Saturday, August 27, 2011

When I Grow Up

There are many people that I have grown to admire throughout my life. There is the obvious: my parents for not allowing my disability to be a reason for failure, my mom for raising four wonderful children with two of them being disabled, the Little Sis for being my go-to caretaker, the Big Sis for making her faith andfamily a priority, the Payne family for asking me to be a part of their family so I would no longer have caretaking issues, and Janet for everything she does for me and for her ability to teach ELL children.  “When I grow up”, I pray I will have just a small thread of what I have learned from each one of these people woven through my soul.

But “when I grow up” I really want to be like my “sistah” Rhonda. Rhonda is one of the ooooooooriginal “sistahs”. Caren and I have always called her our "sistah from anothah mothah". I met Rhonda eons ago. She was an office aide at Peralta Elementary where I taught for twenty years. I also had the opportunity to teach her daughter, Erica in the fifth grade. From that moment on we became fast friends. Rhonda moved to Iowa many years ago, and usually a huge mileage separation ends a friendship, but not with Rhonda.
I admire Rhonda for so many reasons.

First, the “sistah” worked her way up from elementary school office aide to John Deere Corp. muckity-muck. She works in the golf division and travels all over the country checking on equipment used by golf courses. P. S., she is not that great of a golfer, but that is because she doesn’t have the time to practice for the sport. Rhonda has the job that Caren would kill for. It is a good thing Rhonda is a “sistah”, or we might find her shoved in a John Deere golf bag floating in a water hazard somewhere.

Rhonda is always happy. I know that is a big, fat lie, and I know she spends many hours being sad, but she doesn’t let anyone know. She is always facing adversity, but she does it with a smile on her face. Many times it is a smile with gritted teeth, but it is a smile.

Rhonda is a mother bear. She will fight for her cubs. Rhonda has a younger daughter (not Erica) that has given her an exorbitant amount burden, but the mother bear is still fighting for her cub. She and her daughter, Erica (I taught her everything she knows. :), are now caring and fighting for the younger daughter’s cubs. I can’t imagine what could have happened to Rhonda’s grandchildren, if Rhonda and Erica hadn’t taken on caring for those cubs.

Rhonda has road rage. Now, the reader might think that road rage is not an admirable quality, but I believe her road rage is catharsis for all her burdens. Her participation in road rage releases all her anger. When Road Rage Rhonda is chauffeuring me I spend most of my time giggling. I wouldn’t give Rhonda the keys to any heavy equipment, but I would give her the keys to a tank. She would take care of the problems in the Middle East.

Rhonda is always up for an adventure. Rhonda used to drag race. Not like drag race on Central, but on a real track in an actual dragster. (That is probably when the road rage started because she is used to driving at high speeds.) Rhonda is up for anything. Rhonda is the one that is always saying, “Come on, Cathy, let’s go for it!” That is why she and Caren became such great friends. I have always thought Rhonda and Caren should participate in The Amazing Race. Rhonda would make sure that Caren bungee jumped without whining.

Rhonda is a caretaker. When I met her she was caring for her brother-in-law that had been injured in a diving accident. I believe that is why she honed in on me. Deep down in her caretaking heart there was a drive to make sure that I was okay. She still travels to Phoenix a couple times a year to “care” for me. She disguises her visits as trips for work, or to bring the grandchildren to visit, but I know she just wants to “see with her own eyes” that I am okay.

Rhonda is a warrior. Years ago she began her battle against cervical cancer. Rhonda spent years going through many different kinds of treatments. She spent endless nights lying on the cool bathroom floor next to the toilet and then dragging herself off to work everyday with a smile on her face. Rhonda has lived on a diet of Popsicles because it was the only thing she could keep down. Rhonda has kept her faith. She has never once wavered in her love for God. And during her long, hard-fought battle Rhonda has always gone to work and done her job well, cared for her family and friends, and continued to fight. Only once did Rhonda call me and say, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” And I selfishly replied, “You can’t give up because you are my hero and heroes don’t give up.”

Warrior Rhonda won her battle against cervical cancer, but she has yet to win the war. Due to the many side effects of her many cancer treatments, Rhonda is now facing a complication. She has a problem with circulation to her extremities. A few weeks ago some of Rhonda’s fingers started turning black and she had to spend a week in the hospital, and she has puzzled the doctors. Rhonda is in tremendous pain. By the way, don’t ask her a basic on a pain scale of one to ten question; she prefers the wine pain scale of one glass to an entire bottle. Of course, she will lie and say she is at two glasses when she is really at two bottles. I know things are bad because Rhonda canceled her trip to meet Little Sis and Big Sis in Dallas for a Women of Faith Conference. When Rhonda turns down a “Stop, or I’ll Pee” giggle festival with the “sistahs” one knows thing aren’t good.

I am sure Rhonda is at home right now figuring out how she can mask her pain, hide her fingers, and get to work. And to all the drivers in the Des Moines area, if you happen to look in your rear view mirror and see a wild-eyed, skinny blonde shaking her fist at you, don’t worry it is just Road Rage Rhonda working through her pain.

Rhonda is my hero. When I grow up I want to be like Rhonda. Rhonda’s thread that weaves through my soul is golden. Please keep “sistah” Rhonda in your prayers because she needs more warriors in her platoon.

Paco’s Perspective

“Sistah” Rhonda doesn’t like d-o-g-s, but she always pretends that she does. Hmmmm, a woman that fakes it! What’s new?

The Flip Side

“Sistah” Rhonda is an adventurer? I wonder if she is up for a lizard hunt?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

I hate Captain Underpants books! Dav Pilkey has written and illustrated some of my favorite picture books, so I know he is a wonderful author. Captain Underpants has no substance, unless, toilets, poopypants, and boogers are substance. I know, I know, I know kids love them because they are funny. But I don’t believe one can become a better reader by reading Captain Underpants. One doesn’t need to do any thinking when reading Captain Underpants. Readers of Captain Underpants can become bad spellers because many of the words are spelled incorrectly.

I am sure Dav Pilkey is laughing all the way to bank because Captain Underpants has made him a megamillionaire. He has even started a new series of books with even more misspelled words and poor plots, Ook and Gluk.

I don’t want anyone to have the only memory of books read in school to be Captain Underpants. I want the students at Tomahawk to experience some real books: Al Capone Does My Shirts, Mockingbird, Swear to Howdy, Hatchet, Moon Over Manifest, My Louisiana Sky, A Year Down Yonder, The Graduation of Jake Moon, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  (I would also like to give props to Dav Pilkey’s beautiful picture book, Paperboy.) I could list so many more great children’s books that could take Captain Underpants in a literary rumble any day! Captain Underpants will never make the reader sigh, cry, or wonder!

Here is an imagined wrestling match between Captain Underpants and Edward Tulane:

Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemennnnn, get ready for the epic literary battle of the century! In this corner, weighing in at less than five pounds soaking wet. We know he spent endless months at the bottom of the ocean. Reaching three feet tall is that literary great, Edward Tulane, recently back from his miraculous journey!

Audience: (wild applause) Edward! Edward! Edward!

Announcer: And in this corner, weighing in at twenty pounds and wearing only his Fruit of the Looms and a ridiculous cape is Captain Underpants, recently back from the Underwear Festival in Piqua, Ohio!

Audience: (applause) Poopy pants! Poopy Pants! Poopy pants!

Announcer: Captain Underpants needs to take caution because it looks like Edward Tulane has already become filled with ennui.

Captain Underpants: N-U-E? Nue? He doesn’t look nue to me! He looks like an old doll!

Announcer: Oh, that’s right, Captain Underpants wouldn’t know what ennui means. The books that he appears in have no vocabulary. The toughest word is toilet and most of the words are spelled wrong!

Captain Underpants: Let’s just get this thing over with. The nue kid is made of glass! I’ll break him in no time.

Announcer: Poor, Captain Underpants, again he has shown his stupidity! Edward isn’t made of glass. That is porcelain, my friend. I know porcelain has three syllables, which is too much for a guy in underwear. Gentlemen, please proceed to the center of the ring to parle with the ref.

Captain Underpants: Pro Seed? I am not wrestling a plant! Parsley? What does parsley have to do with wrestling?

Announcer: ( whispering) Hey, Buddy, just  go over to the guy in the striped shirt. (shouting) Ladies and gentlemennnnnnnn, let’s get ready toooooo rummmmmmmble!

Referee: Gentleman, good readers make connections, visualize, infer, question, synthesize, and use their schema. How can your books help readers become better readers?

Captain Underpants: Kids like toilets and poop.

(Edward pushes Captain Underpants to the ground.)

Audience: Ouch!

Announcer: Edward has thrown Captain Underpants to the ground. Edward’s readers not only connect with Abilene losing Edward but they can connect to the way Edward feels throughout his miraculous journey.

Captain Underpants: (panting) My readers don’t have to visualize everything is drawn for them. My books are like comic books drawn by ten year olds.

(Edward employs a chokeslam on Captain Underpants.)

Audience: Ooooooooooo.

Announcer: Edward has performed the crushing chokeslam on Captain Underpants. Visualizing is one of the most important comprehension skills that a reader needs. Readers can “see” Edward being kicked off the train as Lucy howls her discontent. Readers must use their visualizing skills throughout the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Captain Underpants: I, I, I don’t know what infer, synthesize, or schema means.

Announcer: Of course, Captain Underpants doesn’t know what these comprehension terms means. Unfortunately, neither does the reader of Captain Underpants books. Captain Underpants will never go down in literary history as having a plot that involves the reader actually having to think!

Audience: Good readers are thinkers! Good readers are thinkers! Good readers are thinkers! Good readers are thinkers! Good readers are thinkers!

(Edward lifts Captain Underpants above his head for an airplane spin, and pile drives him into the mat with a back body slam. He then pins Captain Underpants for the count.)

Announcer: And the crowd goes wild!

Audience: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Referee: (while pounding the ground) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. (The referee grabs Edward’s hand and raises it in the air. Captain Underpants crawls back to his corner where Ook and Gluk are playing with his water bucket and picking their noses.)

Audience: Edward! Edward! Edward!

Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemennnnnnn, The new, (looking at Captain Underpants) that would be new, n-e-w, Champion of Literature, EEEEEEEED-WARRRRRRD TUUUUUUUUU-LAAAAAAAAAAANE! And he did it without wrinkling his jaunty outfit or dropping his watch. (Edward takes the championship belt, shaped like a book, to his corner and gives it to Abilene because he knows he would never have won without her love.)

Captain Underpants: I can't believe I was smacked-down by a bunny made of glass wearing a suit! He didn't even say a word.!

Abilene: Edward Tulane has learned to be a good listener. He does need to speak to show his merit.

Announcer: It's time to face the music, Captain Underpants, you are a LOOOOOOOSERRRRR!

Paco's Perspective
Flip has a Captain Underpants book hidden under his bed. He is so uncouth!
Has anyone seen my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird?

The Flip Side

Poop? I like poop! Dav Pilkey writes books about a big, giant lizard. I love lizards!
I think I am in love with Dav Pilkey!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster is a picture book written and illustrated by Marla Frazee. It's about riding a roller coaster. When I first read this book I hated it. I thought it was lame, and then my students led me to an epiphany.

When I first read this book to my class it was obvious that I wasn't impressed with it, as one of my students observed,"Miss C, I am thinking you might not like this book."

"You're right. I'm sorry, I should not have read this to you, but I feel like there is a great read aloud experience somewhere in this book."

"Have you ever ridden a roller coaster?"

"No, I have not."

"Well, duh, Miss C. You don't like this book because you can't make a connection to it. Think about what you taught us." 

A few days later, I read the book again. I had the students sit in a line in pairs, and we rode the roller coaster together. We locked ourselves in and when the roller coaster jerked forward to begin its ascent, we jerked forward and leaned back as we climbed to the highest peak before the drop. "Clickity-clackity, clickity-clackity, up, up, up, and then . . . . " At this point my teaching partner, Colleen, would scream at the top of her lungs, "AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" Roller Coaster is  now one of my favorite picture books. I use it to teach text-to-self connections. 

The reader may be thinking what kind of a lousy lead in is this? I want to ride a roller coaster. I want my heart to pound with excitement when I begin the ascent. I want the centrifugal force to push my dumbo ears to the back of my head. (Maybe if I rode more roller coasters, my ears wouldn't stick out.) I want to throw my hands in the air and scream with semi-delight and semi-fear. And when the ride is over, I want to look at my friend and shout, "Let's do that again," as we run on our wobbly legs to the end of the line. And again, my heart pounds with excitement . . . . . . .

But, I do ride a roller coaster everyday. Here comes the tacky cliche, I ride the roller coaster of life. I teach. Everyday my heart pounds with excitement when I step on campus to begin our students' ascent to excellence. As I zoom from one classroom to another, the wind whips through my spiky, short hair and causes my ears to flap. When I finish teaching a lesson that I know was spot-on I scream with delight. When I teach a lesson that bombed, I throw my hands in the air, scream and then I start thinking about how I will make it better. When the day is done and my dear friend, Janet, and I are making  our way home at dusk, (I know the reader think teachers only work 8 to 3, but that is wrong. Most teachers work 12 hour shifts and carry a bucket-load of work home every night.) we look at each other and shout, "Let's do that again!" And the next day, my heart pounds with excitement . . . . . . . 

Paco's Perspective

I ride the roller coaster of life. I share air with Flip. 

The Flip Side

I ride the roller coaster of life. I . . . I . . . I don't understand tacky metaphors.