Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 08/03/2015

It all began with “Meltdown Monday”

88342047In Dickinson lore, the first ever Meltdown Monday occurred about thirteen years ago.  Kathleen walked into her first day of high school at Bishop Miege only to find that she had been placed in a sophomore math class.  Claire, her savvy sophomore sister, walked her to the door of the classroom and said, “Go.  Sit next to ______, she’ll take care of you.”  Then turned on her heel and made a quick exit.  Yeah, we all knew the meltdowns that Kathleen was capable of.  Claire wanted no part of that.

Thus was born the phrase “Meltdown Monday”.  Now we call any calamity or disaster that. Even if it’s a Tuesday or Friday.  Meltdown Monday is Dickinson-ese for an “ohhhh no”, the wheels just fell off the day.

And then we began to see a pattern.  There were categories for these meltdowns.  One for generalized life issues:  whether Kathleen should go straight from Knox College to Chicago to “ta da” her way into some work as a Stage Manager.  That decision was talked through with Wood.  NCLEX jitters?  That one was for me.  Calmly talk Mary, right out of Regis University Nursing School into believing in herself.  “You can do this.  You know this stuff backwards and forwards, now go and pass the test.”  She did.  The first time.  Boyfriend issues?  Wood gets those.  Maybe it’s because we have a half-dozen girls and they think that Wood can give them the male perspective, or maybe and more likely, they know that I will go into overdrive, throwing reason to the wind and going full-tilt with the emotional end of this, which is exactly what they don’t need.  From me or anyone else!  Money?  They call me, because I think I am the only one who knows the thirteen numbers/letters for the password, so that I can transfer funds.  Those calls usually come when the amount is two digits.  I’m talking the two digits after the decimal point!

We are pros at this, my husband and I.  Both of us can sense the beginnings of a meltdown, with the warble in the throat of the caller.  For some reason, the kids feel as though a hello is in order before the waterworks begin.

We make a good team, Wood and I.  The kids know that.  They know that there is always an answer to a problem, and that talking things out is a healthy way of dealing with what life throws their way.

Wood?  I can remember maybe a handful in our entire almost-four-decade marriage.  All of which were related to major MacIntosh failures, most of which involve Word.  Me?  Two meltdowns a week.  I believe that if I don’t reach that number, more than one person feels as though maybe I am doing a disconnect.  In other words, people are whispering, “Is she still in touch with reality?”

Most of my meltdowns are related to school issues.  It’s what I call “Compassion Fatigue”.  Wanting a kid to do better and seeing them fail.  That two steps forward, one step back.  Some days feel like sixty-three backwards steps.  Now that is a meltdown.  My colleague in alternative education and the school counselor both know when I am about to burst into tears.  Both give great hugs.  And there are days that I have melted into those hugs.  I also meltdown when I try and print something on one of the three printers we own and it won’t print.  On any of them.  And when Wood says, “Did you check to see if the printer is out of paper?” that just is the wrong thing to say.  I know, I know, this isn’t a meltdown, it’s more of a three-year-old temper tantrum.  As Wood scrambles to get something, anything to print, I pace the kitchen ranting and raving, throwing my hands around. But I am convinced, and no one can convince me otherwise, that the three printers hate me.

Mary and I were talking on the phone last night.  She’s a really funny kid.  A goofball through and through.  She said that we ought to redo our land line answering machine recording.  “Hello.  You have reached the Dickinson’s.  Press one for a meltdown with Mom, press two for a meltdown with Dad, press three for financial issues, press four for advice, press five for listening, not advising, press zero for the operator (or whoever is home and not too lazy to get off the couch and get to the phone).

Now that’s an idea.  And I am not giving out my phone number, it’s all we can do to handle the Dickinson kids’ problems!

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 08/03/2015

Your face is a road map

19195095Your face tells the world about you. Left “unworked on”, it is a roadmap of your life.

I never did get that “worked on” mentality. 60 trying too hard to be 45? No thanks. I have earned every single line in this face of mine. There are worry lines, a smudge of an eye droop from occasional sadness, with the chin-quiver which tends to come on spontaneously. Without much warning, Good friends know this about me. Easy to tear up, happy tears, sad tears, surprised tears. All salty.

My face shows that I have spent a lifetime laughing. Two parentheses on either side of my mouth. I’m lucky. My face didn’t stop at one. I can’t think of a day when I haven’t had one good belly laugh. Not a demure, half-hearted chuckle, but at least one that brings me to tears and a stomach that thinks it can’t hear one more funny thing. Crows’s feet? Absolutely not. Those are eye crinkles. It’s all about how things are phrased, right?  I’d take crinkles over some ugly black bird foraging for food.

And those horizontal forehead lines? They are the result of waiting for the restroom at a gas station. Hearing something unexpectedly awful at a kid’s school conference. Trying to find my keys. Looking at the scale. And then stepping off, then back on, this time leaning a little to see if that shaves off a pound or two. It doesn’t. Usually it adds more weight, so I spend the rest of the day wondering why I thought that was a good idea. A response to a kid who is doing everything possible to get me to take the bait. Opening the ACT score envelope, wondering if all is okay when your kid misses his/her curfew by 30 minutes, knowing upon arrival, first it was going to be a hug, then a grounding.  Gazing into the glaring sun at a kid’s softball game, trying to figure out which blond-haired kid is mine.  All of the above have given me bragging rights for the forehead line-wrinkles.

Our faces are our external scaffolding. It’s what we build with our lives. It’s how we represent ourselves to the world. The terrain upon which we have expressed every single emotion that we have ever had. Even my ears. Pierced. Done when I was 15 with a great friend, Irene, an ice cube, a needle and an apple and the bravado that only a slumber party brings.  Halfway into the first ear, after 7.5 seconds with the ice cube, which Irene deemed was enough anesthetic, she began the uncivilized torture procedure with the needle, followed in short order by Irene screaming, loud enough to peel wallpaper, “Ew, it’s making a crunching sound.” After which she accidentally pulled the half-in needle out. Eventually, I had two pierced ears. When I look in the mirror those are the kinds of things I see, I remember. I don’t think age, I don’t think Botox, I don’t mush my face around and wonder, “What if this part was firmer……”  Nah. I don’t think anything but the pallet upon which rests a well-lived life.

Be you. Warts and all. Well, maybe the warts should go……..

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/30/2015

180 Points

giveA Sunday late-afternoon trip to Hen House. Completely out of paper towels and this household wouldn’t know how to exist without paper towels.

The store has a promotion going on. With enough points, earned by spending in the store, you can buy dinnerware. My daughter, Meghan, liked the pattern and so little by little we’ve been accumulating plates and bowls.   She and her boyfriend, Isaac, had gotten some of the pieces when they were in Kansas City last. That consisted of two plates and two bowls. Clearly they were bare-bones-ing it.

I decided that I would get her the remaining pieces and instead of using points (I only had 27), just purchasing what I didn’t have points for. While explaining all this to the checkout girl, a man in the lane beside me, said, “Here, I have 180 points that I’m not going to use. You can have them.”

Who says the world is falling apart? Not while this nice human being is walking around.

Who says people just won’t go out of their way to help someone else? It’s not like I was dying on the sidewalk. I was getting dishes. Who says that the jerk on the freeway is the norm?  He won’t let me get over without knocking his bumper off, so that I can exit.

Of course my grocery store comrade’s thoughtfulness doesn’t make front page news. This is a guy who made no big issue of his generosity. Just a nice guy. Guessing that this is what just comes naturally to him. And I bet he has a mom that is the same way, maybe even a couple of brothers and a few kids. All impacted by his goodness.  See? See how those ripples get wider and wider, encompass more and more people?

I work with a lot of people like this. My closest colleague, who works with alternative kids too, has, on more than one occasion said, “Are you okay?” when she felt, emanating from me that I-can’t-do-this-job-one-more minute vibe and prepared herself for a meltdown of monumental proportions. I find Dots in my mailbox on a regular basis. I have custodians that greet me like they mean it, who fix/move anything I need help with at the same speed Jimmie Johns  delivers. Fast. I work with an office staff that doesn’t frown when I deliver my attendance sheet a good two hours late. Appreciation on a regular basis from the school counselor. A science teacher who goes out of her way to say, “I am glad you are here and you do a great job” after an irate parent said, “What are you doing here?” in a meeting. A kid who says, “How’s your hip, Mrs. Dickinson?” prior to my surgery. Or the parents who went out of their way to find me after eighth grade graduation to thank me for what I have done for their student. And to hug me like they mean it. Not a side hug.  And yup, you guessed it, a phone photo op.

Going the extra 5,280 feet.  Isn’t this what everyone does? No, it’s not. Which begs the question, “Why not?” Have we become so focused on ourselves, so busy doing what we need to get done, faces in our i-phones, that it doesn’t even occur to us anymore? Are we busy checking our to-do list so that we miss those opportunities? When was the last time you sent someone a letter? In-the-mail kind of letter. Listened. Not give seventeen opinions, but just sat to hear what the other person came to tell you. Brought water to the Google Fiber installers when it’s 112 with the heat index. Been handed a nice note from a student and instead of a perfunctory glance and a half-hearted “nice” you gushed to the point of embarrassment if one of your colleagues was listening.  Handed the homeless guy a $5 gift certificate to McDonald’s. It just might be all he gets to eat that day. Have we become so blinded by our lives that we forget there are other lives in our very midst? Have we followed up? With a kid, any kid, who’s had a rough day. With an adult who’s close to tears.  With the man in the produce aisle who bonks his head on the cart, retrieving something he dropped.

One kind word can change someone’s entire day.  Make this your day to do that.

180 points.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/28/2015

We all put our pants on the same way

83950097It started with a photo envelope from Walgreens, thrust abashedly into my hands. The envelope was so well-worn it was fuzzy. I looked at this student of mine, a questioning expression on my face. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, likely because I would see the vulnerability there. I began to open the envelope —- in the hopes that he would give me the intro to what I was going to see.

Inside were about three pictures of Elijah’s Kindergarten graduation. Skinny little kid. Same cute face. A yellow cap and gown, standing there with his classmates. To me, eight years ago. To him, a lifetime ago. As I oooohed and ahhhed over the cuteness factor, he did the typical middle school hardly-able-to-contain-himself-with-my-outpouring-of-appreciation thing, while acting like he was oblivious to my opinion one way or the other for this once Kindergarten kid, now a good four inches taller than I.

I have the privilege of getting a glimpse into the lives of the kids I teach every day. Mine aren’t the kids who come to me well-scrubbed and eyes lit up with eagerness. What I see is nonsense, sadness, loss, brokenness. One, losing a year of his life locked up in the Juvenile Detention Center. One, who at the beginning of the year, cowered under the staircase during lunch, afraid to sit with the other kids for fear of being made fun of. Eight months later, he is swinging a trash bag full of recyclable metal cans that faculty, and my neighbors, bring to him. Happy.

Another boy, hardly the height of a third grader, who is in eighth grade, has found more than his fair share of mischief during his three years in middle school. Friday he came up to me and told me that he’s training to be a deacon at his church “The Church of Jesus Christ of Second Chances”. He is part of the “Men of Standard” group. The bike club. If another kid mouths off, he is the first to say, “Hey, dude. Stop disrespecting Mrs. Dickinson.” He’s half-launched.

I had a kid three years ago. A girl. Oozing attitude. Every single thing I did, she rolled her eyes at me. That would include clearing my throat, handing her a pencil, telling the kids to line up for lunch. We danced that dance for the better part of two years. And the last year of her stint in middle school, we developed a nice relationship. The eye-rolls faded and then went the way of all good eye rolls — to extinction. I used to joke with her and ask her to do her eye roll, and when she would, I would say, “That is pathetic. Your eye roll isn’t as good as it used to be, because you haven’t been practicing it!”

Then there’s the football/basketball star. Nice kid. But manages to find his share of trouble. Comes in my room every single day for a hug. Sidles up to me sideways and throws his arm over my shoulder. Polite. Handsome. As the kids say, he’s got it all going on. During his last year, he got sucker punched by another student. This kid was calling his mama everything that you can imagine, then got up in his face and said, “Ahhh…..too big a p**** to fight?” I made eye contact for a split second with the kid being assaulted and gently shook my head. With all I had, I wanted him to not take the challenge. And he didn’t. Miraculous. Middle school boys don’t take well to not fighting back. He did. And it was probably my proudest moment as a teacher.

I love what I do. This small, inner city school has the same students as the private school in the tonier sections of town. They all put their pants on the same way, have to be reminded to tie their shoelaces. They will help shape the classroom they learn in, the household they live in, who they marry, who they sire, what they do for a living, how they contribute or don’t to the community.  I know my kids, with all their socioeconomic deficits, can overcome their raising.  It’s what keeps me going back every day.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/22/2015

Turtles and whirlwinds

19139291This morning I got up and waved goodbye to Wood and Margaret. Sibling weekend at K-State. Since the Winter Weather Watch was predicting 8-12” of snow, Wood drove and hid out in a Starbuck’s catching up on work while the Dickinson sisters ate lunch and went bowling.

Home alone. The only footsteps? Mine.

In my imagination, the day was going to be spent reading, horizontally, Oreos for lunch and ice cream for dinner.

What I actually did with my day? Sorted through paperwork. Did higher math trying to figure out the Royal’s season tickets, split among five families, what they owed and trying to schedule a time for all to sit down and divvy up the games. Two loads of laundry. Paid four bills. Took a bunch of little scraps of paper that had dates/times on them and put them on the calendar. Got on facebook. Took out the trash. The recycling. Went to the grocery store. Cleaned up the kitchen. Emptied the dishwasher. Did a snow dance. Optimistic about a three day weekend…..teacher translation: a snow day. And an oil change.

I’m just not good at sitting still. My good friend, Cheryl who keeps my unruly locks shorn, laughs because I don’t even sit in the chair long enough to have my hair blown dry. Nope. Enough sitting for me. The microwave is too slow for me. The 65 mph speed limit is way too slow. And I have a number of tickets to prove that.

Maybe it’s the 8-kid thing. So many snap decisions — “Can I have a slumber party?” Can you drive me and my thirteen closest friends to the movies?” “I need 26 cupcakes tomorrow.” “Where’s my library book, other shoe, homework, diorama.”  Wood and I used to laugh that we could buy a car in the same amount of time it took other people to decide a medium or a small Coke in the McDonald’s line. Apoplectic if the woman ahead of me in the grocery line decides, when it comes time to pay, she has forgotten to get a 1 pound package of shaved ham, Gulden’s mustard and a carton of Breyer’s mint chocolate chip. In the classroom, being ready for anything, ready to change course when the kids aren’t tracking (that can be determined by how many are snoring) I need a  light-on-my-feet, let’s-go-a-different-direction mentality that doesn’t lend itself to “slow”. Seems like I have spent a good deal of my life toe tapping. Sort of sitting in neutral, humming.

Conversely, I have one kid who didn’t get any of the genetic markers for this syndrome. We used to laugh that she had one speed. S.L.O.W.  She was the last one finished at every single meal. She was the kid who got left in the hotel bathroom while the rest of us went to breakfast, only to be escorted to us by the hotel maid. Ooops. In fact, she had a pet turtle! Meghan is a senior this year, majoring in Social Work at K-State. For her and her chosen path, slow is good. Patient is good. Listening with a gentle ear is good. Not an impulsive bone in her body.  Perfectly suited to her chosen career.  She makes lists, checking them twice.  Rarely multi-tasks.  A happy kid.  Content with her pace.

Funny how we wind up right where we belong. How we can mesh who we are with what we do.

If we all were like me, we’d all be crashing into each other with hair standing on end, blood pressure close to four digits, shirt untucked, in track shoes.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/20/2015

This old house and an empty nest

36608150Our first year of empty nest.

No boomerangers —– yet.

I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve learned that a bowl of Cheerios makes a darn good dinner and that Wood Dickinson is darn good company. We’ve raised eight pretty good kids who stay in touch just to say hi, to see that we’re okay, not to say their checkbook is in the red. Well, mostly.

I’ve learned that I am gratified by the work I do as an Alternative Education teacher and couldn’t do this job with a houseful of kids. So I am grateful that I can come home from school, throw myself on the couch and watch a recorded Dr. Phil.

But something I wasn’t expecting was that the house felt so empty. And that thought led to, “Maybe this old house is too big for just the two of us…..” We tossed that around over the course of months……even going so far as to consider moving to a small town. Nowhere far. Just a stone’s throw away from the chaos of the city. We took an occasional glance at Realtor.com.

We called a realtor. Got a ballpark figure. Even drove around an area that we like across the state line, looking for that next house.

But boy oh boy, what neither one of us was expecting was cold feet. And I am talking frostbitten.

We both know why that happened. We stopped doing what we both do naturally. We used our brains, our reason and common sense instead of our hearts to do all that geographical consideration.

We bought the house we are in when our youngest was almost five. We were a fledgling family of six. We fell in love with the hardwood floors and the massive treed lot. It was all fine and good, but hard on the pocketbook. We replaced plumbing, those old lead pipes had to go. My kids thought it was normal to take a bath in orange-tinted water. Then two sump pumps installed after a disaster of monumental proportions. When that drain was installed, the jackhammer workers would come up from the basement covered in mud.   Several years later, we still hadn’t done one single thing to the house cosmetically that anyone could see. No wallpaper. No new lighting fixtures, no upgraded knobs on the kitchen cabinet doors. And who shows off a sump pump?

I am the poster child for nostalgia and sentimental stuff. And I am married to someone who is the same way. Which makes any decision like this ridiculous.

This house has so many memories —- Mary being so mad about being put in time-out on the fifth step that she spit on it and never, ever walked on that step again. It’s where Kathleen came home with her arm in a cast. Where everyone lost teeth. Eight mouths emptied out under this roof. It’s where hundreds of games of dress-up happened, sparkly shoes, costume jewelry, wigs, dresses, tutus and discarded beaded purses from Grandma.  Oh we did dress-up big at this house. Where Kenny asked Wood for Mary’s hand on our front porch. Where Andrew lost the door of his car backing out of the garage. Where the kids played on the swing set on hot summer days.

Where the kids, three of them, would stand on chairs at the kitchen sink and I would throw kitchen utensils and bubbles in the water and that would be good for two hours of play when I thought I was not going to survive one more February day cooped up in the house with no one taller than my knees! Where Andrew learned to ride his two-wheeler with his friend Joe. Where Elizabeth chipped her front tooth. Where Kathleen and Mary broke their collarbones. Where we have celebrated 28 Christmas’s. Cooked just as many Thanksgiving turkeys. Trick or treated the neighborhood. Where stomach flu and pink eye, and a plague of chicken pox were suffered through. It’s where two-year olds threw themselves on the floor in fits of rage and where teenagers slammed doors for the same reason.  Where teen cars have been handed down, with dents and scrapes. Where eight kids learned to drive, careening out of this driveway, Wood, white knuckled. Home to two cats, a snake, 2 gerbils who had 573 babies (Wood thought he was buying two males), a succession of hermit crabs and a turtle. Home to stuffed animals, Baby Owlie, Oatmeal, Marshmallow, Skippy, Abbie, Cricket, the Doctor and a Beaver. Where Matthew learned to mow….mowing around the hoses, bikes, whatever was in his way. Where Claire dreamed up that her middle name was “Annette”, telling everyone in her elementary school classroom that her grandfather had invented the “clarinet”. Where Meghan made the Varsity Volleyball team in her junior year and Margaret managed to “off” just about every hermit crab she ever had. So many birthday parties, small celebrations, individual kid-victories. 47 photo albums. Hundreds of games of Candy Land, lost mittens, lost library books.  Thousands of bedtime stories.  Four of the eight kids conceived here.  So many good conversations with kids, sitting at the bottom of our bed, solving a plethora of problems.

I used to say that I was coming out of this house feet first. Might be. Maybe the right house will surface. But I do know that we will lead this charge with our hearts. The heart isn’t impulsive and feels no need to hurry. Hurry to get the sign in the yard, hurry to find a new place to lay our heads. For now, we’re not ready to leave this old house. Because this old house isn’t just any old house.  And I am not too sure that these tangible memories are for sale anyway.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/16/2015

St. Patrick, Missouri — Population 24

39191554Today Wood and I went to the funeral of our son-in-law’s grandfather in St. Patrick, Missouri, in the northeast part of the state. This is one of those towns that if you blink you miss it. And if you miscalculate the timing of the blink, you would have missed something very special.

We’d never been to St. Patrick. It’s a four-hour drive from Kansas City. It is a small farming community. Corn everywhere. Farmland. Tractors. Flatbed trucks. Not straight off the dealership lot. These trucks are used, dusty, dirty, rusted. You would be hard pressed to find a shiny one. Amish horse and buggies driven by bearded men. Not a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell or a Quik Trip to mar the landscape. Ireland-green as far as you could see. Land of big skies. God’s country.

The eulogy was custom-made. This priest knew this man, knew the family, knew the cousins and who was married to whom. He told some wonderful stories about grandpa, touching on real examples of what this deceased man had meant to the community. No clichés. The real stuff. My son-in-law was one of the pallbearers. One last time he would do something for his grandpa. That final sacred act. I was so proud of how he stood tall, kept a stiff upper lip and became a little more of a man today. The graveyard was right out in back of the church. So we walked over and watched two Marines fold the flag from atop the casket and hand it, solemnly and on bended knee, to grandpa’s kids, thanking them for their father’s service. Beautiful. Such a poignant moment. One you want to remember in all its detail. Then silence. And then the sound of the bugle playing taps. “Day is done……God is nigh.”

Then back to the church basement for dinner. No Kentucky Fried Chicken tubs. No grocery store container of potato salad. No restaurant fare. What a spread. I have a feeling I ate some homegrown cucumbers and corn and green beans. No pop cans. Real iced tea. Desserts, completely covering one 30 foot table. Not a boxed anything in sight. Homemade pie, lemon coconut cake. And I guess what is so touching about all this is that this town had lost someone they held dear, mourning him and his life well-spent. And in the final analysis, breaking bread together to usher him out of this life and into the next. It was unity that I have never experienced. This town takes care of its own. It understands what it means to honor the deceased and comfort the bereaved.

My son-in-law and my daughter celebrated their second anniversary yesterday. We had a chance to visit with so many of the people that had been at the wedding. Such a nice welcome. We were treated as insiders. Imagine that. Us city slickers and they made room for us at the table. And what a privilege that was.

It does take a village. Now the village is down by one.

23.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/14/2015

Ear wax

33344354A kid in my classroom, who had not even a smidge of the I-want-to-get-my-work done mentality, raised his hand and asked to go to the nurse. He thought he had ear wax. No kidding.

Not happening.

This was a clear indication that the student needed time to roam the halls and if he was lucky, run into a friend and have a wet paper towel goofing-around session in the bathroom. Ten minutes later, he thought maybe he was developing bumps on his neck. Clearly, I am just a captivating teacher.

I’m used to these excuses to leave the classroom. Those are, but are not limited to, calling home from the office, getting something out of their locker, needing to use the bathroom, wanting a drink of water, talking to a teacher, unburdening on the school counselor, or feeling like they could throw up. (That one usually makes me at least pause for consideration!) But when I come to my senses, it leads to a trash can placement next to their desk.

If escaping the classroom doesn’t work, then we head into Plan B. Plan B is contained to the classroom.  That includes a headache that would require them to put their head on their desk and sleep until lunch, needing to sharpen their pencil, then having it break within four seconds of their return to their seat, and yup, up goes the hand for the second run at the pencil sharpener. Then there are the Eddie Haskell’s. “Do you need any help doing anything, Mrs. Dickinson?” Or a kid looking at a newly assigned worksheet, “I don’t know how to do this (having not even glanced at it, nor paid attention, nor read the directions). “I lost the notes for this worksheet. Can I go ask my teacher for them?” (This is actually a Plan A ploy, disguised as Plan B.) “He called me gay/stupid/m***** f*****” in a ridiculous attempt to bring drama to the class, as if there isn’t enough to go around —- ten times over.

None of these requests are made maliciously. None of these things would be considered grounds for police intervention. They are kids. Being kids. Learning how to negotiate their world. Seeing what they can get away with.  Middle schoolers pulling away. Making their own decisions. Even though they’re not sterling choices.

That’s what I love about our discipline system. It would consider all these behaviors as indication that these kids are missing a skill. That has to be taught – a work ethic, prioritizing, bringing supplies ready to work, enough of the distractions.  What makes this discipline system work so well is that it is not subjective. It is optimistic. It is non-judgmental. It doesn’t believe in bad kids. It’s about learning a skill not yet mastered, not about a kid one step closer to incarceration.

About halfway through the year, when any of the requests are made, I look up and with the barest hint of a smile don’t even have to say anything. The kids know they’re not going anywhere and  I am no rookie believing their fabricated medical emergencies, including ear wax.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 06/27/2015

Gratitude and a pair of shabby shoes

63310452My young friend at school came up to me yesterday, in his breathless, this-can’t-wait-one-more-minute excitement.

“GUESS WHAT?” Before I could even say anything, he continued, looking at me like it was incomprehensible to him that I couldn’t come up with the “what” fast enough.

“New…….shoes.” Emphasis on the “new” part. His declaration was cutely smug, self-satisfied, with the barest hint of a smile, anticipating from me a verbal explosion of compliments.

I didn’t disappoint. “Wow. I mean, those are terrific. You middle schoolers sure like your shoes. I love the lime green doo-dad on the sides.”

“Know where I got them? In a dumpster.” Pride was all over his face at his find. But to this young man, where he got these beauties made not one bit of difference. Shoe store, someone else’s discards? Didn’t matter. He continued, lifting his foot high enough that he could turn his foot so I could see the bottom of the shoe. “They’re sort of worn out on the bottom, but aren’t they cool?”

The shoe bottom was almost completely worn through, held together by this black spongy stuff, and was thin enough to be able to see through the shoe to the bottom of his foot.

Twelve years old. Inner city kid. Used to doing without. Already skilled in gratitude, in appreciation, being happy with what he’s got, his resourcefulness — making something out of well —- nothing.

This kid is my buddy. He struts around school swinging a black lawn and leaf size trash bag with empty aluminum pop cans inside. Teachers save cans for him. The kids are pretty impressed with his industry. He turns those cans in for cash for his family to help put food on the table.

We’ve walked this uncertain pilgrimage together, he and I. A sixth grader, reluctant, scared, now in middle school. Withdrawn, his anxiety getting in the way of him attempting to find a groove, a place to fit. In September, he would discretely get out of the lunch line and hide under the stairwell, cowering like a wounded animal, afraid of the noise, the potential of being bullied in the lunchroom. Then his gaze was a mixture of scared to death and lost. He needed someone in his corner, someone who he could depend on in this chaotic mix of sixth, seventh and eighth grade kids. A gentle kid. So very fragile.

He spent some time with me in my alternative classroom. He never was a discipline problem, he was with me more for the purposes of eliminating a lot of the distractions of the regular classroom so he could get his work caught up. But academics and curriculum aside, he needed a place to find where he fit. Where he could learn at his own pace, in his own time, in his own way, how he was going to manage and negotiate the next three years. A soft place to land. So we chipped away at the fear and steered him away from the behaviors that made him a bull’s eye for the bullies — his demeanor and body language.

When he went back to his regular classroom schedule, he would stop in and get a hug when he was close to my room. Our school social worker, who is intuitive, gentle and knows her stuff, arranged for him to be able to choose a friend and come to my room each with their lunch tray, and get 15 minutes of computer time, before returning to class. Before our eyes, his confidence soared. He didn’t stutter, in the figurative sense through his day. But head held high, new shoes and aluminum cans, in a bag, bouncing and clanging behind him.

You bet I believe in miracles.

Dedicated to CBB and TE

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 06/23/2015

A tire blow-out and believing again

88352539The last day of school.

A mixing bowl of emotions. Worry about the kids who are walking the razor’s edge, sadness for the relationships built and interrupted by a 9-week sabbatical, relief, because I am emotionally weary. Looking forward to a summer vacation in Block Island, Rhode Island, looking back on a learning curve that happens in May. Retrospect, hindsight, call it what you will. An important and critical step for all teachers to take their own inventory.

I got in my car to run to HyVee and get a six-pack, two cartons of onion dip and two bags of chips to take to an end-of-the-year party given by one of the faculty members. Zip into HyVee. Back to my car. I-35 South to 635 North. Thump, thump, car shuddering like the Incredible Hulk is using my car for a rattle. Ease off the gas thinking that may fix it. (I know, I know, I’m a ridiculous optimist) I’m in the middle lane, and I move over to the right hand lane and ease off onto the shoulder. Get out, fit to be tied. No flat tires on the driver’s side, and upon inspection, find the front passenger tire  shredded and halfway off the rim, the smell of burning rubber nauseating. Then the unthinkable. I have no cell phone. As my kids would say, “Your phone is always home on the charger.”  Standing on the side of the road, praying for a State Trooper or a KCKS policeman or not-a-thug to stop. Nothing. I am forty minutes into this so I do what any savvy woman would do — start walking toward the nearest exit. Easily a mile away. This little trek through grass halfway up my calves, beer bottles, trash, debris, bugs and a two-week old hip replacement just to complicate things.

About three-quarters of the way to the exit I realize that there is nothing at this exit that can be of any help. No gas station, no Quik Trip. Land and the occasional house.

Trek back to the car. Now what? And then……could it be? A white SUV pulls over. Two young women ask me if I am okay and if they can drive me anywhere. I tell them I am fine but I need a cell phone. I am thinking as I dial that some divorce attorney is going to make some big money this week if Mr. Dickinson doesn’t answer his phone. He does, and the SUV young women tell me that they are teachers in the Turner School District. Hug them both and wait for my husband and AAA.

It is the small things. And maybe, just maybe our lives are knitted together by a whole bunch of small things that really matter. To those young women, it was the simple loan of a cell phone. To me, it was a big-time rescue. To those young women, zooming along at 65 mph, I could just as easily have been in their rear-view mirror. To those young women, I could have been just one more broken-down car on the side of the road. But those young women stopped their day for me. I easily had three decades on them. There is so much in our country that we can hang our heads about. So much ugliness, division, political posturing that is in no one’s best interests.  We all watch the news.  And then this.

And for the price of a quick stop and a cell phone, it should make us all believe again.

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