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Friends & Presents, or I Am a Rock

G, the two-year-old, is watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood‘s special “Snowflake Day,” a phenomenal special that is a way to be an all-inclusive winter holiday. The kids in the show put on a play that has the message that “friends are the best presents.” In the play, a little girl, played by Miss Elaina, is visited by a fairy (Katarina Kittycat) and is granted wishes. She uses all the wishes to ask for presents. When the fairy leaves, the presents cannot hug her, or play with her, or talk to her. She cries herself to sleep, wishing she’d asked for friends. Of course, the fairy comes back to the sleeping girl and turns the presents into friends. When the girl wakes up, she’s happy, and a song about how “friends are the best present” commences (a fancy word for “begin,” according to Prince Wednesday).

Now this is a lovely message aimed at the preschool crowd, and much like the creator’s previous show, Blue’s Clues and this show’s namesake, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it teaches complex things in very simple ways.

That said, the message made me think about my childhood. And the message didn’t equate. I had some great friends when I was around 8 or som but before than, and even during, and until my 20s, really, I didn’t find that “friends are the best presents” was accurate. My toys never betrayed me. They always saw exactly what I saw in my imagination. They never made fun of me or made me feel less than I was, laying the seeds for self-esteem issues that live with me today.

So, yes, I hope G–and my teenager, for that matter–has a childhood where friends are the best presents. I sincerely hope that. For me, that wasn’t the case. Luke Skywalker, Batman, G.I. Joe, the Incredible Hulk, and He-Man were my friends. They never let me down.

Well, except when Robin’s and He-Man’s arms broke. Bastards.

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The End is Nigh, or Summer Vacation is Almost Over. Damn! That Went Fast.

It’s 8:56 PM as I write these words. At this time next week, I will be tired after having gone to work for the first time since mid-June. I’m depressed. Now before you give me the Well, I work all year round, get two vacations, and have to work on weekends speech, please rest assured, I know this. I used to, too. My wife has to work like this, and she reminds me of this whenever I kvetch too much or too loudly.* As she should. But here’s the thing about teaching, the 7:30-3:00 day (which is really more like 7:15-3:15, or 4) isn’t the only thing required.

If I can, I try to get all my grading (I hate the term correcting, but I’m not a math teacher, either, so…) done during the school day so I don’t have to take anything home. Luckily, with what I teach, I can do this more often than not. It’s about time management and finding opportunities when they arise. Kind of like writing when you have a full-time job and a family. Still, I do occasionally have to bring work home. Hours of work.

Then there’s the planning. I haven’t been back to work since June. I will go in this week to get my room prepared and to get some supplies I need for my first day. Because I teach freshman, there is more stuff I have to do on Monday than many of my colleagues, who will be setting up their classrooms that day. I haven’t actually even opened any files that are work-related. To the untrained civilian eye, I have done nothing for my job since mid-June.

Wrong.

I’ve been thinking. See, teaching is an art, or a craft, like writing. My life as a writer as helped me be a teacher as much as being a parent has helped me be a teacher (maybe someday I’ll tell you how being a teacher has helped me be a parent). So when I’m sitting at my desk, or on the couch, or at the table, or in the car, and it looks like I’m doing nothing, my mind is going. Racing, really. Sometimes it’s in Writer Mode, thinking about the current draft of the novel (almost done! Ayiiiiii!) but more and more frequently I’m thinking about work. Lesson plans. Ideas. Ways to present the information. Ways to present myself. Two weeks ago, my two-mile walks were mainly me thinking about the book or stories I want to write between drafts 2 and 3. Last week, my two-mile walks were split between writing and teaching, with teaching taking up more and more of my thoughts.

I’m about to start my 8th year as a teacher, and I’m revising in my mind. By the end of the weekend, I’ll begin writing notes. By Wednesday, my third day (and the school’s 2nd day), I’ll have a bunch of handwritten lesson plan notes that will eventually be typed up and submitted to my boss when the time comes. Some may tsk-tsk. You should have your lesson plans before you step foot in the classroom, they say. I do. I have last year’s. My springboard. It’s how I work and it works for me, so back off.

I love teaching, no doubt about it. But I love writing more, and I worry that my writing might stall as the Day Job takes up the mental and physical energy required to do it. I’ve known teachers who didn’t give it their all, who made their jobs easy. I sat in with an English teacher once who actually sat at their desk the entire class, every class. The kids were bored. Sure they learned something, maybe, but they didn’t have to think. Everything was fed to them. Everything. I knew a different teacher who taught straight from books and slept at their desk. Can you imagine that? Neither are in the profession anymore and I’m glad, because their students were at a disadvantage with them. I can’t do what they did. I can’t go the easier route so that I have more energy, more time. So I give it my all, teach my lessons like Robin Williams did stand-up comedy, or like Bruce Springsteen puts on a rock concert, and come home to be Daddy, and then Honeybun, and then…Bill Gauthier, writer of such books as Alice on the Shelf and stories such as “The Growth of Alan Ashley.”

And that’s the thing. This summer, I was a stay-at-home dad. From the time I woke up until the time G went to bed, I was Daddy. When Pamela got home from work, I was Daddy and Honeybun. When she went to bed, I allotted two hours for myself. From 9-10, I was Bill Gauthier, writer. From 10-11, I read. Sometimes I fuck around online, but more often than not, I read. I’m a slow reader and need all the help I can get.

About a month ago I wrote about not breaking the chain. I haven’t. This blog can be my X for tonight, though I still fully intend on working on the novel, too. Here is what the chain looks like now:

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I’ve been busy, and the goal wasn’t just to not break the chain but to also get myself into the habit of using 9-10 for writing. I still have to get my Master’s degree, so this is going to be especially important. I know that once school starts back up, the chain will break. My goal is to postpone that from happening as long as I can (that said, my money is on next Monday night, Tuesday maybe). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but by now, even when I don’t want to write, I find I’m able to manage something.

So if you know a teacher who’s about to go back to school, or has already gone back to school, don’t give them a hard time about going back when they complain about it. There’s no need to remind them about their vacations or holidays. Remember, I didn’t even mention how the kids’ lives seep into ours as we grow concerned because this one has that issue and that one needed to be brought down to guidance and that other one is failing even though they’re brilliant. I didn’t mention the silly politics or the things that don’t work that should work, or….

You get the idea.

I’ve inadvertently written 1,152 words. My intent was to write 500 or so. Oops.

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* I love my wife more than anything else in the world, and am not trying to make her sound like a nagging wife. She puts up with my shit but she does not take it, if you get what I mean. Her reminders when I start complaining about having to go back to work aren’t meant to belittle my feelings, but rather to remind me that it could be worse. Just so you know.

Babygirl: Year One

The title may be a bit misleading. I’m not actually planning on writing about Genevieve’s entire first year. But it does weigh heavily on me. Last week was her birthday and yesterday was her birthday party. Not everyone I would’ve liked to be there was because of space and situations. It was mostly Pamela’s family and friends. My 15-year-old was there, representin’ the Gauthiers because my sister lives in Florida and my mother is unable to leave her apartment. Still, fun was had by all. The baby made out like a bandit (sorry for the cliché, I’m tired), everyone loved the cake (thanks to Cravings Café & Cakery), and the baby had a great time.

Still, the passage of time is felt. One year becomes fifteen real fast. All I needed to do was look at Courtney and Genevieve together.

Sisters hanging out.

Sisters hanging out.

One year becomes fifteen in a heartbeat, it seems. I know that’s not true. A lot has happened in fifteen years. My life changed, and changed again, and changed at least three more times. The lives of those around me also changed. The world has changed. Fifteen years ago as I write this, I would’ve been using my first computer, a gift from my parents. It wasn’t connected to the Internet just yet, and wouldn’t be for another month or two. And when it was finally connected, it was with America Online, dial-up. Now I sit at my fourth computer, a notebook computer, typing on a blog via wireless broadband. That’s but one change.

So to see that the baby is already one is a little disconcerting. There will be lots of adventures in her future. Lots of firsts. I look forward to them, and I fear them. But I mostly look forward to them. Just as I look forward to the firsts that my teenager still has to encounter, as my wife will encounter, as I will encounter.

There Will Be No Stacking, or The Baby’s 1st Decree

Last week Pamela and I were sitting on the floor watching Genevieve play. In case you’re slow on the uptake, Genevieve is the baby, not the teenager (who is named Courtney). The teenager was at her mom’s house. As I sat there, I’d stack some blocks up and Pamela would put the Fisher-Price rings on the stand. The baby would roll (she seems to be bypassing crawling, like her sister did) to one of our nice new stacks and knock it over. Take the rings from their stand and then roll away, destruction in her wake. It was then that we realized that she’d silently decreed that There Will Be No Stacking.

Now we run into trouble. Because what’s stacking? To you and I, rational adults, stacking is placing one thing on top of the other:

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A stack.

But we’re not dealing with a rational adult, oh no. This is a very smart, but very rascally, baby. So to her, not only is this a stack:

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And this:

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And this, and this:

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But so is this:

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And this:

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And even this:

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Now, granted, that last is kind of a stack. I mean, the bottles, stupidphone, remote controls, and glass bowl are all on the coffee table which makes it kind of stacking. I think it would be admissible in court should we ever have to sue her for damages. What really worries me is what happens when she starts walking next week?

But, Bill, I hear you say to your smartphone, tablet, or (ha!) computer screen. How, pray tell, can you know that she’ll be walking next week?

Because she’s just like that. Last Friday (July 12th), she couldn’t sit up without help. By Monday she was sitting up like a pro. And pulling herself up on the side of her playpen. I also know that she’ll be walking next week because her mother and I aren’t ready for it. Look at that last picture. Besides the stupidphone, bottles, remote controls, glass coasters, and expensive glass bowl, you can see: a couch with lots of cushions; an end table with another glass bowl, the baby monitor, a picture of Courtney, and a lamp; and a plant on (out of frame) a stone pedestal that could easily cause damage to anyone it falls on. Never mind the TV, the drawers, everything on the floor (technically, stacked on the Earth)(and she’s strong), the building we live in…. Where will it end?

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It’s blurry because she’s quick. Gone! Just like that.

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Not happy with just knocking the blocks down, she decided to eat/make-out with a plastic frog. Will she know any bounds?!

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Well…I guess that stack isn’t so bad to knock down.

The decree has been issued, the law laid. There will be no stacking. Of anything. For a long, long time.

Sniffle, Grumble, Kvetch

I have a cold. I’d somehow managed to mostly avoid one this year but, alas, I was found. There were a couple of close calls, but they were averted by Airborne, the magic bubbly stuff that keeps my nose clear and my head clearer. This time, maybe it was too little too late. And now….

Yeah, yeah, I know. Waaah! Widdoo baby has a cowd! Waaaahh!

Well, that’s the problem. I think the baby gave it to me. Her and I are going to have to have a talk. Or maybe it was the teenager, who may have given the baby a cold. If I were smarter, I’d try to trace it back. Or if I cared more.

Anyway, this is what happens when I’m sick. I sit around and kvetch. Still, I worked on the latest Nightmare In Gautham installment (look for it Thursday!). And I may even do some line-editing for the next chapter of the novel. We’re nearly at the halfway point of the story and there’s still plenty of rewriting/revising left. I’m hoping to have this draft done by summer. I think this is realistic and not just me trying to trick myself as has happened in the past. The main reason is that I’ve finally been able to keep a regular schedule. This has gone on for about a month-and-a-half.

That’s really the secret, I think. Which I’d learned many, many years ago, but going back to school, a marriage dissolving, a new job, dating, taking care of a child whom your super worried about because of separation and divorce, meeting someone, falling in love, getting your heart broken, meeting someone else, getting your heart broken again, meeting someone, snap goes the heart times three or four, breaking other people’s hearts, starting a new career, and meeting someone, falling in love, moving in, and getting married all sort of made me lose track.

That’s all right now, because just like what happened in 1998, when my teenager was born, the new baby has afforded me the opportunity to get back on schedule. I’m not sure why. So I try to get in here at 9 PM, though some nights I’m in here at 10, and I work until around 11 (unless the baby wakes up…). And so far, so good.

But tonight…ugh…sinus headache and some weird sludge dripping from my nose.

So maybe the novel will wait until tomorrow. Maybe tonight I’ll read until I give the baby her 11 o’clock feeding.

Or maybe not…

The Happiness My Girls Bring Me

I’d done this before.

The first time was fifteen years ago, when I was twenty. Back then, things were different. The idea of my having a child was hilarious, terrifying, and exciting at the same time. I didn’t know that I would soon leave college to take care of the baby and to pursue a writing career, something that I thought would take off if only I could sell my first story. My girlfriend, nineteen, lay on the table. We looked at the screen in the small room in a house that had been turned into the ultrasound office. We needed to know the sex of the baby. We were poor, to put it mildly. We wanted to know what we were having so we could plan. Even then I suspected my relationship with my girlfriend wouldn’t last, but upon seeing the baby on the monitor, I knew the love I felt for my daughter, Courtney, would always remain.

A few days ago, I found myself in a different small room. The woman lying on the table was my wife Pamela. I didn’t know she existed fifteen years ago, nor did she know I existed. Things are different. I’m thirty-four (with a -five waiting for me in August). I have a career now, two, actually. I like to say that by day, I’m a high school teacher, by night, I’m a writer. It doesn’t exactly work that way but it’s close enough. My first publication, a short story called “Icarus Falling” is thirteen years behind me. It didn’t light up my fledgling writing career. Actually, few people even noticed. My writing career wouldn’t really begin until 2003 with my fifth published short story, a little diddy called “The Growth of Alan Ashley.” I still like “Icarus Falling.” I still love “The Growth of Alan Ashley.” I’ve been teaching for five years and have been publishing for thirteen. I have three books under my belt, one of them dedicated to my daughter Courtney. Her mother and I were married in 2000. We were separated by 2004 and divorced a year later. We were still in high school when we started dating. It happens. We’re a cliché. I met Pamela in January 2007. Somehow, it’s worked better than I could ever have imagined.

As I stood near Pamela looking at the new baby on the screen, my heart melted, just as it had the day before when I watched my fourteen-year-old go up to get trophies at a bowling banquet. The ultrasound lady asked me and Pamela if we wanted to know the sex. We looked at each other with dopey grins. “Yes,” we said.

“It’s a girl.”

I’ve heard those words before. It brought joyful tears fifteen years ago and it brought joyful tears the other day.

This is Pamela’s first child. I’m happy to be the one who gets to share this with her. I’m happy I have Courtney to share this with, too. It’s strange. For a long time, I didn’t think I’d ever have another child. For a long time I didn’t want one. Courtney is beautiful, intelligent, funny, and truly someone I adore and admire. I have done–and will continue to do–the best job possible for her. Now to know that there will be another young woman who I can be there for, to retell stories, to share first times with, is amazing to me. How’d I get here?

This is great. This is wonderful. I’ll always find something to bitch about in this life, but I’ll also always relish in the happiness my girls bring me.

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