middle school

First Day of School

first day

Dear Russell and Friends,

Sigh.  P1 went to college yesterday.  We helped him move in, took a tour of the campus with his brothers, went out to eat, and left.  My heart aches.  Was it only 13 years ago when the first day of school was accessorized with a lunchbox rather than a laptop?  P2 is gone for cross country practice.  P3 is packed and ready to go.  I completed my first day of class as well – – CrossFit – – fighting the middle age slide.  Russell and J are sending R1 off to kindergarten.  Sigh.

Share your first day stories with us?  Mixed emotions love company.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

Love Letter – – part 9

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These teachers taught Bible and many professed faith.  Many were kind and dedicated.  The 8th grade Bible teacher who preached the loudest and justified the bizarre belief that instrumental worship was wicked?  Not a nice man.  Why was I loved by one who never mentioned Christ and discounted by one who couldn’t shut up?  Is it what we say or what we do that matters?  If only more people, myself included, would recognize the leverage of both.  Love Letter – – part 8   from the beginning

As I completed 8th grade my parents realized that we were completing 5 years of separation.  The Christian school had helped me avert crisis, but it was getting more expensive every year.  More importantly, how long would the family tolerate separation?  As an adult with sons I confronted my sweet father with this.  “Why did you let us be away for so long?”  Mom drove many of the decisions and put Dad’s stamp on them.  He would never say that – – he was loyal.  “I understand you would have lost a lot of money if we took a big loss on the house.  Was that more important than us?”  I’ll never forget his answer about 10 years ago.  It was the day I completely forgave him.  “I couldn’t see it then.  I’m sorry.”  And then he cried.  I learned when P1 was still 6, P2 3 and P3 1 – – apologize to your son when you make a mistake.  And – – its better if it doesn’t wait 15 years.

My Dad heard the news story first about a new high school in the medical center called Health Careers.  It was actually in its second year when I was in eighth grade.  They had only freshmen and sophomores (much like P1’s new magnet school) and were recruiting for the third graduating class.  Dad’s apartment was not in the northside medical center.  Dad’s apartment was in the south-San hood – – close to Kelly Air Force Base where he worked, close to a strange fenced campus called San Antonio State Hospital.  The new school had a magnet model – – it didn’t matter which school district you were from – – they drew from all over San Antonio.  I applied and was accepted.  We traded Dad’s efficiency apartment in the sketchy area of town for a small one bedroom just two miles from school.  Dad traded a 15 minute commute for 45 and I rode my bike.  I loved the conversation that Russell and I had about bicycle commuting – – I’ve loved bikes since BMX!  My father lovingly refurbished his old bicycle for me and I mowed more lawns to save for my own.  They did so much right.

What happened in the first two years of high school?  I thrived.  I was in an environment very much like Mrs. Gibbon’s 6th grade English class although more so.  Teachers and students alike were so excited to be there.  A popular, beautiful, boisterous girl named Kim was elected class president within one month of us beginning.  She had an established clique from a wealthy district that knew her from middle school.  That sounded like the Hunger Games, didn’t it?  I had learned my lesson well from quieter Kelly in middle school – – don’t pursue this kind of girl – – the beauty is veneer on particle board.  I liked Tracy – – a happy, confident, smart and kind girl with a real jerk for an older brother.  We were in all of the same classes.  Honors English was again my favorite.  How did that inform my teaching?  Before we arrived a Summer reading assignment came – – a thick book – – The Once and Future King by T.H. White.  I didn’t know any better so I read it.  It didn’t occur to me that even when the pack narrows 90% of success is just showing up.  I loved the Arthurian legend.  We read as much for that Freshman English class as I would later read for a Shakespeare seminar in college.  And we worked in project groups, me trying to join Tracy whenever possible.

I met Chris Alvarez, the best friend I would later betray.  He was the classic multicultural kid.  His father a hispanic Vietnam veteran, his mother a tiger mom war bride.  My parents never drove me.  It was completely different with Chris.  He spoke Spanish, English, and Vietnamese but his native tongue was mathematics.  His math was sublime.  While I plugged and chugged, memorized and grinded – – he could see it.  His creative gift with numbers equalled mine with language.  We became yin and yang.  He helped my math.  I helped his language.  He joined Tracy and I in the humanities (her strongest suit as well).  We joined him in STEM.  Another reason I like Russell?  For us, help was a relative term.  Tracy was content to excel, to pursue excellence.  Her best was an “A”, she always achieved it and she was content.  Chris and I were not that mature.  We, and a few others, like Jenny and Heather only had our eyes on #1.  In the words of Highlander, “In the end, there can be only one.”  How did I betray Chris?  In the end, I put my desire to win above our friendship.  I didn’t cheat – – thank God I didn’t cheat – – but my heart was shallow water and I did not love him as a brother should.  In knowing me, did I draw him to Christ?  I am still ashamed.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – part 8

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My difficulty began in earnest the next year when there was no Mrs. Gibbon and the years of Dad’s commuting dragged on.  A postscript to this story that I haven’t thought about much until recently?  I won the contest.  Love Letter – – part 7   from the beginning

Why was seventh grade so much harder?  Like P1 and P2, I hit my growth spurt a little late but hormones and the acne they brought rose.  I retrenched my identify in grades and lost much of my joy in work.  Then I couldn’t sleep.  It was very different from the early rising that I do now – – that is who I am.  No, this was the dreadful racing mind and unstoppable anxiety that fed on itself and would not let me rest.  Many, if not most nights I was in bed trying to sleep for four hours or more.  Beginning band became symphonic and second chair was not enough.  Pre-algebra came and was much more difficult for me than arithmetic.  Math is rarely taught well and it was not (is not) my native tongue.  Then the mystery of girls.  The ones I admired were too shallow to matter.  The ones that liked me were too shy to say.  Junior high became the worst experience I could imagine.  At one point on a Sunday afternoon I tried to explain my distress to my parents.  They must have perceived it true.  My Dad called into work, did not drive back to San Antonio, and pulled me from school the next day for an emergency trip to NASA.  That impromptu field trip means the world to me.  They were stopping the world so that I could get off.  And like a boy escaping from a cruelly pushed playground merry-go-round I stumbled, fell and vomited.

I can’t remember many details about this time J, but I remember it was dark.  After the Fall came, after daylight savings was rescinded, I awoke, lived, and tried to sleep in darkness.  Depression?  Normal reaction to pre-teen angst?  Foreshadowing of something much worse.

Over Christmas break I knew how seriously Mom and Dad saw this.  They asked how I liked school.  For the first time ever I said without irony, “I hate it.”  What I meant by saying that was, “I hate myself.”  It was cold, smooth, black, hard and true.  They did so many things right.  The income disparity between myself and my classmates was about to reach a high not equalled until present day when I interact with Harvard faculty and alumni.  They enrolled me in Northland Christian School – – a 40 minute drive away.  I had to quit band and was so grateful to do so.  Talent alone can’t dictate passion.  I was good at more things than I could love.  I joined a class of 40 (split 7A and 7B) seventh graders instead of 400.  I played sports for the first time, beginning with track.  My lifelong love of running was nourished and at my best I could run a quarter in under a minute.  The girls I liked were shallow, and very rich, living in subdivisions populated by Houston Rockets.  The girls who liked me were not shallow, or stunning, or super rich.  Kelly Amos wrote me a note to declare her interest.  I stopped pursuing shallow Shannon.  Kelly was pretty, quiet and kind – – not gorgeous, boisterous and spiteful.  Our 7th grade commitment maintained innocence and presaged what I would find in Mrs. Pascal – – also struggling through middle school 1,000 miles to the north in Michigan.

I came to love school again.  The sacrifice that my parents made was big.  Mom worked.  Dad worked more.  They may have taken loans.  How did I repay their kindness?  With a growing desire to wear shirts with little horsies of the left front pocket.  My father and I, raised in humble circumstances, struggled with materialism.  My mother, raised in wealth, privilege and alcohol’s legacy did not.  I regret my attitude to this day.  God has been gracious to deliver me from the bondage of desiring wealth and into the life changing concept of stewardship.  I grew in the second half of middle school – – in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.  It was a Church of Christ school – – most of my teachers were members there.  Mrs. Gibbon never said a word about Jesus to the best of my memory.  These teachers taught Bible and many professed faith.  Many were kind and dedicated.  The 8th grade Bible teacher who preached the loudest and justified the bizarre belief that instrumental worship was wicked?  Not a nice man.  Why was I loved by one who never mentioned Christ and discounted by one who couldn’t shut up?  Is it what we say or what we do that matters?  If only more people, myself included, would recognize the leverage of both.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – part 7

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So, I put that essay in a manilla folder to guard the fragile onion skin, and I turned it in the next day.  Quite uncharacteristic of me to finish an assignment the night before it is due – – my best work now completes the morning of.  I remember that Mrs. Gibbon liked my essay and gave me some gentle ribbing about the red ink – – saying something like I would be saving her the trouble.

Love Letter – – part 6   from the beginning

She graded the paper according to the rubric she had determined ahead of time – – a rubric that we had when writing.  Another rearview teaching lesson from a master?  Yes.  My intuitive teaching style was informed by mimicry for years and I still value it as a legitimate way to learn.  But what I remember most about Mrs. Gibbon was that she cared about an insecure boy who missed his father and was starting to pull away from his mother.  Mom’s gravity is strong and the launch that began in middle school would become critical.  That launch and many other things would yield a crippled ship, but one that had escaped.  Mrs. Gibbon and my big sister influenced the way that I view women more than my mother did and thankfully so.  A critical task for a boy growing stronger is to see women as God does – – equal partners – – to be respected.  I learned that some girls in my class were smarter than me and many were more eloquent.  Mrs. Gibbon was clear that she expected us to take turns leading and following – – and that my best response to a woman in authority over me was to give my best effort and complete respect – – yes ma’am.  I don’t know if she was a Christian, but she taught me how Jesus feels about women — in general, and at work.  My sister?  She taught me how to hold doors.  She said it still mattered even though she was smarter than most of the young men in college.  Yes ma’am.

Sixth grade was so hard and Mrs. Gibbon made it better.  I’ve tried to press in to my sons during Middle School – – P3 starts in August.  I needed Dad in ways which required physical presence.  I needed time.  Time is the currency of discipleship.  Time humbles us all and reveals our deepest priorities.  Beggar and billionaire have exactly the same amount each day.  Can I fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run?  So sixth grade brought a difficult transition helped by a teacher that cared.  I think I got an “A” on the paper – – I honestly don’t remember.  I remember thinking that I let her down by not winning the contest.  She smiled and explained the scope and odds then asked me something I’ve asked many students since.  “Was that your best?”  I could honestly answer “yes”.  “Then, I’m proud of you.”  I don’t remember if she hugged me, but thirty years later the impact was the same.  One reason your story affected me so much?  At this point of my life I needed and received appropriate attention.  Mrs. Gibbon was not a vocal Christ follower, but she was Jesus to me.  The vocal Christ followers in your life betrayed you.  I was sick with sadness.

3/13/13 – – Kuala Lumpur

My difficulty began in earnest the next year when there was no Mrs. Gibbon and the years of Dad’s commuting dragged on.  A postscript to this story that I haven’t thought about much until recently?  I won the contest.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – part 6

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We put the house for sale (my parents had high equity and it represented their nest egg) at the beginning of fourth grade and told teachers and friends that we would be moving soon.  The pending move and my father’s weekly commute saw us saying no to Boy Scouts and little league sports — both things that I really wanted to do.  The move to San Antonio, to unite our family, did happen – – five years later.  Love Letter – – part 5   from the beginning

You read it right.  From fourth grade through eighth grade I saw my Dad 2/7th of the time.  He left Sunday evening at 6 pm and returned home Friday night – – working an hour extra each day to allow for an early departure on Friday.  At first I cried when he left on Sundays.  Then, likely as a defense mechanism, I did not.  I always missed him.  I was deprived of much time, but thankfully was not cursed with apathy.

We settled into this routine.  On the weekends he was completely home – – not playing golf, not going out with friends.  We were his family.  Of course since fourth grade when Sister went to college, it was just the three of us.  Me developmentally very much like an only child or hyper-firstborn as Kevin Lehman describes in The Birth Order Book.  So, from fourth grade on, at least during every school week, it was Mom and me.  Can I relate to men raised by single Moms?  In many ways quite well, in others not so much.  For both of us our fathers and our relationships were caught in a type of limbo – – yours worse than mine.  Sixth grade came and with a different loss.  I was in one neighborhood on the district fringe that fed another middle school and high school.  So nine of my ten friends went to Arnold MS and Cy-Fair HS while I and the one kid in my neighborhood that I liked headed for Bleyl MS and Cy-Creek.  Ironically and painfully, I was plucked to the more affluent dyad.  The kids lived in 4000 sq ft (+) McMansions.  I was alone and lonely.

What then of the work?  Enter Donna Gibbon, GT English 6th grade.

3/12/13 – – Penang, MY

What I remember most about Mrs. Gibbons is her expectations.  They were quite high.  And as my friend count dropped, glasses got thicker, and my social graces became more awkward – -these expectations were just what I needed.  There was one assignment that gave me a glimpse of how I should teach and what I should do.  “Houston, a diamond in the Texas crown” she wrote on the board.  Classmates groaned as she explained this to be the topic of our 500 word essay.  500 words?  At that time an eleven year old only worried – – how could I fill it?  Today I share your opinion – – it is so much easier to write 5000.  I don’t recall to what extent she emphasized or deemphasized the hook.  I would probably have emphasized it, and since she influenced my teaching in a formative way, that’s probably what she did.  This assignment was actually us piggy-backing on a youth writing contest for the Houston Chronicle.  I don’t know if she believed it when she said that she expected one of us to win it – – I expect that she did.  So the triad of title, length, and deadline was issued.  I don’t remember my feelings toward the assignment, but I remember what I did.  Are we more honestly defined by our feelings or our actions?

There was a library by our home, close enough to run to in later years, and my parents dropped me off there for a pre-negotiated three hours on a Saturday afternoon.  I found a book on Texas history and the encyclopedia and read about how Houston developed and the journey of a diamond from rough to wedding ring.  There were several steps in revealing the beauty of a diamond, beginning with its discovery.  It seemed natural to follow Houston’s development through these steps as a metaphor.  I read and thought and wrote on a Saturday afternoon surrounded by books in a welcoming library.  I was happy at my work and proud of the paragraphs that I penned.  This was still a healthy pride – – that of a craftsman who loves to create.  My mother, a secretary, typed it for me on Sunday evening.  I still remember that she used a red ribbon – – we were out of black.  Although we had our first personal computer by then it was a VIC-20.  Ask Russell what the 20 stands for!  The Summer after this I mowed lawns to save $200 for a Commodore-64.  So, the VIC-20 had no floppy drive, word processing program, or printer.  The Summer after this, Mom taught me how to type – – a gift that I remain thankful for.  So, I put that essay in a manilla folder to guard the fragile onion skin, and I turned it in the next day.  Quite uncharacteristic of me to finish an assignment the night before it is due – – my best work now completes the morning of.  I remember that Mrs. Gibbon liked my essay and gave me some gentle ribbing about the red ink – – saying something like I would be saving her the trouble.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Negative Split

 

 

Stop Watch

I run.  Not quickly mind you, and not primarily for exercise.  I’m sure that’s part of it, but certainly not the whole.  I run to think.  I run in contrast with my vocation as a knowledge worker.  I run for metaphor.

I’m 40-something and hopefully at the middle of life.  This could easily be my last day.  I hold no special privilege amongst our tribe of 7 billion and I meet dying people every day.  You – – my friend – – are one of them.  I run slowly.  I run-walk.  I’m happy with a five hour marathon, not ambitious for a sub-four.  But – – I don’t stop until I finish and I enjoy the time, even the pain.  I am not a runner in the same way that I’m a writer.  Writing is means and end.  Running is the means to mental reprieve.  Running is metaphor.  So, from the middle, will I run a negative split?  Will my second half be more focused and efficient than my first?  Or will I slow down, only to deceive you with a mad dash to the finish line at the end?

I love to watch my sons run.  They are naturally fleet and always beat me.  I told the cross country runner my thought about strong finishes as he prepared for a half marathon.  Yes, I believe in finishing strong.  Faithful to my wife.  Faithful to my sons.  Faithful to my profession.  Faithful to faith itself.  Finish strong.  But what of the sprint at the finish that I so often see in middle school meets?  I discouraged it.  To finish strong means you have nothing left.  You are as likely to throw up as to grin in victory.  You are spent.  So that’s what he did.  Daddy was proud.  I want that.  If I have forty more years (probably less), then may the first half serve as a solid foundation for the second.  Physical strength and mental acuity have been decreasing from the peak at 30 and will continue to do so.  So be it.  Negative split.  Is wisdom wasted on the old, youth on the young?  Maybe, but I don’t really find that disturbing.

I’m actually excited about the second half of life.  It took me decades to begin listening well.  I want more time to practice.  It took 10 years to resolve many of the doubts that trouble Russell now.  Some are not resolved.  It has only been two years since my call to the skeptical became evident – – an unusual call perhaps, but resonant with who I am.  Here’s the thing about a negative split in metaphor – – we just don’t know where the middle is.  I’m hopeful for more years, but ready today.  If I’m blessed with more time, may I use it well.  Spending it with you makes me feel it is not wasted.

Pascal

–1:16

The King of Tyre

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This is Tyre of the Phoenicians, in modern Lebanon.  Ancient, proud, and strong.

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This is Tyre of the Truck, in modern America, early yesterday morning on a remote country road.

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This is the beginning of King of Tyre, the gladiatorial sport that began after an attempt at changing the tyre ended in a fallen jack and before our friend from roadside assistance arrived.

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These are the combatants at play, fierce and strong – – arrows in my quiver.  If they are bruised today, call not CPS – – I’m bruised too.

You can’t buy this type of time with your children.  The opportunity to put the phones away, play with a rock, or violently push each other off a tyre.  What began as a frustrating interruption to our morning excursion, quickly became a memory that I will cherish for decades.  I suspect they will too.

Long live the King of Tyre.  And remember – –  the only thing Pascal likes better than a good chili cheese dog is a bad pun.

Pascal

–1:16

 

“TyreAlMina”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TyreAlMina.jpg#mediaviewer/File:TyreAlMina.jpg

“King of Tyre Photo Series”.  Pascal.  My own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via http://russellandpascal.com:  Generously donated to those who have had or will have a flat.

 

Why?

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If I could inspire one thing as a teacher, what would it be?  One thing.  Myriad choices.  Would it be respect?  Diligence? Creativity?  You can’t exactly inspire reading, writing, mathematics or history.  You can model practice & appreciation.  Would it be emotional intelligence, tactical awareness or time management?  Would it be tolerance?  Incisiveness?  Perspective?  You can’t exactly inspire philosophy, physics, behavioral economics or evolutionary psychology. What. Would. It. Be?

Curiosity.

The questions that I asked as a child.  The endless patient answers that my parents lavished on me.  The nurturing yin to heredity’s yang.  Why?  Most ignorance is vincible now.  Most, not all.  In a digital world with a surfeit of information, am I curious?

Learning

Curiosity drives learning so far past school marks, class ranks, college applications.  It opens a lifetime of purpose and almost joy.  More than almost.  Unearthing then building on the foundation of billions and realizing that we are very much together, never more alone.  Will I have one original thought in this brief century?

Books

My favorites are hardbacks and my highest compliment is to write in them.  I join the author in dialogue even if she is long dead.  I learn from her and we teach each other in a strange fourth dimensional correspondence.  Learning on a screen from blogs, watching videos, listening – – have the same value and bring the same joy to auditory or visual learners.  I’m just tactile – – I learn by writing.

People

 If I’m sincere, will you explain your life to me?  If you trust me, may I explain mine?  Will you tell me your story of doubt?  May I tell you why I believe?  We might have to learn each other’s language to do so.  That’s alright.

Patience

Will you dedicate a decade to this?  A mere tithe of a short life.  Do you still have the ability to await the post and a handwritten letter with a stamp from a land you have never visited?  Would you risk the uncertainty of that letter being lost, or worse – – treasured forever in a wooden box and waiting years for rereading with a different lens.

Why?   

Pascal

–1:16

Photo credit:  By ☻☺ (Flickr: smelling the roses) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons