Reclaiming My Tempus Before it Fugits Away

The angry math teacher marched up, stopping just short of poking me in the chest with her pointing finger.

“YOUR daughter.”

Wuh-oh.

MY daughter was in 6th grade. I was a substitute teacher at her school that day. She may not have been a perfect kid (Jesus is the only contender in that category), but she was always a good kid, so I was surprised by the teacher’s acerbic tone. [Actually, “Acerbic” may have been this teacher’s middle name. Her attitude didn’t shock me, but having it directed toward my kid did.]

“She was READING in class.”

Well.

I fought the urge to slap my hands onto the sides of my face and scream a la “Home Alone.” Reading. In school. Horrors.

Knowing better, I nodded solemnly at the teacher and assured her I would take care of it. Later I found the errant child.

Me: I talked to your math teacher.

Her: *head drop*

Me: She said you were reading in class.

Her: Yes, ma’am.

Me: Did you finish your work?

Her: Yes, ma’am.

Me: Did you have anything else you could do? Homework?

Her: No, ma’am.

Me: Are you still getting an A in that class?

Her: Yes, ma’am.

Me: Get better at hiding your book.

Her: *My Mom’s the Coolest look* [I love that look. You don’t see that much when they’re in middle school.]

Mind you, this is a kid who, at six years old, was caught reading after bedtime by the tiny red thermostat light on the side of her waterbed. In order for the light to stay on, she had to keep turning up the heat. She had nearly baked herself by the time I caught her.

We find ways of doing what’s important to us. God and I had a long talk just today about four things I love or need to do that I’m not getting enough time for. My take-aways:

  • time ain’t just gonna happen – it’s a pretty set deal
  • if you want it bad enough, you’ll work it out
  • thinking about it won’t make it happen
  • wanting it won’t make it happen
  • making it happen makes it happen

I then looked honestly at my schedule – a wacky thing that scared me a little when I got honest about it. But tucked in there were several things that I enjoy, but were not part of the Big Four. So they went on the chopping block.

The last of the four to be dealt with, I’m embarrassed to admit, was (gulp) Bible study. I have read my Bible through completely each of the last two years. This year, I decided to read the New Testament through twice and am zipping through that process. But what I lack, and what I desire, is to go deeper, to really STUDY the Word. My life does not include a group study like that right now, so I would be doing it on my own.

But when?

I know better than to try to concentrate that much at night after my long, crazy days when my head is numb, and I had already plugged numbers one, two, and three into that slot. I do my Bible reading in the morning, and the number on the clock when I roll out of bed is already too stinkin early. I can’t get LESS sleep. So what does that leave?

It took awhile. That still, small voice was its stillest and smallest, waiting for The Obstinate One to catch on.

Oh.

My Bible reading is good. I love it. But (my fingers stuttered over the keys a bit there) it is just that:  reading. Wouldn’t it be a more effective use of my time to use that morning slot for a deliberate, deep STUDY of the Word and not merely a READING of the Word?

Well.

Just like numbers one, two, and three when I had to eliminate something good for something better, I found myself slowly accepting this idea for my morning Bible reading. Ironically, I was afraid I would disappoint God if I wasn’t checking off my daily reading allotment every morning. I talked to Him about that. My take-aways:

  • it’s not quantity, it’s quality
  • I’m stuck in a routine – neither underlined word one to be used in association with the Bible
  • rather than being lulled, however happily, by the familiar, I could be learning and growing
  • He’ll meet me there

Mind you, I am not condemning Bible reading alone. Oh good heavens, no. It has been one of the biggest blessings of my life and He has shown me MUCH in the pages. He has met me THERE and changed my life. But now, echoing Emeril, it’s time to – BAM! – kick it up a notch.

This is gonna be epic. I can’t wait.

Now…which book to start with??? Sixty-six choices! Hm….

 

Driving with the Top Down

Oh how I loved that little car. It was beige with brown accents (my favorite car colors at the time [actually, that’s the color of the car I have now]) and (best of all) it was a convertible. I was just 18 and an ordinary kid, and this was a Fiat Spider. Way out of my league.

That didn’t stop me from gawking as I drove by in my Daddy’s Buick. And it didn’t stop me from actually going into the store where it sat in the display window, its top down, and walking slowly around it, caressing the top of the door and leaning over to view the interior.

Nobody noticed. Or if they did, they didn’t care. I was an ordinary kid, all by myself, drooling over a cute little sports car. They had bigger fish to fry. So I just sighed and got back in my Buick.

I talked to Dad about it, but only in the “ohmygoshyougottaseethiscar” way of a recent high school graduate. The dealership was downtown where he worked, so he knew the one I meant and I’m sure he saw it on his drives past. Later that year, he and I found a little Subaru – white, standard shift, cute and fun to drive. I loved that car.

But my oh my that Spider…

Just recently, I told the story of that little convertible and how much I loved it. Dad was there too and nodded with the memory.

“But that’s not something I could have ever had,” I said dreamily.

“You didn’t try hard enough.”

“What?” I asked, stunned.

He just grinned, but a little sadly, a decades-old secret coming out. “You didn’t try hard enough.”

Well.

There I sat, picturing myself in that little Fiat, top down, hair flying. Mind you, I loved my Subaru, but I. Could. Have. Had. That. Car. And furthermore, I pictured the today me driving it – graying hair blowing. Because, although the little Subaru coupe went the way of a family sedan when the children came, that Fiat would have been mine forever.

The access was there the whole time, I just didn’t know it. I got what I wanted – a nice, new car. I just didn’t know that I could have so much MORE.

I saw that in the book of Matthew this past week. Well not Fiats exactly. But the same concept. At the end of chapter 14, it says sick people begged to only touch the hem of Jesus’ robe to be healed. And they did. And they were.

I frowned a little as I checked off my reading for the day and closed the Bible. “Strange you would let them do that,” I muttered. I guess muttering counts as prayer because there was an immediate response.

“It was all they wanted.”

Whoa. What?

I opened my Bible back up and looked at the passage again. Sure enough. They were brought by “the men of that place” and they “implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” (Matt. 14:36 ESV)

I let that sink in a little. Then a lot. They could have had HIM! They could have been hugged and touched and wrapped up and eye-contacted and loved and … They could have had HIM! And they settled for the hem of his garment. They just didn’t try hard enough.

At first I was more than a tad disgusted by them and their lack of thinking. But then I imagined if I had been there, one of the sick. I would have wanted a hug. I would have craved eye contact and a look of love. But I know I would have considered myself just a regular person, not worthy to bother the Master. The fringe would have been enough.

In His love, He gave them what they wanted – to be healed. They got the answer to their prayer. But how much more was available to them?

I sat back, picturing the younger me driving around in my very nice white Subaru. I got what I wanted. But I could have been zipping around in that snappy little convertible. According to my Dad, I was good enough. I just needed to not settle.

Then I smiled, thankful for the lesson from Abba. I may be just a regular person, but I’m HIS regular person and that hug and eye contact, that relationship – all that is available to me. Always. When THAT’S what I want, that’s what He gives me. Oh how I regret the days I have settled for the fringe.

From now on, I’m driving with the top down.

[I have to add this for my church-shopping friends. Please find you a home where the “men of that place” lead you to the ARMS of Jesus, not just to the hem of his robe. And to my already-churched friends, be the men and women who pull the people into His embrace. Let us not be the ones who ask or cause others to settle. Let’s show them His friendship, not the fringe; HIM, not the hem.]

 

A Chip Off the Naughty Ol’ Block

One night, as the eldest grand and I were crawling through slow traffic toward the roller skating park, I began to belt a little ditty I learned from my grandmother. Sung to the tune of “Humoresque” —

Passengers will please refrain

From flushing toilets on the train

While standing in the station I love you

We believe in constipation 

While the train is in the station

Roses always make me think of you

[Note: I googled the first line and found out Grandma wasn’t quite as clever as I thought. I assumed she’d made up this song. Turns out, Oscar Brand beat her to it. Similar to the effect of the old game “Telephone,” the lyrics have been changed from his original, so apologies to the songster.]

The grand: “Um…what is that?”

Me: “A classic song.”

Her: “Where did you get that?”

Me (proudly): “My grandmother.”

Her: “Sounds like you.”

This pronouncement pleased me much more than it probably should have. Buoyed by the fact that she was still looking at me and, thanks to highway traffic and her inability to escape, I went on to sing a few more Grandma Tunes. Then, the memories cascading through my heart and mind, I began to tell stories about her.

Grandma had it rough. Rough. As a girl, she was unloved and abused by her mother. But she was a tough cookie and went on to live 85 years and raise four sons (one who preceded her in death) who practically worshiped the ground she walked on.

As I talked and Grandgirl turned slightly in the seat to watch me more closely, I remembered one of my favorite stories about Grandma. When my grandfather died, Grandma was 75 and had never driven. Even at that age, she took lessons, bought a little car, and got herself where she needed to go. One day (this was in the late 60s), she saw a woman she knew walking down the sidewalk. It was raining, so Grandma pulled over and called her to the car.

The woman seemed a tad reluctant, but got in and they chatted as Grandma headed toward the neighborhood the woman indicated. As they approached, Grandma asked for directions to her house. The woman told her to just let her out on the next corner. Grandma protested – it was still raining, but the woman was insistent that it was far enough and wouldn’t give any more information. She climbed out on the corner, expressed her gratitude and good wishes, and went on, as did Grandma.

Later, it hit her. I remember her face clouding with anger as she shared with me years later. The woman, her friend, was black. These two women were from a different time. Suddenly Grandma realized the woman hadn’t wanted Grandma (a white woman)’s reputation sullied by being seen driving a black woman to her home. She was so angry at herself for not realizing at the time what was happening that even as she told me, she was still fired up about it.

“If I’d realized,” she growled to me, “I’d’ve driven straight up her driveway, walked her arm-in-arm right up to her door, and kissed her smack on the lips when I said goodbye.”

Grandgirl’s face had been reflecting the same shock at this type of racism that I’d felt the first time I heard the story. Then, at the finishing line, she exploded in laughter just as I had lo these many years ago. I had never been more proud of this feisty little Irishwoman I was honored to call Grandma. She was the kind of person I hoped to be one day.

Grandgirl turned in the seat, still smiling as she looked out the windshield, the red of the taillights in front of us reflected on her face and in her eyes. “She sounds just like you,” she said.

Well.

Those five words burrowed into my heart and blossomed there. I thought about the little heart beside me, how it now held another treasured story to be retold another day to yet another generation. About two feisty Irish grandmothers.

 

I Wanna Play Sax in the Jesus Band

It almost seemed like a mistake when she walked up onto the stage. She was so very tiny. The rest of the homeschool band group, including the most amazing and beautiful clarinetist you have ever seen (I have never pretended to be an unbiased Nana), were all of normal size for their various ages. But the front-and-center flautist was an itty-bitty thing who had to climb up into the chair and whose feet dangled several inches above the floor.

I tore my eyes off that clarinetist long enough to watch the little one in the front row. Cute as a stinkin button, but what was she doing up there? I’m a teacher and fully aware that some children are extra small for their age, so that may be the case… And what was that thing in her hand? I assumed it to be a flute, but there was something weird about it.

Whispering with my daughter, who did NOT tear her eyes off the clarinetist, she told me the oddly shaped instrument was indeed a flute, but that it was modified for the little arms holding it. Instead of a straight instrument, hers curved at the mouthpiece, shortening the body of the flute to enable her to reach the farthest (furthest?) holes and buttons and thingies. And play she did – just as expertly as the taller, straight-fluted band members around her.

I haven’t been able to get that image out of my mind and this morning finally began to listen. God stuff was incoming.

I was – am – facing a task for which I feel woefully inadequate and am therefore woefully inactive – frozen by my insecurities and inabilities. Today these two situations merged in my feeble brain and I heard God say, “You just climb up into the chair. I’ll provide what you need to get the job done correctly.”

Well.

Just like so many of the questions in my life, the answer is so simple. I taught a small group of children in a Bible study way back in the early years of my church work. On one Valentine’s Day, I asked them if they knew how the holiday got started. The littlest guy in the group, shy and overshadowed by his older siblings, suddenly leapt up – seriously, leapt up – and shouted, “JESUS DID IT!” Stunned into silence, we all just stared at him. Realizing the unlikelihood of his response being true, he slowly sat back down and muttered, “Well, He gave ’em the idea.”

Perfect answer. Every time. Jesus did it, does it, will do it. Why do I continue to strive, to try to think of WHAT to do, HOW to deal?

All I truly have to do is trust that God will do it, then climb up into that chair. He’ll place whatever instrument He has modified for me into my hands and conduct my song – OUR song. And it will be beautiful … and perfect.

 

 

Don’tcha Just Hate a Cliffhanger?

I just started reading the coolest story. It’s a first person account by a 17-year-old boy who is (self-professed) weird. His clothing and hair style are…unusual. He is highly confident, extremely articulte. In clever and witty dialogue, he starts telling what he can of his story. When he was a child, he suddenly “woke up” – right in the middle of events he was part of, but with no memory of anything that had happened prior to that moment. He goes from non-sentient to aware – BLAM! – just like that, scaring the boy-howdy out of the people around him since he had apparently never spoken before. They are NOT good people that he’s with, and he ends up running away, being chased by them. He makes it to an alley where he suddenly and inexplicably drops, having only enough time to roll out of sight behind a dumpster. He wakes up there the next morning.

I know, right?!

There’s a problem, though, and it’s one I encounter far too often: The story ends there.

I know, right?!

On this, the last day of NaNoWriMo, when I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not finishing…again, I’m browsing through the other documents on my little flash drive that a friend told me looked like a Lego. My search turned up this gem that I had totally forgotten about. I love this kid! After his awakening and his escape, he gave himself his name – Buddy Skye – and explains he chose it because he heard a lady calling her dog, Buddy, and she sounded so happy and so in love that he wanted the name too. I mean – come on! Where did I get THAT?

I had so much fun reading through those 1600 words. I was being carried along by the story as if I knew nothing about it.

And that’s because I know nothing about it.

Facepalm.

I have absolutely no idea where I was going with this story. I know I once had an idea of where he came from and where he was heading, but whatever it was is gone the way of Grandma’s cookie recipe and my favorite ear buds. Forever out there in Somewhereland.

I’m glad I had the sense to take this idea when it hit me and just run with it – get it down while it churned around in there. But oh how I wish I’d added a few notes and arrows on the map of this story.

And now I’m almost afraid to search further through my little blue Lego. There is a plethora of stories like this one in there – once loved and now unfinished (including this year’s NNWM story) and in some cases, like Buddy Skye, forgotten almost entirely.

I feel a little like Buddy these days, a bit unfinished, and a bit forgotten. I’ve reached this crazy and sometimes scary age when I have to admit that all the gonnas ain’t gonna. The sad part is when I am aware of specific gonnas as they hit that list. I hate those funeral services. Recently, I became conscious of the fact that I was almost cowering before God. Confused, I did a thought inventory and realized I was drenched in apology.

“I’m sorry I haven’t done the things You’ve given me to do. I’m sorry I’ve messed up Your plan for me. I’m sorry-“

Whoa.

What hutzpah. Who am I to think I could mess up what God has planned? Is He so small that I could stop Him? Or even slow Him down?

As my daughter would say, “That’s crazy talk!”

Once I finished apologizing for THAT, a new realization started and began to grow…

If I can’t mess up God’s plan, that means He still has one. I’m in it or am heading toward it, but He hasn’t forgotten me and He’s not done with me. I am not an unfinished story He’s stumbled across and wonders where in the world He was going with that one.

So I open my eyes a little wider and keep looking for God Stuff. He won’t forget me, but I don’t want to miss the fun. I want to be a fully aware participant in His plan.

In the meantime, I think I’ll dig Buddy Skye out of that flash drive and see if the Master Writer will help me remember THAT plan. If there was a map, I know He kept a copy of it. I look forward to huddling together, at least one of us gripping a mug of coffee, as we take that crazy kid through his designated route on the course that was planned for him.

 

 

 

It Ain’t Just Music that Does It

You have to work really hard to fail my class. I am a middle school language arts teacher. I have high standards, but not high ideals. I remember the trauma of middle school and being twelve so well you wouldn’t know it was in the stone age. So I’m a sympathetic teacher. I give time to get stuff done. And I give multiple chances to get it right. Any failing grade can be corrected. Any. All of them. Take your time. Just do it.

So if you’re failing my class it’s because you made a concerted effort to do so. That’s when you meet… The OTHER Mrs. Smith.

My major goal as their teacher is that these young people develop a love and even a passion for reading and writing. Of course, I’d like to see their skills improve, and they do, but my personal drive is to instill the love in them, to create lifelong readers and writers. This is the season of NaNoWriMo, so a big hunk of our class time is spent writing novels, another hunk spent (as all year long) reading them. They love this.

So, when you have to face The Other Mrs. Smith, she catches you in the hall and says before you start the stuff you WANT to do in my room, get out that failed paper you owe me and REDO it so I can put a passing grade on your progress report. Now. (There are a lot of lines: Is THIS the work I can expect from you? Is THIS a grade you’re proud of? Is there some reason in the known universe that you would keep this stinkin grade in here instead of simply FIXING THE PAPER?)

I had three darlings to capture in the hall last Friday before progress report grades were due, one in each of my three classes (that’s not as good as it sounds – I technically teach two subjects, so I have each class for two class periods). Nabbed one – BAM, passing. Nabbed two – BAM, passing.

Number three was a bit of a challenge. Attitude is this fella’s greatest problem. That coupled with the fact that he’d stop to consider his motivation before stepping out of the way of a speeding bus. This is a kid who’s got the sixth grade one shoulder half-shrug down to a science. And he’d been given multiple reminders and chances from me to fix. His. Problem.

(Full disclosure: This was also the last period of a Friday that will go down in the annals as a day to not go down in any annals. Let’s just forget it ever happened, a’ight? That rather escalated my mood.)

So I was in the hall, waiting, looking like a lion at feeding time. My classroom is at the end of the hall and I was standing outside my door, watching the length of the hall, looking for that little head that would soon be on my platter.

Whereishe? Whereishe? Whereishe?

AHA! Finally, I spot him coming my way and I practically growl in victory. He’s a cocky little fellow who walks with a bit of a swagger, but today he seemed different. I squinted (never mind about that, there are no “quadfocals”) and frowned, renewed my stance and readied for the attack.

But there was really something different. As he got closer, I could see he was crying. Not crying – sobbing.

Well.

The Other Mrs. Smith cloak went flying off, smacking the wall with a sound like a rifle shot, as the Mama Mrs. Smith swooped down on Little Mister, pulling him aside and out of earshot of his classmates, and tried to understand through gasping cries what had happened.

A cousin had been hit by a car. And somebody told this baby that at school. And left him there.

I shushed and darlinged and I’msosorried and gently got a hand on each shoulder and walked him all the way back down that hall to the counselor’s office, enlisting a free teacher on the way by to cover my class.

After depositing him in good care, I came back to my classroom alternately praying and fuming – but now the fuming was FOR him and not ABOUT him. Amazing what can soothe the savage beast teacher. This kid would be lucky to function enough to read a book when and if he got back to my room. I looked at those failing papers again. Were they really that bad? Had he made enough effort? Could he do better next time? I asked God: What part do grace and mercy play in the classroom, in the grade book?

I pictured that devastated little face, drenched with tears, the shoulders shaking with sobs.

BAM, passing.

 

 

The Month of Living Dangerously

I will die this month.

I will also meet new people, rescue and be rescued, laugh at least a little, and cry a lot. I will have adventures and find peace and discover love and maybe even a little joy. I will teach and be taught, fail miserably, and have glorious success. I will be afraid, happy, miserable, confused, and amused. I will forgive and be forgiven.

This is the month of living dangerously – the month of NaNoWriMo. Every November I accept the challenge from the wackadoodles at NaNoWriMo.org to write a 50,000 word novel completely within the November calendar. This year I’m trying something new. Rather than my go-to western historical fiction, this story is a few years in the future and the power grid has been fried. [I hope this explains my search history to anyone who has access to my technology. “How to get out of a bear trap?” “How long until dead bodies begin to smell bad?” And I know my daughter is relieved to now understand why a show called “Doomsday” is suddenly on the DVR.]

And maybe it’s because of the intensity of doing all that writing within a 30-day schedule that causes me to LIVE more in it than my other writing. I don’t hear anything on the radio when I’m driving because I’m writing in my head. I have a tendency to drift off from conversations if something just triggered an idea. I will suddenly flail about as if having an apoplectic fit if a word or name or idea came to me and I need to write it down before it escapes my brain never to be heard from again.

1,667 words a day is what’s required. Some days I’ll do more, some days much less. I’ve not always been successful at NNWM and I’m making a connection between my living in it and my success rate. Since the villain in my story is a solar flare and I look at the sun differently now, I’d say that’s a good sign. I’m putting extra canned goods on the grocery list and thinking of stocking up on filters for our water purifyer. Already eyeballed a spot for a garden in the back. Too bad our HOA doesn’t allow us to keep chickens.

So I think I might make it this year. But even if I don’t, my life will be better for having lived in that other world for a month. I’ve said this so often, I need to get it printed on a t-shirt: I’m a Better Person When I’m Doing Story. I’m happier, feel more fulfilled, even if I do suddenly shout random words and my eyes go two directions at once.

To add to the special this year, I have a partner in crime. The twelve-year-old in my house and I sat together last night, keyboards a-tappin. I looked over at her and watched her face: eyebrows together in a frown, lower lip pulled up between her teeth, fingers hovering over the keys. Then the eyes widened and the fingers starting flying and story started happening. And she smiled.

Yup. Make that two t-shirts.

 

 

 

I am Now a Member of a Zombie Apocalypse Team

I was chatting – well, whining really – with a coworker about the nightmarish drive in to work that day. Traffic was backed up to a ridiculous degree. Construction is the order of the day around here, but this was crazy. I assumed an accident, but, it turns out, a light at a major intersection was flashing red. By the time I got through nearly an hour of stop-and-go traffic, my clutch foot was numb.

My coworker’s eyes widened. “You drive a stick?” Although that always makes me think I’m being called a witch, I understood and nodded.

“Oh!” she cried, truly excited. “Will you be on my zombie apocalypse team?!”

“Um…”

“Seriously,” she said. “In every horror movie, the only available get-away car is a stick and I’m always worried about that.”

“Well then,” I said in an Oscar-worthy performance of non-giggleage, “count me in.”

“Oh yay!” There was hand clapping.

I nodded solemnly, timing my building eye rolling and laughter so I could make a clean get-away before it started. “Consider me your driver,” I said.

She extolled my value and my virtues and I walked away feeling much more important than I had any right to feel.

So driving a stick-shift, standard, manual, or whatever other name it goes by, is what makes me valuable. It made me wonder. What else do I have to bring to the apparently impending zombie apocalypse?

  • I can make a meal out of whatever’s in the pantry.
  • I can write stories and poems (ish).
  • I’m a good listener.
  • I can train dogs to sit up, speak, and shake hands.

On the other hand, I’m lousy at math and logic puzzles, so get-away planning would be lost on me. I’m not a good runner (“good” was an unnecessary word). I don’t recognize wild edible plants, have never shot a gun, and would probably starve if the animal I was to eat for supper was looking at me and still breathing.

In other words, I’m the first one being tossed off the survival raft.

But, by jingo, if you need a driver, I’m your girl.

That conversation did cement my NaNoWriMo plans for this year, believe it or not. I’ve been toying with the idea of a post-apocalyptic story involving a woman about my age. What would someone like me do if suddenly life as we knew it was over? How – or indeed WOULD – I survive? When Google is no longer an option and my “what-to-do-in-an-emergency” books are all on my Kindle, what’s left?

Call me foolish, but I am truly not worried about a zombie apocalypse. However, several people I respect are concerned about a grid collapse which makes me think about it occasionally and wonder what I would do. Here’s where I need to mention one extremely critical thing I left off my can-do list: I can pray. And God listens when I pray. No matter what happens in or to this world, one thing will always be the same: my God is in charge. That may sound simplistic to unbelievers, but to those of us who know Him, nothing could be more comforting.

I’ve been looked at like an idiot for not stockpiling seeds and canned goods and considered a fool for not turning my back yard into a garden. And I’ve wondered if I am indeed living in ignorant bliss. But if I were to plough my backyard under right now, it would be in response to fear. Instead, I place my trust where and with Whom it belongs, and listen. Truly listen. The first time He says, “Get to digging,” I’ll be out there faster than Usain Bolt.

But for now, I’m content to be content. I have had a talk with my family about where everyone would go in a catastrophic emergency, so we don’t cross paths looking for each other. And now I can offer some added security: I’ll be the one driving the zombie apocalypse car.

 

 

 

I Teach. What’s Your Superpower?

I remember the first time (it was in a grocery line) someone asked me what I did for a living that I could answer, “I’m a teacher.” I’m pretty sure I stood up straighter, I know I smiled, and I probably looked around expectantly. Angelsong and orchestra music. That’s what I was expecting. Maybe a little ticker tape? I wasn’t expecting meh.

After twenty years, the thrill is not gone. It’s a bit matured and tempered, more measured and less impetuous. More assured and less wide-eyed. But I still expect some trumpets or a drumroll when I announce my chosen profession. How can anyone not see this as the most awesome job ever?

Oh mind you I have quit this mostawesomejobever an average of five times per school year. Fortunately I’ve kept it to myself, but all they have to do is check my browsing history to know I’m serious. It’s just stinkin hard sometimes.

And then this week something happened that caused me to question the professional respect my bosses have for me. Before despair hit, God intervened and I spent the rest of the day in a cerebral state, evaluating myself as a professional and how I’m seen in the eyes of others and letting God do His thing – show me the God stuff, the true stuff.

I am one of the countless teachers who does her job quietly but well and often in the shadow of the more loud and flashy. I know my curriculum and know how to tweak it to best meet the needs of my students. I make sure to cover what they need to be successful on stupid tests I don’t agree with, but also in the years after they leave me. Aware of the risk of becoming staid and stuffy, I try new things, dare myself. We do extra stuff in my classes to beef up the curriculum and to make sure they have fun with language and writing and books since I am fully aware that they are being set even now on a lifetime literary path and want – I NEED – them to learn a love for it.

My classroom is controlled and I am not their best friend. Indeed, I am the merciless god of their non-democratic universe. Respect – for me, their classmates, and themselves – is key. Yet daily the sounds of laughter emanate from our room to the point where neighboring teachers have asked me, “What are you DOING in there?” Laughter, it seems, is quite a distraction for the math classroom next door.

In the noisiness of our halls and in the professional shadow of the loud and flashy, my fellow teachers and I make eye contact with our students as they approach, waving them into the room. Then we sweep in after them, pulling the door shut behind us, and enter The Sanctum. This is the place where magic happens, where worlds are uncovered and voices discovered, where all that matters is them.

Because that is the bottom line, is it not? I don’t teach language arts, English, or reading. I teach THEM. THAT boy. THAT girl.

And I marvel – seriously marvel – at the moment they turn and look at me, expectant, smiles on faces and in eyes. Not every child. Not every time. But enough. Enough to keep me going and anticipating it. Enough to be awed and prepared and scared witless at the responsibility.

And the professional rejection that stung goes *poof* and I don’t even notice the wisps of smoke as it drifts away over our heads. Because they are watching and waiting and I’m about to affect lives.

Sounds pretty flashy to me.

 

 

The Not-So Celebrated Jumping Frog of Harrison County

All my dogs have been neurotic. Many would suggest an obvious common denominator, but I’m still of the opinion it was just a freaky coincidence that they were – and are – all weirdos in one way or another. There was Pepper the beagle mix who ate more Tupperware than most people own and did so creatively. There was Lady the Boxer who never begged for food, but would drool for ice cubes. Then Camry the Boxer who could devour one of those 3-foot rawhides in zero time, but had a 3-inch soft chew “baby” that only had the tiniest (accidental) hole in it. Grace the Miniature Pinscher looked like a tiny Doberman, but would only sneeze when threatened. Tank the Boxer would pin my daughter down and tear the ponytail holders out of her hair and pin my son down and aggressively lick his ears. Currently there’s Smokey the Labrador who doesn’t retrieve and is terrified of water, Mac the Boxer who puts himself in time-out and pouts when he’s unhappy, and Abbey the Shih-Tzu mix who runs a post-dinner “schnoozle” on the couch that sends pillows flying and the bigger dogs running for cover.

But the worst of all was Mercy, the Boston Terrier mix who was born deaf. In her defense, we believe she was oxygen deprived during delivery when the sibling before her got stuck in the birth canal. Mercy had to be delivered by cesarean section, hence her name. My boy suggested it, saying she was born by the doctor’s mercy just as we’re born again through God’s mercy.

Well. End of name search.

Mercy was a hotbed of neuroses. She licked her feet constantly. She never barked, but had a growl that sounded like a tenor motorcycle motor. Although she would follow hand signals, if she was mad at you, she would look toward you then, as soon as you lifted your hand to signal her, turn quickly away. I swear she rolled her eyes.

Mercy’s biggest neurosis was she could not tolerate anything touching her she couldn’t see. Wearing a collar was practically torture for her and that cute game where you drape the tug-of-war sock across their back and watch them spin in circles would send her tearing through the house in a full-out panic attack.

We had large sliding glass doors leading to our backyard. One day as I was letting Mercy out, I noticed one of those cute little green tree frogs sucked up onto the glass at eye level. His legs were tucked up under him and I could see his little heart beating. When I slid the door open to let the dog out, the little froggy startle-reflexed, his legs going out to the side. After I carefully slid the door shut, he scootched his legs back in until they were again tucked up under him.

Cute. Totally cute.

I looked around for someone to impress. Hubs was at the end of the couch engrossed in a tv show. Not a good cute candidate anyway. So I called my teen daughter out to see. She stopped at the couch, frozen.

“Is it outside?”

I rolled my eyes. “It wouldn’t be cute if it was inside. Now come here.”

She reluctantly came over. I moved her closer to the little guy, pointed out the cute tucked-in legs, the little heart beating. She still wasn’t convinced of the cute, but was trying to be polite and placate me. Then I said, “Now watch,” as I reached for the door handle.

Mercy had her front feet on the ledge at the base of the door, ready to come in (she hated out – would have been happier litterbox trained). In order to guarantee that the little froggy startled sufficiently to earn the highest cute points, I jerked the door a little harder as I opened it.

Well.

Apparently it was too hard. Little froggy startled himself right off the door… And right on to Mercy’s back.

Double well.

Mercy flew in the door in a panic and started a mad-dog run in huge circles, causing the frog to lose his balance yet again. Hubs became conscious of activity in time to see the frog in mid-leap and yelled, “There’s a frog in the house!” at which point HE leaped after the frog which jumped again and they both went up-and-down bouncing through the room. My daughter had made it the ten feet from the door to the couch without touching the floor and was hugging her knees and rocking. I think she was whimpering.

A few moments later, Hubs had Frog and deposited the poor thing back outside, and he stood, hands on knees and puffing. Mercy was puffing in the middle of the floor, her eyes wild, tongue lolling out. Daughter was still rocking and puffing on the couch. I’m sure the poor little frog was puffing in the grass outside as he high-tailed it out of crazyland.  I, on the other hand, was standing calmly in the same position, my hand still on the door handle.

“See?” I said in the now-silent room. “Wasn’t that cute?”

It’s probably best to just end the story there.