a degree that it is remarkable — a rare experience for me, since I reject the orthodoxies of left and right (which enable the people who do adhere to them to find themselves agreeing with certain people a lot). A good example would be Tony Blair. When he expresses his reasoning behind a position, I am struck by how much it is just like what I would say — or wish I were clever enough to say.
I have a similar experience with President Obama. There are a lot of things I disagree with him on, rather vehemently in some cases. But then he expresses himself on an issue in a way that strikes me as just right, and I am deeply impressed. (Needless to say, on these occasions he’s being about as different from Bill Maher as any one person can be.)
Today was such an instance, when the president carefully weighed in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. I haven’t commented on it myself because I have thought that everyone else was commenting in such a facile manner — generalizing the incident to fit their own political and social predilections — and I couldn’t find a way to grab ahold of the matter in a way I found meaningful.
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Mr. Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”…
“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said, his face grim. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”…
“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for a moment. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Normally, I tend to react against such a personal, emotional response. But in this case, it was exactly right, and the president was wise to recognize it.
To me, this isn’t some microcosm of racial injustice or gun culture gone wild or any other generalization. This is a case — as near as I can tell, and my knowledge of the case is limited — of a confused, emotional, panicky, cowardly man with a gun in his hand pulling the trigger and causing a deep, personal, specific tragedy.
Yes, the president made a genetic, racial observation in saying that his theoretical son would look like the victim in this case. But the more important part of it is that he appeals to “every parent in America” to look at this situation AS parents, rather than as participants in a political debate. It says to whites who may want to recoil and get indignant at seeing, for instance, Al Sharpton exploit yet another tragedy, Set that aside. Look at the personal tragedy. Think of your own kids. That’s what I’m doing.
That’s the wisest possible thing he could have said.
If there’s anything else useful to say about this case, that is the best starting point.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Roundness of Things

Our son Devin turned 20 yesterday.  It’s funny how that sounds to me.  20.  20.  20.

20 revolutions around the sun. 

Late in the afternoon of March 16, 1992, Devin Mills O’Keefe came into this world.  Born to a teenage mother who made the decision to give her child up for adoption, Devin’s delivery went well.  We were told that his birth mother was exhausted but healthy.  She had friends with her.  My God, was she ever brave. 

On that late afternoon when we received the call that Devin was born we were putting together his crib.   We had just gone through the legal procedures, the social work background checks and interviews, sold our condo, bought another place, moved, unpacked, painted… and waited for that phone call. 

After not being able to conceive ourselves for over three years, after having invasive tests and procedures, then conceiving identical twins seeing their tiny heartbeats in a single amniotic sac, only to have them miscarry at about 10 weeks, even after considering that we just might not have children – this incredible decision and opportunity came up within hours of each other.  Heidi tells the story so much better than me.

Dev’s birth mother decided not to have contact with us, not to know us.  And we know almost nothing about her – but for her exceptional bravery and trust that her child would go to a good home.  And he did.

On the way to Charleston on March 18, Heidi drove.  We thought we were ready for this responsibility, this joy, this sea change of life.  But of course one is never really prepared.  You go into this business of raising children flying by the seat of your pants. 

While Heidi drove, I roughed out a letter to Devin’s birth mother on a napkin, then a final draft on a sheet of paper to give to our doctor, to give to Devin’s birth mom.  I kept that scrap of napkin in my address book.  Tucked into one of the inside pockets, folded and coffee stained, faded, with hasty highway handwriting I wrote these notes. 

You’ll never know us.  Perhaps that is just as well but we would like for you to understand some things about us.  We have wanted to have children for several years.  By you making the sacrifices you have made that will be possible for us. 

You will never know how grateful we are and how much admiration we have for you for giving the gift of human life. 

Please understand that we will love this child as though he came from our own bodies.  We will nurture him and care for him the very best we can.  We will provide every opportunity possible for him to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Here are a few things about us.  We love to listen to music, to read, to write, to laugh, and we love children.  Both of us are educators and have been longing for the day when we could have children of our own. 

What you have done, by allowing us to adopt, will change our lives so much for the better.  We know that it took a great deal of courage for you to carry this baby to term.  It took a lot of conviction and love to make this possible.

Please feel our gratitude and respect for you and know that the decision you made was the right one.

This child will be loved.

And he has been.  Who would have thought that we would be giving him a TV for 

his college apartment, a new vest for wake boarding?  Who could have projected out and seen this big, strong, smart, talented MAN who can pick up his mom and spin her around and look her in the eye and tell her that he loves her… who teases 

mercilessly and laughs and enjoys Asian food, who works out like a maniac… who comes home from college with dirty clothes and washes his little two-seater car in the driveway. 

…who has brought a beautiful and brilliant young woman into our lives whose sparkling laughter and obvious love for Devin gives us unimaginable joy.

And as I look at this crumpled napkin with this anxious cursive scrawl, I can remember that earnest youngish couple with an empty carseat strapped into the back – just waiting to take the ride of their lives. 

And what a ride it has been.

20 revolutions around the sun.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

By Ourselves

This was automatically reposted from last fall after I was told to remove some images that I had infringed.  I didn't know.  Anyway, I thought I'd just leave it here.  It reminds me of a recent comment my friend Chris left about a small but powerful, everyday kind of memory.

Tonight was one of those evenings I spent alone with Heidi. Devin is at USC in his second year.He has an apartment now with a couple friends. He’s loving life. Colin is spending the evening with his girlfriend who is heading off to college herself. So Heidi and I had a regular evening together by ourselves.

This time, while we are alone, is a harbinger of the time to come. Next year Colin will be at college as well and I expect that we’ll have many evenings where it is just the two of us. I like these quiet times. We each had a regular workday. Heidi and I both taught at the Center for Inquiry. She taught her graduate class of earnest mostly young adults studying to be teachers. I taught my earnest third graders. And for a while our classes melded into one big learning community as Heidi’s students and mine got together for some literacy engagements.

When we got home we worked around the house, Heidi doing some gardening while I cleaned out my grungy car. Then we took a walk. Nothing too memorable. Except this is exactly the kind of night I would like to remember. Forever.

It was not a vacation somewhere big like Hawaii, or a wedding or the birth of a baby. I like the big box memories too, don’t get me wrong. But it is the every day little things that add up to make me so happy in this love and in this life.

When we walked to the dock with the dog (she can’t make the big walk with us anymore) we saw the most beautiful setting sun. The temperature has finally gotten into the comfortable range. The humidity is low. The light from that setting sun in Heidi's pretty green eyes made my heart beat just a little faster. It always does.

After dropping Sasha off we headed out to the point where there is another lovely view of the lake. We talked about the day, the boys, our families. We held hands, and gazed out at the birds. We laughed and got serious. There was this little green snake warming its cold-blooded self on the road. I almost stepped on it. Heidi pointed it out to me and we watched it slither up into the grass where it blended in so perfectly as it glided along that it became invisible to us in no time. I thanked her for showing me that little snake. I would have missed it.

When we got home she showed me the new blossoms on the moon vine we have out back. Two perfect, white, saucer sized flowers had just opened up and fairly glowed in the early evening light. I would have missed them if Heidi hadn’t shown them to me. I thanked her for those two flowers as well.

Then just a little while later, as I was doing the dinner dishes Heidi stuck her head in and told me to come quickly outside. Hovering around the big white flowers was a sphinx moth, one of those big beautiful moths that hovers while it sips nectar and looks amazingly like a tiny hummingbird. She knows what I love.
Now, Heidi is sleeping on the couch after this tiring day. I can see her chest rising and falling.Her face is relaxed and beautiful. Her breathing is music to me. Tuesday, August 30, 2011. 31 years and counting.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Facundo Cabral

"Every morning is good news, every child that is born is good news, every just man is good news, every singer is good news, because every singer is one less soldier."  ~ Facundo Cabral

I knew this guy once.  Actually, we were just acquaintances.  For a brief time, he was dating a good friend of ours.  This was back in the mid 70's.  I'm not sure how they met, but Barbara was in crazy love with Facundo Cabral.  Barbara led a pretty exotic lifestyle back then.  I think they met in Europe.  Anyway, when we were in college Facundo and Barbara were an item for a while.  And any friend of Barbara's was a friend of ours.

When Barbara introduced us to Facundo, she said he was well known in South America and Spain.  He was sort of "the Cat Stevens of the Spanish speaking world".  He was fun and easy to be around and was as interested in learning about us as we were about him.  He had a great folky finger style of guitar playing that I aspired to.  He played a big nylon string guitar with beautiful tone.  And sang... like an angel.  A baritone angel.  

"I'm amazed to form part of this amazing universe and I'm proud of the hunger that keeps me awake. Because when man is full he falls asleep."  ~ Facundo Cabral

His English was not great - which attracted me to him even more.  It was fun for us to get to know each other, albeit on a surface level, with limited common language.  He didn't act famous.  In fact, he was self-depricating, even modest.

He played a couple of songs for us.  And while I don't remember the songs, I think one was in English.  It was probably a cover tune.  The other was in Spanish.  It was a protest song.  I didn't understand it, but I remember it's power.  I think he translated the lyrics for us.  Again, I don't remember the specific topic but I remember loving it.

While we only met a couple of times, he asked me to play some songs for him, which I gratefully did.  I probably played some blues and a couple simple original tunes.  Thinking back, it probably sucked, but he acted appreciative.  He gave specific feedback.  That's what a singer-songwriter likes.

Barbara and Facundo went their seperate ways.  We knew they would.  After all, they didn't even live on the same continent.  

But Facundo was memorable.  He was magnetic, earnest, charismatic.  

"I don't waste time taking care of myself. Life is beautiful danger. From the danger of love, my mother had seven kids. If she had guarded herself against my father and his fervor, a singer would be missing from tonight's meeting."  ~ Facundo Cabral

Years later, when you could Google someone, I looked him up.  He was quite famous.  He was a troubador with a cause.  

[From Wikipedia: Cabral was born in La Plata, (Argentina) having begun as a singer in Tandil, 350 km from Buenos Aires. From the most humble of beginnings, he came to inspire millions around the world through his songs, poems and 66 books. He walked 3,000 km at the age of nine to look for work to support his mother and six siblings after his father abandoned them. When he left his mother told him "This is the second, and last gift I can give you. The first was to give you life, and the second one, the liberty to live it". He wrote music that inspired millions. He met Mother Teresa and Jorge Luis Borges. He performed in over 165 countries in eight different languages.]

It was fun to know that I had swapped songs with someone of his caliber, someone of his importance.  It's cool to remember that I played on his big wide-necked Spanish guitar.  When YouTube came around I listened to some of his songs.  I loved his passion.  He had lived through great adversity and still maintained his desire to make the world a better place through his songs. [From Wikipedia: His wife and one year-old daughter were killed in a plane crash in 1978. He was nearly blind and crippled, and was a cancer survivor as well. He once said[3] Siempre le pregunto a Dios, ¿por qué a mí tanto me diste? Me diste miseria, hambre, felicidad, lucha, luces... vi todo. Sé que hay cáncer, sífilis y primavera, y buñuelos de manzana (I always ask God, why did you give me so much? You gave me misery, hunger, happiness, struggle, lights... I saw everything. I know there is cancer, syphilis and spring, and apple fritters).  Cabral went into exile in Mexico during Argentina's 1976–1983 military dictatorship. His songs later turned more spiritual and he continued to fill concert halls across Latin America.]

It's not like I thought about him all the time.  I wasn't star struck.  But he was someone I admired from afar.  

So when Barbara told Heidi me that Facundo was killed last summer, I was genuinely sad.  Not sad like I lost a friend, he wouldn't have remembered me, but sad in the knowledge that the world lost a friend.  I Googled him again and learned the story of his murder.  It is still unclear why he was killed.  Some accounts say that the target of the attack was Facundo's promoter.  The car they were riding in was riddled with bullets, Facundo was shot at least eight times.  The others in the car with Facundo escaped with their lives.  He died on July 9, 2011.

[From Wikipedia: Bolivian authorities expressed their dismay at the death of the Argentine troubadour. Bolivian Minister of Culture Elizabeth Salguero said Cabral's death saddened her because "you can not understand that there are people who want to do much damage to a man who gave so much as a singer, composer, and poet." "He was a philosopher, a fighter for social justice, and to die that way is very painful."

The UN said in a statement: "The United Nations System in Guatemala strongly condemns the assassination of Argentine singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral and adds to the feeling of dismay and frustration of a Guatemalan society that looks beset by intolerable acts of violence. It is painfully ironic that the one who toured Latin America with a message of justice, peace and fraternity lost his life in the hands of a group of assassins. The UN expresses its solidarity with the families and loved ones of the troubadour, as well as the people of Argentina and Latin American that had Facundo as a reference for inspiration."

Guatemalan artists paid tribute to Facundo Cabral on Sunday, July 10, 2011. The Guatemalan artist guild called on all citizens to go Constitution Square to pay tribute to him. Armando Pineda, Alvaro Aguilar Alux Nahual and Rony Hernandez, Alejandro Arriaza, Gaby Andrade, and Manuel Rony were some of the artists who participated in this concert. In a letter to the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre the singer Ricardo Arjona wrote: "As a Guatemalan, I deeply regret the impact this news will generate among international opinion. As a friend and colleague, I will lament the absence of Facundo forever."] 

Here are some early quotes that exemplify his character, his wit and wisdom.

  • "I like the sun, Alice, and doves, a good cigar, a Spanish guitar, jumping walls, and opening windows, and when a woman cries. I like wine as much as flowers, and rabbits, but not tractors, homemade bread and Dolores' voice, and the sea wetting my feet. I like to always be lying on the sand, or chasing Manuela on a bicycle, or all the time to see the stars with Maria in the hayfield. I'm not from here, I'm not from there, I have no age, nor future, and being happy is my color of identity."
  • "May God want for man to be able to be a child again to understand that he is mistaken if he thinks he can find happiness with a checkbook."
  • "My poor boss thinks that I'm the poor one."
  • "This is a new day to begin again, to look for the angel that appears in our dreams, to sing, to laugh, to be happy again. In this new day I will leave the mirror, and try to finally be a good man. I will walk with my face to the sun, and I will fly with the moon."
  • "Forgive me Lord but sometimes I get tired of being a citizen. The city tires me, the offices, my family and the economy. Forgive me Lord, I am tired of this hell, this mediocre market where everyone has a price. Forgive me Lord but I will go with you through your mountains, your seas, and your rivers. Forgive me Lord but sometimes I think you have something better than this for me. Forgive me Lord, I don't want to be a citizen, I want to be a man, Lord, like you created me."
  • "We are crossing through life on the train of death seeing how progress is putting an end to people."
  • "And God created woman and she said 'My Lord, if Mary conceived without sin, couldn't I sin without conceiving?'"
  •  Highest Lord, don't worry about our daily bread because that is up to us, that's why we are men, but don't leave us without our nightly dream because without it we are nothing, we who are perhaps only a dream that you dream."
  • "If I am a thief, it's because of private property."

The world is not the same without Facundo Cabral.  It is not as beautiful, as clever, as full of life.  And social justice is just that much more elusive.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rush To Judgement

If Rush had any sense he would think about what he says.
If he had any courage he would discuss issues with someone other than his admirers.  Sandra Fluke is so much more intelligent, that a conversation between them (a debate) would be like a loud, obnoxious, clueless, sexist, (albeit super rich) fool...  Let me get a little help here from 
assbirdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, boob*,borebuffoonclod, clowncretin*,    dimwit, dolt*, dope*, dumb ox, dunce, dunderhead, easymark, fair game, fathead,   goose, halfwit, idiotignoramusilliterateimbecileinnocentjerk*,lamebrain, lightweight, loon, moronnerd*,nincompoop, ninny, nitwit, numskull, oafsap*,schlemiel, silly,   simpletonstooge, sucker, turkey, twerp, twit, victim I was saying a debate would be like leading a rich lamb to his intellectual slaughter.  Rush is clueless.  Ms. Fluke is poised, intelligent, articulate and, by the way, absolutely correct.  There is nothing there for Rush except a lot of hot air.   And a lot of similarly vapid followers who continue to make him filthy rich.

Friday, March 2, 2012


When I was a kid I went to Catholic school.  Back then, and maybe still today, uniforms were worn in Catholic school.  Boys wore black dress pants, white shirts and ties.  Girls wore plaid skirts with white blouses.  The little ones, the first and second graders, wore plaid beanies bobby pinned to the tops of their heads.  When I was little, I couldn’t have cared less about the uniform.  Each of the boys in our family had a couple of clip-on bowties and which we changed around if one was missing.  I certainly didn’t object; it was just what we did.  We didn’t know anything else.
These had to touch the floor when kneeling... OR ELSE!

For a working class family like ours, it made a lot of sense.  We didn’t need many school clothes as long as the laundry was done (and with seven kids it was done very regularly).  We wore the same pair of pants for a few days in a row and, unless they got really dirty or stained with food, no one knew the difference.  It was the great equalizer.  Rich and poor – we all looked alike in our uniforms. 

As I got older, I switched from the simple clip-on ties to the kind of real ties my dad wore to work, the kind with real knots that you had to practice to get just right.  I started first grade in ’63 (that’s 1963 you smart alecks) so big fat ties with huge knots were in.  My dad knew all the knots and it was sort of a right of passage for him to show me the knots.  He showed me three different knots, which I still remember today, although I rarely wear ties these days.  It’s funny; I remember that time when my dad taught me the double Windsor.  I think he was just as proud of me for getting it (after many tries) as he was of himself for showing me. I felt so much more like a grown-up (a ‘grup’ as my friends and I called them).
Not as simple as it looks.

We had to wear short hair too.  That really did sting because in the 60’s guys were letting their freak flags fly.  Long hair was pretty normal and really short hair was out.  Being out was NOT what a 13 year-old eighth grader wanted to be.  Our hair had to be above our ears and above the collar.  We definitely stood out in a crowd of non-Catholic schoolboys.

Nowadays, there seems to be a trend toward uniforms again, even in public schools. Several schools in my district have a pretty strict dress code.  While not exactly a uniform, most kids have to pretty much wear the same thing.  Our little school still allows personal expression with clothes. 

I assume most kids are like my boys were.  Until they got into fifth grade or so, it didn’t matter to them what they wore.  Jeans when it was cold, any shorts that still fit when it was warm.  Tennis shoes all the time.  The same pair every day suit them fine.  Colin did go through a phase where he wore Hawaiian shirts every day for a couple of years.  He was the only one in his grade to do that.  It was super-cute. 

The other day a first grade class was in charge of Learning Celebration, our end-of-the-week get together (my class next year).  The first graders were up there just being as darling as they could be, singing songs and talking to the school about what they have been learning.  Since our class had just had a discussion about uniforms, I took out my writer’s notebook and jotted down what the little ones had on.

Here’s the t-shirt list:  a big oversized Gamecocks shirt (probably belonged to older brother), YMCA, South Carolina United Way, Eastern Division Champs (we are awfully fond of our USC baseball team), PEACE-LOVE-ADIDAS (that one is a little strange to me), a black shirt with white collar bones and ribs and backbone in stark contrast, tie-dye with yellows, reds and oranges and a big peace sign, another black one with a big skull and crossbones across the front (ARRGGHH!!), a very frilly shirt with glittery hearts, Varsity Basketball Champs (high school), a picture of a teddy bear with lots of glitter, St. Louis Cardinals (that was Ty, Chris), a big blue butterfly, a picture of a fossilized fish, a tight little leotard with a v-neck, a flowered dress, a black turtle neck (or maybe it was a dickey – I’m kidding, those things went out with fat ties with huge knots), a puppy with a pink bow, large horizontal multi-colored stripes, Camp Comanche State Park
Not my class next year.  Random first grade class from Google Images.

Nothing stood out to me as particularly rich or particularly poor.  In a funny way, the kids’ shirts (and the few dresses) matched their personalities.  Or maybe their clothes represented the parents since they bought the clothes in the first place.  Or perhaps some grandparents who gave them as gifts, or cousins who outgrew them.  It was fun to see those little ones, with such unique personalities, dressed so very differently.  They looked comfortable in their clothes.  They looked happy.

It reminds me of one of my former students, now a seventh grader, who was a tomboy.  She only wore jeans and shorts.  She played hard on the playground with me every day.  Clothes did not seem to be important to her at all.  Until picture day in third grade.  She wore a dress to school for the first time since I had known her.  Her hair was curled too.  She had on hose. 

“Wow!  You look… very pretty,” I said, noting her embarrassment and the unusual way she was walking with her knees very close together. 

“Whatever.  I look like a sissy.  How am I supposed to play O-Ball (our playground dodge ball game) in this?” she asked in disgust.

“No,” I said smiling.  “You look great.  I bet your parents think you’re darling.”

“I hate dresses,” she said mater-of-factly.  “They’re gross. 

“Why?  Don’t you think it’s nice to dress up every once in a while?  Something different for a change?”

“Dresses are weird.”  Then she did this little dance, this little shuffle with her knees together and her hands holding down the edge of her dress.    “There’s just way too much air up there!”  Definitely not her uniform.
My former third grade student dressed up for school pictures.  "How am I supposed to play O-Ball in this?"

I am no clotheshorse (well, I am compared to some people I guess), but I very rarely buy myself clothes.  I pretty much wear the same shoes to school every day and when I do get a new pair, all the kids notice just as when I let my hair get too shaggy and I get a haircut.  It is nice to be noticed.  We have a dress code in my district, but it is fairly loose and practical.  I play on the playground pretty hard.  I sit on the floor (OK not as often as I used to); I often go from table to table and stand on my knees.  I need to dress casually.  It wouldn’t make sense to wear starched white shirts or pants that needed dry cleaning.  It just wouldn’t be practical. 

I guess in a way we all have our standard clothes that we feel most comfortable in.  We create our own uniforms.  I have these dress shoes that I bought to wear in my brother Dan’s wedding.  They’re coming up on their 23rd wedding anniversary.   Those shoes look brand new.  I’ll probably have them until the day I die.  And they will look pretty much the same.  They are special occasion shoes.  Not my uniform.

I really do understand the rationale for uniforms.  But, like most of my third grade friends – I prefer the comfort of a very uncontrolling dress code.  I know it sounds like an oxymoron but I like my own uniforms.


I love my job, I love my boss
I love my paycheck too, of course
But most of all I love to wear
Those clothes that make me warm
I fit in with everyone
When I’m in my uniform!!

Uniforms!  Uniforms!
Wonderful, wonderful clothes!
When I get up in the mornin’
From my head down to my toes,
I’ve got my uniforms!  Uniforms!
No decisions to make!
I just put on my uniform
And start my day!

Levis or a beach tan
Or a polyester knit
A jogging suit with stripes
Or toe-shoes that don’t quite fit
A cowboy hat, and apron
Phi Beta Kappa key,
I know all about you, yes,
And you know me!  We’re in our,


In the Military
You gotta wear your proper suit
Pay attention to insignia
So you know who to salute
And in an altercation
Well you know who to shoot!
If you should die, well, we’ll get by
'Cause there’s lots of substitutes!  In the same,


Gray-haired airline pilots
And nurses dressed in white
And even fancy couples
At the opera at night
And sewer workers in their boots
Justa sloshin’ to and fro
Feel safer in a world where
Ev’rybody knows, that those


Written by Peter Alsop, ©1980, Moose School Music (BMI)