The Young

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The school year is swiftly coming to close with the end in sight: May 29. What an education this has been for me!

I don’t regret signing on as a substitute teacher for the Hawaii Department of Education, although I do have moments when I feel the attention span of children is about as easy to grip as greased rope. At the moment, I’m in a prep period for a teacher for whom I’ve subbed four days now. The class is quiet. The windows open to a densely wooded area and I am now hearing a bird sing. I wonder what it is?

The seventh-grade students in my science classes have been working on a PowerPoint presentation, based on one of five chapters in their text. Essentially, they create the project to teach the chapter. It’s a good stay-busy project. I showed them how to piece out the work into separate slides and to follow the end-of-chapter review to be sure they included all they needed in their presentations.

But I’m not here to babysit or pontificate. I’m here because part of me is still that kid in school who didn’t quite get it all right. I think I’m looking for me. I think I’m looking to help a kid make the right decision about her future. I know now that doing homework means you will be equipped to meet future deadlines. That keeping up with the studies means that the future will deliver something wonderful. Something. Wonderful. Something. Wonderful.

End daydream here.

They work on Apple laptops. I would imagine for about five minutes it was fun to take off computer keys and rearrange the letters into cuss words. But, since these students have never learned how to type QWERTY style, their hunt and peck is frustrating, and the joke is now on them. Brilliant. Will next year’s seventh graders know better? One would hope. I told the office about the computers. There’s a few weeks of school left and who knows if they’ll be refurbished or replaced?

Keys swapped and missing from laptops.

Keys swapped and missing from laptops.

I offered to edit the PowerPoints and fewer than half took me up on it, and each of them was glad they did. I talked to them about using bullets and art to break up big blocks of text. I told them about citing their work and creating a proper bibliography for their final slide. It’s important to me that their teacher feel as though I did more than babysit.

Early this week, three of the boys had “In School Suspension.” Apparently, when a duck flew into their math classroom, they let out their hoots and the substitute reported them. I think my perspective is much different. If there’s an uproar I usually separate the hooligans. If they persist, I give them an opportunity to come to the front of the classroom so everyone can pay attention to them. All of a sudden, no one’s a stand-up comic. It usually settles everyone down. It’s my favorite tactic.

Last night I attended the academic achievement awards ceremony at Kaiser High School, where my Kid1 is a sophomore. I am so pleased for her and proud of her. She was recognized for being a straight-A student, and for her achievements in math and social studies. She runs around with a cerebral crowd, plays viola in the orchestra, and explains youth vernacular to me. Our mailbox and emails are overflowing with queries from colleges and universities eager to enroll her. It is humbling and amazing to me. What’s it like to be her?

I relate more to students who don’t do well in school. When I was their age, I only succeeded in classes where I could write my way into good grades, so I took advantage of that. Math, science and foreign languages were difficult. So when I’m substituting these students, they have no idea how I can relate to their feeling disconnected to the subject. To them I’m an adult in front of the class. For me, it’s more than a babysitting gig. I want to help ignite eureka moments.

Triathlon Training on Hawaii Island

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Last month I joined my Boca Hawaii teammates on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii to train for the Ironman 70.3 Honu triathlon, scheduled for May 31. We all stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, a sprawling, multiple-towered beachfront resort that could accommodate more than 60 of us with family members, support crews and bicycles — while making sure the rest of their guests had a great time and didn’t have to dodge too many bikes in the elevators. The group rate made this trip reasonably affordable, and Boca Hawaii owner Raul Torres had us all pack and ship our bikes via Aloha Air Cargo. He picked them up at the airport and brought them to the hotel. When we were done, he and the coaches loaded them back into the truck, shipped them in reverse, and we paid the ransom the next morning to spring our bikes. Easy, peasy.

My husband and I had a fabulous ocean-view room with a king-sized bed and a giant flat-screen TV to match. I put snacks, coconut water and wine in the fridge. The bathroom was bigger than our bedroom! I could get used to resort living! He always tells me: “Get that novel published!” I didn’t get much of a chance to relax in the fancy robe and hang out on the lanai and take in the view because we were so busy!

Fortunately, we were able to enjoy dinner at Cafe Pesto, where a lot of us decided to eat on Friday. After our Saturday seminar and swim, we also had a nice dinner together on one of the lawns, and it was fun to get to know the other teammates better. We pried and found out how some couples met, including Raul and Hina. There are still some stories that need to be told!

This May 31 will be my second Honu. I am seeking to improve on my first effort of finishing in 08:12 last year. No, that’s not eight minutes and twelve seconds. It’s eight hours and twelve minutes! Thanks to my training with Boca Hawaii, I’m optimistic that I’ll be a bit faster despite being a year older.

My husband and I arrived Friday afternoon in time for me to join the scheduled run. That morning, those who had arrived on Thursday rode their bikes north to Hawi, as per the bicycle route of this event, and encountered winds that gusted beyond 50 mph. In fact, one of our stronger triathletes fell, busted up his bike and separated his shoulder (for the third time in his triathlon career). My teammates were humbled by the conditions, worried about our teammate, and were very tired from the effort, the first of eight or nine workouts schedule for the weekend. I wasn’t disappointed that I had missed the ride!

The wind on Saturday morning at Hapuna Beach. Training in windy conditions pays off. We all went in for the swim.

The wind on Saturday morning at Hapuna Beach. Training in windy conditions pays off. We all went in for the swim.

The winds didn’t die down, so Raul and the rest of our coaches decided to shelve Saturday’s ride up to Hawi and beyond. They swapped the Sunday and Saturday workouts, so we started Saturday morning, which was still quite windy, with a swim in Hapuna Bay. This bay is my absolute favorite to swim in. It is crystal clear, you can watch sand swish in the currents below, and there are lots of fish and turtles to watch. We had several swims scheduled, and I wish I could have just jumped in one more time on Sunday after our big bike ride and run.

Getting briefed by Raul Torres before our morning swim in Hapuna Bay.

Getting briefed by Raul Torres before our morning swim in Hapuna Bay.

Following the swim we had our long run. Hills and heat, beach sand and coral, through the woods and along the resorts, the conditions were varied and tested us. I nearly fell a few times, the toe of my running shoes got caught on a tree root or I’d misstep on coral or lava rocks. It was all an education on how to cope, how to overcome, how to do our best. I got to use my new Nathan hydration belt and I have to admit it was flawless. Snug enough not to slosh on me, I could forget I was wearing it. That’s a ringing endorsement!

The long run, still fresh during the first half.  Rick Keen photo.

The long run, still fresh during the first half. Rick Keen photo.

Running is my weakest triathlon leg, so I really need to get better at it. Last night we were running the hills at Kakaako Waterfront Park, and it’s such a test for me. But I know that each day I get better and stronger. During Honu, the run is at the hottest time of the day. I’ll need to hydrate and eat while on the bike to deter bonking during the run. I’ve got a month of practice to improve on this part, and my coaches have really been helpful about my form and pace.

Ready to ride to Hawi and beyond on Sunday morning. Wind wasn't as strong, thank goodness.

Ready to ride to Hawi and beyond on Sunday morning. Wind wasn’t as strong, thank goodness.

We did get to ride up to Hawi on Sunday. Some of the more seasoned and fit triathletes rode their bikes to the end of the road, which included a lot of hills and the reward of a gorgeous view. Knowing that I’d have to run, I turned around at Hawi after having a mocha and a hard boiled egg at the cafe. The wind did die down, but not completely. There are embankments into which the road is carved, and when we first exit their shelter the wind whipped us sideways. My new bike, a 2014 Cervelo P2, caught the wind more than my old Scattanti did. I was glad for the exercise in maintaining balance as the wind toyed with me on both my climb and descent. I was also glad I didn’t refamiliarize myself with the wind and hills on the new bike on wind-swept Friday!

Despite the busy Sunday schedule, we managed to check out on time and got to do a little bit more sightseeing. I am crazy about the Big Island. I’d love to live there if I could swim at Hapuna Beach everyday! I guess I should really finish that novel!

We had a little bit time before our flight back to go exploring.

We had a little bit time before our flight back to go exploring.

 

Smile, and the Whole World Smiles With You


A year ago I wasn’t smiling on the inside, but I smiled on the outside when I parted ways with my confining corporate cube. I was worried, but I never let it show. My friends congratulated me on my leap of faith, which felt more like a free fall, a shove off the top floor.

I am so grateful for those of you who continued to give me support. It wasn’t an easy time.

A year later, I’m still breathing. I let the anniversary pass with just a comment to my husband. I was glad it was on a weekend. I didn’t give it much thought. I was busy preparing for my Lanikai Triathlon, in which I scored a personal record, a personal victory, a slam-dunk and nail-that-coffin-shut-for-good sense of closure.

On the bright side, last Fall I took the state’s substitute teaching certification course and have been spending time with public school students K-12 on any given day. I love the hours and I love that someone else makes a teaching plan for me so they can take a personal day.

On another bright side, the freelance writing assignments continue. I wasn’t sure how much writing I would get, but my assignments at Hawaii Business Magazine have kept me busy and relevant in the local market. I am having stories published by Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific University, and am talking now with four more entities about writing for them. Freelance writing takes a lot of discipline. I can’t chuck it all for a bike ride, run or a go in the kayak if I have a looming deadline. And if I need to reach sources, I have to connect with them during normal business hours. With each article written the bonds of trust between an editor and I are reinforced. That’s important if I want more work!

Finally, the flexibility of freelancing and substitute teaching gives me more time with my family and it has given me more time to train for triathlons. I signed on with Boca Hawaii for training not only to challenge my body, but for encouragement when I’m feeling fragile on the inside. Last night one of my coaches asked me how I was doing. I told him I was tired. He said he could tell, gave me a little shoulder rub and a few encouraging words. The afterglow of a workout is uplifting, and I’m always glad when I go. There are about 40 of us in the Endurance Triathlon Training group and I know I’m not the only one feeling wiped out this week, but it’s all part of a great plan that will come to fruition on the Big Island next month for Ironman 70.3.

I am so fortunate. I have a supportive and loving husband, two brilliant daughters who remind me of my true worth each day, friends who welcome me flaws and all, and a growing queue of editors who take a chance on me and like what they see.

A year later my inside smile matches my outside smile.

 

 

 

 

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?