As a child I was ~fearless~! Fearless and lacking self-preservation to a degree that terrified my mother and landed me in the ER many, many times.

I had no qualms about introducing myself to strangers, singing and dancing in grocery stores, putting bras on my head and popping out from the middle of clothing racks in the mall. I’d scramble up a climbing wall like a monkey and fling myself from the top. If this wasn’t the time I learned to fly, I was always confident it would happen as soon as the cast came off or the stitches came out.

Getting bit by two dogs didn’t stop me from patting the next one. People who didn’t appreciate my less-than-coordinated dancing or enthusiastic-but-off-key singing were dismissed with a shrug. And if you hurt my feelings or displeased me – you heard about it, along with the whole neighborhood.

Somewhere along the way I lost this. I grew a skin of fear, which all too quickly coated and subdued my impulsive courage. Risk factors begin to weigh more than potential benefits. Potential consequences dominated potential gain, and soon all I could see were the consequences. A big change since I’d always been an act-first, time-out-later type of kid.

By high school I was too scared to learn to drive and didn’t get my permit until after my 17th birthday. I missed countless opportunities because I was too terrified to return a phone call, attend a party, take a chance outside my safe group of friends.

I’m an adult now – but I still have phobias that trap me:

*I won’t sleep with the closet door open for fear of being sucked into the Poltergeist-dimension.

*I stopped swimming laps at nighttime after reading a Mary Higgins Clark book where the heroine was drown by a murderer wearing SCUBA gear and waiting at the bottom of her pool.

*Order pizza? No way. Not after that time when I was 14 and babysitting and the man at Sal’s screamed and accused me of being a pranker because I didn’t know the address and had to check a piece of mail.

*I wussed out of Jet-skiing because of what happened when I tried moped’ing in Italy.

*Zoomba? I’ve been invited by four different friends, but it sounds too much like dance class and we all know how that turned out…

*I’m terrified of offending people, so when my feelings are hurt, I swallow it with a smile.

But NOT anymore. I’m declaring this my Summer of Fearless and I’m reclaiming some of the bravery I’ve been hemorrhaging for far too long.

So DARE me. CHALLENGE me. Ask me a WHAT-IF that requires me to do, not just think.

And when I go to wimp out, freeze me with a look and threaten to take away my night light and security blanket if I don’t comply.

I may not be that fearless little imp anymore, but maybe if I do a good enough impression of her for long enough, maybe it won’t feel so much like pretending.

St. Matt’s School Visit

St. Matt came to school with me on Friday. It was the kiddos’ last day and emotions were running high as limits were being tested.

St. Matt’s come to school with me once before; he chaperoned a field trip to the Franklin Institute with last year’s Angel Class. I assigned him the most cooperative girls of the Angel Class and he spent the day supervising conversations like this:

Kiddo 1: “Mr. Schmidt, can we please go to the human body exhibit?”
St. Matt: “Is that what everyone wants to do?”
Kiddo 2: “I wanted to see sports exhibit – let’s see yours first and then mine if there’s time.”
Kiddo 3: “Sounds like a great plan!”

At the end of the day he gave me a smug, skeptical look. “This is supposed to be hard? They compromised, group hugged and smiled the whole day. I didn’t have to do anything but hold a sweatshirt while they went in the bathroom.”

I rolled my eyes and bided my time. A year later he was back at school – and this year’s class is Team Tiara, just as wonderful but not a smidgen angelic. The kiddos quickly obtained St. Matt’s permission to call him by his first name and took full advantage of smirking and asking things like: “Mrs. Schmidt or Maa-att, would it be okay if I ran this card down to the art teacher?” Matt, I still have a clipboard in my cubby, where should I put it?”

Each “Matt” was accompanied by a giggle or mischievous grin – infectious and irresistible.

The kiddos had a half-day – mostly consumed by their farewell breakfast and yearbook signing – during which St. Matt was a hot commodity. The whole sixth grade packed the cafeteria with their yearbooks and Sharpies and swapped signatures. Few outside of my homeroom knew who St. Matt was, but that didn’t stop the students from demanding his autograph – some bypassed me to get to him. One kiddo went up to her teacher and reported, “Mrs. Schmidt’s husband looks really young…. He’s cute.That explains the number of giggling girls and glitter pens waiting for him – can’t say I blame them!

The last hour of the day was for the Schmidties. Our final class meeting. There were tears, laughs, and lots of “do you remember when….” There were reflections: “Can you believe we’re going to be the youngest in the school again?” And a smiling, “Matt, you’re much quieter than Mrs. Schmidt.”

“We balance each other out,” was St.Matt’s diplomatic reply.
Mine was more candid: “I bring the crazy; he brings the normal.”
The kiddos all nodded, sagely and immediately accepting this as true.

There was time for one last enthusiastic singing of “Don’t Stop Believing” and the dismissal announcements came on.

The kiddos’ faces vacillated between summer-excitement and farewell-panic. Hugs were given, received, given again and a few kiddos were gently pushed out of the classroom so they wouldn’t miss their busses.

The door shut behind the last kiddo and I turned to face St. Matt – sitting at my desk with his chin in his hand. “I’m exhausted.”

I nodded and looked around the classroom. It needed to be packed away and I’d barely started. I’d tried taking down posters earlier in a week but a kiddo had protested: “It’s so sad to see our classroom not look like our classroom anymore.” So I’d stopped.

Now I’d run out of excuses and there were only three hours until the faculty party. St. Matt’s engineering nature assessed the state of my cabinets and began to remove items and reorganize them in space-efficient manners.

My non-engineering nature sat down opened presents and re-read the cards my kiddos had given me. Then I responded to e-mails from parents –including a piece of fan mail about St. Matt: “My son so enjoyed meeting your husband. It just made his day.”

St. Matt called me over and asked me to look through a pile and identify what should be saved and what could be tossed. I told him the story of every item in the pile as he reorganized my supply cabinet and uh-huh’d.

The day proceeded in this manner:

Me: “Oh, look at this…” Flitting from project to project.
St. Matt: pragmatic, organized, efficient. “Tiffany, could you please…”

Finally, at five o’clock – now two hours late for the party, St. Matt decided, “You have 15 minutes. Anything that’s not in a cabinet in 15 minutes, we’re throwing away.”
“Okay, let me just pick a song.”
“15 minutes.”
“Well, we need the right song.”

I settled on Warren G’s “Regulators” and got to work. 13 minutes later I was shutting off the lights and shutting the door to room 202, precariously balancing bags of books, gifts from kiddos, the classroom plants and our one surviving fish, Yumberry.

We loaded the car, and St. Matt slumped behind the wheel with tired eyes. I reached over and poked him, “Hey! Guess what? It’s SUMMER! Ready for the party?”

“I’m ready for a nap.”

Lesson’s learned my last day of school:
St. Matt’s cute (well, duh!)
St. Matt’s quieter than me (I knew this already!)
St. Matt’s patient (knew this too)
He’s a better packer (so? I’m a better pack-rat)
And he’s a big WIMP if one 1/2 day with the kiddos tired him out!

Top 10 Teacherly things that make me melt:

1) Hearing my class groan in unison when I pick up the bookmark during read aloud and then beg: “One more page, please!”

2) The bucakaroo who stops by my desk at dismissal each day, waits until he has my attention, makes eye contact and says: “Thanks for today.” And sincerely means it.

3) During scary or intense parts of read aloud, the kiddos unconsciously snuggle closer to their turn & talk partner in a way that is all too innocent and adorable.

4) 26 sixth graders wearing tiaras to support a classmate who’s very ill

5) Returning to the classroom after walking the kiddos to gym and discovering that the straggler in line was leaving a surprise note on my desk telling me why I’m her “favorite teacher ever.”

6) E-mails & visits from the first class of Schmidties who are now in 10th grade. E-mails and visits from last year’s Schmidties every time they read a book they love. E-mail and visits from any former- Schmidty

7) Class meetings.

8) When they get so comfortable they sing – loudly – while working. Even if we don’t have music playing.

9) Monday mornings when they run down the hallway to share something from their Writer’s Notebooks (or holler from the stairwells: “Mrs. Schmidt, wait ‘til you see this…”)

10) When the clock hits 3:00 PM, I tell them it’s time to pack up & they startle and respond, “Already? Seriously?”

I’ll have to wait until September 1st to start drafting a new list – with a new crop of kiddos. I met them today; they seem sweet, small, and nervous – soon enough they’ll be singing.

Tonight I graduated the current crop – mostly dry-eyed and smile-faced. There may be a few tears between now and tomorrow night, but the pull of summer-excitement is fairly irresistible.

Days of hammocks, reading, writing, running, coffee-shopping & procrastinated-projects will keep me twirly.

And all too soon it will be Septemeber 1st – 5 AM wake ups, and a new group of kiddos to love.

But first: picnics, ‘ritas, tennis, fireflies, s’mores, vacations, drive-ins, ice cream & kayaking…

And one last hug from each kiddo at dismissal tomorrow.

But, but… I’m just not ready to say good-bye

Confession: I will meet next year’s crop of kiddos on Thursday morning. I will spend an hour with them and smile and prattle. And I will hate them.

Not for always, but for that morning I will. I won’t want them. I’ll be vehemently wishing they’d stayed in their fifth grade classrooms with the teachers who loved them so I didn’t have to fake a smile and waste an hour away from my own kiddos.

Because there are so few hours left. Thursday night my 08-09 Schmidties will graduate – I’ll dab at tears and read their names with a proud and wistful smile. Friday they have a graduation breakfast and at noon I give them one last hug and send them out to their busses as middle schoolers.

Then I shut my classroom door and bawl. And offer a prayer that middle school is careful with them – or if the other middle schoolers aren’t kind, that they remain kind and supportive to each other. And remember that they’re amazing – no matter who conspires to tell them otherwise or what doubts sprout with hormones in the back of their brains.

But Thursday morning I spend with next year’s class. I know I’ll love them. I know they’ll be phenomenal and amaze me in all sorts of creative and unpredictable ways, but right now they’re usurpers – trying to steal their ways into a heart that’s slightly broken with impending farewells.

I know I’ve done my job. I know that each Schmidty feels loved and valued. I know they’ve grown, matured, and changed since September. They are ready – each and every one of them – for the new challenges that middle school will bring them.

I’m just not ready to say good-bye…

Blithe thoughts… & Blythe names?

Sitting beside me right now is something spectacular; I can’t stop petting it. It’s the best Summer Present from the best husband ever: a Sony E-book Reader. But it needs a name. I need your help!

I’ve been wanting one of these for ages, but the moment it became essential was when my colleague, Mr. Techie, let me borrow his (link to zombie blog). As soon as I flicked the power switch, it was too late. I’d been infected with I-need-an-ebook-syndrome. INAEBS has many symptoms, they include envy, whining, and hours spent researching different brands.

The cure to INAEBS would also cure me of another dangerous ailment: I-need-a-certain-book-NOW virus . Where now is 2 AM and the bookstore doesn’t open until 9:30.

I pointed this out to St. Matt: “Think how much happier I’d be if as soon as I finished one book, I could download the next.”
To which he responded, “You’d never sleep again.”
“But, but…” I had no argument. He had a point.

This week he suddenly relented. I called during recess, sang him a silly made-up ebook reader song, and e-mailed him a coupon Mr. Techie had found me. St. Matt responded with: “It’ll be there when you get home tonight.”

Wait! What?

Only the store was sold out so I had to wait until today when we went and picked it up together. And now I’m happy and can’t stop patting it.

I think my song did him in. Or my winning argument was pointing out we have TWO vacations planned for this summer and reminding him that no matter how many books I pack, I always run out mid-trip. “Do you remember our honeymoon and how hard it was to hunt down an bookstore in Sicily that had books in English?”

(Not that I expect this to be a problem in New Mexico or Canada, but it made my point).

Now that it’s charging next to me, there are some vital things I need to do:

1) Pick out a case. I’m thinking something pink & green.
2) Download the software & read the manual
3) Pick out my first books

The Sony seems male to me, so I’ve been compiling boys’ names: Fergus, Gustav, Nemoy…

So far my favorite is Gilbert. As in Gilbert Blythe, because:

A) He’s awesome and put up with A LOT from Anne (he kinda reminds me of St. Matt).
B) I’m going back to P.E.I. in August. The drive to get there is so long
that half the car would need be packed with books to keep me occupied. It was either get me an ebook reader or leave St. Matt’s golf clubs behind.

Have fun on the links, Love. I’ll be curled up with [name of new ebook reader to be finalized] and I’ll see you when you get home.

So Gilbert’s the front runner. Do you approve? Any ideas on where to get #1 or what I should choose for #3?

*pets possibly-Gilbert lovingly*

Field Day

Field Day: n. A school event comprised of various non-traditional sporting competitions; designed to turn formerly angelic students into demonic hellspawn.

It never fails to fail. Field day is a great idea in principle, but in reality it is a mess of sunburns, hurt feelings, and sports equipment.

I love the idea of field day. A chance to celebrate altheticism and being healthy and teamwork. I love that it provides an opportunity to shine for the kiddos with more bodily-kinesthetic than mathematical-logical intelligence.

But in five years of teaching sixth grade I’ve yet to have a year where this day wasn’t a test of every ounce of patience I pretend to have.

It brings out the worst in them. The kiddo who dashed across the classroom on Friday to help a friend clean up his spilled snack is today telling that same friend: “C’mon! Ugh! Just dribble it. It’s not that hard. C’MON – we’re losing! GO FASTER!”

When the thing being dribbled is a football, and it’s being dribbled around a slalom course of traffic cones, it is that hard.

There are the kiddos who dominate. For them, dribbling a football, throwing a frisbee through a hula hoop, relay-racing with tires and playing soccer on scooters is easy.

Then there are the kiddos who… don’t dominate. Either from fear of failure or lack of athletic skills, these are the ones who know they’re going to get dragged during tug-o-war, run over during scooter soccer, trip and tumble during sack races.

Putting both groups on the same team and telling them to work together is a recipe for disaster. Half cringe and half cheer. The louder one group yells, the more the other group cowers.

It’s a mash-up of insecurity and ego – with some I-haven’t-figured-out-how-to-use-my-post-growth-spurt-body-awkwardness sprinkled on top.

But criticism and mean-spirited competitiveness don’t fly with me. I haven’t spent all year creating a group-centered mindset to let them tear each other down because they’re suddenly broken into Blue, White and Maroon teams. They know that when they line up for lunch, they’re all still Schmidties. And when they come back to our classroom tomorrow, they need to be able to look each other in the eye with respect, not regret.

I saw one kiddo freeze today during a ‘team-building’ activity where they had to get all eight of them across the blacktop using only nine random pieces of gym-class-junk. She was teetering on a wooden block, her face a mask of panic as her teammates screeched at her: “DON’T FALL!” and told her to simultaneously crouch and pick up a traffic cone and pass it forward. She wanted to freeze, stabilize… or disappear – but she was “slowing them down’ so she bent, grasped the cone… and lost her balance. Her hand touched the blacktop momentarily, and her team had to start again from the beginning.

Her walk back across the playground, chin tucked down and lips pressed tight, looked like a battle march and I wanted to cry for her.

But I wasn’t giving my kiddos enough credit. When she reached the starting line they hugged her and offered: “You almost had it. You’ll do better next time. We’ve got this.”

And she picked her chin up and smiled – offering a strategy: “Why doesn’t someone with better balance go last? I’m no good at balancing and picking up the equipment. Also, it’s way easier to balance on the block if you turn it the other way.”

~Proud teacher moment~

Flash forward a few hours to Field Day – part 2. Instead of wacky made-up games, it’s now lightning rounds of volleyball. Pitting the six 6th grade classes against each other.

This began out promisingly enough. Both my boys’ and girls’ started off 2-0 for one simple reason: they know each other. They were so quick to say: “You’ve got this one. Great shot. I’ve got your back. Ah, great try! Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”

The other classes bickered and stumbled over each other as they all scrambled for every ball.

My class didn’t end up 5-0. The loses eventually came as the other classes organized – determining their best servers and using them exclusively while my kiddos clung to: “You haven’t served yet? Hey guys, let’s make sure he’s next. Don’t worry, you’ll get the next one over.”

They laughed and chattered and congratulated while their competitors strategized.

And the cheers started. I believe I could live my whole life without needing to hear another chorus of “We Will Rock You.” Or the words, You’ve been schooled! I pwn’d you! You’re going dooooow-oown.

My favorite? When a boy from another class jeered, “Oh, it’s over!” And one of my literal-minded kiddos responded, “No it’s not; we’ve got 8 minutes left in this game.”

Ahhh, innocence.

At the end of the day we trudged back in the building – exhausted, sweaty and stinky (please, for the love of all things olfactory, remember that Axe and Body Splash are not the same as deodorant). The face paint that had been so crisp and sparkly this morning was now running down cheeks and smeared into eyes. Ponytails were askew, ribbons un-bowed. The kiddos slumped into their seats and rested panting chins on grimy, suntanned arms.

They listened with squirmy-anticipation to the afternoon announcements, anxious to find out which team had ‘won’ the no-prize for having the highest number of points.

As soon as the gym teacher began to read the results: “And in third place, with a total of 1127 points, we had the BLUE TEAM…” The kiddos forgot their exhaustion and hoarse throats and began a new round of chants and cheers. By the time the White Team had been proclaimed the winner, you could hear the jibes & applause echoing from every classroom.

But in room 202, the loudest cheerer of all was quickly copied by the rest of the kiddos, and what he said was colorless: “Go Schmidties! Good job today.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Write the Rainbow…

I have a tendency to develop little routines. You could call them traditions – St. Matt calls them obsessions. But they’re just little habits that help me get stuff done.

For instance, I’ve listened to DMB’s “Dancing Nancies” on the first day of school for the past 13 years (since my sophomore year in HS). Before I serve in tennis, I have to bounce a few times in place – not the ball, mind you, I bounce me. Every night before I go to bed I have to check that the closet door is shut so I don’t get sucked into another dimension, Poltergeist-style.

Completely normal little routines.

With writing I have many of these. My latest one is Revision-Skittles. I’m not sure when it switched from being that’s-fun to that’s-necessary, but at some point between January and now I started the habit of allowing myself one Skittles Core per page revised.

Skittles really are the perfect candy for revision –besides being made of rainbows, creativity and inspiration – they’re small. Individually they don’t pack much of a calorie wallop, and if I ate enough to have a detrimental affect on my sugar-level, my worry was overshadowed by the thrill of knowing I’d had an excellent revision day. Plus, Revision-Skittle sugar-high carried me through a couple of extended elliptical hours.

Somewhere along the line Bruschi became a Revision-Skittle addict too, and now he will gladly curl up next to me during late-night revision sessions and wait semi-patiently for his loyalty to be rewarded with a circular piece of sugary goodness. And if I’m taking too long with any individual page, he’ll let me know this with a wet nose to my calf or an impatient paw on my arm.

Last week I finished up my second pass on my WIP (currently titled TBALMCSAP, but I seriously need to come up with something better soon). In a minor revision-miracle, not quite as impressive as Chanukah’s 8-days of light, my last bag of Skittles lasted to the final page of TBALMCSAP. I ate the last one as I pressed *SEND* on the e-mail to my first reader & did a happy dance. Tra-la-la!

After church today we stopped at Wegmans to do our weekly shopping. I smiled through the Wonka-esque candy aisle and skipped over to the shelf where Revision-Skittles wait for happy lil’ people like me.

It was empty.

Panic didn’t set in immediately, but it didn’t take longer than 5 minutes either. There are many other revision passes that will need to be made on TBALMCSAP! What about the WIP I began outlining last night. I WILL need to revise again. Soon. The rainbowful flavors began to fade from my memory, my head began to spin…

Before we were even home from Wegmans I was Googling the number for other supermarkets and calling out the digits to an indulgent St. Matt.

As I whimpered, “What if they’ve stopped making them?” He patted my leg and tapped the numbers on his keypad.

“Hello, I was wondering if you had Revision-Skittles in stock?”

Panic = Gone!
Laughter = Extreme!

As I giggled and tee-hee’d St. Matt shot me you’re-in-trouble-looks, corrected himself and managed to ascertain that Giant did stock Skittles Cores but only in large bags. “Oh, that won’t be a problem. Thanks so much.”

So now I’m stocked up. I’m good to go. And someone just sent me something awesome to revise… I don’t know who’s more excited, me or Bruschi!

blurred boundaries and book thoughts

My ability to differentiate between reality and imaginary has always been questionable. My childhood was a test of my parents’ patience and endurance, peppered with invisible friends, the She-ra incident*, and a fantasy life so vivid people never knew when I was telling the truth or my truth.

I haven’t really ever outgrown this, though now I write my invisible friends’ stories on paper and try not to flinch when I have to refer to it as fiction.

Sometimes the boundary line blurs a bit.

Last night was comprised of NOsleep and THUNDERstorms. The first can be blamed on finishing my first revision pass on my WIP. I’d done a little I-love-this-book dance, E-mailed it to my first reader, then panicked. I wanted it back. What if it wasn’t loved? What if I wanted to change something? But mostly I missed it.

I trudged up to bed feeling achy, not just because of the ear-infection-that-won’t-end, but because I’d sent my story out and it didn’t feel as much mine anymore. I couldn’t protect it.

That’s when the THUNDERstorms began.

I tried to ignore them. Three hours later I was still trying to ignore them, but now the corners of the room looked ominous and the slumbering-puggle-breath on my calf was making me twitchy.

I surrendered to 4:30 AM and decided to start my day with elliptical-hour and a new book.

Sleep-deprivation smears that real/imaginary boundary. I don’t think the ear-infection vertigo or the new antibiotics help either. And the book**…

It clung in my head all day, wisps of plot/characters floating up as I set about going through the motions of pretending to be rested and mentally present.

I came home and dove on it – spending the after work hours intermittently dozing and reading; finishing my nap and the book as the sky began to darken.

But I didn’t feel like I could completely wake or disengage. I was disoriented – the world was settling down as I was getting up and St. Matt wanted my attention while I wanted to retreat and contemplate.

“Too bad it’s dark and raining, I could use a run.”
“Tiffany, it’s not raining.”
“What?” I wandered out on the porch. He was right. It wasn’t raining. It hadn’t rained. Nothing was wet. Disorientation increased exponentially.

I took a reflection-walk in the non-rain. The book swirling in big arcs through my head, its themes mirroring my sense of disconnection. How much of our reality is imposed versus how much is created? Is one version right and another wrong? Who controls what we see, believe, perceive? And if we’re all experiencing things differently and in so many ways, is it possible to ever understand someone else? Yet we pass judgement on others’ realities all-the-time.

The woman approaching on the sidewalk startled me. I’d been absorbed in my envisioned vs. encountered debate about reality and hadn’t heard her– despite the fact that she was juggling two panting doggies and their corresponding *ahem* baggies.

“Hi,” I nodded and smiled and she mirrored my actions, passing by with a tug on the leashes.

If it weren’t for the slight twist of her head and the side of amused grin, I might have remained oblivious, but I caught her second glance and looked down.

I’m wearing pajamas. More specifically, bright blue pajama pants decorated with palm-sized cartoon reindeer.

Awareness rushed back in with a flood of blood to my cheeks. And riding on the tide of embarrassment came clarity too.

Reality is both envisioned AND encountered. Maybe in my case, the imaginary paints with a more dominant stroke, but I’m okay with it. As long as I keep a tangential grasp on the facts – i.e. we no longer set a place at the dinner table for Harvey – I’m okay with believing my world is how I create it. Believing that people are good, that happily ever after is achievable, and that miracles happen. I’m okay with ignoring the times that these beliefs have been proven wrong and believing that what lies ahead is as wondrous as the stories within my head.

And wearing pajamas for a stroll around the neighborhood? I’m okay with that too. Even if they’re Christmas ones and even if it’s June.

*This deserves a blog post of its own someday
** No, I’m not telling which book. But I hope you’re lucky enough to experience it someday soon.