Tag Archives: elementary school

The Second Grade Essay

I started this blog post with the last writing prompt and never finished it. I blame the writing prompts. Ha. Anyway, we are on our last writing prompt now and I thought I’d throw it up on the blog…

So, my second-grader has been assigned the first of many, many writing assignments he will complete in the course of his K-12 education. They are called simply the “writing prompt” and as of this week, we are on the third one. The assignment, which takes students through the writing process, is sent home on Wednesday and due the following week.

I love these assignments…in theory. The high school teacher in me is impressed and grateful. I mean, a mini-version of the writing process at eight-years-old? Awesome. Thank you, second grade teachers! By the time the students get to ninth grade, they won’t go cross-eyed when I suggest that maybe—just maybe—their first draft shouldn’t be their final draft. And the writer in me is loving it. #blessed.

No, not #blessed. The whole ‘getting to share my love of the written word’ with Jackson, my adorable, dyslexic, ADHD son? Not so much. This past week, when we sat down to work, I pointed out that I tutor kids in writing (and I’m good at it).

Me: I’m a writing teacher. You’re lucky because your mom is a writing teacher.

Jackson: You’re a high school teacher. Not second-grade. And you’re not my writing teacher. You’re just my helper.

Well, I guess it’s good that our relationship is clearly defined. That way, Jackson won’t have to pay me my rate per hour. Just a helper. This isn’t a tutoring sesh, mom. Really? Cause it sure feels like work to me, kiddo.

Jackson doesn’t need my help (according to Jackson). He will just model his stories off his favorite author Dav Pilkey and the Captain Underpants series. And this technique might be okay if Jackson were writing a graphic novel and not prose.

An example. For the first writing prompt, Jackson chose to write about spring break. Below is an exact line from his draft…

Then back in the hot tub…whaaaaaa????? Darcy What are you…whaaaaaa????

Apparently, Jackson and Darcy were playing in the hot tub at my mom’s house and Darcy jumped in and splashed him.

Me: Jackson, who is saying this?

Jackson: Me, I’m talking to the reader. And then Darcy is interrupting me.

Me: But you need punctuation here.

The ‘special snowflake parent’ in me wants to commend Jackson for breaking the fourth wall. But the sensible writer in me knows that we need some clarification if the reader is going to have ANY IDEA what the heck is going on.

For the second prompt, I wised up and got C.K. involved.  Jackson wrote about plants. Well, the question was to explain what plants need to survive and showcase his knowledge about the life cycle. Jackson decided to write about buying me a lemon verbena for my birthday because I love the smell.

(Aside: Jackson is the best. I’m love my lemon verbena because now he will stop stealing the leaves from an enormous plant on the school farm. The leaves are sweaty and crumpled and he watches me like a hawk until I put them in my tea.)

So, after Jackson spends the entire first paragraph describing the ride to Calloways with C.K. (no mention of plant knowledge but plenty about my birthday, the gift, the party, etc), he knocks the transition out of the park with “Okay, so you probably know what this paragraph is about.”

The above sentence is what happens when I loosen the reins and let my husband do homework with Jackson. I thought I was being smart. I was saving myself the stress of doing the writing homework with Jackson for the evening and C.K. would get to see Jackson’s brilliant but bouncy mind in action. C.K. would appreciate my efforts. Jackson would spend quality time with his father. I have awesome ideas, right?

No! That is hardly what happened. The one (ONE!) paragraph they worked on together was a hot mess. The rest of the paragraph talked about the various parts of a plant. Jackson wrote something like this…

Okay, so you probably know what this paragraph is about.

Oh sooooo cute…. leaves + stem + roots + flowers

No flowers = still perfect

When I called this paragraph to the attention of my hubs and asked, “H ey, did you read this?” I asked him with NO ATTITUDE WHATSOEVER because I NEVER HAVE AN ATTITUDE and I’m the PERFECT SPOUSE.

C.K., who has not one but two advanced degrees in English, looked at me incredulously as if to say, “It’s a rough draft.” Yeah, rough. Like Jackson wrote this on a dang cocktail napkin.

The third prompt is about Earth Day. Dare I say, things are going smoother. Or the plying him with leftover Easter candy after each sentence is making it bearable.  Or we’ve gotten used to the torturous 45-minutes a day we spend “writing” together. See, by the afternoon, Jackson’s meds have worn off. So, he spends a lot of time fidgeting. And talking. And walking around the chair twenty times. Today, Jackson took three whole minutes writing the sentence “Earth day is coming.” I know it was three minutes because I used the hyperlapse app (video compression) to record it.

While Jackson wanted to write about Earth Day, he doesn’t like thinking about what would happen if we didn’t take care of the earth.

Me: Okay so, you’ve you got ‘If we didn’t take care of the earth,…’ then what? What do you want to say?

Jackson: If we didn’t take care of the earth, we would die.

Me: Okay, write that.

Jackson [starts to write]: I can’t write that. I can’t start out so violent. I can’t go dark so quickly.

Me [sighs]: Well, it’s true. If we didn’t care for the earth, we wouldn’t be able to live here anymore. Maybe say that animals could go extinct instead.

Jackson: That’s even worse. I don’t want to think about animals dying.

We decided on “If we didn’t take care of the Earth, we couldn’t live here anymore.” This produced a lengthy tangent on how cool it would be to live on the moon or Mars. And how the guy who made the electric car Daddy wants is going to set up a colony in outer space.

Throughout this paragraph, since Jackson had to describe what would happen if the earth continued to be destroyed, we used the word “would” a lot. That is, until Jackson announced, “Calm down with the ‘woulds’ already. I’m not writing it anymore.”

I debated attempting to explain future conditional verb tense. Instead I resorted to this: “You have two more sentences. Just write it two more times and then we’re done. And I’ll give more M&Ms.”

This was acceptable.

[UPDATE: We just finished the rough draft of his last writing prompt. It was a letter to next year’s second grades explaining the pros and cons of writing prompts. Jackson’s conclusion read like this: “You shouldn’t have to do writing prompts because they take forever. But good luck.” #nailedit ]

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Walt the Crossing Guard isn’t there…and I’m beside myself

We’ve arrived at a sad hiatus in our tales from the school drop-off/pick-up carpool lanes.

I’ve written about him before—our beloved crossing guard at Jackson’s elementary school, the Godfather of School Intersections. Actually, my first post about Walt was largely satirical. He had reprimanded me, wielding his whistle like a whip. But I wrote it in the beginning of the year. I was hurt. I follow traffic laws. I go slow in school zones. I was just waving to a friend. I was going to turn. Sheesh.

Since my initial post, Walt has become the subject of adoration and fascination. On rainy days, he wears full body slickers, a neon raincoat, and an umbrella hat. Yes, an umbrella hat. And he makes it look downright sensible.

 

During the week before Christmas break, he wore a different head piece each day (antlers, Santa hats) and tiny holiday lights around his neck. Walt hung a small speaker from his chair and played Christmas music everyday. The music was a nice touch; it certainly added to the yuletide spirit. It was a small speaker too. And his chair sits close to some ornamental shrubberies. So you walk to the corner with your kid and hear a faint “Hark, the herald angels sing” and you think  Are the bushes singing about the Lord’s birth?

And you feel like a 21st century Moses.

He planned that.

Then we found out that Walt paid the cafeteria debts for all the kids in arrears right before Christmas. I mean, where is Charles Dickens or whoever wrote Polar Express when you need them? We need a new children’s holiday book!

Remember those Rankin Bass holiday movies? The ones with stop-motion animation, like Santa Claus is Coming to Town?  And the animated Frosty one? We need a Rankin Bass holiday movie about Walt.

Remember the guy directing traffic during the musical break in Frosty the Snowman? Walt is NOTHING like that fool.

The children don’t stop for the traffic. The traffic stops for the children. The traffic definitely stops for the children when said children are being led a by a magical snowman who thinks it’s his birthday.

Then there was the time someone (someone!) called the district on Walt. His crime? Moving cars through the intersection efficiently. Getting kids to school on time. Making parents less stressed out.

Wow! Someone call the cops. This guy is making drop off easier.

How did Walt the Crossing Guard respond? With 400 traffic cones. If he can’t direct the traffic, he is gonna make sure parents don’t park where they will clog the intersection…or a solid quarter mile radius in every direction around the intersection. And I bet Walt has the cones in his garage. He’s been putting like fifteen around his VW bug everyday since August. (Or his scooter…the one with the foxtails hanging off of it)

Walt’s cone placement has got to be the most thorough placement of cones I have ever witnessed. We’re talking like one cone every two feet. He should rent out his services for Coachella. Millennials need a crap-ton of cones. It will remind them of youth soccer and then they will know where to go.

And now this. I can’t take it. I’m barely recovered from the sugar crash of Easter candy, the post-friends-departure melancholy, and the shame at the number on the scale after I ate all the aforementioned candy, and Walt is nowhere to be found.

The kindergarten teacher has been there all week, waving a flag with the gusto of the World Cup lineman. But does the wave mean “Stop”? Does it mean “Go”? I think it means “Pay attention! There are children in the crosswalk!” While I like this teacher (and she looked fierce in her cold shoulder tunic the other day), she is not Walt. Furthermore, teachers should not have to do extras like direct traffic. It’s downright magnanimous of this teacher to volunteer to be crossing guard. Who would ever want to deal with beastly people like me anymore than they actually have to? And at 7:30am! I can’t even stomach myself at that hour.

Anyway, we come to find out the sad news. Sorry in advance but the levity of the post is about to take a left turn. Walt is taking time for himself. He’s had deaths in his family. I won’t go into detail but suffice to say, no one should suffer that much loss. My heart absolutely breaks for him. We all miss him already.

I was really down the other day because Walt isn’t there anymore. I had to ask why.  I myself only exchanged niceties with him. Perhaps that for those thirty feet in the crosswalk, our children are safe if he is there? Is it because I see him twice a day? Or maybe it’s the weird cocktail of sympathy plus relief (the glad-it’s-not-me kind) that accompanies tragic news. That combo can make you feel pretty shitty.

Or maybe it’s Walt’s authenticity that we will all miss. A person who is so unabashedly himself, like Walt is, refreshes us in a world of Instagram filters, Facebook updates, and Pinterest boards.

Walt is a character. He is who he is. Take or leave it. (Let’s see how many more clichés I can fit in here.)  Walt is like that little elf in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer who wants to be a dentist.  I mean, I wish I had the stones to put fifty cones around the perimeter of my cul de sac and wear an umbrella hat and blow my whistle at cars when they drive into the cul de sac to turn around.

I think I’m going to try and be more like Walt. Not the cones in the cul de sac. Just the whole authentic thing.  I mean, people would think I was nuts if I directed traffic in a cul de sac.

So until the return of the Walt, I’m going to keep him in my prayers.

 

 

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My dentist, book clubs, and Jump Rope for the Heart

I’ll be honest. This post is just one big lead up to how much I dislike Jump Rope for the Heart.

I went to the dentist yesterday. I love the office but they are a chatty bunch. The dentist, Dr. Rooster-in-the-hen-house, is a friendly, older man with a sanguine face and a deep abiding respect for people who floss. He sets the tone for the hospitable atmosphere.

These toothbrushes are pregnant. They’ve been “impregnanted.” So much to say. So little time.

The hygienists and assistants were particularly loquacious yesterday because they’d all attended conference. The office staff took a team building seminar–a class that seems wholly unnecessary for this group. And my hygienist was all “We took a team building seminar and talked about our personalities, but we never took a personality test!”

So she’d taken it upon herself to send a personality test via group text. (Of course they have a group text. Try to keep up.) She cleaned my teeth whilst interrogating everyone about their results. To my surprise once again, most people had not only taken the test, but were willing to share their results and comment on the test’s accuracy.

“Have you taken that personality test? The Myers-Briggs?,” she asked me.

My mouth is open and there’s a hook scraping the inside of my lower jaw. I was only paying attention to their conversation to take my mind off the scraping sound echoing through my cranium. And I was trying make sure my mind didn’t go to that dark musical place: Steve Martin singing “I’m Your Dentist” from Little Shop of Horrors. This song is an ear worm. I didn’t want it in my head for the rest of the day.

Too late.

So I grunted an affirmation. Yes, I have taken the Myers-Briggs. Then I think how absurd it is that some countries don’t even have access to running water and Americans are worried about what four letters correspond to their unique snowflake selves.

Then came the air suction thingie and the tiny water gun. What happened to filling the little dixie cup and letting the patient sit up for a hot second? When I finally did sit up, the hygienist commented that since I closed my eyes, I got to relax. I think this is something that people with adult children say to people with younger children.

“Must have been nice. Getting to close your eyes for awhile. Not think about anything.”

Completely aghast, I said nothing.

Are you crazy? I’m happy you’re stewarding my dental health but that wasn’t a massage. And it certainly wasn’t a nap. I closed my eyes because the light you shine in my mouth rivals the sun in brightness. Even with the fake Oakley sunglasses you give me. 

And I’m always thinking, always worrying. It’s kind of the hallmark of having anxiety. Here’s where my mind went yesterday morning: Jackson’s book club and Jump Rope for the Heart and how I’m failing at both. All interrupted by show tunes.

Anyway, while plaque was getting scraped off my molars, I thought about Jackson’s second grade book club. When we were rifling through his backpack this morning, I saw a rather thick chapter book.

“Have you read this one yet? It’s long.”

His eyes dart around, “Uh, no.”

“Okay, well you have time, but start reading it.”

He won’t. I thought of how Jackson may not have read any of the Book Club selections this year. After all, the librarian didn’t assign Captain Underpants or another graphic novel that employs toilet jokes as its main source of humor. So Jackson is basically treating his kid book club the way all adults treat adult book club. Maybe the librarian should just give up on the discussion. Just serve some some small bites from Trader Joe’s and let the kids gossip and drink Chardonnay with ice in it.

(NB: That’s a joke. I’m not actually suggesting the elementary school librarian serve alcohol. And she is a responsible person and wouldn’t even joke about kids getting loaded.  She a fine teacher and an even better person. Her Myer-Briggs letters are better than mine.)

My spa appointment/teeth cleaning was also interrupted by Jackson’s last words as I dropped him off at school. They are the same last words everyday for over a week.

“Have you done the Jump Rope for the Heart yet?”

Don’t. even. get. me. started.

Jump Rope for the Heart is one of those programs where the participant gets money donated and then promises to do an exercise on a given day. Like on Facebook…when you see your FB friend’s Go Fund Me page and it reads like this:

“Hey, I’m going to do a marathon in Santa Monica. I’m training so hard. Donate to Muscular Dystrophy so I can go run this marathon.”

And you’re like, “Is my money going to research for Muscular Dystrophy or am I funding your vacation to Santa Monica?”(Notice how it’s never the Big Mud Run of East Bumble.) Either way, is this tax deductible? I hate to be that person but unless it’s one of my charitable causes or a really good friend, the tax deduction is the only thing that’s going to get me involved.

So replace Muscular Dystrophy with Heart Disease. Replace marathon with kids trying to jump rope. And finally replace trip to SoCal with worthless trinkets from Oriental Trading Company. Will Jackson actually jump rope for sick hearts? I don’t think so. Therefore, Jump Rope for the Heart is my homework.

And now that he’s in second grade with all his second-grade-sass, Jackson told me that I don’t care about saving lives. And this past weekend, he reminded me that my father had open heart surgery.

So far, I’ve been a good mom and responded with deep, cleansing breaths and then ignoring him. But soon, I might lay it on. No, I don’t care about lining the pockets of the AHA’s Board and CEO just so you can “collect ’em all.” And PopPop’s heart disease is hereditary–he’s German and can’t resist Boars Head cold cuts.

Furthermore, Jump Rope for the Heart is a constant reminder that I still don’t have my double unders in CrossFit. That’s it. Double whammy.

Love you, Dad.

 

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You, Sir, are kicked out of “The Menagerie”

“He just blowed for you,” Darcy said from the back seat, eyes wide and still confusing her prepositions. Were we in trouble? He doesn’t look happy. Well, I pissed off the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school this morning. He’s a man in his 60s with a handheld stop sign and a whistle he’s not a afraid to blow with wild abandon. I treat him with distance and respect.

But I was tired this morning. And I was waving at a friend on the corner.

I didn’t notice him signaling me to turn right and so I got not one, not two, but three blows. The last blow was exasperated. It felt like a higher pitch although I’m not sure that’s possible.  It was the sound the whistle makes then the blower smokes too much and thinks everyone is an idiot.

This is basically the face I got this morning.

We made eye contact and his eyes were filled with contempt. Neon clad fingers pointed at me forcefully then directed me to turn right. The disdain was palpable. I wasn’t looking at my phone, I promise. I wasn’t about to hit a stroller.

But there is NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES AT DROP OFF!!!

Therefore, I must declare publicly that the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school is officially kicked out of The Menagerie.

I suppose I should explain what The Menagerie is. First you should know this: a writer’s mind is a vivid honeycomb of anecdotes, fantasies, dialogue, and clouded memories. And this massive cellular structure is all dripping in the honey of self-doubt and sarcasm.

Back to The Menagerie…

(Also, I know there are some of you who are confusing the word “menagerie” with “menage a trios.” Not the same. You have a dirty gutter mind.)

Simply put, The Menagerie is a group of people who I enjoy interacting with but would never really be friends with. I’m pretty fascinated by people even if I don’t always like them. The characters in The Menagerie have interesting stories. They are usually older people and therefore their stories a gilded by a veneer of fiction I find endearing. Their stories, their quips, and their motivations all provide fodder for my creative work. Write what you know, the adage goes.

Other current residents of the menagerie include my amazing landscaper who told me that he used to eat the squirrels he hunted in my area before they “put in all these goddamed houses” and the ex-CEO of Aeropostale who sat across from me in the adult education watercolor class at Bronxville HS. She wore Chanel shoes and Hermes scarves but borrowed my watercolors.

“Have you painted much before?,” I asked.

“No, but I have some experience in design. I just retired.”

“Oh, really? What did you do?”

“I worked in retail. At Aeropostale.”

My face must have looked confused as I tried to square a classy lady like herself folding $8 shirts at Aeropostale. So she clarified, “I was the CEO.”

“Oh?” I said. Duh, I am sitting in a school in Bronxville. 

“Can I borrow your cerulean?”

Can I borrow your fucking Birkin bag? <– I didn’t say that.

Anyway, I thought the new crossing guard would be perfect for my mind curio cabinet. He drives a red scooter that he parks in the fire lane and surrounds with small orange cones from Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s so idiots like me don’t hit the scooter. Or the idiots who drive the fire truck make sure to steer clear when they are pulling their emergency vehicle close to the school to save our children from burning flames or from ISIS.

Also, he wears one of those Sons of Anarchy helmets. The small black skull caps that look like they will do NOTHING if you get into an accident. That kind. And attached to the back of his helmet are three foxtails.

I am not kidding.

He also plants his pop-up chair in a neighbor’s yard. Not on school property but quite literally in the middle of someone’s lawn. There is shade here. I shall have it.

And one time, I saw him put his own body in front of a turning car. I think he even slapped the hood of the car so the driver would stop. Apparently, this driver decided she would turn right while he was crossing another party. He walked to the car and hollered at the driver. I can’t remember what he said but I’m pretty sure he muttered curses as he trudged back into the crosswalk. In my mind now, the crossing guard yelled the drill sergeant’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.  Something to the effect of… I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!

The point is…that four way intersection belongs to him…on school days…between 7:15 & 8:15am and then again between 2:30 & 3:30.

I don’t know much more about this guy. And after this morning, I will never find out. He’s the type who never forgets a face. I am now in the idiot category.

If you’d like to read about another group in my menagerie, check out my story of The Sippin’ Sisters.

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Second Grade

Jackson holds a chalkboard apple on his first day of second grade.

On Monday, Jackson started second grade. Actually, since he is the first-born, we all started second grade together. I fussed over the chalkboard apple and my subpar font. And his outfit. And his hair. And what do you put in the school bag? At least I had his lunch is down pat. Uncrustables & Capri Suns since day one of kinder. Lunch, consider yourself, phoned in. Judge all you want, readers.

Darcy spent the morning pissed that it wasn’t her first day of school. She is generally resentful of being the youngest and so she is always finding ways to commit family treason on special mornings like this one. Sidenote: Yesterday Darcy helped me start Jackson’s laundry. After diligently putting all his clothes in the machine, as instructed, she poured bleach on them and started it. While I applaud her self-direction here, she could have stopped after she completed her task and chosen NOT to be treasonous whilst my back was turned.

Anyway, we took Jackson in the classroom, did the requisite pictures, seat finding, etc. He seemed happy but a little tentative. We then made our the PTA coffee, said hellos, caught up with some friends, and fed Darcy a kolache. NB: A kolache is basically a large pig-in-a-blanket. Texans heart kolaches big time.

Darcy parked herself at the food table, grabbed a kolache (like a good native-born Texan), popped the breakfast sausage out of the pastry, took a bite, then popped it back in.

I was clearly the wrong person to get C.K. and I coffee since doing so took about twenty minutes. So much chit-chat. It’s a life skill. I have mad chit-chat skillz.  And I forgot my car keys on Jackson’s desk so I had to travel back for those. His teacher met me halfway, keys jingling in the air, a knowing look on her face that spoke, “You are the mom who will ask what I want from Starbucks and then completely forget or get my order wrong.” At least now she knows I am an overly apologetic hot mess. Better than me overachieving in these first weeks of school only to find out that it’s all downhill from Halloween.

Monday night I got to thinking about my time in the second grade. I sent a note to my future second grade teacher when I was still in first grade. I wonder if it was before or after I got in trouble for drawing privates in a marble notebook during recess. There were two other depraved kids there but I can’t remember their names or faces. So maybe I imagined them. And it was just depraved little me, sitting on the playground, doing some risque sketches.

Whether Ms. Triola knew of my first grade transgressions, I can’t say. But clearly what I wrote in that note I hand delivered to her classroom was enough. I wrote a letter. And I got what I wanted. The note told Ms. Triola that she was the prettiest teacher in the school. And that I loved her high heels. (She legit had pumps in every color.)

The high heels remained a point of fascination even after I’d gained access to the best second grade class Dutch Broadway had to offer. I remember walking up the stairs behind her and Ms. Triola wouldn’t put her whole foot on the step in front of her. So the sole of her impractically-high-for-a-teacher-heel would be on the step but the four inch heel would balance off the edge. It was a weirdly marvelous thing–and something I copied when I became a teacher years later. I soon learned that high heels were ridiculous to wear when you stood for most of your  work day.

This is THE Porsche!

And I didn’t care. Just like Ms. Triola taught me.

She drove a Porsche. And even though it was an ugly 1980s Porsche, I could tell this vehicle was better than the Pontiacs and Datsuns that populated the rest of the faculty lot. A vehicle for someone who wore Porsche-like footwear.

I even heard my mother tell our across the street neighbor Rhonda that Ms. Triola’s “sugar daddy” bought it for her. I remember thinking that maybe my father would buy me a red sports car one day. And I would punch the gas over each speed bump in the school lot and completely ignore the school zone speed limits, just like Ms. Triola did.

At least I think she did. The car was red and therefore appeared capable of mildly illegal behavior.

Ms. Triola got married later that year–presumably to said Sugar Daddy–but I don’t remember her married name. It’s a law in elementary school that all teacher’s names are whatever they are when you first meet them. I can’t learn a whole new surname because of your life milestone. I’m seven.

 

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