Friday, April 28, 2006

All From a "xiang jiao" [banana]

Finally my annoying habit of practicing Mandarin Chinese phrases, even as I walk around in public, has paid off. We were at the breakfast buffet at the hotel this morning and I was doing just that with Benjamin. I was asking him if he wanted a "xiang jiao"  [banana]. A minute later the person running the breakfast buffet, a polite, cheerful, middle-aged woman who looked to be of another ethnicity, approached my wife, Benjamin and I and asked incredulously if I had said "xiang jiao" . I admitted I had, now embarrassed. We explained that we were trying to learn Mandarin (because we are adopting from China
) and asked if she spoke Mandarin.

We got into a nice conversation with her — in English, though: ("Wo putonghua shuo de bu hao."  [I don't speak Mandarin well.] Yet.) We learned that she in fact speaks four languages   (And,  she had been trying to learn a fifth, Spanish, from some of her Latino colleagues when she had worked in the hotel's housekeeping department.) She is originally from Taiwan, but has family connections to the Philippines and Hawaii.

We really enjoyed asking her questions about languages, hearing about her travels and family, and seeing a photo of her cute grandchild. She appeared to like having an interchange beyond "Good Morning, Ma'am, . . . we'll be bringing out a fresh bowl of that in just a minute," etc. Further, she seemed to be delighted by engaging Benjamin to use the words and phrases he knows in Mandarin. (One of his favorites is "Wo xiang niu nai."  [I would like milk.] He's a big fan of the "niu nai." )

True, our chat was serendipitous; it did not result from my initial greeting. (Two minutes before our exchange I had offered a homogenous "Hi, how are you this morning" to our acquaintance-to-be and had received a similarly everyday, friendly reply.) Nevertheless,  the result  highlighted the enjoyment and connection to be gained by not pretending those around us with different backgrounds or types of jobs are just wallpaper.

I guess I also found out, perhaps to the chagrin of my potentially embarrassed wife and friends, that the same gains can be sparked by wandering around mumbling in broken Chinese.

A Serving from the Melting Pot?

At her conference, my wife was in the buffet line for lunch yesterday. Behind the buffet line were servers who all appeared to be Latino. One of the conference attendees next to her — a Caucasian guy — was telling another that he had seen a bumper sticker that said "Secure Our Borders." He continued that he thought he would have a bestselling bumper sticker if the same slogan were written in both English and Spanish.

We don't know if the man was oblivious, indifferent, or being deliberately provocative. (My wife thought he was clueless; the staff was, perhaps, "invisible" too him.) Now it's possible   the workers were all citizens and/or legal immigrants and  completely agreed with the sentiment of the bumper sticker in question. (Statistically, though, I suppose that the opinion part of that hypothetical is very unlikely). Nevertheless, the comment — the guy's opinion notwithstanding — seemed insensitive, to say the least.

Without getting into my (complex) opinions about immigration or multicultural issues, the situation makes me wonder. Would this man have been as outspoken about, for example, the war if surrounded by a bunch of soldiers or peace activists, or about abortion if surrounded by a group of conservative Christians or pro-choice feminists?

At breakfast, we again learned the value of not  acting as if the "staff" is invisible just because their culture or income-level or language or education level might  be different than yours.

I hope to tell that story in the next post.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pool-Time Deficiency Syndrome

We are in Janesville (WI) staying in a hotel. (Mrs. Occupation Dad has to attend a conference here and we came together, like we always do.)

There is free wireless Internet access for me, TLC's "A Baby Story" for my wife and a pool for Benjamin. "Hotels always have pools in 'em," he observed today. Good pattern finding! Maybe we better start staying at Motel 6's to give him a little dose of the real world.

(I wonder if we'll  encounter any exceptions to this pool rule in China. [We're told that the urban hotels in which adoptive families are set up are always pretty upscale. The more rural hotels — typically where children actually join their new families — are less fancy but still nice.] Time  for swimming, though? That's another story.)

Benjamin surely was very eager to use the pool this  morning. We went to the included breakfast thing in a room with a view of the pool. Benjamin is not the kind of kid who would (or did) keep asking excitedly over and over about swimming, running over the pool window and saying, "Let's go, let's go!" You can tell, though, that inside his head he's constantly percolating about it. He did ask a couple of times, "When are we going to go to the pool?" spacing these casual remarks out a bit. This didn't speed things up enough for his taste.

So, near the end of breakfast, he put on a bothered face and made a couple of humming, moaning noises, then said, "Well, . . . I'm feeling really sick today."

"You are?" we replied, wondering what this was about.

"Yeahhh," he continued pathetically, "but . . . I think going in the pool would make me feel a lot better."

We explained to him that you didn't need to be sick to qualify for pool time, that, in fact, it's the other way around — and that he and I would be heading to the pool shortly after breakfast.

A miraculous healing ensued and we've had no more reports or signs of really sick sickness so far today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Life Near the Fastlane

For those of you who read this blog periodically — all 5 of you — you might  be wondering where I've gone.

Well, I have lots of "material" for the blog in my mind, in notes, and in half-finished stories.

I haven't been able to really complete any because, for a guy who's been living in the "slowlane" it's seemed  like a crazy couple of weeks.

There's the substitute teaching, of course. We've also had an adoption seminar, a number of family (of origin) things — including Easter and multiple celebrations and visits for Benjamin's birthday, family-business tasks, taxes (we have someone do ours, but I help my brother-in-law do his . . . figure that one out), a couple of viruses (relatively mild but annoying nonetheless). On top of all that, a car, an electric line and a dryer have all died (in unrelated incidents) here in the past couple of weeks. Plus, we're trying  to get ready for my wife's business trip (this week) and our vacation (next week).

Gosh, when I put it all in one paragraph like that, it's more understandable. Now I'm starting to see where all the time has gone.

Frankly, though, I'm not above screwing around, and at the end of few of these past days, I've been known to just drop in front of the TV without the energy to write.

I want to fill in some of the "stories" of which I've been making note. (I'll backdate them to the appropriate for organization [anal retentive] purposes.) I'll link them in a current post.

Here are some—
My first day as a music teacher: Clap the rhythm ... on your own knees!

A funny "incident": The Teacher Kicked Him in the Eye

Ben's new friends: "That which we call a [Beanie Baby] by any other name would smell as sweet."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"That which we call a [Beanie Baby] by any other name would smell as sweet."

This is "Sweet Bunny." Now you maybe notice that Sweet Bunny is, in fact, a dog — not that there's anything wrong  with that. His official Beanie Baby tag does not bear this name, but this is what Benjamin named him.

Benjamin is not really into stuffed animals that much, but he likes to snuggle this one, which he received recently from his Aunt. The poem on the tag, which he's memorized, states that this dog likes to snuggle. Benjamin's a stickler for instructions (most  of the time).

This is "Sweet Rabbit," (compliments of the Easter Bunny). The name makes sense. Interestingly, though, he was  named "Sweet Cupboard." Sweet Cupboard, however, had to "have a talk with" Benjamin — this is what he tells us — and as a result he changed the puppet's name to "Sweet Rabbit."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Teacher Kicked Him in the Eye

"The teacher kicked him in the eye," was what the student told them in the office, but I didn't find that out until later.

I had taken an assignment to sub in kindergarten.

The students were a little chatty and silly, but it was a well-behaved group.

At one point, the kids were all seated on the floor as I was in front of them leading a reading lesson. One of them raised her hand and told me her finger was hurt. I walked between the kids to get to her. I thought maybe she'd cut her finger; when I got close, though, I could see it was just a just a sore hangnail or something like that.)

Meanwhile, behind me I heard a scramble of voices and then sobbing.

I turned around and saw one of the boys in the class had his hand to his eye. He was the one crying, but the poor little guy was trying to restrain it.

I could see that, as I had been walking by (balancing to make sure I didn't fall on the kids in front of me), the heel of my big shoe must have caught him right by his eye.

I rushed back to him, "Oh my Gosh! Oh my Gosh! Tyler, I'm sorry; I'm sorry! Tyler, are you OK?" (Names changed to protect . . . you know the drill.)

Well, I took the poor fella' aside and told him he could sit down and rest. I had another student go to the office for an ice pack. Tyler was OK, and was feeling fine a few minutes later.

An educational assistant returned with an ice pack (and the student I'd sent). "They" (in the office) wanted the E.A. to bring Tyler back to the office, just so they could check if he was OK. That surprised me, . . . but fine.

Not too long after that he returned. With the other ensuing classroom adventures of the day, I didn't think much about the incident again.

At the end of the day I went to the office to get a form. One of the secretaries greeted me with, "How did your day go? Sounded like you had a little incident down there today."

I wrinkled my forehead: for a few seconds I didn't know what she was talking about; I had put it out of my mind. "Ohhh, Tyler ! Yeah,  I feel so bad about that. I'm so clutzy. I was walking in between the kids and I caught the poor guy with the back of my shoe."

She laughed, "Oh, well, one of the kids came down and asked for an ice pack, and I asked him, 'For what?" and he just said, 'The teacher kicked Tyler in the eye.' And we were like, 'Who's  your teacher?' and he said, 'Mrs. Stadelmann.' We looked at the board [with the sub's listed on it] and I was thinking, 'What's going on  ?'" Note that not only was I a sub' they had never had there before but also probably the only man in the building besides the gym teacher and one of the custodians.

We discussed the "incident" in more detail, and I asked when to expect a subpoena. We laughed and they assured me not to worry about it now that they understood what had happened. However, they said they had already had to contact Tyler's mom just to let her know, since she's a teacher and all. Great , I thought. (There are two types of teacher-parents, those who are extra understanding of their kids' teachers and those who are hyper-critical of the same.)

As for me, next time I send a kindergartener with a message about an injured child, I'd better send a note, especially if I'm the cause of the injury.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Clap the rhythm ... on your own  knees!

Welcome! We're so glad you were available to sub' here today.
My first day subbing went pretty well overall. It didn't start with quite the "welcome back" to the district one might wish for.

As I mentioned, I was in for an elementary music teacher. She works at two different schools. I whisked into the office of the first school just at the time I was supposed to get there. It was a little busy so I had to wait a minute.

"May I help you?" They see an unfamiliar man in a tie with a black briefcase. They probably think I'm an educational software salesman.

"I'm the substitute for Mrs. Querin." (Names changes to protect …)

"For who?"

My heart rate doubles; I've started at the wrong school. No. That can't be, I read the information over five times.

"Mrs. Querin . . . ," I pronounce the name a couple of different ways. " . . . music teacher, she starts here and then goes to Franklin," I add, almost confidently.

The secretary believes me, but seems to be trying to hide her bewilderment. She walks back to the other secretary and repeat my alleged assignment.

The other secretary explains who I'm supposed to be subbing for and points to a schedule on the wall. (I would think that they would know a sub' is coming, or least know all the teachers in their building, part-time or not; it is April, after all. Maybe, the first secretary was a sub', too.)

Whew! They direct me and even tell me there is another music teacher down there who will let me know what I'll be doing.

Only 10
The plans were thorough. And her Thursday schedule was thoroughly hectic. Her prep' time for the day: a ten-minute break, a thirty-five-minute break during which she has to travel to the other school, and a half-hour break called "lunch." There were 10  half-hour music classes to teach, ranging from Kindergarten to 4th grade.

Multitask Or Else
Both of the schools have a significant population of lower-income students. Almost all of the groups needed stern classroom management.

It was  my first day, and I had  had a bit of practice "teaching" again at church school.

Nevertheless, I found it difficult to deliver this firm class guidance while trying to choose and find the right songs on the CD player and in the music book, attempting to lead the singing in a way that did not incur infectious ridicule, and (sometimes), trying to prevent musical games from turning into recess-like free-for-alls.

Ultimately, each class went fine.

I do not envy the elementary vocal music teacher, especially "Mrs. Querin," and especially on Thursdays.

"Dada's going to work today" OR Operation 'Occupation: Sub', Day One'

Today I had to say something I've never said to my son before, "Dada's going to work today." I will miss him. Especially after the nightmare I had last night in which he, my wife and I were all clinging to each other for dear life as giant rocks were falling out of the sky. (A little repressed anxiety about subbing, perhaps . . . ?)

Today is my first day substitute teaching. I'll be subbing in an elementary music class. I've taught elementary before (that's my field), but never music.

I hope the teacher has left a very complete lesson plan. Perhaps I should bring a Wiggles video just in case. Or, better yet, The School of Rock. ("Hat tip ..." [as they say on the web] ... "hat tip" to my wife for the School of Rock joke.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

What are you doing in there?

Today I was reminded of a story about something that happened a few months ago.

Benjamin was going through a phase where he would use the bathroom and then stay in there just playing with stuff he found. One day while my brother and sister-in-law were visiting he was doing just that. Just before they left, my sister-in-law needed to use the bathroom, so we gave him fair warning that he'd have to come out in a minute.

When she couldn't wait any longer, we told him, ready or not, we were comin' in.

He was at the sink with a big roll of toilet paper under the running water. Half dissolved tissue was oozing off in the standing water (since the drain was pretty well clogged with the same substance).

In the flurry of vacating the bathroom, making the sink operable again, saying goodbye to my family members, telling Benjamin not to put toilet paper in the sink, etc., we didn't really discuss what on Earth he was trying to do.

Once it was calm, we asked. He earnestly answered, "Well, the toilet paper fell in the toilet. I was just trying to wash it off."

It broke our hearts. Conscientious to a fault. A big soggy, messy, gloppy fault.

April Fool's Day

Oh yeah … April's Fools Day: We explained the concept to Benjamin and he got  it.

His main jokes were:

"Oh, no! Eddie [one of our naughtier cats] peed on the floor …"

"Mama, I peed on the floor …"

"Dada, there's a badger in our house! …"

" . . . . . . April Fool's!"

April 3rd and the jokes — same ones — are just starting to peter out this morning.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

John Travol-tot

I was with Benjamin at church school this week. One day all the kids attending (ages 2 – 9) were together singing and doing hand and body motions to a song they had learned. The accompanying music was upbeat pop-rock.

Most of the older kids were doing the learned dance and motions. The preschoolers were either trying to do the same, just standing there, or kind of wiggling to the beat. Except my kid.

Benjamin was doing this wild free-form dance. I wanted to blame The Wiggles , but this   was no Wiggles  dance. It was an intense, all-out disco dance: turning, arms up, elbows out, up, down, shake, hip-shimmy, etc., etc. Despite being in a crowd, he was taking up a 3' X 8' space on the floor.

Actually, … Benjamin and I are not shy about gettin' down in the kitchen, whether it’s the Wiggles, Mother Goose Rocks, They Might Be Giants, New Order, C+C Music Factory (one of his favorites), Cake, Count Basie, J-Lo, Glenn Miller, Moby, … whatever.

When he was showin' his moves there in the church hall, I didn't know whether to be self-conscious or proud.

Well, anyway, now half the church probably thinks I take my kid out clubbing every weekend. (It's only really  like once a month.)