Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Birth Control at Table Four

When I’m in Portland for the summer, my kids and I like to take part in excursions with the grandkids. Wait. Like may be too strong a word. With Melissa having two children, Miles being four and Georgia almost two,  and with Billy’s little one, Cami, being right smack in the middle, age-wise, at almost three, they are definitely stair-step children and corralling them for anything big or extended is quite a feat.

But, because we are optimists and also because we don’t have good sense, we soldier on. We take them to parks and museums and kickball games. We’ve dragged them to the beach, to the zoo, to a giant waterfall, to concerts at Sauvie Island, and on the Odell Excursion Train at Mount Hood.

And on some occasions, when it seems that we have a communal death wish, we take them to restaurants.  Escorting one or two young children to a restaurant is doable as long as there is at least a one to one ratio.  Billy and I have taken Cami out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  She does fine until the orange juice sets in, but, between the two of us, we are able to run interference when she starts ricocheting.

Melissa and I have taken Miles and Georgia out to eat from time to time, carefully choosing the place for it's willingness to put up with chaos and ketchup.  A play area filled with toys that don't look like they carry the H1N1 virus is helpful but not absolutely necessary.  A table away from others almost always happens if the hostess is savvy at all. The promise of a big tip early on also seems to help.

But all three together, hoo boy! It's like they are more than the sum of their parts.  They can tag team us, what with the "having to go to the bathroom" from the ones who are potty trained or working on it, to the one who isn't and does number two in her diaper.  Then there's the ordering.  What they ordered, they no longer want.  Instead, they want what we have, leaving us to eat the mac and cheese and the peanut-butter quesadilla.  Then there's the salt and pepper just begging to be turned up-side-down and the ketchup bottle that could use a good squirting.  Oh yeah, I forgot the standing backwards in the booth and putting crackers in the hair of the lady behind us.

Last summer, as we were traveling to catch the Odell Excursion Train, we stopped for lunch at what looked like a family-friendly restaurant.  It was.  It was so friendly, in fact, they gave us our own room, complete with toys and swinging bar doors.  Billy remembers eating his entire meal standing at those swinging doors, making sure no one escaped.  He wasn't so worried about losing a kid.  He wanted to make sure neither Melissa nor I went to the bathroom, never to return.

And just this past Saturday, as we were heading to the beach and after we'd scared the sea lions back into the Pacific at the Gearhart Pier (renamed the pee-er after Miles christened it), we once again tried to have lunch, this time at the St. George Brewery.  The hostess took one look at us and seated us at Table Four.  Although it wasn't in a separate room, it was at least a booth with backs high enough to protect the people on either side.  

Since Georgia had arrived with a prepackaged load in her britches, Melissa took her to the bathroom for a change, leaving Billy and me to deal not only with Cami and Miles, but also with what seemed to be a surly waiter, someone not all that thrilled to be dealing with a group who would most likely soon be throwing food and spitting milk.  However, when Melissa and I each ordered a glass of wine, he cheered up some, thinking that we just might get wasted enough to mistakenly leave him a big tip.

A while later, after schmoozing with the waiter, asking where he was from, etc. and after I had, indeed, tipped him well in spite of being way too sober, he actually told us that he'd enjoyed serving us and then he relayed a little secret.

And the secret was that, after the hostess had seated us, she'd announced a new party in his section with this bad news:  

"Birth Control at Table Four."

Oh well, there's a good chance that the waitstaff at the St. George Brewery will have their own kids one day, and they too will know how to get a raisin out of a child's nose without calling an ambulance. 

And they'll think it's all worth it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Naked Bike Riding

How many things are wrong with that?

Whereas Atlanta has its Purple Dress Run, Portland has The Naked Bike Ride. The Purple Dress Run is an annual event sponsored by the Atlanta Bucks Rugby Football Club. It’s actually a pub crawl, and their website touts it this way:

“Put the Atlanta Bucks in purple dresses and run them from bar to bar, and it’s no prim-and-proper Southern cotillion. The burly Bucks and their supporters don their gay apparel Saturday for one of the rugby team’s two biggest fundraisers of the year.”
Photo taken from my Sun Room Window in Atlanta

So you get it. Burly gay guys dressed in purple dresses and careening from pub to pub to raise money for AIDS awareness, etc. Although often in sequins and boas and size 14 stilettos, they are clothed, at least mostly.

Then on to Portland's Naked Bike Ride. Here’s some info about the latest one:

"The World Naked Bike Ride took to the streets of Portland Saturday night, exposing the city to a reported 13,000 cyclists who in turn were exposing themselves to the city. In spite of a cool evening, cyclists rode with little or no clothing, staying warm with exertion and camaraderie."

Still lots of alcohol involved and a good cause, this one to protest against society's reliance on automobiles and Big Oil.

I can see myself taking part in the Purple Dress Run (as long as I didn’t have to run). I’d actually be one of the better looking participants, trust me. But as to the Naked Bike Ride, please see below for just some of the ways this is wrong:
  • It was only 50 degrees the evening described in the article I cited.
  • At my age, there's no telling what body part might get stuck in the spokes.
  • I can't ride a bike sober so .............
  • You know the adage about being the lead dog in a sled race and how if you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be the lead dog in this race, and, if I remember correctly, don't people stand up from their bike seats when they accelerate or start up a hill?
  • Speaking of the bike seat, who's in charge of cleaning that after the race?
  • Do the participants go naked into the bars too?
  • Can you imagine where the scrapes might be if you fall off?
  • What about chafing?
  • Where do you keep your credit card and phone? How about your identification for when they find you naked, drunk, and dead in the gutter?
But what I find most wrong about Portland's Naked Bike Ride is the point they are trying to make, that of protesting our over-reliance on automobiles and Big Oil.  Nothing makes me want to climb into my big old gas guzzling car fully clothed more than considering the alternative of Riding a Bicycle with my Sixty-One-Year-Old Completely Nekked Body on a Cold Spring Evening in Portland, Oregon.  Or any place else, for that matter.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Schooled: The Culture of Teaching

The other afternoon, I was walking to the grocery store in the village-like area of St. Johns, where I live in Portland during the summer. My small condo is across the street from James John Elementary School.  As I was walking, I remembered that schools in Portland break for summer several weeks after we do in Atlanta and also that it was the last day of classes for Portland children.   Noting the jubilant looks on the teachers’ faces as they made for their cars, I knew this was a big day for them too. I offered those Portland teachers a covert salute as I know the feeling well.

In spite of renewed interest in year-round schools, most teaching is seasonal work, kind of like picking peaches. There’s a definite rhythm to it: the beginning anew each fall and the finishing up each spring. We get to start over every new school year, something that doesn’t happen in many professions.

But because K-12 teaching involves working with children and adolescents for much of the day, time with other adults is limited. When I was younger,  I yearned for a “grown-up” job with adult interaction that included an office and a lunch hour, so I stepped up the ladder to positions like curriculum coordinator, principal, college professor, and state department manager. But now that I'm older and perhaps in my second childhood, I like the limited time with adults.

But not having much time to interact with grown-ups doesn't seem to inhibit work friendships.  In fact, it may actually promote them in that we don't have enough time together to get on each other's nerves.  The seasonal work with children and the separation from other adults make for relationships created by stolen moments during bathroom breaks, planning time, and 3 PM Happy Hours.  If you happen to happen by a bar in mid afternoon on a Friday and it's filled with raucous people dressed in t-shirts that say I Survived Field Day 2009, you know you're in the midst of a gaggle of teachers.  

And, in the elementary grades, there's recess.  Recess is held sacred not only by kids but also by teachers, and inclement weather is as disappointing to us as it is to the children.  While keeping an eagle eye on the antics of our students, we are catching up with the antics of the grown-ups.  Our joke is that we always have recess unless there's a funnel cloud in evidence.

When I decided to return to teaching in an elementary school setting at age 56, one of my primary concerns was that there would be no one else as ancient or decrepit as I, but I was wrong.  There are people my age (and older) at my school; they just don't happen to be on my grade level team so I don't see them very often.  But that hasn't mattered one bit.  The ages of the people on my team run from mid 20's to early 40's with good old me as the elder teach-person.  Although we don't often hang out on weekends, (how could we when I go to bed at eight?) my young colleagues seem to like me well enough as far as work friendships go. 

My work friends often use me as their surrogate mother, which is fine with me as I use them as my stand-in kids.  They bring their problems to me so that I can give them my best advice, advice they ignore just like my own children.  Because of this relationship, I get to be on the in-the-know cutting edge when it comes to first dates, break-ups, engagements, weddings, babies, and future babies.

One of the things I enjoy most about working in a school is the turmoil.  Every place I've ever been employed had some drama, but since an elementary school is heavy on females, we fairly foment in the fray.  There's always something exciting and titillating going on, enough to make it worth getting up each morning and facing the day.

And finally, there's the gallows humor.   We complain about our working conditions and all the wrongs that have been put upon us, but this is typical of all work places.  With teaching, however, we also get to complain and laugh about our students, but please keep in mind that we are quite proprietary about those complaints and that humor.  Nobody else better be messing with one of our kids.  We're like mother birds, squawking out our grievances while pecking at intruders.

So, there are difficulties being an adult who spends her days with children, but the friendships we make with other teachers are a lot of fun, perhaps made better by the limited amount of time we can spend together during a typical workday.  Fred, that annoying co-worker, has to get back to his class before he can get on too many people's nerves.

And there's always recess (unless a funnel cloud has been sighted).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Geezer Chic: The Ultimate Alternative Lifestyle

We oldsters deserve some respect. And I don’t mean because of our wisdom or accumulated good works or the sacrifices we’ve made for our families. No, we deserve respect because of how cool and edgy we are. Think about it. Many of the things that make young people cool, we also have. For example:
  • They mark their bodies. Ours are already marked. With age spots, stretch marks and moles now all converging on my left breast, it’s starting to look like I have a tattoo of a phoenix, or maybe it's a buzzard.
  • They expand their ear holes for large posts. Ours are already expanded. I one time wore both of my earrings in the same hole for an entire day and nobody noticed.
  • They ride around on odd cycles. So do we.
  • They often don’t remember what they did last night. We don’t remember what we did this morning.
  • Pink and purple hair? We’ve got that covered!
  •  They like their music out of the mainstream, as do we. When my mother gave my daughter, Molly, her car when Molly turned 16, there was a tape stuck in the tape player. The tape was polka music. I am not kidding here.
  • They don't make much sense.  Neither do we.
  • They sleep late. We sleep early.
  • They go to vintage stores to buy old clothes. We don’t need to.
  • They’re wired. So are we – to our pacemakers and CPAP machines
  • They imagine a better world. We had it. It ended in 1970.
So, you see, if we can corner the market on cool, we can have the same advantages as young people.  Advantages like getting reservations for dinner at the newest trendy restaurants (as long as they open by five and have doggie bags) and starring in our own reality shows.  However, instead of The Bachelor, ours could be The Widower.  We could bake pies and drop them by his house. 

If I only knew how to bake a pie.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Living with a Little Indian Boy

No, I’m not cohabiting with a child from India. I’m trying to put myself in the moccasins of a little Creek boy who lived in 1785 and yes, I do know that Indian in this context isn’t politically or even historically correct.

Being just a tad self-absorbed, I usually write only about myself:  my memories, my experiences, my opinions. Even when I wrote my three mysteries, which were fictional, everyone knew that the main character was guess who.

So, when I began to think about writing a fictional children’s book about six kids who all lived in the same place but at different times, I wasn’t sure I would have the imagination to dream up their lives or their story. My writer friend, Leslie, told me to let my characters tell their own stories and I believe that's good advice. But, before my character can tell me his story, I need to get to know him and to perhaps gain his trust.  So here I sit in the red Georgia clay in a Creek Village in 1785, and I must say it’s pretty hot and my deerskin chaps are itching me. However, that squash soup his mother is cooking over the open hearth smells pretty darned good. I do keep wondering, though, where my cell phone is and I'm yearning for a Diet Coke.

The idea for the book began five years ago, my first year teaching second-graders in Atlanta. We were studying Georgia History and we traveled to the Atlanta History Center for a field trip. We were wandering around with a docent who had managed to garner the attention of the adults much better than that of the little ones. The kids were too busy pushing buttons and each other to focus. However, when our guide mentioned that the Battle of Peachtree Creek (the first of three Civil War battles fought in the Atlanta area) occurred where the Bobby Jones Golf Course is now situated, several stopped their shenanigans and perked up their little ears.

“I live on Bobby Jones!” said one. “I live right behind it,” said another.

I’m not sure they got it but I did. My students live right smack on top of history and so do I! I needed to figure out a way to help them to feel the connection.

We went back to school and created timelines and we talked about the history of Atlanta back before it was Atlanta, but I still didn’t think they were understanding. To them (and to me to a certain extent), time is linear. We think of time as being from a different place. So, I thought about telling a story about different children who lived at different times but in the same place.

I ultimately decided on six different stories, one for each child: Tuck, a Creek boy in 1785; Susannah, the daughter of a white general store owner in 1825; James, an escaped slave at the Battle of Peachtree Creek in 1864; Rosie, a mill worker in 1910; Carl, a black kid in the midst of the civil rights movement in 1961; and finally, Jessie, a child who could have been my student in 2010.  I knew I needed to write about the history and social context for each of those times, but, because kids are kids, I also needed to make it interesting with some humor - a big job I began contemplating five years ago and one I'm still not quite sure I'm up for.

I am most fearful of writing about the earlier kids, especially Tuck, since his life seems most foreign to me and there are so many stupid ways I could misrepresent or diminish his culture, but I've decided to write it chronologically, attempting to be brave. Get it, brave? Indian brave? Okay, I guess I'm hoping that by saying everything ridiculous and embarrassing I can think of here on this blog, maybe it won't show up in the stories.

I'll of course let you know how it goes. But I must stop now as I think the soup's ready. I just don't know what I'm going to drink with it. 

Creek water? Are you kidding me?

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

  The timing was perfect.   I was 56 and looking toward retirement but not yet ready, either physically, emotionally, or moneta...