You Are Loved. You Have Value. You Are Not Alone.

In the wake of the passing of several young people from our area, I am reposting this …

From the Deacon's Desk

August 29, 2014

Weekly letter to the Bishop Chatard parent community:

As I mentioned in the parent e-mail sent earlier this week, we brought the entire school to the gym on Wednesday morning to discuss the recent deaths of two young men from area high schools – one from Brebeuf and one from Cathedral. The easier route would have been to “let it pass” or stick our heads in the sand, pretending that something like that could never happen at Bishop Chatard. We opted instead to come together as a school and talk about two difficult topics: death and suicide. The intent was not to dwell on either, but rather to send a message of love, hope, and faith.

First we prayed together. Afterward, with the entire staff standing behind me, I shared the following message (summarized below):

Today we are in the gym, a place we come to watch…

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Why do we care so much about Robin Williams?

If you’re a faithful reader, you know by now that I’m not a numbers gal–you know, statistics, pie charts, and bar graphs–all those exciting trappings for math nerds like my husband.  Any reference to typeset characters that fall outside of the ABC’s and a grammar nerd’s list of punctuation marks usually cause me to break out in a frantic case of hives and an upset tummy.  But if I was a numbers gal, I would look up the number of people in America who die every day.  My guess is that it’s quite a lot.  So why do we care so much when it’s a celebrity who dies?  I’ll be honest:  There are some celebrities whose deaths would not bother me at all on a personal level since I find their celebrity personas to be vapid, vacuous, annoying, and fleeting.  I might feel badly if they left behind children, but if their contribution to this world was nothing more than allowing America to be their ultimate peeping tom, well, then I’d be appropriately sad for their family but happy that they’ve moved on to a better place.  Or a warmer one.

But when it’s someone who has given so much to so many–whether that thing has been humanitarian efforts (Princess Diana), an amazing musical talent even amid some really disturbing pedophilia accusations (Michael Jackson), or yesterday’s stunning-but-not-so-surprising news of the death of a man whose stellar acting abilities, improvisational prowess, and gut-busting comedic talent spanned over four decades and a variety of genres–well, it doesn’t seem fair to invoke his name parenthetically.

To say that Robin Williams was an amazingly talented individual is redundant, especially in light of all of the social media and news outlets who will be highlighting “The Best of Robin Williams” for the next week and a half.  So I’m not going to do that.  Nor, paradoxically, am I going to focus on our opposing political views because that really doesn’t matter (and besides, I don’t want to steal Ann Coulter’s thunder this week).  It’s Williams’ talent I’m addressing.

I’m instead going to honor the man’s memory by sharing with you what Robin Williams’ genius gave to my family and me.

Robin Williams’ debut as Mork  a year after Fonzie jumped the shark in Happy Days was the nail in the show’s coffin, but Williams’ starring role in that delightfully stupid spinoff Mork and Mindy was nothing short of amazing, and I’ll admit, as spinoffs go, I was a faithful watcher.  It’s true that the show was just plain dumb, and even as a teenager, I recognized the idiocy of the script’s premise.  But I just loved watching Mork and his sophomoric and charming antics, and I just wanted to look like Mindy.

Jump ahead to gems like Good Morning, Vietnam (“What does three up and three down mean to you, Airman?”  “End of an inning?”)  and Dead Poets Society (where millions of high school students learned to recite Walt Whitman) and it was a straight up given to see that this guy had “it”.  I could go on and on listing Williams’ filmography, but you’ll get that easily in the coming weeks.  Just know that never does a hot and humid day pass me by when I don’t invoke Robin Williams’ voice describing the weather as “hot and shitty” à la Walter Cronkite.

But it wasn’t until I watched my own children cackle in delight over Williams’ portrayal of the Genie in Aladdin that I fully appreciated and loved this man for his ability to tickle everyone’s funny bone.  His “scene” with Aladdin when he introduces himself and all that he can do as Aladdin’s right-hand man is hands-down one of the funniest, wittiest, brightest, and most charmingly hilarious clips I’ve ever seen.  Tim and I still can’t hear the word “provisos” without thinking about and trying to imitate Genie’s imitation of William F. Buckley saying “provisos and quid pro quo”.  It’s one of our favorite inside jokes.

Mrs. Doubtfire is our family’s all-time favorite go-to movie. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen it, if it’s on, we’ll eschew whatever else we’re doing and watch it, if for nothing else than the ‘boobs on fire’ scene. That Robin Williams’ Euphegenia Doubtfire is a dead ringer for my Grandma Abercrombie is just the icing on the cake.

So, why do we take it personally when someone like Robin Williams dies before his time?  Because we do what I have just done here and what we do whenever anyone we cherish dies–we look back on all of the delightful times we had with him, all of the times we’ve invited his virtual self into our homes to entertain us, and every time he made us laugh–whether it was the laughter of our children, so innocent and pure, or whether it was his more adult-like humor that contained some wonderful double entendre that touched us adults at the same time.

The news that Robin Williams took his own life is even more heartbreaking.  Didn’t he know how much we loved him?  Does he know how much he’ll be missed?  Is depression that insidious of a disease that it warps the mind of one who was such a valuable and cherished mainstay of our collective generations?

Robin Williams left this earth yesterday, along with–oh, I don’t know how many other souls (Who’s counting?  Not me.)  But, oh my, how he’ll be missed.

Thank you, God, for giving us such a treasure.  He’s Yours now.  Enjoy.

Back to School

Few phrases have the ability to render depression in a teacher as the words “back to school”. In fact, four years after I went “back to school” for my twenty-fifth and final year of teaching, I still cringe when I hear the carefree, twinkling television commercial voices urging parents to drop what they’re doing, head into Target, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s and get those kids ready to go back to school now! Because, Heaven forbid, if your child isn’t armed with the entire contents of Wal-Mart’s “back to school” section (which, curiously, now often includes tissues in boxes that look like school busses, hand sanitizer in gargantuan sizes, and Clorox wipes for those booger-y desk-tops), it’s a sure thing that his teacher will sneeringly look down her wart-riddled nose at you for not having heeded that all-important school supply list (which, incidentally, probably took seven or eight rather heated in-service meetings with the entire staff to compile).

In short, as a parent, you suck. You have every reason to be depressed.

But why are teachers depressed? And before I answer that question, let me apologize in advance to all of my teacher friends. I am sorry I feel compelled to reveal this ugly secret, but really, the public should know what you all (and what I did, at one time) go through while getting ready to go back to school, actually going back to school, and the weekend after you go back to school.

It’s simply the worst time of the year.

Here’s why: The getting-ready part–those few precious weeks before the FDOS–are, typically, fun. You get to reconnect with your colleagues after the few short months weeks you’ve not seen each other since the LDOS and, if you have a nice tan or you’ve been somewhere fun, you have that going for you, or if you’ve decided to do something different with your hair then you get to bask in the oohs and awes of your fellow girl-type teachers who decided not to go blond-y blond over the summer months weeks (I did that once), so yeah, it can be fun. And invariably, someone’s pregnant, someone’s gotten engaged, or, more likely, someone’s getting a divorce, so there’s gossip a-plenty.  And then there is the anticipation of a new start, a fresh set of students, eager babes who can’t wait to learn all that there is to learn in a year–because who wouldn’t be eager to learn at the end of the summer July?

Yeah, there’s that slice of hope, that nugget of “maybe this year it will be different” and the determination to make this year “the best school year ever”.

Then there’s the day–usually one or two days before the FDOS–when you’re contractually required to be at school at your contract time–7:00 AM-ish for elementary teachers, typically an hour later for middle school and high school teachers. There’s no room for error here–as in don’t be gettin’ used to the Starbucks drive-thru every morning–and you resign yourself to the fact that there’s no going back. School has started.

But wait–once your contract day begins, instead of those last minute touches to your classroom, you get to sit in meetings for the entire day! Even lunch–that sacrosanct hour twenty minutes when teachers are free to bitch about all the things teachers need to bitch about in order to maintain their sanity–becomes someone else’s agenda because you’re forced to eat a poorly catered lunch provided by the PFO where you can’t sit with your besties and tell it like it is because Mrs. So-and So is standing behind the pulled pork and you’ve got her kid in your class this year. The last thing you need is for her to overhear you grousing about how *&^%$#@ annoying the morning meeting with the superintendent was or how you hope this Christmas the PFO gets a freakin’ clue and hands out Trader Joe’s gift cards instead of those boring-ass United Arts and Education cards (five bottles of Two-buck Chuck v. ten dollars-worth of bulletin board borders? Wine me, please).

Then there are more meetings to learn about more procedures that have changed just enough from last year the end of May that you are forced to pay attention when all you really want to do is go home and take a nap (or watch Days of Our Lives). So you hurriedly spend the end of the contract day making sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row lesson-wise and giving your classroom another once-over to make sure it’s kid-friendly (hide the empty cans of Diet Coke you were meaning to put in the recycling, clean out a drawer so you can hide your purse inside of it, and wish you had some Clorox wipes already because there’s a definite dried streak of a booger-y snot-like substance on the aluminum frame of the bulletin board you just finished putting up, and you know it’s not yours). You want to get home at a reasonable time because, as your mother used to say, “You have a big day tomorrow.”

I do not know one teacher who has slept the night before the FDOS. Not one. Which means for teachers the FDOS is one long-ass day, and all you can think is, “Why didn’t I buy a coffee maker to put in my room? I could have hidden it inside my purse drawer!” The FDOS is surreal–you either have 30-35 names of kids to memorize, or you have 180-200 names of kids to memorize. Regardless, it’s a day when you are expected to be in charge, you’re expected to know what you’re doing, you aren’t used to going more than an hour and a half without a tinkle, and, well, you’re just plain miserable. And tired.

The weekend after the FDOS (or FWOS) is fraught with two emotions: The first, relief at being able to relax over a cup of coffee and The Pioneer Woman on Saturday morning; the second, an abysmal depression that hits you sometime Sunday afternoon because …

You have to go back to school tomorrow.

So why am I writing this when I am no longer teaching? Because, even though I have not had a weekday off work since December 12, 2011, the whole “back to school / work” malaise does not affect me. Teachers, most of whom work during the summer months weeks–they work at another job, they take classes, they participate in professional development, or they take care of their own kids–are still not burdened by the need to always be “on” as they are when they are actually teaching. I wish I could take credit for this, but I read it on another teacher’s blog: Being a teacher is like being an actor on a stage who is also responsible for writing the script, directing the play, building the set and scenery, designing and sewing the costumes, and selling the tickets–but most importantly, marketing the entire enterprise to an apathetic public. The energy it takes to be a teacher is as gargantuan as that liter container of hand sanitizer you just bought, and then some.

Why do I still care?  Because I love all of you and because, if you’ll let me, I can be your voice.  You can’t say these things publicly (especially the swear words about the superintendent and the PFO) because the Teacher Police will find you and make your life miserable.  You’re not free to vent any longer.  The Teacher Police can find me and chastise me all they want.  I don’t work for them.  So there.

The good news is that around mid-September, the dust will have settled, you and your students are into a routine, the weather will have begun to get a little crisper, there’s football, and most of all, you’re over that “back to school” period. Normalcy replaces utter exhaustion, your bladder slowly begins to accommodate an hour’s several hours’ worth of pee, and the promise of a nice bottle of Pinot Noir on a chilly Friday night makes the week go a little bit smoother.

Until the last week of school. But that’s another blog altogether.

Have a great school year, my friends!  Few people can do what you do and live to tell about it!