Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Reluctant Gatekeeper

Fall used to be my favorite season. I know that spring is the official season of new beginnings, of reawakening, of rebirth. But, for someone entrenched in endless cycles of the educational system, fall holds the title. Or at least it used to.

For my nieces and nephews in the Mainland, fall still is fall and school still begins either the end of August or the Tuesday after Labor Day. Many of my Mainland friends and family take their vacation in August since their children are busy with summer programs (sports clinics, summer school, enrichment programs etc.) during late June and through July. Here in Hawaii, most of the private schools adhere to a traditional schedule and the students (being high achievers on the fast track to success) just finished summer school and August is their month of freedom.

When I was growing up, the long summer represented a different kind of education than provided by the classroom. Summer was a time of emerging independence, of socialization and recreation, a time of self-discovery. It was a time where we were out the door as soon as breakfast was over and didn’t come home until lunch, which was finished quickly to get out the door until dinner. During my elementary years in the San Fernando Valley, we were allowed to run the neighborhood after dinner until the street lights came on. During middle school years (called junior high back then) I lived in a mobile home park on the Malibu Coast and those summers were jam packed with outdoor invention. Later, back in another suburban valley, summers were long enough to test us to the hilt when it came to figuring out what to do with our time. At the age of 15, just a year away from the freedom of a driving liscence, we managed to get to the beach via our bikes, horses, and the bus. When a friend's older brother left us at Zuma Beach one day we went for the obvious obtion - hitchhiking home. After a ride through the canyon in a Chevy Nova driven by an eighteen year old who thought he was trying out for the Indie 500 - not to mention his rambunctious, "oops sorry I keep pressing my face into your boob" buddies who kept using the speed devil turns to lean into us a little too too much - I learned that hitchhiking WAS a little too high risk for me.

The transition from summer freedom, summer adventure, summer independence, to getting ready to go back to school and its routines was a time of rituals. Children and teens thrive on rituals and our society seems to have less and less positive rituals, especially coming of age rituals. There was a time when becoming a teen meant getting sent up into the mountains and not coming back until you had a vision of your purpose. Or at least hunting a buffalo. Nowadays it seems the closest the teens come to a coming of age ritual is being given the keys to a car and, sometimes, a six-pack of beer. I was lucky enough to grow up in a place and time where back to school rituals coincided with the season of autumn.

First there was the ritual of school shopping, with the underlying possibility of reinventing oneself. As a young child I was not big on shopping. Even back then I was reluctant to give up even one day of my summer freedom. And since I was not a kid who cared a lot about fashion or shopping malls, the confines of a department store were stifling. This was compounded exponentially by the fact that I had two sisters and a mom who thrived in the throes of rifling through racks of clothes and shoes. In retrospect I think they were experiencing spontaneous orgasms. I would either sully over to a narrow strip of window and press my face against the glass, imagining what fun I could be having outside, or I’d climb through the clothes and sit in the center of circular rack and wait to see how long it would take for my mom to wonder where I was. One time I so spaced out in some imaginary world that I didn’t hear my mom when she started calling for me and it got to the point where they were freaked out and had the saleslady call the police. It was events such as this that gave me a reputation for being loopy and caused endless teasing by my family. However, the skill of tuning out those around me had its purposes.

Later, as I approached adolescence, the annual back to school shopping trip gleamed with possibilities. Especially when it preceded a change in schools. What better time to reinvent oneself than when moving on to middle school? Or high school? Or a new high school because your parents moved around trying to find the Los Angeles suburb that might resurrect their marriage?

Other rituals of reinvention included the discovery of placement. In elementary school this meant visiting school the week before it started, running through the empty halls in shorts and sandals and cranking back your neck to cast your eyes on the lists of teachers, classrooms and students. Which teacher did you get? The nice one who kept chinchillas in cages along the windows of her room? Who had an aquarium in her classroom? The one your lucky older sister had been fortunate enough to get? Or the mean scary bitch who yelled at everyone at recess and almost made you piss your pants when you were in first grade? Was your best friend in your class again or was this the year that the cold hand of bureaucratic fate separated you? Decades later I can still feel that anticipation of looking at those lists. I can close my eyes and feel the knot in the pit of my stomach and smell the concrete and dust of the hallways.

Later, this ritual would be replaced with riding my ten speed bike to the high school with a new best friend and picking up our schedules; followed by a ride to one of our houses where we’d leisurely drink iced tea and compare our soon to be new routines. The anticipation of a new start, a new beginning, the chance to reinvent yourself began the changing of the mindset guard. Summer freedom and adventure slipped into the past almost unnoticed as we prepared for the first day of school. Our summer freedom had been long enough to actually make us miss school and anticipate our return.

I’ve never lived where there are drastic season changes. I mean, Southern California and the greater Los Angeles basin is to most of the country what Hawaii is to Southern Californians. And I’ve lived in Hawaii now for over twenty years. Haters, do what you must. We all, willingly or not, take the good with the bad, and even mild weathered sunny paradises have their drawbacks. So anyways, as I was saying. There’s a scent in the air, a change in the breeze, not to mention a shortening of the day, which says SUMMER’S ALMOST OVER. In my So Cal youth, that often meant the Santa Ana winds. Some of my friends called them the East winds. The winds usually kicked it up right after school started. Nowadays these winds have taken a bad rap what with all the wild fires. But as a child I was oblivious to the negative connotations of the Santa Annas. I loved them. When we were living on the beach during my middle school years it meant racing home from the bus stop to put the summer swim suit and shorts back on for one last after school hurrah. Later, living in the Conejo Valley, it meant getting on my horse and galloping through the hills with the warm winds whipping my horse and I along until we made it to a crest of the mountain where we could gaze at both the Conejo and Hidden Valleys. The winds represented a tween time of seasons. Where summer tried to kick autumn’s ass. A last scortching of the soul before the nip returned to the air for the rest of the season and the next thing you knew the Christmas decorations were showing up in the stores.

We may not have drastic weather transformations with the changing of the seasons here in Hawaii. But there is still a shift. A scent in the wind. A changing of the tides.

And right now it is still flat on the North Shore. People are snorkeling. There is a swell on the South Shore. People are surfing.

My students are being great sports about returning to school in July.

What’s sad is these 15 year olds don’t know anything different.

The world I grew up in is history to them. The world the private school kids in Hawaii and the Mainland kids live in is alien to them.

The self-education that comes from a long summer is denied them. They will never know what they missed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why My Internal Clock is Off


1) The act of returning to school in the middle of the summer.

2)That time period when it is still the height of summer outside and school is simulating Fall inside its buildings.

3) The sad error of giving up a right of passage.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Some Days are Better Than Others

One of my long time, very dear friends has the Mom-to-die-for.

When she came to visit when the kids were young, she shooed her daughter out of the house and said, “Go out to dinner with your husband. I want my grandbabies all to myself so I can spoil them.” My own experience with my mom was slightly different. I don’t know if it was the distance of space and/or time, but after living three thousand miles away for nine years, I had imagined her being more like my friends’ moms. So when she came to visit when my daughter was eight months old I happily left my mom with her gorgeous granddaughter for two hours so I could go to an exercise class (hey, back then I still had on my rose colored glasses in more ways than one). When I returned two hours later her mouth was pinched and the negative energy could have propelled me straight into the black hole of the universe. SLAM DUNK! With one flick of her eyebrow. She waited until I tried to suck ass and skipped right to, “hi mom, where would you like me to take you for lunch.” Then she hissed into my ear as I tried to slip past her into my front door, “Don't you DARE do that again. I DIDN’T PAY $400 FOR A PLANE TICKET TO HAWAII TO BE A FUCKING BABYSITTER.”

So, anyway, it’s not about my mom today. Except let’s just say I haven’t asked her for a lot of marriage advice.

Friend’s mom and dad were high school sweethearts. Married at eighteen. First child at nineteen. Whenever I am with her she is SO MUCH FUN. She appears to be very content with her life and much appreciative for all that is good in the world.

One day, about ten years ago, my girlfriend and I were sitting around and trying to figure out why husbands can be so hard to live with sometimes. Why don’t they help out with the kids more??? Why do they ALWAYS expect us to see the movie they want to see? Why oh why do they complain SO MUCH?

So my friend and I decide she’s going to ask her mom her secret to a happy marriage. This is the conversation as related to me later:

Mom, have you ever had days where you wondered if you could live with dad FOREVER? Did you ever think – I just can’t live with this person FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE?

Of course dear. I’ve thought about that with your dad.

Really?! When?

Oh. About once a day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Double Fuck Me

I go back to work on Thursday. Granted, there are no students until next week Monday, but in a way that makes it even worse. At least when the students are there, one does not have time to think about what one is missing. Thursday, however, is called "Admin" day. Which means sitting through ENDLESS speeches, introductions and Powerpoint presentations. The irony is that the word in vogue lately is DIFFERENTIATION and whilst admin is providing professional development for siad catch phrase, the professional development will in NO WAY reflect differentiating for faculty. Soooooooooooooooo, those of us who have worked at the school 10 or more years will be treated to the same day and information as first year teachers and teachers who come in from out of state.

I have two days to think of something to bring to do during this time so I don't pick out my eye balls and offer them up in a raffle just to entertain myself.

And don't get me started on why Hawaii's powers-that-be think a year round schedule and sending the kids back in mid-July with steaming heat and very few schools with air-conditioning is a great idea. Maybe they just want the tourists and their children to have the beaches all to themselves for the rest of July and August... Meanwhile, my students and I will be sweating it out big time while we get acquainted.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fuck Me

I have one week left of summer "vacation."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Let the Rule of Threes Be No More

Some days are a fuck fest no matter what you do. While California is burning, I have been busy trying to put out fires in my personal life. Is it the heat? Is the perfect beach weather not got that great a spin on it for the days when the teens are home and the husband is off work? When the laundry needs to get done and someone has to make lunch?

How about the lesser than less fortunate? Who’ve been up all night sucking on a glass pipe?


So, the other day, I was waiting at a light at a busy intersection and a crazy person walked across the street against the light. With a white hoodie pulled way over his or her head, I couldn’t see the person’s face at all. It had a rope in one hand, twisted with a noose coming out of its fist. Waving the noose as it strode across the boulevard and walked RIGHT INTO THE PATH OF A CITY BUS. The bus was barreling along with the light in its favor, probably 45 miles an hour. I’m stuck in my car, waiting to turn left and the proverbial train wreck was not watchable. I closed my eyes. I covered them with my hands. I felt my entire stomach do a gymnastic routine worthy of Olympic tryouts. And when I looked again, merely peeping at what I expected to be far flung body parts, the crazy was standing an inch past where the bus had pummeled through, screaming in outrage. Then this person proceeded across the intersection in a haphazard path, striking each car with a swing of the rope. “A whack for you motherfucker!” So I called 911 and, after being put on hold for a few minutes for a nonemergency, asked if anyone was not too busy could they come and make sure the person swinging a rope couldn’t be somehow taken somewhere. Maybe for iced tea or something.

You’d think that was enough excitement for one day, but NO. Of course not. Once I made that left hand turn and drove up the street to the post office, I failed to detect danger in the guy hanging out outside, listening to his earplugs. So I was totally unprepared to come out of the post office two minutes later (much to HIS SURPRISE there was no line) and find him looking into my tinted back window. I thought I was smarter, but for a second I wondered if he might have a legit reason for what he was doing. Despite his “I’ve-been-in-the-heat-for-two-days-at-least-in-these-clothes-look”, I thought perhaps he was using the tint on my window to make sure his hair was pretty. Then he leaned in closer, pressed his face against the glass and cupped his hand around the side of his face to keep the glare out. At which point I yelled, “HEY!!!” For a split suspension in time he looked at me like he might rush me and pound me into the pavement. And I wasn’t all that scared because I was still standing in the open door of the post office. But instead he pulls a second t-shirt out from somewhere and throws it over his head. Like a t-shirt doo rag, without tying it nicely. Then he walks across the street into the maze of apartment complexes.

The 911 operator was much more excited by this event than the last one. Hurried me off the phone to get an officer out there. Wanted to know if I would wait for the officer.

I spent an hour in that same post office parking lot last week waiting for AAA to come and give me a battery charge. It was NOT FUN. And it was HOT. I also remember distinctly waiting for an hour and forty-five minutes for the police to come when our house was burglarized a year ago. They never caught any of them or got our stuff back.

So I was thinking, noooooooooo. I had an appointment to get to anyway. I have a friend in town and we were meeting for 11am Bloody Mary’s.

Put into perspective, today’s teen dramas and hostile husband reaction don’t seem as life sucking as I thought.

But what I wouldn’t give to be back at the hotel with my friend sipping on a Mary and chomping on a celery stick.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ashes to ashes? Dust to dust?

Nepenthe, Big Sur
View from the live cam (
The smoke from the fire can almost be mistaken for fog creeping in...

Every time I go to Big Sur I have to go to Nepenthe. It’s a cathedral to the Gods, a vista a la supremo, a place where conversation is unnecessary, and where, for a couple of hours all is right in the world and I can imagine myself actually, someday, freeing my mind from endless thought patterns and sliding into the serene meditative world that has alluded me so far.

My husband and I discovered Nepenthe on our honeymoon when we stayed in Big Sur for a few days. We liked to sit outside where the patio opens to the most magnificent view unimaginable. And just sit. Have some fries and a couple of beers.

A decade and some later we had a family reunion at a campground in Big Sur. My children were seven and ten at the time and enjoyed running the river on inner tubes with their cousins, floating down to the River Inn, sometimes stopping in for a drink or snack. On the way back down the Coast to my mom’s house, we stopped at Nepenthe and I have pictures of the kids on the Nepenthe patio. The backdrop is so awesome it almost looks fake – a Sears rendition of sorts. Life so good it seems unreal.

Growing up in Southern California during the late 60’s and early 70’s, our family made a road trip every summer. Some camping. Some motels. No matter what section of the Western States or Canada we were off to, our first stop was ALWAYS the Redwood Forest. I’m not sure if my parents were na├»ve or if times were just different, but as young as ten or so I was allowed to wander the trails and woods on my own and with my little sister. I can remember perfectly the sun beams coming through the Redwoods like effervescent spotlights that seemed, if you looked at just the right angle, with perhaps a squeeze of the eye, to be lighting on woodsy mythical gnomes. The ferns and moss, the fallen over rotting logs, the musty live smell of damp earth. I remember crossing the river on a bridge made of a single redwood split in half. How on the other side of the river the woods had a wild feel to them and how we knew, as young as we were, that this side of the woods was place a child could lose themselves and how, without any adult harping to us, we respected this and didn’t wander too deeply away from the river and into that part of the forest.

I have a picture of myself the last time we made this annual pilgrimage, before my parents’ divorce, and our family’s subsequent slide into predictable LA suburbia fractured lifestyles. In the picture I am sitting inside a redwood tree’s trunk. The cave, or burrow, is big enough for several people but I am alone and it might be night, or it is just the darkness of the cave. The flash of the camera captures me sitting cross-legged, my long, straight, early-seventies hair hanging down to my waist. I’m not smiling, but starring straight at the camera. I’m wearing jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt.

The lump I feel in my stomach when my sister sends me links to the latest news on the Big Sur and Santa Barbara fires feels almost as large and gross as the nausea I experienced from chemo a couple years back. And I can’t shake the feeling that the fires are more than just fires, but a loss of one more thing that was right in the world.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hump Week Passed

There are three weeks left of summer “vacation.” Which means three and a half weeks are gone already. Boom. Blast. POW! Just like that.

Week one. Worked three days on curriculum committees. Spent two days on the North Shore snorkeling. A somewhat imbalanced trade off.

Week Two. It’ a blur. There were “spring” cleaning and organizing projects of house and computer files. 20+ hours of curriculum writing. I think I might have done something fun, but I don’t remember.

Week Three. Camping. OK That was pretty awesome. Two to three walks a day down to the point and back, surfing, lazing, board games, campfires, s’mores, and crab walks at night on the beach. Cell phones out of power. Teenagers actually talking in person.

Week Four. Two days of cleaning up the camping gear and storing it away. Plus I think I have to go and make a list to figure out just how much shit I need to get done before I go back to work.