Friday, August 25, 2006

Post-Teaching Stress Disorder

I liked teaching elementary school, but it could be very stressful. So when I was on that helpful break in the summers, the first sign of school supplies on the store shelves always caused my throat to tighten a little bit. I knew I had better start the mad rush to get the classroom and plans for the year ready.

My issues with time, compulsion, attention, etc. would always conspire to make it a less than smooth ramp-up, though I always made it work somehow.

Since I went "on hiatus" from that profession these last years, I do tense up when I see those school supplies come out. Then, however, comes the sigh of relief and the little smile when I remember that September 5th will just be another day, and that my class size this year is again just 1 — or 2.

The subconscious, however, is less relenting. The night before last I had my second end-of-the-summer teaching nightmare.

Vicarious Nerves

My first one was caused by listening to my niece, who will be starting her first year of teaching this school year, describe what's on her plate in the next month. The first year is always tortuous, with little experience and having to set up everything without really knowing what you'll be doing. Moreover, unlike in some professions, you can rarely have someone just come and help you because all your colleagues are at their busiest exactly when you are. You close that classroom door on the first day and you're never alone, but you're on your own.

Well, getting ready for the first day and the first year is plenty. My niece is also coaching volleyball and has games before the school year begins. Right, not uncommon. But wait, there's more! She's getting married on Labor Day weekend. Not just an intimate little affair with a few family and friends. It's a weekend-long extravaganza at a YMCA camp up north, with lots of folks flying in from the groom's native country.

I think this particular niece is the most organized, practical person in the family, so if anyone can do it well, she can. As for me, the anxiety started buzzing just listening to it all. That night was the first nightmare.

Nightmare 1: What grade do I teach?

I arrived at school to set up my classroom. I wasn't sure if it was the first day of school or the day before, but either way I knew I was in trouble. If only I knew which grade I would be teaching . . . or which room was mine; that would help so much. I didn't want the principal — played in this dream by a former boss — to know, however, that (a) I was ill-prepared (b) I didn't even know where to go. So I wandered the halls hiding from her while looking for clues: an empty classroom with nothing set up, or the like.

I was too conspicuous and nervous; I was having no luck. I hovered discreetly near the office hoping to find the boss out. Then I could make a dash to my mailbox. Certainly something in there  would tell me whether I was a 2nd grade teacher or a 5th grade teacher. Of course, I dreaded notes saying, "Why isn't your classroom set up?" and the pile of paperwork I surely already needed to have turned in.

I never did find my classroom and was not in recent memory happier to wake up in our humid, messy bedroom, with my son moaning for his mama as if I was merely an intrusive butler. Not happier, perhaps, until this last teaching dream.


The school year had begun a few weeks earlier, but I was sick at home the whole time. I went to school for the first time after recovering the afternoon before I was going to start work again. I knew that my class had been run by a disparate chain of substitutes about whom I knew nothing. Though I again desperately wanted my mail, I avoided the office for fear of the very same principal.

All the other classrooms were embellished and organized nicely, with signs and displays on the doors and inviting bulletin boards. I arrived at my room. Someone had begun to put a display on the door, but it appeared to be made out of plain white paper and cut paper grocery bags. It was something about Hawaii. Most notably, on each classroom door the principal had put a label with bold black print that said, "PROFESSIONAL," except on my door. My door's label said, "UNPROFESSIONAL."

Inside, the room was organized chaos: desks oddly arranged, half-unpacked boxes used to organize stuff, piles of books and papers scattered about. Given the clues I saw, I believed last sub' was trying to manage by being "the cool teacher" but not maintaining control.

Before or during my absence, I apparently failed to get anything ready for my class this year. My principal hunted me down and sternly asked me what I'd been doing all these weeks. I said, "Well, first, trying to get better."

"Well, that's good; that's good, of course. What else?" she answered.

I mumbled something about some plans I had come up with, and said I'd be working there late that night to get things together.

She said that was a good start and left me alone. I stood alone in the disarray trying for hours to organize, to figure out what the subs had been teaching and to plan even just one lesson. Instead, I just ended up moving piles around, and becoming more and more muddled.

One of the challenging kids in the class stopped by. (He must have forgotten something.) His taunting attitude I felt was ominous. I debated whether I would be trying to get the little . . . whatever . . . on my side, or to come down hard on him with discipline.

The dream ended in the frazzled cloud of confusion before the next day's crashing failure had even begun. I woke up anxious but ultimately relieved.

Awake: Blessed "Boredom"

So again I feel blessed that my only lessons, of late, are largely spontaneous ones involving teaching common expressions so that Benjamin can appreciate certain knock-knock jokes, as well as learning the locations of various operational and disused railroads around town.

And, sometimes, I even get to abandon — almost — all responsibility and be the student, as yesterday, when Benjamin taught me a game involving bopping a beach ball around the living room. It was called "Nic Nic Nic Nic Nic Nic," and it's great therapy for PTSD.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Candy Program Scuttled in Committee

I previously discussed negotiating with Benjamin ("Negotiations with a Preschooler"). Well, Benjamin still tends to propose deals that don't quite have a "carrot" in them for those on the other side of the table.

Yesterday he said to his mom, "Let's start doing this. How about every day when you come from work, you bring me candy?"

He doesn't even eat that much candy. If you give him a big piece, a little bag of something, a lollipop, or a popsicle, he doesn't even finish it. We have candy hoarded from a few parades and holidays back, which we must cull as it gets stale. Maybe he's a candy collector. The end result is that I eat too much candy.

We like that he rations his own candy for whatever reason, so were not about to upset the balance — or the overflowing candy basket — by delivering. The daily candy program is a no-go.

Friends and the Fuzz

While I'm doing housework or driving, etc., I like to listen to radio, internet radio or podcasts. Here's a story I heard the other day that's kind of sweet. It poses the question how long until you're an "old friend." The answer? Two years, unless . . . . . .

If you're a libertarian, parts of this story about the court case of "United States of America v. $124,700, in U.S. Currency" may anger you, but I like the funny bits. You have to listen to the audio for those.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Magic Cats

The other day Benjamin, apparently out of nowhere, said, "Tigger is a Guernsey." (Tigger is the corn-on-the-cob-eating cat.) I don't know where he got 'Guernsey' from, but I didn't bat a proverbial eyelash. Holstein, Guernsey ... this is Wisconsin; these words are in the air.

Me: Tigger is a Guernsey?
Benjamin: Yeah!
Me: How do you know?
B: He does Guernsey kind of stuff.
Me: Like what?
B: He's moos.
Me: He's moos?
B: Yeah, he moos.

Now our cat has many unique abilities, but to date I've not heard him moo.

What abilities? Well, he his very sympathetic. Whenever someone is crying, he rushes over, wide-eyed, to offer his assistance, or at least to sniff them a little bit. This happened a number of times in these past few days, what with the hoof-and-mouth and all. Unfortunately, a cat in your face doesn't do much for painful sores in the mouth. (If anything it annoyed the boy more.)

I think I mentioned this before, but Tigger can catch food in his mouth like a dog, but only if it's shrimp. Sometimes he even catches it with his paws.

We also have magic cats, though their abilities seem limited to opening doors when no one is around. We discovered this ability not long after we acquired Tigger.

We had a friend who had found this very friendly cat she called "Tigger." The friend lived in the country and had to leave the cat outside much of the time because Tigger and her German Shepherd had personal differences. Every time we went to see her, Tigger would run up and purr and rub on us. We often asked our friend if she would let us take Tigger, since she had to leave him outside anyway. At a Halloween party she had, when she was a little tipsy, she conceded.

Though we were scheduled to leave town overnight the next day, we thought we'd better take Tigger home with us right away lest she change her mind when sober. We had another male house cat at the time, and of course they hissed and growled like crazy when they met. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay to help them acclimate. Instead we closed them in separate rooms with separate food and facilities.

When we come back they both walked up to us together at the door purring, shoulder-to-shoulder, like they'd been friends their whole lives. I should be wondering at their amazing ability at unaided reconciliation, and actually I often have. Diplomats around the world today could probably benefit from their abilities. But what keeps bothering me is, how did they get that door open? Either they can use door knobs, or they're magic cats.

They have done it since and they will do it again. But never when we're watching.

Me: Tigger, moo.
Tigger: Meow.
Me: Can you moo, Tigger? Moo?
Tigger: PurrrrrrrrRowww.
Me: Moo, Tigger. Can you moo?
Tigger: Meow.

Well, there's only so much you can expect from magic cats. They're still cats, after all.

Electric Shock Game

"Electric Shock Game" for sale at C. Crane.

Uhhhhhh . . . . . . How  is this fun?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Benjamin has been crying, shrieking and moaning a lot these last few days since he got "hoof-and-mouth."

OK, well it's not really "hoof-and-mouth" and I know that because when the first kid-of-a-friend got "hand foot and mouth disease" and his mom emailed us, she included a link about the virus. The article had a prominent clarifier that it is different than the "hoof-and-mouth disease" (or "foot-and-mouth disease") contracted by cattle. It's a good thing she did that, because in the minutes before I got to the link I nervously thought, "Is that the human version of that 'hoof-and-mouth disease'? Did they get that at the petting zoo? We were at the petting zoo . . ."

So, anyway, "hand, foot and mouth disease." Apparently it's a common childhood illness; symptoms include painful sores on the hands, (yeah, that's right), feet and mouth.

Benjamin's tongue hurt and at first we thought he had bitten it. But when we looked, we saw the 3 or 4 nasty-looking blisters. And that's how the 4 days of him shrieking or moaning in pain sometimes only when he tried to eat or drink, other times every few minutes. The poor little guy. Even on alternating doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, he would complain of lots of pain and had a horrible time eating and drinking.

We don't know for sure that it was "hand, foot and mouth" virus. Some of the clues, however, are hard to argue with. We avoided contact with the first child we knew with the virus. We did, however, spend an evening with a second kid friend who had it but was not supposed to be contagious. We were all in very close contact with him. Maybe he was still contagious after all. It's obviously been going around town, though, so maybe we got it from a grocery cart handle; who knows?

Another clue were the sores in my mouth. I recalled that I had some unexplained sores on my cheek just recently and 3 or 4 canker-like sores were forming on my gums. I also had a strange little blister on my hand, a sore throat and headaches for a while (other symptoms). Usually, only kids get this disease, but adults can get it. And I was in a lot of close contact with cute little suspected vector number one.

Anyway, the shrieking, moaning and crying made the last several days a challenge. And that was just me. (Kidding.) Of course, one of the hardest parts is not being able to do anything else to take the pain away from Benjamin. In my experience, pain relievers don't do too much for throat or mouth pain. We tried a local numbing medication on his tongue sores, but the initial stinging was too much for him to bear.

Benjamin is a slow, distracted eater to begin with. With every bite feeling like a stab in the tongue, each attempt at a meal became a major project, from finding foods that wouldn't sting or scrape, to breaking them into little bits, to coaxing him to actually eat it.

Nights too have been rough (rough mostly for Mrs. OccupationDad who is the light sleeper and the one Benjamin wants to snuggle up to when he wakes up hurting and, moreover, the one has to go to work in the morning). Since we "co-sleep" with Ben, we all awake together and wish we could do something to make the pain go away. (If you're shocked by the co-sleeping, you probably didn't notice the "Attachment Parenting" links in the sidebar. Worry not; it's a good thing.) I do get up for medicine or water or whatever might be needed.

Basically, when you have a sick child, life largely reverts back to when you had a baby. Night waking, holding, frequent comforting and reassuring, more loud "preverbal communication," often bodily fluids need to be removed from clothing and bedding. And, again, that was just dealing with me. Kidding!

Finally yesterday, the shrieking dwindled, and Benjamin ate a relatively normal solid-food meal without tears. So things are looking up!

Moral: If it comes to your town, beware the "hoof-and-mouth."

Friday, August 04, 2006

May I Ask What You Paid for This Piece?

The other day I came downstairs to find Mrs. OccupationDad and my son sitting at the table eating and "playing 'Antiques Roadshow.'"

My wife was in the middle of considering an early 21st Century toy "Hello Kitty" toaster "from Japan" that Benjamin had brought in for her to appraise. She showed my son the maker's mark on the bottom, and gave him a little information about it. It appraised at about $100 - $120 because of "condition issues" and because it did not have the "original toasts."

When she stated the value of the object Benjamin made the "brrrrrring" sound and called out, "Bring out that treasure box" (indicating the graphic that comes up on the show with the appraisal amount).

Benjamin brought a number of other artifacts for my wife or I to appraise that day. Never have kids' meal toys fetched such high prices!

(Disclaimer: These appraisals were for play purposes only and therefore pretend. Your "Hello Kitty" toaster may not be worth $100. Please see a qualified appraiser or memorabilia specialist.)