because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Teenage Resistance To The Teachable Moment

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Dr Brown's Cream Soda
Dr Brown’s Cream Soda (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

TechSupport was relaxing, drawing in his notebook to complete an assignment for his art class.

“Can I show you something?” my husband interjected. He used to be a pretty good artist back in the day. “I want to show you how to look at that can of soda and really see it.”

“I kind of just want to draw,” Tech said.

My husband pulled a chair over to the kitchen table where our son was sitting. “I just want to show you something,” he said. “Will you just look?”

Tech kept his eyes on his notebook. “I will.” His hands gripped his pencil tightly. “In a little while.”

I addressed my husband. “Not every moment has to be a teachable moment…”

My husband glared at me. “Don’t do that.” He held up one hand. “You’re always undermining me. I just want to show him something.”

Insulted, my husband pushed back from the table, scraped the chair’s legs against the hardwood floors, and he stormed off into another room.

Tech’s hand continued to move. He wasn’t really looking at his can of soda. He was just coloring.

“You know,” I said. “Instead of making a big stink, you could’ve just listened to what he wanted to say.”

Tech bit his lip and continued drawing.

After a while, Hubby reappeared. “Now can I show you something?”

I could feel how much my husband wanted to show our son what he knew. How he wanted our child to see the world differently. How he wanted him to see shadows and light. How he wanted him to see a different perspective.

Tech looked at me, then at his father. I could see he was biting the inside of his cheek.

I imagine he felt outnumbered.

There are always two of us, and only one of him. He tries so hard to please.

My husband started again. He showed our son how the eye can lie. How colors can be different, not uniform. How a brown can of soda isn’t really brown when you are drawing it. If you look, it is gray and maroon. Even orange in places.

“That’s all I wanted to show you,” my husband said with some degree of satisfaction.

After all, he got what he wanted.

“Thanks,” Tech said with a blend of gratitude and sarcasm in his voice.

My husband’s cell phone rang and he answered it.

And Tech continued to draw with his brown pencil.

Not gray, no maroon, no orange. He only used brown: a Good Son’s quiet act of defiance.

Tech’s completed drawing

What my husband didn’t know was that Tech and I had plans. We’d said that while he drew his picture of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, that I would write about the same topic.

I guess it didn’t go quite as planned.

Or maybe we all got it done in our own way.

Michel Foucault once wrote: “Where there is power there is also resistance.” Anyone experiencing any resistance lately?

My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola: Guest Post by Mark Kaplowitz

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Mark Kaplowitz

My guest blogger today is Mark Kaplowitz. I started cyber-crushing on MarKap the minute he came onto the blogging scene. Many of his earliest pieces were nostalgic pieces that made me long for the days of metal lunchboxes (like he wrote about HERE) and action figures (like he wrote about HERE). His writing is punchy and hilarious. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been discovered and published already. I would totally buy his books. (You hear that publishers? He’s already sold one copy!) You can find Mark’s blog HERE and follow him on Twitter at @MarkKaplowitz. Thanks for sharing your teacher memory, Mark. I now understand  your fear of crayons.

• • •

My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola

Ms. Deagle seemed normal on the first day of first grade, as she stood at the front of the room and announced that she rewarded good work with scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers.  I thanked my lucky stars that I had not been assigned to the ancient Mrs. Krabcik, who, it was rumored, bit the erasers off students’ pencils to make errors impossible to hide.

There had been no stickers in Kindergarten, and I was excited that, at last, my brilliance would be properly remunerated. As Ms. Deagle handed out a purple-inked mimeograph, called a “ditto,” I prepared to impress my new teacher with my wizardry at addition or spelling.

The ditto, however, contained neither sums nor words to be completed, but an uncolored picture of children sitting in a classroom. “I thought we would start first grade with a little coloring assignment,” Ms. Deagle said, standing with her hands locked behind her back.  “I make two assumptions about all of your coloring work. One, that all of the pictures will be outlined in black. And two, that none of the colors will smudge.  Please check your work before you hand it to me, to make sure my assumptions hold true.”

Not the pack Mark used.

I outlined the ditto in black and colored it in, making the wisest selections I could from my shiny new 64-pack of Crayola crayons, with perfect points and untorn wrappers. The ditto took close to an hour to complete, and blackened the heel of my coloring hand.  I was tired but ready to proceed to more intellectually challenging material.

But the second assignment was another coloring ditto, as was the one after that. My first day of first grade was devoted entirely to coloring, and the last assignment of the day — a beach scene that made me long for the summer vacation just ended — had so many items that I had to take the ditto home with me. On the morning of the second day, we lined up before Ms. Deagle’s desk to have our work reviewed and, if acceptable, obtain a sticker for it. My stomach churned as my turn approached.

“Not bad, Mark,” Ms. Deagle said, scanning my work like a museum curator. “But I can see where you let the black outlining bleed into the ocean here. Please be more careful in the future.” I said I would, and thanked her for the sticker she pressed onto the top left corner of the ditto. As I scratched the sticker and inhaled the aroma of pepperoni pizza, I rejoiced that I had survived the coloring trial.

But the arithmetic that I’d been counting on did not come that day, either. Instead, we were given more coloring to do: an 11×17 mural of school buses lined up in front of a school, ready to cart happy children away to happy homes. I wished that I could join them. I used more care when coloring adjacent to black outline, but still the crayon bled, making my buses look muddy.

As the weeks and months passed, the coloring assignments did not abate. Coloring appeared to be the only skill that Ms. Deagle deemed worth teaching.  Once in a while we would get a math or reading assignment—a treat to be saved for last and savored—but it was a momentary and inconsequential digression from our art.

Imagine being six years old and coloring until 10 o’clock every night. A century earlier and I could have been standing before a lathe. True, I was not going to lose a hand coloring. But sometimes it sure felt like it. And not all students were as skilled as I.

Emmy, one of my classmates, was quiet and had no friends that I could see.  She was also slow in her work and had trouble following directions. She colored in defiance of the lines, saved her black crayon for tests that required a No. 2 pencil, and was so behind in her assignments that Ms. Deagle would lock her in the classroom during recess.

When that punishment did not work, Ms. Deagle locked Emmy in the closet. As we filed out the door for lunch, each of us peered through the closet window at a scared and timid Emmy looking out.  I don’t know if Emmy’s work improved after that, but mine certainly did.

By the spring, my parents had compared notes with the notes of my classmates’ parents, and decided it was time for a meeting with the principal about dear Ms. Deagle.  I remember hearing about the meeting, and that the principal had promised to do something. I also remember how nothing changed. But I survived Ms. Deagle’s first grade and moved on to second grade where, in only a few short weeks, I relearned the alphabet. Emmy was left back — with another teacher, I hope.

I picture Ms. Deagle today, retired and watching cable news programs in her den. In one segment, parents sit with their child and a lawyer, and say they are suing their child’s school because “chaining students to their desks is an unacceptable practice in the 21st Century.” And Ms. Deagle shakes her head, scratches and sniffs a nearby sticker, and calls her sister to complain about how educational standards have slipped.

What was the most lame assignment you ever had to do in school? Or what was your least favorite color in the 64-box of crayons.

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!
 

And Since We Are Talking About Pencils…

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Image from art.com

My friend Carl D’Agostino and I often have Vulcan mind-melds. This week while I was tapping away about how much my Monkey loves his Ticonderogas, Carl simultaneously posted a pencil related comic on his blog, “I Know I Made You Smile.”

Check out Carl’s funny here, then come back and tell me about a mistake that could not be erased.

I’ll start: Congressman Anthony Weiner’s decision to send photos of himself in his grey underwear via Twitter. Whooopsie! Good luck with that one, dude.

In Praise of the Pencil

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Google Images

In 5th grade, Mr. Zych lectured all of his students about how to properly sharpen a pencil. He wasn’t messing around. His speech was not short, and he covered everything from how to properly grip the pencil to the cranking motion – how it should be smooth and continuous, not jerky. He even discussed the perils of over-sharpening, which could lead to premature tip-breakage. Mr. Zych turned pencil sharpening into a science.

Personally, I have had a love-hate relationship with pencils. I first learned how to print my alphabet in pencil and then I learned how to write in cursive in pencil. That was Paradise. Finally, a way to write all the stories stored in my head. Later, I preferred to write with pens – preferably ones filled with purple or green ink. But ever since my son started school, he has been forever in need of pencils; they seem to always be around, and so I returned to the yellow pencils of my youth. I had learned to appreciate the feel of a pencil in my hand again. I even started to like the scratchy-scratchy sound of the graphite as it dragged across the page. After I recently stepped on a pencil, I became suspicious of them again and switched back to pens.

Meanwhile, my son is still on a steady diet of pencils. In middle school, the kids seem to devour them: literally and figuratively. I know my son nibbles on his; I’ve seen the teeth marks. I’ve watched him crunch while he contemplates before committing to writing an answer on paper. But sometimes I wonder if he actually eats them, too. I mean, where do they go? How many pencils does one kid need in a school year?

A few weeks back, Monkey came home in a tizzy.

“I’m out of pencils again,” he announced.

Nonplussed, I told him there were under three weeks of school left and that I was pretty sure he could make-do with his nubs until June 20.

He started at me with contempt.

“Are you serious?” he questioned. “I have exams! I need pencils! Ticonderogas. Now!”

He was not messing around.

The next day while in the grocery store – to my horror – I found plenty of office supplies, but they were only generic pencils. And even I know that those erasers don’t do the job. You need another eraser to get rid of the smears those lame pencils leave behind.

So I made an extra trek, this time to Staples – home of the Ticonderoga pencil – and invested in the Bulk pack. (Because that was all they had.) Let’s be clear. Ticonderoga pencils are like platinum. They cost a fortune. The only way a pencil could be more fabulous would be if you printed your name on pencils. A Ticonderoga is the Hum-V in the wonderful world of pencils. Teachers definitely prefer them. Definitely.

I rationalized that I could spend $15.77 + nearly 9% tax on pencils because they are non-perishable, so it is not like they will ever rot or mold. And I figured whatever is left at the end of the school year, Monkey can use in 7th grade, thus saving me some back-to-school shopping hassle.

A few days later, a good friend of mine called me and reported that her son – also a 6th grader – had run out of pencils. While requesting to buy more, she said my name was invoked. Apparently her son said:

“Can you just be like Mrs. J. and get the Giant Pack of 72 Ticonderoga pencils?”

Apparently Monkey had been bragging about his new stash.

I laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Bragging about pencils?

And then I thought about how I had come full circle. Just one week before, I was cursing pencils as my husband dug around my heel with a needle in an attempt to get the lead out. (I know, I know. Pencils are made of graphite. I was going for the funny.) But now I found myself saying a silent prayer on behalf of all pencil-loving children everywhere. Uncharacteristically, I clasped my hands together and thought to myself:

Lord, may this be the worst thing my child ever desires. May this be his worst addiction. May he never see cocaine. May he never use LSD or heroin. May he avoid cigarettes and alcohol. May he avoid the ‘shrooms, the X, the meth. May he never huff. May he find the strength to avoid the Oxycontin and Adderall.

May he always be addicted to Ticonderoga pencils.

Because, honestly, I’ll happily help Monkey score his Ticonderoga pencils forever. I’ll even help him sharpen them. Mr. Zych schooled me on that a long time ago, and I feel confident I can help my son with his #2 pencil fix without any need for an Intervention.

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Lessons From Splinters

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Splinter removal is serious business in our house

Many Junes ago, after swimming all afternoon with friends in a pool that was nestled behind a tall fence on the grounds of the apartment complex in which my grandparents lived, I decided to pay my grandmother a visit.

My decision to visit was not a completely selfless act. The ice-cream man had come and gone, and I had forgotten to bring money to go to the 7-11 down the street, so I was crazy hungry and figured my grandmother would make me some of her fabulous french fried potatoes.

To get to my grandparents’ apartment, I could have walked on an asphalt road, but I generally opted for the short-cut across a broad expanse of grass that had been allowed to grow tall and wild. The prickly weeds made quite the obstacle course, and I always made a game of zigzagging from one patch of yellow flowers to another.

On that particular day, as I raced across the field barefoot, I stepped on something that made me look around to see if I had landed on a discarded cigarette. Alas, there were no burning embers, just a partially squashed yellow-jacket clinging to me, his stinger nicely embedded into the arch of my foot.

Midway between the pool and my grandparents’ apartment, I alternately limped and hopped across the grass. It was an eternity. The grass grew taller as I walked; the sun burned my shoulders. Eventually, I hobbled up the three flights of stairs to my grandparents’ apartment and knocked on the brown door marked simply with the number “7”.

I knew my grandmother would be home.

When I told her what had happened, she looked nervous. I showed her where the stinger was lodged and asked her if she could, maybe, get it out. A pre-teen at the time, I could tell from the look on my grandmother’s face that she would not be able to help me. Rather than get upset, I simply asked for some tweezers – which she ran to retrieve. Try as I might, I couldn’t get that pesky stinger out. I asked my grandmother for a needle and some ice, and while she obliged, she turned her head as I drove the needle into my own foot, digging around for the elusive stinger.

Eventually, victory was mine and, the stinger – pinched between the tips of the borrowed tweezers and no bigger than the sliver of hair – was inspected. Sure I bled a little bit, but as I rubbed antibiotic ointment on the area and put on a little Band-Aid, I felt strangely euphoric, crazy proud that I’d been able to take care of business, independent of adult help. As I devoured the french fried potatoes my grandmother set out before me, I remember feeling that I needed to rely more on myself, a simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying realization.

I haven’t needed tweezers or a needle again as I have managed to remain splinter free for nearly 30 years.

Until this past Monday night.

Monday night, I walked around the house doing what mothers do. I was cleaning up, making sure everything was where it was supposed to be, checking that all laundry was in the bin, and taking inventory of what food would need to be purchased during the week. Basically, I was on the prowl for misplaced K’Nex, unplugged gadgets, and dirty underwear. That’s when I felt it.

I screamed out loudly and uncharacteristically enough that Hubby and Monkey called out in unison: “Are you okay?”

“I stepped on something,” I said attempting to balance gracefully on my left foot while trying to check out what was going on with the bottom of my right. Instead of awaking my inner White Swan, I succeeded in recreating a pretty pitiful imitation of an uncoordinated  pink-flamingo with a nerve palsy. Finally, using a chair for balance, I inspected the sole of my foot, where I saw a perfectly black and tiny, round something-or-other lodged in my heel.

Stooopid graphite!

I did what had worked before. I went straight for the needle. I dipped the pointed tip into rubbing alcohol and got to digging, but I couldn’t get anything out. I didn’t know what I might have stepped on, but that same stinging heat had returned. A body remembers things.

I called to my husband. “What is it?” he asked.

I have no idea, I said, “But I can’t get it.”

Hubby put on a headlamp.

“We may have to get you some lidocaine or something,” he said. “I don’t know if I can poke around without hurting you.”

“Just get it,” I said.

So Hubby took the needle and the tweezers and dug around for a good fifteen minutes, peeling away layers of skin and blotting blood, trying to grasp the foreign object which kept crumbling into dark fragments each time he announced he had it.

“Do you think it’s a rock?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Do you think it’s a twig?”

Silence.

“Do you think I’m going to die?”

“You know what I think?” Hubby asked. “I think you stepped on a pencil.”

Great, I thought of my ironic obituary.

Teacher steps on pencil, dies of lead poisoning.

How rich.

“What happens if you have lead in your body?” I asked.

Hubby kept digging, “They don’t use lead in pencils anymore. These days, they use graphite.”

“Even in Ticonderogas?” I asked nervously, “Because those are really good pencils. You’re sure? Graphite?”

Hubby ignored me.

Awwwww, shizzle sticks.

“We have to get it out because you could get an infection. And I can’t get it because it keeps breaking.”

So I did what any woman who does not want to spend the next eight hours at the hospital would do. I gave my husband carte blanche. “Don’t worry about how much I complain. Or scream. Or bleed. Just dig.” (Oh, and be a sport and try not to be bothered by the fact that I am asking you all the questions that I just asked you – again. And that I’m filming you. It’s for my blog.)

Eventually, Hubby was the victorious and removed the slim sliver of graphite from my foot. Seriously, there was no way I was ever going to get that thing out by myself. And you know what, it’s nice to know there is someone you can rely on in times of need. Not like I didn’t know that before, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.

So anyone think it is hot to have the tattoo of a tiny, black circle on your heel?

‘Cuz, you know, I’ve got one.

Also, if you are looking to find me between now and September, I’m the one wearing flip-flops. Everywhere.

How do you do with splinters? And would you trust your spouse to do the deep probing?


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