Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Ode to the Toad

I asked another first grade teacher in my town recently if she had named her toad. She replied, "No. I am very careful with that. I tell them that it is a wild animal, not a pet like a cat or a dog. It is there for us to learn from and observe, not to love or cuddle."

Hmm. All good points that I'm sure the kids would benefit from, although at this point I think it's a bit late for our beloved little toad, Hoppers. I checked with another teacher to get her opinion, and she said that she thinks kids learn eventually not to personify animals anyway, so not to worry about it. Unfortunately, it seems not to be a lesson that I've ever really taken in.

It all started on my first camping trip when I was five. My sister, dad and I went hiking in the White Mountains. We hiked approximately 12 miles in to the shelter we stayed at, with packs that were around 50, maybe 60 pounds. (Though when I repeated the same trip at age 17 I discovered that it was actually 2.25 miles and the "packs" weighed circa 7 pounds. They were those mini-sized LLBean backpacks that preschoolers use.) Anyway, it was hard, and bordered at times on child abuse, especially since we stopped to pee in the woods before we were even done driving and I chose what looked like a great spot -- right smack on top of a bee hive. The bees were not appreciative, and came out to let me know, so I started the trip with about 12 bee stings covering my butt cheeks.

To try to take our minds off the pain and burden, my sister and I started collecting toads. We collected 27 in total, all of whom we named, and also collected urine samples from all 27 before letting them go. (Did I mention that it's a defense mechanism for toads to release a gush of pee when they feel they're being attacked? One that's particularly effective on humans, I might add.) It was, in a word, awesome.

I noticed this personifying tendency resurge on one of the first days I took Hoppers out for the class to observe. I was holding him up to get a good look at his ear holes before showing them to the kids, peering close into his face, when suddenly I had the urge to kiss him. I know my mom always told me you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, but somehow I don't think this is what she had in mind. (In my defense, he's about the same size as my pet bird, who craves endless kisses.) I resisted, but did bring him a bit closer to my face and made some silly kissy noises while cooing his name, which my kids thought was hilarious.

Today we took Hoppers out again, and sat still and silent in a circle to watch what he would do. Well, lo and behold, who does he hop up to -- ME! A few kids piped up: "Look! Hoppers likes Mademoiselle!" "Nooo, he felt safe because I was sitting still. Or maybe he likes the color of my pants. Or he thinks I'm a good escape route to get away from all these people," I protested. But secretly, I was elated, and I couldn't help but croon to him: "Viens ici, Hoppers!" ("Come here, Hoppers!") Just then, he hopped up onto my leg. The kids gasped with delight -- Hoppers had listened to me!

Of course, I know Hoppers wasn't listening to me. But I still think he's pretty freakin' cool, and sometimes I like to imagine that maybe, just maybe, he thinks I'm cool, too. I'm almost considering asking the science director if I can take him home at the end of the year -- except I think Persil would be jealous.

P.S. Speaking of animals, check out Pip, the red-tailed hawk in Washington Square Park. Little dude is all of 2.5 weeks old, and he is HUGE. He's, like, the same size as a wild turkey, and he could probably swallow Persil whole. And this photo was taken 4 days ago!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Little Miss Fucking Sunshine

Dreamy got me a gift recently after I found out I'm getting laid off from my job next year. It's to bring to any upcoming meetings at school:

And also a book of dirty French to help me improve that (admittedly weak) aspect of my vocabulary.

So now it's time for some soul-searching. Do I want to continue with the French? If so, I can have a permanent sub position at my school next year and probably a classroom the year after. I've loved every minute of this year, but it's a bit exhausting to think about a brand new class of kids arriving September after September who speak not a word of French. It feels like a Sisyphean task, and I can hardly believe that I've accomplished it -- every morning, I feel like I have to pinch myself when I am confronted with a class full of seven-year-olds who spend the entire day speaking in French. But do I want to perform the same miracle over and over again? It will surely get easier, but somehow I doubt that it will ever not feel exhausting. And, do I want to spend my life forcing kids to use their fingers to track the text of an uninspiring basal reader, a la Dick and Jane?

In any case, I absolutely love my new mug. Dreamy is the bestest.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Crappy the toad

We got a new class pet in the first grade last week. It's a toad, and my students (and I) are all pretty excited about him. Even though he gushes an astonishing amount of pee every time I pick him up, he's pretty awesome.

Today we held an election to vote for a name for the toad. I took a bunch of suggestions in both English and French, then everyone voted with a block. Some of the possibilities included Lily, Feignant (Lazy, my personal fave), Bob, Sauter (jump), and Hoppers. Then little Siobhan raised her hand: "Crap," she said sweetly, with her perfect little French accent. I wasn't sure if she realized the implications of the word or if she was just inspired by the French word for toad, crapaud, so I wrote it on our list. Next someone else raised their hand and suggested Crappy. Then I stopped for a moment, contemplated the list, and realized how wildly inappropriate (but hilarious) it would be to have a class pet named Crap or Crappy. I erased them regretfully and told the kids they were out of contention.

We eventually settled on Hoppers, but secretly I still think of him as Crappy le Crapaud. Pronounced with a French accent, of course.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Hawk Channel

The past week or so has been an emotional roller coaster, ever since my friend L'il JC introduced me to my newest bird cam obsession: the Hawk Channel. The main characters on the Hawk Channel are a red-tailed hawk named Violet, her frequently-absent mate Bobby (you could do better, Violet...), and her fluffy, ridiculously adorable baby, born 8 days ago, the only one of her three eggs that turned out to be viable. Violet and the gang live on Washington Square Park, and their preferred cuisine is rats, which works out well for them because there are plenty to be found in that vicinity.

The emotional roller coaster part stems from a bizarre injury that Violet has. She was banded some time ago, and somehow the band rode up on her leg like a badly fitted brassiere. It eventually rode up so high that it started to cut off circulation, and the leg is now swollen and difficult for Violet to stand on.

As a bird owner, I know how perilous such leg injuries can be. Lovebirds sometimes lose their leg because of something as delicate as a human hair getting wrapped around it. But lovebirds can survive just fine with only one leg, partly because they have humans to wait on them hand and foot. Violet relies on her talons to catch rats, and she and her baby both risk death if the injury is too severe.

At first, the plan was for two bird experts affiliated with NYU to catch her and check her out, but they warned that catching her would be like threading a needle while riding a horse, and that even if they did manage to catch her it would be unlikely that they could save her leg. Then for a few days, there was a respite when it was decided that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation would take over the decision-making.

After several days, they decided to act. On Thursday, they planned to catch Violet and see if they could remove the band and quickly fix her leg. They thought, however, that she would probably need more medical treatment than that, in which case she and her baby would both be removed to the Bronx Zoo -- and separated FOREVER, because once removed from the nest her maternal instincts would vanish and she might try to eat her baby. Only Bobby would be left behind to fend for himself (good riddance), and once captured, the baby would have to live its entire life in captivity.

This was enough to break me down to tears. On Wednesday, I watched Violet feeding her baby, and thought about how it would be their last dinner together and they had no idea how their lives were about to take such a tragic turn, even though all the thousands of people watching knew. I thought about how sad life is sometimes, and how the baby had only lived for a few short days and was already having such sad things happen to him.

I tuned in on Thursday during my lunch break, and then again after school, but there were no updates and Violet and the baby seemed to be continuing their lives peacefully. Finally, late in the day on Friday it was announced that after observing Violet for the day, the experts had decided that she is fine and it's better not to intervene. WHEW. I sure hope they're right, cause sometimes it seems like these experts don't actually know all that much. Also I don't know how much more of these changes of plans I can live through without getting an ulcer.

Nature, man. It's better than fiction every time.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Goodbye, Midge...

I received the following email a couple of days ago from my Hospice coordinator:

Dear Heathen,

I have a new patient who I think you might enjoy. She is in her late 60s and has cardiac disease. She is alert and very talkative, and lives near you. Let me know what you think!

Well, I was pretty psyched, and even more so when I looked up her address and discovered that her house is just steps away from my yoga studio. But what did that mean about Midge, my current Hospice patient, who is 103 years old and crazy in a verbally abusive kind of way? Was my coordinator suggesting I switch patients, or that I take on both? I crafted a reply to try to feel her out and possibly edge her in the direction of switching me to the new lady:

She sounds lovely, and you're right, the location is very convenient for me. However, I'm worried about having time to visit two patients 2-3 times a month. Do you think it might make sense for someone else to take over Midge? I don't think she recognizes me so I'm not sure it would make a difference to her. She is very nice and personable sometimes, but at other times she can be quite belligerent, which can be difficult to take. (Usually I don't stay long when this is the case.) Let me know what you think.


Well, she wrote back and said I should make the switch, effective immediately. I'll go check out my new lady this weekend. Goodbye, Midge. I'm sorry I didn't get to know you when you were younger and not crazy. I hope your remaining days are happy and filled with all the things you love -- nuns, the military, red shirts, purple pants, and imaginary friends.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I'm the kind of person who has lots of routines and rules that I follow every day. When I wake up in the morning, I have to brush my teeth first thing. I never, ever eat a meal at home when I'm not sitting at my kitchen table. I can't stand to leave lots of dirty dishes in the sink.

Dreamy, as I'm sure long-time blog readers can imagine, is more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, impulsive guy. If he feels like it, he'll go right ahead and eat dessert before dinner. He doesn't think twice about skipping teeth-brushing when he's sleepy. He doesn't even own a kitchen table, and because he doesn't have a kitchen sink either, dirty dishes pile up on his bathroom floor. And cleaning his apartment is... not a priority.

So it was probably under his influence that I exclaimed on Sunday night, after concocting a pair of delicious post-dinner Old-Fashioneds, "Let's take them to bed with us and drink them there! We can watch Glee at the same time. It will be the best Sunday night EVER." Because I so rarely indulge myself like this, the idea seemed incredibly fun and exciting.

We headed to bed, orange-garnished Old-Fashioneds in hand, and set up Dreamy's iPad to watch Glee. A few minutes in, shortly after the opening credits, Dreamy got up to go to the bathroom, and on the way back snagged the remaining candy from my Easter basket and brought it along to bed. He started peeling chocolate eggs and shoving jelly beans into his mouth, leaving tiny pieces of pastel-colored foil scattered around him.

I'm usually a pretty generous person, and would be happy to share just about anything with Dreamy. This includes my precious Easter candy, even though it only comes once a year and is amazingly delicious. But I could see that if I let Dreamy keep at it there would soon be no Easter candy left for me, plus the foil all over the place did not appeal to my sense of order. So I cut him off, grabbing the bags and placing them carefully on the bedside table.

A few minutes passed in silence. Then: "Hey, what happened to that chocolate bunny your grandmother sent?" We opened up the bunny and started gnawing on its ears. After a few bites, I thought to ask if Dreamy might prefer dark chocolate to the milk we were presently consuming at unprecedented speeds. My students are very generous with their chocolate gifts, so there is never a lack of chocolate in the house. I got out a box of truffles that I received for Teacher Appreciation Week last week.

In the morning, I opened my eyes to take in my bedside table: empty Old-Fashioned glasses with the orange rinds hardening at the bottom. A decapitated chocolate bunny lying horizontally with a half-open box of truffles perched precariously on top of it. Tiny pieces of foil scattered across the bedside table as well as the bed. And Dreamy? He had a big dollop of chocolate on his neck where one of the truffles had leaked on him, midway toward his mouth.

I'm not going to make a habit of it, but I have to say, it kinda was the best Sunday night ever.

Monday, May 2, 2011

More Midge

My visit with Midge the other day got off to a promising start. She broke into a huge grin, causing a nearby nurse to remark, "You sure brought a smile to her face!" I nodded happily, thinking myself the perfect Hospice volunteer. Until I looked closer, and noticed that Midge was not in fact smiling, but laughing maniacally.

It went downhill from there. I soon became acquainted with Midge's imaginary friend, seated next to her and wearing an identical red shirt ("because they're the style these days," Midge informed me). Our conversation settled into a pattern: Midge would ask a question or make a comment, I would respond, then she would repeat the conversation to her imaginary friend, except that instead of repeating what I'd actually said, she'd twist my words around to make me sound mean. Examples:

Midge: Why is that woman in a wheelchair? If I couldn't walk, I would never let someone push me in a wheelchair. [Note that Midge was seated in a wheelchair as she said this.]
Me: I'm not sure. Maybe she's sick.
Midge [to imaginary friend]: I asked her why that woman is in a wheelchair, and she said she didn't care.

A few minutes later...
Midge [leaning close toward me]: You're a beautiful girl.
Me: Thank you!
Midge [to imaginary friend]: I told her she's a beautiful girl, and she said she KNOWS.

And then, after another pause...
Midge: Do you have a date?
Me: Yes! [thinking, maybe we are getting to a more positive topic of conversation...]
Midge: You're far too young to have a date! [Turns to imaginary friend]; I wonder, does her mother even know she's here??

At this point Midge started to laugh again, this time so hard and with such utter abandon that I wondered if she was crying. When I ascertained that she was, in fact, laughing, I wondered what to do. My policy is to leave if either a) she seems to be getting no pleasure out of my visit, or b) she's so mean it makes me feel bad. However, I wasn't totally sure on either point. Was her laughing totally maniacal, or was there a hint of pleasure in it, too? Was she making me feel bad, or was she just frustrated that she couldn't hear what I was saying?

Midge made up my mind for me by announcing that she was tired and wanted a nap. With a small sigh of relief, I patted her hand and headed for the elevator.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My dreamy boyfriend

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my friend Miami Nice in her new town a few hours from where I live. While I was there, I talked to her about some of Dreamy's annoying habits, and how he can be thoughtless in small ways. Then, I asked if she thought I should break up with him.

"Are you crazy?!!" she asked. "He sounds like he's wonderful in all the right ways. Those little problems you're talking about, they're just superficialities. Believe me, Mr. Miami Nice has had issues in that department, too. All men do. But Dreamy sounds perfect for you."

It's taken me eight months of dating him, but I have finally come to realize how right Miami is. Dreamy is sometimes bad at the technicalities of being a boyfriend -- showing up at the right time, remembering to offer to do the dishes, calling while he's away... I could go on. Believe me, it's frustrating sometimes. And it's a contrast with La Moustache, who was very good at all those little details. He called me every day when he was away. He bought amazing gifts for my birthday and Christmas. He made me delicious Raclette dinners every year for Valentine's day. He did my laundry for three years.

And in the end, he was an utter disaster of a boyfriend. He wasn't good at all the things that most matter -- being there when I needed him, being emotionally available, telling me that he loved me and MEANING IT (he did tell me all the time, but it was certainly hard to believe given the way he treated me).

I had a hard week last week, and Dreamy was wonderful. He came over every night. He talked to me about how great he thinks I am. He told me that he loves me and that I've become an important part of his life that he relies on, and I believed him because Dreamy is always sincere. Last night, we went to a dance together, and when I told him I didn't feel like swing dancing with him, he offered to pay me $100 for five minutes of dancing. And then we danced, and he twirled me around and dipped me and we giggled and gazed into each others' eyes, and I forgot all about my troubles.

I got together with some friends last week, and we were kvetching about men, and how frustrating it can be to go on first dates and find again and again how self-centered men can be. There are so many men out there who are terrible at asking questions that even ones who ask inane questions start to seem like prizes. Men who are afraid of commitment are out there in droves, as well as men who struggle to open up. But there are also a few Dreamies out there. They are rare and hard to find, but they are out there, and it's worth the trouble to look for them.