Riddle Me This #5

Was everybody absent the day they taught contractions in second grade? Please explain to me the universal mayhem and panic that ensues when a typical adult is forced to choose between using their, there, or they’re in a written message. You might be able to explain away your confusion when choosing between there and their. Though if you’ve read Green Eggs and Ham, you’ve got no excuse as Dr. Seuss has provided you with the world’s best and most memorable primer for how and when to use there under a variety of unlikely, yet sweetly weird, circumstances.

But here’s what I really don’t get. What is the ambivalence about when they’re comes into play? They’re = they are. That’s it. It’s two words shortened into one. With an apostrophe. Whose sole purpose is to remind you that you are about to write two words abbreviated into one. It’s a gimme. Use it when you mean to say they are. As in they’re about to choose the wrong version of there. Or they’re about to prove why adult Americans are generally perceived to be kind of ignorant and limited in our written and expressive language. I just made that up. But it’s probably true.

Same thing for your and you’re. As in get your contractions right people! Or you’re going to be embarrassed by your inability to successfully pass your efforts at forging your child’s college application essays off as something your child wrote. Because he knows the difference between your and you’re.  Because he went to second grade.

Now, as I am clearly the undisputed Queen of the run-on sentence and overuse-of-commas-and-hyphens-for-comic-conversational-effect, please forgive me the occasional grammatical improvisation for creative purposes. And I generally don’t know what I’m talking about, so there’s that. I really have no idea how and when to use lie or lay. So the lines are open and I’m taking calls on how to choose between those two without admitting you’re (your?) an idiot. And if you’ve ever mixed up we’ve and weave, I can’t even talk to you about that.

They’re*, I said it. Now your* ready to write with confidence. I think I’ll go lay* down.

*Wrong, wrong and wrong. I think.


I Appreciate Your Disinterest in My Life’s Work

I just read a hilarious post entitled Teacher Depreciation Day by peachyteachy at


and I was reminded that today was Teacher Appreciation Day. I don’t think anyone in my school knew that except maybe for the first year teachers. I only knew because I got a lot of emails this week from Lakeshore Learning offering me free shipping on any and all overpriced Groundhog Day curriculum packs, talking globes (bilingual ones) and dice with roman numerals on them. Free shipping, huh? Nice.

I was not feeling sorry for myself, but was ever so  slightly disgusted at the extra effort kids put into making my day extra unspecial today.

Today one of our students unabashedly drew directly onto a table, not accidentally, but in a concentrated effort to produce a complete representational picture, mind you. When I stopped her and asked her why she was drawing on the table she answered, in a typical non sequitur, “It’s pretty.” And then started in to finish her work until I removed her pencil from her feisty little grip. Later, the same student, instead of rolling her dice and collecting colored chips in the “roll for 15” game, put down her pencil (finally) and placed the counting chips on her eyes, twice entering a state of near hysterics, before the threat of a conversation with the principal elicited an insincere apology. And another grab at that forbidden pencil.

The many misdemeanors and transgressions enacted in our classroom today are too complicated and unsavory to list in their entirety. Suffice it to say, I am a woman of great patience and fortitude and might consider a career move to the DMV where they really know how to have a good time at the expense of others.

I’m not saying the day was a total loss. When I went to wipe down the tables at the end of the day, I found this:

Now that’s raw talent.

Just Wait Until You Have Kids of Your Own

It is a commonly known fact that your kids will always be more polite, obedient and just plain nice when dealing with complete strangers than they will be with you. They will engage in casual banter with the UPS man and regale the McDonalds cashier with a humdinger about how they lost a tooth last Thursday and the tooth fairy forgot to leave a dollar under their pillow. When you ask them a simple question or make a small request, there is eye rolling, stomping, whining, and finger pointing followed by a series of false accusations, an angry swearing of a loathsome pox upon you and a finale of door slamming.

When you’re a teacher, the kids in your class can go either way with their allegiance and/or willingness to comply. At the beginning of the year, when their teacher is a stranger to them, they smile brightly, listen intently and put on a good show. There is a honeymoon type love-fest of cooperation and a desire to please. The students are bright-eyed sponges, willing to take pretty much anything you say at face value. Sure, they say, I’ll sign that class contract agreeing that I will always try my best and have an excellent sense of personal space and a sweet disposition. At about week two or three, you get a sense of who’s going to test the dark and murky waters down in the deep end of the pond. And they do. Put on your life jacket and flippers.  It’s a necessary evil of going to kindergarten. They test limits. They try patience. It’s in their job description. You are now a familiar, trusted adult. And they know they can try their best to make you very sorry you ever thought this teaching gig might be a good idea, but that you will love them and take care of them no matter what.

My kids, like (most of) yours, are great kids. We get plenty of positive feedback from acquaintances, peers’ parents, coaches, and elderly strangers in restaurants who say “Your kids are so well behaved.” But that last one was a long time coming. So I know this “evil twin” phenomenon holds true in our little family. But what of everyone else’s?

Last weekend there was a spectacular outdoor event at my kids’ school. It was a “Go Green” community-building extravaganza complete with all the kid friendly bells and whistles. I volunteered to work behind one of the many crafts tables, helping small children plant marigold seeds in little plastic flower pots. Between me and the two other moms facilitating this activity, we assisted hundreds of little gardeners as they followed the multi-step directions to put together the necessary elements of about 400 marigold plants. This is what I do on my day off from teaching.

Without exception, every child who came up to our table was polite, attentive, and able to interact with us (strangers to most of them) respectfully and appropriately. No one sprayed her brother with the water spray bottle. No one complained that they didn’t get enough fertilizer in their cup. They accepted help when necessary and followed steps independently when encouraged to do so. Everyone said thank you. And then they all went home and screeched like spider monkeys, threw themselves on the floor, and demanded pizza for dinner from their exhausted parents.

So it is clear to me now that everything my mom warned me about will eventually come to pass. Mom always said, “Don’t stand downwind from 200 pounds of pulverized potting soil on a gusty day unless you want to be the victim of sudden onset emphysema, AND just wait until you have kids of your own who act just like you did when you were their age.” Which is just a terrible thing to say. Because I was a real pain in the ass.

Come and See the Baby Parrot

Teaching is an act of perpetual motion. You must constantly decide what to say, how to react, which direction to pursue, which direction to abandon before all hope is lost, and how to control your impulses, lest you blurt out something like, “you already told me that ten times, what do you want me to do about it?” to a defenseless youngster. But that never happened to me personally. Ahem.

Sometimes I am at a loss, sometimes shockingly intuitive, sometimes ridiculously oblivious, and sometimes I surprise myself with a burst of well-meaning, though generally ill-advised, inspiration.

Yesterday morning, one of my less inspired lessons: Three students met with me at the reading table in the hall outside our classroom to enjoy the titillating best seller, The Baby Animals.  “Come and see the baby puppy. Come and see the baby chick…” You get where this is going. Controlled vocabulary, repetitive verse and cute pictures = successful early readers. Yada, yada, yada. So we read the compelling story and wrote our own little version on the whiteboard tabletop easel. “Come and see the baby parrot!” Yay! Reading time is done.

Later that afternoon Ms. Promise, the real teacher, and I discussed how to get this whole class of boundary-challenging (UNDERSTATEMENT) kindergartners to cooperatively participate in a measurement activity. As outlined in the Teacher’s manual, the children were supposed to use connecting cubes to build measuring sticks to measure the length of various body parts, limited (IN THEORY) to heads, arms, legs, feet and hands. Hmmm. Risky, to say the least. We puzzled over how to set up parameters that would limit unapproved physical contact (TOUCHING NO-TOUCH ZONES, POKING, SQUISHING, SHOVING, GNAWING, SNEAK ATTACK WWF PILEDRIVERS… need I go on?).

How about we have a pair of kids do a body tracing of third student, a la CSI, on a giant piece of paper and then all three can measure any and all extremities of the paper homicide victim? That way, there would be a lot less risk of unwanted body contact and no one student would be required to stand still (IMPOSSIBLE DREAM) for an extended period while being poked with poorly constructed connecting-cube-measuring-sticks by his peers.

Let’s give it the old college try shall we? The lesson was in full swing, with seven life-sized colorful paper victims strewn about the room, getting their eyes, hair, clothing, tattoos and piercings colored in with some degree of realism by small gangs of courtroom sketch artists. But wait. Ding, ding. I’m off the clock. I leave well before dismissal each day to pick up my own kids at school three towns over. Sweet deal, right? See you Ms. Promise. Good night and good luck.

This morning I tentatively greeted Ms. Promise and asked, “Were you cursing me after school yesterday for leaving halfway through the body tracing extravaganza?”

“No. The tracing was fine. I was cursing you because I had no idea what anyone was talking about when 20 different people came in here after school looking for the baby parrot.”

Whose Life is it Anyway?

Whose life is it anyway? Well, to answer my own question, it sure as heck isn’t mine. Another Friday has come and almost gone. I have been suffering from an identity crisis from start to finish. What do I do first? Am I really responsible for that? Where are my kids? Why is my mother in law sitting on my couch? Did my cat do something to befoul the boiler room again? Because, man, it really smells down there.

Early this morning, it was a struggle to rally. I didn’t squeeze in my rigorous (not) DVD workout until about 9:30 last night. The resulting adrenaline rush and lack of will to live led to an uncharacteristic endeavor. I was burning the midnight oil while updating my Facebook profile. There’s the tipoff right there that I was not quite feeling like myself. I don’t believe in Facebook. Never have. Yet, there I was, rounding out my Favorites list for all to see. Is anyone even out there? Why do I bother? Is Mark Zuckerberg really a billionaire? There is no justice.

I wake up and begin my most elaborate charade. I pretend to be the Mom. I pack lunches for me and for Sprite (6). Red Bull (12) and MelloYello (10) are on their own for lunch today since it is pizza Friday in the cafeteria. It is a house rule that I will take a reprieve from lunchbox prep on Pizza Friday. Can I have an Amen for Pizza Friday? I then fill the front loading, large capacity Electrolux a la Kelly Ripa (my virtual twin, around the ears anyway) and pop by the dishwasher to find my travel mug. Along the way I ignore that the toilet paper roller in the downstairs bathroom is looking right at me, naked as the day she was born. All shiny and bare. Shocking. In a dither, I leave the unfolded laundry from yesterday on the kitchen island. It will wait.

So, put I Mom on the shelf and leave for school to cover for my lovely and talented boss lady teacher, Ms. Promise. Ms. Promise was sadly (I’m being serious now) injured while sitting still in her car last weekend. She was rear ended by a young driver who was TEXTING while cruising along a suburban back road doing 45mph. So that truly sucks. For real. All affected parties were fortunate to walk away from the twisted burning wreck (also serious), but Ms. Promise was chagrined to discover, later that day, that something was seriously wrong with her neck. So she has been out of commission, relearning to swallow and speak and support her own noggin for the past week. I feel nothing but love and concern for her. At school I am happy to pretend to be half as competent as she is. And so off I go to pretend to be Ms. Promise.

I pretend to be Ms. Promise for half of the day and then who should show up but, you guessed it, Ms. Promise herself! I actually knew she was coming to make a special cameo appearance and to get her sea legs before jumping in full throttle next week. Or at least as full throttle as one can be without turning, bending, lifting, or moving in any direction, with any speed or force. So I am no longer Ms. Promise, but am now Mrs. Snark, her trusty sidekick, once again. We muddle through the rest of the day consumed by warnings to the children to please remember her delicate condition and make several admonitions against coming within 4 feet of her. People line up at the door to pay their respects and bow at her feet. It is really very nice. The kids treat her as they always have. One comes within a breath of taking her down in a heap as she (the student) runs, full speed through the classroom. Ah, kids.

School’s over. Who am I now? See if you can guess. I arrive home an hour later than usual after collecting Red Bull and Sprite at their school playground. They have toughed it out, waiting around with the after hours crowd, while I’ve put in extra time at work to get Ms. Promise up to speed on the triumphs and tragedies of the week while gingerly spotting her from behind should she suddenly sneeze or begin to look like a bobble head in any way. Red Bull, Sprite and I bounce by the bakery to secure a thank you (payoff) selection of heavily frosted treats for their patience and obedience. Big thumbs up to Red Bull who kept his sister alive all by himself for an hour. So now, I’m still not me. I’m just channeling a real housewife of New York, barely qualified to call myself a mother.

We proceed homeward and enter the kitchen/familyroom/laundry sorting headquarters of our palatial estate (funny how all those “rooms” can fit into 300 square feet of space) and see that all of the laundry is miraculously folded and sitting in piles on the kitchen counter. Hmmm. Are we being robbed by very neat bandits who were appalled by my shoddy housekeeping? No, we are not. Ten feet away sits my mother-in-law, Powerade, comfortably nestled in the couch. Holy Crap. It’s all coming back to me now. Mom’s coming to town today. Egads.

Now, I am Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry after he has been shot in the head by John Leguizamo and suffers memory loss so severe he needs to relearn how to speak, read and recognize his family. So this is what it’s come to. Honestly, for me, it’s just another Friday. Tomorrow I get to be mom again. And hopefully, Mr. Snark gets to be the Plumber and snake that nasty hairball out of the sink.

A Lousy Situation. I’m Nit Kidding.

For years, as a young teacher, then as an old teacher, and for all the years in between, I lived in mortal fear of one thing. No, not global warming. Not taco day in the cafeteria. Not even the dreaded Back to School Night Open House, come see what we’re going to do this year, give the teacher the once over in a very judgey way and then monopolize her time with an impromptu conference about your kid. Nope, not even that.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, can compare to the insanity that takes over one’s entire life after being overcome with a raging case of lice.

They don’t cover lice in grad school. They don’t even really cover how to deal with a classroom full of non-infested kids in grad school. But I digress. Let me be clear that I understand that lice carry an unfortunate, undeserved stigma associated with lack of hygiene. I know that getting lice has nothing to do with keeping clean. Getting rid of lice and their little eggy nits, however, has everything to do with keeping clean.

Nits. Never want to hear that word again. You’ve got to pry those little suckers off of every hair root, one by one, while your bleary eyes are fogged with tears of exhaustion and a film of deadly chemicals that the pharmacist has warned you are “neurotoxins”. I’m no pharmacist, but neuro and toxin are two words I never want to hear in the same sentence when I am about to vigorously apply them to my scalp, wherein my brain coincidentally resides. That crazy brew will kill every morsel of vermin within a two mile radius. Now get in there and lather, rinse, repeat!

So once the combing and picking and inspecting and shampooing and swearing and contemplating a pixie cut because it looks really cute on Emma Watson are done, what’s left of your hair is left to wither and throb at the roots for the next four days. Turbans are an oft overlooked fashion option. Go for it. Meanwhile, it’s time to wash everything you’ve worn, touched, sat upon, brushed against, leaned next to, or passed by for the last fortnight. So strip that bed, burn those pillows, vacuum that couch (then replace the really old bag in there that you never, ever replace), and thank God that you have leather seats in your car. If you don’t, just never lean your head on the headrest again. Ever. You’ll be fine.

So now you are free of the pox. And right back into the hornet’s nest you go. Your paycheck is in there. You have no choice. “Hi Kids! Let’s all play put anything that looks remotely like a textile in these giant plastic trash bags!” It’s fun. Really. There’s nothing like the vision of industrial size trash bags dangling from every coat hook in the hall. There is no safe zone. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

So, rocking the granny bun is one way to go. Slathering olive oil all over your head is another. Those little buggers reportedly can’t breathe in an oil slick. Or dislike salad dressing. I’m not sure which. Some say stinky rosemary oil scented spray is a good repellent. But if your hair-type and length makes you a “good host” (my hair is the only part of me to ever earn that distinction), just run and hide. Because if you have kids or teach kids or even look at a kid at Baby Gap, you are vulnerable.

Eventually, you will begin to recover. Physically. The psychological wounds are permanent.  You will forever absentmindedly reach up to scratch your head (and strangely, your eyebrows) when anyone even mentions the word lice. Pavlov originally found that to be true, but people were too skeeved out by that, so he moved on to achieve great success with the whole salivating dog thing.

So I am still in recovery. But I’m really fine now. Even when that notice from the nurse, announcing that lice has made a special guest appearance in my kid’s bunk at camp, arrives in the backpack. When this happens, I only require that my children strip down to the skin in the driveway and just leave their towels in the trash outside. In the neighbor’s trash barrel. Just to be safe.