Monday, January 30, 2012

The Diarist Gene Has Been Passed Down

"No, Jackson!" I heard Diego say, with an urgency that made me brace myself for whatever conflict would come next. "That's Daddy's journal."

They were in our home office, at one of our desks, where they had been doing well for the previous ten minutes or son. I could hear them in there, engaging in imaginative play, which I love, because it requires them to actively use their minds, rather than sitting passively in front of the TV set.

This entreaty by Diego was louder than the banter had been up to that point, and I came in and saw Jackson with a pen, poised to personalize my personal journal, where I write things like this piece in longhand. Truth be told, I don't really mind finding Jackson's work in my journals -- within reason. He tends to draw odd little sketches, which I simply write around, and they end up being an interesting adornment to my work, when all is said and done.

"Here Jackson," I said, before he could start loudly pleading his case, and I reached up high on my shelf and handed him his own blank book. (I have a few extras lying around, because I'm an optimist and I count on the next day coming.) He immediately began work on a fascinating seascape, then asked me to draw him a shark, so that he could put a monkey in its toothy mouth.

"Look Dee-AY-go!" he said, all smiles, showing off his new journal to his big brother and before he could whine about not having one, I asked Diego if he would like a blank book too.


He then wrote the first page of his new journal, which he dated, and titled "About My Life." His first sentence, which I put right up there with "Call me Ishmael" and "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times" is "My name is Diego Reyes Fuchs and I got a dog in April."

And with that, a proud Fuchs tradition continues . . .

Friday, January 27, 2012

From Venerated to Vilified: Are We Asking Too Much of Our Teachers?

During a three-day workshop I just completed, our trainer, Chris O'Reilly at Region 13, showed us a case study classroom video. The featured teacher taught high school English in the Valley. He was the kind of teacher I loved having as a kid, and the kind I want my own children to have. His enthusiasm for his subject matter was so evident, as was his love for his students, and this is what I remember about all my best and favorite teachers -- that spark of enthusiasm, wanting to be shared and passed on. Ms. O'Donnell had that glint in her eye, as did many of my teachers.
That's what I'm looking for as I roam the classrooms of the teachers I appraise at Cedar Ridge. I want to see energy and enthusiasm. I want to see teachers helping their students open up their minds to new information. I want to see the light bulbs above the students' heads start lighting up.
I want the chill running up and down the back of my neck the way it used to when I knew all my students were fully engaged. I want the same urge to cry as I got watching the master teacher from the Valley, getting his students excited about a Walt Whitman poem.
Is this too much to ask?
I know it's the right thing to ask, but it may indeed, be too much to ask, especially during a time in our history when teachers are no longer venerated and are now vilified. We're having them open their doors and share curriculum that is less personal and humanistic every day, due to the pressure of having to cover content, and then chiding them for not going deeper. It's difficult to open a child's mind when the material you're asked to cover is so limited and so centered on where the graphite ovals fall on the next bubble sheet.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trying to be "Good"

Back in the proverbial
saddle, riding the bike
through the dark
suburban morning,
eyes tearing,
legs and lungs
burning. I am
out of

And all this for what?
So I can limp into
Super Donuts in our
sad little strip mall,
barely alive in post-
Bush economic times,
and say hello to the cute
little henna-haired
hostess who works harder
than I'll ever have to.

"Hi there!" she says cheerfully
in her Korean-accented English.
(At least I think she's Korean.
Could just as easily be Vietnamese,
Cambodian or Thai, I suppose.)
My medium coffee steams
in Styrofoam;
she's poured it for me,
even before I asked for
it myself.

"Aww, you remembered,"
I say in mock emotion.
She laughs and says, "Ninety-
six cents, please," in her
sing-song way.

And the inhabitants of
this half-awake
world come shuffling
in and out, ordering
their Kolaches
("Warm it up for you?")
and their dozen
donuts. ("Okay, what
kind you like?") I
sit in the fluorescence
of this little slice of the
American dream, scribbling
words to no one, drinking
watery, over-priced coffee,
and wondering just how
the hell I'm gonna
pedal my fat ass back

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cabin Fever

Yes, I love my family, and yes, the births of my children are the two greatest days of my life. It is beyond question that I would do anything at all for my family, up to and including "taking a bullet."

Now let me qualify all those lovely and true sentiments with an even truer one: We have spent these past two weeks plus together and we need some TIME APART. As much as we all love each other, we have spent, essentially, 100% of our time in each other's presence, since Friday, 12/23. And I don't care what they tell you, that's just not right. Parents and their children are not meant to spend all their time together. If you don't believe me, go rent two films that illustrate the point: Mosquito Coast, in which Harrison Ford decides to take his family "off the grid" and Tempest, Paul Mazursky's re-telling of Shakespeare's tale of Prospero, played in this version by an amazing, scenery-chewing John Cassavetes, at the end of his life and the height of his acting powers. In both instances, the notion that a family can spend all its time together is de-bunked, to tragic (and comic) results.

I suppose one could make the argument that there are "other cultures" in this world -- pygmies and the like -- who keep their young 'uns with them always. I have no doubt this is true, but it's a cradle-to-grave thing. We're a modern American family. We are social creatures outside the nucleus of our little gene puddle. For the children, school plays an important role in this regard. It's not only the place where they learn to read and write and do math; it's where they practice navigating relationships, without the help of their adoring parents. It's practice for real life.

As for me, I'll be honest: I like working. If I'm in a place that feels professional and that values what I put into it, then I tend to get more than my share out of it. My present job has me feeling more comfortable and "at peace" ( not something you hear from an AP all too often) than I have since I left Satellite Academy in 2004.

I can't speak for my wife except to say that I know she feels valued at work, despite all the challenges it entails. She has been good enough to look after those people for the past couple of days while I have since gone back to work, breathing a sigh of relief as I backed the car out of the driveway on Monday. I'm sure Mrs. Fuchs will do the same thing later this morning.

Let me repeat: I love my children dearly. For those of you who look, starry-eyed, at your little ones as they slumber in their cribs, wishing you could spend 24/7/365 with God's Little Blessings, I say three things: 1) more power to you, 2) please try not to judge me, and 3) BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR . . .

Monday, January 2, 2012

Little Runaway

Jackson, our six year old, is going through an interesting new phase. After arguing with me (on no one topic in particular), he puts his head down and slumps pathetically into the office, where he finds a piece of paper and pencil and gets to work writing a letter. He then illustrates the letter with a picture that is meant to capture his emotional experience visually.

The one pictured here reads as follows:

"Im sorey theyt i Rohyolises your Rite I live in the Jogol BiY Jackson in im sore tate sremt at uow it MiY fot Biy Jackson" ("I'm sorry that I realize you're right. I live in the jungle. By Jackson. And I'm sorry that I screamed at you. It's my fault. By Jackson"

The picture shows Jackson walking away, complete with a hobo's roll on a stick -- an icon he must have picked up from a cartoon somewhere. There is a cloud directly over his head (and only his head) that is dropping big, heavy raindrops on him. There is a tear in his eye as he waves, frowning. The rest of us, including the family dog, Ally are sticking our tongues out, the spittle suggesting loud "Bronx cheers." (In another, similar picture, a bubble has me saying "Loser" as he walks away.) The sun shines down on what's left of our family, as the young runaway makes his way toward the jungle.

Privately, Jeanette and I laugh about the dramatic nature of our son's gesture. Of course, we don't let him see us laughing. He's expressing some pretty strong feelings here, and even though I do believe -- knowing him as well as I do -- that he's doing it mostly for effect, and in order to deflect attention away from the real issue at hand, i.e. whatever misdemeanor began the exchange, I do also feel he's telling us something real. In many ways Jackson is unique. There's no one else quite like him. I think sometimes he must observe us and how easily rule-following seems to come to us and wonder whether he may not, in fact, have another, much wilder family out there in a jungle somewhere, waiting to take him up their tree and embrace him in their waiting arms, legs and tails.