Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

She was only 5 years old when I found a local woman who taught children's singing lessons. After only a few short months, when the annual church fair came around, the teacher got time on the stage for her students to perform.

And so, one Saturday night, my adorable little curly haired miracle donned her pink pleather skirt and vest and her pink cowboy boots and took the stage to sing, "Behind the Hazel Eyes." She knocked it out of the park, too, without an ounce of fear or nerves.

Did I mention she was FIVE?

It was a momentous occasion for this proud mom, who stood in the back of the Saturday night crowd, crying her eyes out while holding up a primitive cell phone so my mom to listen while she was driving home from work. She cried so hard she pulled over to the side of the road.

It was that memory which came back and stabbed me in the heart last night as that little girl, now a stunningly beautiful young woman of 17, joined some 30 of her fellow Destrehan High School Choir members on the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

The choir, which was proved to be a perennial powerhouse when it comes to annual state competitions, was invited to participate in the annual National Fall Sing in New York City, a commemorative event as part of the Remembrance of 9/11. Destrehan and five other choirs were invited to form a super Honor Choir, which would perform on stage at the storied hall. Pentagon survivor Sgt. Major Tony Rose and South Tower survivor Stanley Praimnath were the guest speakers.

After months of practice at their home schools, the entire ensemble came together Sunday afternoon at the Pearl Studio in New York City for the first time. And, under the direction of a dynamite conductor, Julie Yu, they made magic.

Monday night these amazing youngsters from across the country stood on the Perelman Stage in the Stern Auditorium and became a part of its history.

And, once again, I was the mom in the back, crying her eyes out, holding a cell phone and trying to sneak pictures.

Lora Leigh, age 5, before her stage singing debut. 
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Age 17, before her performance with the Honor Choir at Carnegie Hall. 







Monday, September 3, 2018

The family business

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A typical teacher in the 1960s, when I started school. She doesn't look hungover at all!

When I look back on my years as an elementary student, I realize I had the most fabulous school teachers in the world.

Every day they would show up to Lisa Park Elementary School right on time.

Not only that, every day they were perfectly coifed with their 1960s beehive hairdos that must have taken hours to fix. Their makeup was always on point. And they were always -- I mean always perfectly dressed in not-too-mini skirts with panty hose that never ran and heels to boot! No yoga pants for them!

Us kids would see them stroll in from the parking lot with a purse on one shoulder and a stack of papers in the other. They didn't have these new fangled wheelie crates and briefcases. No sir.

And they made it all look so easy.

But now, I wonder.......

Did they ever throw on yesterday's pantyhose and sniff the pits of that dress because they didn't have the time to do the laundry?

I wonder if they ever came in wearing last night's makeup because their seventh and eighth grade students were driving them to drink and they spent too many hours at Curley's Bar.

That morning, did they peal out of their driveway trying to beat the clock because they were so exhausted they could barely drag themselves out of bed?

Did they ever just say, "Ah hell no. I'm calling for a sub!" and roll over and go back to sleep.

I'm thinking the answers to all of those questions is, "Hell yeah."

You see, for the past month I've gotten a good, up-close-and-personal look at the teaching profession.

Because I became one.

Through a rather hurried but fortunate (for me) series of events, I went from unemployed freelance sports writer and substitute teacher to full time ELA teacher in just a matter of days, with a classroom to clean, organize and decorate, a curriculum to learn and a copy machine to figure out.

Then came the students -- a bunch of pre-pubescent (and some post) teens with raging hormones, brains that aren't fully functioning yet and a clear lack of self-discipline. I'm still grappling with learning all of their names.

Whatever I call them, I have spent the last month of my life trying very hard to get -- and to keep -- their attention as I try to teach them grammar, punctuation, how to determine the theme of a story and how to write a thesis.

I also had to teach them how to put up with my stunning wit and wisdom. And sarcasm. I like corny jokes. So sue me.

Not surprisingly, it only took me about a week and a half to develop a complete case of laryngitis. I mean nothing came out.

Then there were the lesson plans and handouts and more handouts and more lesson plans and curriculum maps and SLTs and PBIS points and grading and rubrics. I never knew teachers killed so many trees.

And I did all of this while my beloved husband  was off on the trip of a lifetime, taking his American Legion baseball team to the World Series in Shelby, N.C. I mean, they won the Mid-South Regional on a Sunday afternoon and on Monday morning he was on a bus. And he was gone for eight days! So I had to do all of this without him.

I say I joined the family business because he is a teacher. So is his son. So is his son's wife. So is  my husband's ex wife (and she so graciously came to help me clean, organize and decorate my classroom!). My niece is a teacher. Several cousins are teachers. And so are many, many, many of my friends. I have the utmost respect for teachers; always have.

And now I have even more.

This is hard.

No one warned me about how physical a job this is. I walked 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day, just in my classroom. I seriously don't know how my teachers did this in dresses and heels every day. And panty hose? I have very comfortable trousers and very comfortable shoes. On Fridays, we wear jeans and t-shirts.

I carried all my stuff in and out for a couple of days. Then I dug out my mom's crate with wheels that she used to use to bring her groceries in. I laughed at her. Now I'm thinking this is the greatest invention since the hair straightener.

I thought I was clever until I became a teacher. Now I'm just thankful I know how to Google and I have an active Pinterest account. I'm also glad I'm pretty good at thinking on my feet. I've had to do that quite a few times when things didn't go the way they were supposed to.




And I'm thankful that I have so much support. My fellow teachers have been so there for me, showing me the ropes, explaining the hows and the whys, the whens and the wheres. A lot of people believe in me. Not all, but most.

Some roll their eyes when I tell them I'm teaching seventh and eighth graders. Some outwardly cringe and say, "No way!" I get that. I do. I said it too a month ago. But after a while, they start to grow on you.

I figure, if I can handle a bunch of prima donna coaches, I can handle a bunch of middle schoolers.

Right?

Basically I've learned that teaching is just saying the same thing 25 different ways.

It's regulating teenage bladders. And mouths. And hands, And brains.

It's teaching teenagers how and when to use a pencil sharpener. And a Sharpie. And a highlighter.

It's teaching them when not to chew gum, when not to interrupt others and when not to shout out the first thing that pops into their heads.

It's realizing that, no matter how you say it, no matter how many times you say it, no matter when, where or what color you write it on the board, they're still going to forget when the test is.

And you have to give it to them anyway.











Thursday, May 24, 2018

School is cool


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I used to love to play school when I was a little girl.

My grandparents, who lived in the house next to our little trailer home, had a black chalk board in their little red kitchen and just about every afternoon I would come home and pretend to be whatever teacher I had -- Mrs. LeBoeuf, Mrs. Dupont, Mrs. Pellegrin, Mrs. Smart.

Not Miss Theriot. She was a mean ex-nun and the toughest teacher I ever had (probably the best, truth be told, but it took me years to admit that.)

Grannie and Grandpa were my favorite students, of course. They were smart, polite and never talked back and, like any indulgent grandparents, they did their lessons and took their little tests with no complaint.

But I didn't grow up really wanting to be a teacher. My dreams were to be a writer, a journalist, a documentary film maker and, for a brief moment, a concert pianist.(Grannie and Grampa had a piano too.)

It wasn't until I was a few years into my lenghthy stay at  Loyola University when I entertained the idea of teaching. I loved the the idea of my own book-covered office with my degrees on the wall and standing before a group of attentive young adult extolling on the virtues English literature and grammar. So, I changed my major from Communications to English and enrolled in the Secondary Education program.

Fate took me on another path, however, when shortly before my finished my seventh year at Loyola (don't ask), I was hired by The Times-Picayune newspaper and embarked on a 26-year career in sports writing.

I did marry a teacher, though, whose ex wife was a teacher. My best friend was a teacher (who quit to become a lawyer). My niece became a teacher, as did several cousins. Then I helped raise a stepson who became a teacher and married another --  the daughter of a teacher. Add to that all those coaches I've interviewed and befriended over the years.

Then I got laid off.

With newspapers not hiring so much these days and my with my resume woefully short of marketable skills other than writing (and pool floating), I decided to join the family business.

Since February, I have been working steadily as a substitute teacher in our local school district -- mostly at the same school where my husband currently teaches and my daughter is currently a junior. It's also one of the schools I routinely cover as a freelance sports writer. (No. Not awkward at all.)

I did not sub for any of my daughter's classes at her request. I did see many of her friends I've known since she was in kindergarten.

And, let me just say, it was a learning experience!

I learned a whole lot about teachers and children and teenagers over the past few months, and a little bit about my husband -- mostly that he is never where you think he will be when you need him. Also, that he skipped the lessons about cute bulletin boards and classroom decorations. "It is what it is" is on a poster on his wall. And it is.

Oh he's not the only one. Some teachers have desks piled with papers (where they like to hide the sub lesson plans) and others have different cups for different types of pens and leave you a color coded binder. Some teachers are very, very clever, from their bulletin boards to their classroom decorations to their lessons.

You can tell more about a teacher by how their students react when they see the sub. Some are thrilled -- "Yay! We have a sub today!"

Others, not so much. "Great. We have a sub. That means we won't be doing anything today," was an actual response. Sorry to disappoint you, kid.

You also can tell a lot about a teacher by how their kids behave for the sub. While one or two actually sit down and do their work without a single word, some classes just turn into a zoo. And in that zoo, you will see:


  • The Wander: The guy or gal who simply cannot say in their own desk and likes to go visit his friends throughout the class.
  • The Preener: The girl who spends the whole class period brushing and styling her hair. I had one girl put on a full face of makeup.
  • The Clown: You know him. He thinks he's there to entertain everyone.
  • The King: The guy all the other kids will listen to. If he tells them to sit down and be quiet, they will. Often the football team's quarterback. Sometimes, also the clown.
  • The Gamer: He's sitting in the back playing Fortnite and seriously thinks you don't know it.
  • The Loner: He's sitting in the back all by himself. He's quiet, but not doing his work.
  • The Drama Queen: There's always one who is having some kind of problem and needs all of her friends to help her solve it.
  • The Eater: Comes to class with a whole bag of chips. Crunchy ones.
  • The Sleeper: Rather self-explanatory.
  • The Honor Student: While all this other stuff is going on, there's usually one or two kids off to the side who are diligently doing their work -- or trying to.
These are the high school kids. I only ventured into elementary and middle school a few times -- too scary -- where I learned that fourth graders will tell you everything you need to know and watch out if you try to change anything. The have a routine, they know it and they expect you to stick to it.


You learn a lot of things, like, high school kids are really smart. A lot of them are planning for their futures and know exactly how to go about it. I listened one day as a group of young men critiqued their teachers for their own lack of skills and discussed whether college or technical college would be better for their futures and - - complete with salary scales. Then they discussed whether it was better to go into the Army or Navy.

Actual quote: "If you want to build things, go Army. If you want to be an engineer, go Navy."

There were other life lessons.

I learned that teenagers have tiny little bladders that need emptying frequently.

I learned that kids are very sleepy and need naps during the day.

I learned that it's really hard to kill 90 minutes but a 30 minute lunch break speeds by.

I learned that it really sucks to watch three-fourths of a movie three times in a day because then you have to rent it that night to see how it ends.

I learned why my daughter leaves the house every day dressed for winter even when it's 95 degrees outside. Schools are freezing. Someone told it me "it keeps them awake and still." I don't know about that.

I learned why schools are so against kids having cell phones in the schools. As a parent, I do want my child to be able to call me if she needs me, especially in these trying times. But as a teacher, cell phones are evil. No matter what you try or how many times you try, you can't keep them off of them.

I learned just how special the special ed kids are. I spent one whole day as a para to a young man who is non-verbal. We worked on skills, we went to lunch and we spent a glorious spring afternoon watching his schoolmates play cabbage ball. I asked him several times if he wanted to go inside, but he shook his head every time. He loved it. And it broke my heart to know that when he goes home, his mom can't ask him "What did you do today?" because he can't tell her.

And yes, I learned that it's very, very scary to be a teacher. You do look around the room to scope out places to duck, to hide, to be safe. You realize that schools are built for efficiency and storage, not for security. That, despite best efforts, schools are very easy to get to and into. I've been doing it for decades as a sports writer. No one ever stopped me.

I learned that there is nothing in the world more terrifying than an active shooter drill, when you're cowered in the corner of a locked classroom and someone rattles the door -- except knowing that, somewhere in that same building, your child is experiencing the exact same thing.

And I did learn that, despite all of the above, there is a desire in me to teach. My favorite day was my first, when the class was assigned to read a section of "Beowulf" (my favorite!) and answer questions. Most of the classes preferred to read silently, on their own. But one said it was boring and why didn't I read it to them. I did. I loved it, they listened and they GOT it! Go me!

I would love to teach "Beowulf" or "The Great Gatsby" or, better still, the merits of good journalism, even to The Wanderer, The Preener, Kings and Drama Queens.

Somebody's got to.











































Sunday, April 8, 2018

Wheels

As she lived out the last decade of her life in our little town of Norco, my Mama was known for a few things:
      Her curly white hair
      Her huge silver poodle
      Her entirely black wardrobe
      And her white PT Cruiser.

My mama loved them all, but she really loved her car, which she thought was just the cutest thing ever.

Every day, she would get in her PT Cruiser and drive to the French Quarter of New Orleans, where she worked as a Tarot card reader at The Bottom of the Cup Tea Room on Chartres Street. Every day she would park it at one of the many pay-to-park lots closest to the shop. They knew she was coming, too, and would save her a spot. As she got older and a little slower, they would even drive her around the corner to work then go park her car for her.

Those guys loved her and took pretty good care of her (although they never gave her a discount). After she got sick and missed work for a few months they even called to find out if she was OK.

Sometimes, after work, she would head over to Harrah's Casino. The car parkers there saw her coming too and gave her special treatment.

"They love me," she'd say.

Anyone who knew Mama in Norco came to recognize her little car. My dogs even knew it and the distinctive horn.

Although there are others in our area, hers was the only one with a whole bunch of crap on the dashboard -- a big box of Kleenex, a huge magnifying rear view mirror and a desk organizer, where she kept her gum and pencils and a whole bunch of other stuff. My husband used to ask her how she could see to drive. She said, "I can't see anyway."

That's comforting.

Nobody ever wanted to drive her car anyway. It had a distinctive odor, like, perfume, mint, old lady and dog.

When Mama got sick, the doctors told her she couldn't drive anymore -- a "death sentence" she could not comprehend and never did accept. She couldn't remember how to work her iPhone anymore, but she insisted she still could drive. Every doctor told her the same thing and she called each one of them stupid.

So when Mama moved in with us, her car came with her and was parked in the driveway. The Coach spent some time and money fixing it up and keeping it running because, she had agreed that, someday, after she was gone, the car would go to Lora.

But, as Lora worked on her permit hours, the car sat in the driveway. She never seemed in much of a hurry to get her permanent license. Not like me, who made Mama take me to the Driver's License Office on my 15th birthday.

Lora did start cleaning it out, though. And I can't even tell you the stuff we threw away -- empty gum packs, various tools, gadgets and organizers she never really used, and seat covers that were covered with white hair and food crumbs.

Sometimes Lora and her friends would go sit in it and listen to music. Occasionally she backed it up in the driveway. Lately the Coach had been letting her drive him to school in it.

Well, this week she became official. While I was off covering an event in the city, The Coach and The Kid went down to the DVM and got her a real license. She took off soon after, never looking back.

 I just hope my Mama is riding shotgun, keeping her safe.






Wednesday, February 21, 2018

That little blue house

I spotted it in a newspaper ad -- back when there were such things and I read every single one of them.

A truckload sale was going to Baton Rouge. On it was a picture of this little blue playhouse. For $100. I wanted it. My daughter, Lora Leigh, needed it. No, she HAD to have it.

So I sent my sister and brother-in-law, who live in Baton Rouge, to get it. They did it because they love me and they even waited four hours to get it.

Then the Coach's BFF came over and put it together (because we don't allow the coach to use power tools). And it was just precious, with a tiny little porch, a dutch door and little windows. We found a second-hand play kitchen that fit perfectly, a table and chairs, and I outfitted some planter boxes with silk wisteria. We dubbed it 35 1/2 and tried not to let her see it until her birthday.

Of course that didn't work. One day we were in the upstairs bathroom and she happened to look out the window.

"Hey! Can I go see what's in that little blue house down there?

I distracted her.

But on her birthday, after cake and all the other presents were opened, we led her outside and pulled off the tarp that was supposed to be hiding it. She was ecstatic.





She went in right away with her little friend Carolyn and had a tea party.


It was just as I hoped.

She got a lot of use out of that little blue house, playing in it, hiding in it with her friends. We hung Christmas lights on it and planted a garden around it. It was a favorite play area in our back yard, even after we built the pool. It even survived a couple of hurricanes and, like so many New Orleans area homes, got a temporary blue tarp roof after Hurricane Katrina.

But little girls grow up. It wasn't long before she was too tall to duck anymore. Wasps still liked it, though, and some mysterious critters or two.

Last summer we realized it was on its last legs. The floor was rotten. The roof leaked. All we used it for was pool noodles.

So yesterday I asked the crew that was cleaning out Mother Nature's winter wrath to knock it down. It took them only two good pushes. Now it's on the side of the road, waiting for the trash men to pick it up.

Lora wasn't there to see it go down, but I was. And it tugged at my heart a little. Her childhood is over. She's a 17-year old near-adult. Soon she'll be off to college, then to her own real little house somewhere that's not here in my backyard.

Last night when I told her it was gone she stopped for a moment, looked at me and said, "It needed to go."

Yeah. But I didn't want it to.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Seventeen

I've filled my house with pink balloons and princesses, turned a spare room into an American Idol stage, hung icicle lights from my dining room ceiling to make it look like The Great Hall and turned an old refrigerator box into a Tardis.

And nearly killed myself in the process.

I'd do anything to make my baby girl happy, you know. And for a party.

Then she turned 17.

There were no balloons, no hats, no screaming girls. Hell, there wasn't even a cake.

Instead, we had cupcakes snagged from a fancy bakery in Kenner so she could at least light a candle for her poor mom's memory stash.

And she drove.

Later there was just a low-key trip to the local pizza place with mom and dad, one of her best friends, her Godmother and God Uncle (I just made that up). We had pizza and presents and we sang to her. She was appropriately embarrassed.

My how the years have flown. My little baby girl, who once wore nothing but pink, who sang silly songs from her car seat and made us sit through endless viewings of The Wizard of Oz and Pocahontas and who taught us who Kim Possible was, is a 17-year-old young woman who binge watched American Horror Story (without me) and can sing in Korean.

She is a smart, sophisticated, gorgeous, witty, talented young lady who cooks her own food, does her own laundry and forms her own opinions. She can sing in Korean because she's a  little obsessed with Korean boy bands at the moment.

Still, she's an honor student who is in the choir, has an after-school job at a local grocery and, just recently was inducted into the National English Honor Society. In October her choir is going to New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall. You don't think I'd miss that, do you?

There are some things that don't change, though. She's still a bit of a slob, refuses to pick her socks up off the floor and doesn't always do the dishes like she's supposed to.

She also is a little obsessed with makeup and such and has become a product horder, with everything out where she can see it. No, I don't fuss her about it because she has to share a bathroom counter with her dad, not me.

But watch. She's going to be one of those girls who keeps her car spotless. You know.

She's also going to be one of those girls who moves out and never looks back. Just like I did. .

I know.

When my  mom moved in with us back in August, it was the first time we had lived together since I was 17. I couldn't wait to leave. Now I know how I broke my mother's heart.

My job is nearly done.

When she is ready, she will fly away too, to make her way in the world without me. She's not going to call. Probably won't answer my texts and will block me on Snapchat. Maybe she'll come home for Christmas. Or to do her laundry.

When she is ready -- not when I am ready.

I'm not ready.
Driving her mama on her 17th birthday.














Monday, January 15, 2018

Remnants






"Life sucks, then you die...
      Then someone comes and takes all your stuff."

It's an old joke, I know. Maybe it's not funny, but it is true.

My mom left this earth a little more than a month ago. She lived 84 years, the last 11 or so in a cute little house around the corner from me. For about 10 1/2 of those years, she bitched every day about needing to sell that house, needing to get out of that house, needing to get rid of all her stuff.

Then, one day in May, she did. Put a For Sale sign right in the front yard. She had an offer the next day. She sold it to somebody else a few days later. The buyers, acquaintances of ours, told her to take her time moving and cleaning it out.

It took a while.

From May to August, Mom spent hours sorting through the remnants of her life, trying to decide what to keep, what to toss, what to sell, what to give away. She tried to give lots of it away, too.

She managed to downsize enough that she was able to move into a nice little one bedroom apartment in May. But she wasn't there very long. It quickly became obvious to our family that mom wasn't going to be able to live alone. Her brain wasn't as sharp as it used to be.

Then she got sick.

So in August, she came to live with me, in a pretty small bedroom. I told her to bring whatever she wanted; the rest we put in storage.

After she was gone, I left it all alone until our family get-together, when I basically told everyone to take what they wanted. Then, I finally worked up the courage to start going through the leftovers, the remaining remnants of my mother's life.

You think you know someone until you have to empty their junk drawers.

Scotch tape. Rolls and rolls of it. Some of them empty.

Pens.

Scissors. I now have a German beer stein (hers) full of scissors. (I had, maybe, three pairs of scissors before and never could find them when I needed them.)

Her gall stone.

A letter I wrote to her for Mother's Day, thanking her for everything she had ever done for me.

The eulogy I wrote for my brother's funeral, along with his accident report.

My wedding and engagement announcements.

Her divorce papers. All three of them.

A check for $25 my grandmother wrote to her in 1979. Uncashed.

Her elementary school autograph book, filled with those cute little poems we all used to know. It's all written in pencil, though, so it's hard to read a lot of it.

A wonderful scrapbook of photos and clippings about former LSU football player Jim Shoaf. She and he were "friends" back in the day. I'd love to get this book to his family if anyone knows how to get in touch with them.

A few of my sister's report cards.

Lots of costume jewelry.

Lots of black clothing.

And, I think, every check register she ever kept.

I sorted through it all, keeping some, tossing  --- a lot. I could hear her in my head saying, "Don't throw that away! I might need it!"  I now have a "Mama box," filled with her keepsakes. It's next to the two boxes that contain my own. And Lora's. And Marty's.

I guess someday, someone will have to come go through my stuff, which will now include so my of my mom's and others.

I'm guessing they will be very confused.

They probably will wonder why I have six portraits of me. No, I'm not that vain. My mother was a painter and had me pose for her often. And her art classes. She also studied with the artist Henry Hensche and paid handsomely for him to do a "study" of me. But she was totally pissed that the one that I hung over my piano wasn't the one by her or him.

They probably will wonder why I have all of my grandmother's genealogy notes. Well, that's because, when she died, mom gave it all to me to go through..... Yeah. I still have lots of it.

They might wonder why I have my great grandmother's pie safe, my other great-grandmother's boudoir chair and settee, my grandmother's wicker screen and my mother-in-law's dresser. They won't know where the four-poster bed came from.....

They probably will find a few surprises somewhere. But no gall stones.

However, they now know why I have so many pairs of scissors.