Archive for May 2017

“Great!”

May 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 29, 2017

                                               

I get asked the question numerous times each day.

“How are you?”

I’ve come to the point that I usually give a one word reply.

“Great!”

When I’m at school it is the response I ALWAYS give! Not hokey, or inauthentic, but truthful…I’ve come to the point that I realize that I’m doing great! Not “am great”, like a star strutting down the sidewalk like a peacock, but rather living life one day at a time and doing great! In a middle school environment giving that one word response takes the conversation in a positive direction. At the end of the school year when I was encountering tired teachers, unmotivated students, and overloaded administrators one unexpected word perhaps planted a seed of pondering about attitude and the possibilities of a new day.

I use that one word response because I seem to encounter a lot of people who are “Woe be me’s!”, or seem to be apathetic about this life we are blessed to live. That’s not intended to be a knock against them. Many people are in the midst of life situations that are difficult and heartbreaking. One student I had last week was telling me about a couple of life situations he is in the midst of. Not momentary bumps in the road of life, but rather ongoing circumstances that he has no control over involving family dynamics. I listened to his wearied words, but also conveyed in my teaching and storytelling a delight for being present with him and his classmates.

Even in the down times I know that I’m blessed and, more importantly, loved. And so I give the one word response to a question asked half-heartedly.

“Great!”

A couple of weeks ago I asked one of the 8th grade classes to share one thing about that maybe no one else there knew about.  One beautiful young lady responded, “I’m often depressed and feel lonely.”  I thanked her for sharing, and in the last two weeks of school I sought to subtly share the joyful side of life.  I caused a few smiles and grins to emerge on her face. Nothing earth-shattering, but perhaps she caught a sense that life can be more than dreariness and dreadfulness.

And lastly, why is life great for me? Well…today I’ll have three grandkids jumping on me. Tonight I’ll take a walk with my wife. This afternoon I’ll get to talk to my dad on the phone…just three weeks away from his 89th birthday.

And when my dad, who has a frequent flyer membership to his local hospital asks me how I am I’ll be able to respond from the depths of my soul…

“Great!”

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017

                               

Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.

Password Overload

May 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 27, 2017

                                   

My life is saturated with passwords!

I’d much rather return to the days of Password…the TV game show, hosted by Allen Ludden. My family had the boxed game as well, and we pretended we were perceptive contestants who could figure out the hidden word associated to any clue.

But now my life is overrun with passwords for everything! Our cable went out this week. To reboot the system the TV was asking for a password! When Carol and I had a 12 inch black-and-white we didn’t need a password! Of course, we only received three fuzzy channels, but seriously!…a TV password!!

For the past year I’ve been driving over to the Sprint store each month to pay my bill because I couldn’t remember what my passcode was. At the store all I have to remember is to bring my credit card, and my phone number. (Side note! I think Sprint looks to put the person with the least amount of personality at the store entrance to make you want to leave!) Last night I went to Target to buy a new cell phone. (Second Side Note! The Target Tech guy was awesome!) Through the meeting of the minds, like a high school quiz bowl team, the Target tech person, Carol, and I were able to figure out what my Sprint password is…and then I had to figure out a new six digit passcode for my new phone since my old one was only four digits! Conquer one password, and add a new passcode…the mountain of remembered info just keeps getting higher!

As a substitute teacher I had to remember an ID number and a password. Whenever a call came to be sub for someone I had to enter my ID number and then the password. The problem was that I subbed in two school systems, and the calls would come at any time. If it was early morning I had the info right beside my bed, but if I was at basketball practice I HAD TO REMEMBER THE PASSWORD!

I have a passcode for my debit card and another one for my online banking, and a passcode for my garage door opener. I have a passcode for my satellite radio, and a password for AOL. I  had a password for my basketball officiating web site and another one for the pay site called “RefPay.” I have an ID number and password for United Airlines, and another one for Travelocity, and another one for Southwest Airlines…for Pete’s sake!

My list of passwords is like remembering the full names of each of the U.S. Presidents, and then trying to put them in order! “Okay, was it James K. Polk and then John Tyler…or was it William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and then James K. Polk…or was it Tyler, Harrison, Polk?”

I told Carol that I’m going to make a list of passwords and passcode and put them in our deposit box, but that also means that I have to figure out where I put the key for the security deposit box!

Bottom line, it seems that I’m having to remember a lot more these days. It used to be that our password would be the name of our cat, but we’ve had so many cats that I can’t remember which one of them we memoralized into a password. How can I remember what my Firestone Credit Card password is if I can’t even remember what I had for lunch today?

Adventures of a Substitute Teacher: Keeping Control the Last Day of School

May 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             May 25, 2017

       

Today is the last day of another school year. Well, actually…most of the eighth graders’ last day was a couple of weeks ago! They checked out about the time “May” appeared on the calendar.

Today I’m substituting in the afternoon for a teacher friend of mine who is attending her daughter’s fifth grade graduation ceremony. So…what would be practical bits of wisdom to have written on my hand for the last day of school. Here’s what I’ve come up with!

1) Don’t let anyone get killed! Keep an eye on the school roof. Don’t let anyone jump from there just because they wore their Superman t-shirt. Also, if someone has been noticeably uncoordinated the whole school year playing “Frogger” across the street in front of the school most likely will end up badly!

2) Use your common sense. If something that is being done may very well end up with a police report being filed…that’s probably not good! Remember! “Common Sense” is a middle school elective that most students choose not to take. They prefer woodworking with sharp objects and piercing tools instead.

3) Stay with at least two other teachers during the last hour when most of the school is outside. Like packs of wolves, students will look for “lone teachers” to pick on. It’s their nature! In case you as a teacher get separated make sure you have plenty of candy in your pockets. Throw the candy away from you while shouting “Candy!”…and run in the opposite direction!

4) When the final bell sounds…get to the side of the hallway or into a classroom. The running of the bulls is about to happen. If you feel brave run in front of them, but just remember…another stampede is coming from the opposite direction and you most likely will be the meat in the bun!

5) Expect the emotional! There will be the students who will say that they will miss you greatly…wish that you could come to high school with them…want to visit you this summer…tell you that you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had…that you have inspired them to become teachers…and all kinds of other nice comments. Simply nod your head in acknowledgement and give high fives. The students you truthfully inspired have been known to you for a long time. They are the ones who never have to look at their cell phones the whole class period.

6) Understand that some of these students will be sitting across the table from you in less than twenty years as the parents at parent-teacher conferences! As your body shudders uncontrollably…remember the same thing was true for you…back in the day! Miracles still happen, just as they did long ago with you!

7) When you get in your car immediately lock the doors! Students like to pretend they are zombies!

Aging Parents From Five States Away

May 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             May 21, 2017

                      

My dad turns 89 on June 18! Unfortunately, on May 18 he was a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia! He will continue to be there for two or three more days as he deals with a heart situation and limited strength.

And I am five states and two time zones away…in Colorado! My sister, nominated by me for sainthood, lives close by and keeps watch over Pops. I am so thankful for her tireless efforts to make sure he is okay. She has her own younger family generations to keep watch over, including seven grandkids, but she always finds the time to check in on Dad.

The assuredness of her on-site supervision gives me some degree of peace, but not totally. I’m experiencing what so many adult children are going through…living a long distance from their elderly parents. Some families move mom or dad, or both, close to where they live. Sometimes that works, but often it’s the worst solution. To move Mom or Dad away from where their peers live is usually emotionally and socially damaging.

Having my sister two miles away from Dad, and my brother about a three hour drive away, means I don’t have to worry about moving Dad to high-elevation Colorado. That thankful solution, however, does not eliminate the sense of helplessness. Carol and I will be flying back to Ohio in just about three weeks- being there for his 89th!- but each day of separation from my father includes an ongoing element of emotional anxiety. A question wraps itself around my mind: Is he okay today?

There was a time when we wanted distance from our parents. They were impeding our independence. They would ask us embarrassing questions in front of our friends, like “When are you going to be home?” We didn’t want to hear any more of their questions. In our opinion, they didn’t know anything! They were old-fashioned and not understanding of the times. Many of us went through that phase. We wanted to go away to college…so they wouldn’t see some of the things we wanted to do!

But then we hit the mid-twenties and had kids! And suddenly we had the questions and we needed them for answers as we entered the new territory of parenthood. The public library had books on parenting, but nothing came even close to the wisdom of our parents. They counseled us through those “life lab” situations.

Like a light switch we’ve flipped back and forth with our parents as life circumstances have changed, from dependent to independent to dependent to independent…

Perhaps at this time in my dad’s life, in a strange way, I’m even more dependent on him. He is the solution to my helplessness. My emotional wellness is dependent on knowing he is okay and cared for. That comes from the memories of experiences. Dad taught me how to ride a bicycle and a few years later how to drive. He taught me how to mow the lawn and how to tie a neck tie. He became my mom’s caregiver as she struggled with health problems. He modeled a walk with Christ, taught Sunday School for years and was, and is, a deacon.

It does something to you when you go to the cemetery with one of your parents, see where the other parent has already been laid to rest, and see the name of the one still standing beside you already on the grave marker. It hits you deep in your soul that these days with him are precious and few in number.

In reflection, I am thankful for these feelings I have of helplessness. They are the dividends of relational investment.

Adventure of a Middle School Substitute Teacher: Opt Out Class

May 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 20, 2017

          

It was a full week! Monday to Friday…start to finish…six classes each day inhabited by a hodgepodge of students who were seeing the end of the school year in sight. Such vision causes some students to do weird and unintelligent things that usually have negative repercussions attached to them. Such as saying something inappropriate and being added to my class list!

Oh…my class…yes, that thing! I’ve been teaching the Opt Out class of middle school sex education. When they asked me to teach that class I thought to myself, “That must mean the class on abstinence!” Wrong!!!!

The Opt Out class is for those students who have decided not to take the sex education curriculum that is state-mandated for the school to teach. Probably more accurate, it is the class that the parents of some students have decided their child would not be a part of. Back to the inappropriate comments, I had a few eighth grade students, who had made crude or insensitive remarks in the sex education class, suddenly get ushered into my class.

In all I have about forty-five students in the six classes: 20 eighth, 16 seventh, and 9 sixth graders. We’ve made it past the “weirdness” feeling, of knowing that 90%+ of their classmates are in a different class that they aren’t participating in. For some of the students, mostly the eighth graders, there is a slight stigma attached to it. Almost all of them think about sex almost as much as they use their cell phones. You can even see the “posturing” in the class to look appealing, cool, or manly.

Strange as it may sound, I’ve enjoyed being the classroom teacher, not so much for the content- 6th Grade has been studying erosion, 7th Grade the ecosystem, and 8th Grade electricity- but for the ongoing relationships with the students. As the week has gone on I’ve  discovered things about them and they’ve discovered things about me. Interestingly the last eighth grade class…my last class of the day…has become increasingly interested in who I am. They’ve met Carol, who has been subbing with the special needs students, and asked me questions about family, my kindergarten granddaughter, and how I like coaching middle school kids in football and basketball? In return this last group has felt safe sharing some personal information with me about life struggles, life situations and interests.

Sixth graders are funny! They say things that make no sense, and then giggle with glee.

EX: If rabbits had wings they wouldn’t have to hop across our street! What would you do, Mr. Wolfe, if I tied your shoe strings together right now? I wish my skateboard had an engine. That would be cool!”

     Sixth graders, working on individual assignments in the same classroom, have random thoughts and conversations that are totally unconnected…and they are totally engaged in the journey together as they travel from one topical state to the next. The teacher is more of the lead cowboy in front of the herd.

Seventh graders are more likely to question one another about the ludicrous nature of a statement. Seventh graders have more, what I call, “squirrel moments”, where they will become instantly distracted from what is being talked about by something else in their peripheral vision. The teacher is like the cowboy riding behind the herd, keeping stragglers from getting lost or straying off.

The teacher of eighth graders is standing outside the corral, looking to simply keep the thoroughbreds and ponies corralled.

My Opt Out assignment goes through next Wednesday, and then, quite frankly, I’ll miss the characters of the classroom. Call me strange! That reminds me…squirrel!!…I rented the movie “Dr. Strange.” It must be about a middle school substitute teacher!

Married To A Mom

May 14, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W                                                             May 14, 2017

                               

My wife Carol gets described in an assortment of ways. I was talking to a middle school teacher on Friday and I mentioned that I was married to Carol who works with the special needs students. The teacher’s first question was, “Is she kind of short?” When I said yes, she replied, “Ohhh…she is so nice!”

Our youngest daughter would come to me a few times over the years when Carol was in the midst of a situation that was raising her blood pressure and she would warn me, “Mom is about to go Italian!” Her maiden name was Faletti, and sometimes the “excited exuberance” of her father’s ethnic roots would rise to the surface. (Did you notice how I said that in a complimentary kind of way?)

But Carol has been a mom to a number of kids that aren’t related to us. Last year our grandson’s soccer coach presented her with a tee shirt at the end of their season with the team logo on the front…and “Number One Fan” emblazoned on the back.

Even though our kids have long since graduated, she attends Liberty High School athletic contests on a regular basis…basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, swimming, football, JV contests, lacrosse…it matters not! From time to time she will even put her “Lancer Lunatic” shirt on that the students also wear.

When I went to coach at a different high school she adopted those players as some of her own. She prepared the fixings for the team dinner at our house, and chuckled from outside the circle as the players played “Mr. Boodle.”

Carol’s motherly nature, however, comes out as she helps students with special needs. A graduate from Texas Christian University, this Horned Frog got her degree in deaf education and taught preschool deaf kids for a few years before we got married. In recent years she has worked as a para-professional with the students at Timberview Middle School. If you are not familiar with the position, it takes a great amount of patience and energy. It also takes love and compassion. It takes putting the needs of the autistic student above your own. It takes the willingness to be sneezed on, change the diapers of twelve year olds, deal with parents who are rightfully very sensitive about their special children, having your hair pulled, being punched or pinched, and often not being considered part of the educational process by the administrators and teachers they rub elbows with.

But Carol’s motherly nature comes out as she walks down the hallway with the child who just needs someone to come alongside her. She is her advocate and protector as self-absorbed 8th Graders threaten to topple her over. When Carol comes home at the end of a school day she’s spent!

For years she was the Children’s Church leader at my last church pastorate. Kids would share their heart-felt burdens with her, as well as other problems. A typical Sunday might include everything from “My Granddad is really really sick and in the hospital” to “Pray for my dress, because I got peanut butter on it and my mom is going to be really really mad!” Carol listened with empathy and understanding. Many in the church never knew what a gift she was. They were just glad they weren’t being asked to do kid’s church! Since I retired almost a year and a half ago, I’m pretty sure…she misses those times of children gathering together in worship.

She is a mom to three grown children and “Grammy” to three grandchildren, and she is “Mom” to countless others who have passed through our home, her classroom, or even walked down our street.

She is a mom. It is what she is comfortable with. It is who she is!