Saturday, June 29, 2013

I know we're cool

It's not brutally hot here, although we've had a handful of what are considered unusually roasty days.

But it is very humid. Doing some yard work and some domestic chores a few days ago, even though the temperature was probably no more than 80, the humidity was above 90 percent. I was glistening.

This house built in 1912 has no central air; the previous tenants left two a/c window units.

I installed the smaller one last week, and it seems to be working OK. I put it in the living area. I've been trying to make us tough it out in the bedroom with an open window that faces east and gets some breeze, and a small fan. It's been mostly adequate.

Nevertheless, Thursday I dragged the bigger, heavy a/c unit up from the basement. I let it sit outside in hopes that any itinerant creatures would voluntarily relocate. Today I brought it in, dusted it off, cleaned it up a bit and we decided to place it in the kitchen.

We made a run to HD beforehand to get some sealant and other relevant items to theoretically maximize the effectiveness of the beaten-up old thing. We then spent about an hour spiffing it up, getting it situated, and squawking about.

An hour later... the house feels cool. I anticipate a glorious sleep tonight.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Keep it clean

If Boston isn't North America's most historic city, it's probably on the short list.

You can likely make a case for Montreal, New York, and Washington.

That's probably about it.

So it bothers me how little regard many people here seem to have for this interesting, almost-400-year-old cradle of the New World.

People trash this place like they're rats in a dumpster. It's not just ciggy butts, which are obviously disgusting -- but people just flat out throw trash in the streets as if the Garbage Fairies will soon come by and rectify the problem.

How could you?

Just a few days after getting here in November, we decided to sample a classic New England tradition: The Game. Harvard and Yale have been playing football since 1875. That means when the series began, it was closer to Paul Revere, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" and the siege of Boston in 1776 than it is to the modern matchup.

It was a cool experience, but it was tarred by piles and piles and piles of trash near garbage bins around the stadium. The bins got full, and shame on Harvard for not having crews around to keep emptying them on a day when a big crowd was a certainty.

But more shame on the people who, seeing the trash overflowing, said "Fuck it" and just threw their trash on top of it, around it, or anywhere they damned well wanted to.

I mean... really? This is the pride you have in this amazing city, this amazing institution, this uniquely American tradition and spectacle?

It's heartbreaking. But it also goes back to our modern jerk culture that accepts no individual responsibility, celebrates "getting yours" and hang the next guy or girl. It's vulgar, selfish, small and (literally) trashy.

I'd like to see more social efforts to clean this place up. People up here are real quick to condemn other parts of the country as backward, but having lived in some of those places, I can say with certainty that the "Don't Mess With Texas" mindset has worked more often than not. 

In Texas, people see beautiful wildflowers and colors when spring arrives. Here, after the snow melts, people see Dunkin Donuts cups, Marlboro packages and (alongside Fresh Pond Parkway at least) an almost full plastic container of pickle relish.

At least, that's what it looks like.

Listen, some people are going to suck, no matter what. But does it have to be so many of you? And are you really OK with living in a trash can? This is a beautiful place and an important place. Show a little respect.


So looks like I've got a job.

I had a "tryout" last Friday and Monday, and I guess I did OK. They called and offered me yesterday. I have to go through some hoops and I'll be starting ASAP.

It feels really, really good. It's been too long without something solid, and the near-misses have been excruciating to get through. I thought I had LA for sure... that was 13 months ago. Then, LA again 10 months ago, and another almost. We didn't even live here then.

So now, we plant some roots. The longer I went without, the more we remained with one eye toward any available option.

So... hi Boston!

Monday, June 24, 2013


The initial plan was to maintain the isolation. If the little guy actually made it to school for the last day -- a three-hour sprint -- he and I would be upstairs in an exclusive room, just trying to get to the finish line.

It was a sad way to end it. He'd more or less be in solitary, with no interactions but with me.

So I was hopeful he'd be his customary late. Fortunately, he was. I got an hour in with the 19 other kids I'd spent five weeks with.

After Thursday's events, when I kept him away from the class for the second half of the day, I was told by the teacher that the kids had asked where I was.

That's the best tribute a person can have: to be missed when you're not around. Think about the people you most miss. Wouldn't it be great to get to spend a little more time with them?


Fortunately, there was one more pre-bell dance party in the gym. I'll miss that. Then it was on to class.

Although I never figure Pokemon to have longevity potential, these kindergarteners are keeping the thing alive. I've used the lure of these cards as an incentive and it has had some success. So I bought seven of the 10-card packs (at $4.19 a hit) to distribute to the guys (and some girls) who hadn't been getting them in the previous four+ weeks.

The teacher had distributed a few pages as a sort of "yearbook" for the kids to write down some memories. The grownups helped write the memories clearly for the keepsake, and there was an "autograph" page. The 2013 Yellow Ducks would soon be a moment in time.

Soon after class began, there was an assembly in the gym. It was mostly Part I of a sendoff for the fourth-graders who would be moving on the middle school. Having been around them a bit, it was nice to see their excitement at no longer being "little kids." I wished a few of them who I'd met good luck.


When the kids do something particularly well or special, they get a "bucketgram" of recognition. They take the bucketgram to the office, and are given a piece of green construction paper shaped like a small leaf, where they write their name and post it to a large drawing of a tree.

A couple of days ago, the classes were to estimate the number of leaves on the tree. The winner would get a shout-out at the assembly.

Everyone in the class could submit a guess, and then there would be a vote for the class submission. Ours ranged from 100 to 1 million.

My guy guessed 1,008. The class decided to submit that.

It was the winning guess. Too bad he missed the assembly.


But when he did get there, I shared that news with him as we headed upstairs. Every bit of positivity helps.

After about 20 minutes, we got some good news. We were going to reintegrate him into the day. The first chance would be going to music -- the class where it took me 20 minutes to talk him into going on our first Friday together.

He went and there were no issues. Then it was back to class where another special activity was coming... the classes would stand in the halls and cheer on the fourth-graders as they processioned by.

The teacher handed out "diplomas" and little buckets with pails, a yellow duck and a DVD of the year that had played during Tuesday's Open House.

Then there was recess, back to class for a few minutes, and it would be done.

As they marched in from the recess, they started to chant: "We are first graders! We are first graders!"

And then it was over.


I don't know what will become of this guy. And it's impossible to know how the future shakes out, or whether I will even ever set foot in that school again. Will he be OK? Will he go to another school? And what of the other kids, so many of whom show so much promise?

Life moves on. I learned a lot those five weeks. I don't know how the regular teachers deal with the passage. It took me a couple of days just to process, and I don't know that I have fully understood what just happened. But I hope our paths cross again some day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Because of Wednesday's horrible events, there was some uncertainty about how Thursday would play out, or if the whole thing had just gotten shitcanned.

One law was laid down: he wasn't going back to class. Maybe it's time to start thinking about the benefits of solitary.

So when he showed up at lunch, right around noon, the plan was to have him isolated in an upstairs break room. He wasn't going to be in the classroom. He wasn't going to be at recess.

Fortunately the gymnasium had two open spots, until 12:50 and from 2:20-2:50.

I ran his ass ragged in both.

It took the starch out. He could hardly walk the stairs when we headed up at 12:50.

The rest of the day was spent in pursuits that could hardly be called academic: He went to his behavioral therapy class, where he is given techniques to "have his motor running" at the right speed; and we played some Uno. Not a lot of learning going on.

I was going to bag tomorrow, seeing as how it's a half day and how I have an important job interview in the afternoon. But I decided not to bail out. I'm gonna steer this battered ship into the hahbah and then we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Almost two hours later, I sat at a table in the dimly lit teacher's lounge, staring blankly at a wall. Or maybe something else. Actually, I don't know what I was looking at, I just know I was lost in a thought-void.

The classroom aide had sat down next to me a few minutes earlier. The normally upbeat and cheery young woman ate in silence and had that same thousand-yard stare.

I turned to her: "I wonder if this is what shell shock feels like."

She responded, unsmiling: "Yes. It must be."

"I'm totally drained."


He was back to his regular schedule of being two hours late today, and Wednesdays the students are released 70 minutes earlier than regular school days. So basically he only had to get through a little more than three hours of school, half of which would include recess/P.E. and lunch. Not to mention the fact that we're basically kind of treading water as we near the academic year finish line.

He slacked through 10 minutes of computer center time, then moved toward the second center, where the students listened to a book on tape, then had to draw an image of their favorite part of the story.

No challenge at all, really.

But he didn't want to draw the picture.


OK. NBD. There are alternative strategies that are in place and I turned to them. The first was to draw a "thank you" card for the fourth-grade "Big Buddies" that visited the classroom once a month to interact, mentor, read and mingle.

He didn't want to make a card.

OK. We've got yet another option, although this one is designed to ratchet down any rising stress. This one involves taking a break of five minutes (or sometimes 10-15 minutes, whatever it takes). We go to an adjacent room so as not to distract the students, but it isn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It's a way to get him refocused and do some simple work that encourages more cooperation and participation. It's worked several times in the past five weeks.


So now we were at an impasse, and this week the protocol was if there was any escalation, to call the mounties. So down came the behaviorist. The teacher got the other three students who had been at the table to move away.

I sat next to the boy at the center. The teacher was to my right. The behaviorist came in and sat across from him.

When we all recounted the process that had led us to this point, she took over.

He was on the ledge.

She pushed him off.

"You have been given these choices and refused to take them, so we are going to have to leave the room, OK?

"NO! I don't want to! You better not mess with me, I know karate! I can't read! I don't wanna do it!"

He stood up and stepped slightly toward her, still just to my right.

"Don't fucking tell me what to do! I'm not gonna do it!"

He stepped back and with a quick swipe of his arm pushed a round orange desk caddy loaded with crayons and pencils over. I stood up. He stepped back and grabbed a children's chair and quickly hurled it in front of him, over the children's table and into the back of the teacher's desk.

The teacher said "That's it" and told the kids we were going to go outside. "It's like a fire drill." I was to go with them. Everyone lined up and left quickly and orderly out of the room, into the break room and through its door that led to a playground.

As I walked across the playground toward the field, I looked back. He sat looking out the window. I didn't let our eyes make contact.


After the playground, the kids went to lunch. When we came back, the loose items in the room where he was now sequestered with an unknown crew of observers had all been removed and placed in the hallway.

At some point his "mother" came and took him home.

I'm not sure what the value was of poking this guy with a stick today, but that's how it seemed to go. I'm not the professional so second-guessing is probably unfair, and maybe totally wrong.

Having said that...

Since I started working with him, before today his serious incidents had steadily decreased, his minor incidents had been worked through, and today was the first time I heard him say anything worse than "butt crack."

He had become less of a distraction in the classroom, more willing to attempt the work, and doing more of it.

But you know, that's just the view of the only person who has spent every moment with the kid at school since we met late last month.


Clearly there is trouble at home. Those words and that anger aren't emanating at the school. Was the motivation for pushing him today to elicit this response so to escalate larger action? I don't know, I'm not privy to that strategy.

I think the kid needs love and patience. I don't think he got much of that today.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Phil Kelso, Paul Pfeiffer and Black Sabbath

It's rainy this afternoon in Boston, which according to this BusinessWeek item I saw today, is the 4th-best city in America.

It's not bad here.

Pondering this while driving these soggy streets, the Black Sabbath classic "Iron Man" came on the radio.

Sabbath got the band back together and their new album, 13, is No. 1 on the British charts. It's their first chart-topping appearance in 43 years. Not bad. It's kind of cool that a band with a guy named "Geezer" in it can rock even when they are all now actual geezers.

I was 14, or maybe 15, when I finally heard the album -- Paranoid -- that put Sabbath on the map. The first side of that album is rock brilliance: War Pigs, Paranoid, Planet Caravan and Iron Man.

In the early 70s rock music was entering a new phase of disillusionment. Elvis was a joke, the Doo-Wop, D.A.-types of the 50s were nostalgia for the Happy Days set. The Beatles had broken up. Hippy-dippy characters had given way to lovable lightweights like Elton John and the Eagles. Jimi, Mr. Mojo Risin and Janis were dead. Disco was lurking. Punk would then sneak up on disco and murder it, thankfully.

The Stones were still great, though, and you had a few acts/bands still mining the dangerous side of rock. Dylan. Neil. The Who. Pink Floyd. Zeppelin.

Then there was Sabbath.


I was in a Minyard store on Garland Road and Peavy Road in Dallas one day as a pre-teen, and two long-haired hippie freaks were talking near the grocery carts. I listened as one asked the other if he had heard the new Zeppelin album. Hippie No. 2 had not. "It's heavy," said Hippie No. 1.

I didn't know what that meant, but it sounded cool.


If Zep was heavy, what did that make Black Sabbath? Because these motherfuckers were dark, dangerous, mysterious, and scary.

To my teenage mind, even the name of the band was illicit. In the early 70s, edgy things like Black Sabbath were inexplicable to a lot of people. In redneck Texas, that could only mean one thing: the band were Satan's minions, and their fans were devil worshipers.


It seemed to me that the only people who could buy a Sabbath album had to do so in secret. As if the albums were sold under the counter, by request only, and cloaked in a brown paper wrapper. Further, if you bought the album you were either the aforementioned devil worshiper, a dope fiend (dope being either pot, LSD or heroin, or all of the above), a hippie, a hippie freak, a subversive, a communist, a goddam communist, a goddam communist hippie freak, or worse.

The good news is that you couldn't be black, because the blacks were probably too afraid of Black Sabbath to be Black Sabbath listeners.

I don't know if other people felt this way, but it seemed that Sabbath was somewhere way over the line of acceptable.


Paranoid was released in September 1970. I figure it must have been 1974 or 1975 when I first heard it, although I had surely heard some of it on the radio.

And it was the unlikeliest of heroes -- Phil Kelso -- who provided me with this unforgettable experience.

I wonder what happened to Kelso (that's what everyone called him). He looked like Kevin Arnold's best friend Paul Pfeiffer on The Wonder Years. (I also always thought of Kelso when watching That 70s Show's Ashton Kutcher play a guy named Kelso.)

Kelso was unquestionably smart, but looked a little nerdy. In fairness though, when I look back on it, except for Perry Plummer, Scott Harvey and Keith Burns, every dude I went to middle school and high school with looked a little nerdy in the 70s.

Because Kelso was also perceived as pretty straight arrow, I was a little surprised, shocked (and more than a little impressed) that he had gotten access to a copy of Paranoid. One overcast afternoon, he invited me to his house to listen to it.

Kelso lived near the high school, on the other side of Fuzzy Rock, not far from Stephanie Matthews' house. (Any boy with half a brain or more had a crush on Stephanie Matthews. I had half a brain or more.)

I remember listening to the album as if it happened hours ago instead of almost 40 years ago.

And I remember as it ended with the confrontational "Fairies Wear Boots" that I felt like I had entered another world. And there was no turning back. I distinctly remembered looking around the room after hearing the album. I had done something dangerous and edgy.

But Paranoid had made me paranoid.

I can't help but like Sabbath. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is an amazing record, their best IMO.


I wrote all of the above before looking up Kelso on Facebook. Sure enough, he's got a page, and it's filled with winger stuff. Which surprises me a little bit.

But that's why I waited to look until after I wrote the main stuff. Kelso in a way changed my life, helped me grow up a little, and will always be a part of my memories. That's cool, if you ask me.

On the other hand, I still remember being bullied by Paul Hopkins and John Branson, so they're part of my memories too.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Another good day. But it's the last week of school and the work isn't that demanding now. All the real projects have been completed; it's pretty much housekeeping from here on in.

I have a job interview/tryout this weekend. I'm inclined to think that I can pass muster but you never know. If I do, then this may be my last educational activity for a while. Not sure how to feel about that.

It's thunderstormy in the Hub right now. I have not felt great the past couple of days... think it was brought on by yardwork, which stirs up a lot of dirt and grit. You'd think I would have had the good sense by now to wear a mask. Next week for sure.

I'm just trying to get by, ya know? I don't have delusions of grandeur about my life. It's never been my goal to be King of the Hill or even third assistant king. I'm an idealist who'd like to see things be better, and I try and be better myself to set an example. I don't always succeed but I usually always try.


Sunday, June 16, 2013


My dad will turn 80 this year. What a journey he's had.

Statistically, he's playing with house money now. It's given us enough time to get past the things that once held us back. I'm grateful that we talk as much as we do.

My dad is a warm guy. He loves to laugh and has enjoyed his life pretty well. At least that's how it seems. I like that. I fret over a lot of things, many of them beyond my control. That's probably detrimental. Dad always seems to be fairly upbeat. Of course there are things he doesn't like, but generally he seems like a happy person and someone who recognizes how fleeting so much of life can be.

I love you, dad.


For many years, I had another dad. I was nine the year my mom remarried. We always called my stepfather by his name, Jack. There was always a boundary.

Which wasn't really fair to him, probably, because he did a lot of "dad" things even without the official title.

Jack has been gone almost 33 years. It's hard to believe.

One of my favorite memories of Jack was from my first "real" football game when I was 16. I was playing defensive tackle on the junior varsity. The game was at the school, and there was hardly a crowd. But I saw that he was there. Two plays into the game I found myself sprung into the backfield. It was a trap play and I was messing it up for North Mesquite. The QB rushed his pitch to his right and the ball bounced off the back of his running back. I jumped on it. My illustrious career had begun, and Jack was there to see it. It meant a lot to me.

Happy Father's Day, fathers.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I almost forgot about this.

Couple of things from the school gig Friday. Overall a good day.

However, kids are forced to deal with more at the age of six than you'd want them to.

Overheard from a little girl in the class:

  • "Does my mom still love my dad? Because she's getting remarried. He doesn't love us anymore."
From a little boy:
  • "My dad drinks alcohol when he gets mad. And slaps my sister."

Saturday In The Park

Brick walk at Boston Common, June 15, 2013.
A lot has happened in the past few days; as pertains to the job front you could read about it here.

Today I needed some fresh headspace; the situation presented itself nicely when M needed a lift downtown for a business event. It was to be brief, so it gave me a chance to take my first walk through Boston Common.

The 50-acre Common was created in 1634. Let that sink in. It's the nation's oldest park and has been trod upon by Native Americans thousands of years ago and served as a cow pasture, a campground for British troops in colonial times, the site of public hangings, and host to noted speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. More than 100,000 people assembled there to see Judy Garland perform, and to protest the Vietnam War. (Not on the same day.)

The Common has walkways, ballfields, tennis courts, a skating rink, statues and memorials, benches, food carts and restaurants, and greenspace for plenty of events (I saw several today as I walked the park). Wiki says it was the site of the first football game in 1862. So automatically I love it.

It also has homeless people, souvenir vendors, and a lot of trash. I also saw some graffiti on a giant statue commemorating fallen patriots from Boston. Kind of disappointing.

I saw Little Leaguers warming up for a game, cyclists, dog lovers with dogs, tourists, an older gentleman practicing fly-casting, a dude smoking a blunt, and a girl crying during a cell-phone conversation.

I wanted to tell the girl crying on the phone that things would be OK. But I didn't want her to think some random guy was trying to hit on her.

To the west is another part of the park, bisected by Charles Street South. I hope to check that out soon.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


An interesting set of days, to say the least.

This whole thing has been unpredictable from the get-go; the last few days have been no different. I've been alternately frustrated and encouraged, sometimes on the same day, sometimes within a short time span.

On balance, I think this week has been encouraging.

The past couple of days there have been at least two instances each day where he got volatile. Only once has it gone truly over the line, and by comparison with instances early in this period, this one incident was relatively tame. No one was threatened.

What's been encouraging is the way in the past couple of days I've been able to talk with him when he's been ready to erupt. In every case the last two days, he has let me talk to him, worked through his resistance and frustration, and in each period emerged willing to attempt the work. In every one of them, he actually did the work.

Today the first big frustration came with a math project. He didn't want to do it. The front page was nine questions featuring numbers in the teens and up to 20; the work was to find the number minus one. The opposite side of the page was numbers plus one.

After getting the first two correct, he missed the third one. And when told so and asked to try again, he started to dig in, instead went on to rush through other questions and get them wrong, and then started to wad up the paper and raise his voice.

My method was to encourage him, to tell him that I knew he could do the work, and that he needed to not get frustrated but just try. I have to admit to a certain amount of surprise that he opted to unfold the paper, we smoothed it out (literally and figuratively) and he tried again. And with a little help, he got every question right. The teacher was pleased.

It's been like this steadily the past two days. The moments of frustration now have managed to be defused and he's attempted the work. And generally done OK.

He's clearly still got a long way to go. But at least right now he's managing to get past the frustration and give himself a chance.

This isn't about me and has never been about me. I'm just the person detailing these experiences. But I am very proud of the work this kid has put in the past few days. Calming down and conforming isn't something what comes easily for him. There are things in his head we don't know about and he's dealing with things as best he can, with as much support as we can give him. Although I don't think it's as much support as he should be getting.

The last two days he has let me read to him and paid attention. I wish there was more of this in his life. I have my doubts that he's being read to often enough. It's not just the sharing of knowledge that reading brings that matters. It's also pretty important that a kid knows someone is interested enough in him to take that time and really invest in it.

Today we read a book about soccer, and I thought he'd get bored with it pretty quickly. We read the whole thing.

Tomorrow the whole thing could invert and it could be an awful day. There are still so many issues to overcome. But lately, things have been looking up and I'm happy for him.


Amusing anecdotes I want to share before I forget them:

  • There's one black kid in the class. Today as he and another boy played a game, another alpha boy started to sing "Afro Circus" but left out the word "Afro." I watched the thing unfold and was amused that he seemed to make a connection between "Afro" and the other boy's skin color. But better was that he also seemed to understand that saying "Afro" could be perceived as offensive. It was an amazing display of maturity. But then when the black kid picked up on the song instantly and used "Afro" the tension was gone and they all sang it.
  • I've been allowed to conduct the morning meeting the past few days. It's been a nice experience and allowed me to run the show a few minutes while the teacher hurries to complete some year-end housekeeping.
  • One girl told me how she ran a lemonade stand that raised $122 for the One Fund. Wow.
  • This morning the pre-K kids put on a "play" for the kindergarteners. Goldilocks, and the Three Little Pigs. Afreakingdorable.
Only six more days to go.

Monday, June 10, 2013


An odd day today. He was fairly good around me, but the half-hour that I was gone at lunch he said some pretty unacceptable things.

Not much to report today. At one point he told me I was his best friend, though.

That's sweet, and it means something to me. But I have to be a lot more than that. Being his friend isn't nearly as important as helping him get to the right spot.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

There But For The Grace of God...

Just finished a heartbreaking WaPo article about the painful aftermath of Sandy Hook .

I couldn't tell you the exact date of Aurora... I just know it was summer, I think July, and the week that the last Batman movie opened. I know Gabby Giffords was shot in January. I think the Sikh temple was in September.

Newtown was Dec. 14, 2012. It was the Friday of the first week I worked in schools.

Daniel Barden's family will never be able to forget that day. Neither will the families of 26 other people.

I admit to feeling a little sad that most news stories only say the tragedy affected "26 families." Nancy Lanza is almost always overlooked. While she did purchase the weapons that her troubled son used to murder 20 children and six educators, she became the first victim of his insane rampage. She is also a victim, and her family also grieves. Obviously she never thought he would do what he did. It cost her her life as well.

Barden's surviving parents and older siblings now must hold up through the Mother's Day last month and Father's Day soon that are reminders of who is missing. A family summer vacation is different.

Everything is different.

Look at that picture.

I see kids every day who look like Daniel Barden. The pure faces, the missing teeth, the smiles that come from someplace perfect.

Because of my great fortune to spend five weeks with one class, in the last three weeks I've been able to see some of the nuance and learn about the true personalities of these 22 children. I can't remember if I told this anecdote before, but recently at lunch, two girls in the class sat talking at the end of a table. I don't know what they were saying, but suddenly one of them burst out laughing. Not just a giggle -- a full-on howl of laughter. I wish I knew what made her so happy. But it was enough for me to see it. Because in that moment, a child was having a wonderful moment with another child.

I get to see these children get so excited about losing and growing teeth, about doing well in class, or working to do well in class, about the things that amuse and interest them. I have a window into a purity that parents and teachers only regularly see, and only people in schools see on such a broad scale.

The kids are working on journals, and most of them are simple and brief. One girl, however, is working hard to have a gigantic book. She let me read it last week. About half the pages go like this:

  • We went to the zoo. It was fun.
  • I had a birthday party. It was fun.
  • We went to the pool. It was fun.
And she's really proud that she has written so much.

You can't see this and not find it adorable and heartwarming. And this is what makes the tragedy of Sandy Hook so painful for the survivors, and so shameful that gun nuts refuse to allow sensible legislation to be enacted. Those mostly Republican senators who blocked legislation have a seat by the fire waiting for them some day.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Wednesday was not great, culminating in a standoff for the last two hours of the day in which he basically wouldn't participate or follow instructions.

Thursday was pretty good. Friday was great. So great, in fact, that it represents the high point of the 14 full days and end of the third week. With minimal wrangling, he did the assignments, giving a good effort, and achieving as much or more today as he has in any day during the previous three weeks. Coming on the heels of a similar (but much shorter) day Thursday, it's easily the best two-day stretch as well.

What changed?

I'm not sure. He has a sister who just completed a freshman year in college, and now he is spending after-school in her care as opposed to at after-care, which he expressed dislike for. This week he started that.

There are just too many variables I don't know about to be able to definitively assess what's working or not working for him. All I know is that the last two days this week were encouraging.

I was worried about today seeing as how the previous two days were almost polar opposites. Plus I was out late last night, and really tired.

He started out earlier than any previous day, almost on time at 8:55. The start was not without some challenges... his food intake has been a question from the get-go. In the first half-hour, he was mouthy, disruptive and unfocused. Fortunately that wound down, but about the time the situation normalized, it was almost time for music.

I don't know what it is about music, but he doesn't like it. He's said many times that he "hates" music and "hates" the teacher. I kind of like the teacher, myself. Anyway, he's balked every time. The first week, we stalled in the hall for almost the entire half-hour class time, with me only able to get him in therefor about the last five minutes of class time. Last week was a similar grind, although he wound up going and having a decent experience.

Today I bargained with him: I set my clock timer to make a funny noise at five minutes. The deal was, we'd go in, he'd sit quietly and participate fully for five minutes. When the alarm went off, if he wanted we could do something else.

The poor kid is at risk of being a terrible judge of time, because I rigged the game on him.

Once he sat down, I showed him the start of the timer. But he didn't see me keep pausing it. After about 20 minutes I could see that his interest was dipping. So I let the thing time out and asked him if he wanted to do something else. He did.

I had brought some letter puzzles where you match the letter with a small picture that starts with the letter. He not only did well with it, but he best of all did it quietly at the back of the classroom, not disturbing the others as they continued with music.

Big win.

He had a similar big step Thursday with some classroom math. If we can get him to give it a go, spoon-feed him a bit to feel some success, and know when to call it a day, he can make those baby steps.

On Friday, science was the scary next thing. But he pulled up his chair near the front of the workspace, and dug into it. He drew some barnacles, well, and I helped him with the word-writing part of the project. It was a big step beyond what had happened the last two times.


I am beginning to think he's truly left-brain. He's an artist. Late in the day the kids had some options, and he chose to paint. He drew a nice piece of work and seemed comfortable there. He shared when other kids wanted to use some of his colors, he didn't say anything out of place and he turned out a decent piece of six-year-old work. He named it "Sossya."

And then he said he made it for me.

It was everything I could do not to cry, and the same is true now.

It was a good day. Even the teacher noticed it and lauded his effort. A great way to go into the weekend.


Fridays are my favorite school day, because of the morning dance party. It's just adorable.

Today was rainy, so recess involved indoor activities. The class had also earned a special day, and after a vote chose pajamas day. So the kids wore pajamas to class, and were also allowed to bring a stuffed animal.

I believe that there are signs all around us, but that we often aren't looking for them so we miss them. Coincidences happen, but they're pretty common. I don't count those.

I have seen signs, and many times they were practically screaming at me to listen. I learned to.

A few months back I detailed being in one of these classrooms and working with a student who happens to be related to a man I worked with almost 20 years ago. I thought that was way beyond mere coincidence. It told me that I was absolutely in the right place. The cosmic tumblers that had to fall in place for it to happen were so astronomical that it would be easier to win three lottos in a row by comparison.

So when the little dude brought in his stuffed animal today, it stunned me. It was a little red RAZORBACK.

Hippos, rhinos, zebras are all rare. A Razorback hog is one-of-a-kind. And in Massachusetts? What are the odds? There can't be many of those. And this kid has one?

I'm listening, universe. You have my attention.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Yesterday wasn't great. Today was worse.

I'm not sure what the catalyst was. There was an important two-part assessment test to determine his academic path. The first half he did very well; the second he wouldn't even attempt to do.

And that was the start of the end. For the rest of the day, he simply refused to do any coursework. He wouldn't go to lunch. He wouldn't go to the bathroom. He wouldn't go to P.E.

Talking with one of the concerned parties later, I asked a question that I still don't know the answer to: How do I measure success in this endeavor?

What can I reasonably expect to accomplish? It's clear that no matter how I might stumble into positive developments, he's not going to miracle his way to being at the level others are. His academic skills are underdeveloped. When he isn't disruptive (as he was for most of today), that still doesn't mean he's going to attempt to do the work. Then, if I can cajole him into doing the work, many times he gets frustrated and gives up or every step of the way is like trying to pull a car uphill.

A tough part of this remains trying to figure out what the factors are that fuel his resistance. I understand some of it -- he gets frustrated that compared to the other students, he knows he isn't on their level. But I haven't been able to tell him that the only way for him to catch up is to work at it.

I've seen people that didn't have great academic skills do well. They got there by effort. At the end of the day today, I was pissed off at him. I understand having trouble, I understand being upset, I understand feeling behind.

I'm not too cool about giving up.

I want to kind of kick his ass a little, honestly. I think he needs a firmer hand. But I'm not really in a position to do that. About the most aggressive thing I can do was a tactic I used first thing this morning, before he dug in his heels. The kids were given whiteboards and were working on copying something from the Smart board. He didn't even try. He instead started doodling and more or less trashed a marker. I asked him to do the work repeatedly. He didn't. So when he put the marker down, I cooly picked it up when he wasn't looking. OK, you're not going to do the assignment. But you're also not going to defiantly do your own thing.


I'm at the halfway point -- 12 days in, 12 to go.

I wonder if I've accomplished anything. Has anything registered? I want to think something has. I hope so. Little victories count. The first two days were tough, and we haven't had anything quite as intense as those. And while today was difficult, at least it wasn't destructive. I guess that's something.

I just wish it were more. I'm not content to just manage this situation. I'd like to find a way to build on what's already been built and take it further.

But at some point he's going to have to work harder or no one's going to be able to reach him. I know it sucks, kid, but you've got to figure it out.

Monday, June 3, 2013


It wasn't a good day. But it might have been an important one.

He was an hour late getting to school, and pushed back on most of the work today. But there were some positives.

  • He participated in the art class, and seemed to like it. We made origami sailboats. I can show you how. I made something that somewhat resembled a bird and he was pleased with that.
  • The first two days of recess were meltdowns. Today the recess was one of his best parts. I've taken to somewhat officiating the unofficial soccer game that takes place. There are a few kids in the class who are pretty good. My guy seems to have a little potential; since I have "coached him up" a little and tried to involve and encourage him, he seems to be responding. It's perhaps the only place in the school where he isn't significantly at a disadvantage. He's scrawny but willing to stick his nose in there most of the time. And it's a place where he many times seems to embrace teamwork of passing and overall achievement.
  • I've buried the lede... for a science project, the class simply had to copy down some facts that were posted on the Smart board. He's been a little reluctant to do this before. Today I think I got a clue as to why that might be. The first thing he had to write were the words "in tidepools."
He wrote this: sloopedit ni.

Later I had to cajole him for 15 minutes to do another project. He doesn't like writing or reading (and he *really* doesn't like the music teacher, who he weekly says he "hates"). To make the writing happen, I would write the hard words and have him write the easy ones. When he asked how to spell them, I sounded it out and pointed to an alphabet. So he wrote the words correctly.

But when it came time to sign his name, he wrote it backwards.

Is this a key moment? It seems to me it could be. Maybe this helps explain how his brain functions. Is he dyslexic? He's spent so little time actually doing the assignments, it's taken me this long to recognize this problem.

Although it was a pretty bad day overall, I'm excited about this possible discovery. I do think his home life is a toxic environment. But if this information points down the path that diagnoses a learning disability, then the district can design specific measures to help get him on the right path.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Heat is On

I'm ashamed. I not only quoted the title of a Glenn Frey song, but I also kind of cited the Miami Heat.

I hate the Miami Heat. And Frey is a douche bag.

Nevertheless, I resorted to it because it *was* a catchy song, and, it's hot as Texas here.

This part of summer I can do without. The last three days the temperatures have climbed into the mid-90s. This is awful.

Most homes here don't even have a/c. Barbaric. Our home was built in 1912. There are two window a/c units (currently uninstalled). I haven't the foggiest how to install them, but we decided to tough it out as the temperature is expected to drop into the low 70s as highs for the coming week.

A week ago, it was 46 degrees. Today, we decided to catch a movie during the middle of the day in a nice cool theater. The readout on the car thermometer got as high as 98.

A 52-degree difference in a week. Really?

M has been told it didn't top 90 last year until August. I certainly hope that we're not about to get the type of summer that is as intense as the winter was.

It's just too much. Normally this place is windy but I've been aching for a breeze the last two nights. As the sunlight recedes right now it is finally a little bit more livable, but it still is just too hot.

Before 10 a.m. I bit the bullet and mowed/weedeated (weedate?) the yard. That's done. I'm officially taking the rest of the weekend off.

And that rain and cooler temps better not fake us all out.