28 August 2010

Parents Wear the Darndest Things

Every parent and teacher has to face it at least twice a year: conferences.  Cue the horror movie music.

During my first year as a certified 3rd grade teacher, I spent a lot of time worrying over how conducive my classroom  environment was to learning and how to present grades and portfolios to parents when it came time.  Yet, when the week of conferences finally did roll around, I found myself worrying about things like my breath being fresh enough and if the crease in my pants had been ironed.

We were given 3 half-days of school to squeeze in every parent, as we aimed for 100% participation.  Most of my conferences went by like the breeze.  Parents were showing up on time, all grades and student work was reviewed, questions were answered, parents walked away happy and powerful with new information.  It was seemingly successful.

Then a parent of a child with special needs showed up.  Now, I'm not talking the kind of special needs I had seen in the classroom where I spent the previous two years as a teaching assistant.  It was a classroom where you experienced students from all over the spectrum of needs: autism, SDD, EBD, ADHD, medicated, speech or hearing impaired, seizures.  Those were the children who when they learned to tie their shoe or cut a straight line, we as teachers came together to hug and cry tears of joy because our babies had been damned determined to work at such tasks until they succeeded.

The child whose mother was now entering my classroom was one who wouldn't know what a day at school was if it tapped him on the shoulder and screamed "booga, booga" in his face.  It's probably the closest I'll come to encountering one of those ferrel children you read about in psychology books.  His pinball-machine energy couldn't be matched by 10 teachers hyped up on espressos and Red Bull.  If you tried to correct his behavior, say, when he pushed a little girl down at recess, his eyes would widen with lunacy, his face inch toward yours, and he would run off laughing.  Then you would lose 10-15 minutes trying to chase him down or paging the office to send someone running after him.  It was enough to make any teacher an alcoholic or chain smoker.

First impressions say a thousand words about a parent upon meeting them, but I had met with this mother once before and my guess for her "appearance" could be that she had instantly grown comfortable with me.  Her hair was slicked straight up into a ponytail that exploded with uncombed curls beyond a worn rubber-band.  She was curvy where a woman should be, but little had been left to the imagination with the lack in length of her white denim shorts.  The most remarkable part of her ensemble was the light pink baby-tee that featured the words, "I'M THE ONE YOUR PARENTS WANRED YOU ABOUT" and a laughing monkey standing next to the "I'M."  I've met with parents who haven't had the chance to apply make-up or find a shirt that covered a tattoo, but this outfit was a statement.  What other shirts had she passed off as not good enough to wear to a meeting with her child's teacher before choosing this one?

In my mind, I tried to give the woman the benefit of the doubt.  Could it be that she had awoken just moments before she had to be at the school and this was the closest thing to her bed?  Maybe it was her equivalent of granny panties on wash day?  But neither would explain why she was wearing 8 different gum ball machine rings on her fingers.  Of course, she could have fallen asleep wearing them.  I began to wonder what I would find if I looked in her purse.  Probably 8 gum ball machine eggs, a tube of watermelon Lip Smackers, and a scratch-off ticket worth $5 she'd won but not redeemed (which would have more than paid for the rings).  To my dismay, she wasn't carrying a purse.

The conference went on like any other, even though this one required a resource teacher who saw the child for a portion of the school day.  We had data to share with the mother about her child's wild behavior and suffering grades, to which she responded with something about how he does the same thing at home and that he's been to the doctor about it.  She even mentioned how he was prescribed medication for hyperactivity.  Medication was something we hadn't been made aware of, and we asked why he hadn't been taking it.  Her explanation fit better than her T-shirt: "I just don't think to give it to him."

Not being able to afford it, I could understand.  Having a work schedule that flip flops between day and night shift that would interfere with dispensing consistency, that would be plausible.  But here I was imagining an evening at home where mom thinks to herself, "My child has been spinning like a whirling dervish for the last six and a half hours..." and then chooses to ignore it.

"We have a clinic here that could help with that," the resource teacher explained to her.  "You could bring in the medication and the nurse could give him his meds at the same time every day."

"That's OK.  I'll try to be better about it," came her answer.  Slap…my…forehead...

No line of logic or explanation of our nurse's credentials was going to make this parent want to bring in a bottle of pills because it wouldn't be a one-time run.  She would have to do it monthly, and it would mean that she would have to relinquish the responsibility.  As much as we want the child to behave at school, it's unreasonable to expect any mother to turn everything over to us.  Even the ones who own vanity tees that answer so many questions about their very own child's conduct.

Soon the conference was over, the vanity tee was out of my eyesight, and I was on to the next parent.  I realize I will always have a challenging parent here or there to face at conference time--the unpunctuals, the no-shows, the cell-phone answerers, the screamers, the wearers of too much perfume, the untrustworthies.  But this job is one that produces memories that are truly good, bad, and dreadfully grotesque, and I have 23 years ahead of me to make more of them.

26 August 2010

Those Who Cannot Bend

I finally did it.  I took a yoga class.

It took me several months of doing Internet research and then talking myself into the idea that yoga was even worth trying…in front of other people.  As much as I want to be fit, I have little confidence engaging in physical activities in the presence of my fellow man.  I wasn't blessed with coordination, balance, or endurance, so visualizing myself in a yoga class conjured up images of me plowing face first into the mat while trying to angle my body into a downward dog.  Not only that, but the idea of trying to stifle body sounds while stretching in a room where the only noise is that of your breathing left me unnerved.  Heck, what if my stomach rumbles or, even worse, I accidentally belch?  My friends can handle the cacophony of my intestinal tract, but would perfect strangers?

Macy, a close friend of mine who is as bendy as a silly straw, used to be my roommate some years back.  She would occasionally pass me one of her yoga DVDs so that I could attempt a pose or two.  Her disclaimer warned that the kind of yoga she was used to would be difficult for a beginner like me, so I should be careful not push myself too far.  I would wait for her to leave for class, run up to my room, close and lock the door, throw on my workout clothes, and pop the DVD into my laptop.  I couldn't risk watching the disc on our TV downstairs for fear a neighbor might drop in for a cup of sugar and find me with my legs tied in a pretzel.  It was an awkward task, trying to learn how to inhale and exhale all over again while attempting to find my ankles and introduce my chest to my thighs.  Macy had been right.  A session of virtual yoga left me feeling like the straight straw of our apartment.

Yet lately I have been under tremendous stress with trying to start a family and deal with a demanding schedule.  Even though the transition from teaching 3rd grade to 5th grade has been a smooth one, I am going home almost every night with lower back pain.  It's probably the result of being on my feet all day in cute shoes.  But hey, I spent all of last year darting through the rain between school building and classroom trailer in my polka-dotted rain boots.  I sacrificed my wardrobe long enough.  My platform wedges and kitten heels were beginning to feel lonely.  Not wanting to pop an Advil or fork out the dough for a masseuse with every twinge of pain, I decided I would try a 6-session run with a yoga studio not far from our home.  They even offered me a teacher discount.  Score.

I figured I would have to fill out paperwork in order to participate in class, so I arrived at the studio a little early.  I was expecting to walk in on a group of tunic-wearing hippies eyeballing the newcomer, obviously interrupting their discussions on existentialism and attempts to read each other's auras.  Instead, a warm wave of sandalwood incense greeted me, as well as a bubbly instructor named Heather.   Her husband, Michael, was the only other person there.  He sat barefoot on their reclaimed church pew against the wall closest to the entrance.

Heather took me on a tour of the studio, which was not much larger than my classroom.  She explained what class would be like and that I was welcome to use their equipment (hooray for use of free materials).  I cut a check and signed on the dotted line promising not to stretch beyond the snapping point.  Then I followed other students to the floor as they began to file in:  an older couple who helped themselves to the mats who found their spot near the mirrors and began breathing; a woman wearing a yellow paisley handkerchief and toting her own mat went straight for a lying-down pose; another woman with cropped grey hair and capris started her stretching in the back of the room.

No one was really that quiet.  Heather checked in with everyone, catching up on old news and asking about their days.  They chatted about church, tennis, and chiropractor visits.  I remained quiet, figuring it would be rude to jump in on strangers' conversations.

The class began with breathing exercises.  We were to breathe in and out, long and focused, with our eyes shut.  I didn't think one could spend 5 full minutes thinking only of your breath, but it was a powerful experience realizing I could shut out my stressors and concentrate on a basic function.

Heather would start us in positions that I didn't understand the names of, but I decided just to follow her lead.  Each instruction sounded something to the effect of, "OK, let's get our bodies into uttuwattayamma, like we usually do before we do a shashasawakka."  The student side of me wanted her to stop and write the spelling of every new word I was learning in grease pencil on the mirror so I could know what I was doing.  It was all Sanskrit to me.

We moved into poses and stretches that worked our intercostals (a part of me I have rarely stretched).  I was new at the whole controlled breathing thing, so I found it difficult to inhale while in certain positions. In fact, a couple of times, I ended up holding my breath while in a pose, which only made holding such positions painful.  I held my own, though, and attempted everything asked of me and was able to hold every pose until Heather said to return to standing.  Flexibility may not be my strength, but I sure as hell was more bendy than the older couple to my right.  Their hips were popping audibly, and they were trying to mask the pain with laughter.

At the end of the class, we all laid down on our mats with all muscles relaxed, closed our eyes, and went back to breathing.  My body had never been so relaxed, and my back pain had mysteriously melted away.  For several moments, I just…was.  Stress, schedules, and time did not exist.  It was simply me and my borrowed yoga mat.

Heather recited several affirmations for us to accept while inhaling the incensed air.  Then came three pings of her bell, which, as unwound as I was, seemed to shake the room and send pulsing sound waves from my arches straight to the crown of my head.

I wiped down my mat with organic cleaner and drove home.  The ride felt freer somehow, even though I knew ungraded papers awaiting my return.  Worrying over yoga had been for naught.  There had been no toppling or face-planting, and my downward dog looked great.



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