Saturday, July 22, 2017

No Such Thing as 6T

There's a weird thing that happens when your daughter hits the age and size when she no longer fits into the "T's" line of clothing. My four-year-old is a tall, slim, long-legged girl whose feet have been getting farther and farther away from the bottoms of her 5T jeans for some time now. Since we're doing the obligatory family summer vacation soon, I couldn't stand to look at some of those jeans any more, much less pack them for a trip. So, being off work for the rest of the summer, I decided to take her to Old Navy for a new wardrobe. To say that it was enlightening would be a euphemism.

I went in looking for the next size up from 5T, since that's what she's growing out of. That's always worked so far, with clothes and shoes. Just get the next size up. I had to ask one of the girls folding clothes to help me find the right size, only to have her kindly guide me to the big girls section of the store. I'm talking regular girls sizes - no T's. And really, I had to know that this was coming. I don't remember this happening with my big daughter, but it must have, right? I also had to know that the T's were going to run out at some point. If the T stands for toddler, then it's not like they're going to have an 8T or 39T.

So once I got over the shock of the sizes, then comes the styles. One reason I like shopping at Old Navy, for the girls, is that they have so far resisted the trend of super-sexy clothes for young girls. Too many other stores make it impossible for me to buy something for my little girls to wear that I would actually let them wear outside of the house. Everything is low-rise or midriff, when I'm only trying to make sure that everything my daughter wears is touching something else she's wearing. If it's not that, then it's inappropriate pictures or text on shirts and other articles of clothing. These are the kinds of sayings that would be powerful and sexy on my wife, but are super creepy on a onesie or 3T shirt. And even though Old Navy is definitely my hero when it comes to keeping these styles away, the styles they do have in the sizes I need are more ... grown up. Not inappropriate, just mature. Sparkly skinny jeans and rompers like the ones my wife wears. Patterns instead of pictures. Ballerina jeans.

And what are ballerina jeans, really? As far as I can tell, they're really skinny jeans that are for girls who are exactly as narrow at their ankles as they are at their waist. Whatever they are, they fit my four-year-old perfectly, so thank God for them.

The other thing that took some getting used to is trying on clothes. Until now, shopping for clothes for my little daughter never involved a dressing room. You pick a pair of jeans that look durable and stylish enough, you hold them up to her waist to check the length, and then you ring them up and get out. As soon as I held up these size 5 girls' jeans to her legs and realized that they looked too big, even though the next size down was the T's, I knew I had a problem. We ended up trying on about fifteen different jeans and shorts. Some of them were too long, some had enough room in the waist for her and her best friend to both get in them, and some were perfect, in a way that made me relieved to actually find something, but a little weirded out that she was wearing big girl clothes.

Also, trying on clothes with a fully potty trained little girl, wearing panties instead of pull-ups, is a new experience too. I can't even express the strangeness of having to take her clothes off over and over in that tiny closet of a dressing room. It didn't help that whenever we had to take off a pair of jeans, she kept shouting, "get back here panties, you're not coming off."

By the time we finished shopping, we had about ten outfits, including some summer dresses. Some things she picked out, and some I did. We rang up as quickly as possible, using my Old Navy card to get the discounts, because I'm gangster, and then got out of there, went home and took naps. Actually, she took a nap; I laid in my bed contemplating my life for about an hour.

After nap time we started organizing a fashion show for the rest of the family. I made a playlist of the most bubbly electronic music on my iPhone, connected to the bluetooth speaker, and set up the dining chairs for the audience. We used my yoga mat for a stage at the end of the hall, and her room was the backstage changing area. Fortunately, my little/big girl has taken a few modeling classes, so she's got moves on the runway. Unfortunately, this meant a whole lot more changing clothes, and faster, including shoes. Still, she got to show off all her new looks, especially the ones she picked out, and be the center of attention that she always wants to be anyway. The show ended with her taking about twenty-three bows to "Everything Is Awesome" and blowing kisses at her mom, sister, and grandparents, clothes and store tags strewn around her room, and me ready for another nap/meditation.

The good news is that, if history repeats itself, there's going to come a day, just like it did with my oldest daughter, that she won't need me to help her try on clothes. Some day she won't even want me to come shopping with her in the first place, and I can resume my role of staying home and telling her which clothes she has to take back to the store.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Losers and Bullies

I've noticed a trend with many of my low-performing students. Every time there's any kind of delay or setback or any kind of hitch in our work - the internet goes down for a minute, the screen won't connect, the document doesn't load, whatever - several of them give the same reaction. "Well, I guess we can't do the [test, quiz, classwork, essay, etc.]." Variations on the theme are often "Looks like we all get 100's," or "Free day!" It aggravates me so much more than whatever glitch is holding up the progress in the first place.

How can I tell these kids, in love and respect, that this is the attitude of losers?

It's always the low-performing students, too. I'm not saying that the high achieving students are crying over the possibility of less work, but they are suggesting ways to fix the screen, or reconnect the system. In short, they are solution oriented. The big difference between these types of students is that the high-achieving kids embrace challenges; they understand that struggle produces growth and that nothing comes easy. On the other hand, the low-performing students expect everything to be easy, avoid work in every situation, and are never happier than when they can quit the struggle for knowledge and go back to playing Flappy Street or Crossy Car or whatever time wasting game they have circumvented the school's system to download on their iPads.

It's not lost on me that the only thing these students put much effort into is the very meaningless tasks that distract them from improving themselves.

Because I see it so often, I'm trying to come up with a way of reacting to it that doesn't come across and soul-crushingly harsh, but the only rebuttals that come to mind are the types that would probably get me into trouble with parents and administration, even if they definitely need to be said. I want to tell them that this is the same attitude held by many people living under bridges who have given up on challenge after challenge, until just getting enough food for the day became a challenge that they couldn't give up on. It's an attitude held by many people taking up space in their parents' houses after the age of thirty, dividing their time between Crossy Bird and binge watching Netflix shows on their parents' accounts. It's an attitude adopted by husbands and wives who walk out on marriages, or even children, at the first indication that a relationship requires at least some kind of effort. I want to tell them all this, and that there is still time for them to change their attitude.

And it's worse when there's more than one loser in the room, when all it takes is one person to give voice to that failure-tinged sentiment, and another three or four start piling on. Others laugh, and while my main focus is restoring the momentum in the class, I'm not sure whether the laughers are agreeing, or whether they are seeing the same visions of the future in their heads that I see in mine. I'm seriously considering faking one of these glitches in the first week of school every year, just to be able to identify who the quitters are and be able to nip that in the bud. I'm also considering having an alternate assignment ready for times when the technology fails or the lesson plan falls apart - something so academically powerful but also extremely difficult that the quitters would start brainstorming ways to return to the status quo just as much as the achievers do.

Unfortunately, the worst thing about this issue is that one of those losers lives in my brain too. He says things like that to me when life gets tough. I hear him on the second lap of the run at the end of a triathlon, saying that nobody would really know if I just walked these next few yards. I mean, you're already a winner; everybody gets a medal. He whispers comforting words to me when it starts raining just before I get set to go to the park to do by boot camp, saying that this is God's will for my life in this moment. He reminds me of all the rejections of the past whenever I start tapping words into this white box. I mean, really, what's the point.

Lucky for me, there's another guy in my brain, a bully who says all the things I want to say to the quitters in my class. He calls me names that I can't repeat here, and uses the kind of harsh and direct language that I can't use with impressionable young people. Sometimes I'm a little afraid of that guy, because he pushes me into doing things that I'm not quite sure I can do. Sometimes he bullies me into doing things that can get me hurt, either physically or emotionally. Sometimes he gets me into situations that have the potential for intense and enduring embarrassment. At the same time, that guy has pushed me into a lot of success. He has bullied me into walking across a room to talk to somebody I never would have met otherwise. He's taught me that I can find reserves of strength and power to get through that last lap, that we rest after the race, not during. He's shown me that if I run faster, I get to the end faster, and rest sooner.

His voice sounds a lot like the football coach from my junior varsity team. That guy was a man of great Christian faith and character who also cursed us out on that football field and called us names every time we failed to show maximum effort. If those same words had come from any other teacher, any other coach or principal, we would have been angry. We would have told our parents, and there would have been serious discussions. From him, though, somehow there was so much love in those profanities that we not only accepted it - we thrived on it. His words made us angry, for sure, but angry with ourselves for not pushing harder.

I wish I could unleash that guy in my classroom some days. I wish I could bottle that up and sell it on Amazon. I wish I could make a thirty minute video of it and post it to YouTube, with ads, of course.

More than that, I wish I could get that guy to live in my students' heads like he lives in mine, because that voice has gotten me through a times a lot tougher than homework or technology or triathlons. When I consider what my life would be like, what my children's lives would be like, if I had become the kind of person who backs down from challenges, I thank God for that bully in my head.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Can't Take the Heat

I'm still trying to understand what climate change and global warming really means, but what I do know is that every year it feels as if summer gets hotter. I'm not sure if that's because the actual temperatures are rising, or other weather-related factors are changing, or if it's just because I hate the summer heat more every year that I get older. I love Miami, but sometimes I wish I could move it a few degrees north.

I remember being a kid and having so many camping trips during the summer - with church groups, family, and anyone else who would take us out. Now, when I'm really trying to make an effort to go camping more often with the kids, I can't even imagine being outside of the air conditioning long enough to even set up a tent, much less sleep in one. I can barely make it from the house to the car without complaining.

On top of that, it's never cool enough in the bedroom at night. The air in there can't seem to work as hard as I need it to in order to feel comfortable. And the whole time, my wife is wearing pajamas under a sheet and a blanket, while I'm nearly naked on my side with no covers, just trying to make sure that no part of my body touches any other part of my body. She makes fun of me for dodging the heat like I do, but I tell her that my people don't come from the land of sun. My ancestors hail from the land of ice and snow, and the genes they have passed down to me don't include any UV resistance.

I don't know if it's a gender thing or a size thing or a melanin thing, but I really don't get how my wife doesn't feel the heat like I do. Our little daughter seems to be just fine with the sun, too. On days when I pick her up from summer camp and her class is outside on the playground, she's running around outside with the rest of the kids, sweat pouring down her face and neck, but loving it. If I were in her class, I would have to tell that teacher that I respectfully decline the invitation to play outside and wish to do some more coloring, thank you.

On the other hand, she does seem to react to the summer brightness like I do, even if she doesn't feel the heat the same. Since we both have blue eyes and very light skin, we both squint at the sun the same way, which is to say, painfully.

Besides just the general discomfort and fear of leaving the air conditioning, I've got the added problem of trying to train outdoors. I'm still committed to this idea of competing in some kind of race every month in 2017, but I can't just run on a treadmill and expect to be ready on race day. I try to run outside twice a day when the race is about two weeks away, but I can feel the difference in performance under this summer heat. I usually run after work, so between four and five in the afternoon, but now that I'm only teaching one summer class, I'm trying to get in the park by eleven in the morning. Either way, about halfway through a 5K run, I'm starting to feel that gorilla jump on my back, and my body is telling me to either stop or die. I've gulped more Gatorade and Powerade and even Pedialyte in the last month than I have in my entire life, and I still can't figure out how to keep electrolytes in my body. The irony is that since the races are usually held right after sunrise, the heat isn't nearly as bad. I'm trying to turn a negative into a positive by telling myself that this is a training technique to make the race seem easier - something like oxygen deprivation or weighted vests. And maybe it is, because I went into June's 5K race thinking I might end up walking the last half, or crawling it, but instead, I felt really good. I hadn't had a decent run since May, but with that cool morning air in my lungs, I felt like I could have gone another two or three miles when I was done. I didn't, of course, but it felt good.

If there's anything that this summer is teaching me, one thing is that I am going to stick to this commitment to race every month, even if it means I have to slow down a little just to avoid heat stroke. The other thing is that if I want to go camping more, or do any outside activities, I need to plan a whole lot more of them between October and February. Until then, all of our family fun times are going to be movies, museums, video arcades, and other well-shaded and air-conditioned venues.