Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Best Gifts Cost No Money

Now, it's been awhile since I've received or given a gift that did cost a lot of money (or really anything over 20 bucks), so my perspective may be skewed. But as my 30th (ugh) birthday looms in the not-so-distant future, I am becoming more aware of the small, cost-free gifts we can give that can make a huge difference in our happiness.

The best free gift I can think of: time.

The months after winter break are always a challenge for me. The daily grind really starts to get to me. My energy is low, but I still have a ton of work to do even though all I want to do is go home at 3:30 and hide under my covers. This winter/spring has been particularly challenging because I've had two super intense graduate courses (taught by superintendents of my district...yikes!). And Justin's getting home later and later. Em is a roller coaster of total toddler bliss, whining, and nap skipping. I feel every extra moment is scheduled and accounted for.

I've been scrambling all over the place, begging for some time for myself. Well, this weekend, I got my wish. But it was rather by accident.

My sister-in-law gave birth to my nephew on Thursday. I had class this Saturday, so I couldn't go up to Redding. I was sad when Justin and Emerson left on Friday afternoon, but as I was moping around the house, an important realization dawned on me.

I have never spent an evening by myself in our house.

The last time I was alone was last autumn when Justin took Em up to Redding for a few days. After I made this connection, I started to enjoy myself. I channel surfed, listened to music I like, and took a nap.

Saturday was even better--after class I went to Trader Joe's, bought some appetizers, cleaned up the house, and had two great girl friends over. We chatted way late into the evening. After they left, I watched some bad t.v. and crawled into bed around 2. The best part: I didn't get up until 11. I cannot remember the last time I did that. And it will probably be a long time before that happens again.

Justin and Em will probably be home in a few hours. And I have missed them a ton. I can't wait to see them. But I had a great time relaxing and I felt totally refreshed.

Time. Finally a gift I don't have to send a thank you card for. :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

When Reality Doesn't Match Fantasy

I have a friend who's a teacher (actually, I have many), and one comment people say to her about teaching always irks her: "At least you don't work during the summer." Her point is that we work a condensed work year, intensely focusing from mid-August to early June and we use the summer for planning, workshops, and home repairs.

I get where she is coming from. But only from a distance.

In my 8 years of teaching, I have only not taught summer school twice--my first year when I had credential classes to take during the summer and the year Em was born. She was born the last day of school, which worked out perfectly for us.

But every other year I have taught summer school. At least three weeks, if not six. 7:30 to 1 or so. So fun.

Now, I am aware that some people NEVER get vacation. I am aware that work can be an incredibly dull, repetitive experience for many people. I am lucky to get the time off that I do. And I'm super lucky that my job changes pretty much every calendar year. I do not teach the same kids or even the same subjects. It is a nice life.

However, I had plans this year. Beautiful plans. Gorgeous plans. Plans that were just asking to be broken.

My plan was to NOT teach summer school.

Well, it was a nice plan.

Here's the sitch. I have another year of grad school. We will have to start re-paying Justin's school loan next year and we have a car loan. In addition, we'd like to start building our savings again. I'd really like to not take out another loan for school for me next year. And Justin and I figured out that if we both teach summer school, we can pay for daycare and save some money.

So summer school is the smart decision. Especially for me. I'm practically guaranteed a position because I currently work in the district and have already proven myself at two schools during summer school. It might be harder for Justin to get a position because he doesn't have a position within a district. And it seems that many teachers are trying to take care of business and save some money, so the competition may be fierce.

It's the smart decision. But it's also lame.

I wanted to stay at home with Em. I wanted to develop a little routine for the two of us, see friends, and visit family.


I really just need to get over my fantasy of what this summer could be like and deal with the reality. It will still be pleasant. I will still have time for Em and my husband and for me. And I always have next summer.

Still. It sucks.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Queen of the Meltdown

Mondays are not my friend on pretty regular basis. I always have meetings or some sort of super fun commitment after school. Then, I end up picking Em up late and either dinner or exercise (or both) is rushed and not fun.And, to make things even better, Justin is in class til late.

But this one was extra special.

1. We have two days of testing (read minimum days) this week and the kids were feeling surly, and guess who they thought would make a nice target for their frustration? Well, it didn't work out so well for them, but it wasn't the pleasant, quiet Monday I had hoped for.
2. I had an hour long tutoring session after work. I avoided the pizza, but this was the fifth one I've done for the kids, and I was feeling a bit frayed around the edges.
3. Finally, once I got Em home, she had the mother of all meltdowns. Seriously, it brought tears to my eyes.

Our evening started sweetly enough. Em skipped her nap today, and so she nodded off in the car on the way home. I didn't fret, and it was nice to be able to listen to the news without: "Play a girl song, Mom!"

I propped her up on the couch and proceeded to work out. After a couple minutes, she woke up, a bit groggy, but still pleasant. She complained that she was hungry, so I made her what she requested (this is important evidence for later)--a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Em climbs up to the table, and I continue exercising. Then, our perfect little evening is blown to smithereens.

"Mommy, Mommy, my hands, my hands!" Em screams this with such fear that I rush over thinking something might actually be wrong. But I see nothing. Her hands are covered in peanut butter, but there doesn't appear to be anything else wrong. So I give her a napkin, help her out, and try to go back to my Tae-Bo.

"Mommy, help me, help me!" Now, she is full-on crying and losing it. I stop the DVD and tend to her. Tears streaming down her face, sobs wracking her body, she screams to me "Mommy, it's poopy! Poopy!" I start to get a little panicky that maybe she did have an accident. But no, it's just the peanut butter.

However, now Em is not to be calmed down. No matter how much I try to convince her that she doesn't have "poopy" on her hands, she is inconsolable. Even after I wash her hands. Even after I give her an early bath. Still sobbing.

It isn't until we read all 3 Fancy Nancy books and I plop her in front of Kung-Fu Panda that she is happy again. I stagger off to the kitchen to make some sort of dinner, amazed at how quickly my quiet evening became a thing of the past (along with my sanity.)

Things are good now. Justin came home, and I retreated to the bedroom. Now, the baby is in bed, the dishwasher is humming along, and the laundry is a'spinning. All is well.

But I'm still hiding the peanut butter for a couple days...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

You Never Know How Good You Have It...

Until you are an idiot and sign up for grad school.

Here was a typical weekend last year for me and my family:

Saturday--Wake up around 8 or 9, cuddle in bed with baby and husband. Make a leisurely breakfast, watch cartoons, start laundry. Plan food for the week and go shopping. Put Em down for a nap, scrap book, go running, or take a nap myself.

Sunday--Again, wake up slowly, eat slowly, dress slowly. Take Em to the park down the street or some other local attraction, make dinner, watch t.v., go to bed nice and early.

Yeah, that family-wonder land does not exist anymore. It was lovely.

And I had no idea.

These are the major differences this year:

* Justin is a student teacher
* I am a grad student
* Em is 2 1/2 and has LOTS of opinions
* I have no prep period at school so I have to get all my grading done on my own time

Fast-forward a year and this is what a weekend looks like now. This is what we did (and are doing) this weekend.

Saturday--I woke up at 6 to do homework. I said good-bye at 8:30 to Em, who promptly burst into tears. I was in class until 4, raced home to clean and de-catify my house, and spent a little time with my husband daughter in our beautiful back yard looking for lady bugs. Three lovely friends came over in the evening for nachos and a movie (well, I don't know if they expressly came over for nachos, but I was excited to make them.) We had a great time and I was asleep approximately 20 minutes after they left.

Sunday--The time change was cruel to us. We slept in and took a long time to get focused. We spent a lot of time (and an ungodly amount of money) at Target. We went out to lunch, and now Em is pretending to nap. Later, my mom will come over to spend the week with us and I will go grocery shopping. My evening will be filled with running, cooking, ironing, and getting Em to bed.

I think I spent a lot of time this Fall feeling sorry for myself, but it came to my attention that there are huge differences this year in addition to the ones I've already listed:

* Em is an active member of our family. She gives her opinions, she has her favorites, and she actively participates in what we do. She makes life so much fun.
* Justin seems so much happier this year than he did last year. I am so glad that he is enjoying teaching again.
* I have friends. Glorious friends. I am so happy to have people to hang out with. It's awesome.
* I finally feel that changing districts and moving was not a mistake. I have always known that I want to get into school administration, but I think it would have been a mistake to do that in my old district.

While I think I miss the leisure of last year, I really didn't even appreciate what I had. I will be happy when this crazy year is over, but there have been so many positives. I am excited to think how next year our lives will change even more.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Keeping Anxiety In Perspective

I teach Sophomore English, and in California that means one big thing: the California High School Exit Exam. This is a test in math and English that all students, regardless of IEP (special education plans) or second-language status, must pass in order to graduate high school.

There have been grumblings for years about high school graduates not having the basic skills they need for college. Universities as distinguished as UC Berkeley bemoaned all the students they had to place in remedial English and math. Parents and students were shocked to find out how much it costs to take classes that don't count for graduation. And businesses complained that students were coming to them without standard skills in mathematics and communication.

Take social discontent, add political pressure and a fresh shaving of high-stakes testing and voila, the CAHSEE is ready to go.

And this test presents its own weird set of issues. First of all, it's mostly based on middle school standards, so its classification as a "high-school" exam is not entirely accurate. True, students need to pass it, but if they don't pass it as 10th graders, they can take it twice as juniors, and four times as seniors. In addition, most schools offer support programs for students who need help.

However, first-time passage can mean so much to a kid: a big weight lifted, one less thing to worry about, and more room in his or her schedule for college-required courses. So we have endeavored at my school to increase first-time passage and help students take control of their educational destinies.

I have learned, however, that there is a fine line between preparation and panic. Yes, my students need to pass. Yes, it's important. Yes, I do not want to be the one in May to tell them we didn't do enough to get to the required 350 score. But, I don't need to make my panic their panic.

Today, a fellow teacher and I got a bunch of students together, fed them pizza and took them through interactive review for the CAHSEE. It was relaxed. It was social. And, dare I say this, I think they learned something.

So did I.

Learning doesn't need to be painful. Just because something is important, doesn't mean we need to stress. And we can show kids how much we care by being calm and relaxed. Teenagers don't need to hear 40 million times how important their choices are. They really do know.

But they do need tools and strategies. They need to know how to approach an unfamiliar situation with ease and poise. They need to know how to not give up when they can't turn to anyone.

So, if you know a Sophomore, send them some love this month. This is a huge time for them and they need all the support they can get.