24 March 2008

Remnants, Residue and Right

Today, I put my son on a train back to school, and Friday, I put my daughter on a train back to her home in New York. For a long time, I could never imagine my house without my kids. When my daughter went to college, I remember saying to my husband about our house minus one, "This is not the way it's supposed to be." We were a family of four, and one was someplace else. It just wasn't right.

When my son went to college last fall, I didn't expect it to feel better. And it didn't. We were a family of four, and now we were down to two. We were the incredible shrinking family, and while I realized that we all were going to be fine, that it was the necessary chain of events, that eventually, our family would grow again in wonderful ways, it still just wasn't right. And while I do not hover about my children or mourn their absence, and while I am thoroughly happy that they are able to develop their own lives away from their father and me, I do miss their presence in untold ways.

The reason that I'm considering this now, however, is because they've both been home for about two weeks, an unusual event caused by their father's recent heart surgery. Before this, time together for more than a weekend was rare and required the merging of four divergent school and work schedules.

However, after I put my son on the train today, I returned home to realize that even after they've left, my children always make their presence known.

From my daughter:
Two crumpled kleenexes on the bookcase.
A borrowed-from-Mom St. Rose hoodie, a University of Miami sweatshirt, a pair of shredded sweatpants and a yellow Factsheet Five t-shirt on a chair.
Amnesia Moon, by Jonathan Lethem, and A Long Desire, by Evan S. Connell, on the printer.
A green blanket cum dog lounging spot on the floor by the bed.
A borrowed-from-Mom black sweater astride the other bookcase.
A toolbox holding jewelry-making supplies on the livingroom coffee table.

From my son:
A futon left opened (which, unfortunately, no one here at home is capable of or has knowledge of how to close).
Various and sundry bedding material including a crumpled pillow, comforter, Grammommy-knit afghan and pillows from the loveseat in the livingroom.
An empy Wii game box (game to be found at SUNY Purchase).
A Game Cube.
The 4th, 5th and 8th seasons of The Simpsons on DVD.
The Special Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings Return of the King.
Ocean's Twelve.
No Country for Old Men.
An A & F bag holding a size 13 Van's Bucky Lasek Navy/STV Navy shoe box.

It does not bother me to clean up these bits and pieces of my children's presence. In fact, I almost enjoy finding their residue, their remnants. Somehow, it tells me that this is still home, that they know it's okay to pack hurriedly the hour before they must make their train, to leave the unnecessary bits out on a chair or a bookcase or a radiator, for me to pick up later. It's fine. And somehow, while I'm happy to know that they are happy to go back to their lives away from here, I'm happy to slowly pick up their bits and pieces knowing that this is the way it's supposed to be, that it feels right.

21 March 2008

Toddlers, cockers and pills

Being home for a few weeks has given me a new set of "dreams in which I realize my shortcomings." Instead of students staging coups, this new dream involves the pills Geof takes after his heart surgery. These dream are much quieter than those involving students and revolt. In the medicine dreams, I simply forget to provide the proper medicine. Or I give too much. Or I lose the medicine. In this morning's dream (not coincidentally after I dispensed the first medicine of the day and went back to sleep), I not only forgot to provide medicine, but I also lost it and even worse, discovered a whole new set of medicine I'd forgotten about and had failed to dispense. As this horrible realization washes over me, I notice that the car I have been driving has turned to a motorcycle in the pouring rain. Not a good thing, since I have no idea how to drive a motorcycle. Plus I'm getting soaked.

At this point, the pill theme disappears, and as I open a door to an attic in a house that isn't mine, three toddlers and two cocker spaniels escape. Somehow, I am able to round them up and stuff them back through the door and close it before their parents/owners appear. At this point I'm awakened by the repetitive vibration of Geof's cell phone on a table, and our nurse-friend, Prestine, is calling him to find out how he is feeling.

As in the student insurrection dreams, I am appalled by my lack of competence. This time, however, there is no public reprimand. Why I'm dreaming about dispensing medicine is clear enough; I'm doing this several times a day, and last night, I gave the 8:00 pills at 8:28. Why? Because I just forgot. Not a big deal, but apparently bothersome enough to appear in a dream.

The toddlers and cocker spaniels in the attic? I'll have to think about them for a while.

19 March 2008

408 hours (not counting weekends)

By the end of this month, I will have missed 17 days of school, the most consecutive days ever (by far) in 20 years of teaching.

7 days more than I took for the birth of my son.

17 days for my husband grudgingly to allow me to help him after heart surgery.

17 days to get caught up on work.

17 days to do the laundry whenever I want.

17 days to miss at least 5 deadly after-school meetings.

17 days my alarm will not ring at 6:00 a.m. but at 8:00, according to the pill schedule.

17 days to appreciate the sort of freedom my retired friends enjoy.

17 days . . .

to receive emails from students: "hey huth we should watch the movie only Farshid and me and Liz are reading the book"

and "Hey mrs huth how is your husband clas is not as fun with out you. Hope yout husband gets sonn take care."

17 days to get calls from my sub, quiet desperation in his voice, asking me to please send in work that my students would want to complete.

17 days . . .

to realize that my home can be anywhere.

to know that my house is one of my favorite places despite its leaky and cracked spots.

to find that nesting instinct returning from so long ago as I try to make my son's room comfortable for my husband and me, as my daughter and I try to find a chair that will allow him to sleep comfortably (and is not too ugly).

to appreciate a house full of my family after months of quiet.

to realize that I can love my job, and leave it. And that when the time comes to leave it for good, that will be fine with me.

to enjoy being taken care of.

to understand the huge difference 17 days can make.

03 March 2008

A very short play about my better qualities, I guess

Scene: My classroom.
I've asked one of my 12th grade classes to tell me about other movies they've seen that fit our discussion theme of the problems characters have fitting into their society.

Christina: Juno has a character who doesn't fit into her world very well. She had a hard time dealing with everybody around her because she did everything differently.

Me: Good point. Can you explain what she did that people disagreed with?

Tom (urgently): Miss Huth, that girl, Juno, reminds me of you.

Me: Tom, you're interrupting Christina now . . .

Christina: That's okay. I can't wait to hear this!

Me: (pause, head tilting, eyes squinting, botox-needing furrow deepening): She reminds you of me because I'm a 16-year-old pregnant girl?

Tom (laughing bemusedly): No. She talks like you.

Me: Hmmmm . . . really? Please do explain.

Tom: She's got a quiet, low voice. And she says interesting things, but not in a simple way. Her vocabulary is way up there.

Josh: Exactly! Like when you turned around what Mike said before, and suddenly we all knew you were right. We just had to accept what you said because we couldn't argue with it. It made too much sense.

Justin: You also remind me of that character in Blades of Glory . . .

(Bell rings.)

01 March 2008

Grizzly Children of Men in America

All students assume that a teacher who shows a movie in class needs to have a break. In this case, students will respond predictably by ignoring the movie (that is, by sleeping or texting through it). Teachers who are wont to use movies as breaks from dealing with class expect this since their relaxation is the primary reason for the movie. They will show any movie they happen to have handy from The Lion King to Fried Green Tomatoes. This is especially common just before a vacation.

I will admit that I have spent the last three weeks showing three movies to my seniors. While I did not need a break from dealing with them as human beings, I did need a break from dealing with them as readers. For some reason, these seniors are some of the most reluctant readers I've dealt with in my 20 year career. So far this year we have painfully managed to complete Hamlet and Things Fall Apart (in addition to a research project in between). Aside from their seemingly random, too-rare flashes of interest, I come away from spending days, weeks dragging students through books frustrated, tired and depressed. Worse yet, I find it hard to remember why I liked the book so much in the first place. Therefore, I created a small film unit of three significant movies: Grizzly Man, Children of Men and In America. Each reinforces and elaborates on a very loose theme we've been following about how humans deal with their society.

When I began the unit, I had no real idea of how the kids would react to the movies. By nature a realist (pessimist??) I predicted they would tolerate the movies but not really like any of them. I thought they would find Grizzly Man too strange and slightly boring (it is a documentary, after all). I thought they would find Children of Men too difficult. I thought they would find In America too quiet and PG-13. Little did I know.

No book, no field trip, no classroom experience has achieved such consensus, and I have no idea why. While students had a favorite movie of the three, all students told me they liked each movie. No exceptions. They all liked each movie.

Even stranger to me is their response during certain parts of the movies. Some, I predicted. I knew, for instance, that In Grizzly Man, they would love the part where Timothy Treadwell, in his strangely high voice, curses the hat-stealing fox. That and where he curses out the National Park Service.

In Children of Men, I predicted they would enjoy the violence, as in the scene in the car towards the beginning. And they did. But the universal cries of despair at the seemingly unclear ending were a surprise.

I had no predictions for In America, however, except that I didn't think they'd like it. First, it's PG-13 whereas the other two are rated R. Second, it's a quiet movie, the most touching, two qualities my occasionally raucous 12th-graders usually seem to lack. Nevertheless, it was deemed the favorite movie of the three.

At various points during the movie, I could hear my otherwise tough, old-beyond-their-years students sniff and stifle their crying. Some actually went for the tissue box on my desk. They gasped in disbelief when the two little girls continued to pound on Mateo's door during their first Halloween experience. Most interesting to me, however, was the universal reaction during the arcade scene when Johnny bets the rent money in order to win an ET doll for his daughter. As if it were the most graphic, blood-spattered scene in a teen slasher movie, they sat, hands over their eyes, unable to watch the horror unfold. The whispers resonated in the room: "Oh, no, he's not going to do that!" "Stop! Just stop now!" "She don't care if you win the doll!" "Dang! No, no!"

They even appreciatively watched the bonus feature describing the making of the movie.

So where did this experience leave me? It left me dreading having to teach more books. It left me wondering why books can't elicit the same appreciation, the same satisfying feeling of an experience shared.

Nevertheless, reality kicked in yesterday during class discussions of the three movies, a debriefing of the experience, in preparation for writing about them. Despite my initial perception that all students liked all movies, the reality was that probably half of any class saw all of all three movies. But they liked the bits and pieces they saw, for sure. So it was sad, but no surprise, when I found myself overhearing small group discussions that attempted to fill in the lousy attendance gaps: "So, the guy in Children of Men, Timothy, right? He lived in New York City. He was in the junkie apartment and his son died. The woman in the boat named her baby after his son."