Monday, April 26, 2010

The Worst Class in School

I clambered onto the Boston-to-New York bus last Tuesday with a scant three minutes to spare, sweating and with multiple bags hanging off my limbs. As I was in the process of asking a passenger to move her bags out of the seat next to her so I could sit there, I saw a hand wave and a voice call my name from the back of the bus. It was Abbi, a 3rd grade teacher at the Cambridge school I work at. I greeted her warmly and settled in next to her.

The first day I worked in Abbi's classroom her students announced to me that they were the worst class in the school. I politely responded, “Oh really?”, but inside I was scoffing and thinking, “Ha! You think THIS is bad? You don't know what bad is.” Still, the class does have a reputation in the school; usually when it is mentioned people respond, “Oh, they're a challenging group, that class.” And there are some challenging behaviors, just not compared to what I dealt with last year. On the other hand, they also happen to be a very likable, engaging bunch. (On my first day back after vacation, it was reported to me that a darling, extremely ADHD little boy who never responds when I say hi to him because he can't stop moving long enough to say hi back had told a classmate that I am “very nice and very pretty.” I was awfully flattered.)

Abbi appreciates their positive qualities, but still, she was ready for spring break. She told me that she feels like she works all the time, and when not working she feels guilty for not working. It brought back a flood of memories for me: counting down how many days were left of school, feeling like I couldn't wait for spring break to arrive but as soon as it did dreading its end, working until 10 pm each evening and then dreaming about my students after I went to bed.

This year, by contrast, spring break arrived like an unexpected strawberry on top of a slice of chocolate cake: delicious and fun, but by no means necessary. I didn't even think much about it before it arrived. So while I commiserated with Abbi, I felt relieved and glad to not be in her shoes. (I also noted mentally that she has five less kids than I had last year, less difficult behaviors, an hour less of school per day, and one more prep than I did, so I didn't feel TOO bad for her.) I am getting to know the kids better at both my jobs, and the sheer joy I get from spending time with them underscores for me that I am in the right profession. However, the feeling of being burned out that my sister and many other talented teachers I know who have taught for a few years are experiencing is a red flag I feel I should heed. It goes without saying that I don't ever want to have another year like last year, but more than that, I hope to find a job that allows for a healthy work-life balance (at least after a year or two). From my observations so far, the place to look for that job might just be Cambridge, the land of utopian public schools with abundant resources and support.

When I saw my Wise Woman later in the week, she was thrilled to hear my job news. I've known her now for 4 ½ years, and it feels like she's become a friend, albeit one who I have to pay $95 an hour to talk to. (Luckily my other friends are less pricey.) At this point, visits with her have become a bit of an ego trip for me: when she's not listening to me, she spends much of the time talking about how impressed she is with me, and telling me what a strong, healthy person I am. She did, however, mention one little nugget that she had never shared with me before, an observation about La Moustache, who she met last September. “You know who he reminds me of?” she asked. “Someone pretending to be Jean-Paul Belmondo.”

OUCH. I've certainly flung a number of insults Moustache's way over the past few months, but I think she may have topped me with that one.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Breaking In Spring

I have a lot of things to be excited about today. It's the first day of spring break, for starters, and despite the rainy, 40 degree weather, in my mind it's sunny and in the 70s. I launched Spring Break by attending a champagne tasting last night with a fellow refugee from NYC, and we got happily drunk, criticized the fashion sense of Bostonians and the orange-pantalooned Frenchman who gave us a talk about sparkling red wines, and got temporary wine tattoos which made me feel surprisingly sexy. I'll be heading to New York for vacation in a few days, and have lots of exciting plans like shopping, going to the Bronx Zoo, visiting my Wise Woman (isn't that part of everyone's vacation plans?), and of course catching up with friends.

I also received a gigantic box in the mail this morning containing my spring wardrobe from my friend Style Mummy. She's a fashionista who is a few years my senior and owns a trendy boutique in Park Slope, and since we happen to be the same exact size, she gives me her copious hand-me-downs (including shoes & the occasional bra). I know not everyone is as excited about clothes as I am, so I won't go into the details, but I'll just say that I'm super excited about the contents, especially a few Velvet items and a Diane von Furstenburg skirt. She's now been outfitting me for five and a half years!

Another source of excitement is the Brazilian's imminent return from Italy tomorrow, as long as Icelandic ash doesn't deter his travel plans. Of course, this also means a renewal of my anxiety. He was in Italy receiving an award for which he has to create a project, and before his trip he was busy day and night working on its design, so I haven't seen him in a while or heard from him since he's been gone. At one point I wondered about his silence and asked him to let me know if he didn't feel excited about seeing me again, and he assured me that he is still very excited, but also sleep-deprived and overworked. This will probably still be the case after he gets back, and I hope he doesn't tarry too long in getting in touch, not just because I'm anxious to get my hands on the bottle of grappa he promised to bring back for me. The “Red Flags” section next to his name on my Man List remains empty, and the “Questions” category has just two entries: Might be too busy and Not sure if he wants children (though Pro #12 is Seems to like kids, which I added after noticing him smile and wink at toddlers while we were having breakfast at a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago). He told me I was welcome to come to Italy with him; thank goodness spring break didn't coincide with his trip or I would have been seriously tempted. This afternoon I was discussing my situation with my sister, Ms. Swamp, as she scrubbed her toaster oven, and she recommended, “You should tell him you really like him and see how he responds.” “Oh, I told him that already on our third date,” I said. “Was I not supposed to say it so soon?” (He responded well.)

I'm also excited about the paycheck I received last week; I never asked how much my pay in Cambridge would be because I wanted it to be a surprise, and it turned out to be quite a pleasant one. I'll still need to figure out what I am doing over the summer and next year, but for the next couple of months at least I'll be quite comfortable (much more so than I was as a NYC public school teacher). And the best thing is I'm working exactly 40 hours a week and rarely have to spend a single moment thinking about my jobs when I'm not at them, let alone work until 10 pm and then dream about work as I did last year. The resources available in Cambridge amaze me on a daily basis; feels like the Paradise of Public Schools.

And finally, I'm excited because Monday is Marathon Monday in Boston, and since I moved shortly after Marathon Sunday in NY, I get two marathons this year. I have absolutely no interest in running myself, but watching other people run is very satisfying. Hopefully by then the rain will stop and the temperature will rise to match my mood.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Automobile Antics

Despite my protestations of being a capable adult who can do things like file my taxes and pay my bills, I have to admit to being a bit of a car ditz. And yes, I am sending my tax documents to La Moustache to file them, but not because I can't do it! I simply choose not to because Moustache did work in my name in '09 (visa restrictions), and I think he should deal with the headache of figuring it out.

Lately it seems like it is one thing after another with my car. It started shortly after I officially became a Masshole, registering my car in the Bay State and even putting the dreaded MA license plates on my car. Was it punishment for becoming a Masshole? Perhaps. I had absent-mindedly noticed a few times as I got into my car that it was foggy inside, and wondered idly about it. Then, one day during the epic rains we had in mid-March, I heard a distinct sloshing sound as I pulled up to my afternoon job at School #2. I looked down just in time to see a wave of water swoosh from the passenger side in front toward the back of the car.

The rains finally let up a couple of days later, and I spent an hour or so sopping up the pond until most of it was gone. I cracked the windows and waited patiently for the rest to dry up, hoping that my problem would disappear.

This did not turn out to be the case. Instead, my car problems took an unexpected turn one day the following week when I visited the Harpoon Brewery for a beer tasting. They sell growlers, solid 64-ounce jugs that they fill up with beer, and my friends and I eagerly bought several of them. One friend had biked over to the brewery, so we loaded up my trunk with her growlers and mine, four in total.

As I drove home, I heard an ominous cracking sound, then thought I detected the delicious smell of fresh-out-of-the-growler beer. I hoped against hope that I was imagining things, but this did not turn out to be the case: when I got home, I discovered that I had lost one beer growler and one cider growler, leaving me with one remaining growler of each and my pond with a compelling new odor.

The next morning, I was driving my friends to the airport early, then staying at their house for a few days. I packed the remaining two growlers into the car so that I could enjoy the one while housesitting and drop off the other after my trip to the airport. This time, I was much more careful with the deceptively robust-looking bottles: I wedged one into the floor of the backseat, and kept the second one next to me up front. Sadly, the cap broke off Cider #2 despite my precautions. As I drove the last leg of the way to drop off the final growler, I held it in my lap, praying nothing would happen.

The last growler did make it, but less than a week later the monsoons began again, and the depth of the pond again began to increase. I wish I could say that I've found a solution to this problem, but sadly that is not the case, and frankly the beer smell does not seem to be going away either. Most of the time I don't mind it and even enjoy it a little bit, but if I ever get pulled over I doubt the cop will be impressed.

Then today as I rushed out of the parking lot of School #1 headed toward School #2, my car began beeping with an urgency that surprised me. I looked down, and saw to my horror that the oil light had flashed on. This prompted vague recollections of instructions I received from La Moustache prior to my departure: something about when I should get the oil changed, as well as information about the plug being broken, necessitating a vacuum oil-removal technique. I briefly contemplated my options, wondering whether I should try to find a service station, pull over and call for help, or just drive and pray.

The light flashed off a moment later, and I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my way. After completing my 11-hour workday, I set off in search of a service station. The only one I could find open was manned by an elderly Greek man who was in the midst of a major repair job and told me he couldn't help me today, but I could come back tomorrow. I explained my predicament and he promised to check my oil. “Pop dee hood, please!” he called to me. “Ummm... how do I do that again?” I replied, wishing for the millionth time I had pain more attention to all the attempts anyone has ever made to teach me anything about cars. He laughed, waved me out of the car and popped it for me.

When he checked the oil, it was bone-dry. “Honey!” he said, drawing out the O so it rhymed with phoney, “you can't let that happen! Gotta be careful or it's gonna cost you a whole lotta money.” He sent me on my way with three liters of oil in my engine and brushed off my attempt to pay, no doubt out of pity.

Tomorrow I'm turning over a new leaf in car ownership. I've scrapped my plans to wait until the Brazilian comes back from a trip to Italy to figure out the leak, or to hold a contest and let whoever fixes my pond problem be my new boyfriend. Instead, I'm going to bring my car back to my new Greek friend and have him change the oil, and ask him about ideas for how to deal with the pond. Who knows, I may even invest in an air freshener.