Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Small Packages

This Christmas, under the glimmer of my tree lights, I find a new sight to see - a new gift to me.

My infant son.

Thomas Jonah, my sweet T.J, came early to us on November 10th of this year.

And there is something about this baby boy - this tiny little bundle at Christmastime - that has completely eroded my way of thinking about this time of year.

I've pondered a lot on Mary.  On carrying wintertime infants.  On babies.

I've thought on the reason we celebrate this Christmas season - our Jesus.

He came as a baby.

As I've fed my baby, changed my baby, and tended for his basic (and his every little) need, my mind has pondered the oddity of Christmas.

See, T.J. is completely - utterly and hopelessly - dependent on me in this moment of his life.

My God could have come to this earth as a full-grown, fully established man.

He came as a baby.

It's almost an implausible thought.  The God of the Universe - Holy of Holies - came down to this earth to save mankind in the form of a baby.

All God, all man. World changer, history maker.  He came into this world just as we all do - robed in the flesh of an infant.

Perhaps my mind is addled by postpartum cobwebs, but I can barely comprehend the thought of  helpless deity.  And yet, I'm so thankful for that baby.  For that Mary, who tended her Father and her Child.  For the fact that God knows and understands us, because He too was human, and He walked among mankind.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

In a culture so enamored with bigger and better, let us remember the Greatest Gift this season - and be overwhelmed with thankfulness -  for small packages.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Right Now (A reminder for those of us going back into the classroom)

An end-of-the-year note from a student.
This is a hard time of year for teachers. Transitioning back into a new school year and a new routine can be so very difficult. I've shared my burden on being on being a teacher mama before. But now, for a moment, I'd like for all of us teachers to think about our new students out there.

Our students are just names and roster identification numbers to us at the moment.  But each student we teach this upcoming school year will become a little part of hearts and our teaching experience. 

Let's think for a minute about the myriad of students coming to our schools.

Right now there's a student out there who will simply make your day better.  He/she will clean your room, run your errands, and do whatever you ask...just because this student likes you wants you to like him/her in return.

Right now there's a student out there who is excited about coming back to school, because coming back to school means a full belly.  

Right now there's a student sitting at home -wanting to stay lazy and apathetic.  Your inspiration can stir him/her out of apathy.

Right now, there's a student out there who will come into your classroom dirty.  This child may not fit in.   Show love.

Right now there's a student out there who cannot read.  You have the power to give this child an extraordinary gift.

Right now there's a student (or two...or three) who will be the proverbial thorn in your side.  While we cannot control what our students do, we can control how we respond.  Shock this student with your patience and kindness.

Right now there's a student out there who will lose a loved one this year. Be a shoulder this child can cry on - a person they can seek in distress.

Right now there's a student out there who - for some reason - will not get it.  This student will be easy to brush to the side.  Never, ever give up.

Right now there's a student out there who hates your subject with a passion.  By the end of the year, his/her whole perspective will change because of you.  Open eyes.

Right now there's a student with a "helicopter parent" who will drive you up the wall.  Choose to accommodate, and choose to remember that customer service is a part of your job.  You will find yourself appreciated.

Right now there's a student who is in the middle of life change.  Divorce, a new parent, a new brother or sister  - so many changes happen in the lives of students.  Be a constant in the chaos.

Right now there are students out there who dread school because school means mental or physical torture from bullies.  Seek these students out.  Be their advocate.

Right now there's a student whose only daily peace comes from a one-hour bus ride.   Be a light in a dark life.

Right now there is a student out there who wants to be a teacher because you will be his or her teacher. 

So, in the right now - before everything starts up - before the summertime blues hit - think about our students, our kids.  The children who are on their way into our classrooms.

Right now, think about how your compassion can pour life change into empty vessels.

We are purveyors of knowledge, sure - but we are also entrusted to take care of someone else's child for a short season.  Let us not squander this opportunity.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I'm (most decidedly) NOT lovin' it.

I'm sure you remember Princess Peach in all of her decapitated glory.

Amelia still loves Mario Kart - and loves to "play race cars" with her Daddy. 

As it turns out, McDonalds has Mario Kart Happy Meal toys.  Featuring Princess Peach.  And this Princess Peach looks much more sturdy than her weak-necked counterpart that we purchased haphazardly at a Barnes and Noble.  (Say what you want, I have a whole old toy box of McDonald's toys that my mom gave to me, and they're still in great condition.)

Cheap McDonald's Mario Kart Princess?  Sounds good, right?

Oh, heavens.

I found out about these toys one day after eating a Thai lunch, when I stopped to pick up lunch for Jeremy. 

"Do you have the Princess Mario Kart toy?" I asked the lady taking my order.

"Yes, we do," she replied.


I ordered my Happy Meal and was excited about a new princess for Amelia.  When I got the little red box of happiness, I quickly opened it to make sure I had the right toy.  I spilled all seven fries in the fry box beside the seat of my Honda Accord (which I'm sure made it sigh and think, "not again, lady").  I pulled out the toy - Luigi on a race car.

Luigi?  Yeah, he's not the princess.

"Can I get a Princess toy, please?"  I asked.

Apparently, I didn't realize the ambiguity surrounding my question.  The lady smiled, nodded, and went to the little box of toys.  She came back  - with a Beanie Baby.

A Beanie Baby?  Yeah, not the princess.

At this point, I just decided to pull on through and park.  Unfortunately, I angered an elderly gentlemen trying to leave, because apparently the drive-through parking spots at this particular McDonalds BLOCK PEOPLE TRYING TO LEAVE.  I moved my car to a more cooperative spot and gave the man my apologies.

I went into the store and cursed myself for being this involved in the whereabouts of a Happy Meal toy.  I found a manager and politely asked him to exchange my Beanie Baby elephant for a Princess Mario Kart toy.

"Oh, I'm sorry - we don't have the Princess," he replied.

You can imagine my anger at this point. 

Despite this, it wasn't the manager's fault.  I smiled, said thank you, and walked out before I opened my mouth again.

Today, when one of my friends mentioned that she was at McDonald's, I asked her if they had the Princess Mario Kart toy.  She sent her son to ask - and lo and behold, they did.

I called my Mom.  Since she was getting off work and this McDonald's was on her way home, I asked her to swing by and get the Princess (and maybe a sweet tea).

After assuring me that this princess would be her gift to Amelia and not mine, she headed to McDonalds.

I got a call back about ten minutes later.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so mad."  Mom said.

"What happened?" I asked.

(And I paraphrase --)

"Well, I went to the drive-through window, and I said, before I said anything else, 'Do you have the Princess Mario Kart Happy Meal toy?' and they told me 'yes.'  I bet I asked them three times to make sure.  I get to the window, and I have a Beanie Baby!  I told them, 'I don't want this Beanie Baby - I want the Princess Mario Kart toy!'  So then, they said, 'We don't have it.'"

"They did the same thing to me!" I said.

Mom, however, is a little more feisty than I am.

"I told them, 'You SAID you had it.  I asked the person who took my order and they said that they had the princess.  I PAID for this meal I'm not going to eat!'  So then, the guy brings me the bag of Mario Kart toys - and it's some dumb monkey and a dragon, so I got the dragon."

"Oh, the dragon - that's Yoshi.  Amelia likes him, too."

"Yeah, isn't the princess.  Why do you tell people you have something when you don't have it?  And I paid for that thing!"

And there, folks, lies the whole crux of this rambling, pregnancy-hormone-induced blog entry.

Why tell someone you have a product when you clearly don't have it?

This ranks among one of my worst McDonald's experiences (number one being the time the girl lost her hoop earring in the vat of ketchup packets and spent five minutes searching for her earring before she took my order --- but I digress).  Being lied to is not a favorite past time of mine.  Plus, I still don't have a princess.  This isn't Elsa, for Pete's sake.

Just help me out a little, Golden Arches.  A little customer service truly goes a long way. 

Oh, and by the way?  Yoshi's cute.  But he's NOT the princess.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Eudene Done Bought a Malibu

About ten years ago, I married Jeremy (yes, it's really been that long...I'm getting old.  Hush).

When that happened, we began "the merge."

We merged bills, bank accounts, car payments - and of course, cell phone plans.

I hopped on his AT&T  mobile account and got a new number.

About a month after I obtained my my new cell phone number, I started getting calls from Annie.

For Eudene.

I always missed the calls - they would happen during school or when I was asleep- but Annie always left a voicemail.

"Eudene?!  Eudene?!  This is Annie.  You gonna pick me up to take be to the beauty salon?"

"Eudene!  Eudene!  Call me back - I gotta tell you what Sally did at church!"

"Eudene - I keep calling you!  Why aren't you callin' me back?"

"Eudene - I know it's too late for us chickens - but I just had to tell you about what happened this week...."

Annie was amusing for a while, but one day I felt bad for the poor lady because she could never reach her friend.  I finally picked up the phone one day.

"Hello, ma'am -  which number are you trying to reach?"

"Oh, Eudene!  Eudene, is that you?"

"No ma'am  --- this isn't Eudene.  Which number are you trying to reach?"

Annie rattled off my number - just with a different area code.  


After Annie figured out that she was dialing the wrong area code, she only called me by accident every now and then.   Eventually, the calls for Eudene stopped. 

Then, a few weeks ago, I started receiving calls from Rick Hendricks Chevrolet.

I found it odd, but I figured the Cheverolet place just dialed a wrong number and would correct their mistake.


The calls just kept on a-comin'.   Did I like my Malibu?  Was I pleased with my purchase? Would I like to take a survey?  Could I please pick up the phone the next time the survey company called?  Customer service mattered - was I pleased?  Knowing this information was apparently of dire importance.

Finally, one of the voicemails left a telling, sobering truth:

"Yes, this call is  for Eudene [last name deleted to protect the innocent]!  Miss Eudene, we were just calling to see how you are enjoying your brand new Chevy Malibu!  Please let us know how things are going in your new car!"


Eudene done bought a Malibu.

So, for the past week, I've received endless calls and voicemails about a Chevy Malibu that doesn't belong to me.  They've been difficult to intercept since I've been at school, so a couple of days ago I lunged for the hands of destiny and grabbed them violently.  It was time to do what every red-blooded American girl would do in such a situation.

"Rick Hendricks Chevrolet!"

"Yes, this is Dana Farr. Did you recently sell a brand new Chevy Malibu to a lady named Eudene?"


"Her name is Eudene [last name deleted to protect the innocent].  She gave you my number instead of her number. She gave you the wrong area code.   I've been getting her calls for years."

"Oh, wow.  Really?  What's your number?"

I told the nice receptionist.

"Oh, my goodness.  Yes, I have two area codes down for this number.  Would you like me to change this to 706?  I am so sorry about that!"

For some reason, at that moment, I drove past a little old lady in a Malibu.  I pictured Eudene, in all of her Chevrolet-embossed glory, grey hair flappin' in the wind, and laughing hysterically about this little hiccup.

I bet she can't wait to tell Annie about her new Malibu.

In the meantime, let's hope Eudene doesn't start applying for jobs at Waffle House.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Road Leads Back to You

Georgia is my home.  My state.

Its peach-scented Augusts run in my very blood.

I have the great privilege of teaching this state's history to schoolchildren, and I love it.  Sometimes, when I get in a random kid from California - from South Carolina - from El Salvador - from Delaware - I get the privilege of explaining why Georgia matters.

Her history is often broken and devastating - fragmented and peppered with stories of heart-wrenching loss.  Georgia has her nightmares written in history books - stories of Leo Frank, stories of Native American removal, stories of slavery and blatant and terrible racism.  Stories of Tom Watson, Eugene Talmadge, and the 1906 Race Riots.  Our story is definitely far from perfect.

And yet, there is an alluring draw to the redemption in our state.  For a state full of racism, we are also the home to one of the world's greatest civil rights activists -  Martin Luther King.  For every story about our backwards refusal to grow, there is a Maynard Jackson, who made our airport world-class.  For every racist governor, I find a Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter willing to buck the status quo. 

See, what I explain to my students who come from other places is this:  when you come here, you are part of Georgia's story.  Her spirit.  Her resilience to overcome.

Atlanta recently went through a snowstorm that had epic ramifications.  While a few wily Northerners scoffed at Atlanta's two inches of snow, our roads turned into a sheet of ice.  Suddenly, a city full of urban sprawl (with only a few major ways in and out) became gridlocked in hours.

While I could use this platform to point fingers, throw blame, and give my ideas to make things better, I'd like to talk about what really matters.  People in Atlanta took each other in, helped each other, and even used facebook and social media to keep each other's spirits alive.  The stories coming out of the storm are full of hope and life.  Stores took in patrons to spend the night, good Samaritans fed stranded motorists, people brought snacks to bus-ridden school children, teachers turned a nightmare into the best lock-in ever - these are just a few examples of how Atlanta persevered.

When Atlanta's transportation heart froze, her people kept her love beating - and moved into action.

Atlanta's motto - Resurgens - means "from the ashes."  This was a city annihilated by Sherman.  This was a city that could have evaporated after a war nearly tore the nation apart.  But it survived, then thrived.  It endured a terrible racist time period, but then emerged as a hallmark city - a "city too busy to hate."

Atlanta, Georgia's great industrial center and life-giver, will learn from this and get better.  You see, I will forever ignore the remarks of those who scoff at her weakness, because I know her story.

There are few cities stronger than Atlanta, and she has overcome too much to let ice (and even traffic) overwhelm her.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Rejected Age. The Redemption Age.

If you know me or anything about me, you know that I teach 8th graders for a living.

One of the things you may not know about my job is how many negative things I hear about my job from other people.

When I go out into the public world and I'm asked about my job, I usually hear the following myriad of responses:

"Oh my goodness, don't you want to teach high school?"

"Ugh.  I'm sorry. How do you do that?"

"Good for you.  You couldn't pay me enough money to do that!"

"Oh, wow - your life must be so stressful!"

"Do you hate it?  I bet you hate it."

These come from everywhere - people from all stations of life.

I used to just be polite and give a nonchalant answer, but I've decided that passivity is insipid.  I've decided to counter these generalizations and assumptions with logic.

So, the last time I was faced with the comment, I floored the salesperson by saying, 'Actually, I love what I do. I love my kids.  8th graders are amazing."

And they are.

I actually read an article a few weeks ago where the author said he couldn't think of anything worse than being a middle school teacher - that it would have to be the worst job on the planet.

I feel sorry for that writer and his ignorance.

Middle school is a terrible time in life for so many kids - and I was once one of those kids, so I speak from experience.  Things change, bodies grow.  Life is convoluted mess of friendships, emotions, and new academic pressure.  Insecurities run rampant.  Growing up and facing reality becomes inevitable.

It is also one of the most crossroads-driven times of life - many kids decide in 8th grade if they really want to take school seriously for the rest of their academic career.  It's the time when many of them begin to sink or swim. 

Middle school is a nexus of life - between full-fledged young adulthood and just being a kid.  I find it heartbreaking that some people look upon what I do - and these kids - with pity and with disdain.  These kids, quite frankly, need us.

I teach a critical age.  Is it a tough job?  You betcha.  Are there hard days?  Yes.  But I wish I had an 8th grade teacher that loved 8th grade me.  I wish I had an 8th grade teacher that invested in 8th grade me.  Don't you wish for the same?  Don't you wish that there would have been something in your adolencent life that would have made it easier?  That gave you hope?

I want that for my students.

Middle school kids are not easy, but they are so full of life, hope, and laughter.  They've still got just enough kid in them to embrace a little silliness, and yet, they're starting to explore social norms.  But here's what I've found:  if you can get them to laugh, you've won them over.  If you can get them interested, you can light them up.  If you talk to them instead of yelling at them, you can get some honest, breathtaking truth.

So don't feel sorry for me.  My job isn't easy. And no, it isn't for everyone.

But  in the past few years I've experienced seeing some of my former 8th graders grow into riveting, responsible adults.   I look back at these lives that defy poverty and comprehension -- and I thank God for being amazing.

Those, my friends, are the rewards of my job  - a job that is anything but terrible.