gillis and her big mouth

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Month: March, 2013

And This Is Why I Don’t Run

I tried to run today. I really did. But when I got to the top of Cherry Hill after trudging the incline as quickly as possible to warm up, I forgot how to breathe. As I moved along the road and regained my composure, I considered picking up my feet into a jog, but there were four horses standing very close to the road and I could tell they were snickering at me. I couldn’t lose face in front of the neighborhood livestock so instead of jogging, I started pumping my arms quickly to get my heart rate up. That’s when the music section of my iPhone started malfunctioning. I had been grooving along to Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” when suddenly Paul Anka’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump” kicked on (if you are not familiar with Paul Anka’s collection of rock song covers, you are missing out on some serious cool-cat music). These songs aren’t even on the same playlist so I had no idea how this shift occurred.

As I continued to amble and lurch along while simultaneously sliding my finger along the phone and hitting virtual arrows, I lost some momentum. By the time I hit the golf course stretch, all thoughts of running had left my consciousness and I was consumed with untangling the ear buds and trying to figure out how I could bankroll the purchase of an iPod that would be mine, only mine, totally dedicated to my music instead of electronically sharing it with the family. That’s about the time I started noticing all of the litter trapped in the matted, decaying leaves along the side of the road and the plastic bags caught alongside the branches near the river.

As I rounded the corner onto Main Street, several cars drove past, this was the first sign of human life I’d come across since leaving my house. I figured I should turn down the volume on my music so I wouldn’t be surprised by a car coming up from behind. This led to another round of musical mayhem while I tried desperately to replace Dixie Chicks and Frank Sinatra with Beastie Boys or OK GO so my heart rate wouldn’t be in the toilet completely. Finally, somewhere around the burial monument of the Stockbridge Indians, I found a decent playlist and I started moving as quickly as possible. Since I was going uphill, I didn’t run exactly, but I was feeling the burn. Or, more correctly, the chub rub between my thighs. I was gasping at the top of the hill, which had to be good for something. I kept moving, but my feet were not running feet. They were walking feet. Indoor feet. And there I was, outdoors. I gave up all pretense of trying to run as I passed churchgoers dressed for Easter services but tried to keep myself moving as quickly as I could without feeling my back fat jiggle. Up until this point, I didn’t even know back fat could jiggle, but apparently if you feed it enough,  back fat can do most anything, except tuck itself nicely into oblivion.

I sort of Bob Fosse’d my way along the section next to the Red Lion Inn and down along the “highway” stretch, envisioning myself as a chorus member of some imaginary, and horribly choreographed, show starring a middle-aged woman in need of fitness and coordination. Nothing on my iPhone playlist made this any better so I was thrilled when I made the turn into my happy little street. I quickly found my way down the road, I may have actually picked up my knees a few times, and then I was home. Slightly winded and sweaty, but still very much a pedestrian.


Bluebird Memories

On the drive home from the gym this morning I saw a bluebird. It was a beauty. And then I started thinking about the year when I was in a Bluebird troop. Bluebirds were to Camp Fire Girls what Brownies are to Girl Scouts. Somehow Girl Scouts overshadowed  Camp Fire Girls because I don’t think Camp Fire Girls exist anymore. In any case, I was having one of those stream of consciousness moments that happen 20 or 30 times a day.

As I thought about my time as a Bluebird, sometime around second grade maybe, I remembered all sorts of things. Our troop leader was Mrs. Kelliher and I loved spending time in her house because it had two staircases in it – a la Fiddler on the Roof – and that did make me think the Kellihers were rich. Not to mention that there was only one child in the Kelliher household and she lived like a princess with her own bedroom. Her room was beautifully wallpapered with a coordinating quilt on the bed. That kid had it made as far as I could tell.

At one of our troop meetings, it was announced that one lucky girl would be chosen to model in a fashion show. This generated some serious buzz, although I didn’t know why. It didn’t interest me very much, which is probably why my name was chosen at random to represent our troop. When I asked my mother to get me out of it, she wouldn’t. She said it was a big honor and I should be thankful I was being given this chance. I recall going to Sears (yes, it was a very fancy fashion show) to try on clothing. The outfits we were modeling were part of the Winnie the Pooh collection. I had to wear a scratchy polyester pantsuit with a yellow and green lattice-style print on it and also a floral printed blue and green party dress that coordinated with a very groovy maxi dress that an older Camp Fire Girl got to model. In short, I had two hideous outfits to wear. Add this to the fact that I had trouble following directions and it should have surprised no one when my performance was less than stellar.

The day of the show came and when I walked out onto the stage, I froze directly under the fake trellis. Just refused to move and had no idea which way I supposed to turn. They had to send out an older girl, the same one I’d have to walk out with later in our party wear, to push me along. I just stood there, looking into the stage lights without any ability to move myself along. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of complete stress-induced paralysis. I got through the rest of the event, somehow, but the shame I felt lingered all the way home in the car and I couldn’t wait to get back into my dungarees.

Swamp of Student Work

I’m swimming in the literary equivalent of a quagmire filled with disjointed, listing narratives one after another after another. Sometimes I can wade through these marshy grasses happily looking for surprises, as if I’ve got positive-thinking hip-waders on, but today, I am drowning in a swamp of student writing that doesn’t show growth. The mud is cold, and it’s creeping up to my armpits.

You see, I’ve taken home all 90 of my students’ notebooks this weekend after taking a three week break from reading and responding to them. We’ve been working in response groups where peers are giving oral and written feedback to one another on a weekly basis. I thought I’d give things a few weeks to see where they were headed. Now I see where they were headed. They were headed somewhere back to November when students tended to list events sequentially without sensory details or specific information of any kind. They were headed back to Ramble Land where paragraphs might merely be a nice suggestion and punctuation has gone the way of the whalebone corset. The copious amount of time traveling in these pieces has nothing to do with portals or time machines and everything to do with rampant verb tense disagreement. It’s ridiculously discouraging. If I didn’t have a house full of other people’s children to supervise this afternoon, I would surely pour myself a glass of something fortifying right about now.

Clearly the students have not internalized much of the work we have done if they have skidded back to these listy, boring pieces where trips to amusement parks and car wrecks sound less interesting than a day at the laundromat. Somewhere along the way, I forgot to scaffold something. Or I didn’t provide enough practice.  My feedback wasn’t strong or specific enough. In any case,  I have screwed up. And the timing couldn’t be worse because the students will take their standardized tests, complete with the dreaded open response questions, beginning on Monday.  April Fools’ Day. I can only imagine what they will do there. Topic sentence? I don’t need no stinkin’ topic sentence. Evidence from the text? That sounds like too much work. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! All of my corpuscles are spinning wildly just thinking about the crazy talk that will come out of their pencils when they are left to their own devices. All those mini-lessons — just a fool’s errand?

I will not give up. I will read every last one of these entries no matter how painful it becomes. I will respond to each writer with specific, targeted feedback beginning with what is strong and true, even if it’s just the handwriting. I will conference with each of the writers. Then I will slowly remove my hip waders and walk onto dry land for that glass of something fortifying.

What’s The Big Deal?

Marriage equality and gay rights are prominently in the news this week because of the Supreme Court decisions, or indecisions, regarding Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. I have no idea why anyone might feel threatened by gay marriage as a legal right so it’s hard for me to understand what all of the fuss is about. If religious institutions don’t want to perform religious wedding ceremonies, that’s a different matter and I support their right to worship as narrowly as they wish.  I support gay rights and I support religious freedom. I am neither gay nor religious. I don’t think you need to be part of a group in order to understand their reasons for wanting protection under the law. I don’t see how someone else’s desire to worship hurts my desire not to, nor does it make sense to me that someone else’s marriage threatens my own- unless it is my particular spouse they are hoping to marry. That I might have something to say about.

I do think it will be hard for the folks on the far right to come up with reasonable, legal arguments against marriage equality for gays. Defending “traditional” marriage as a cultural norm becomes a trivial pursuit in the age of the Kardashians and The Bachelor, doesn’t it? Our world is filled with unwed parenting, blended families, reality tv competitions for mates, and celebrity culture. Those of us who are in long term marriages to the same spouse we started with decades ago are not necessarily the majority anymore. I wonder if any studies have been done about the number of heterosexual couples in long-term, committed relationships versus the number of homosexual couples in long-term, committed relationships? What would the numbers tell us there? Would there be any surprises?

In any case, I hope gay couples will soon have the same legal rights to marriage as heterosexual couples have in all 50 states. I see no reason they should be spared the stiff and awkward engagement photo, wedding showers, the thank you notes, the chicken dance, the cake cutting ceremony, and the exploits of a drunken wedding guest forever caught on video. They, too, should have to live with the photographs of the puffy sleeved dress or garish cummerbund. And in their golden years, may it not be a big deal at all for their 50th wedding anniversary announcement to be plastered on the community news page of their local newspaper.

Wednesday After a Full Moon

Full moon. Thanks a lot. There’s nothing that I enjoy more than a belligerent three year arguing with me at 2:00 am because he wants juice. I want not to have to remortgage the house in a few years’ time to pay the dental bills that come with a preschooler having juice in the middle of the night, so we were at an impass. Did I mention it was 2:00 am? Or that it had taken me until after midnight to fall asleep after worrying about a remark I had made during a Literacy Night event at school? Yes, really. These are the things that litter my psyche.

Now it’s 5:00 am, and I’m up and showered for the day, but it’s not pretty. Sandpaper behind the eyes. Bloated sensation in the belly. Wired on coffee. And of course, today’s schedule has me working with my two most challenging groups.

Oh well, it could be worse. It could always be worse.

Two Dimensional Gal

I just saw an ad for the movie version of The Great Gatsby. It looks very slick, polished, well-cast ,and despite my general dislike of movie versions of books, my interest was piqued. Then I noticed that the movie would be shown in something called “Real 3D.” Really? Gatsby in 3D? Why would anything think that’s a good idea? Sure, I’ve seen a few Pixar movies that were done in 3D. I have two kids and it’s hard to escape wearing the icky, shared glasses in order to take in the latest cartoon adventure. I even sat through the new Oz-themed movie in 3D. I didn’t enjoy it much, but I watched it. Still, I don’t think I will go to see Gatsby in 3D. I cannot imagine the purpose for these effects with this story. Did I miss the chapter with the lasers and roller coasters? Daisy’s dress is going to really billow like a balloon, isn’t it?

What’s next, Hamlet in 3D? Will Polonius hover over all of us? Or perhaps Macbeth will be the first Shakespeare production filmed in 3D and we can have the witches throw some green smoke our way as we duck the peopled branches of Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane, ooh, and Lady Mabeth can wring her physically spotless but virtually bloody hands in our faces. That will add some life to the classics!

While we’re at it, why not go 4D and have smells piped in? A little rotting corpse stench for the zombie movies, and some wafting vomit odor for all those “Hangover” themed movies. That could be just the thing. The possibilities are endless. Sadly.

I love movies, but I want them to have some humanity in them. I want to care about the characters and get sucked into the story. I don’t want to wonder how the effects were created, or strain to see if the characters were played by actual people or created on a laptop somewhere. Too much artifice and movies become a scientific marvel devoid of art – at least for me. So I’ll be skipping Gatsby in Real 3D. Maybe I’ll reread the book and let the two dimensional words create a magical three dimensional world in my little Luddite mind.

And I absolutely don’t want to wear the glasses. Who knows where those things have been?

This One’s a Clunker, You’ve Been Warned

I’ve had crazy technical issues  over the course of the past week while I was traveling a bit with family, so I haven’t kept up with my SOLC posts. The first time I realized I wasn’t going to make it, I freaked out a little, got upset. Then I tried to figure out how I could make it work using my phone. My son had twice deleted the contact list off of the phone during the past week, so I could not write a blog post and believe it would “stick.” Finally, I accepted that I wasn’t going to have a perfect, 31 day record for SOLC and I went on a weekend long binge of not posting. It felt something like the Kubler-Ross stages of grief – denial, anger, acceptance – or am I confusing grief with swimsuit season again?

I have to say, I feel okay. I’m a little disappointed in myself for not fulfilling the challenge, but I won’t beat myself up for that just now. I’ve lost the bragging rights to posting for 31 days straight, but I may have spared some accidental readers a few posts that were even worse than this is shaping up to be. You see that? Shaping up to be? This is how I end the sentence? That sort of sloppiness should be grounds for having my virtual red pen revoked.

Right now I’m thinking about you, the one who reads but never leaves a comment because this blog is not your thing. You made a mistake when you went to the “Two Writing Teachers” blog, scrolled the comments,  clicked on the link to this site, started reading, and kept hoping it would get better. It won’t. You’ll have to trust me on that. I have nothing to say. Haven’t had an original thought in my head for days. I’ll try to come up with something for tomorrow, but there’s no guarantee.

I’ve already mined my kids, our dog, and my character flaws for these posts. I’ve written about childhood memories too. I’ve even resorted to the 6 word story — and that happened before the halfway point of the 31 days! I think I’ve run out of material. You’ll know it’s desperate if I start hauling out the poetry again. I’m no poet. Now go on, get outta here, and find something more coherent to read.

Math Class, Old School

We used to call him “Fred Flintstone” behind his back because he bore a strong resemblance to the cartoon character. He had shoe polish black hair tinged with gray around the edges, his suit jackets never coordinated with his pants, and he claimed to be color blind. But I can tell you this, Mr. Anderson wasn’t deaf. He could hear a pin drop, or the kid behind you whispering you the answer if you were just called on, and unsure.

By the end of the fall, Mr. Anderson had actually painted my name on his chalkboard detention list, stating he was, “sick of having to rewrite it every day.” He said if I didn’t have to stay after school with him, he would put a line through it and I would know I could skip detention that day. It seemed a reasonable system.

One of Mr. Anderson’s signature moves was the chalk toss. If you weren’t paying attention to him, he would throw a small piece of chalk at your head as if to say, “Wake up, kid.” He didn’t do it with malice, and he had amazing accuracy for a guy his age, which we estimated to be somewhere between grandpa and dead. He kept hundreds of pieces of colored chalk, along with several erasers, in a large, #10 can on the edge of the chalk tray. The can itself was far too wide on its own to balance on the chalk tray, but because it was so heavy with chalk, the chalk tray didn’t have the nerve to push it off. When you were called up to work on the board, he’d hold out the can for you to take a piece of chalk. We all knew the drill.

One fine day, when my thoughts were occupied with ways to keep my feet off of Billy Corbett’s sacred book tray so he and I wouldn’t end up in another fist fight, I must have had a faraway look in my eye because ole Fred Flinstone took it upon himself to give me a wake up call. He hit me with the chalk upside my head. Only this time, instead of throwing one piece at me and offering the can to the student who was working on the board, he threw the can at me and held the little piece of yellow chalk out. I went down like a bag of rocks. And I stayed down for about 30  seconds, stunned and dazed. The room fell silent. I pulled myself up, off of the floor, and into my seat. I picked up my pencil and opened up my notebook. Mr. Anderson walked over to the board, drew a crooked, chalk line across my name, and resumed class.

That Explains What He’s Been Doing to Our Legs…

Trips to the doctor are always fraught with tension. We’ve all heard stories of headaches that turned out to inoperable brain tumors, or fatigue that signaled Parkinson’s disease so we travel into our yearly physicals as if we are embarking on a blind date, hoping for best, fearing the worst. As children our anxieties were about vaccinations, as adults our fears include all sorts of  messy, life-altering pathology.

Even taking our pets to the veterinarian feels like something of a crap shoot. We crate or leash them, bring them into the office, and hope that they will receive a clean bill of health and an annual reprieve from illness. Maybe a case of fleas or some dental issue, but please, no cancer, no kidney disease this time around. Just yesterday our new canine family member went in to have a mysterious mass removed. The vet had already sampled the tumor and determined it did not contain harmless fatty tissue, therefore it needed to be removed and biopsied. All of this scary, and expensive, sounding.

Our little fella went in to meet his fate like a trooper. While he was sedated, they determined that he had not one, but two masses hanging around in there. And they were strangely identical and symmetrical, these masses. Turns out they were not tumors, but testicles that had never descended. We were told, and I’m sure others assumed, he had been neutered because there was no external evidence to the contrary. Surprise! Good news! Oscar did not have cancer, just some leftover testes. Surprise! Say goodbye to your stealth man parts! Oscar was going to lose his cojones before he had ever had the chance to truly enjoy them. Easy come, easy go.

The poor guy left that place with a sore lower abdomen and a very unattractive plastic bonnet encircling his face. I received an astronomical bill for his transgendering and tried to convince myself, while handing over an obscene wad of money, that vacations are overrated. I’m sure I will feel just as relaxed and fulfilled walking the dog around our neighborhood as I would have felt strolling along the edge of a seaside resort this summer. And if nothing else, at least he’ll stop humping our legs.

Kind of Mother

I am the kind of mother who wants her kid to be so confident that she doesn’t care if people like her.

I am the kind of mother who wants her kid to be liked.

I am the kind of mother who worries that her kid will be a drug addict later on in life because he likes to spin repeatedly.

I am the kind of mother who lets her kid spin repeatedly.

I am the kind of mother who hates to ask for help.

I am the kind of mother who needs a lot of help.

I am the kind of mother who lets her kids watch too much tv.

I am the kind of mother who feels guilty about the amount of tv her kids watch.

I am the kind of mother who reads labels in the grocery stores.

I am the kind of mother who serves her kids the organic junk food because she reads labels in the grocery stores.

I am the kind of mother who worries about what resenting a lack of personal time and space will do to her kids.

I am the kind of mother who resents a lack of personal time and space.

I am the kind of mother who wonders about the effects of oversharing about her kids online.

I am the kind of mother who overshares about her kids online.