Friday, July 26, 2013

“Fringe Fanatic”

Netflix became my major resource for finding a variety of television shows for my mother during the eighteen months we spent together. Huntington’s disease didn’t affect my mother’s sense of humor, and it didn’t take away her deductive and inductive reasoning when it came to analyzing the news or following a crime show. That meant we could view an assortment of television shows and movies as a way of filling our days. Eventually, we remembered our love for The X-Files, and together we watched every episode. The science fiction/horror/detective/comedy mixture appealed to both of us, and we allocated two hours a day to watching the show until we viewed the final film.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve slipped back into the daily routine of keeping my afternoons open for reading or television. The beginning of the summer found me outside, swinging in my tree, as I read whatever novel caught my fancy. Then I discovered Fringe. One of my Facebook friends mentioned the show casually in a status, advising me that I’d love the program. I lodged the title into the back of my brain, but didn’t go out of my way to find or watch an episode until a couple of weeks ago.
Every morning, I hastily rush through my chores (the house requires less and less daily maintenance as I hack away at deep cleaning projects). Then I dash to the gym for aerobics and weights. After I get cleaned up, I hop into the car to run errands. Usually by three o’clock each afternoon, I settle on the couch with my favorite blanket, both dogs, some fruit and iced tea. With controller in hand, I switch on the television to my newest passion that mixes science fiction with horror as The Fringe Division investigates whatever fantasy J.J. Abrams and his crew of writers can imagine.
Every day, I think of how much my mother would have delighted in the “mad” scientist and his quirky personality. She would have sat with me to watch these characters evolve as they maneuver through bizarre situations, offering her astute conclusions on what’s to come next.
I find it reassuring that I can spend my days viewing a television show that reminds me of my mother without feeling overwhelmed by loss. I still don’t turn on Mom’s favorites (Law and Order, or Everybody Loves Raymond), but I can discover something new that she would have loved, and I catch myself wondering about the quips she would have made during an episode. I miss her comments and insights; but when I surprise myself by thinking, “Mom would’ve loved the plot on this episode,” I don’t feel sadness.

The littlest things let me know that grief slowly shifts into the background. Turning into a Fringe fanatic actually means I’m fine!

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"The Floating Teacher"

            The first three years of my career in education, I “floated.” The term, floating, is a misnomer. The word generates a cartoon image of this cherub-faced teacher drifting through the hallways like a helium balloon, gently tethered to the educational world by colorful hair ribbons and neon shoe strings. Instead, the teacher descends into the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno. The phrase, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” took on a new meaning as I struggled to find my footing as a new teacher while trying not to disturb or disrupt the other teachers forced to share their rooms with me.
            One hour of the day, I used the room of Ms. H, my wonderful mentor and friend. I did my student teaching under the guidance of this enthusiastic teacher, so she welcomed me into her room with open arms. She found space in her closets for me to store my personal belongings and kept me sane whenever I broke into frustrated tears.
The second hour of the day, my class and I met in Mr. M’s classroom. This tyrannical man refused to leave the room because he couldn’t trust me, a first year teacher, to control my twelve-year-old students. He threw a fit one rainy day when a couple of boys tracked mud into the room. Face red and veins bulging, he forced the boys to crawl on their hands and knees to pick up each clump. After class, he stormed out of the room to file a complaint with the principal that my students were too messy. Since clods of mud dotted the entire hallway between his room and the office, his gripe went unheeded. However, his actions made me and my students feel horribly unwelcome in his classroom. I held my breath each and every day that something would set him off. One day during the first few weeks of school, he left the room long enough for me to explain to my students that I desperately needed their help and support. This group of students remains lodged in my memory as the best class that ever lived.  
A third teacher, Ms. W fluctuated from day-to-day on how much she welcomed me or my kids into her room. I believe she hated the idea of someone invading her space. Teachers become very territorial about their rooms. They bring in little pieces of themselves and their home lives—pictures of their pets and children, favorite knickknacks or gifts from previous students, or saved projects and sample work placed on  special display. Sharing space with an “outsider” creates tension even if the other person tries to be as invisible as possible. Eventually, Ms. W realized I had a wicked sense of humor, and we became friends.
I ended my day at the room of Ms. T, a lovely Southern lady. More than thirty years later, I still treasure the open friendship she gave me from the moment I entered her room. She welcomed my students with all of their little quirks into her space with open arms. Sometimes I watched her instruct her classes and quickly learned the value of a good, skilled teacher.
Condemning the first year teacher to roam the hallways either builds character or leads to burn-out. I grew determined to capture my own classroom, so I kept a smile on my face and cried or complained to the co-workers I learned would keep my woe private. When I finally received my own classroom, I vowed to welcome any “floating” teacher. I volunteered each year to have any of the roaming teachers in my room, and I made certain I cleared closet space and drawer space for that teacher. Supplies like tape, paper clips, and staplers remained unlocked and available (some of the teachers actually locked their supplies away, so I had to carry those along with the classroom set of books from room to room). I never placed tape on the floor to mark where the desks should line-up, as one teacher had done, and I never yelled at the other teacher’s students. I hope that all of those “floating” teachers felt relief and welcome whenever they entered our room.  

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

“Insert Foot”

"If you keep your mouth shut, you will never put your foot into it." Austin O'Malley

            I hate it when my observation skills dull, and I don’t notice the subtle signs during a conversation with someone that my words have somehow slipped into a sensitive zone. Usually, this occurs when my personal experience with the topic proves limited, and I begin with an incredulous statement like, “You’ve GOT to be kidding!”
As my sluggish mind tries to grasp a new concept, my mouth keeps going; and I inevitably say something that ticks someone off. I never intend to do this, of course. And because my thoughts slowly sift through this new information, I don’t notice the indications that my opinion counters the very personal interpretations of my listener. The slight intake of breath of the other person goes unobserved. I blunder onward, stupidly asking questions to clarify something which my conversation partner feels is obvious. I unwittingly say the perfectly wrong thing.
            By then, no matter how deeply into the zone of oblivion I’ve stumbled, my listener’s response pulls me to an awkward stop. I feel my eyes widen and my face redden as I try to determine which treacherous ideas or statements caused the response I belatedly notice. The other person’s lips purse tightly, and I can discern grinding teeth or a clenched jaw. This friend shifts with muscle tense, preparing for fight or flight.
            My brain races to rewind the conversation and determine where I first entered perilous ground. If I can discern that moment, I quickly offer an apology for unintentionally upsetting the other person, but the damage cannot undo itself. Sometimes, my thoughtless response goes beyond justification because it questioned a fundamental view of my conversation partner. Saying, “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know you’d get upset,” seems inadequate. When that happens, I simply veer the conversation quickly onto another topic, hoping desperately that my friend will graciously forgive me and kindly allow me to remove my foot.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman