A collection of essays on life, teaching, parenting, and finding the good in this crazy world.
Friday, December 17, 2010
A Modern Twist on an Old Poem
Following my annual reading at Stanley BPS's Holiday Program, December 17, 2010, many people asked to see a copy of the poem. It is not mine, but something I found online and then adapted for this audience. It was originally written by Harvey Ehrlich. About 20% of it is mine. I have no idea who old Harvey is, but all credit should go to him.
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas And Santa’s A Wreck
‘Twas the night before Christmas and Santa’s a wreck.
How to live in a world that’s politically correct?
His workers no longer would answer to “Elves”
“Vertically challenged” they were calling themselves.
And labour conditions at the North Pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.
Four reindeer had vanished without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.
And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.
So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced by four pigs, and you know that looked stupid.
The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.
And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard heavy footsteps upon their rooftops.
The people at PETA were all up in arms,
His fur trimmed red suit had caused animals harm
If that wasn’t enough, to add to his woes
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose
And had gone on The View, in front of the nation
Demanding millions in fair compensation
And as for the gifts, why, he’d never a notion
That making a choice could cause such commotion
Nothing of leather, nothing of fur
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.
Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim, nothing to shoot
Nothing that clamoured or made lots of noise,
Nothing gender specific, for just girls or just boys
No candy or anything bad for the tooth
Nothing that seemed to embellish the truth.
And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden
No video games that could ruin the eyes,
No iPods, iPads, iPhones, nothing with ‘i’s.
No baseball, no football, where kids could get hurt
Besides, playing sports exposed them to dirt
Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passé
Computers would just rot your whole brain away.
So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed,
He just could not figure what to do next.
He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you’ve got to be careful with that word today.
His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground,
Nothing acceptable was to be found.
Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.
A gift that would satisfy with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion,
Every ethnicity, every orientation
Everyone, everywhere…the whole population.
So here is the gift, it’s priced beyond worth,
May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth
Whatever your thing at this season of light
Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Mary Jo’s Starry Night,
Festivus, Christmas, Solstice, Diwali
We wish you great joy at your winter party
From our Stanley teachers and all of our crew
We’re wishing great joy to your family and you.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
I’m wedged in behind a tall man. He does not have his seat back in the upright position. It is in my face forcing the compact TV screen up against my nose, rendering it impossible for me to bend my 6’1” frame and get any of the essentials out of my bag which is now crammed firmly under my knees. Yet it’s not the lack of space that bothers me most about the seat being shoved into my immediate field of vision.
It’s the close-up view of the back of the tall man’s scalp, his generous center parting, that unmistakable sign of depilation, his chrome dome. For this is a bald man. Correction. A mostly bald man. A mostly bald man in need of a haircut. The two inch wide strip of grey fuzz encircling the rear end of his cranial globe, sticking outwards, unwieldy and out of control, as if he’d just stuck his car keys in an electrical socket. White hairs protruding at all angles, some pulled down by gravity, some pointing sideways, others reaching for the ‘call the flight attendant’ button, making it look like he’s got the tail of a bichon frise wrapped around the back of his head.
Yet the hairs I can stand. After all, there have been many times that I’ve been seen sporting an uncombed do, misguided tresses reaching out at all kind of angles. It’s not the hair. What bothers me most is the unavoidable close-up view of the man’s follicles, the sheath-like cavities which once held his lustrous locks. All those thousands of tiny little holes that have now so clearly failed him. Orifices galore, intimate and personal. I might be looking at an enlarged image of his tongue, or perhaps a close-up of a moon crater, complete with crevices, crags, dark and light patches, even a possible site for a manned landing. This is a baldscape I have not asked for and do not want.
And why my adverse reaction, you ask. Simple. Fear. Dread. Absolute terror. That one day this will be me.
I come from a long line of bald men. Good men. Smart men. Tall men. But not men gifted in keeping what God gave them up on top. No coif of the year awards going to the fellas in my family. I am aware that male pattern baldness is supposed to be handed down on my mother’s side of the family gene pool. Try telling that to my brother, completely bald at twenty-four, oldest son of my father, not a cowlick left at twenty-four, only begotten son of my grandfather, shining like a billiard ball at, yep, twenty-four.
And now here come I, rapidly approaching my mid-forties, hanging on for dear life. Ever since I was nineteen, I’ve noticed the ebbing of the hairline on either side of my forehead. Year by year, millimeter by millimeter, the hirsute forces of my brow have been beating a steady retreat. I have been waiting for them to follow my forebears’ example and to begin stampeding at a high clip until I too shine like the dome of the state capitol building. But I have been fortunate that the inevitable retreat has been more tortoise than hare. Slow and steady, forever plodding onward, but taking its sweet time to get to the finish line.
Will I stay lucky? Will my present rate of receding continue – two inches or so every quarter of a century? At that speed, my hairline will reach the crown of my head when I’m close to seventy. Will I grow silver and distinguished in the manner of Richard Gere or Michael Douglas or will the current pace of hair loss accelerate at an ever-increasing velocity leaving me looking more like Ben Kingsley or Patrick Stewart? Am I destined to join the ranks of the men in my family, just a late bloomer clinging on to every strand? Will I end up like my father and brother, my glabrous noggin shining for the world to see?
Who cares? Well, quite obviously, me.
I’m worried that I’ve somehow developed an air of superiority over my less woolly friends and relations, that somehow I’m better than them because I didn’t draw the short straw when it came to hair loss. Am I really that vain, that shallow? Is this the same attitude aired pompously in TV movies of the week by the blond quarterback of the football team and the captain of the cheerleading squad? Because they were blessed with good looks, they deserve to be more popular.
My friend Fred, himself an early entry into the ranks of the smoothly sphered, tells me that being bald in college resulted in him looking older than his classmates, and therefore the one elected to buy the beer. A nice fringe benefit for having a composer’s haircut, and surely a ticket to popularity.
Yet daily I ponder and fret. What happens when the inevitable happens? Is there a way to prevent, or at least delay, a shining dome?
I read in a newspaper once of a Welsh farmer who had his cow lick the top of his head every day for years and that seemed to do the trick. Is that where the word cowlick came from? Unfortunately, I haven’t got a cow, and if I did, I’m not sure I’d want it doing that to my hair. It may be a possible cure for baldness, but fancy heading into work each day with bovine saliva running down your neck. Ugh! Would my cat do instead?
The Body Shop has a mint-based shampoo called Ice Blue which I buy religiously. I might really believe that that delightful, sensuous, minty tingle during my morning shower actually prevents an excess of hair falling out and blocking the drain. I continue to massage the diminishing areas while showering, hoping that a little additional blood circulation will put the brakes on my hair’s demise. And who knows? Perhaps it is working and that’s why I’ve been able to buck the trend established by the men in my family. Perhaps I’m saved.
Saved from resorting to products such as minoxidil or finasteride, marketed under the more commonly known names of Rogaine and Propecia, stuff that men less self-assured than I avail themselves of in the battle against their receding hairlines. Saved from looking into potential solutions offered by groups such as the Hair Club For Men whose website presents me with the delectable yet true possibility of delving into something called Non-Surgical Bio-Matrix Strand-by-Strand Process or, even more tantalizing, Microscopic Follicular Unit Hair Transplantation. What is most alarming is that if those two menu items don’t whet your follicles, they have a further link to Extreme Hair Therapy Products, as if the first two don’t sound extreme enough. I daren’t even click to find out, worried that I might come across an invitation to participate in Non Compos Mentis Lacquered Trichological Therapeutic Incisions, or perhaps just the names and phone numbers of some alluring and potentially nubile Welsh cows. I think I’ll pass.
I’ve taken to wearing my hair a little longer these days, letting it flop around a bit in the front. I used to think that it gave me a foppish air like those dapper and dashing blokes of the English gentry in Jane Austen novels and Merchant Ivory films. A bit like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. But perhaps I’m just covering up the slowly expanding triangles of flesh appearing above my brow. If you can’t beat it, hide it. A prelude to the dreaded comb-over. John McCain on the presidential stump. Donald Trump on a windy day in Atlantic City. My image conscious teenage daughter thinks I should cut my hair shorter, so I would “look like a normal dad”. Whatever that is. Perhaps I should acknowledge that I’m involved in a huge cover-up operation, a Watergate of the cranium, and I should let down the façade for all to see. I should face up to the inevitable outwards signs testosterone coursing through my body like a man.
There’s always the option to shave. Michael Jordan made that cool in the eighties and the trend continues today. Don’t let them see you aging prematurely. Cut the receding hairline off at the pass. Go completely bald and they’ll never see where your real line of defense is. Bald is beautiful. How can Telly Savalas, Vin Diesel, Andre Agassi, Howie Mandel and countless others be wrong?
No. I’d rather keep my golden locks while I have them. They may be turning a gentle shade of grey at the temples. They may be continuing on their merry path northward. They won’t last forever. I believe I’m doomed to follow in my family’s footsteps, to be examined scrupulously one day by some guy behind me on a plane, the poor fool praying, not for a safe landing, but for a full head of hair. Please God let me not end up like that bald dude in the next row.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
A New Appointment
I am honored and grateful to have been appointed Head of School at Friends’ School in Boulder. The announcement was made last month. I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity and I am excited to be joining a school community which is such a caring, supportive, challenging place for children and adults to learn.
Friends’ School is committed to educating the whole child – “head, hand, and heart”. It has an educational philosophy that is wonderfully aligned with my own. Although I have known the school for a number of years through my work for the Teacher Preparation Program, my visits this fall truly helped me to see the amazing work being done at the school by gifted educators and committed parents. I am so impressed at how everyone at the school believes in the vision and mission that they have laid out. I am happy to be in a place where together we will continue to uphold that vision and mission and where we will work to meet the challenges set out in the school’s five year strategic plan and to build a school that is financially sustainable while losing none of the personality and charm that makes it what it is today.
I am thankful to Community Board Chair Fred Marienthal, all of the Search Committee members and the entire Friends’ community of Board members, teachers, staff, parents, students, and alumni, as well Jim Bonney and Jean Lamont of Educators’ Collaborative who participated in the national search. They dug deep, thought hard, and, I believe, trusted their gut. I am also profoundly grateful to retiring Head of School Polly Donald, whom I’ve known and respected for years, who is committed to teaching me and helping to make this transition as smooth as possible.
In addition, it would be remiss of me not to thank my ‘family’, friends and colleagues, at Stanley British Primary School, the school I’ve known and loved for twenty years. They have taught me well, supported me in this process, and prepared me for this next phase of the journey. Lastly, I am so grateful to my own family for walking every step of the way – to Laura, to my parents, to my daughters Emma and Leah, and to my loving partner, Steph.
To my new community at Friends’, I am looking forward to getting to know you all, working alongside you, and continuing to create a school that is like no other - one where children are challenged to know themselves, where subjects are taught in experiential, fully integrated ways, where creative and critical thinking and children’s natural curiosity are celebrated, where we all become an integral part of a caring community, where everyone is challenged and honored in a lifelong journey of learning.
I’m posting the letter that the Search Committee sent out to the Friends’ community. It is truly a privilege to be here. Thank you.
ANNOUNCING OUR NEW HEAD OF SCHOOL
The Community Board is thrilled to announce that Steve de Beer will be our next Head of Friends’ School.
As a well-organized master teacher with administrative responsibilities at a progressive independent school, Steve has an excellent foundation to become our next Head of School.
Steve brings many qualities to our community as a Head of School, including:
• A deep understanding and commitment to the vision, mission, and educational philosophy of Friends’ School;
• Engaging and collaborative leadership skills
• Strong working relationships with parents, faculty and administrators;
• Direct involvement in our Teacher Preparation Program and respect of those who worked with him;
• Enthusiastic support of the arts, plus experience directing and producing children’s theater; and
• A wonderful sense of play, meeting children at eye level, supported by 20 years in the classroom and comprehensive knowledge of child development.
While visiting Friends’ School, the children were openly excited about Steve. Not surprisingly, they met him with great enthusiasm during his time in the classrooms.
Steve is very enthusiastic about the opportunity to lead our school. Please help us welcome Steve to our community!
We will continue to keep you updated with news regarding our new Head of School.
The Friends’ School Community Board
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Man In The Moon
A short poem (by Steve):
The man in the moon
Owns a cheese shop
Has an acne scarred face
Waxes once a month
Thursday, November 4, 2010
An American Halloween
I got a call from my mother the other day. It was a couple of days before Halloween.
My mother still lives in England. When I was growing up there, Halloween looked nothing like it does here in America where I’m raising my daughters. No jack o’ lanterns or trick or treating, no costumes, ghouls or goblins. It was a time of remembrance, a church service in honor of those who had come and gone. It’s one of those areas where there is a big cultural difference between my old life and new. Some things get lost in translation.
However, my mum is somewhat aware of the American approach to Halloween and wanted to know what her grandchildren were up to. The conversation went something like this:
Mum: Are you and the girls going to a Halloween party this weekend?
Me: No, but we are going trick-or-treating.
Mum: Trick-or-treating? Is that where the children go from door to door asking for food?
Me: Er, yes, Mum, something like that.
Mum: Well, I don’t approve of that.
Me: You don’t approve of trick-or-treating? It’s a custom here. The kids get dressed up and have a great time.
Mum: It’s just not right. Making people get up and answer the door at night.
Me: The neighbours expect it, Mum. It’s a lot of fun for everyone.
Mum: I just don’t think that’s right. Teenagers looking all scary and going around knocking up old ladies.
As I said, some things get lost in translation. But she’s absolutely right. I don’t approve of that either.
Friday, July 30, 2010
A quandary of left vs right
“You better not never tell nobody but God…” is a prompt with which the members of my writing group challenged each other. Four minutes to write on whatever this quote brought up for each of us. My group, creative souls all, explored childhood memories and secrets held only between themselves and their deity. Not me. I had a problem.
You see the quotation is a triple negative.
I spend my days proofreading the written work of my students, those whom I can correct, and getting frustrated at published writers, those whom I cannot correct, on precise grammar – double negatives, split infinitives, misuse of apostrophes, the list goes on. And now they give me this, a triple negative, the product of some philistine dialect, or perhaps an attempt at the re-creation of the voice of what I assume to be a down-trodden yet winsome child from an unknown distant backwater, far removed from the pillars of a classical education.
Does this mean “only tell God”, or “never tell God”, or “tell everyone including God”, or “tell no one except God”? My logical rational left brain deduces the last of these. My free-flowing creative right brain is screaming at me to end this pompous nonsensical drivel and to get myself in the mind of this God-fearing secretive child’s voice and to bare his or her innermost turmoil to share with my ever-patient group.
That would be a better plan. Next time, I’m going to let my right brain prevail, split infinitives and all.
Monday, April 5, 2010
My Teenager and I
My little girl turned thirteen a few months ago. A teenager. That dreaded eight-letter word that all parents are expected to fear – here comes the eye rolling, the disowning, the body piercings, the rebellion and the rejection of everything I stand for. Right? Wrong.
I took my daughters, my teenager and my ten-year old, on a short trip to Telluride last week. As we were strolling through town, Emma, my teen, reached out for my hand, held it for three blocks and said, “I love you Daddy.”
And that’s all I need. Right there in that moment. Even though I’m not with her every night, I don’t think there’s been a night yet in thirteen years, when I haven’t told her that I love her and she’s told me the same.
Emma and I play soccer and basketball and foosball together. We go bike riding and hiking, camping and skiing. I’ve directed her in countless theater productions. I think I’m number two in her texting sent box after her best friend Erika. We read together, laugh together, cry together, and sometimes have long talks in the dark well past her bedtime.
She’s told me that I’m not funny, I’m not cool, and I need a haircut. But other than that, I think we’re doing okay, my teenager and I. And I’ll take that for as long as it lasts.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Announcing a change...
After teaching third, fourth, and fifth graders for twenty years, I have decided to leave the classroom. On the one hand, I am very sad about this because I love teaching and I love being around children every day. On the other hand, I'm excited to be staying at Stanley in a different capacity and I am looking forward to new challenges. What follows is the letter I sent out to the parents in my class. I've also included excerpts from a letter that Tim Barrier, Head of School, sent to the parents. The most frequent question I got from the children after I told them was, of course, "Why?" I hope this helps to answer their question:
It is with very mixed feelings that I announce to you that I will not be teaching this class next year.
After twenty years as a classroom teacher, the time has come for me to turn the reins of this class over to someone new. I want you to know that I have not taken this decision lightly and it is a decision born out of a desire to take on new challenges on behalf of the school.
For two decades, I have come to school every day filled with excitement and passion for what I do. The energy of the children, the parents and my colleagues feed me daily. There has not been a day when I have not learned something new and not retired at the end of the day grateful for what I am able to do every day. I have been blessed with an incredible community of families over the years and this current class is especially dear to me.
I wrote an essay recently, titled Seven Thousand Miles which some of you may have read, in which I outlined how important teaching at this school has been not only for my professional development, but also for my personal growth. I could not imagine a better place to teach, and a more loving supportive group of children and families with which to work.
I am excited to move to a new role within the school, one that Tim discusses in his attached letter. Among other things, I will be combining two of my great loves – theater and writing – in a new position which will help support the school, particularly the arts, in a way which I hope will benefit all children, families and staff here at Stanley.
I am excited to keep my connection to the 3-4-5 team and students through weekly drama and spelling classes and by continuing to co-direct the 3-4-5 musical.
Part of me cannot believe that, once fall arrives, for the first time in a very long time, I will not be running a class, laughing with students, building with math manipulatives, putting on bandaids, helping kids navigate the choppy waters of friendship, sharing my love of writing and reading, dressing up as historical characters, planning field trips, telling jokes, meeting with parents, training an intern, giving hugs. There is a huge part of me that is sad to no longer be enjoying the daily interactions with an amazing close-knit classroom community. There is also another part of me that is anticipating the new challenges that await, knowing that I will be making a difference to the life of the school, and all our students, in another way.
We will continue this semester in the way we always have – filled with excitement for learning, great ideas and projects, and making sure this classroom is the best it can be. Now is not the time for thank yous or goodbyes. I’m sure you will be hearing a lot of those from me in the future. I am sharing this news with the children today as well.
With great love, appreciation and respect,
and this from Tim:
I am writing to add my thoughts to the letter Steve shared with you. On behalf of Stanley BPS and the many families Steve has touched, I am grateful for all that he has given to our school in twenty years of teaching.
As you certainly know, Steve is a person of many talents, and he will continue to serve Stanley BPS in a number of teaching and administrative roles. Steve will continue his role in 3,4,5 Afternoon of the Arts, including directing the spring musical, and also will continue leading a spelling group. His administrative work will add to what he currently does with scheduling, assemblies, programs, and family groups. Some of his new responsibilities will include coordinating the Performing Arts department and managing program and space needs, overseeing school Safety procedures- including carpool routines and emergency drills, coordinating and communicating the master school calendar of events, providing staff support to campus parent jobs- including the Auction, and coordinating the administrative sections of our ACIS Self- Study. Steve will also apply his writing skills in capturing some elements of our program for use in Development/PR communications for internal and external community audiences.
We have begun the process of finding a replacement for Steve. Literally and figuratively, his will be big shoes to fill. The teacher we hire won’t be just like Steve, and he or she will bring unique ideas and talents. But we will be looking for someone who shares Steve’s passion for bringing out the best in all his students, his ability to implement a dynamic curriculum, and someone who at least approaches Steve’s creative energy and good humor.
Later this spring, we will find suitable ways to recognize Steve for his service to your family. In the meantime, I know this change will be a significant one in the lives of your children. I know you join me in expressing appreciation for what Steve has done for your children and for what he will continue to contribute to our school.
Head of School
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The Edge of Things
Like you, I’m sane and living at the edge of things. The countryside is flooded with light. Unlike you, I’m scared at what lies beyond.
You know what you have, what feeds you. I am at the edge, restless, brought here by disappointment and longing. My edge overlooks green undulating hills which cascade to the valley floor beyond. Long stems of grass bend in greeting to each other. Small farms dot the landscape, the whiteness of their walls shining like lights on the verdant canvas. Beech trees cluster in groups, destined to live their lives in constant conversation. One small cloud floats in a gentle breeze across the open sky but does nothing to diminish the light. The brightness at the edge cannot fade.
Behind me, the light barely penetrates. Darkness takes over and feels cold to the touch. Yet there is safety there among the trees and the gloom. I know where to find food and warmth. I cannot die there. I have numbed myself to the discomfort that, up to now, I thought to be insignificant. The dreariness stifles and I find myself looking beyond. The breeze whispers to me, promising things beyond my imagination.
Beyond the edge of things, the light sometimes blinds me. There are so many possibilities, so much to believe in. It is a light that I can barely understand. Yet I know it. I know its source. I’ve known it for eons. It is something deep and recognizable within. When I feel its warmth on my face, the light feels so good it is barely to be believed. It dissolves the shadows on my face and illuminates everything in front of me. It calls, urging me to find the faith, simply to know.
From my precarious existence on the edge of things, the bile of fear rises up in my throat. Those same feelings have kept me here too long. I know what I need to do. Even though I have been immobilized, my heart is certain that this is the time. Out there, connections are unfulfilled, passions undiscovered. Freedom, in whatever form it takes, awaits.
I turn my back on the safety of the woodland, the home I have known since childhood. I unfurl my wings and gasp for the first time at their majesty. I breathe in a mouthful of radiant air and leap. The wind strengthens to meet me in a welcome embrace. It lifts me beyond the edge and I find myself soaring. Turning back once with a fond look back at what has been, I focus my eyes ahead. The light is there, brighter than I have ever seen before. All fear quietly falls away. I am met. And I know that at last I have found my true path.
Monday, February 22, 2010
New Year's Day
I see the silver-haired couple through the window, walking arm in arm up the street. He has a scruffy grey beard, large eye glasses perched upon his nose, a floppy wide-brimmed hat, the kind favored by grandpas everywhere, today’s newspaper tucked under his left arm. His slightly protruding front teeth enhance the warm smile that glows from within. She is not as thin as she once was. She is wearing a blue and white sweater covered in dancing reindeers and Christmas trees. Her long ponytail spills down her back in a cascade of grace. Her gleaming eye takes in everything with apparent joy and acceptance. Her whole body speaks to the gratitude she feels. It is New Year’s Day.
They are headed to my favorite coffee shop where she orders a green tea, he a plain cup of coffee. He claims the best table, the one by the window bathed in sunshine, while she waits for the drinks and renews a conversation with the lady behind the counter. They talk about the joys of working with people and how lucky they are to know each other through this daily ritual. They wish each other a peaceful New Year.
He waits at the table, his hat now hanging with his beige windbreaker on the back of his chair. He stands to pull out her chair as she approaches with the drinks. He assures himself of her comfort, takes his own seat, and passes her the arts section of the newspaper. I imagine it’s the same every morning. He takes the front page. They sit and sip, sharing the news, chatting briefly, returning to a gentle quiet, exchanging sections and smiles, discussing the day’s events.
I sit at the corner table of the coffee shop, across from this couple, nursing my latte, reflecting on this scene, my first impressions of 2010, and return to my thoughts.
A friend of mine hosted a New Year’s Eve party last night. He said it was as much to celebrate the passing of a tremendously difficult year for so many of us as it was to ring in the New Year. Out with the old, more than in with the new. I know what he means. I am ready to say goodbye to the difficulties of 2009. It was a challenging year. I have been wallowing in self-pity and wandering in a state of confusion and shock. I am ready to turn my back on the last twelve months and to find something new.
I began the New Year rounding up glasses and finding myself up to my elbows in the suds of my friend’s ten quart chili pot. My head spun from one glass too many of Californian bubbly. My stomach complained of too much French cheese and too many bowls of fiery Colorado chili. Tired, discomforted, verging on nauseous, I finished helping my friend clean up from the festivities and headed home to bed.
My New Year officially began ten hours later in a contemplative frame of mind. I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions. January first has never been my New Year. I already have a couple of others that work better for me.
Springtime. The earth is re-born. I shake off the winter blues and turn my head to the sun. My markers are the first daffodils blooming, new buds on the maple outside my window, the first bike rides of the season. It’s the most exciting time of the year. New life, new beginnings, new hope. Endless possibility.
My second New Year is the first day back to school. I’ve celebrated more than twenty of them as an elementary school teacher. A freshly painted classroom, empty walls, blank writing notebooks, fresh faces, new clothes. A year of discovery ahead of us. I turn to my eager young charges and feel the privilege of embarking on this journey alongside them. New beginnings, new hope. Endless possibility.
I don’t feel the need for a third New Year, this one on January first, but here it is. The calendar tells me so. A whole other decade. 2010. Short days and dark, cold evenings. Snow remaining firmly on the Colorado ground. Freezing temperatures. Nothing growing. It’s just another Friday morning as I woke up in an emotional frame of mind. Yet, this year is different.
I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but some friends have been pestering me about it. They think I should. They think it will be beneficial for me. They think that setting good intentions here in mid-winter will bring me good things. They don’t understand that this isn’t my season. I’ve already got my time for new beginnings. A cold, hungover morning, slap in the middle of Christmas break, isn’t it.
I stretched my way out of bed and tumbled into a hot shower. Scrubbing away the last vestiges of the post-party blues, my mood began to lighten. I had a day in front of me with no commitments. Nowhere to be, no one to tend to. The day is a gift. I decided to spend a good portion of it writing. There was an essay about the landscape of my childhood that had been on my mind. I had been waiting for some time to explore it. Here was my chance. I got dressed and headed out to the coffeeshop.
I set up my computer at the corner table with a great view of the street. I like to see the world go by as I write. I ordered my latte and begin to take notes in my soft, green, leather-bound journal. A few minutes into my work, my eye was caught by the elderly couple wandering my way.
I watch them, fascinated, unwilling to get back to work. I make up stories: they have just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary and are spending their golden years visiting grandchildren and great-grandchildren around the country; they set the alarm at 11:55 last night to get up and wish each other a joyous New Year and then fell back to sleep; they were childhood sweethearts, reunited after the tragic loss of their first spouses; she has vowed to spend his last weeks with him, her neighbor of thirty years, as he succumbs to a terminal illness. I lose myself in the reverie of my imagination.
After forty minutes or so, they fold up their paper, return their empty cups to the counter, gather up their coats and return outside. Arm in arm, they stroll around the corner, out of my view, and into the New Year.
More than anything, I notice the pleasure this pair derives from each other, from their surroundings, from what I imagine is a daily routine. So simple, yet so meaningful. I notice the gratitude, I notice the comfort, and I notice the love.
And I realize something. This is what I want too. I want to head into my last years with the same look on my face, the same warmth of familiarity, finding the same simple pleasures, the same gratitude. I want to create that for myself, make it happen.
It is New Year’s Day, and I believe I have found a resolution.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
The Great Hall was filled with a hundred boys, all eagerly awaiting Saturday night cinema. This week’s feature was the David Niven film, The Brain. All hundred boys were wearing bathrobes and slippers, all except one. One boy was missing his slippers. This was not acceptable. The rules were clear. All boys must wear their bathrobe and slippers. There was no ambiguity.
The headmaster stalked like an enraged tiger at the front of the room. “Who,” he wanted to know, “who is the one?” The one who had taken the boy’s slippers. The one responsible for the delay. The reason the catcalls and boos had begun, first in the back row, moving further forward, stopping a safe distance from the red-faced behemoth pacing in front.
I was as irritated as the others. Who would take a boy’s slippers and risk the whole school missing the film? Didn’t they know how precious this event was, the one normal activity in a week of rugby practice and Latin conjugations? I had heard that it was a good film, a likable comedy, and I was ready for some levity. There were still two more weeks until “visiting weekend”, an opportunity to be home with my family for thirty hours. I needed this escape.
I was one of the good boys, never in trouble. I followed the rules, turned in my schoolwork on time, and possessed enough self-control to avoid the leather slipper and the ping-pong paddle, punishments the headmaster meted out on more foolish boys.
Why were some of the boys turning my way with that look in their eyes? “de Beer”, they whispered, “own up!” My friend Jones (did I ever know his first name?) elbowed me in the ribs. “Come on, tell him you did it!”
Me? Why me? I hadn’t done such a stupid thing as take the stupid boy’s stupid slippers. Why were they looking at me? I would never risk Saturday cinema. I would never be so unkind. It wasn’t me. “de Beer, de Beer,” the voices hissed. “Fess up!” What were they talking about? Did they want me to be the scapegoat? I wouldn’t do it. No film was worth it. “Tell him you did it!” I retorted.
The headmaster sensed the buzz and zeroed in on his prey. He knew the culprit was somewhere in my row. He closed in. The boys’ urging became harsher. “Come on, de Beer, be a man. Own up to your mistake!” I could hear the incensed snorts emanating from the headmaster and could feel the growing desperation from my classmates.
I didn’t understand why they were picking on me. I wasn’t their usual victim. I stayed clear of trouble. “Well, if it was me,” I challenged, “where do you think I put the stupid slippers?”
“Are you crazy?” this from my best friend, Robinson. “You know you put them on top of the wardrobe, next to Dawson’s bed. I dared you to before breakfast. Remember?”
And I did. I did remember. It was me. I had done this stupid thing. And I knew what I had to do.
I stood up, a hundred pairs of eyes on my back, and followed the headmaster to the front of the Hall. And around the corner to his study.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Laura has launched a new website called Counseling for Women and Moms for her private psychotherapy practice. It's very cool! Please visit by copying www.DenverCounselingForWomen.com into your browser or clicking on the link in the Links section further down this page.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Coliseum. That ancient arena, still standing proud amidst the modern city that surrounds it. I’ve heard the legendary stories about this place. How in its long and fabled history, it has been the site of great public spectacles, both comic and tragic. How generations before me have witnessed mighty clashes between man and beast, each contest rife with the threat of injury or death. How great leaders of their time have stood and acknowledged their people. I’ve heard tell of the thrill of the chase and the roar of the crowd. And now here I was, about to enter its hallowed halls.
I left the horses, turned towards the imposing structure, and crossed under the viaduct. I grabbed my daughter’s hand as the crowd swelled, its energy pulsating with anticipation. These were real men they were going to cheer on, warriors at the top of their game. We passed the vendors cooking meat over open flames, entered the gates and climbed to take our seats at the top of the stadium, gazing down on the dusty arena below. My child and I had not attended an event such as this. We were first-timers, here at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, at the Denver Coliseum, heading to our first professional rodeo.
I had no idea what to expect. I had some vague notion of bucking broncos and country western tunes. I was astounded by what greeted me. Laser lights, fireworks, and stirring classical music filled the air. Horses galloped in formation in the darkness, their bridles and riders silhouetted in neon. Stagecoaches rumbled, clowns hammed it up, and the great American buffalo appeared suspended twelve feet off the ground. This was a spectacle indeed and the crowd roared.
How was it, I asked myself, that I had lived just a few short miles from the Stock Show grounds for twenty years and this was my first rodeo?
As the real business of the rodeo began to replace the theatrics, the throng of spectators became more and more animated. I began to lose interest. Grown men on horseback leapt from their mounts to wrestle small cows to the ground and missed half the time. Some women raced their horses around barrels, others were paraded out as rodeo queens. I checked my watch. By rule, the guys riding the bulls lasted no more than eight seconds. The ropers sometimes caught their prey and sometimes didn’t. I struggled to appreciate the sport and didn’t care who won. The crowd expressed their pleasure with ever-increasing voice. They waved their hats and celebrated their champions. I wondered what was for dinner.
After moving to Colorado from England, I’ve been living in the American West my entire adult life. While not yet a United States citizen (a story for another day), I believe I have assimilated into this American life quite nicely. I have learned how to drive on the right. I walk on the sidewalk and drive on the pavement. I’ve got used to commercials (didn’t they used to be called ‘adverts’?) every three and a half minutes. I enjoy ice cream cones stacked three scoops high, with sprinkles on top. I occasionally pronounce the letter ‘r’ at the end of words and I’ve lengthened my vowels. I love American theater and movies and I have figured out the oddity they call baseball.
But this professional rodeo was something new entirely. Here were thousands upon thousands of my neighbors, people I’ve lived alongside for years, who understood and loved with a passion something of which I had no clue.
I guess I’m still a stranger in this land.
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