Getting Schooled by Little People


April 1 was my sixth day of kindergarten substitute teaching. I’m ready for some petulant teen angst, BRING IT.

Kinder Microfashion statements.

Kinder Microfashion statements.

Kindergarteners are interesting little humans. Still young enough to be clingy and demanding, they’re also testing their mettle when it comes to socializing and seeing how they fit in. If I’m just substituting for a day, I really cannot tell who is trying to get away with all they can from who is not having a good day. As the dawn of my sixth day with this particular class approached, I had an idea of:

  • Who is dying.
  • Who is lying.
  • Who is crying (for real).
  • Who is trying.
  • Who is sighing.
Let us pause for the dramatic arts.

Let us pause for the dramatic arts.

I can also tell you which delightful child will run for student council in a few years and city council in a few decades. There are a couple of boys destined for the NFL. I am quite certain one young lady will be an actress or a pop singer. There’s a free spirit who chooses to engage or not. I do my best to give solid one-on-one time, but sometimes there’s no there there and we don’t connect. The modern classroom is a mix of special needs students, those who excel, and everyone in between. The strong ones look out for the weak, they show each other how to write their numbers and letters, they stick up for each other, and sometimes they can be a little mean. Filters aren’t quite in place, but they’re getting there. At the start of each week in kindergarten, the students are given new jobs:

  • Office messengers.
  • Lights, doors and windows.
  • Plants.
  • Paper passer outters.
  • Library organizers.
  • etc.

There’s a smart board at the front of the class where the students touch the screen to sign in first thing and indicate whether they are eating school lunch or home lunch and getting milk. The smart board is connected to a laptop computer and a projector, making it very easy to read books or teach lessons to the students while they sit together on the carpet (in their designated spots). You cannot put 18 children together on a carpet, or in groups of four or five at little tables and expect things to go swimmingly all the time. It doesn’t. Sometimes it does, but most of the time it doesn’t. Yesterday, for instance, it was challenging to get all of the students to write their journal entries. Some can finish the writing of the weather and their name and complete a sentence prompt such as “There is a big spot on …”, and draw an illustration about it in less than 15 minutes. Others take longer. How to keep everyone engaged, from being distracted, from picking on each other or spacing out? That is the question to which there is no one answer.

When I’m substituting a class of K-3 graders, I usually get a few hugs at the end of the day. It’s sweet and it keeps me motivated. But sometimes I struggle as I try to stay positive. Like when I have to get them lined up for the cafeteria or music class, for a fire drill or to the playground, the children don’t exactly move as a single centipede toward our destination despite my prodding. Sometimes they walk backwards, sometimes they walk into posts, sometimes they clump up here and there, sometimes one or two is way far ahead and one or two are way far behind. At any given time this week while towing the line I heard:

  • Mrs. Bender, he said he was going to kill me.
  • Mrs. Ender, can I change my pants?
  • Mrs. Vendor, he is sharing his snack and he’s not allowed to share his snack.
  • Mrs. Uhm, I need to go to the health room.
  • Mrs. Hey, did you have your baby yet?

Kindergarteners don’t have their filters firmly in place, and that can be rather refreshing. On the other hand, I’ve learned to keep my filters firmly engaged, and I suppress quite a few chuckles, too. One of the highlights of substitute teaching is returning to a school and getting shout outs from the students you had worked with before. And another one is remembering names. I’m actually quite excited about remembering names. It’s important to the students, and it’s an indication that I’m not losing all my marbles.

Finding my Zen Zone while Running


My journey to be a decent triathlete is no one else’s. Sometimes I think a fast runner or a fast triathlete never gives it any thought to how difficult it can be for regular people, for mere mortals, to get past the pain and self consciousness of competition. I know that they have personal lives, jobs, families, heartaches and problems, but the shell of their perfect bodies disguises so well whatever pain they hide inside.

Last night I ran with the Boca Hawaii group and as usual I ended up alone for most of the run. I could see my teammates in the distance. Then the dots of their heads blended into the crowds along the beach in Waikiki at sunset. I just kept my head in my run, thought about my form, and counted on blending back in with the others as we approached the shop at the designated time.

Running isn’t easy for me. I have a favorite T-shirt of a rhino on a treadmill inspired by a unicorn on a poster beside her. Not that I would ever want to be a unicorn. I just think the shirt is funny and it points out how silly it is for us to dream to be something that doesn’t even exist.

So far, my bike and swim are improving immensely. I’m excited at the prospect of beating last year’s time of 08:12 for the Honu 70.3 Ironman. My run hasn’t been quite there yet, but I am making strides in that area, too.

Before we took off for our run from Kakaako, the coaches gave us all a pep talk and Raul explained the route. While some runners asked about going as far as Kapiolani Park, I knew that would never be a problem for me. My turn around would not occur as far as theirs. At the half-way point, I turned back toward the shop. I ran down Kalakaua Avenue toward the Convention Center, and turned to run down the dark tree-lined mall that is now home to many homeless people. I was a little worried. I figured my teammates might find my body if something were to happen to me. I picked up my pace, I kept my focus, I ran over the herringboned bricks in the dark toward busy Ala Moana Boulevard, the heavy vehicular traffic, the pedestrians, the stoplights and the street lamps.

I pushed through. I felt pretty good, but I worried that I’d get all smug and cocky and then fall on my face the darker it got. By the time I got back to the shop, there was still time to keep running, so I ran around the area for another few minutes. I was the third runner back and way before the others. I should have run a little longer. I realized that my run back was faster than my run out. The stats on my Garmin indicated I kept a faster pace than I have ever had before. I wasn’t in pain. My heart and lungs were OK! That’s so encouraging. I woke up and my legs were a little stiff this morning, but we were able to take a short bike ride.

Tonight I roasted salmon and made linguine for The Benderettes. I ate half of what I put on my plate. Something is happening. A switch, a feeling, a drive.

The Curly Peg in a Straight and Square World


It has always been the case, and at this stage in my life, I’ve accepted it better than anyone else in the world — I don’t quite fit here, there, just about everywhere. My husband gets it, so that makes me one of the luckiest and happiest women alive.

Do not marry a man who does not get you.

Because. Because the rest of the world doesn’t. I’m OK with it. I’m at peace with it. I do not need the world to get me. I do not need to fit into anyone’s mold. I do not fit in a cube nor a corporate mold. I question authority and sometimes in the past I’ve actually suspected my bosses to be as dumb as boxes of rocks. Sucking up embarrasses me and it embarrasses me to witness sucking up  by others. The people being sucked up to? How do they live with themselves?

So there’s that thing called Hell. It’s either here on earth or somewhere after you die. Mine is here. Thanks. Because when I die it won’t be there. Love that.

This week I tried my best to complete an article but it required massive sucking up and as you might know by now, by this paragraph, by knowing me in real life or virtually, that I am not one for kissing ass. It felt absolutely liberating to walk away. Anything that requires me to be something or experience something that I cannot embrace is just not worth it. Rediculous. Principles, people. Have principles.

Your zone is golden and I need a secret password to enter?

Did it ever occur to you that it doesn’t matter?

Be yourself. I’m living proof that you’ll survive. It’s a bumpy life, but it’s living.

Back to School


Taking the substitute teacher course offered by the Hawaii Department of Education was one of the smartest moves I have ever made. It took more than a month before I started getting calls to work, but now I’m turning down assignments. It’s great to wake up and decide between hanging out with my husband, writing an article that’s due or going for a bike ride instead of heading to class. But most of the time I agree to substitute. Bills to pay and triathlons to train for. It all costs money!

Substitute teaching is not always smooth sailing. I mostly substitute at schools where my daughters attend so sometimes kids who are familiar with me think they can act up. There are few perfect days of perfect classes with all perfect children (there was one), and it is true that trouble makers comprise less than five percent of the whole room. What I love is when students come up to me to say hello, to reassure me, and to commiserate because of one or two high-maintenance classmates. Teachers are happy to pay attention to students, but positive behavior trumps punk every time.

Times have changed. Kids have smart phones, tablets and laptops. Today I introduced students to the My Fitness Pal app so they could get it on their phones to track their nutritional intake for a week. I told them that the free app also has a website that retains everything they input from their phones so they could easily copy repeat items and then print the log when ready. Those who wanted to were welcome to write in food journals instead. I also showed them http://hawaiifoods.hawaii.edu/ to find local food items such as chicken long rice, Spam musubi, beef teriyaki and pork lau lau.

Most of the students downloaded the app and got busy. A few played cross-platform video games with each other on their phones. Like that’s cute.

When it comes to substituting at high school my main goal is to keep students in the room. They can choose to do the work or not. If they misbehave I write it down. Pushing a friend in the teacher’s beat-up old leather wheeled chair at top speed across the classroom merits a mention.

More and more classes I encounter now have sofas in them. Students hurl themselves at the sofas or at each other on the sofas and have a blast. Maybe they do that at home, but I doubt it. Apparently, the teacher says it’s OK.

I know this because the students tell me. It usually goes like this: One giant boy does a full body slam onto the sofa. A second and third giant boy throws himself onto the first boy, ala tag-team-caged-fighting-squads. Then they look at me and say, “We’re allowed. The teacher says it’s OK.”

Of course I believe them. Wouldn’t you?

Alone Time


I’m a little disappointed that no school needed me to sub today. However, I can get to work on the next three story assignments I have, and that’s a good thing. But before I do, I thought I’d do some writer calisthenics here on lavagal.net. It’s been a while. Alone time.

My SIL1 is waiting for my blog about our trip to Volcano on the Big Island a few weeks ago. I looked back at my pictures and realized that I had not taken any photos of my four sisters-in-law and the lone fellow out-law husband of SIL4. Instead, I took photos of the volcano, the darling bungalow we stayed in, the flora, the fauna. There are a few photos of us on top of Mauna Kea, but the best ones are in my husband’s camera. I’ll ask. What I loved about our trip was how chilly the volcano area is. We spent very little time in Hilo, so most of the time we were bundled up in socks and sweaters. For those of us who live in Hawaii, that is always a joy. I cooked breakfast one morning, recruited by SIL1, and I made egg McBobs, named after her late husband. I brought along some hashbrowns and served those on the side. That night I made linguine with caramelized onions and yogurt sauce, a dish that is out of this world. I plan to cook the onions on our grill the next time I make this dish — that’s how many onions are in it.

While on the Big Island, a Costco Hawaii Kai manager called me with hours for the following week. I got 32 hours and Sunday, January 19, was my last day. I’m now waiting until February 19 to see if I get a permanent part-time gig. I had also been scheduled for a job interview for a full-time communications administration position, but I declined it. It felt too much like the soul-sucking experience I’m still recovering from. Stepping away from all that is a good idea. I’ll stick to the freelance writing, and, in the meantime, taking all the substitute teaching assignments I can.

Yesterday I taught 7th grade Social Studies, which focused on the Hawaiian Overthrow. How embarrassed I am at the behavior and arrogance of the men who dethroned Queen Liliuokalani. Many of these public school children are not white, many are of mixed race, and some are of Hawaiian descent. I’m not quite sure how much any of the students cared about the lesson, but they need to learn. Such lessons will hopefully create a better world. That’s why we need to learn our lessons.

Last Friday I taught kindergarten and it was the 100th day of school. So there was all kinds of 100 Day things to talk about. I felt a little bad for the teacher as 100 day is pretty special. The kids counted out 100 fruity o cereals and then strung them on red silk cords that I tied when they were done. I then put them in a plastic bag and ordered them to put them in their backpack (as instructed). Kindergartners are a trip. I was grateful that the school provided two helpers for the first hour (they spend the day taking turns in the K classes). I sometimes feel like I’m flying blind, but the day went well. I slept well that night!

Gearing up now for the start of triathlon training in about two weeks since I’m returning to Kona for the Ironman 70.3 on May 31. I’m actually resisting the urge to enter a lot of events this year. I think I might enter two or three before the 70.3. Staying low, invisible, unnoticed.

So this should do it for now.

BTW, I can’t figure out how to get photos off my MotoX with the WP app and onto the blog. Soon.

 

 

How best to begin a new year


I wrote my first check for 2014 without making a mistake. I thought that was pretty good. I waited a few days to let 2014 sink in, just to see what would happen if I held back. I have finally concluded that there is no point in making any pronouncements about what a new year will be for me. After 2013, how could I?

Yesterday I was herding carts in the best Hawaii weather: Breezy, low humidity and cool. I couldn’t ask for a better last day on carts as a seasonal Costco Hawaii Kai employee. While I was working I noticed a big woman running across the parking lot. Because I am a triathlete, I notice people who run and wonder if I’ve ever seen them while training or in a race. But I didn’t recognize her, and I realized she wasn’t running for exercise. She wore black capris and a T-shirt, her long, wavy brown hair blowing in the wind and she was carrying a backpack or something. She kept looking back, and then she ran to the Kiss and Ride, where I stopped paying attention. I then noticed a manager, phone to his ear, looking in the same direction.

Soon there were police cars in our lot. One blue-and-white stayed at the front door for what seemed like an hour. I guess that’s how long it takes to file a report. And maybe, because it was Saturday and the craziest day ever, the other officers hung out as a calming measure. You’d think it was the day before Christmas the way people poured into Costco to spend their money. The lot was crowded and tense, and for a handful of times, I heard conflicts and horns beeping over parking spaces.

I don’t know if we can say that she got away. In conversations with other cart crew members, I learned that teams of thieves come in with stolen bags they fill with stolen goods. If they get caught they can say it’s not their bag, so it’s not their crime. It can’t be that easy. I wondered if they give the things they steal as gifts or if they try to sell them. I wonder if they are stealing to fill the voids in their life.

New merchandise for 2014 includes luxuries, organic foods, gourmet goods and fancy libations. It’s all so very tempting. I often remark at the restraint of members who come in for milk and eggs and leave with milk, eggs, a bag of fresh spinach and a bottle of wine. Every day something new and interesting shows up at Costco. With my reduced income, it is easy to tune out the fancies and focus on the essentials.There are things I wish for, but I could never take them. When I sweep the floor I pop the dimes and pennies I find on a register counter, they wobble and spin and ring until they are silent, standing by, waiting to be slipped into a cash drawer. They are not mine, not even for a second.

For a minute I had empathy for an overweight woman running as fast as she could. When I realized what was going on, I thought how much better it is to run toward an honest goal than to run from a crime. Honey, that ain’t no way to begin a new year.

What 2013 has taught me


I knew a year ago, back in December, my birthday month and the month of holiday cheer, that those I found so very uninspiring were plotting to end my corporate-within-the-cube-writing career. It was OK as I had already left in my mind at least more than 1,735 times. In April of 2013 the footprint was on my ass and it was the first time I left an employer without feeling sad. It was more a wave of relief. I had been dismantling my personality from the cube over the months until it looked like a sterile, cold and gray space without personality, exactly what it was supposed to be.

I am grateful that finally I was free to be me. 

I applied for at least three jobs a week — sometimes three jobs a day — until my unemployment ran out in November. I completed the substitute teaching course for the DOE in October. I started my seasonal position at Costco Hawaii Kai in November, too, so I have been able to step off the ice floe. 

I am supposed to be grateful for the more than 80 jobs I applied for and didn’t get, but it’s hard. I got a few interviews and I am sure those humiliating experiences have made me a better person. Radio silence gives you a lot to think about. It was hard not to think about rejection, it was hard to see the silver lining. I know I’m a survivor and I’ve got the most amazing support person at my side. He gets the most gratitude of all. 

What good was there from 2013? I got to spend a lot of time with my husband and we really enjoyed it. There are new gardens in the yard. While things like tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant don’t do so well, our kale, Swiss chard, chili peppers and herbs are bountiful. We have a beautiful area in the backyard where I can write or where we can sit even when it’s raining, with our Kitty Girl. The avocados drop before me, a compost bin settles without stinking, and there’s always gas in the grill. 

In 2013 I trained for triathlons and did alright. I went to the Big Island and participated in my first half Ironman in Kona. I rode my bike, ran and swam several times a week. I did the Honolulu Tinman, the Na Wahine Festival’s swim and spin, the North Shore Swim Series and the Waikiki Roughwater Swim. I love doing all those things. This year I was able to participate without the mental and emotional cave in I had the year before just as the swims were starting. I’m pleased that I can remain calm during those first crazy minutes of an ocean swim with hundreds of arms and legs flailing at me and around me. 

In 2013 I found an editor who gave me a shot at writing for his magazine and I have been writing for him steadily since the summer. I hope to continue. 

During 2013 I applied at Costco four times and finally got a call for this seasonal job that is quite demanding. As a shopper I always thought how fun it must be to work there. Yes, it is fun, but it’s the hardest job I ever had. There’s a chance that I may get picked up as a permanent part-time worker after January 7 when the gig is up, and I’m hopeful that I do. How can that happen? Go. Spend. Your. Money. Thank you!

I am optimistic about 2014. I’d like to weave a work life of substitute teaching, freelancing and customer service at Costco. Once 2014 kicks in and I’m no longer working 48 hours a week at the big box, I’ll start focusing on my triathlon training again, focusing on the May 31, 2014, Kona Half Ironman with a few other triathlons to help me gauge my progress.

I am grateful for my husband and my daughters for their confidence and love. I can’t imagine having a better family. 

One of my strong suits has always been empathy. For that reason I often wondered why I had to have this year of humility to reflect on other intangible qualities generated by my heart and soul. I’m still not sure why, but I am confident that I will put it all to good use. 

Please keep me in your thoughts so that my 2014 is much better. Mahalo.