Monday, April 25, 2011

Chinchillas and centenarians

I had a refreshingly fun visit last week with my sometimes-bellligerent 103-year-old Hospice patient, Midge. This was a relief on a number of levels, including:

1) The guilt I was starting to feel because every time I arrived and checked the nameplate on her door and it was still there (read: she's still alive), I felt a little bit disappointed.

2) She was clearly once a kind, caring woman and loving mother, as evidenced by the frequent visits from her children (now nearing their eightees!), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It's nice to know that that is still inside her, somewhere.

3) I'm not in denial, and know that one day it'll be me being passive-aggressive with the nurses and aids. And that's if I'm lucky and don't die in my late middles ages from a slow, painful disease. I'd like to think it's not all misery.

So anyway, Midge was in a very good mood when I got there. I could catch a little glimpse of what Celine, my former wonderful Hospice patient, saw in her, and why they were best friends. In fact, I felt so comfortable that I pulled out my ponytail and let my hair hang down, for once confident that she wouldn't reach out one of her hands and grab ahold of my hair and pull with what little strength she has left in her.

Midge generally has a theme or two that she focuses her conversation around. Often, this involves some branch of the military, and last week was no exception. In addition, she also asked me a lot of love-and-marriage type questions. Here's a snippet of our conversation:

Midge: So, you're in the Navy? (This first question was in sharp contrast to our last encounter, when she made it clear that I am not fit to be in the Navy, Army or anything remotely related to the military.)
Me: Yes. Yes, I am.
Midge: I like your uniform. Do you have a hat to match?
Me: I do. (I keep my answers short because she's deaf and blind.)
Midge: Tell me about your boyfriend. How old is he?
Me: He's 32.
Midge: Oh, 38. That's a good age. What does he do?
Me: He teaches.
Midge: He's a waiter. That's nice. Everyone's getting married these days.
Me: Not me.
Midge: When are you going to get married?
Me: I don't know.
Midge: Well, you should. I got married when I was 26. I loved to dance with my husband. You could do that, too.

Just then, a 50-something-year-old man came along carrying a chinchilla, bringing it around for some animal therapy with the patients. I tried not to flinch. I don't know if you're familiar with chinchillas, but they're basically very large, gray rats with round ears, and they're disgusting. Kind of like a cross between a rat and a squirrel, two of my least favorite animals.

Midge gave a cursory glance toward the chinchilla and patted it absently on its hindquarters, then focused in on the man. "Is this your boyfriend?" she asked me, in what she probably thought was a subtle whisper but was actually more of a loud bray. "No," I said, trying to be both emphatic and quiet at the same time and failing at both.

As if the embarrassing conversation weren't already painfully obvious, Midge decided to be perfectly clear. "I asked her if you were her boyfriend," she said to the man. "She said no."

After a few more questions about his marital history (divorced, single), Chinchilla-man thankfully moved on. Midge, however, did not: "Why don't you want to date him?" she queried. "Too busy? Works too much? That's the way they earn the money, you know."

Thanks for the advice and the attempt at setting me up, Midge. No offense, but I think I'll pass on Chinchilla-man.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nature, via my computer

It seemed like it would never come, but Spring is finally beginning to arrive. Little buds are appearing everywhere, and the chill is disappearing from the air, along with the last mounds of gray snow. And I, as usual at this time of year, can't tear myself away from my computer because of one of the most amazing innovations technology can offer us: animal cams.

Last year, it was a hummingbird cam that riveted me. The camera was zoomed up so close to the nest that the birds looked huge, but in fact each baby was about the size of my thumbnail, and most of that space was taken up by their wide open beaks that followed their mother around like weathervanes. It looked exhausting, frankly, but it sure was fun to watch. They got bigger, and sprouted little pin feathers, and I could hardly stand to miss a second of it.

I wasn't watching, though, when disaster struck: a crow attacked the nest, sending both babies tumbling to the ground. The person whose property the nest (and cam) was on went searching and was able to rescue one baby, but the other one didn't make it. Finally, not long after the crow attacked, the lone remaining baby fledged, and I (of course) cried. After that, he could still be seen nearby for a while, but gradually less and less and eventually I moved on to other things, like leaving my house.

This year, my new obsession is a bald eagle cam. It's much grittier than the hummingbird cam, highlighting several of the more bloodthirsty aspects of nature (well, so did the crow I suppose, but the hummingbirds themselves seemed the epitome of pure innocence). The three babies are cute, but if the mom were a celebrity, she'd be more Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie than Julia Roberts. And she's messy: she constantly has blood all over her feathers, and sometimes drops entrails on her babies. C'mon, Mom! You're teaching them bad habits.

And then there's lunch, which is prominently displayed in the foreground of the screen. It varies from day to day, but often consists of some body parts of a rabbit, like the head or hindquarters, which Mom greedily dips her beak into from time to time, coming away with long strands of rabbit meat hanging down the sides of her beak; a fish, or some part of one; and, frankly, I wouldn't be that surprised if a cat showed up one day. Yum!

It's pretty awesome, as you can tell. Coming up soon on the eagle cam: sibling rivalry continues; the awkward teenage days; and the outcome -- will all the eaglets survive? Seriously, it's better than a soap opera.

Check it out!

Live streaming video by Ustream

Sunday, April 3, 2011


On Saturday morning, Dreamy and I boiled coffee and chatted about what we might do the following day: visit his dad, go someplace for a walk, do our taxes, or maybe just loll around on the couch and read. "Just let me check my calendar to make sure I don't have something planned," he said hastily, before committing to anything.

When he checked his calendar, he groaned. Turns out he had an all-day workshop, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., that he had to meet with his boss for much of Saturday afternoon to plan. I couldn't help but unleash some wrath upon learning of the workshop: Dreamy was at work past midnight several days last weekend, worked 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. last Saturday and all day Sunday as well, and the weekend prior to that came back late Sunday night from a 10 day work trip. "But I'm free for dinner tomorrow," he said meekly. Then, a minute later: "Actually, I'm invited to a work-related dinner. Would you mind if I go?"

Why on earth did he agree to do this workshop, which, to be clear, is not a requirement of his job? (It's freelance work.) "It's a lot of money," he explained lamely. I could be earning a lot of money tutoring, I informed him, but I don't, because I know I would be overextending myself. Dreamy seems to say yes to everything, without really thinking about what all these yeses mean his calendar will look like. He claims this is one reason why he's been so successful in life. However, here is just a small sample of the consequences: He hasn't visited his father, who is ill, in months. The skis he borrowed in December are still in his car, waiting to be returned. His apartment looks like a hurricane hit it. I doubt he's managed to fit more than a couple of loads of laundry into his schedule in 2011, and I suspect he may be starting to wear his dirty boxer shorts inside out.

Turns out I shouldn't have bothered chastising him, because people who overextend themselves have a way of punishing themselves. Or at least Dreamy does. On his way to meet me for dinner last night, he was loading supplies for his workshop into his car, and set his laptop down on the hood. Ten minutes after driving off, he remembered it with a shock, and after hunting around for a while located it, banged up and with a cracked screen cover but amazingly still working. I don't know whether to be more amazed by his luck or his incredible spaciness.

Oh, Dreamy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Two of my not-favorite things about teaching

The stomach flu.

Lately it's been a barf-fest in my classroom. The funny thing about first graders is, they THINK they feel nauseous all the time, and ask to go to the nurse approximately 400 times a week, but when they actually are about to barf they have no clue it's about to happen. So it erupts out of them with no warning, hitting anything that happens to be nearby -- you, other kids, worksheets, books, etc.

Inevitably, every so often teachers catch the stomach flu from the rampant germs that infest the school building. I should probably count myself lucky that I have not had it for three years, but on Friday afternoon, just an hour or so before the official start to the weekend, it hit like a ton of bricks. It could have been much worse; I got off pretty easy this time. Still, it does not make for a particularly fun weekend.

Being a crossing guard.

Not normally part of the job description of a teacher, I realize. However, at my school, each teacher has small weekly duties that we perform, like helping with dismissal, making sure kids are safe as they get off the bus, etc. Several weeks ago, we signed up for new duties. I'm not sure if I didn't sleep enough the night before, or didn't have enough caffeine, or was just temporarily insane, but when the sheet came around I saw "crossing guard" on it, thought "That sounds like fun!" and signed my name. Biggest mistake ever.

So now, every Thursday morning for 15 minutes, I am the crossing guard. And what I've discovered is that yes, teachers work hard, we're underpaid, yada yada yada. But teaching is nowhere NEAR as hard as being a crossing guard. Seriously, I don't care if they only work half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon (what DO they do the rest of the day??), those guys should be earning six figures.

I stand there with my little red stop sign, usually pointing the wrong way until someone points it out, and wave my arms alternately at the pedestrians and the cars. They look at me, wonder "Why is that crazy lady waving her arms at me?", and ignore me. Occasionally as they're driving past me, ignoring my stop sign and my shouts to stop, they roll down the window, a student sticks his head out, and calls, "Hi, Mademoiselle Heathen!" On another crosswalk nearby, a seasoned crossing guard has only to wave her pinkie finger and a whole row of SUVs screeches to a halt. I try to imitate her, but to no avail, so instead she ends up directing both her traffic and mine -- from approximately a quarter of a mile away. Usually, after it feels like I've been on duty for at least an hour, I check my watch -- and discover that it has been all of 90 seconds since I started.

Thank goodness, on Friday my principal told me that he hired a real crossing guard to stand in my spot, so I'm off the hook. Somebody must have realized that a car was going to hit a kid and the school was going to get sued, big time. Just glad it didn't happen on my watch.