Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Their Language

English, German, Spanish, Arabic and a little Greek. Those are the languages that I speak. I dabble a bit in French, meaning I've picked up enough to help my son maintain a B average in French class three years running now. But I apparently have lost the ability to speak TEENESE.

I used to be a teen. At one time, I spoke TEENESE fluently. Maybe it's a new dialect that my kids speak. They totally do not understand me. When I was a teen, "Go to bed now," meant walk down the hall, pee, brush my teeth, get my pajamas on, piss off my sister by stepping on her pillow or hiding her jeans that she wanted to wear the next morning, and then getting in my bed and actually going to sleep. Of course, that was 27 years ago.

Language is a constantly evolving thing. New words are born every day and occasionally some old words, while never really dying, will lie dormant for years at a time. At least in English, this is true. My kids speak Arabic and English. I assume they speak TEENESE in both English and Arabic dialects. And while I do speak to my kids in Arabic, I'm the native American so I primarily boss them around in English while my husband, the native Egyptian, bosses them around primarily in Arabic. My husband and I got together and compared notes earlier this week and made some shocking discoveries:

"Go to bed" whether spoken in Arabic or in English to our 16 year old son or 12 year old daughter means "go open up the fridge." To our 13 year old and 11 year old sons, it means giggle and wrestle around the room with no shirts on, causing the entire bedroom to take on that pubescent tube sock/ball sweat odor.

"Go to sleep" to all of the kids, in either language, translates loosely to "make a sandwich."

"Stop talking" translates to "start fighting." And "SHUT THE HELL UP BEFORE I POUND YOU" has multiple meanings: 1- roll over and accidentally pull the curtain rod off the wall on your own head, 2- make the peace sign at your brother and say, 'Peace out, Dog' in a Randy Jackson voice and promptly get slapped in the face by the same brother with a dirty handkerchief, 3- giggle so hard that you fart and make your brothers laugh barrel laughs at two in the morning until mother comes in and takes away your privileges for computer for 2 weeks straight.

I'm in the process of compiling our findings into an English-Arabic TEENESE dictionary. I'm hoping that I can get it published before the next generational dialect comes out rendering mine the "new Latin."

Monday, November 28, 2011

This is WHY I Don't Have an Advice Column

Dear Nikki,

My children are the most obnoxious, sassy-mouthed, rude, disobedient spawns of the unholy one that ever set foot on planet Earth. They embarrass me at my in-law's house and talk to me like they are thugs who hang out at the local Greyhound bus station. They sass off to me, their grandparents, their teachers and even total strangers. They steal things, break things, spit on things, pee on things, and lie constantly. How can I get them to behave?


Dear Frazzled,



Dear Nikki,

What is the proper etiquette when one is visiting a neighbor and in the middle of the visit, the neighbor excuses herself to the bathroom where she proceeds to vomit violently?  This situation arose last week while I was visiting with one of my neighbors. But my four children were playing so nicely with her five children that I didn't want to interrupt the play time. What does one do in a situation like this?


Dear Curious,

Are you fucking kidding me??? Not only do you get the hell out of her house, you take her five kids with you. Obviously, she's not up to the task of entertaining you and your four monsters (because I can only assume you're the same insensitive bitch from the first letter above.) Just because you don't want to deal with
your garanimals alone doesn't mean you should dump their hellacious asses on your poor sick neighbor and her five kids.....she MAY be expecting her sixth, what with all the puking and all....OR she may have just been nauseated to that degree by your inadequate parenting skills. My advice? G.T.F.O.


Dear Nikki,

Last week my 76 year old uncle showed up at my house to visit. It so happened that my son's teacher was also there tutoring my oldest son. It is proper etiquette in our country to remove one's shoes upon entering the home. My uncle left before the teacher. When the teacher looked for his shoes when it was time for him to go, all he could find was my uncle's ratty old shoes, two sizes too big and with a hole in the side. I was so upset and embarrassed that my uncle had taken the teacher's brand new leather shoes and worn them home. He didn't return them for three days and claimed that he hadn't noticed that they were not his own.What should I do?

Dear Ashamed,

A good, sharp chisel-fist punch (described here) to the testicles is a sure-fire way to illustrate the anguish and humiliation that you must have felt while trying to explain to your son's teacher why your kleptomaniac uncle lifted his shoes. Of course, I'm guessing that apples don't fall so far from the trees and that this is the sort of behavior that lies ahead of you from those little hellions who keep shouting bad words and insults off the balcony at your puking neighbors kids! Stop writing all these letters to me, get a good leather belt and beat those brats back into the house and make them do push-ups until they fall asleep on the living room rug. Then, when your husband comes home, give him a good, sharp, chisel-fist punch to the testicles, as well. Ensure to make that punch in an upward thrusting motion to attain permanent damage to those puppies so that you two make more really bad kids. While I do not believe that kids are born bad, I know who you are and you just suck at raising kids. So stop having them. Try to fix what you broke in the first four and QUIT SENDING ME LETTERS. I've got a restraining order RIGHT HERE and it includes ANY form of contact, you sick, twisted FREAK.



Friday, November 25, 2011

My Baby Brother

Whenever I think of my sweet face baby brother, I see him as the little blonde-haired, blue-eyed cherub that he was when he was two. He was so ornery growing up but had a soft spot in his heart for his three "guhlies" (girlies) that were me and my two sisters. Mom once told me that when we had gone to spend the night at a friend's house that Lloyd wandered the house crying for his "guhlies" to come home. We dressed him up like a girl and painted his toenails and all sorts of other torturous big sister games that only a little brother would tolerate until his dad came home one day and threatened to beat all three of his daughters if they put one more dress, application of lipstick or hair barrette on HIS boy! Good thing we still have photos, huh?

My brother was always a charming, funny, and ass-kicking machine like I was. He was only eleven when I moved out and I always felt a little guilty leaving him behind. Not because the rest of my family was totally psycho or anything. (Maybe a smidgen of psycho.) But I missed all of his middle school and high school years because I was living and working on the East Coast and he was all the way out in El Paso. (Yeah, the tee-shirt is pretty accurate. El Paso actually IS 10 miles from water and 3 feet from HELL.) And while I got to see him when I went home to visit for holidays every year or two, I missed out on all of his shenanigans and first dates and swim meets and prom and graduation. I wish I could have been there for that....sort of. I wish I could have sheltered him from some of the crazy he had to endure during the years that led to my parents eventual divorce.
By that time, I was working in Greece.

Just before I shipped out to Athens, I drove out to El Paso to drop off a bunch of stuff that I didn't want to take with me for fear it would get lost or destroyed. So I drove for three days with my suitcase of dirty laundry (to keep my sisters from hijacking all my clothes because they CERTAINLY wouldn't wash them before swiping them), a box filled with my high school diploma, awards from work, yearbooks and my mom all packed into my car. (Yeah, Mom only has one leg and I had a 5-speed Ford Escort so she was sort of along for the ride....and to tell me to slow down a lot.) I spent about a week with them and then my brother offered to drive back to Baltimore with me. COOL.

It was a great trip. Except when he got a speeding ticket about 4 miles outside of El Paso city limits. And except for when we stopped to eat cat fish at a truck stop outside of Nashville and they towed my friggin' car basically because it had out of state tags and it cost me about $150.00 to get it back and delayed our arrival to Baltimore by about 6 hours. I still hate Nashville because of that. But my brother and I had the laughing-est, singing-est, fun time during those three days on the road. I haven't seen him but about 5 or 6 times since then. Damn. That was back in 1992.

I'm thankful that we both have Facebook and Skype and email. If it weren't for that, we'd never hear from each other. But thanks to the internets we have an awesome relationship. And the last time I saw him back in May 2010 at a mini-family reunion outside of Austin, I spent several hours just talking to him and it was like we hadn't been apart at all. I love my brother so much. I'm very proud of him. He's a Navy veteran. He's a fantastic chef and butcher and has a plethora of knowledge about cheese. In fact, during the Whole Foods market 2008 "Crack Heard Round the World" attempt to break the Guinness Record for cutting the most wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese open simultaneously, MY brother "cut his cheese" in 1 minute and 36 seconds....which is TOTALLY AWESOME! (Click here to watch Lloyd kick cheesy ass!) (He's the cute guy on the right!)

Lloyd is one of the coolest, smartest, and funniest people I ever had the pleasure to meet. I think he and I would be friends even if we weren't siblings. He's just that great a guy. And I miss him.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Honeymoon's Over

After seventeen years of marriage and the development of a social conscience, I've stopped running the faucet when I'm pooping to cover up any loud and bombastic gastric releases he might hear on the other side of the bathroom door. He KNOWS I fart.
bathroom Pictures, Images and Photos
And we DON'T have a noisy ceiling fan here like we did in our house in Dallas.

So now after leaving the bathroom, I curtsy or bow and he applauds. I've yet to achieve a standing ovation, but I'm working on it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Egypt Update: 22 FEB Tuesday

Well, life for OUR family was more of the same ole, same ole.....BUT the Chief of the Military Council finally came on the air and made a really long-winded statement in which he said that he accepted the resignation of the Cabinet. He's not stepping down. The military has no desire to extend the military rule, etc. and blah blah blah the presidential elections will be completed by July....2012. Yeah. So, people not happy. Whatever.

I can kinda see his point on one hand. I mean, you don't just hand over the country prior to elections and just hope for the best. There is no government here other than the military council. Things seemed to have calmed down a bit in Cairo the last time I checked the news stations a couple of hours ago. My eyes started to get that donut glaze over them and I was hearing Charlie Brown's teachers voice "Wah, wah, wah, wah....wah, wah..."
so I changed the station and let the kids watch Rush Hour while I did the dishes.

Alexandria is a mess. Not where we live....but across the city mainly in Samouha district (where my cardiologist is.) The police vans were firing huge tear gas cans into the crowds in a downward angle from the mount on the roof of the vans. People are being shot in the head and eyes with rubber covered bullets. It's been pretty bad according to the reports. Camera-wise in Alex, they seemingly only have one street covered (Al-Jazeera International.) They announced on State TV that a curfew is in effect and no one can be on the streets after 6 pm but you know how much anyone is respecting the police right now. It's 11:34 pm and I just got home from grocery shopping. My husband and one of my son's went to the gym to work out. S.S.D.D.

Ultimately, you can't go from a dictatorship to a democracy in a relatively short amount of time. It requires a lot of building and change and trust. At present, the supreme high court has announced that the announcement by the military last week that they will not be overseen by civilian leadership and that the military funds are not going to be accounted for by civilians, etc is either constitutional or unconstitutional. I don't know. You have a neighbor who doesn't have television but does have 4 kids under the age of 10 stop by to catch up on the news and the whole house goes nuts and you end up missing a word here and there. I'll let you know when I play catch up. Also, elections are still scheduled for 28 November. We shall see. I'm tired and need to go make a late supper for my weight-lifters before they get home. Peace out.

Monday, November 21, 2011

URGENT Update on Egypt Situation

Hey. I don't know what's being covered in the US right now as far as the 
demonstrations and clashes starting up again here.....but it's true. Tomorrow
they are calling for a "Million Man March" and there are already thousands in
Tahrir Square in Cairo and all across the country gearing up. 

The people are protesting that we're still under military regime (Mubarak's
leftovers) and the elections that were supposed to be held back in September
were pushed back until October (because of Mubarak's trials that never happened)
and then again to November 28. My kids are taking exams this week for mid-terms
but it looks like the schools are preparing for the "fit to hit the proverbial shan", as
it has been rumored that those exams may end up being their mid-year exam
grades. Samiya and Aiman are scheduled to get out of school at 11am tomorrow
morning. I'm planning, God willing, to meet them at the gate with a buttload of 
groceries for them to help me carry home and then we're hunkering down to ride
out the storm. The really good part in this, Mohamed is at home right now so it
won't be as scary.

We are still living on the outskirts of the city of Alexandria in the beach community.
While there will probably be some demonstrations here, it probably will not reach
where we live. We don't live near any military or police installations or government 
offices, so we're probably safe. Mom, you met my friend Sarah when you were here.
She lives next to a prison and police station. Keep her family in your prayers, please.
They had a lot of violence by their house last time. 

I just wanted to touch base and let you know what's going on right now---- It's currently
9:30pm (Egyptian Standard Time) Monday, 21 November. The last report on Al-Jazeera
English (International) and the BBC Arabic news channels, the military council has 
accepted the resignations of the Interim Cabinet members but nobody cares. The cabinet
ministers are really just puppet heads for the military council at this point and have done
virtually NOTHING since being appointed. They're all Mubarak-leftovers as well. The 
people are calling for the resignation of the Head of the military council. 

What you ARE seeing on tv (if you're watching) is probably the people in Tahrir Square.
There are thousands of people milling about and shouting. Also, there are makeshift
hospitals within the square set up by volunteer doctors helping the injured and so far, there
have been over 33 dead reported and thousands injured. They've made an assembly line 
to carry the injured from the side streets into the middle of the square for treatment. The
more serious injuries are being carried back out and put into ambulances for hospitalization.

What you ARE NOT seeing on tv is the attacks by the internal security forces, police and
military against peaceful demonstrators. They are firing a plastic bullets, shot gun shells full 
of bird shot and now they are using a more powerful tear gas (per the 
correspondents on both channels who've been reporting since Jan) than in the 25 Jan rev-
olution and in the demonstrations last month. Here in Alexandria (specifically in Samouha
district), the cops are up on roof tops firing plastic bullets and bird shot into crowds of 
unarmed people. I haven't heard about what's going on down in the Upper Egypt areas and 
in Suez....but it's probably the same as here and Cairo.

At any rate, as long as the internet is up, I'll give you all updates every day to let you know
that we are okay. If you want to call, that's fine, too. I probably won't be calling out because
if this goes to shit again like earlier this year, phone cards to refill balances on prepaids are
going to be impossible to get ahold of. So I'll be saving for emergencies.

Nikki, Mohamed and kids

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Becca's Right...I Have Stress-Induced Gas

So a while back I was experiencing chest pains so strong that I couldn't breathe. I blogged about it a few times here.  Then I spent hundreds (thankfully, not thousands) of pounds paying for tests and cardiograms and ekgs and yada, yada, yada. At the end of the month of two hour bus rides across the city to the International Cardiac Center, my heart had been declared 100% healthy and I was prescribed fat-blockers for my high cholesterol. Really? So why is my chest still hurting like a MOFO?!

I talked it over with my phlebotomist and she said that I should do the bloodwork to eliminate thyroid issues that my cousin, Heather, suggested may be causing it. I'm probably going to do that today. My good friend, Becca, thinks it's just gas. (She knows my family FAR too well to be able to make such a diagnosis.) I wondered if it was a digestion issue and opted to try a vegetarian diet for about 6 weeks. I'd have been able to last longer if it weren't for the autistic kid who has to have only crunchy  food and the 10 year old who hates everything and then the husband and 3 kids who eat whatever I cook but really like meat and chicken and fish.....and that's like 4 different dinners to cook for each meal. So, I just gave up and went back to forcing all 7 of  us to eat the same thing. Yeah, I'm "lazy" like that. (And so over it.)

So now that I'm cholesterol meds, I'm regular........WAYYYYYY regular. (Please don't block the door to the bathroom when you see me running for it. It could prove messy for both of us.) The chest pains eased up for a while. And today came back with a vengeance. My husband and 13 yr old have been doing a weight-lifting program the last few weeks. And my husband's trainer mentioned that they should eat a lot more protein, including a lot of legumes. So we had lentils two nights ago. And yesterday I made Greek chicken in the oven with rice and a large pot of white beans and marinated cucumber and onion salad. While I only had one bowl of beans (for the sake of my family), my husband and sons tore up the pot. All.THREE. pounds. of. beans. Maybe they fart vicariously through me?!  Or it could be that I'm stressed out from the constant fighting between the teens. I'm going to find the Egyptian equivalent of Xanax and try that. And see if that helps at all. But ultimately I think that Becca is right. It's gas.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spaghetti and Eggplant Night

My husband's cousin is having an engagement ceremony tonight. It's pouring down rain outside and as much as I like his cousin and his aunt, the kids and I aren't going. We weren't really invited anyway. The bride had a death in her family recently so it's bad manners to have a big celebration when there are family members still in mourning. I like the respect aspect of this. So no hurt feelings here. My husband went to stand by his cousin while they recite the Fatiha (the first verse of the Holy Quran) and discuss the wedding contract, etc and when the wedding will take place.

For me and for the kids, this is culinary specialty night: We get to eat SPAGHETTI and EGGPLANT! Woo hoo. See my husband loathes spaghetti and eggplant. We NEVER get to eat it when he's home. Sure, we have pasta and occasionally I'll make a small tray of mousaka when I want to eat it....but I always make pastitsio for him because of his chronic case of nausea brought on by the mention of the word eggplant. I love him. So I'm okay with it. But on night's when he eats at a relative's house (like tonight), I hand the boys a 10-pound note and send them off to the nearest grocer for 2 packages of spaghetti noodles and a jar of tomato paste!

And tonight, we'll be slurping up big ole long noodles of spaghetti heaven and chowing on pickled eggplant stuffed with cilantro, garlic and hot peppers. YUMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!

And when he comes home late tonight, I'll have a nice supper of fava beans, felafel and boiled eggs and cheese waiting for him. And he won't be grossed out and we'll have scratched our spaghetti itch. Win, win!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Weather Has Changed, but Has the Climate?

There was patience and grumbling under breath for more than thirty years. Everyone knew that the sunshine was killed by a dark and shadowing cloud. That cloud gathered smaller gray clouds around it, becoming one huge black sky that had no silver lining. Occasionally when it would line itself with the silver of freer climates from across the globe, the rays of a distant hopeful sun would shine through, but only for brief moments. And when the freer, warmer climates breezed their attentions elsewhere, the black sky would deposit the silver lining into offshore accounts and then release more acid rain onto the dry, parched ground of the land beneath it.

The product of thirty years of acid rain and very little nourishing moisture is a hard and rugged land. It still gives vegetation, but for every one pure and wholesome fruit produced there are five that are full of worms and as blackened on the inside as they are red and beautiful on the outside. These plants are mostly rootless. If they have roots, they are not hard-fastened to the sandy soil and are therefore, lazy and useless. They cannot provide for the starving plant, and the germination process seemingly stopped.

But there was a bright light. And the smaller, younger shoots caught a glimpse of it and were inspired. They pushed through the topsoil. They blossomed and rooted deep strong roots in the soil that was deep down in the earth of old. Their blossoms, bright and colorful, shouted to the lazy and complacent foiliage in the gardens across the land. They encouraged them out of their sleep and brought their pride to the tips of their leaves, forcing them to rise up against the artificial climate of the controlled greenhouse built around them by the black sky. They, too, shouted out their colors and burst through the glass ceiling that had held them down so long. They grew tall and strong. They reached the sky united and broke through its blackness and it crumbled to the ground. The warmth of the hope of a new sun was so warm around them that they felt no fear nor cowardice. The wetness of true rain with its nutrients was real and inspiring on their hungry petals and they grew stronger and overcame the blackness.

But the black sky left its residue of corruption in the very chlorophyll of the vegetation throughout the land. Some of the plants, who only knew life under the black sky, continued to live as parasite plants, choking the very life out of the smaller and younger plants. Only a new sun can provide a focal point for the lazy and corrupt plants. Can the smaller clouds gathering in the sky along with a  new sun wash away this dirt and filthy stench of thirty oppressive years of darkness? Hope is here. We'll see.

Chocolate Rice Cereals VERBODEN

THIS is a picture of rat poop that I found on
rat poop in basement Pictures, Images and Photos

THIS is a picture of Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies (R).

My kids tend to walk around while they eat and sometimes they spill. Do you want to know the meaning of the word PANIC ATTACK?? That would be ME seeing spilled Cocoa Krispies on the floor of my kitchen and thinking it's a bunch of rat turds.

And because of this kids have been forbidden to eat Cocoa Krispies or even bring them into my house. EVER.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cold Weather Helps Show Age

snow Pictures, Images and Photos Ever notice how the older you get, the deeper you find yourself buried under the covers in cold weather? My husband is hiding under a sheet, a cotton and linen bedspread, an acrylic double-thick blanket and a giant handmade comforter made of brocade and stuffed with cotton batting. Yes, cotton batting...not polyester fiber filling. It's heavy and awesome unless someone barfs or poops on it because it CANNOT go in the washing machine. It's a nightmare to clean. I'm a little off-point now. Where was I? Oh, yes. The cold.

So, each year I notice new little aches and pains and inability to jump out of bed to face the morning. Now I sort of sling my legs out of bed one at a time after forcing the ton of above-mentioned bed coverings. I half suspect that next year I'll be lifting my legs off the bed and setting them on the floor one at a time with my hands and maybe the year after that I'll need one of those handy dandy hand grip triangle things that dangle above my pillows from the ceiling by a chain. I used to wash the hand prints and foot prints and "Lord knows what" prints off of my walls about once a month a few years ago. Then I noticed it was like once every 3 months by the time I turned 40. Now I delegate either to the kids who are in super deep doo-doo with me to wash....or I tell my husband, "Hey, I think we need to paint the house."

It's not that we get lazier as we age. I think it's a combination of "I just don't have the time anymore" and "I don't give a shit that much anymore." I figure at this point in my life, if someone comes over and judges me to be a slob because I've got kids who are freakin' normal and don't believe that gravity actually works and therefore find it necessary to walk down the hallways of our home with both arms extended, hands open and dragged along each wall, then PISS ON THEM. I don't want them visiting me and my grubby walls anyway.

And the colder it gets, the louder my bed calls me. I try to ignore it. I usually make it until around 8pm sometimes later. But if all the stuff on t.v. is stuff I've seen before or if one of the kids decides that it's not "my turn" on the computer...then I usually give in and answer my bed and all 78,000 covers on it. I dive carefully as I can so as not to accidentally smush my already-hibernating husband with my very muscular body that is now well-insulated under about 60 pounds of warm fat. Also, I don't want to puncture a boob on his really bony hips. Oh, yeah. He's THAT guy with the never-ending metabolism. (Mine hit a brick wall right after I got married.)

I love the winter weekends when I can sleep in. Hell, I'm actually turning into one of those bad mothers who decides, "Oh, they're not learning shit in school anyway," and slaps off the alarm clock and keeps the kids home for a nice sleep in followed by a day of resented home-schooling. But that's okay. As long as I'm rested and they pass all their exams we're good. But I need to start closing my bedroom door so that I don't hear that bed calling more and more frequently. Because honestly, once the rainy season comes, all bets are off.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Life's Work

Raising children has got to be the most rewarding, difficult job that doesn't involve hazard pay. It's loud and screamy and a little head-achy and sometimes poopy and vomity. But a lot of the time it isn't. A lot of the time it's funny and laughing and giggly and loving. Today is one of those really good days where I feel like I've succeeded at the "mom gig."

While I'm nowhere near finished with my "job," I know that I'm on the right track. There are some members of my extended family who have criticized my kids and the way I raise them. Do I care about those opinions? Not enough to change what I'm doing. Did those opinions hurt? Hell yes. But here's the thing. I. know. that. I. have. great. kids. Not good. GREAT!

Yes, they fight. There are FIVE of them and they are all extremely close in age and in a less than 1000 square foot 3-bedroom apartment. They have 5 extremely different personalities and interests and tolerance levels. They are all pretty vocal and equal on the teasing playing field. They all have great senses of humor complete with sarcastic rapier wit. They fight over the t.v., the computer and whose turn it is to do dishes. What kids don't? Do they fist fight? Yes. Do I allow it? No. Do they do it anyway? Yes. But I break it up and hand out punishments by taking away privileges.

For whatever fighting, teasing or tattling that they do, they are also extraordinarily helpful. My kids are the ones that see a woman struggling with bags of groceries and walk up and take the bags from her hands so that she can get out her keys to open the front door. They won't carry the groceries upstairs to her apartment because they aren't allowed to. But they will set them inside the door of the building. Unless it's someone that we know or unless they yell up to our balcony and let me know what they're doing first. My kids help with dishes...some of them without being told. Others help on the threat of no computer time. One actually gets bored and cleans out closets. Another will clean the stove top (a job that I abhor.) And one got sick of the handprints in the hallway and actually scrubbed down the walls for me 2 nights ago.

I still have to yell to get anyone to get the dirty laundry INTO the hamper as opposed to under the beds, but I never said they were perfect. My youngest buys me little things that he thinks I might like. If he gets 5 pounds spending money from his father, he immediately asks one of his older brothers to take him to the corner shop to "buy stuff." He almost always comes back with a can of diet soda or a  piece of gum or a package of ramen noodles for me. I don't have the heart to tell him that I cannot stand the thought of ramen noodles after living on them for nearly two semesters of college. I get love notes from them. My 13-yr old leaves me "I'm sorry" and "I love you" notes when I'm having a bad day. My oldest likes to text his love notes to me...usually after we have one of those "teenage angst" days together. My younger daughter will just go make my bed or wash a load of dishes if she's attempting to apologize. And my youngest is just a big hugger. My older daughter will tell me "Sorry, Mommy. Give me a hug." For an autistic kid, she's starting to learn empathy.

I know that I have put a lot on here about the OMG they're running me nuts times....but I guess that's because I use this blog as a sort of creative outlet to my own stress to keep from having an aneurysm or ripping out all of my eyebrows which are both inconvenient and terribly unattractive....especially when I get that nervous twitch in my face. But all in all, I have great kids who are learning to deal with other personality types in small spaces on a daily basis. And if they fight well, they make up better. And that's something that a lot of adults STILL need to learn how to do. Clearly, I'm doing something right.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hollywood's Actually Got Me Thinking

Apple. Pictures, Images and Photos
As an Army brat, I attended 15 schools in 12 years. (16 schools if you include the night classes that I took at the local community college during my senior year in high school.) Most of the teachers that I had were pretty good but most never left any major impressions on me. Weirdly, I remember most of my teachers names from the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) that I attended. But the teachers that I had in the U.S. are a mere blur. With the exception of Sister Carita Ulm, my kindergarten teacher from Rosenburg, Texas, who taught me to read, and Sister Mary Katherine, my 2nd grade teacher, from El Paso, Texas, who I really only remember because she nearly clawed my arms off from the elbows down because I kicked some boy named Raul off of the top of the slide for looking up my skirt while I was in line in front of him.  I don't know why I remember all of my DODDS teachers so much better than the civilian school teachers. I remember Mrs. Ball, 8th grade Social Studies teacher from Ozark, Alabama because she smelled like cigarettes and Dentyne gum. And Mr. Ken Korn, my 7th grade speech teacher from El Paso, Texas. I liked Mr. Korn because he was actually a good teacher and demanded our respect in his class. He also said that the word was not BECUZZZZZ but "beCAUSE...rhymes with JAWS."  Oh, and Mr. Whitaker, from my 7th grade Talented and Gifted class in El Paso. Mr. Whitaker made an impression because he worked us do death mathematically and because we got to design cool bridges made mostly out of toothpicks which we then destroyed by hanging weights off of them. Mine, of course, was the first one to snap in half. Most of the other teachers in El Paso were known only as "Mees" and "Meester", even by us anglo kids. I always wondered if any of them had surnames.

I remember the DODDS teachers most, I think, because they actually challenged us to think and to problem solve. Even the really crappy teachers still had an edge over most of the ones that I had in the civilian world. (With the exception of 3rd grade on Fort Bliss...if I had had an orangutan for a teacher in that class I couldn't tell you, it was THAT memorable a school.) Anyway, what got me thinking about teachers vs. GREAT teachers was that movie from 1988, "Stand and Deliver" starring Edward James Olmos as a math teacher, Jaime Escalante, who decided to challenge the kids in his Garfield High School class to learn calculus and take the Advanced Placement exam. It was like a lot of the "based on a true story" movies showing how disadvantaged kids in East Los Angeles, when given a teacher who gives a damn and works to get and keep their attention while still earning their respect, can overcome all odds and get themselves on the right educational track. Other examples are "Freedom Writers" with Hillary Swank, "Race the Sun" with Halle Berry and James Belushi, and "Dangerous Minds" with Michelle Pfeiffer. All are loosely based on true stories. All seem to indicate only one teacher in an entire high school full of teachers gives a damn. Wow. Our public education system must REALLY suck.

At Stuttgart American High School, which was located in Ludwigsburg, Germany just outside of Stuttgart, the opposite was true. For every average teacher I had in a 6-period day, I had 4 really good ones and one who stood out among the rest. My freshman year, my favorite teacher was Mr. Pike in Biology. He was corny and funny and smart and challenged us and made us laugh and think and expected 150% in all of his classes. My sophomore year, my favorite teacher was Dr. S.E. Lewis, Honors English. He was a little flighty and we could play some whopper practical jokes on him. But he challenged us with reading assignments and made us dig deep into Shakespeare and I swear I read more than 30 books that  year alone in his class. My junior year, I had two favorite teachers. Mrs. Bourland was my Honors English teacher and she was tough with her reading lists and composition assignments. She inspired my love of the American authrs like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Poe. She was 10 times stricter about the term papers she assigned than Dr. Lewis was the year before. But she was compassionate toward me when I almost lost my mom to cancer that year. Mr. Mazzei was also a favorite that year. In his humanities class, I was introduced to art and architecture in history and it made all of those boring old history classes that I'd had for years make sense to me. I fell in love with the flying buttresses of Gothic architecture and did two term papers for him on two different cathedrals in the town I where I lived. My overseas education in DODDS schools really made me a deeply cultured person.

When we returned to the US, my dad was stationed at an airfield on Fort Meade, Maryland and my sister and I were enrolled in Meade Senior High School. This is actually a county school that happens to be on post. But I think we lucked out and ended up with some  pretty good teachers there, too. My absolute favorite teacher there was Ms. Patty Diaz (she married after I graduated but I don't know her new last name.) She was my dance teacher and introduced us to contemporary/modern dance. It was a great release for me with all the stress I was going through at home. Ms. Diaz was laid back and creative and cool, but still demanded our attention and respect. As for academics, I had a few favorites. Mr. Bill Shepard was my speech teacher and he was also the faculty adviser for the school newspaper. When Mr. Shepard heard about my mom being terminal with cancer, he asked me to write an article about it for the school paper. I did, but anonymously. Being in high school is hard enough without everyone staring at you for the added reason of your mom dying in order to point and call you a freak. Then there was Mrs. Sharp, my Algebra II teacher who was very good at explaining the tougher points while still keeping a little sarcastic wit for those who were not paying attention. And then there was Mr. Pelham. I was in his Advanced Placement English class for seemingly 5 minutes before I got moved to a different class because my dad insisted that I drop Sociology and re-take Algebra II that I'd passed in Germany with a 'C'. (Dad's reasoning was that if I'd made a 'C' the first time around, that I could easily make a 'B' or even an 'A' the second time around. That's how I met Mrs. Sharp. And as great a teacher as she was, I still made another 'C' in Algebra II. I think I just didn't want to be there....I digress.)

Mr. Pelham seemed to be going through some changes in 1985. I didn't know him before that class. So, I guess I'm the last to judge. But he seemed sort of disillusioned with American youth. In my first week in his class he said something that didn't sit right with me. He said that "Americans have no culture at all." Of course, most of the class took issue with this statement and began calling out various things that they thought made them "cultured." Sadly, I began to see what he was talking about. Pretty much, most of the stuff that my classmates used as examples were things from Elvis Presley's era until present...well, present-day 1985. I guess those of us who had gone to school overseas and visited places like the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, skied the Alps of Bavaria and Switzerland, visited  Anne Frank's hiding place in Amsterdam, and touched the walls of the shower rooms and smelled the stench of the crematorium still present at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany could be the exception to his rule. I still liked Elvis Presley and Jazz and hamburgers and pizza, though. So maybe Mr. Pelham was right and I was uncultured. Whatever. He made an impression on me. He was an excellent English teacher, even if I was only in his class a brief time. Honestly, I wish I hadn't dropped his class. The nameless, faceless English teacher I ended up with now falls into the "blur pit" of other civilian world teachers that I had throughout my years in school.

But I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those teachers who have made a difference in the lives of their students. Teachers who challenge their students to think, to take that nearly but not absolutely impossible first step toward self-improvement, to go further than they thought possible, and to THINK for themselves....these are our true heroes. Thank you, Sister Carita, Mr. Korn, Mr. Whitaker, Mr. Pike, Dr. Lewis, Mrs. Bourland, Mr. Mazzei, Ms. Diaz, Mr. Shepard, and Mr. Pelham. You helped shape me.