227: Running Into a Brick Wall

Our school is putting on a performance of Annie, the musical, in a few months. As the resident art teacher, you’d know that I would be asked to help out (read make) the sets for this play. One of the requested backdrops for various scenes is a brick wall for the orphanage that Annie lives in for a time, before she is rescued by Daddy Warbucks.

This is Morocco. They have fabric stores, but they are all in larger cities at least an hour’s drive away. And there is, of course, no budget for this play – it IS a school, remember??? So, where do I get fabric for the backdrops? I go to the local souk, the flea-cum-farmer’s-cum-yard-sale weekly event that is held here in Ifrane on Saturdays and Sundays. The bigger souk held in my own town of Azrou (which I’d rather go to because it is cheaper), is held on Tuesdays, and guess when our school, in its infinite wisdom, chose to hold its weekly faculty meetings in the afternoons after work, effectively preventing ANY of us from EVER being able to go to the souk there?

Anyhoo, I went to the souk I CAN go to, and purchased four white sheets, hoping that would be enough. Then we went to the auditorium where the play will be held, and I got to spread out the sheets on the floor to see if they would be enough – no. EACH one of the three backdrops required for this play will need four sheets – 12 sheets in all. So, I went to the souk again the next Saturday, and bought four more – all that were offered. It IS a flea market, and what’s there, is what’s there each week – no guarantees. This still leaves me four sheets short. I am short-sheeted, no pun intended.

I still got started on the work, though, since I hate to leave stuff until the last minute. That is why it is so annoying when someone brings me something in the morning that they tell me that they need by the afternoon – of the same day. DUDE. Did you not know for some time that you would need this, and you waited until the last possible minute to ask me to do it??? I’M BUSY – do it yourself. I have a previous committment. Not sure what this committment was, but I got one, and because of it, I am not gonna drop everything else to do this little job for you that you waited until the last minute to get to me. I did not give birth to you, so I have no vested interest in helping you out.

I have completed one sheet’s worth of brick wall, and have sewed on (by hand) the second width of wall, and started painting the bricks on it, too. Bricks are boring. I work on the computer until I get bored (I AM ADD, after all) and then I paint bricks until I get bored with that, then I go back to the computer. Slowly but surely, the brick wall is taking shape, and I am getting my papers graded at the same time. If I can only get the students not to “help” me paint, I might actually finish this brick wall on time.

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226: Run of Bad Luck

I always think that things go fairly well for people who are trying very hard to do the right things and live lives that do not harm others. I think that when things don’t go well, it means you have not been doing the right things. You need to search and see where you need to improve. Now, I know that is not true in every case – of course it isn’t. However, for me, usually when things don’t go well it actually is something I’ve done or contributed to – not every time, true, but usually…..

I think there is the big guy sitting up there in Heaven, looking down on us creatures who are mostly making mistakes with our lives, decisions and actions, and I think usually he lets the natural consequences of our foolish actions just….happen. Sometimes, for reasons I don’t understand, he does intervene – on both the good and the not-so-good side of things. Sometimes he lets things happen because we need to learn that it is not smart to fool with Mother Nature: don’t poke sticks at grizzly bears. Dumb ways to die.

Sometimes he steps in and saves us because there are still things we are supposed to do with our lives. I woke up on the beach getting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from a total stranger when I was about eight years old, after I had been sucked under by an undertow at the Bahia Honda bridge on the Florida Keys. I still don’t know who the man was who saved me, but I owe him a lifetime of gratitude that I did not die that day. I don’t think I even said ‘thank you’ when I came to!

At any rate, my recent run of poor luck leaves me some reflective opportunity about my recent motivations – whether I have been working for the good or for other nefarious purposes. Have I fallen short somewhere?

225. Well….SPIT!

It is Monday – all day. On the way to work this morning, I was involved in an automobile accident. My four carpoolers and I. The lady who was sitting closest to the back tire on the passenger side, where the impact occurred, knocked out that window using her HEAD (not that she intended that to happen), and was quite understandably upset, shook up thoroughly and in shock. She was transported to the hospital and checked out, and praise God she’s OK. She does not even have to spend the night for observation.

That is the important thing – that none of us five, or the four people in the other car, were injured. The fairly minor damage to the vehicles can be dealt with later, and it is totally not important compared with the people.

The rest of it can handled later. It does not help my peace of mind to know that in another completely unrelated accident where the other driver was clearly at fault, the judge has already ruled that the accident was my husband’s fault, probably because of some baksheesh under the table. This accident will be much harder to call, which means they will probably blame me, even though I don’t believe I was at fault. I stopped at the intersection and looked. There was no car coming. For the car to have hit me just as I had almost cleared the three-lane roadway, when he was not visible when I pulled out, means he had to have been flying. This would be borne out by the fact that my little car was slewed sideways in the driveway we almost made it into. There were three lanes available, and the car that hit us made no effort to swerve around us, even though he had room. I think he was blinded by the sun in his eyes, and that he never saw us until he hit us. He did not hit the brakes, nor did he warn us with the horn – just WHAM!

At any rate, Morocco police collect the driver’s licenses of both drivers, which means now that my husband will have to drive us carpoolers to work from now until they return the license – if they do. Sometimes they just never get around to doing that. Like I said….. it’s Monday.

224: Causing Someone’s Death

Some mistakes cannot be fixed. That is one reason why most real grownups try very hard not to make them. Some mistakes are permanent. I made one of those. On the last day of school in 2004, I made what was supposed to be a normal journey: our morning commute to school with my daughter, and my husband’s son and daughter. We made it to the end of the road, where our small residential road joins the highway. There, I pulled out into the road in front of a black pickup truck.

I only know this from what others have told me, and what I have managed to figure out after the fact. The last thing I remember is opening the car’s door to look and see if there was any traffic coming. I did this because the window would not roll down, we had not yet had it fixed, and there was condensation on the glass. So I opened the door to be sure before I pulled out into the road. I never saw the truck. I tried.

The truck hit us in classic “t-bone” style, on the driver’s side, which explains why there is a big blank spot in my memory of the event. I was knocked OUT. My daughter said my eyes were open, but she said, “Mama, you were not there.” She called my husband, who was still at home, and he was the first to arrive; even before the paramedics or the police…or the life flight helicopters they called for us. My daughter, in the front passenger seat, was not injured other than a bump on the head – apparently my head and hers collided. My husband’s son, on the passenger side in the back seat, was very mildly injured, but was treated and released. I had a broken collarbone and some broken ribs, along with the big blank place in my memory. My husband’s nine-year-old daughter, who was sitting with her seatbelt on (all of us had them on) directly behind me, got the brunt of the blunt force trauma. That’s what they listed on her death certificate as her cause of death. They tried. The surgeries she underwent at Emory in Atlanta, where the life flight helicopter landed at the state’s finest trauma center, totaled a quarter of a million dollars in cost, and would have been worth every penny (and more) had they managed to save her. They could not.

I won’t go into the horrible details of her funeral home family visit, where her mother’s family (my husband’s ex) blamed me publicly for her death, as if I had intended that she perish, and had set out that morning to accomplish that feat; or the horrors of her funeral service, where they again did the same thing in front of my church family, even though I personally had paid for the entire service and all the other arrangements because they were all too generationally poverty-stricken to be able to afford to bury her.

That is something I will live with forever. I caused her death, even though I did not mean to do so. I pulled out in front of that truck, even though I looked, and did not see it. Even though I had no intentions of harming anyone, I am responsible. I was driving. No one can take that away, and it cannot be fixed.

223: Juggling

One of the annoying things about being grownup is that you must learn to juggle. It is only one of the annoying things about being a grownup, but it is one of the most difficult parts of being grown up to master. By juggle, I do not mean actual juggling, the sort done in entertainment acts by people who juggle balls, flaming torches or swords. By juggling, I mean managing all the disparate parts of your life and all the attendant responsibilities that go with each sphere of your influence (I mentioned balls again, didn’t I?).

Most adults have several spheres of influence: their personal lives, their family lives (not the same thing), their spiritual lives, their work lives, perhaps their school lives, and lastly, their social lives. Did I forget any? Each of these spheres sometimes overlap others, but generally, we have different responsibilities for each one of them. I must bathe and care for myself and this body I live in, including periodic visits to medical professionals for checkups and repair. I also handle some of that for my family, too, at least while my children were little, until they matured enough to begin assuming that responsibility for themselves. There are also other family obligations, everything from Sunday dinner at mom’s, to which family member we will celebrate Thanksgiving with this year, to burial arrangements for my husband’s father. Then there are the spiritual and social responsibilities that go along with my faith and my church family, too – missions, offerings and gifts of materials and time, prayer and scripture study, and more. Then there is the sphere of work: not only the actual work part, but the social atmosphere and culture of work. Work would be enough all by itself without all that other crap, but there it is….some people don’t have enough of a life of their own, and must try to create their entire lives around their work, and get everyone at work to socialize as if we actually were a family and everybody liked everybody else, and not as if we were just thrown together by circumstance, which is actually a lot closer to the truth. Sheesh. And then, there are those of us who are enrolled in school, each of them with another culture and social obligations, not to mention the class work and due dates. Lastly, there is the social life – the recreation time we take with the people we actually like and WANT to spend time with, not the ones we are obligated to socialize with in the other spheres. THAT is the juggling act I am talking about; managing to keep all of these separate spheres of our influence in the air and functioning (at least to some degree) all at the same time.

Sometimes I manage that act pretty well, and then, at other times, one or more of these spheres hits the ground with a sickening thud as I “drop the ball.” This usually happens because another sphere is taking up far more time and energy that it deserves.

Here lately, I have had several spheres drop. Wobble, wobble, drop it like it’s hot, drop is what I am talking about. Drop and SPLAT. Spilled milk drop – no recovery possible. You know what, though? Life DOES go on….even if my grip is not too good these days!

222:Being at Peace in Your Own Skin

You know, there are days when I wake up just pissed off at the whole world. Usually,that happens when more than one of the balls I am juggling (school, personal, spiritual, financial, family, career, etc.) hits the ground at the same time. I can cope with things going to hell in a handbasket with one area of my life, stressful as that is, but when two or more of them go south, than I usually really have problems coping. Here lately, I seem to be having difficulty keeping ANY of them in the air. Period. And you know what? It’s just OK. I am not sure why, but it is just OK.

I read a blog once from a lovely person who is really suffering with anxiety, illness, death of loved ones, mental illness, abandonment issues – made me offer up a genuine and sincere prayer for them. Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself. I have also dealt with the death of loved ones (one I was responsible for), depression (clinical depression, not just the blues), surgery, menopause, spousal infidelity, a defiant, oppositional, drug-taking child, and a number of other items including being in debt 35 thousand dollars for a doctoral degree that I cannot finish at the school where I started, due to their negligence (I have a perfect 4.0 GPA in the program with one class to finish), and I have very little recourse for that except to suck it up and to pay up.

But you know what? I am at peace within my own skin. I know damn well that I have done my best. I have worked like a dog. My conscience is clear. I am at peace within myself.

BTW- Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket???

221: Insolence

I teach school, grades pre-K (4 year olds) to 12th grade (17-19 year olds). I am no stranger to insolence. Yeah, I remember back in the dark ages when I was a teenager and knew everything worth knowing, and my teacher mom was an idiot, an old fuddy-duddy, she was plain uncool and just not with it. It still amazes me how much smarter she got in the few years it took me to reach the advanced age of 21.

Still, being confronted with teen-aged insolence still manages to raise the short hairs on the back of my neck. Anybody who has seen a snarling cat or dog who has THEIR fur ruffled and fluffed up with the adrenaline rush of fury knows full well the sensation of your own fur raising, prickling at the back of your neck. It is a glorious rush of feeling I now recognize and understand, and have learned to control (most of the time), so that I don’t actually kill people. What it does now is get my mental wheels turning, weighing options as to how best to address this child who has challenged me.

Most of my students will tell you that I am a very easy-going teacher, slow to anger, and willing to provide a second chance to correct a mistake. However, like when I was raising my own children (not the children of others I am raising five days a week in my classroom), I have learned that the motivation is the primary determinant of whether to offer a second chance, or whether to stomp them into the dirt instead.

People make mistakes. Mistakes are unintentional, and we learn from them. Mistakes are not things we punish people for, unless the mistake becomes a lazy habit, and there is no correction after multiple reminders. Most of the time, it can be clearly seen that the problem was a mistake. Sometimes, though…..

Sometimes, it is not a mistake. Sometimes the child flops his big, hairy toe over the line you have just drawn in the sand, and dares you to do something about it. When that happens, you must address it, and without hesitation or delay. There is a reason God made you bigger than your children. It is so that you as their parent can gain the upper hand of authority when they are small, and then gradually transfer to them adult freedoms and responsibilities as they age and it is appropriate to do so. When done properly, you have few problems as they grow larger and more autonomous.

When not done properly, you have my students – who raise the short hairs on the back of my neck.