Monday, January 23, 2012

When You Drop a Pebble, Sometimes It Ripples Back

Being a Special Education Para Educator as well as the mother of a Special Needs offspring has taught me gratitude.  You learn to be grateful for tiny things.  Moreover I have come to judge students by how they treat Special Needs students and whether or not I’d pick them at what I call “The Kid Store”—you know if you just went and picked out a child.  My husband laughs about this last part, but not the first.
Today I found out that I’d made a difference in someone’s life.  A co-worker tracked me down and said that the health tech substitute wanted to see me.  Great, I thought, am I going to have a problem taking my student to the bathroom in the health room after lunch?  I wasn’t even in the ball park.  “Hi, I’m Mrs. Farelli.  My son is Bill.  When I told him I was substituting today he told me to look you up and say hi.  He graduated in 2004.”  Quickly I thumbed through my mental files.  They are full of cobwebs and names have never been my forte, but the minute I put the name Bill with Farelli I knew exactly who she was talking about and I broke into a big smile.
Back in 1999 I moved from the middle school level to the high school with a student who had full blown Autism.  On some levels Michael was/is brilliant, but even acknowledging others was and is difficult for him and I felt at sea in a school full of great big children that were on the brink of adulthood.  Michael was mainstreamed, per the insistence of his parents, so it was that we ended up in a web design class where the teacher considered us as welcome as skunks on a picnic.  Having a student who jumped up to run around and flap his hands every little bit was way too weird.  I knew that I was going to have to work hard to convince the teacher that even though Michael had some weird behaviors, he was pretty computer savvy and really was going to learn something.  I had one thing going for me and that was Bill Farelli.

Bill sat next to Michael at a long line of computers and almost immediately I realized that he was one of those kids I’d take home from the kid store.  Even though Michael seldom even made eye contact, much less talked back, Bill always talked to him.  He rapidly figured out that my student had a mental list of movie titles from which he could tell you whether a movie was live-action or animated, what year it came out and what studio had produced it.  He’d memorized movie catalogues.  Bill would try to stump him and laugh when he couldn’t.  Bill was a reason to look forward to going somewhere I felt so unwelcome.  Now, all these years later, I was standing talking to this lovely boy’s mother!  How lucky I felt to get to tell her how wonderful I think her son is.

“You gave him a gift at Christmas,” Mrs. Farelli said.  “He’s never forgotten that.” I inwardly cringed.  We are NOT supposed to give gifts to students as it can be seen as “grooming.”  I don’t even remember what it was.  It was probably a chocolate Santa.  I do remember what I told him.  I’d told Bill that if he didn’t learn one other thing in his life that he needed to know how powerful the little things we do can be, how his being a friend to my student was like a pebble being dropped into a pond and the ripples went out to touch family and friends.  I guess it stuck because here I was, twelve years later, talking to his mom because he, who is now married and living in CA, had told her to look me up.  See, I was right about Bill.  He’s a keeper!  And I guess I dropped a pebble of my own.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

What’s in a name? Quite a lot. When I was growing up during the ‘50s and ‘60s it was unthinkable for an American woman not to take her husband’s last name upon marriage. Families were identified by their last name. Of course divorce was a word that was only whispered, too, but as grounds for divorce were expanded and it became more common the issue of last names became more complicated. I can not only name that tune, but hum a few bars. When my parents divorced my mother returned to her “maiden name” but since I was 18 and an only child, I didn’t much care what she called herself. There was no family in my opinion.

Growing up I wasn’t over fond of my last name. I got teased a lot. “What’s your mother’s name--Deep?” And of course during the ‘60s television show Batman it came to include, “Your dad must be Mr. Freeze.” I heard them all. My best friend’s last name was Beard. The teasing was one of our early bonds. We were the girls with the funny last names. Neither of us was upset to quit our last names when we married. Stephanie Casey. There’d be no problem there. And there weren’t even when six years and three children later we divorced. I was offered a chance to return to the last name of Frieze, but my ex-husband was giving me enough problems about the children and I wanted to make sure that there was no doubt about who their mother was.

Then I married again. “Kianersi”—an Iranian name that Americans inevitably try to make a nice Polish “Kianerski.” In Iran women do not take on their husband’s last names and I probably should have opted to stick with Casey or return to my “maiden” name right then. Another child and another divorce later my mother asked me if I was going, “to go back to using your Casey name.” What sort of message was that going to send to my four-year-old son? That I loved his brothers and sister more than him? No, by then I knew that the only last name I wanted was the one my dad had given me. After 36 years I’d grown up enough to value my connection to my father’s family more than what anyone else thought.

So when I remarried in 1990 I never took on my husband’s last name—Haeck. We talked about names. In turns he offered to legally adopt all of my children or change his name to Frieze. Aside from ending whatever meager child support I received from Mr. Casey, I knew that neither father was going to be happy about having their children adopted by another man. Nope. Not an option. And I knew that my own big family was going to have a hard enough time integrating into Mr. Haeck’s (pronounced “hake” and originally spelled H-o-e-c-h) family. If he changed his name to mine it would not be a good way to start off a life together. Our best man counseled against hyphenating our last name since Frieze-Haeck “sounds like something you’d find in the frozen food section of the grocery store.” No one can properly pronounce either of these German names. Prior to caller ID it made it easy to know when a sales person had called the house.

I supposed technically some court somewhere considers me to be Mrs. Haeck, but when people used to call asking to speak to Mrs. Haeck I’d tell them that my mother-in-law didn’t live with us, but I could supply her phone number. I was in my righteous period, letting people know that I wasn’t chattel belonging to my husband. I got that. I’d never understood why on contracts women were referred to as “a married woman,” but men were not “married men.”

When I began working in schools I tried to be Ms. Frieze. Mrs. Frieze was my grandmother. It was weird. “Ms.” has never really caught on. I’m traditional enough to prefer that the students not call me by my first name. I’m still formal enough to call my aunts and uncles by “Aunt” and “Uncle.” My younger aunt and uncle have repeatedly said that it was not necessary, that they could be Sandra and Jerry. No they can’t. “Aunt” and “Uncle” are my claim on them. They are not passing acquaintances, they are family, my family.

In my own nuclear family it has been interesting. My Brazilian formerly-married to-someone-else-daughter-in-law has kept not her maiden name, but her mother’s maiden name. I certainly understand that. My other daughter-in-law, who grew up Heckle (think Heckle and Jeckle) opted for “Casey.” I get that, too. All three of Dave’s nieces who married last year chose to take their husbands names as did his new sister-in-law. Even though they are different generations, they are traditionalists. If my youngest son, who is old enough to be Mr. Kianersi now, ever marries it will be interesting to see how his bride handles this question.

I never quite understood why my step-sister, Stephanie Ann, called my step-mother by her first name or why Phyllis let her. Which brings up a minor victory this holiday season. My step-mother, who’d seen me through two divorces, was content to let me be Stephanie Frieze (although she thought it was weird) as long as I was unmarried, but as soon as I married Mr. Haeck I became Mrs. David Haeck, thus losing my tentative grip on identity. Why this woman would let her daughter call her by her Christian name, but could not let me be who I was, was annoying. “You’re his wife. That’s who you are.” Cards, letters and checks eventually began to arrive to “Mrs. Stephanie Haeck,” but the check thing was a nightmare. I politely asked that at least the checks be written to “Stephanie Frieze” since Dave and I didn’t even share a bank, much less a name. I disliked having to stand at the bank cashier’s window and recite my entire life story in order to cash a check. Finally, finally, finally, a crack in the wall of this otherwise dear woman appeared this year when a letter arrived addressed to “Mrs. Stephanie Frieze-Haeck.” Coming from her, I’ll take being a frozen fish.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In the House of Memory: Ancient Celtic Wisdom for Everyday Life

Dave tells me that I am in with the in-crowd because for Christmas I got both of the top two best sellers on the New York Times list, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 which I actually got two copies of and so Dave returned one and got me Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James because I love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I like Jane Austen for her romances so I don’t know about this last one. We’ll see.

For returning to my job at Gig Harbor High School I chose to take In the House of Memory: Celtic Wisdom for Everyday Life, by Steve Rabey. This is one I bought for myself on my 60th birthday nearly a year ago and is not too big to lug all over the building. We’d gone to Victoria, B.C. and no visit there is complete without a visit to Monro’s Books. I hate to see the disappearance of book stores and was glad that the stately Monro’s is still in business and crowded. I guess I’m not the only one who loves physical books.

In the House of Memory explores Celtic spirituality from Ancient times to its influence on Christianity and a delight for anyone with spiritual or emotional ties to Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Many Americans, myself included, are of Celtic stock. Are we not more plentiful here than there? I’ve been interested in Ancient Celtic spirituality for some time—drawn on some sort of molecular level so this book will keep me well entertained at lunch and during breaks.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Olalla Polar Bear Club 2012

It’s New Year’s Day and for most of the 21 years we’ve lived in Gig Harbor Dave has participated in the Polar Bears’ jump off the Olalla Bridge a noon on New Year’s Day. Today was the mildest in memory. We’ve slipped and slid in snow out the windy hills to the hamlet of Olalla for this event. Although participation in this event holds nothing for me, it is not a mystery as to why Dave does it. In short, he has a thrill seeking gene. When he asks where mine is, I tell him that I satisfied it marrying him.

The event at the Olalla Bridge has been going on for twenty-seven years. The crowds of people and cars have caused authorities to threaten to shut down the event, but in all the years we’ve gone I’ve never seen anyone get hurt or there to be any sort of altercation requiring the police. They come, but mostly to make sure that the gawkers don’t wander out in front of cars.

At noon (or just before in today’s case) a cannon is fired and people of all ages and garb (and occasionally sans garb) jump off the side of the bridge over Olalla’s lagoon. There’s a bonfire on the beach to warm the jumpers and there’s free coffee and cocoa at Al’s Store. There you can pick up your certificate and buy a sweat shirt, the money from which goes to the food bank.

There weren’t a lot of costumes this year, but there were a few including a pair of ladies in black bathing suits who had 2-0-1-2 written on their bums in black marker. There was also a cowboy and an angel and of course Dave in his Goofy hat, a birthday gift from my son Frank and his family.

I was able to snap Dave’s picture just before the pulled off his sweatshirt, but he jumped before I could make it down to the beach to get his picture. I think that was on purpose as he said he didn’t want his picture taken with his shirt off.