Friday, January 10, 2014

Feeling - Good - at Home Depot

My wife recently scrolled through her Facebook feed, as she often does, in bed.  Usually it's as she's getting up on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  Occasionally I'll hear some salsa music, and I know she's found a Zumba video posted by one of her instructor friends.  Or she'll giggle at something funny someone shared.  George Takei maybe.  Or her sister.

On this particular occasion, she stopped and asked, "Honey?  You were 'Feeling good at Home Depot'?"  Her tone was incredulous, as if she'd not heard anything so ridiculous in quite some time.

"Why yes," I answered.  "Yes I was."

"And you took the time to post that?"

"I did."

Admittedly, when she put it that way, it did sound ridiculous.  And it's not what you think.  It's not some "Tim the Tool Man" kind of deal.  In fact, truth be told, I'm not all that handy.  I can put together Ikea stuff pretty well, and I do own a pretty decent power drill.  I have not sheet rocked, taped or spackled, however, nor do I have much knowledge about my car.

It's also not that the cloying way everyone in an orange apron greets you and asks if they can help you somehow makes me feel all warm inside.  It really doesn't.  If I had my way, they'd all leave me alone. Until I needed them for something, which is usually when I cant't find them.  Home Depot employees and cops, am I right? Never there when you need 'em.

No, I feel good at Home Depot because of my dad.  Back when my brother and I were around the same exhausting age as my two sons are now (10 and 8), he often put us in the back of our faux wood-panelled Chrysler Lebaron station wagon and drove us somewhere, anywhere, in order to allow my mother the peace of sleeping in on the weekends.  Sometimes he took us to the Big Top toy store, where we would convince him to buy us "Colorforms," which were just little plastic decals that you could affix to a background, or other cheap toys.

During the spring and summer, he often drove us over to Handelmann's nursery, where he would buy bulbs or seeds for planting.  Mike and I liked these trips a lot, and I can still smell the fertilizer and other early scents when I think of that place.

My father also took us to the hardware store.  He would stock up on nails and screws, maybe some twine.  It wasn't anywhere near the size of Home Depot; you could easily fit twenty of this hardware store in one Home Depot.  But the screws and nails, the twine and lumber, haven't really changed all that much, I'm sure.  The smells certainly haven't.  There's that faint background aroma of sawdust, with a bit of WD40 oil back in there somewhere, as well.

The funny thing about it is I don't think my dad was much handier than I am.  It was probably more about giving his wife that peace and quiet I mentioned, along with an opportunity to bond with his sons.  I don't often feel like we're bonding when I take my boys there.  It's more about making sure they're following the rules ("Keep track of where I am," "Inside voices," "Walking feet," and the like.)  than some kind of connection.  But then again, I'd be surprised if Mike and I weren't a challenge at the hardware stores ourselves.

Who knows?  Maybe my manic trips to Home Depot with my boys are taking root as deeply beloved memories, in much the same way those trips with my dad were, way back in the early 1970's.  Perhaps it's only right, after all, that I share that "good" feeling with the two of them.

We shall see.  We shall see.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I became aware of this book back in August when, at the annual gathering of district administrators, copies of "Wonder" were given out as door prizes at each of the workshops that day. Like everyone, I believe that I "never win anything," and I didn't win a copy of the novel. At the close of each workshop I watched colleague after colleague walk away with their free copy. 

As we prepared to leave after the long day of professional development, one of our deputy supes said, "Oh by the way, there's one rule about the book. It is part of our 'One Book, One Community' program, and our plan is that as many people as possible in Round Rock ISD read this book this year. So when you're done, you have to give it to someone else -- a friend, student, parent, teacher, etc. for them to read and enjoy." 

It took a while, but I finally got a copy from my school's library and read it over our winter break. I have to say I am so pleased that I work for an organization that would require this particular book. 

"Wonder" is a story about kindness, empathy and love. The way I like to see it is that someone in our school system's leadership decided, wisely, that these are the three pillars of public education -- as opposed to testing, testing, and testing, which has been the bellwether for the last several years now. 

Palacio employs a Salinger-esque voice in this book. There are eight sections of the book, told from the points of view of six of the characters, all of them about August Pullman, a fifth grader going to his first "regular" school, after having been home schooled by his mother up to now. 

I won't write in too much detail about the story, because I think it's worth discovering for oneself. I will mention, however, that in addition to the usual travails of being ten years old and entering a new school, Auggie also has a condition known as Treacher-Collins Syndrome, which has disfigured his head and face at birth and necessitated multiple surgeries for him during his young life.

What I came to realize is that more than anything else, this is a story about bravery, and all that goes on in the inner-workings of a ten year old boy, of any stripe. It is for this reason that I have decided that the first student I plan on sharing this book with is my own ten year old son, Diego. I believe he will gain much from it, and that it will inspire his own thinking about the people he sees around him every day in this sometimes confusing world, and that it will help him to develop what I already see as a highly-developed sense of empathy

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