Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Prom-ah Mahna

As if February in Iowa wasn't already miserable enough with its agonizingly endless stretch of cold, blustery days, a new form of torture has emerged sealing Feb's fate as my least fave:

The Promposal.

In case you've been living under a rock (or don't know any high school students), it is no longer enough just to ask someone to go to prom with you. These days you have to make a grand, over-the-top, extremely public statement – the grander, the more over-the-top, the public-er, the better.

I don't know why I dislike promposals so much. I do so loves me a bad pun, and the vast majority of promposals involve bad word play – “Don't be 'chicken,' 'shake' your booty with me at prom,” accompanied by a chicken sandwich and milkshake, for example. I have to admit I kinda liked that one, proving once again that the way to my heart is through my stomach and bad jokes.

But after hearing about it from Every. Single. One. of my students it lost some of its appeal. (Note to self: Never, ever tell students my pet peeves again.)

No, no, nononono. NO! No more promposal talk in my room!” I growled.

“But Mrs. Saaaal-ahhh-miiink, how did you ask someone to prom when you were in school?” my students asked, all innocence and guile, sensing a way to postpone the day's lesson.

“We would have walked up to someone in the hallway and said 'Hey, you wanna go to prom?' End of story.” 

At least that's how I think it went down.

I wouldn't know.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

I did get asked to prom by a junior boy when I was a freshman, although I don't actually remember him asking me. I think it happened a little more like this:

Boy's Mom (to my Mom): “I have determined that my son, who is extremely shy, needs a date for prom. Your daughter, who is also extremely shy, is tolerably good looking and does not have a police record that I know of. They should go together.”

My Mom: “Your son seems to be well behaved, reasonably attractive and is significantly taller than my daughter. I think this is a good idea.”

My Mom (to Me): “You are going to the prom with Boy. You can wear heels.”

As far as I know no livestock were exchanged, although I did get a nifty wrist corsage.

Boy and I did go to prom and we had as good a time as two casual acquaintances can have while sitting in a crepe paper streamer festooned high school gym listening to extremely loud music played by an extremely bad but cheap band and enjoying luke-warm punch and stale cookies. We spoke at least 20 words to each other, which was probably the extent of our conversations in high school (as we both really were extremely shy).

Today's promposals involve food, balloons, posters, burma-shave style signs, flowers, candy, body paint, gifts of jewelry, clothes and/or shoes. And they are made in front of as many witnesses as possible. Whether they are posted on Insta-Twit-Book, or they take place in the school cafeteria, at a basketball game or show choir contest, nothing says “I kinda like you and I think we should spend an exorbitant amount of money on a dress, shoes, tux, hair-styling, tanning, mani-pedi, limo, dinner and photos to attend a high school dance” quite like asking someone to prom in front of 200 or so of your closest strangers.

Not that I'm bitter.

I just wish the kids would put that much creativity and effort into their homework.

Which brings us to the rumor suggesting that many promposals are actually engineered by the students' mothers, and not the students themselves.

Proving once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Not that I'm bitter.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Herding the Cats to Compassion

#1000Speak -- 1000 bloggers posting about compassion and kindness to flood the Blogosphere with good February 20, 2015. Search for the hashtag and support the cause, please!

I'm one of those teachers who sometimes (?) takes a roundabout way to get to the point. I don't mind letting the students get me off topic (sometimes). I love it when they inadvertently come up with a perfect (or not so perfect) example of what I want them to understand.

“The point is, and I do have a point...” I say, steering our totally random discussion towards a “teachable moment.” I like to think I toss the idea out there, and just keep ooching, nudging, imperceptibly herding the cats to the conclusion I'm hoping for (or somewhere near it, anyway).

But I have not yet found a way to lead them to a meaningful discussion of “compassion.” At least not as it concerns “virtual” conversations.

I’m amazed at how accepting they are of other students who are differently-abled. They don't bat an eye when one of their classmates who has Down Syndrome needs extra help – they just pitch in and help. For the most part they are (at least when teachers are around) pretty considerate kids.

I'm not saying they're angels. Oh, my goodness, no.

Sometimes they (we all) say stupid things without thinking. And sometimes they say those stupid things without realizing what they are really saying. Some of those nasty, hateful words have lost their power, which may or may not be a good thing. We say them out of habit, without thinking, not to purposely hurt.

But absence of malice is not the same thing as compassion.

And while students with learning disabilities are protected, those with no obvious disadvantage are fair game. Particularly when it comes to electronic conversations.

During just the past two months at my school we've had at least four incidents blown totally out of proportion because the majority of the discussion took place not face-to-face in the hallway, but thumb-to-thumb on cell-phones.

During the most recent “Twitter-fight” I channeled the cranky English teacher who hides just below the surface of my mellow Home Ec teacher facade. I told one class “You know, back in the day (cue the eye rolls and heavy sighing), if we had a beef with someone we actually had to (melodramatic gasp for emphasis) talk to them in the hallway... or maybe write them a nasty note on real paper and pass it to them during study hall, or stuff it through the vent on their locker door. We couldn't (ahem), sit one table away from them during lunch and 'twit' nasty things back and forth.”

I was hoping for a meaningful discussion about how we don't talk to each other anymore, we talk at each other. What I got was a report of the number of retweets, favorites and subtweets (whatever that means) that sprouted from the original offending tweet, as well as a defense of Wronged Party A (and a defense of Wronged Party B from the next class).

What I got was a synopsis of the actual, real-world fight that could have – but did not – break out once the twitter-tweeters actually did turn around and talk to each other.

“My point is,” I said, trying to herd the cats, “do you think it’s possible that neither one actually threw a punch because they were having (melodramatic gasp again) a face-to-face conversation?”

I saw a flicker of comprehension as my students considered that maybe, just maybe, there were some things you would tweet without thinking, but you wouldn’t say in person.

“Adding 'LOL' or 'JK' or a funny face emoji isn’t the same as the non-verbal communication – the facial expressions, the vocal inflections, the body language – of a face-to-face conversation,” I said, pushing the point.

But my students were already on their cell-phones, checking for updates on the latest drama.

Next time I’ll tweet them the lesson.


Monday, February 16, 2015


I have a friend who doesn't believe in emergencies.

Do I really need to say that he's male, young, single and childless? In other words, he's free from the causes of most emergencies.

He also plans out his days with military precision and is able to stick to that schedule.

I plan out my days with the precision of a hyperactive rabbit on crack and I stick to that schedule for at least 30 seconds. Most of my days are a series of emergencies relieved by the occasional catastrophe. If I can get to lunch with just one major schedule change, I consider myself lucky.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that my friend has built his own successful small business, so the potential for emergencies is certainly there. Not to mention that he has to deal with me, so emergency-by-association is a statistical sure-thing.

In the interest of full, full disclosure, what he actually said was that he doesn't believe that every emergency has to be accompanied by a high level of drama.

Well, that just lacks a certain... dramatic flair.

At first I chalked it all up to his maleness, youthfulness, singleness, child-free-ness, and general Zen-like nature. Then I realized most of my emergencies aren't emergencies at all.

Well, I mean, they are emergencies. They just aren't my emergencies.

They only become my emergencies when I jump in with both feet to help. And they only become my emergencies when I rearrange my schedule to accommodate them, causing my back-log of things-to-do to become even more back-loggier.

Still, that doesn't explain the racing heart. The panicking. The worrying. The levitating.

Much to my chagrin, I realized I am a a drama resonator.

When you call me in a tizzy over your latest emergency and need my help I will abandon my plans in order to help you out. I can't help it. It's what I do. It's how I'm programed. It's a physical and psychological need. I don't mind. Really. I want to help. I have to help. Please let me help!

The helping isn't the problem. The tizz is.

When I offer to help, I also absorb a little of your anxiety. I tuck it away deep inside me where it starts to vibrate. Then my hyperactive planning rabbit taps his his lucky foot and shifts the schedule. Now I really have a thumping baseline.

As I fall further behind in my plans – meetings are scheduled, rescheduled and run late, a call goes out for volunteers, errands need to be run, appointments made and kept, deadlines shift and come due – my growing collection of anxieties join forces. They plug in the amplifier, turn it up to 11, and throw away the knob. After a while I feel like they will burst from my chest like that little critter from Alien, or my entire body will vibrate with such intensity I start to levitate.

I usually lean toward levitation.

The Queen Mother knew this about me (I had to learn it somewhere). Once, years ago, someone commented to her about how I remained calm when all about me was chaos. She just smiled and told them I was like a duck – unruffled above the waterline, but paddling like heck under water.

The problem with being a duck is that most people – myself included – don't realize when I'm one wrong-flavored tic-tac moment away from an epic meltdown. So if I go all head-spinning, pea-soup spitting, full-out wack-o on you, don't worry.

It's not you, personally. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The storm will pass quickly.

On the other hand, if I seem really, really calm....

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Feb U

With all due respect to the great writers and philosophers...

February is the cruelest month.... The land lies dead, our memories dull. The warm blanket of forgetful snow shows bleak, broken grass in patches of despair. All hope is lost! Alas! Spring – and hopes of a Cubbie World Championship – are both denied. Cardinal fans needn't feel so smug.

One must be careful these days to avoid hyperbole, to take oneself too seriously. When one's extremities are frozen by a mere glance out yon window, there is shelter under red rock. With Travelocity, Expedia, and Hotwiredotcom, Kansas City becomes a tropic port.

February is the winter of our discontent.... February is the “not quite time” time. Holiday parties are finally over. The decorations are put away, except for that creepy Elf on a Shelf hiding between the couch cushions or at the far edge of the bookshelf watching... watching....

We half-heartedly throw Valentines' hearts around, making much ado about nothing. Filling up the nothing with something until... until.. until what?

We make plans. Plans for Spring and Summer, which will surely come, will they not? Home Shows, Garden Shows, RV Shows, Boat Shows, Car Shows, Motorcycle Shows, Dog Shows, Cat Shows, Hamster Shows and Dust Bunny Shows. The warmth generated by the over-coated masses, the narcotic effects of a day under flourescent lights, the smell of the fuel-oil, the roar of the generators ... all do little to dispell the fact that you have miles to go 'till you find your car. And it's all uphill. In the snow.

Both ways.

And the wind. The wind. The wind.

February is the best of times, it is the worst of times.... Mother Nature teases us relentlessly with brilliant sunshine, made even more brilliant by myriad tiny mirrors of accumulated snow. Her blinding radiance is accompanied by nose hair-freezing, sub-zero temperatures and breath-stealing wind-chills.

She is a tri-polar witch, melting snow today only to freeze it tomorrow and cover it with more snow overnight. Except for those patches of melty-freezy-mix lurking in the shadows on 40-degree days, masquerading as wet pavement, waiting to illustrate just how slick snot on a doorknob really is.

Go South, my friend, go South! Go South in February, while Snowbirds pack for migration North and Spring Breakers dream of beer-filled pools. While hoteliers ponder empty rooms and falling revenues. Go South while gas is cheap, and the last of the Christmas bills are pending. Go South before you regain your senses, realize your credit card is maxed-out, or try on last year's swimsuit.

Before the next freezing rain falls.

Go South.

February is the foulest Dementor,  draining peace, hope and happiness.... When the first snow fell (waaaaaayyyy back) in November, Facebook lit up with humorous photos, videos and cartoons of how we were tired of winter. By February all we can do is recycle old posts with a weak "lol." Caps Lock is too much effort.

We muster enough anger to curse the groundhog for a day or two, then slip back into our Febru-stupor. We rage, rage against the dying of the ligh…ehhhht. Why bother? Even daylight savings doesn't return until mid-March.

There may be some places where February is peachy-freakin' keen, but Eastern Iowa is not one of them.

So, with all due respect...



Wake me when it's March.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Told You Snow

There's nothing like an impending snowstorm to fill the grocery store with a mix of desperation-induced shoppers and adrenaline-rush junkies. Add in a bunch of last minute Superbowl snack supply runners, and they might as well hang the “abandon hope, all ye who enter here” sign over the entrance.

So there I was filling my cart with cat food (which I desperately needed), fruit (my contribution to the Superbowl party), and level two storm-survival foods: chips, dip, soda, cookies and wine. This last group looks a lot like Superbowl party foods, so I pretended that I wasn't getting a secret little thrill from preparing for the latest snow-pocalypse threat.

We Iowans are of hardy storm-preparation stock. We're not much prone to pantry-filling panic, or to believing a mid-week, long-range forecast calling for six to eight inches of snow over the weekend. We don't necessarily scoff at the forecast, but we certainly do consider it with a jaundiced eye. The weatherperson has cried snow-mageddon just a few too many times lately for blind trust.

Oh sure, we might pick up an extra gallon of milk on Friday, but that's only because we know we're running low anyway. And if worst comes to worst, at least that will keep us away from the grocery store when the Nervous Nellys decide they're short of... everything.

After all, what's six to eight inches of snow accumulation spread out over two days? A good excuse to try out the four-wheel drive, that's what.

It's hard to imagine being covered in a deep, fluffy blanket of snow when the sun is shining, it's a relatively balmy 40 degrees out, and you're standing ankle deep in the melted remains of last weekend's snowfall (which didn't live up to anyone's definition of a-snow-hilation).

We shop for storm supplies, not out of a sense of any real emergency, but because our Iowa-bred common sense calls for us to always be prepared. We still plan on getting out and driving through the worst of a snow-tastrophe if we have to/need to/want to or just to check on the crops.

But the clouds were taking on that creepy gray-green tinge and my knee was getting that twitchy feeling it gets whenever a low pressure system develops.

And we were almost out of cat food.

It's one thing to get caught without milk, or bread, or even salsa, but it's quite another to be running low on kitty kibble. I couldn't stand to be trapped in the house with a whiny cat for two days.

I fully intended to sneer in a very un-Iowan “I told you so” fashion as the “total inch accumulation” prediction plummeted.

But when the weatherperson said “beginning with freezing rain” and the “total inch accumulation” prediction actually increased, I started to see chinks in my larder.

Like cat food.

Even though the odds of this becoming the snow-taclysm they were predicting were slim to none, even though I felt foolish for giving in to the hype, I knew it would be worse to be caught unprepared.

The only thing better than the smug satisfaction I feel when the snow-vestation misses us, is the smug satisfaction I feel seeing our school on the list of cancellations as I sit with a full wine glass in my hand and a full snack bowl by my side.

And a warm, sleepy kitty with a full tummy on my lap.