Over Pie

Over Pie.

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What Are Our Children Worth?

I coached Kindergarten through second grade soccer at Hyde Park Elementary school this past autumn. The K-2 team, however, didn’t have any uniforms, but I wasn’t about to send my kids out on the field against our neighboring towns without some semblance of a uniform. With the help of Hyde Park’s PE teacher, Mr. Clough, we outfitted our youngsters, and the kids loved having matching “uniforms” with their school name across their chests: Hyde Park Allstars.

The reason I pushed to have them wear something was simple. School spirit. Pride, not only in their school, but in themselves. This was their first experience in a game and on a field playing together as a team. As a coach, and in good conscience, I couldn’t send them out on the field without a uniform. What would that have told them? That they weren’t really a soccer team? The older kids can have uniforms, but not you? That they weren’t worth having a uniform? We didn’t value them enough to buy them shirts? How could they take pride in themselves and each other as a team if we didn’t even think them worthy of uniforms?

As this debate over the building project for the Hyde Park Elementary School heats up, it reminds me of my team. Setting aside the facts that the current building is dangerous to our children. That the building is literally crumbling, erupting, and burning around them. That the conditions are so poor that it is no longer conducive to learning. That the facility cannot hold the number of students and staff currently, and our population is projected to grow for the foreseeable future. Putting aside all these reasons as to why a renovation and improved space is desperately needed and setting aside the fact that the town has been kicking this can down the road since they refused to build the 1951 wing appropriately and to last by using suitable materials and hiring professional contractors. Besides all of these reasons, the one I keep coming back to is, “what does it tell our children, all of our children of Hyde Park now and in the future, that we think of them?”

Let me tell you what it says.

It says, “We value an extra $600 or $1200 dollars a year more than your safety and well being.” It says, “We value the cost of a large pepperoni pizza a week more than you having a learning environment with functioning heat during the Vermont winters.” It says, “We value money, any amount of money, over your well being and education.”

That’s what it says. Try and spin it how ever you like, but as this debate unfolds the argument against building a school that is safe and as conducive to learning as we can possibly make, comes down to how much money people are willing to part with. How little can we spend and get away with? What’s the least we can do for our town’s students? That’s what I am hearing.

The school structure is a shambles because the town of Hyde Park continues to put their wallets before their children. When I was growing up, my parents did everything in their power to make sure that I had the best education and opportunities available to me. They have spent their whole lives to make sure I, my brothers, and their grandchildren have a better than life than they did. My grandparents did the same for my parents. Without hesitation or a second thought.

I ask you, the citizens of Hyde Park, are you doing everything you can for your children? For the children in the school now, or who will pass through it over the course of the next century? My children may never get the use of a new facility, but it is my duty – and privilege – to help make sure that the children of this town have the best education and opportunities I can make available to them. I am proud to contribute to building a school the town and its residents can be proud of for the next century. It’s what my parents did for me, what my grandparents did for them, and what we all should be doing now for these children.

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Remembering Michael

I have never professed an adeptness with words before, but I’ve also never found myself at a loss for them either. Like a spinster with an over abundance of cats, I usually find many more than needed and lacking in any control or order. However, with the passing of my cousin, Michael, I find myself at a complete loss for words to console or find any meaning in his death.

I’ve been thinking of Michael quite a bit lately and every time I pull forth a picture of a little boy with bright eyes, and the curliest of curly hair. Michael spent the last week of his life in Hospice and – from what I’ve been told – was a shell of the person he was before. He passed before I could make it to see him, saving me – I think – of the burden of seeing him like that at the end of his life. Instead, I find myself thinking of a small boy with a quiet exuberance, which as he grew older was replaced with a sharp wit and pleasant countenance. Each time I think of him that boy invariably makes me smile. I can’t help it, there is something about those eyes and hair that just makes me grin.

In thinking of the young Michael I am also reminded of a small house in Momauguin. There are many pleasant memories of that home, and of times spent there with Michael and my other cousins. In all honesty, many of my fondest childhood memories surround that home and the people who filled and passed through it. And so, in leading me to that house, the little boy led me to my grandparents as well, making me smile once more.

It was then that I realized when my Pop died 18 years ago and my Gram seven years after, Michael was just 14 when Pop passed away. Only 14. He never got the full dose of Pop, and only a little bit more of my Gram. My grandfather still makes me laugh to this day, and some of my favorite stories are of him. And…Gram, she was a one of a kind, for sure. And suddenly, in that, the little boy led me to what solace I can find from a hard life ended too soon.

Michael, I truly believe, is at peace now, and in the best of hands. For I am certain, that for the time being, he’s got Gram and Pop all to himself now and can make up for lost time.

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As Only a Teacher Can

Every so often someone you know, someone whom you really know, surprises you. In my case it shouldn’t have, but it did anyway.

I’ve known my wife for half her life now. We’ve been married for most of that time, and we’ve two impulsive and inquisitive daughters to show for it. However, this past week I saw a new aspect of her I’d never known before, one I might have seen had I been a co-worker maybe. Well, maybe it was less about knowing, and more about understanding.

My wife is a teacher. A good one too. She’s one of the ones that not only puts in her 40 hours a week, but once our girls are in bed, takes out her laptop and starts working again. She’s the one that opponents of school budgets don’t tell you about, they know what a deal they’re getting with teachers like her.

I’ve always known how hard she works, and not only how many hours, but how many quality hours. I know how much she inspires her students to succeed and how she cares about them and their families. It’s this last bit, though, that I didn’t quite grasp the extent of.

Let me explain, my wife is an early childhood and special educator. She works with young students, most of whom are the same age or younger than our youngest daughter. One of those students, one whom she’s championed, advocated for, and supported for almost two years, passed away. The news, and the resulting heartache, are things she never could have prepared for, steeled herself to. The loss of this student has hit her profoundly.

I watched her this weekend, expecting to see her hovering more about our own kids than usual, but I also observed the effect this loss has had on her as a teacher. This was her “little guy” whom she would talk about at dinner, not in too much detail, but about challenges – and more often than not – his successes. She cared for this boy, and maybe not as a parent, but as only a teacher can.

Teachers see our children for, in my case at least, more waking hours during the week than I do. When my daughters average 11 to 12 hours or so of sleep a night, and spend about seven hours in school a day, that leaves me about five to six hours. These professionals, who spend so much time and energy on our children, care for them deeply. It’s a part of who they are, not something they can switch off or ignore. It’s why they went into teaching in the first place. They are passionate about education, about children, and brightening their worlds.

So, what I realized is this, when I gripe about her working late, or working after hours when she’s home, it’s not something she can easily let go of. Her students’ successes are hers, their setbacks and challenges as well. She can no easier let them go than I can let my daughters’. It’s what drives her to be a better teacher, so she can do better by her students. Why when she’s not working extra hours, she’s taking courses and workshops to further her professional development.

These are our children’s teachers. Their students aren’t just office co-workers or even colleagues. They are children. Malleable and impressionable little people who look to their teachers to define their little worlds for them. And from the teachers I know, they do not take this responsibility lightly. Teachers have been much maligned of late in the media as greedy and lazy. Wanting higher pay for less hours and no accountability.

Except, here’s the thing, of all the teachers I know, none of them fit that demonized bill. Granted, some teachers are better than others, and while some are exceptional others are much less so. However, there are very few who are not passionate about education and children.

I should have known this, after all I fell in love with an idealistic, education major a long time ago. I should have seen it then, or even picked up on it once she got her own classroom. However, I think – like many of us do – I took its inevitability for granted.

And so, once again, my teacher has taught me that educators are not just assembly line workers cranking out smarter kids by the year, but an amalgam of roles from parents and mentors to friends and confidants. They are that emotional surrogate at school when our children are away from home. And when they lose one of their students much too early, much too young, they feel that loss as only a teacher can.

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Over Pie

I recently attended my first pie breakfast. I had never heard of one before, but I guess it’s a thing. On a cold, winter, weekend morning everyone turns out and eats pie for breakfast. Usually, the event is a fundraiser for a local charity, school, or non-profit.

I have to admit, I kinda liked it.

Besides the obvious, eating pie for breakfast is delicious and makes us all feel a little naughty having our dessert first for our “most important meal of the day”, but it was also a wonderful way to connect with neighbors and friends.

This particular breakfast was held at Hyde Park Elementary School as a fundraiser for the Partners In Education (PIE), a community group that supports the school. Half of the proceeds went to the organization for their other events, activities, and school support while the other half was donated to the Lamoille Valley Cancer Network in honor or Hyde Park alum Mackenzie Prattt who passed away from cancer a little more than 2 years ago.

However, the decedent desserts offered (in all fairness there were many quiches and other healthier pies as well) weren’t what most moved me at this event. As I stood back, eating my third and forth slices of pie that morning, I watched the assembled pie-eaters. I watched as folks sat at the cafeteria tables in the school’s gymnasium, and over a slice of pie, chatted. Caught up on what was new with each other, talked about the weather, local events, or what have you. I watched as folks smiled and laughed, others reached a caring hand and tenderly squeezed a forearm.

I watched my neighbors connect.

It’s something I don’t think we get the chance to do that often anymore. During this age of social media, many of us spend more time updating statuses or tweeting than we do sitting down and having a conversation. Even better, a conversation over a slice of pie. There is something inherently neighborly and folksy about ruminating over pie. Something genuine, something that seems uniquely American.

I also thoroughly enjoyed that this event was held in our school’s gym and cafeteria. As I watched moms and dads, grandparents, and children all eat and mingle I was reminded that our children do this five days a week. They sit and dine in this very room, meeting and eating with their peers. It’s not the first time, nor do I think it’ll be the last that I think we can learn some enlightening lessons from our children.

However, it also reminded me that our school is the hub of our community. It is the heart that keeps the rest of our town and village alive. This was not just an event open to school families, but to the entire community. To anyone who would enjoy a piece of pie in the morning and enjoy the company and conversation with a community member.

More than anything else, our schools – our children – are the center of our towns, not just Hyde Park’s. They are what gives us strength, what makes us rise in the morning, and what keep us up through the night. I cannot fathom a better example for us to teach them than by showing our children how much we value them and their education than by gathering on a cold, blustery, Saturday morning, to talk, laugh, and reconnect with each other.

And, if we can do it over a slice of pie, that much the better.

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Contributing Regularly

Hey, folks, so in case you missed the announcement, I’m contributing regularly to the family website, Offbeat families, now. It’s a very cool site, with lots of great info and stories about parenting. You should check it out. Here’s the link to my latest post to the site, Superhuman. Thanks!

~Mark

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The Magic of the Snow-Globe

This past holiday season my oldest daughter had one present she truly wished for more than any other. Whenever asked on the lead up to Christmas what her number one request from Santa was, she replied with this same item. Every time, never changing her mind, she stuck to it. There were other items on her list and letter to Santa, but this was the one item she wished for more than another.

All she really wanted was a snow-globe, but not just any snow-globe. She wanted a snow-globe that depicted the North Pole with Santa’s house inside. At the time, I thought this one was easy. A no brainer that we could find anywhere at a number of local shops. After striking out locally, I still didn’t panic. How could I? A request this easy? Please. There must be dozens of different North Pole snow-globes out there, right? I thought, being the master of the interwebs that I am, I could track one down easily. And then I struck out again, and again, and again. Beginning to feel desperate, we enlisted the help of the grandparents to track one down on their travels. They found globes, but did they find the North Pole? No.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of snow-globes out there. Lots of Santa and Christmas trees, Santa with presents, Santa in his sleigh, and Santa with his deer, but not a single one of a snowed in homestead. There were even plenty of religious snow-globes out there too. More than I ever would have imagined. Mangers, Baby Jesus, Mary and Josephs, but was there one of a house in a snow-scape? Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zippo.

So, like any other father on Christmas Eve, I set out to make one. It was totally the 11th hour, and I felt like a huge failure for not finding a real globe out there, but I wasn’t about to let her down. Did I feel pressure? Yup. Tons. But, how could I let her down? It wasn’t like she was asking for a pony or some enormous and exorbitant item. It was a simple snow-globe.

My wife earlier in the week found some home-made directions for making home-made snow-globes. She, unlike me, could see the writing on the wall, and was much more prepared. She, unlike me, had a Plan B in place, thankfully.

My wife not only had the directions, but she’d found a neat, little, glass jar as well, the key to her make-it-yourself-snow-globe directions. The jar also had a very cool design on each of its four corners that I painted green, and when they were dry, they looked like four balsam fir trees. While at my parents house the day before Christmas eve, I found an ornament that with a little painting I turned into the Claus homestead. Along with some fake snow, water, loads of silver glitter, Teflon tape, and an obscene amount of hot glue the snow globe was done.

Honestly, it was a pain to make. The jar just didn’t want to seal, every time I thought I had it tight, it leaked water every where. It was maddening trying to get it done at that late hour, but I eventually got it water tight.

We wrapped it and placed it under the tree along with the rest of her and her little sister’s presents. I really didn’t expect her to think much of it, especially being the sub-par Emmett-Otter’s-Jug-Band-Christmas-kinda-present that it was.

However, she squealed. She loved it. She really was excited, and each time someone asked – either over Skype or in person – what she got for Christmas, she would run and retrieve and show it proudly. At first, it was pretty embarrassing. I cringed when she showed it to people. When other kids showed off their iPod Fives and iPad minis, my daughter held up her glue-gunned snow-globe. It really isn’t very good, but she truly loves it. She recognized right away that it was homemade, and was so excited to think Santa Claus himself made the globe for her.

It was then, after I watched her explain to her grandparents how Santa made it just for her, that I appreciated the globe a bit more. It was then that I realized that the effort, the ever-loving frustration, and the love itself that went into it was worth more than any of the presents we purchased. I don’t know if she’ll love it a month from now. I don’t know if she’ll remember it next year, or when she’s sixteen, but I do think she’ll remember it when she’s up late on Christmas Eve when she’s a mom. I hope she does, at least.

I hope she’ll think of it, and me, then. Maybe I’ll still be kicking around, or maybe I won’t, but I hope that dumb globe is when she’s laying presents under the tree. Hopefully, she’ll give it a shake, and when the glitter swirls around she’ll feel the magic that globe brought her and especially to me this holiday.

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