My First Blog

In this, my first blog, I have tried to steer away from the omnipresent issue of the day. I treat the virus like Harry, Hermione and Ron treat, ¨He who shall not be named.¨ I treat the virus like the newscasters who decide not to name the gunman forbidding his fifteen minutes of fame. I tried. I wanted to look back at my first posts and let them reflect my writing, not my response to sadness, fear, worry, disappointment.

But, I will end this March challenge with an unfortunate image that I will likely conjure up in years to come when I remember the virus that shall not be named. I was picking up groceries last Sunday morning. My first shop online grocery purchase pick up. The employees were friendly, warm, helpful. I am so grateful for the people who are helping us put meals on the table. They put all my bags in a shopping cart. As I awaited the freezer items, a husband and wife enter with stress written across their faces. They stop and ask, ¨Do you have paper towels?¨ The smiley employee reaches for a roll of paper towels. She is about to rip off one for the couple. ¨No,¨ the woman strikes back, ¨Are you selling paper towels?¨ The employee, probably immune to customer rudeness tells them to try one of the club stores nearby. They leave without a thank you. This exchange left me sad. Let there be a huge silver lining to this terrible topsy turvy time, and let it be that we pulled together, we showed compassion. we showed gratitude.

Perhaps I need to show some compassion for those who have difficulty masking their fears and anxiety.

First Infatuation

A good portion of my formative years were spent on the sidelines… of a baseball diamond.  My brother Bob´s claim to fame was his athletic prowess. He was hard driving and very fast. Confident too. Very. He was never the star of the team, not the home-run hitter, but always one of the best players. He hustled, and sports fans love hustle. In the back of Edgebrook Elementary School there was a dusty baseball diamond. To be honest, it was quite a pitiful ball field.  No lush green grass and well marked lines connecting bases. It looked to be forgotten by the town´s Parks and Rec department. The very same field, in fact, where I was hit in the head with a baseball bat by a free swinging 3rd grader during PE class.  I don’t recall any ice administered nor was there a phone call home. It was the late 60’s.

That year the star of Bob´s team was pitcher, Kenny Nestor. He could throw a mean fast ball. His dad and older brother would quietly take their seats on the rickety bleachers. They were quiet and unassuming for family of local superstar, Kenny. Kenny and his chestnut hair with the thick wave across the front of his forehead.  As he warmed up along the sidelines, he paid no attention to anyone except his catcher. A study in focus. The way the games were spread out, Kenny was always the pitcher. Sure, others could provide relief, but it never seemed necessary. I started peppering my brother with questions about Kenny. At first he was forthcoming, “Yeah, he’s a good guy, kind of quiet.” Then he started to purposely withhold information.  He knew at a young age that he had the power to spill or not to spill. I found it wise to feign indifference. If I was patient and a bit devious, I could get information. Often it meant throwing him off the scent by over-inquiring about another one of his teammates.

Kenny was quite simply beautiful. The hair. The eyes. The aloofness.  The wind-up. I was in the throws of my very first crush. I carefully studied the schedule on the fridge that spring, clearing my calendar to attend all my brother’s baseball games. Kenny and Bob were sure to be coach’s pick for All-Stars. That meant a few more games. I happily watched from afar, no intention of acting on my first infatuation. 

Grace

Marching band practice ends at 9PM is a running joke among parents. Cars line the side of the high school parking lot closest to the band room. Instrument cases in hand, students trickle out beginning around 9:15 on a good night. Parents flick their high beams and bandos nod and stride to parents eager to end their day. I wonder how long I will sit in this car, overhead light on, book in hand, awaiting my oldest daughter, 15.  Annoyed, I wonder if she will, yet again, be one of the last to exit. She could cut the lights and lock up most nights. Always the apology and excuse. By the time she enters the car, her exhilaration is palpable. I’m no longer annoyed. In the ten minute ride home, Grace relays frustration, satisfaction, and anticipation She loves this, and because she loves it, I do too.

Alas, I finally deduce why I sit longer in my car at pick-up time. Sheś not just polishing and drying the marimbas or pow wowing with her section, she´s chatting up a boy.  How could I have missed the telltale signs? She’s flushed and talking fast, her emotions are like Disney´s Runaway Railway. Sure, there were kindergarten crushes and boy band posters, but on this night- it feels like something official had begun.  Mark the calendar.  

Oh, Grace…I first recall the physical symptoms – the ache in the pit of the belly which resulted in a seismic change in appetite, ranging from slight nausea to a craving for a Friendĺy´s hot fudge sundae- the one in the goblet sized glass.  The recurring fantasies and the inevitable frustration of not being able to curb, contain, tame them. The desire to keep secrets under lock and key, my diary, countered by the sheer pleasure of sharing every detail of every encounter with a best friend.  But, always, overthinking. Ah, and that inescapable vulnerability. The Agony and the Ecstasy. As I pull in the driveway, I haven´t said a word… tonight is Grace´s monologue. This is new territory for me as a mom: What advice would I give, if asked? I remember a card a friend gave me years ago: With hearts…the best thing you can do is invite someone in, make them some tea and secretly hope they don´t break anything.

Professional Pride

One of the many things I love about teaching is that each day is different.  Some days are quite different and today- a beautiful May – was one of them. I was joining the administrative team as they escorted visitors to several classrooms.  It was several months that my coaching assignment was underway. It was Patricia´s idea to provide Janice some support. When we arrived in her classroom, we were met with the hum- the hum of productivity, children in the learning zone, the teacher orchestrating it all, rituals and routines, established order.  Our visitors prowled around the room, a well oiled machine. Patricia gave me the broadest smile. ¨Look at this,¨ she pointed to the classroom library- but I knew she meant all of it. ¨You did it.¨ I was embarrassed to take credit for her hard work. ¨I gave this,¨ gesturing a small bowl, and she turned it into this,¨ hands now wide open.  ¨OK, Liz,¨ she concedes. ¨But just think about it! You did this– You made it possible.¨ And then… I did. I let it sit. She gave me a squeeze more than a hug, and I didn´t wonder what our guests thought. I just accepted this loveliest of compliments.  

The Interview

My youngest daughter, Elise, had a remote interview for a summer position yesterday morning.  I haven´t seen her in make-up since she arrived home from college almost two weeks ago. She raided my closet for appropriate interview attire since most of her clothing is still in a dorm hours away.  She came into my bedroom/office to let me know she was ready. ¨Wish me good luck,¨ she requested. I laughed as I looked at her up and down. Hair tightly pulled back into a neat ponytail. Make-up flawless. Floral blouse. Grey Disney sweats?  Fuzzy socks? As Elise headed out of the room she proudly announced, ¨And I didn’t even brush my teeth!¨ 

Not quite ¨Modern Love¨

One friend at the office where I worked summers was Rick. I was embarrassed remembering the previous summer: I was buried in a basement helping accounts receivable, and he would stop in to make a few snarky comments.  I would retaliate with a few of my own, one particularly sarcastic comment was made about his wrinkled suit. I can remember how hurt he looked, and I realized I had gone too far.   I didn’t give Rick the time of day, except the silly banter, despite the fact that we shared an interest in books, travel, sports and theater.

This summer, the crew went out for lunch almost everyday.  Rick though remained at his desk, eating a brown bag lunch and doing the crosswords.  I noticed he was dressing better and had more responsibility. It was so easy to tease someone who took himself so seriously.  It was perhaps just as easy for him to poke fun at the college girl who did not take herself or her summer job seriously. We continued to rile each other by exchanging nasty comments until it was time for me to return to my office and my afternoon tasks.  When Rick and I passed each other in office we would snarl; anyone observing would think there was a clear dislike for one another. 

That summer, Rick was not playing on the company softball team so we would sit near each other in the stands.  I started to recognize that funny feeling I get in my stomach when something feels odd. I felt this electric charge when I was around him, when our arms brushed. I doubted he felt the same. One beautiful July night after a softball game, also the night of the All Star game, we were walking to our cars. I wanted to talk outside the office without the time constraints of lunch or under the gaze of co-workers.  Yet, as I we parted, I merely offered, “See you later.” He responded, “What time?” I just stared for a moment unprepared for his first gesture of interest. “Do you want to get ice cream? I asked, bracing myself for a flippant reply. “Sure, follow me!”  I was expecting Baskin Robbin or Carvel, but I followed him to the Stop and Shop. When I got out of the car, he said, “Let’s get some ice cream and eat it at my apartment and watch the game.” I steeled myself for this turn of events. This far exceeded my expectations. I practically skipped through the frozen aisle, suddenly in love with any and all flavors of ice cream. I chit chatted away, frivolous nonsense that seemed to stream out of my mouth whenever I was in the company of this serious minded man. He’d grin and shake his head. I was so happy as I followed him to his apartment where we made ourselves cereal bowls of ice cream and plopped in front of the television to watch the in-progress ball game.  We talked baseball. Rick intellectualized all of his interests, and he was stimulated by fierce talk. I wanted to broaden our conversation, but this was to be just a baseball night.  

My First Year of Teaching: Part 2 (My Mentor)

On Friday afternoons, Patty invited a large group of the “young people” over to play Trivial Pursuit and drink wine.  For the first time, I truly understood the need to unwind on a Friday afternoon. Patty was a fast friend. I would drop by her classroom (music and French, I believe) to tell her that I didn’t know how to incorporate religious instruction into my parochial school classroom. I was a public school girl through and through. Patty had a quick and easy answer. “Say a prayer to start class.” She constantly reminded me that she was only teaching for two years, yet Patty was calm and cool which she assured me was all an act. She told me stories of her blunders in the early days of teaching.  Together, we laughed. I shared with her my hurt pride. Patty had a way of cutting to the chase, seeing the truth and not being deceived by the facade. I wanted so much to be Patty. One Friday night during a Trivial Pursuit match, we met Patty’s husband, and all of us wanted to be Patty.  Patty was married to Charlie. Charlie was tall, handsome, friendly and musical. Patty was quiet and unassuming. She didn’t try hard. I thought maybe you don’t have to try so hard; maybe life isn’t meant to be exhausting. I don’t recall the term introvert being part of the vernacular at that time, and even if it was it certainly carried with it a negative connotation.  Patty made it ok to just be. I needed to be in her presence, and fortunately she and I connected. The Trivial Pursuit games were lively, but we always slid into school talk. We needed to rationalize, justify, compare notes on our first years. Some were so painfully honest about their failures; some spoke with the wisdom of seasoned staff. On a certain level, I knew the braggarts were bluffing-none of us knew what we were doing and there was no guidance, except if you were fortunate to have a mentor like I did in Patty.  One night we were sitting around the table Patty had set up in the living room,Trivial Pursuit pie slices in hand. We watched for Charlie to come home after band practice so we could stare and gawk though when he arrived home, that was usually our signal to head home ourselves. Suzen, new PE teacher, boldly told Patty winter of that first year our collective feelings for her husband. She laughed and in her inevitable style, said, “He’s not that perfect!” Earlier that first year, we enviously thought Patty married up, but the more I got to know her, the more I was sure that Charlie was, in fact,  the lucky one.

My First Year of Teaching

My very first teaching gig at 24 was at a parochial school in a wealthy residential suburb. I was making $19,000, and I was thrilled.  My dad was horrified.  “You have a master’s degree and that is what you are earning?¨ I guess you have to look at this long term,” he conceded.  I was delighted to be teaching middle school English, oh, and social studies and library skills and anything else that was needed on a given day. In 1984, there was no curriculum; there were textbooks, and the textbook dictated the curriculum.  The process of selecting literature for my classes was not by any method taught during my graduate studies at Indiana University. Rather, I scanned the closet shelves for enough copies of one title.

There were several first year teachers on the staff.  Us first years were a conglomeration of artsy, nerdy, athletic and cheerleader.  We shared one thing that bonded us- launching our careers at a small Catholic school with a mediocre principal and an unyielding secretary who ran the place.  With our meager earnings, we marveled at the rest of the staff, some of whom had been teaching there for years. How did they afford to work here? So, we did a little investigation.  Marie, self-appointed head teacher, married to her job, lived with her folks. Her best advice for dealing with sassy adolescents: “I just give them a look when they act up.¨ Marie had a teacher voice: whispery, low and lethal. She was both nurturing and condescending to the novice teacher. Sr. Margaret loved to laugh and join in the fun with “the young people.” Perhaps, Sr. Margaret was a young person herself; it was hard to tell beneath the habit.  She loved children and administered the stereotypical nun discipline with good humor. There was no ruler slapping in her class. I was a public school girl, so this setting of uniforms, morning prayer, and stern discipline was foreign to me though I had heard stories. Patty, the lovely music teacher, was married to a public school teacher.  Stan, one of the PE teachers- how did he manage? Well- we didn’t even consider that Stan’s wife may be supporting the family.  

 There was no budget for substitutes so minus a teacher’s union, we would be asked or told depending on the day by Jane, secretary/czar where we were to be during our beloved prep period.  No amount of moaning and groaning, excuse-making would change the fact that you hit the ground running in the morning and could potentially not stop until the last bus pulled out of the circular drive.  Yes, there was a lunch break but by the time you cleaned up from your last class; prepared for your after lunch class; went to the restroom and wove your way to the lunch room across the sprawling building, it was over.  

On Monday afternoons we gathered in the classroom nearest to the office and had a weekly staff meeting.  Most teachers loathe the staff meeting that takes them away from their main mission.  Yet, this was my favorite part of that first year. I loved seeing adults after spending the day with adolescents. Adolescents-There was Tyrone,BMOC, who had recently given me the finger from the back of the bus when my car followed his bus from school one afternoon. “I don’t think he would do that,” replied Principal Desmond dismissively.  And there was the daily challenge of Jackson, who devised clever ways to make it perfectly clear how much he hated me. It was difficult to ignore and hard to challenge an errant I hate Miss McCarthy “erased” on the back of his handwritten essay.  Jackson was the student I chose as best 8th grade language arts student.  It was an easy choice academically, harder choice because he was an unkind (perhaps unhappy) boy.  He thanked me that graduation night. Lest I not forget Nicole who will not be forgotten. Her nastiness was professional, on par with only a few adults I have met.   But then there were the girls who didn’t conform to the mold, who hung back, headed to lunch late so they could confide in what was really going on socially.  There were my C students: Jim and Marcel, underachievers who asked daily, “And why do we need to know this?” I would always answer Jim’s rhetorical question with a smile and an explanation.  Jim’s yearbook quotation was one of his own: “And why do we need to know this?” So, the staff meeting was a reprieve from the workday. I enjoyed the exchange of ideas, the camaraderie. Perhaps this replicated what I knew best- Liz, as student.  Liz, as teacher, was still a very new and shaky concept. On the evenings that year, younger brother was across the hall playing Led Zeppelin while I was rereading chapters of Anne Frank. I loved my chosen career despite that fact that I lay on my bed for hours each night planning for the next day’s lessons 

Yet, I loved it.  I was teaching.  When it all felt overwhelming, and it often did, I glanced around the classroom my eyes taking in my classroom.  Back at the university, we all were so eager to have a classroom to call our own, and here was mine.  I smiled as I glanced at my Paris and London photos from last summer under a bulletin board with the heading:  Miss McCarthy’s European Vacation.  How clever I was! A few years later the concept of our classroom would enter my consciousness, but I was 24- it was mine.  I earned it.

How would our favorite sitcom characters respond to social distancing?

Please forgive where my mind wandered…This is perhaps in poor taste…

How would our favorite sitcom characters handle social distancing?

Leslie would still go to work, even if all the parks in Pawnee where shut down. 

Where would Lorelei and Rory go for coffee and pancakes?  Luke only serving take-out? Fortunately, Kirk find a way to fill a need in Stars Hollow.  

Rachel, Ross, Joey, Chandler, Phoebe, and Monica would simply not be able to social distance. They would all have to sit on Monica and Chandler´s couch.

Where would Norm go for a beer and stimulating conversation?

Dwight and Jim would have to make sales calls from home.  Heaven help us if Michael has to fire someone during a slow in sales.  

A Daily Walk

On today´s neighborhood walk, I bundled up in my coat, winter hat and I wrapped that long woolly scarf around my neck and up to my chin. I attached my earbuds to my phone and clicked on my favorite Spotify playlist.  I look forward to my daily walk. I have walked the same path for so many years. Today, I will take a detour. Times are changing and so must I. Today I noticed that the crocuses that were just buds a few days ago are fully bloomed.  Is there any truer, more vivid color than a flower? The next house had daffodils, the baby ones. I love flowers, but I am no expert. The same boys are playing street hockey in the driveway; they even have their Ranger jerseys on! Kids have started to decorate their driveways with chalk, one I particularly liked said, Be Kind, Be Strong.  The longer I walked, the longer the sun warmed my body; I removed my hat, then the scarf. My mind started listing all the things we can still do in the natural world: tend our gardens, take long walks, wave to neighbors, play catch with our family. As I pulled into my driveway, I saw my daughters have decorated the driveway with a chalky garden.  Happy Spring, I thought.

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