Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The "Little P.E. Lady"

Most of you know that my school has been under Nazi-review the past few years and in addition to the usual Nazi Crew coming in to wag fingers at us, we had a state team come in to do a once-over on our overall program. They used to call it Program Quality Review but now it has a new name and a new acronym.

So Janice, my principal, has been sweating bullets because she knows that our P.E. "program" (rolling on the floor trying not to lose my liver here) leaves a lot to be desired. Not that she really wants to DO anything about it, but she is tired of being "dinged" for stuff. She went to some meeting to let administrators know in advance what this Gestapo Review team is looking for - and she came away quaking in her pointy shoes over the "little P.E. lady."

Apparently this lady wants to see lesson plans, in plan books. She wants a prescribed curriculum that adheres to the California State Standards and she wants those kids SHIP SHAPE and having P.E. every waking minute they aren't learning to read or using the bathroom.

So you know what rolls downhill and the next thing we know there is a fire-drill of the "P.E. in the Planbook" sort. Whether or not you actually DO it seems open to interpretation - but it needs to be in the book and done often enough that the kids don't say "huh?" when asked about P.E.

I have worried about this myself - feeling less than exemplary as a teacher of P.E., I have asked for a curriculum or at least a Binder o' Suggestions. But nothing happened. I eMailed Janice about S.P.A.R.K. P.E.... they have handy little binders chock full of suggestions. Nothing happened. I eMailed Janice about Sue, my sister the P.E. Guru who is willing to come down here FREE and inservice the staff. I sensed a great big YAWN from Janice's office. At least I think it was a yawn since I never heard from her about it.

I sat down with Janice and waved my arms wildly about the crap that is served to our students disguised as school lunches - and was told this was "a battle you will not win." Not that she doesn't agree. But she doesn't eat school lunches.

So, we all had to live in fear today that the "little P.E. lady" would come in with her Nike sweatsuit and $100 running shoes and brightly colored lanyard with a great big shiny whistle attached. I pictured a cross between some Asian dominatrix and Richard Simmons, 5'1" and all of 100 pounds soaking wet - with buns of steel and a finely cut bicep. I figured she would make us all drop and give her twenty.

Well, friends, I gotta tell you.... if I'd been drinking a soda it would have shot out my nose when I saw this "little P.E. lady." If this lady is little, then I'm Thumbelina. I think it would be generous of me to say that this lady's pants size probably rivals the age range of my two sons. She didn't have a whistle - only a clipboard and she apparently loves to count minutes because our kids only got 10 minutes of actual movement time during their hour of P.E. today. (Heaven help poor Kenny tomorrow.) I have to admire her for standing out there for an hour during an icy windstorm, painstakingly counting minutes.

We will be "dinged" she reported in her most severe voice, because 85% of our 5th graders are at risk for heart disease. We do a crappy job of teaching P.E. and she really wants us to know about it.

My mind flashed back to Arroyo Seco Junior High School and my P.E. teacher, Mrs. Hammond, who had a pot belly that rivaled any solid 8-month pregnancy, and liked to scream at us during calisthentics in between drags on her Pall Mall.

If this lady has had ANY exercise in the past year, it has been a walk through the parking lot when everybody and their mother decided to beat her to the grocery store.

I did speak up, of course. I talked about the poor food choices and the necessity for staff development. I didn't mention the apparent dichotomy between HER and her JOB.

She "thanked me for sharing" and then wrote something on her clipboard.

I went an extra ten minutes on the treadmill tonight - just for good measure.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dad's Birthday

Today is my dad's birthday. On this day in 1938, my grandparents welcomed into the world, gave him a good family name, and proceeded to give him a good childhood.

How does anyone really determine what a "good life" is? Did he live a good life or did he not? How to measure such a thing - that indeterminable quality that defines a life as having been well-lived?

If we measure by accomplishments, we could balance positives by degree. A good job, a loving wife, children, and a head full of hair. But is that enough?

If we measure by pursuits, we can look at life-long literacy that translated into a love of books and curiosity about many things. He loved a good conversation and could entertain people for hours with his wit, knowledge, and good humor. He loved the "manly pursuits" modeled for him by his father and uncle - strong, decent men of integrity who worked hard all their lives and enjoyed outdoor pursuits and working with their hands.

My father certainly didn't lack for looks. Until the day he died that man looked good. Women watched him and on what he would say were too many occasions in his life, he watched back. His weight problem just wasn't an issue. He still looked good - and therein lies one of the differences between men and women.

Did he courageously fight his demons? Those addictions that dogged him relentlessly his whole life? I think he did put up the fight - but something inside him just couldn't be convinced that tenacity needed a hold here - that sticking to something required more than good-looks and a winning smile. He had been beaten by them all his life - and not tasted success. To taste that success might have made all the difference. But how are we to know?

My father was a man of voracious appetite, telling one of his best friends that he "just couldn't stop" and push the plate away. When he was briefly successful, he was miserable - the demons just kept gnawing. So he opted for pills and surgery - what he perceived to be the "reasonable" way out. Medically speaking, I suppose it was - but was it the right way? The only way? In the end, did those drugs for weight loss contribute to his death? They are easy to blame.

And the drugs and alcohol - now there's an elephant in the livingroom! Drugs and alcohol - twin demons who took up residence with my father early in his life and steered him away from the very accomplishments he would have used to gauge his life in years to come. Drugs for pain, alcohol for release - from what?

Did my dad think he didn't measure up to my grandfather's standards? Did my grandfather ever take him to task for being weak in this way? Or did he remain taciturn and take refuge in his garage? These things I do not know. He certainly couldn't have been pleased - these were never behaviors the firefighter and cabinet maker pursued. He liked fast cars - but gave them up when one damn near killed his son. (Did he blame my dad for crashing that Austin-Healy? Or did he blame the car? Did my father feel blamed? By the time the story got to me it was a family legend. Humorous. Innocent.)

My father battled depression his whole life. Nobody discussed it. Nobody talked about it. Nobody petted or dressed the elephant in the living room. This depression was chemical and he came by it naturally - his mother assuaged hers with alcohol every evening of her life. (But always after 5:00pm.) His maternal grandfather was apparently quite the drinker and left deep and abiding wounds that his family will never discuss. To discuss it would be admitting weakness - moral weakness, not physical - after all, if you ask God to cure your affliction and it isn't cured, then you just didn't ask hard enough.

He was the most intelligent man I know. This sounds grandiose - after all, I've met many intelligent people. So take it with a grain of salt. But he was extremely smart in so many ways. What options this man had! Talk about the path not taken! A true scotsman lament - the would have beens. The coulda-shouldas. My father regretted many things. He told me this. He promised me he would wean off the pain-killers and I do believe he was trying. He supposedly stopped drinking but I have heard otherwise - and this is something best not discussed, right? What about that other road? The road that would have him sitting in his chair in South Pasadena right now and some pile of ash in a livingroom shrine.

So how to measure the man - this very fallible man born on this day 68 years ago in Glendale, California, to very loving parents and a warm, extended family?

I can only measure him by the depth of my love for him. I always forgave him - from the first days of my life he was never held accountable. I adored the man would forgive him anything. I miss him terribly and want to call him up almost everyday and tell him something, relate some tidbit to him, share a book, tell a joke. I miss him with a pain and a void that is unending.

I watch these psychic shows on television and fantasize that he is around me, watching me, wanting to tell me things. What would he tell me?

I wait for inevitable dreams of the man, since I have dreamed a lot in the past few years. But he has shown up twice. Once comically - the details I won't divulge but it was vintage dad, telling me he "couldn't go." The other was more recent - he drove up looking like my favorite professor and then put on sunglasses and became my dad - who walked by me without looking at me while those sunglasses got bigger and bigger and I'm thinking "Hobo Kelly" glasses. But this wasn't a funny dream.

I wish a happy birthday to the memory of the man because I can't tell him directly anymore. He is a pile of ash sitting in a shrine in a dark and sad apartment. He is surrounded by the detritus of his life - his things - the possessions that somehow link him this world in some tenuous and sad way. These things that we hold and caress in an attempt to conjure up the essence of the man, thinking, "He touched this. He touched this."

I am sad, bitter, and angry. I am these things because he should have been with me a lot longer. He shouldn't have died when he did. He was killed by his weaknesses - and what kind of justice is that? Where is the justice in the world when a man unable to control his appetites, his addictions, his needs - is done in by these very things? Definitely a human condition.

I miss my dad. I love him still. I wish a happy, happy birthday.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Seamus and the Trash Can

My long-haired dachshund, Seamus, has a fascination with the downstairs bathroom trash can. Once upon a time, he found treasure in there and that was enough to compel him to knock the can over every single day of his life.

I don't know what the treasure was, but - knowing Seamus, it was probably something disgusting. Each day he seeks this elusive treasure by knocking the can over and rifling the contents before walking away, tail between his legs in disapointment.

The can is round and metal - with raised designs to emulate something antique. It is a cream color and very attractive. It is also very loud when it topples - so we are clued in right away that the bathroom floor is littered. But it holds very little on a daily basis - used tissue, an occasional soap wrapper, and dryer lint. The really good stuff is upstairs in the master bathroom or the boy's bathroom - but for some reason known only to Seamus and his cognitive deficits - he doesn't bother those.

Seamus is my dog with little brain. I always say that this is probably a blessing for him since No Brain = No Headaches and Seamus is a very happy dog. Happy, but tenacious. He always looks for lizards when we hike, cats when we walk, and treasure in the downstairs bathroom trash can every single morning.

He rarely finds either - but that never stops him from trying.