Sunday, October 31, 2010

Listen to Me!

One piece of the program I'm currently working on in preschools involves a twist on the standard show and tell (mostly tell) format. Traditionally, the kids sit in a circle and each gets a turn to share their story. It's an important part of the preschool curriculum. Children need to share their stories. However - it's a part of the day many preschool teachers do not particularly look forward to - although for the most part, they love hearing those stories. The problem arises when you have 15-20 three and four year-olds each waiting for a whole lot of other kids to tell their story before and or after they've already finished their own. That's a LONG time to wait, for kids that age. When our expectations exceed their developmental abilities, trouble begins.

Think to a class or group you've attended where everyone had to introduce and share a little information about themselves. This is interesting and fun for almost no-one. I want to say that your behavior, when you became frustrated and bored, was probably better than that of a preschooler, but perhaps I'm giving you more credit than is due. I had students do that for a while, myself, before I realized what a time-suck it was and that I - as the teacher - was really the only one getting anything out of it. I devised another way to collect the information I needed that didn't involve a WHOLE LOT of wait time for the entire group. (apologies to those of you who may have encountered me before that particular revelation...)

This piece of the program on which I am working acknowledges that need to share information while eliminating the LONG wait times. Children are partnered and each tells his or her story to their partner, then listens to their partner's story in turn. When I first asked my teachers to do this, they were skeptical. "The kids want everyone to hear their stories! We are doing them a disservice!" After two days, they realized that the kids didn't need everyone to hear their stories - they just needed SOMEone to hear their stories. The teachers experimented with pairings - friends with friends, kids who never played together, same gender, mixed genders - it didn't seem to matter. As long as SOMEone listened to what they had to say, they were happy.

A friend of mine recently told me about a little boy in her class who loves to raise his hand - and loves to be called on - but has a hard time speaking in front of the group, therefore freezing. Her solution? Position herself (or another adult) near him so that he can whisper the answers to them without wasting class time. He is pleased - he gets to do the talking that he wants/needs to do without the stress and pressure of having all eyes on him. It is a win/win.

This phenomena - needing to have our words be heard - is hardly exclusive to children. This weekend I did a gig serving samples at a grocery store. So many people - SO. MANY. PEOPLE. - approached my table, not so much because they were interested in what I was hawking, but because they wanted someone to hear their words - to listen to their stories. A few folks craved dialogue, and with them I engaged in a little back and forth, but the vast majority just wanted someone to talk to, not with. I was extremely indulgent - providing them with smiles for their jokes and sincere concern for their tales of woe; a mirror in which their own stories could be reflected.

And they left happy.

And I was happy. Because I wasn't the only one serving as a mirror.


Tell someone your story today. We all need to be heard. But don't forget to listen to theirs as well. It isn't just a good idea for preschoolers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Drop It

So the lovefest is over. I now return you to my regularly scheduled self-loathing, already in progress.

I'm mostly kidding...

I kept my word yesterday. I didn't entertain a single bad thought about this shell in which I walk around the world. (And when I say, 'world', I mostly mean Ohio...) That's mostly because I was kept very busy with other, more pressing thoughts. Thoughts like:

Will there EVER be enough money?

Why do I insist on continuing to do things that I've proven over and over that I'm not very good at?

What kind of wine goes best with camping?

How are we going to manage Thanksgiving for 9 people in my sister's tiny apartment?

When my sister was married, she lived in a house that was both bigger and nicer than mine. When my parents would come to visit, they would obviously opt to stay with her. I understood that, but there was a period of time when my kids did not. It didn't help that their cousin sort of rubbed it in during that same time period - telling them that Memaw and Pepaw were coming to see her - not them.


When my parents would come in to babysit for my niece, they stayed at her house, even when my sister wasn't there. When they would come to babysit my kids, she'd say, "We'll just bring them over to Wendy's for the weekend - that will be easier for everyone." I'm not sure how she figured packing a bag for the weekend because their parents were going away without them was easier for my kids - but I've learned not to spend too much time trying to unravel other people's logic. (That's totally a lie. I still spend WAY too much time trying to unravel other people's logic in an attempt to make it make sense to me. But I HAVE learned that it's a waste of time, so I try to deny doing it at all. How'm I doing with that so far?)

When my sister moved into the small apartment, I assumed that that would change. Now I was in the larger place - clearly mine would be the house out of which they would base.


My parents visited this week and opted to stay with my sister in her apartment. Ok. It's the first time they've visited since she moved out. I figured they just wanted to get comfortable in her new space (and with her new situation). Then talk turned to Thanksgiving. It seems that everyone but me assumed that we would have dinner at my sister's apartment. Now my house is not all that nice. And it's not all that big. But it's bigger than an apartment, for Pete's sake.

A girls' ego could take a bruising, y'know?


The apartment is not yet fully furnished (yet it remains superior to my house, in terms of entertaining!!!!! Can you tell I'm a little bitter? Damn. I'd hoped I was hiding that a little better...), but it will be by then. She had been looking for a small table for her dining nook and was debating between a couple choices. I mentioned it's a small apartment, right? I did? Good. Now that she knows she'll continue entertaining the family in her small space (Am I being a little heavy-handed with the 'small' stuff? Sorry.) one thing becomes clear: She's gonna need to look at drop leaf tables.

Did you see how pretty those tables were? The perfect solution to entertaining a large crowd in a small space.

Me? I'll just arrive when I'm told to arrive and bring what I'm told to bring and leave when it's time to leave.

I'm in my late 40's. Think it might be time for me to drop more than the sides of a table? Yeah, you're probably right.

I'll work on that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Love It!

Today is Love Your Body Day. As I've already had to explain to my husband (Hi, Tom. Love you. Mean it.), that does not mean it is national masturbation day. Everyone knows that that distinction belongs to Joan Jett's birthday, and it's already passed us by this year. And, while I reckon that's one way to love your body, this day is about other ways. Love with a capital 'L'.

I spend a good bit of time on this blog talking about the things I don't like about my body. I'm a product of my environment, what can I say? But not today. If I start, stop me. Many recovery groups promise: Just for today, I will _________. Well, just for today, I will not hate my body. I will not say bad things about it or think bad thoughts about it. I will treat my body well today. I will feed it well and give it a chance to move. Move? I'll let it dance... I will be thankful for all of the wonderful things it can do rather than dwell on all of the things it cannot. I will be thankful for the battle wounds - the proof that it bore me children - that it has lived and loved for almost five decades. Those scars tell a story - and it's a good one. The story of me.

Just for today, I will love my body.

I will extend that love to everyone else I encounter today - not burdening them or me with unnecessary or unkind judgments.

I will encourage the young people in my life to love their bodies, too. I will remind them that they are not too fat or too skinny or too tall or too short or too - well - they're not too anything. They're just the right bodies to tell the story of them.

I will love my body, today - and I challenge you to do the same. Just for today. See how it goes. We may just find we want to continue the love affair tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Smells Like Teen Spirit

My daughter takes music lessons at a local college (no, not 'THE' local college - 'A' local college). She meets with her instructor in his office in the music building and they do their funky thing while I wait in the student lounge.

The first couple weeks of this, I was nearly overwhelmed by nostalgia. It felt like the music building in MY college. The bulletin boards offered the same information. The students with whom I shared the lounge had the same conversations my friends had 25-30 years ago. It even smelled like my old music building (Cogswell Hall, holla!). This smell, by the way, I would be hard put to describe. It is neither particularly pleasant nor particularly unpleasant. It is neutral, but distinctive, with undertones of valve oil.

I really started to look forward to taking her to her lessons - to sit in that lounge and smell those smells and hear those sounds - scales and warm-up exercises from various instruments in various practice rooms. I would look around at the students draped over the chairs in the lounge, talking about their classes and their professors, bitching a little but clearly into it. I wondered if any of them were falling in love and was certain that some of them must be. A campus in the fall is a very good place to fall in love. I may be projecting. At a very young age, I fell in love with campuses in general and campuses in the fall specifically. My love has never faltered.

But I've digressed.

Last week, a large group of students were having a meeting in the lounge and there was no where for me to sit, so my daughter's instructor invited me into the practice room for her lesson. How many nights I spent, sitting on the floor of a practice room waiting for a friend to walk me home. In the fall. On campus. I started to sit on the floor in the corner, but her instructor wouldn't hear of it and got me a folding chair. I would've rather been on the floor. Stupid instructor, reminding me that I'm old. "Here you go, Mrs. Howard." Ugh.

This week, I was able to sit in the lounge again. There was a small group of students having a meeting and sharing a couple pizzas, but I figured I could sit with my back to them and not be an intrusion.

The young lady leading the group was so self important I didn't know whether I wanted to laugh out loud at her or shake her silly little self. I had placed myself as far away from the group as I could get, and I had my back to them, but what she had to say was so very, very important that she was projecting across the whole lobby. In fairness, music and theater go hand in hand and no one can emote like a musical theater person. But still. It was pretty obnoxious.

She was planning a fundraiser. I chuckled to myself when she mispronounced the names of several prominent clubs downtown. Don't think me TOO mean. If she hadn't been playing the big shot so hard, I wouldn't have laughed at a simple, honest mistake. I am actually very generally tolerant. But she was acting like such a jackass that the rules changed a little bit. She went into a long spiel about how you need to deal with club owners and how they think and what they like and what they'll respond to. She expressed all of this with a great deal of confidence. And then announced that someone else would have to take care of it, because she wasn't old enough to enter a club.

I had to grab the handles on my chair to brace myself.

My nostalgic trip down memory lane came to a grinding halt.

I had enjoyed remembering the more romantic aspects of college life - of MY life a couple few decades ago. I enjoyed, as I may have perhaps mentioned, the sights and smells and sounds of a music building, on a small campus, in the fall. I did NOT like being reminded of how naive it all was. She really felt like the cock of the walk. She thought she knew everything. She knows nothing. And she's gonna figure that out someday and it's gonna suck. I felt almost bad for having laughed at her - even if it was only internal. The bigger they come, the harder they fall and all that.

(For the 12 year olds in my midst, yes, the last paragraph contained the words: cock, suck, bigger and harder. And the paragraph that preceded it, come to think of it, contained: grinding. Go ahead. Beavis and Butthead it up. He. Hehe. I'll wait.)

So I left campus last night remembering not how it felt to be young and have the whole future in front of me, but remembering, instead, how it felt when the world crashed in and that future became more limited. When I found out I didn't know as much as I thought I did - when nothing was the way it was supposed to be anymore.


Next week, I might wait in the car.

Sobbing quietly and sniffing a bottle of valve oil.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Where's Tut?

I am spending a beautiful fall weekend visiting with my parents. Beautiful does not begin to do it justice. Exquisite, glorious, pulchritudinous... if there is a fault to be found with this weekend, it would be that it is almost a little too warm for October. As a complaint, that holds about as much validity as: My husband is just a little too generous, or, I wish my children would stop doing extra chores without being asked, or, for my gentlemen readers, her breasts are just too darn large.


What's the best way to spend a perfect fall day? Driving over the mountain to take in the foliage on the way to a craft show, of course. Tom and Lea opted out, which I am still trying to understand. It's a head scratcher. Mom, Liv and I are fans of craft shows. Dad likes live music and homemade donuts and he had reason to believe he'd be able to score both if he drove us to the show. Plus - he saw the attitude I was giving Tom about staying behind and probably knew that whatever I was dishing out to my husband, my mother would deal out a hundredfold to him.

Tut is no fool.

We neared the venue and there were detours because of road closures for the festival and the parade that had preceded it. Just before the detour we had passed several lots offering parking for $5. We'd passed them by, certain that we could get closer, but as the detour moved us farther and farther away from our course, this seemed less and less likely.

"Why didn't you park when we had a chance?"

I smiled. I KNEW it was going to be my dad's fault. It's always my dad's fault.

He turned down an alley, hoping for - I didn't really know what at the time. It turned out to be a fortuitous move. At the end of the alley, butting up against the very section of the show we were most interested in visiting, a group of youngsters were offering parking for $6. WELL worth the extra $1, we agreed. As we pulled up, they were posting their 'lot full' sign. I was trying to imagine how this was going to be Dad's fault (because I guarantee you that it would've been), when one of the boys approached my side of the car. I pushed the button to open my window, but nothing happened. I pulled it. Still nothing. I opened my door.

"If you're comfortable backing in," he said, speaking over me to my dad, "we can squeeze you in way back there in the back."


"Back there."

"What do you want me to do?"

"You'll have to back in."


"Back here, sir. I'll guide you in."

The boy started directing us, from my side of the car, but I still couldn't open my window and the lot was too crowded for Dad to back in with my door open. The boy chuckled a little and went over to Dad's side of the car. After hitting several buttons, Dad managed to open his window.

The boy was coaching him like a pro, while my mom started in about the passenger window from the back seat.

"You hit the childproof lock button."


"You're ok, sir, plenty of room, come on back."

"The childproof button! Why do you DO that?"


"Cut it to the right a little, sir... plenty of room..."

"I've told you a million times not to hit that button. OOOOH! Why do you DO that? You do this ALL THE TIME!"

"You're doing great, sir. Come on back a little further, you're fine."

"HIT THAT BUTTON! Unlock these windows!"

"You're good, sir, right there."

The young man walked away, no doubt ready to talk to his buddies about why people over a certain age should have to retest for their driver's license every year. To be fair, my dad was driving just fine. He just - um - didn't know how to work his car... And in his defense - there are an AWFUL lot of buttons...

He put the car in park and Liv and I jumped out. There was a force as strong as gravity pulling me towards those tents. But Mom and Dad were still in the car. "Put that key back in and fix those windows before we go anywhere."

He did.

We walked to the show and it did not disappoint. I hate it when I get all geared up for a craft show and it's full of 'look what I can do with a glue gun' crafts. This one was full of wood and leather and fiber and silver and pottery. Yes, please.

I had just purchased a pretty pair of silver earrings and Liv was looking at some carvings of owls when Dad decided he'd like to get a head start on the promise of music and donuts. He arranged a meeting spot with Mom and he trotted off in the direction of the bandstand. The three of us shopped to our little hearts content and suffered not a moment's guilt for having abandoned him. When we'd had our fill, we headed to the designated meeting spot.

No Tut. "Where could he BE? OOOOOOH, that man..."

"Why doesn't he carry a phone?"

"I took it away. He didn't know how to use a phone."

Ok, I can buy this. After all, he couldn't manage the windows on his car...

"You should get him an iPhone."

"He couldn't even use his simple calls only phone - he'd never be able to use an iPhone."

"I know. But they have a GPS app and you can always see where he is. We're thinking of getting them for the kids..."

Upon relaying this story after we got home, Lea suggested installing a chip - like you would for a dog. I'll skip the DNA test, I'm pretty sure she's mine...

She looked some more - it was REALLY crowded. I mentioned that it was a beautiful day and an excellent craft show, right? We weren't the only ones who decided to take advantage of this. I started to panic myself. How were we ever going to find him?

Of course, we did. He was on the very corner upon which they'd agreed. But he was sitting by a garbage can, and she - as she expressed more than once - never expected him to be sitting by a garbage can. "A garbage can! Why would anyone sit by a garbage can? OOOOOOH, that man..." Poor guy, he was just seeking some shade. The shade of the trees was all occupied. He took what was left to him.

And he never did find any donuts.