1. Don’t take things too personally. You have to know this up front. Your students are going to talk about. If you are lucky, they will say nice things like, “I like Mr. X’s hair,” or “Ms. Q. is kinda cool.” More likely, you will overhear them in the halls: “(Insert your name here) is unfair. Not flexible. Boring. Biased. Unqualified.” Let’s face it. Not every student is going to die for your class. Not every student is going to find the Quadratic equation fascinating. Not every student is going to care about conjugating verbs. They won’t all be interested in Mendelian genetics. Some of them won’t like your unit on Lord of the Flies, or insects, or rain forests. Listen to their comments, glean from them what you will, and then let them go. This is especially true for teachers of older students when you receive your first batch of student evaluations….
It happens each summer. People ask about our plans, and when certain folks learn that our child spends three solid weeks each summer at overnight camp, I am met with looks of incredulity and sometimes horror.
More often than not, people gasp and say things like: “I could never do that,” as if to imply that I somehow force my son to pack his trunk and duffel and get out of our house. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if I didn’t let him go, he would consider that the biggest punishment – ever!…
I said to my boy: “And just so you know, assuming you live a long time – and I hope you do – you are going to lose stuff. A lot. It happens. I lose things all the time. I write notes to myself on slips of paper and they disappear. I don’t know where they go. I lose bills and receipts. Bottom line is, you have to know that you are going to lose shit, and you have to know it’s not worth losing your shit when you lose something.”
“What?” I asked.
“You said the ‘s-word’ a lot.”
After being cooped up inside the airplane for thirty minutes, a cabin filled with passengers learned we would not be taking off.
“We can’t seem to locate the pilot,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker.
“We’re doing our best to remedy the situation. In the meantime, sit tight.”
Is there really any other way to sit on an airplane these days?
The man next to me had claimed the armrest and, as he began to snore, his legs relaxed into a wide stance, his knees encroaching into my tight space.
I thought about the Good Ole Days.
Before we had to take off our shoes. Before we had to be patted down and swabbed. Before we had to be x-rayed and scanned and probed.
Once upon a time, people loved to travel by air. Folks even dressed up to look nice in the airport because air travel was for the elite. Cheerful clerks gave us our boarding passes, tagged our bags, and placed them gently on the conveyer belt. So long as our suitcases didn’t weigh over eleventy-seven tons, we were allowed to check two bags through without any additional charges.
In the good ole days, security was minimal. A man could carry a whole case of rubbing alcohol onto the plane if he wanted; no one would have thought a thing about it. No one had to remove his shoes or belts or jacket. We did not have to be x-rayed or scanned or swabbed or probed. Our gels and liquids did not have to be segregated into quart-sized baggies.
Once upon a time, air travel was sexy. Flight attendants were women. We called them stewardesses. They liked their jobs and seemed interested in passengers’ comfort.
In the 1970s, stewardesses had names like Kimberly, Debbie, Julie and Susie. They wore starched uniforms and easy smiles. Tall and tan and leggy, stewardesses looked like life-sized Barbie Dolls.
Appearing quickly at the touch of a button, stewardesses wore starched uniforms and easy smiles, prepared to offer an extra blanket.
But back then, everyone had blankets. And pillows. And if you got on the plane early enough, there were even magazines to borrow. Good ones.
People rarely needed anything. After all, our bags had been checked and were out of the way, so we read books or napped. No one walked around admonishing passengers to turn off their electric devices because those things hadn’t been invented yet.
Once passengers buckled up, they started to think about the meal they were going to receive because for a time, every major airline served 4-course meals. And these meals were gourmet.
The Transportation Library archival collections at Northwestern University lists scores of old airline menus. United Airlines’ coach class meals included salads, desserts, sandwiches and beverages, with menu items such as “Broiled Tenderloin Tips a la Deutsch” (1973, Chicago – San Francisco) and Continental boasted ” Breast of Chicken Vodkaliano” (1979, Washington to Denver).
My husband remembers United Airline’s Sunshine Flight that departed daily from Rochester, New York to Florida in the 1970s. “Everyone got crab legs and a slice of key-lime pie,” he says with a faraway look in his eye.
I remember airline meals coming on silver trays with cloth napkins and real cutlery. Everyone was given knives. And no one worried about getting stabbed.
On my recent trip to Florida, I felt fortunate to have received my tiny pouch of pretzels and half can of soda.
While we waited for the pilot to be located, the woman on my right read over my shoulder as as I typed my words. “I see you’re writing about the way air travel used to be.” She crossed and uncrossed her ankles. “There used to be a lot more legroom.”
Once upon a time, there was more legroom.
And more space between seats, too.
And they never misplaced the pilots.
What do you remember about flying in the Good Old Days?
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My birthday is coming up, y’all.
Yup, this summer girl was born in November.
You know what that means.
My parents got busy around Valentine’s Day.
It means this year I turn 50.
Well, kind of.
Lucille Ball once said:
“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age.”
How much do I Love Lucy?
Here’s the 411.
When I first started teaching, I was 23, just a few years older than some of my 12th grade students!
When I introduced myself, I made a point of tacking on a few extra years. I said I was 25. Seven extra years seemed like the right amount of padding.
When I moved to New Orleans, I continued to add years. I felt I needed the cushion, so parents would nod and smile instead of raise disapproving eyebrows. And so my students would believe I was seasoned and complete my assignments without giving me grief.
I never lied to my employers. The Headmaster and English Department Chair at Metairie Park Country day School knew precisely how green old I was when I was hired.
A few years ago, I realized I’ve been in my 40’s for nearly fifteen years.
And that made me remember my grandmother who told people she was 29.
After she stopped wearing wigs and wore her thinning hair in loose ponytails wrapped in twine, she was 29. After her eyes dulled and her skin wrinkled, she was 29. After her toenails yellowed and her remaining teeth fell out of her mouth, she was 29.
It was preposterous.
No-one bought it. It was silly and a little pitiful.
I vowed to go the other way.
So I padded.
This year, I could have told my students that I was 50.
Because if you tack on five extra years…well, I look pretty freaking good for 50, right?
I’ve kind of caught up with myself.
These days, I am grateful for this body that continues to get me where it needs to go – even if I sometimes have headaches and get dizzy and fall down. I am grateful for my eyes, which still appreciate all the beauty around me – even if the view is a little blurry. I just have to remember to
find put on my glasses. I will never have pretty model’s hands, but I have four fingers that help me to tap out what I want to say. Fingers that help me punch buttons on the phone to speak to old friends and new. Fingers that are attached to hands that reach out to offer assistance, to squeeze shoulders. Hands that are attached to arms which can swallow people up in hugs. And even if my vocal cords are toasted, I realized I have these things called ears that work really well, too.
So the jig is up.
Lucy, we’re back to living honestly.
On Sunday, I’ll be 45.
Right where I’m supposed to be.
But a girl can hold onto her dreams, right?
Have you ever lied about your age? How are you doing with the growing older thing?
tweet me @rasjacobson
“I don’t like it anymore,” my son said, right before he took an enormous bite out of an enormous apple.
He held up one finger to indicate that his mouth was full, a gesture he learned from me.
“This Monkey business. I’ve outgrown it.”
I’ve been waiting for this moment since my son started middle school.
But now that he is finishing his first semester of 7th grade, he has decided that Monkey is no longer a good fit for him.
Forget about the fact that he actually looks exactly like Curious George.
If Curious George had freckles.
Forget about the fact that after he gets a brush cut, his hairline looks exactly like a little baby monkey’s.
Forget about the fact that he is sproingy like a monkey.
The reality is that Monkey is done being Monkey.
“So can I just start calling you by your real name?”
“Noooooo!” my son shrieked in his high-pitched I’m-in-the-midst-of-puberty-and-my-voice-but-my-voice-hasn’t-changed-yet timbre.
“Well, get to thinking,” I told my boy. “I have to call you something.
After he completed three hours of homework — ten algebra problems, a Spanish worksheet on conjugating verbs, some science worksheet on density, mass and volume, a social studies worksheet on Chapter 2, Section 4, and an English thingy where he had to read something and write a response (note: he keeps me out of the English loop) — he went downstairs to practice piano and then returned upstairs to practice for his bar-mitzvah.
Around 6 pm, he put all his books away and wandered into the kitchen where I was making dinner.
“What about tech support?” I asked absently as I popped a black olive in my mouth while pouring marinade over that night’s chicken.
“That’s what you should call me.”
I looked at him blankly.
“You know, for your blog?” He picked up an olive and popped it into his mouth.
“That’s actually pretty good…”
“It’s good because it’s true,” he said.
Little bastard is right. He will always be my little Monkey, but over the last year, our conversations involve my screaming for his assistance because something has happened to my Excel Spread sheet formula, and I don’t know how to fix it. So he fixes it for me. Or I want to do a Power Point presentation, but I don’t know how to set it up. So he sets it up for me. Or I want to change the banner on blog but that involves Gimp and multiple layers, and I don’t know how to do that. So he does it for me. In 6.3 minutes. For years, he has been my IT guy: my fixer, my assistant.
I am starting to think I should pay him.
While I was thinking these things, my 12-year old son said aloud (to absolutely no one): “I will detach your head from your body!”
Looking around the room, I declared, “Wow, you are the King of the non-sequitor.”
“I know,” he smiled. “And yes, I know what a non-sequitor is.”
We both popped olives in our mouths and, as I finished the dinner prep, my son moved to the pantry in search of something that would be ready to eat sooner than the chicken.
Finding nothing, he moved to the freezer.
Which is empty.
Because it has been broken for one week now.
My son stuck his head deep inside the icemaker. From the depths of the freezer, I heard my son’s voice. It was deeper than usual. Distorted from being inside the freezer, he sounded like someone else: a man.
“I really want a frozen pretzel,” this man said, “When are we going to get our freezer fixed?”
“As soon as I get some.”
“Some what?” he turned to look at me, 12-years old again.
I smiled and popped another olive in my mouth, held up my finger and made him wait.
What nicknames did you call your children? Have they changed over the years? What little changes have signaled your child is growing up?
My neighborhood book club has been going strong for nearly three years. A bunch of women who range in age, profession, religious background, and plenty of other things, we agree that we enjoy the following items (not necessarily in the order they are listed):
1. Periodically getting together at someone’s house (preferably not our own);
2. Eating chocolates;
3. Drinking wine;
4. Chatting it up a bit;
5. Discussing books we might not have otherwise ever picked up.
The last meeting was at my house. This time eleven people showed up for an hour of “eat, booze and schmooze” in the kitchen, and eight stayed to gather on the family room couches to “talk book.” Since the host selects the book, my selection was Jen Lancaster’s Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass (Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office).
Quick summary: Before September 11th, Lancaster worked as an associate vice president for a technology company prior to being laid off. In this capacity she made loads of many and acquired many pairs of shoes. After 9/11, the author whines – incessantly – about being unemployed, her boyfriend/fiancé/husband, Fletch, their neighbors, their pets, and how she can no longer afford the shoes she once used to buy so readily. I liked Lancaster’s wit and rampant narcissism.
And while Lancaster was not for everyone, we agreed the book was snarky and fast-paced: a good choice for February, when knee-deep snow and the winter white skies of Western New York provide enough gloom to make everyone question just how severe our vitamin D deficiencies might be. It’s hard to stay connected to neighbors in the winter; it’s just so friggin’ cold. People walk around with their shoulders up and their heads down. We rush from warm house to warming car. There is little time to casually chat at the mailbox when the wind is stinging your ears and making your eyes tear up. Our little club keeps us connected year round so that we remain in touch with our neighbors, something equally rare these days.
It is up to the host to facilitate discussion, and – big surprise – I have long wanted to infuse a writing exercise into a meeting, so I figured – since this book was devoid of any real literary depth – this was my chance.
“Okay,” I said brightly ,”Remember when Lancaster lists her ‘Jen Commandments’? The little quirks she possesses that people who know her and love her just have to accept?”
A few people nodded. (I had my suspicions that most people didn’t get that far.)
I referred to the text. I didn’t have to; almost no one brings the book to book club. I could have said anything, but I quoted Lancaster:
I hate holding anything heavier than my purse. If I have something in my hands, I will attempt to trick you into carrying it for me?
A few people snickered then looked semi-spooked as I handed everyone one salmon-colored index card and plopped a pen onto each lap. As I stuck a small, non-threatening bowl in the middle of my tufted ottoman, I said, “I thought it would be kind of fun if each of us wrote one of our own ‘Commandments’ and put it into the bowl. Anonymously, of course. It could be fun to see if we can figure out who goes with what.”
Initially, some people looked panicky and began to protest, but thank goodness the majority was with me. A few women asked for extra index cards. At first, I thought it was because they goofed up, but for some people once the creative juices started flowing, the flood gates could not hold all our estrogen and soon the orange-bowl, index card confessional runneth over. I read the first one aloud:
I always sleep with 3 pillows. This is a need not a want. And, I will always travel with a pillow, even if it necessitates bringing another suitcase.
We laughed, especially because we were so dead wrong with regard to whom was attached to this statement. Surely our quiet, unassuming neighbor could never be so demanding. But there she was, shamelessly nodding her head.
I passed the bowl to my right so someone else could read another book clubber’s words:
If you say you’re going to do something, then just do it. If you talk about something but never get to it, then I start wondering about you.
Hilarious. And so true.
One woman wrote on the front of her card:
I’m in charge of almost everything… (and then on the back) … and I like it that way!
Another neighbor penned:
I obsess about making decisions and my good friends have to listen to me!
Everyone easily guessed mine.
I absolutely hate repetitive noises. If you tap something more than five times, I might have to kill you.
One that stood out was short and direct.
Do not screw up my coffee order.
This, of course, led to a hilarious story about how this neighbor had recently visited a local Starbucks where the barista dared to give her three squirts of vanilla in her mocha latte instead of one. There was hell to pay that morning. 😉 There were other “isms” that were equally excellent. And it was a hoot to hear each woman’s words read aloud. Everyone was honest and enjoyed poking fun at herself, sharing her quirks, her personal truths. As usual, book club was less about the book than it was about people gathering together to get to know each other a little better.
What my book club mates don’t realize is that they are totally screwed. Now that I have seen that they can write (even under pressure), the next time it is my turn to select a book and host, we are sooooooo writing.
As the new school year approaches, it occurs to me that there are a lot of new teachers heading out there. This is my twentieth year in the classroom. It hardly feels possible, but if you were to check my Facebook page, it is peopled by former students from five different schools. Most of these folks now have children of their own! I figured I’d share some things with new teachers that I’ve learned over the years. And I hope that parents will consider these things, too – especially if you hear your child has a new teacher. Before you start wringing your hands in despair, understand that new teachers bring enthusiasm to the classroom. They are eager to work, eager to get to the business of teaching. Help them; encourage them. They have to figure things out very quickly.
August. A new class arrives. Wide-eyed, unformed, brimming with enthusiasm, the youngest ones tinged with trepidation. They find their rooms, sit in desks which have held many before them, smile brightly, secretly thrilled, eager to ponder great books, study unfathomed formulas, devour complex theories, dream noble dreams. This is the ritual of August, right?
Sort of. I mean, maybe for the first week or two. But by the end of the first month, when that ho-hum routine is kicking in, and summer feels like past tense, students may become hauntingly silent, or worse, horribly restless. This is when a new teacher may begin to panic. Because there are papers to be graded, charts to be updated, forms to be completed and returned to somebody’s office: It’s grueling and even more difficult when you are still trying to figure out whose office is where and which key opens what door.
When I was a teacher at Metairie Park Country Day School in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was on a Committee that helped to create a new faculty handbook filled with enough information to get a new teacher started, but not so much as to overwhelm.
New Teachers, see if any of these things help:
1. Don’t take things too personally. You have to know this up front. Your students are going to talk about. If you are lucky, they will say nice things like, “I like Mr. X’s hair,” or “Ms. Q. is kinda cool.” More likely, you will overhear them in the halls: “(Insert your name here) is unfair. Not flexible. Boring. Biased. Unqualified.” Let’s face it. Not every student is going to die for your class. Not every student is going to find the Quadratic equation fascinating. Not every student is going to care about conjugating verbs. They won’t all be interested in Mendelian genetics. Some of them won’t like your unit on Lord of the Flies, or insects, or rain forests. Listen to their comments, glean from them what you will, and then let them go. This is especially true for teachers of older students when you receive your first batch of student evaluations.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Usually teachers are the nicest bunch of folks you can ever meet. (Except when there are budget cuts. When there are budget cuts, hide your construction paper and bolt down your stapler.) But generally speaking, if you need support, a new teacher can ask just about any other faculty member to explain how to un-jam the copier or for directions to the nearest bathroom. No matter what your problems might be, if you are in need, there is someone who can help you. Teachers like to be helpful.
3. Don’t forget to forgive yourself. One of the greatest advantages to teaching is the forgiving nature of children. That same characteristic which makes your students forget the complex theory which you masterfully presented to them just yesterday allows them to completely forget your prior day’s blunder. Even older students will be tolerant of your errors if you are honest about them and don’t try to pretend they didn’t happen. You should apply this same forgiveness to yourself. Some of your lessons are going to suck. But some will be brilliant.
4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. This is not in any handbooks I’ve ever read on teaching, but it’s actually really important. If your new teaching experience is anything like mine was, in addition to your teaching responsibilities, you’ve probably already taken on extracurricular responsibilities. Whether you’ re working on a yearbook, organizing a dance or proctoring for SATs, helping to make costumes for the play or coaching a sport, no doubt you’ve got your new teacher hands full. And just as you are getting a grip, someone pops his head in and offers you another great “opportunity for growth.” Don’t be afraid to say no. It isn’t always easy, but you don’t have to take on additional responsibilities you don’t feel ready to handle. Because if you take on too many activities, you’ll get sick. This is because new teachers spend late nights planning, and grading, trying to stay one day ahead of their students. So while it sounds obvious, don’t forget to get enough sleep, eat right, and take lots of vitamins.
5. Don’t forget to laugh. If necessary, look for something funny! Just watching a group of kids at work or coming down the hallway is usually sufficient. There’s usually someone picking his nose, someone with an unzipped fly, someone with pants down around the knees, some girl wearing waaaay too much make-up — (and I’m pretty sure this applies from kindergarten all the way up to college level, folks!) And don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t appreciate the hilarity of the moment when you learn that you have chalk on your butt. It’s funny!
6. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. The most seasoned teachers will tell you that even fifteen or twenty years from now, you still won’t know everything – especially these days with the technology changing so quickly, the kids will, no doubt, be teaching you many things. Let them. If you don’t know something, don’t make something up. Tell the student you don’t know the answer to the question. Write. It. Down. Do some research, and get back to the student with the answer. That student will know that you care.
In May, when you feel more relaxed, more comfortable, more competent, you will walk from one end of the campus/quad/building to the other and each time experience something different — a burst of magnolias on the east side of the auditorium; on the terrace, a gathering of students, intense in their chatter; the sturdy dark wood of the dining room, inviting and scented with red sauce; in the middle school wing, you might see mouths devouring a snack. If it is a Thursday, maybe they might be eating donuts (*she said nostalgically*); outside, during recess, the littlest ones will swing and climb, jump and shout; and everywhere fluffy squirrels will scratch up the nearest trees. You will smile at a colleague while passing her and return a wave to a student who enjoys your class. You will remind someone to throw his plastic something-or-other in the garbage can. You will begin making plans for next year’s classes. You will feel calm. You will feel you belong. You will have survived your first year, the gauntlet.
I promise you, the following year will be a lot easier!
Seasoned teachers, how did I do? What did I forget?
- Classroom Management Strategies Impact Teacher Effectiveness (newteachersupport.suite101.com)
This is the 1st in a three part series about why I send my child to summer camp.
It happens each summer. People ask about our plans, and when certain folks learn that our child spends several weeks each summer at overnight camp, I am met with looks of incredulity and sometimes horror.
More often than not, people gasp and say things like: “I could never do that,” as if to imply that I somehow force my son to pack his trunk and duffel and get out of our house. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if I didn’t let him go, he would consider that the biggest punishment – ever!
Sometimes I get a variation on the theme: “I would never do that.” This response is extra excellent as it is packed with a little judgment, which I really appreciate. This response implies that I am somehow harming my child, perhaps inviting trouble into his life because I won’t be there to oversee his every move 100% of the time. (Can you imagine?)
When people respond this way, I sometimes get a little snarky and say, “At least this summer he came home with nine fingers.” (Insert a dramatic pause.) “Last summer was a disaster.” I know they are imagining pedophiles lurking around the showers or picturing their own children drowning, their heads being held under water by rowdy unsupervised troublemakers.
These are their issues.
For me, overnight camp was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and I feel fortunate that my husband and I are able to pay this gift forward to our child. Here’s what overnight camp gave me and continues to give children who attend each year:
1. Continued Independence. Each August, sonny boy and his posse of buddies hop on the camp bus and return with a kind of “we-can-survive-without-our-parents” vibe. I once asked my son if anyone ever gets homesick. He shrugged, “Usually, our counselors keep us too busy to even think about being homesick. If it does happen, it is usually the new kids – but once they get into it and get comfortable with the routine, all that homesickness goes away,” then he added, “Plus, we take care of each other.”
If there is an argument, instead of a parent swooping in to the rescue, the boys generally have to work it out by themselves.
That means using their mouths to directly communicate their feelings. Sometimes they aren’t so great at expressing the subtle nuances of their emotions, but – again – they have each other to lean on. If things ever escalate, they have counselors and Unit Heads to help them.
There are other benefits of living in a large group. The boys learn to respect each other’s property, tolerate each other’s quirks, and appreciate each other’s boundaries. Everyone sees each other at their best and their worst selves. Summer camp goes a long way towards undoing that horrible “entitled” attitude. The spoiled girl quickly learns when her peers have had enough of her whining. Kids are patient to a point, but when an entire bunk is angry at you, it is time to take a look in the mirror. Campers quickly learn that despite the fact that a person cannot always get what he wants, everything usually turns out okay in the end.
3. Time Away from Technology. Okay, so when I was young, there was less technology, but I still missed Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and General Hospital. These days, chances are that your children know how to do things on your computer and cell phone that you had no idea could be done. During the school year, older kids are addicted to their social networks (Facebook and MySpace), their email accounts, their Apps, the Internet, and IMing. They are used to the constant buzz-ping of each new text message as it arrives. Being unplugged from most technology allows kids to connect with each other, a valuable skill that seems to be getting lost a bit these days. My son reminds me, “We’re not totally cut off. We can have iPods (there is no Wi-Fi access), so if someone needs some alone time, he can just pop in the ear buds.” But staff members have told me that after a few days, many kids begin to prefer people to gadgets, and rather than tune out, they start to look for other campers to “hang out with.”
4. Connection to Nature. While our family is fortunate to live in an area with plenty of access to great parks, during the school year, many children just do not have a lot of spare time to go outside and play. My son says, “At camp, we are kind of forced to appreciate nature. It’s easy to forget, but once you start walking around, you can’t help but remember.” Camp Seneca Lake has over 200 acres to explore. Trails to blaze. There are squirrels, field mice, lots of ants and millipedes; there are raccoons and skunks and deer. There is a beautiful lake with a beach that consists of zillions of flat shale rocks, perfect for skipping. What more could a kid want?
Unlike sports camps where kids learn the skills necessary to specialize in one venue, at CSL kids have the opportunity to try new things simply because they have access to so many opportunities they may not have at home.
The “non-jock” can try floor hockey or excel at Ga-ga, a weird game I’ve never seen played outside of summer camp. There are plays in which kids can perform; an art barn where children can make jewelry, throw on the potter’s wheel, batik, make candles, draw, paint, make just about anything. (A far cry from boondoggle – although they have plenty of that, too.) At Athletics, they can practice archery, basketball, tetherball, softball, tennis, ping-pong – and any other land sport you can think of. The waterfront offers canoeing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, sailing, banana boating — even opportunities to swim-the-lake! Picky eaters might even try something new because the kids work up a real appetite trying all these incredible activities.
There is more to say, and I will, but I would also love to hear from you.
Would you allow your child to attend overnight camp for an extended period of time? Why or why not?
I am a pretty organized person. In fact, there was an eight year stint where I worked as a professional organizer and was paid to go into people’s homes and help make systems to create order out of the chaos that surrounded them. And I was really good at it.
Truth be told, I am supremely organized. I used to lie about my house being as neat as it is. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as the homes in Style Magazine or House Beautiful, you know, where everything has been staged to perfection – the beds heaped with fluffy, organic linens with a thread count of two million and smoothed so they 100% lump-free; every knick-knack is interesting and placed at the proper angle; the glass in the picture frames on the side tables sparkle, and the familes in the frames sparkle too.
It’s not like that here. Things here aren’t perfect; I just know where my stuff is.
Except when I don’t. Because that happens sometimes.
One night, around 10 pm, while I was folding laundry and my husband was out enjoying a Jeff Beck concert, my son apparently realized he had lost his book, Pendragon: The Quillan Games, (#7 in the series) somewhere at school. Pendragon is not a book he checked out at school; it is a library book. A thick, hardcover library book. Apparently, he laid there in the dark perseverating. You know, that thing we do that gets us absolutely nowhere except more freaked out? He was running “what if” scenarios over and over in his head, trying to figure out where he might have left his book, even though he thought it was probably in his desk. Alone in his bedroom he was thinking, What if I can’t find the book? What if it’s really gone? What if I left it on the playground? What if the library charges me three times as much as a new copy would cost. What if my parents get really mad at me for losing the book and don’t trust me and won’t let me take out any more library books? (For a voracious reader, that would be a major punishment.)
Apparently, he tortured himself like this for about thirty minutes before he finally exercised the good sense to come downstairs and explain his dilemma.
My child is the responsible type. He doesn’t like to lose things. He doesn’t like to miss deadlines or due dates. The thought is abhorrent to him. I understand this – apples don’t fall from pear trees, right? – so I was glad when I was able to share something with him that a friend of mine helped me with not too long ago with when I was freaking out about something insignificant, that seemed really big at the moment.
I asked my son to sit on the floor beside me, to close his eyes, and listen to my voice. I told him I was going to take him to the worst case scenario: His worst fear.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“The book is, in fact, lost. You will have to pay for the book, maybe even three times the price.” Then I added this part: “But you are okay. You aren’t sick. We are all healthy. You have dad and me. We have a home. We have food and clothes, and we love you like crazy.”
He was calmer. Quieter. It was working. (Plus, he was really tired.) And because he was being quiet, I added, “And just so you know, assuming you live a long time – and I hope you do – you are going to lose stuff. A lot. It happens. I lose things all the time. I write notes to myself on slips of paper and they disappear. I don’t know where they go. I lose bills and receipts. Bottom line is, you have to know that you are going to lose shit, and you have to know it’s not worth losing your mind when you lose something.”
“What?” I asked.
“You said the ‘s-word’.”
Drawing on sage advice from my friend Jennifer Hess and her children’s yoga practice, I asked my son to take a deep breath, take in as much air as he could, and then exhale as if he were blowing out a million candles. At first, he couldn’t do it. He felt stupid, he said. But I insisted that he keep trying. He got it right on the third try.
“That felt good,” he said, calmer now.
Walking upstairs together, he let me hold his hand – something he doesn’t always let me do these days.
I hope he gets it: That adults aren’t perfect. We can strive to be organized and have our perfectly-perfect systems, but nothing is fool-proof or fail-safe. The important thing is to have the perspective to understand that what feels so terribly, awfully, overwhelmingly, miserable at one moment can be dealt with and the awful feeling will pass. Even when it is a big something – the loss of a friendship, a major illness, even death – these things have to be dealt with calmly too. Freaking out doesn’t help.
That night was about a lost book.
That night I counted our blessings.
Afternote: Boy found the book at school the next day. It was rescued just as it was about to be sent back to the public library. All’s well that ends well. He is now well into Pendragon Book #8.