Friday, May 31, 2013

Big, huge hills and nautical donuts; or, Field-tripping, Gitmo style

Don't you hate when you get seasick during your kid's field trip? Or when you end up a little dehydrated from charging up a steep hill with a gaggle of teenagers? Or when you end up with weird tan lines after only two hours in the sun?

Field trip season is upon us, and like everything else in a small, isolated place, resourcefulness and creativity take center stage when planning something the kids haven't done and seen before---and I've been lucky enough to go on a few really fun trips the last few weeks.

The digital photography class at the high school took a photography trip all over the base. I had been to three of the four stops, but you always find something new to photograph. The poor museum was almost destroyed during hurricane Sandy, and I'm hoping that the person who told me that the museum and lighthouse are slated to be torn down was wrong.

Several boats used by Cuban exiles are on display--and they are in really sad condition. I wish someone would make this a project and restore them before they completely rot away.

I enjoyed taking pictures and hanging out with a fun group of kids. I've worked with their class a few times this year, and some are very talented photographers in their own right---I love to watch other people take pictures. What do they find interesting that I've missed? The weather was absolutely gorgeous, which made it the perfect short and sweet excursion. Can you imagine having to go back to work after a morning like this?

 Or like this?

Then there was the Amazing Base field day---the 6th through 12th graders split into teams and were driven by Coasties all over the base, solving clues and doing tasks that dealt with our base's sometimes strange and always unique past, starting with monuments from the Spanish-American War. We went to historical sites and even the radio station (where the kids had to use a card catalog to find records---some of them had never seen either---and I was in heaven). I even ran straight up a humongous and steep hill (I like to think of it as a small mountain), which wasn't a good idea since I RAN MY FIRST 10K THE NEXT MORNING. 

Did you catch that? Yes, I ran a 10K. It wasn't pretty---mostly because I was dehydrated from running up hills and such in the crazy loco heat---but I did it! 

Today was another adventure, this time with my youngest's class. The gracious (and patient) captain and crew took them out on the tugboat, which was all fine and dandy until the kids got to drive the boat. 

And how would you drive a boat if you were six or seven again? 

They were cutting donuts, nautical style. Dios mio, I wanted to barf before it was over. They also got to blast the horn, see the water hose in action, and play around with the speaker system. One kid went into the "ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts" speech that flight attendants always give. Never mind that there were no seatbelts or seat backs to adjust, no cards in the seats in front of us or no cushions that double as a floatation device. THAT is how  you know you are with DoDDS kids---they have more frequent flyer miles than most adults, and they know that speech verbatim. 

On to more adventures as we are winding down towards the goal---summer vacation! Only two more weeks of school. The countdown is on. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Babymamas; or Mama's Babies

Mama Hummingbird in her tiny nest, in a hibiscus at the elementary campus

Unless you are a teacher's child, you don't understand.

When your mom starts a story about "her kids," you know you are not included in that bunch. Her kids are her students, of course.  

And in many ways, you have to share your mother with the world. 

There is something to be said about having your mom known by the majority of children in a school. In the case of the one elementary school town where I grew up, ALL the kids EVERYWHERE in town knew my mom. They would follow her and call her name no matter where we were or what we were doing. She never really could escape her work.

If all the kids know you, so do most of the parents. I know people are well-meaning, but unless you are a teacher's kid, you don't know the agony of grocery shopping while someone insists on talking (and talking, and talking) about his or her kid's behavior or progress or whatever when all your mom wants to do it just get her shopping done and start dinner.  She wants to ask her own children how their day went and help with homework. She wants to get off her feet. Teachers never let on to parents, but more than once, I tried to use my telepathic skills (or at least bore a hole through their back by staring)  because as a daughter of a teacher in a small town, I was sometimes a little resentful of parents and students who hogged all my mother's time. 

Although I am still a teacher, I am in a somewhat different position than my mother because I'm not confined to the classroom and get to work with all the kids (pre-K through 12), all while teaching something different every day (and even every hour). I do get the hugs (sometimes, without any warning and without seeing the kid before they attack), and I do get little love offerings---bracelets from pipe cleaners, homemade book marks, and sketches of me (at least I think it's me) that I have kept and displayed on my desk.  I don't get the discussions about grades (just lost library books). I am grateful for this and I have yet another reason to love my job.

What got me thinking all about moms and teachers (and teacher moms) was my oldest son's birthday, then Mother's Day, and then a belated Mother/s Day luncheon for my youngest son's class all came within a week of each other. I've just seemed to have motherhood on my mind even more than usual lately.

The luncheon was great---moms (and a few dads) showed up to a nice mishmash of food---turkey, corn pudding, pigs in a blanket, fruit, salad, cupcakes, etc. And it's funny because the students are also "my kids," and therefore I got more hugs than any mom there (not that anyone was counting). Seeing the huge smile on my son's face when I walked in for the party was priceless---but he has the same smile if we pass in the breezeway, or if I happen to see him in the cafeteria, or when he comes into the library. I remember running to my mom's 1st grade classroom when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade to get milk money (maybe a dime?), and the great pride I felt when I walked in and her younger students said, "Is that your daughter?" Silly question, of course---our town was tiny, so everyone knew she was my mother. I loved when I'd pass her in the hall and she'd give me a little wave or wink or made a funny face. She was my mom, and even though she had lots of kids, I was her daughter. 

I will be honest and say I was very afraid taking this job of what would happen with my children if I worked in the same district, same small community. Until October, for all of my almost-20 years in education, I had the luxury of living in communities large enough to support multiple schools (or districts), and I made the conscious choice to never work where I live---I don't want to give up as much of my privacy as my own mother gave up.

I also wanted to give my teenager privacy---it's so valuable at any age, but especially at his age. I know what it's like to have teachers come and tattle to your mom about small, seemingly insignificant things you've done that they wouldn't bother telling a non-colleague parent. I haven't encountered any of that here, luckily. It sometimes is a difficult balance between being a colleague and a parent. As in any school workplace, I have become friends with some of my coworkers, which makes that balance even more precarious at times. 

So as I am in the one and only grocery store on this tiny base, I hear my name being called---it's that unmistakable high pitched call of my last name that tells me it's one of my kids and not my own children---I realize that, as I am in line buying 10 or so bottles of wine for a party, right behind me is one of my elementary students. And his parents, of course. I did panic for a split second---what if the parent goes and tells everyone that I'm buying out the wine section? What if the kid says something in class (and he is my son's classmate, on top of everything else?) You learn this paranoia as a teacher, because society as a whole holds teachers at a different standard---what other occupation can you lose your job for simply posting a picture on facebook of yourself holding a glass of wine?

I now have a greater appreciation for my mom and all the years she gave up just being a mom and had to always be a mom AND a teacher when she'd run into inquisitive parents in town (and their children). I appreciate that she gave up so much of her privacy, and I finally see what it's like to give up your own privacy as an adult living in a small town.

Best part of any week? It's when I see my first grader for his scheduled class once a week, and he slips out of line to give me a huge hug. He still wants hugs! What's not to love about that? And it's every few weeks when my high schooler, who eats out every day off campus because our small school doesn't have a cafeteria,  says to me, "Hey, you want to go out to lunch today?" The fact I haven't managed to completely and totally embarrass them (yet) makes me a happy mama.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Somewhat obligatory book reviews; or, Living large, reading tons

I am spending an enormous amount of time here reading. It is blissful.

I found an EXCELLENT book at the library that I have been wanting to read forever, so I made sure to slow down and enjoy every single page of it. It was so worth it---don't you hate when you finish the kind of book that invades your dreams, and then you know you have to follow it up with something else? Last week for more than once, I found myself contemplating a big life question: Shall I watch my television show that took 24 hours to download, or shall I read another few chapters in a damn good book?  It was so nice to have options. And to find the patience to try to not do both poorly---but postpone one for the other.

“You can never know about about your own destiny: are the people you meet there to play a part on your own destiny, or do you exist just to play a role in theirs?” ---Libba Bray, Going Bovine

It would be amiss for someone with "librarian wanderlust" as part of her blog address to never, ever talk about books. This is a blog about our Cuban adventure, but reading has been a big part of entertainment for all four of us, so here is my quick-and-dirty, once-every-six-months book talk. I've spent a bit of time with several amazing characters and locations, and even lived through some historical events, so I naturally want to share.

This is just a fraction of what I've read since October, but these are some of the best of the best I've read (here is where you non-readers can skip to previous blogs and catch up):

For older elementary/middle school, Wonder by RJ Palacio weaves a story of a homeschooled middle school kid born with a facial deformity who enrolls in school for the first time---not nearly as depressing as you would think. I totally fell in love with the main character, and each chapter is told from a different family member or friend.

For middle school: In Countdown by Deborah Wiles, a young girl deals with the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's surprisingly suspenseful, with lots of newspaper clippings, advertisements, and photographs from that time period thrown in for authenticity.

For upper elementary/ middle school/high school: The Penderwicks: a Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall  tells about four witty, precocious girls who live with their widowed, absentminded professor father, rent a summer cottage from a curmudgeonly old woman, and have zany adventures with a rich boy who is basically held captive in his own home---it's like a modern day Little Women meets The Secret Garden, but no sister gets sick and dies, thankfully.

For older middle/high school: Divergent by Veronica Roth--all I can say is, why am I just reading this one? It's been recommended by several teens and adults, with reason. Very good dystopian sci-fi, strong female characters.

For high school: Going Bovine by Libba Bray is road trip book with a hypochondriac Mexican-American dwarf [or is that "little person?"], a lawn gnome who may actually be a Norse God, a punk angel who speaks in riddles, and a stoner teen with Mad Cow Disease. In case I didn't hook you with "hypochondriac Mexican-American dwarf," it's freakin' awesome.

For high school: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has weird vintage
photographs that are surreal, and the book takes on the same dreamy, unreal tone. Part mystery, part supernatural fantasy, and it takes place mostly on an island out from Wales---it is a great read for anyone who wants to get lost in a fantasy world that is more otherworldly than sci-fi.

I also got sucked into the third installment of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and I FINALLY picked up The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (historical fiction about Hemingway's first wife) ---yes, THAT is the book I chose over Don Draper. It was worth it, but now I'm in mourning because I am really sad to not have those characters and their travels as part of my nightly routine.

I read several other books since getting here, and I have a large stack to still get through---we have a WONDERFUL selection of books at our public library, and the school libraries aren't bad, either. Living here is good for breaking me of my book-buying addiction, because the NEX book section doesn't really carry books I want, and I'm finding books on my shelves and on the library shelves I still need to read. In fact, with a much shortened commute time and less time with television, I now have the time to read every single day.

Gitmo may not fill my dream of a busy city, but sometimes, this place is a librarian gangsta's paradise.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Patience, Grasshopper; or, Lost in the Supermarket

This past week, son number two learned that playing Monkey in the Middle, Frisbee Edition is not always safe---one black eye later, I don't think he's going to make it a playground staple.

And me?

I am learning patience.

Oh boy, am I ever and in so many ways.

There is television, then there is Gitmo television. We haven't opted for satellite yet---Back to the Future Cuba requires one of those huge 8 ft dishes from the 80s, and I just can't go there. So we have basic cable, which is mostly Armed Forces Network (and each station alternates between several networks, just to keep you on your toes). We don't have DVR here, so you get what you get, when you get it. I really only watch two shows, so a lack of US-comparable cable isn't too traumatic.

We did get HBO so I can watch Favorite Program Number One ("Game of Thrones").

To get Favorite Program Number Two ("Mad Men"), I have to download it on iTunes:

And this is what you get when you download an hour long program online---it can take days to download. I say, I say DAYS (in a Foghorn Leghorn voice).

Don Draper must wait.

Here's the funny part---once I've had a few days for a program to download, I find myself putting off watching it. What if it isn't that good? What if it is REALLY good and I want to watch the next episode immediately?

In addition to patience, I am learning to take my time before leaving anywhere to make sure I've taken care of business.

Work requires me to use a CAC, or Common Access Card, to use the computers. It was not required when I first got here, so it didn't bother me that it has what is possibly the worst ID photograph I've ever taken in my life. Now, anytime anyone gets near my desk they can see my wonderful CAC photograph. Not only that, but if I forget it and go to the other campus office, I have to drive all the way back and get it from the CAC reader. Okay, it's only 2 miles or so, but at 25 and then 15 mph, it takes forever. That doesn't include traffic jams caused by stubborn iguanas. If I am working in another room and need a computer (or even if I need another one in the same room), I have go retrieve my CAC.

"CAC" reminds me of the sound a cat makes coughing up a hairball. That's sort of what I think of the &%^!* thing---CAC! CAC!

I also get into the habit of carrying cash with me at all times, which is something I've never really done before. We don't really have a bank here---at least not one that gives you cash. We can get a cashier's check and cash it at the NEX, or we can use a Bank of America ATM (which, incidentally, talks to you with a British accent) or get cash when we use our debit cards. This has been a hard habit to get into, since I have never been one to carry around money. For the longest time, we could only pay cash for gas (which is still $4.09/gallon). A few eateries only take cash, as well. We've had this sign at McD's for a few weeks now:

I'm loving it!!! But only if I have cash.

When I moved to my college town of Hattiesburg at 18, I was completely and totally enthralled with a faster pace of life. I loved that there were four lanes of traffic and enough traffic to warrant all the roads and red lights. I came from a three red light town---and they all became flashing red lights at 10 pm (and sadly, my home town only has one now). I was completely in love with having dozens of television stations, including MTV (which actually used to play music). I loved being able to go grocery shopping at midnight, or the movies at 10 pm, and loved that I could go all over and be a completely anonymous person. If I wanted to get Krystal burgers at midnight in my pajamas, nobody would blink an eye. Nobody knew me, nobody knew my mama and daddy, nobody cared.

It was heaven.

As I've gotten older, I'm definitely a city (or at least big town) girl and I am all about fast-paced everything and convenient living. I love having a DVR and watching an entire season of a favorite show over a weekend. Until I moved, I regularly played soccer on an indoors 3X3 team that had games at 9 or 10 pm. I'd go to the grocery store on the way home, sweaty and looking dreadful, but the convenience (and relative anonymity) outweighed vanity. I loved having the option to play soccer in three leagues, to go shopping at several grocery stores, to have craft stores and hardware stores and several salons and restaurants.

And now. . . I'm struggling with some aspects of slowing back down. After all, I was ALWAYS going to be a city girl. This will sound ridiculous, but I think I was only seven or so when I knew that I would leave my small hometown when I grew up. That's the problem with starting out in one place (Greenville) that has everything a kid would want---movie theaters, parks and playgrounds, malls, and adventurous shopping (including the very first ever Steinmart---for my South MS people, until I was in high school, it was more like Hudson Salvage than a nice store), and then going back to visit often once you are old enough to really realize how much you are missing out on. We could watch barges on the Mississippi river or go to the levee on Lake Washington. My family went to church across the street from a synagogue. There was an Italian section of town, as well as a Chinese section. There was diversity everywhere---and then we moved to somewhere much smaller and less diverse.

When we started making regular trips to New Orleans when I was in middle school, I knew---I was going to live somewhere large, with lots of traffic and restaurants and shopping and where you could hear a different language on every aisle of a large and well-stocked 24 hour grocery store.

I didn't want much. My dream town was basically a Schwegmann's Grocery Store.

Unfortunately, Schwegmann's declared bankruptcy years ago, and I have since realized that as much as I love New Orleans, it just isn't where I want to live the rest of my life.

And now. . . I quite honestly feel sometimes like I did as a teenager---very antsy, and knowing that if I wait just long enough living here, the payoff will be I can get to a place big enough and with enough variety to contain my restlessness.

I do love that I have time here to do so much more with my family.  Just like my small home town, this place has so many of the plusses that come with everyone looking out for their neighbors, and everyone pitching in to keep an eye out on your kids. When the time comes,  I know that I will be more than ready to move on to a larger place.

That is, one with traffic and anonymity and (most importantly) big supermarkets.