Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ten on Thursday: 10 things I like about my daughter's tennis playing

Brooklyn attends an all-girls high school. Because one of their goals seems to be letting girls grow into women who aren't afraid to try new things and branch out of their little boxes, they have a policy that they don't cut freshmen from sports teams. They will cut girls as they get older, but only if there isn't room on the team. There is room on the tennis team.

1. Her team wears white skirts. Ok, so they are skorts, but I still have to smile when I watch them. Because it looks cute--but they are working hard. They could have shorts on. But tennis seems to call for skirts.

2. Except for one team (below), matches have been congenial and full of parents on both sides saying things like, "Nice point, ______ (other team)!"

3. Girls introduce themselves to their opponents and use each other's names.

4. There are no officials, which leads to the temptation to cheat, just fudge the teeniest bit. BROOKLYN NEVER FUDGES. And I've even heard her say, "are you sure it was out?" when she tires of certain opponents.

5. Like the opponent yesterday who called all the line balls out and then Brooklyn decided she was angry enough to beat her. And she did. "I'm not playing bouncy ball badminton with her anymore," she told me in the car later. But...on the court there was nothing but tennis.

6. The crowd is restrained. I love a rowdy soccer or basketball crowd. But tennis calls for silence and restraint. So we are all restrained together. And it's good.

7. When yesterday's team got on the bus and were terrible people, and had been terrible people the whole time, and whose coach shrugged at it all and said, "I can't control them!", our coach pulled our girls aside and told them how proud he was of their sportsmanship and integrity. And then today the athletic director showed up to the match and let us know that the team wouldn't be playing that school again. That was enough.

8. She plays on a new team (this is their third year) and this year has been so chill with no player drama. Zero.

9. She walked onto the team as a freshman and the coach taught her how to play tennis. It wasn't a prerequisite to know how already. And so now she has a lifetime sport in her pocket that she wouldn't have known otherwise.

10. And she's improving. Every time I go see her. She has a good eye and she plans her returns. Again: she knows how to do something I don't.

And that's my goal as a parent in the end.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kings Speech (repost)

I mentioned to a friend recently that Colin Firth is my favorite actor. She obviously didn't know who Colin Firth was, because this morning she texted me and asked me what was wrong with me. I think she was expecting someone...prettier?

But Kings Speech.

And so many others, but Kings Speech.

And so I went through my former blog to find this entry about that movie and how it made me feel, and as I read it I realized I needed to update it. Which I do here at the end.


The night before the Oscars, I went to see The King's Speech. It was the only movie, besides Toy Story III, that I saw that was up for an Oscar. Pretty sure anyway.

Somewhere in the middle of this movie, about the time when I stopped saying "Colin Firth" and started saying "Bertie" (completely lost him in the character, which of course is the point of acting, but trust me, losing Colin Firth is hard for me to do), I also stopped saying "stutter" and started saying "dyslexia".

I know dyslexia and stuttering have nothing to do with each other. Completely different parts of the brain, different causes, different approaches. That wasn't what I was seeing. What I was seeing was an adult with a severe social disability (he wasn't blind, he wasn't paralyzed, he hadn't been burned by acid, but he couldn't hold a conversation) who wasn't getting any better.

Until everyone around him stopped yelling at him to DO BETTER. Just spit it out. Just say it. I stopped hearing that and started thinking about spelling and reading and things that have been said to Brooklyn. I know many of you know Brooklyn. And I know she is charming and quirky and lovely. But the girl couldn't read until late third grade. This isn't just a blip, it isn't a lack of good phonics teaching or laziness or montessori hippies turning her into an illiterate. Trust me. And those of you who don't know Brooklyn, again, she's really smart. She has a huge verbal vocabulary. She is a big-picture do-it-in-her-head math student. I'm not grasping at straws here. Dyslexia fools you, and it fooled me for a long time. There is nothing about talking to her that indicates that she would ever in a million years in your wildest dreams have a problem learning to read.

And as opposed to someone who might have a language processing problem or gaps in her education, dyslexia is not going to go away or lessen its grip on Brooklyn. I don't say this in a hopeless way, because unlike many other learning disabilities, dyslexia often comes with positives. It is only because our world is so so verbal that people with dyslexia have problems. They are spatial thinkers, they are creative, adapt easily to change, follow patterns, and, often, due to schooling, are hard workers.

In the movie, after he is crowned king of England and then war is declared, Bertie (King George VI) is handed a speech that he will be reading on the radio. The first thing he does is tell one of his assistants to call Logue, the character played by Geoffrey Rush, the self-taught speech therapist. Logue arrives and they go through this speech. They go through all the tricks and all the accommodations. They go, together, into the room where he will read the speech. Logue has draped the room in fabric to lower the ceiling and block out distractions. He opens a window. He has the folks from the BBC keep the "on air" light turned off so it won't stare at them the whole time. And as Bertie glances down at the speech, it is covered in slashes and marks to help him remember the little cues and tricks he needs to read this speech.

And he reads it. He slogs through it slowly and carefully and painfully and he does it.

As opposed to a certain genre of miracle worker teacher movies, Logue doesn't walk off into the sunset at this point. The afterward mentions that Logue was present at every wartime speech. Every one. I don't know how true to life the movie is, but I imagine that every single speech involved practice and annotations and tricks and accommodations. The speech impediment isn't gone. He isn't cured. It is still there.

But he does what he has to do. With accommodations.

I want Brooklyn's teachers to see this movie with that thought in mind. Brooklyn reads on grade level, but she does best if she's listening to the story as she reads. Brooklyn can copy from a handwritten page onto a word processor, but it helps if she has a post-it note to keep her place, and scratches off the lines as she goes (thus destroying the first copy). Brooklyn will never be a good speller, but she can still learn what words mean. She can still use words. Do I want her to rely forever on a Franklin speller or other electronic device? No, of course not. Will she probably need to anyway? Yup.

I can think of a word, say, hippopotamus, and I know in my head how to spell it. I know that if I write it hippopotamos that it will look instantly wrong and I will change that o to u. Brooklyn doesn't have this innate ability, but she can be taught the rules required to spell a word like hippopotamus--except that final schwa, which tends to be a random choice (or, more often, based on the spelling rules from its language of origin). She can learn why we double the /p/ sound the first time but not the second. Why we don't double the /s/ at the end even though we do on single syllable words that are not plurals that end in /s/ (like floss or kiss). But I have a hunch that these will never reach the point of "unknowingly knowing" like spelling is for most folks. She will always carry them around in the forefront, unlike, say, how she can hear three bars of music and know if she dances a jig, a reel, or a hornpipe to that tune. Some things become innate. Others probably won't.


And then there's Niles. As I watch him on the soccer field and know that this won't ever be his sport, not due to a lack of enthusiasm or speed or ball skills, but simply due to apraxia. Too many variables to make a motor plan. It will never go away. I still can hear it in the cadence of his speech. It will always be there. Brooklyn will always sweetly read the wrong words and then frown with her whole face trying to figure out what that could possibly mean, and Niles will always have to make a couple of extra mental steps in the split second before speaking or moving.


But that doesn't mean they're going to fail at life. It just means they needs to learn how to change their world to make it fit them. That, of course, reminds me of another movie, Silverado, which I just cannot stop loving. Stella, played by Linda Hunt, walks behind the bar, gradually becoming tall enough to serve drinks to customers. Paden (Kevin Klein) is amused, and she just shrugs: The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Zapatos Bonitos

It's starting to feel like fall, and so I didn't put on a pair of sandals today but instead a pair of green suede mary janes that I have owned for many years and were the first non-essential shoe purchase I made after becoming a stay at home mom. Back then the idea of buying something I didn't really need was so far off my radar, I wore pretty much blue jeans and black t-shirts for 10 years.


But this was when Brooklyn would have been 5 or 6, back when she kind of went to half-day first grade like no on else in the country does, so I had her at home a lot during the day and we would go shopping together with London in the shopping cart sneaking drinks of my iced coffee.

We were in Marshalls, which for those of you not here, is a discount department store that sells clothes that are from last season or have flaws, etc. I don't remember what I was there for, but I found myself in the shoe department. I was never a shoe girl. But I was looking idly at shoes and Brooklyn saw these.

"Mom, try those on," she said, and she sounded almost desperate to have me do so. I looked through the European sizing on the size of the boxes. I wear a 40 or a 41, depending on the shoe, and I found a 40 and took it out to try on.

"Sorry baby," I sighed. It wouldn't fit over my cotton socks, for sure.

Brooklyn burst into tears. "But they're so pretty," she cried.

I was shocked at her behavior. She was never very spoiled or tantrum-prone, plus it wasn't her we were buying them for. I looked in the box again and slipped my sock off. The shoes fit.

Of course I would wear them with thin socks or tights, not athletic socks.

"Look," I showed her, and she instantly recovered, sniffling and wiping away tears. "I'll get them."

They weren't too expensive, but on the way home I wondered what on earth I would wear them with. Where I would wear them to. Perhaps it would become clear over time.

On the way home, as well, Brooklyn held onto the box of shoes, open, looking at them and touching them all over.

"Mom, you're not very bonita, are you?" she asked.


"Bonita. We learned it in Spanish. It means pretty."

I thought about myself. I thought about my journey to where I was.

"No, sweetheart. You're right, I'm not very bonita."

She kept petting the shoes.

"That's ok," she decided.

It is.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ridiculous Brain Stuff

Whoever it is out there who has the sympathetic magic voodoo doll that looks like me (or perhaps like a middle aged Georgia O'Keeffe), please, could we come to a compromise of some sort?

I was in my classroom Friday during pre-algebra. They were taking a test (I give a test every other Friday, regardless of where we are, we just stop and take a test right then and there, I put them on the calendar in August and I do not move them). I started grading some of the tests that came in early, while also glancing back and forth at my computer screen at my gradebook.

The computer screen left an afterimage in my vision, like a camera flash. but then I realized that it wasn't rectangular like the screen or like anything on the screen. It was like a tiny jumble or scribble. And flashing. And creating a blindspot in the center of my vision.

Oh my God, I'm going blind, I thought to myself. Why hadn't my magic eye doctor caught this, seen it coming? Then, thinking of things he had tested on me in the past, I closed my left eye and still had the blind spot. I switched eyes and still had the blind spot. It's not in my eyes. I have a brain tumor.

I looked down at the test I was grading at the blank area was larger. A student came up to my desk and I had to flit my eyes back and forth to see who it was. I was freaking out. I googled "sparkly floater blind spot" and immediately went to the page about scintillating scotoma.

I was having a migraine aura.

Those of you who know me know that I have 99 problems and migraine auras are one of them. But I have never had one of these. Other people have described them to me, but my migraine auras were always a bad smell, deja vu, and a sense of not being real. And then BAM, headache. Or BAM, no headache. Just depends.

But this had never happened. I went next door and told the teacher in that room that I was going to the nurse's office. And I did.

Where I promptly had a panic attack.

She took my vitals. My blood pressure was 116/68. Reassured that I wasn't having a stroke, she gave me a ton of ibuprofen and tylenol and a full strength coca-cola. Sat with me until I calmed down.

I started to notice that the weirdness was spreading out in the shape of a backwards C, made up of flashing TV static and jagged lines. It was kind of fascinating. It had started as a tight little knot and was now becoming kind of a crescent boundary of my vision. I had central vision again and was able to have a normal conversation about my history of migraines with the nurse and with my boss. They decided to send me home.

And then it was gone. I didn't notice it leave, but it spread all the way out and was gone. So I told the nurse I would drive myself, which I did, and when I got home, I lay on the couch and got comfy, waiting for a raging migraine.

Which never came.

I took more ibuprofen at 5 in the afternoon. Still nothing.

Woke up this morning and I was fine.

It's been a ridiculous year for me healthwise. I have a dead knee. I don't need a funky new brain pattern. So if you are the person who just stuck the pin in my doll's eye or occiptal lobe, could we please negotiate a settlement, a truce? Because I'm ready to be normal again.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An open letter to an entity unlikely to respond

Dear 8th grade class: I am tired. Something about repeating the answer to #7 eleven times makes me dream of a vacation on the beach far away from the madding crowd of your youthful self-centered egos. I just want to speak in normal tones of voice to a room of 20 students. I don't want to yell. I'm not going to yell anymore. 

Today when I sat with my back turned to you and typed, it never occurred to you that time was being wasted. That I was doing this to prove a point. My fault, because I know you are not intuitive and you do not care. Perhaps tomorrow on the test you will care.

The worst part? The Algebra I class I get to teach every year, and when I say "get to teach" I mean it, is always, hands-down, my favorite part of my day and my year. I love my Algebra I students. They tend to be nerdy and fun and a little bit deviant but in the nerdiest most creative way. But something went wrong with your class. Some of you individually may be lovely people, but I can't find a way in. You talk and talk and interrupt me while I teach, while I answer other students' questions, while I attempt to impart a little bit of skill and knowledge to you in order to give 9th grade just a little bit of space for you, a break in your day when math isn't your hardest subject--I know this works. Ask the current sophomores and juniors. My methods work. My teaching works. But for some reason it doesn't work for you.

And I'm sad about it. I'm a little sad for you when you must hear older and younger students talk about me and my classes and it's not your experience. I'm not fun for you. It could be that we bring out the worst in each other. Or it could be that it's you, not me. Because it usually brings out the best in all of us.

But I know you cannot change. You are counting the days until graduation already, here in the week of Labor Day. So I will grind Algebra I into your brains, you will not care, we will fail to connect, and you will move on to high school. I hope it's better for you.

And now, I go teach 7th grade pre-algebra. full of awesome quirky kids and bright funny girls and boys who can't believe they are in the honors math section. When people talk over me, it's on topic or it's out of excitement or happiness and conversational. It is never a sly look over the shoulder and then turning to talk to a friend, ignoring the lesson.

And then asking again what the answer to #7 is.

With warm regards,
Your teacher

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ten On Tuesday: 10 People I Can't Handle Today

Not specific people. More like archetypes I encounter. Too often.

1. Oblivious drivers. Please notice that I'm behind you. Please notice that you need to pull forward. Please put your phone down. Please consider giving up your license.

2. That guy in the lane you need to merge into that speeds up when he sees your blinker.

3. People who task me. The hedgehogging specialty teacher who gives me work to pass back or collect or hunt down. The subject teacher who wants me to write the demerit. The other teacher who considers homeroom teacher and parent to be equivalent positions and therefore, complaining to me about one of my homeroom students takes care of the problem.

4. People who make inane small talk. Not the "how was your weekend?" sort, which is fine and sometimes an invitation to better talk. The "hot enough for ya?" or "thank God it's Friday, am I right?" people. Dear Lord just don't talk to me.

5. People who participate in the same activity I do, but they do in the most branded way possible.

6. That one Facebook friend who keeps posting disproved urban legends and enraged political lies.

7. White people with dreadlocks, especially if they are in line in front of me and also barefoot and wearing dashikis. Although sometimes I can get a contact high simply by inhaling next to them.

8. Students who interrupt a lesson to exclaim, "I don't get it!"

9. Acquaintances and strangers who hug.

10. Anyone smug, especially when combined with any of the above. You will get what's due to you. One way or another.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Ten on Labor Day: 10 things I look forward to about fall

And none of them are pumpkin spice lattes.

1. Pencils. Sharp pencils with erasers that are still mostly intact. The smell of a freshly sharpened pencil. Yes I teach math.

2. Crickets. The windows are open now at night and I hear the crickets. I'm sure they are out there during the summer but I'm not.

3. Orange + blue = beautiful

4. Maybe I'll knit something. Sometimes it happens, but the hope that it will happen is more perennial.

5. Slipping on a cardigan in the morning before I walk out the door in the gray dusk (instead of the already bright humid sunshiny morning)

6. Fires. Intentional ones, I mean, in fireplaces or firepits or campground rings. In the summer these are oppressive, even if you are forced to have them to heat up food on a camping trip. But in the fall they are lovely, wood smoke lingering on your clothes and in your hair.

7. Girl scout camp. I'm probably on the edge of this just being a memory of fall instead of something I look forward to. But I love driving down to Pevely or up to Troy and pulling up to the comfortable sagging camp structures and having tame adventures together.

8. Porch sitting. I like it when the mosquitoes go away and I can sit for a long while, day or night, on the porch watching the world go by.

9. Harvest Moon and Hunters Moon.

10. Sunflowers and sagging gardens and seed heads and the smell of the prairie and then that first frost finally and all is gray.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Coloring, Racism, Teaching, Friday

It was an incredibly hard week. I had a hard time adjusting to the knee stuff and I was worried about Niles' ankle and then I started physical therapy, which I love but is making my hips sore (I have weak hips, I've learned). I didn't sleep well at all, all week long, and found myself feeling my age a bit and worrying about the future.

So on Friday, my math students weren't scheduled for a test (we stop and take a test every other Friday, but the Fridays in between I use as a catch-up day or as a project day), and I decided, you know what, we're coloring.

I started with my 6th graders. Had them grab their art supplies and passed out squares of cardboard. We turned them into tessellation pieces and traced them on white paper. Let them color them however they pleased--markers, colored pencils, crayons, I don't care. Trace in black marker or don't. Fill with solid colors or designs. Just enjoy the geometry and take a little break.

"This is the best math class we've ever had," one of my girls blurted out. She didn't mean that day. She meant 6th grade as opposed to previous classes. I sat at my desk coloring and listened to them talk to each other about past experiences in math.

I'm glad I'm their teacher.

Seventh grade came in and started circular designs, using circumference and division to create even sections of concentric circles that could then be connected to form intricate patterns. We didn't get to the coloring but that was ok--there was the promise of future coloring, which is good too.

Algebra was supposed to do a thinking problem that I like, cutting cubes into different smaller cubes and analyzing patterns. But it turned out I'd given them this problem last year in pre-algebra. So I took a deep breath...and got out the compasses and had them do the circle pattern as well. Instead of a group project they got an art project. They were ecstatic.

My 8th grade regular math class after lunch came in and I knew the circles would be frustrating for several of them, just knowing them from previous years. So we did a simple Op-Art design and sat together coloring.

Talk in that class turned to the recent football player who didn't stand for the national anthem. And I knew they weren't really holding their own opinions yet, at least not informed ones, and so I let them talk for a few minutes together. But then I had to cut in.

"You know, if you take the experience in America of African-Americans, if you take the history as well as the current state of affairs, I think instead of thinking he's a bad person for not standing during a song, you should consider the reasons why he doesn't feel comfortable standing."

"Yeah, I know," one boy said, "but I just don't get why he decided to mix sports and politics."

"Well," I continued, still coloring, "he got your attention, didn't he?"

"I just don't think he should have done that kind of thing," another boy said."

I stole directly from some meme I'd seen. "When Ferguson happened," I reminded them of a couple years back in our own community. "People complained that Black people were angrily protesting and setting fires and being loud and angry. They thought they should protest quietly--"

"And that's what he did," yet another boy blurted out, taking my conclusion away.

"Exactly," I nodded. "And now people are mad about that. So maybe the question should be, why are WE mad? What is it about us and about racism in our country that makes us mad when people point out that things aren't perfect?"

The blurter continued: "Shelby doesn't think racism is real."

I glanced at Shelby in the front row right next to the table where I was sitting. "That's because Shelby is a blond white girl and has never directly experienced racism."

I watched as Shelby turned bright red and laughed nervously. Some of the boys yelled stuff like "Aw snap!" from the back row. I looked up at Shelby and smiled at her.

"Once you see it, you can't unsee it."

"Mrs. Bridge!" the boys continued. "Burn!"

"Hey, I got a box of 64 here, I can do this all day."

It was a good end to a hard week. Because even a year ago, I would have been uncomfortable with the conversation but wouldn't have been able to articulate it. But maybe I was just tired enough. Of everything. And I was coloring and relaxed and ready for a three day weekend.

I ended the day in the computer lab with my 6th grade religion class writing about the wonder of Creation. And I stared out the window at the bright sun in our little Mary Garden and I was glad.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Some things probably won't change.

When I was 5, I attended kindergarten in Palm Desert, California. At the end of the year,we packed up and drove across the southwest desert to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. We lived there long enough for me to get a half year of first grade. Then we moved back to St. Louis over Christmas break and lived with my grandparents for a bit of time and I jumped into the middle of second grade. We found a house and I started 3rd grade at a small Catholic school near the National Cemetery and for the only time in my life until college, I stayed at one school for 3 years. We moved houses during that 3 years but I stayed at the same school.

 Writing that paragraph above, I feel things that you can't read. But read this one.

 We moved after fifth grade and my first day of school in 6th grade I got dressed in a hotel bathroom but went home to the house where we lived for two years. Then we moved to Dallas for 8th grade and part of 9th, moving over Christmas break again to Georgia. We stayed there until the end of my 10th grade year and then drove across I-10 down to Houston. I graduated from high school in Houston and went to SLU and bought a house in South St. Louis 18 years ago and haven't left.

 At some point, it has to stop breaking me.

 But I don't know when that point is ever going to come.

 I require routine. It's not that I prefer it. I require it. Life must be predictable. I don't even like good surprises. I would be terrible at a surprise birthday party. After the initial entrance, I would never adjust my thinking and would probably totally shut down.

 I hate endings. I cling to things, like grade schools my kids attended, far longer than I ever should have.

 I am terrified of being alone. Of being left. Of being new. Of being invisible.

 I keep waiting for this to go away. But it isn't going to.

 My brain is that old pair of jeans that you keep patching together because you can't bear to part with them but you really shouldn't wear them in public anymore. I'm stuck wearing them. At least they're comfortable.

 There are broken things in the world and I'm coming to accept that my brain is one of them. It doesn't mean it doesn't work. It just means I have to work around it sometime. I have to remember that the clutch is tricky and the brakes are loose. It runs fast and hot.

 And that's just the way it is.