I Live In A Van Down By The River

Just call me Matt Foley.  If you have no idea who he is or why it’s funny, come out from underneath that rock and check it out.  Click here to view a Saturday Night Live masterpiece. You surely will not regret it.  

And then check these.  These are my boys, then ages 3 and 5, turning up their very best preschool impressions of the hilarious Chris Farley character.  And yeah, we let them watch the skit when they were tiny.  Because we were terrible parents.  Or maybe awesome parents–depends who you ask, I suppose.

Matt Foley is the world’s least successful motivational speaker.  Well, maybe second least successful.  Probably I win (lose?) that designation.

At the close of our speech-language department’s monthly meetings, I or another of my colleagues end the meeting with what we call Closing Thoughts.  These presentations, not truly “motivational speeches,”  but a short 1-5 minutes in duration, are meant to impart a message of positivity.  Sometimes the messages are hopeful or gushy, some contain sentiments of gratitude or mindfulness, but always the objective is a moment of contemplation about our place in the SLP world.

I’m up for next week Friday’s meeting.  It’s our opening meeting for the year, and this meeting above all others, is long with procedures and policy.  It’s where our speech paths learn what the new mandates are (there are MANY!), and how much more of their time will be co-opted by paperwork and administrative crap over what really matters: speech-language therapy.  No one ever leaves procedural meetings uplifted.  Beaten?  Overwhelmed? Inert?  You betcha!  But not quite enthusiastic.

Being the senior (not in age, but in experience, ahem) program support teacher, I volunteer often for the jobs no one else really wants to do.  I’m no martyr or anything; I just feel at some level responsible for the success of our entire department, and especially for the happiness and contentedness my four office mates, so if I can relieve someone of a stressor or inconvenience, I do try to do that.  I think I’ve developed a pretty good opening message for this year, but revealing it here would be anti-climactic.

Instead, I’ll leave you with how I opened last year, which actually borrowed heavily from a blog post I’d written here, but people seemed to like my talk, so the message bears repeating.  This back to school stuff is killing me.  The shoulder-induced lack of sleep is one thing when you’re just hanging with your children, but when reality forces you to wake long before dawn and be smart on command all day long. . .  #epicfail, y’all.


Familiar with the six word memoir?  The story goes that a magazine editor challenged Ernest Hemingway to write the shortest narrative possible.  He submitted “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”  Six words.  Six words that provided character and conflict, that told a complete story.  A simple Google search returns this version of the tale along with 1.24 million more hits confirming or denying its veracity.  Whatever the truth, SMITH magazine supports a website dedicated to the six word memoir and its role in creative writing and self-reflection.

Last summer, my big kid attended the College for Kids Young Writers’ Academy at UWM.  On the showcase day, audience members, mostly parents and other family members, were invited to participate in a challenge much like the students had been doing all week.  One of the instructors threw down the six word memoir challenge.  I absolutely froze with writer’s block.  Not everyone did, and from the room came a handful of charming mini-bios.  Among my favorites:

I found you; I found me.  (And the “awwwww” went up from the entire audience.)

I am not good at this.  The audience bust out laughing at this young lady’s clever spin.

Life sometimes strides; Life sometimes sucks.  This one also drew laughs from around the room, and I couldn’t have been more surprised at its author:  my son.

Around this same time, I’d just returned from one of my Barenaked Ladies concert road trips.  The refrain I hear often from those around me after I return from another show is, “Don’t you ever get sick of it?”  That, “don’t you ever get sick of it?” would NOT be MY memoir. If I continued to do something that bored me to tears, I wouldn’t continue to do that something.  It’s why I have the ever-changing career I do.  It’s why I do the creative writing project I do.  It’s why I’m a people person, because my brain isn’t wired to be a tasks person.

You want to ride horses or buy your own spray-tan machine?  Cool.  You are captivated by Lularoe leggings or have 34 pairs of Toms shoes?  Good on ya.  Enjoy them!  I won’t judge.  And therein lies the difference–I won’t judge you for spending money and time in ways that make you happy.  I might not get it for me, but I don’t have to.  If you get it for you, it should be enough.

Try as I might, my six word memoir remains unwritten. How does one capture one’s essential self or perception of self?  Including one attribute eliminates space for another. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a friend. I’m a speech-language pathologist.  I dabble in many roles, but star in none. But getting back to my son’s memoir: Why was he, all 5’10″ of twelve-and-a-half years of him, able to crank it out in the allotted time frame and belt it out in a roomful of people?  I wondered, does it accurately reflect how he views the world?  He nailed it–life does sometimes stride, and it most assuredly sucks at others.  It’s profound.  Alternately, it’s middle school shallow.  It is balanced though, right?  Much can be revealed in six words.  Maybe that’s why getting it right matters so.  Have you written your six word memoir?  I can’t do it in six, so here’s seven:


Image found at kikki.k Stationery

As you move forward this year, do more of what makes you happy here in your work as a speech-language pathologist.  If it’s creating cutesy, Pinterest crafty stuff in your therapy activities, do it.  If it’s mentoring students through an activity such as robotics or Girls on the Run, do it.  If it’s developing a laser focus on strategies for working with students with autism or phonology, do it.  If it’s taking a break at lunch time and walking around the block to get your steps in, do that.  Do it even if you get weird looks from your staff.  Do it even if it’s inconvenient or forces you to step out of your comfort zone a little.  Do it even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone but you.  I don’t have to get it for me, but if you get it for you and it makes you happy, that should be enough. You being happy will very likely make you a better, more effective clinician.   So though it’s one word too long for a six word memoir:  Do more of what makes you happy.


After-Conference Cocktails

A funny thing happened after parent-teacher conferences last week.  Upon my return home, I cracked open a malt beverage and basically slammed an alcoholic beverage for the first time since college.  OK, graduate school.  Well, OK and maybe that one time in Mexico, but Mexico is the home of tequila, so tequila is part of the cultural experience, people, so shooting tequila was key to becoming culturally competent, see?  I see you rolling your eyes back there–stop it!  Still.  It’s not my standard operating practice to drink anything with a kick on a Tuesday evening, but I did.  And then another funny thing happened:  I immediately tore into a second Redd’s Apple Ale (I feel like they should probably slip me a Benjamin at the very least for all the free advertising I’m giving them here, right?  Hello??), and pounded that one down nearly as hard and fast as the first.

My husband looked at me and asked, “You gonna keep going?”  I do love this man–for many reasons, and even a little squeeze extra this time because he didn’t ask with even the slightest note of judgment in his voice.  Probably because he was gonna try and get me all drunk and stuff and see what would happen.  But I was all like, it’s 6:45, Honey, and the kids have homework and piano practice and what would happen is sorta inappropriate with the kids moseying around.  (Editor’s note:  I may have projected a bit here.  The actual exchange ended with his for reals non-judgmental query because my husband is a swell guy who loves me and hasn’t tried to get me drunk since before we were married.  I assured him then that I didn’t need a third margarita, that I was a sure thing after only two.)  Sorry.  Sometimes my mind drifts.  But surely you know that already if you’ve read so much as one paragraph of anything I’ve written previously.

I didn’t keep going with the booze therapy, but I did send a picture of my nearly empty bottle of brew to an online group of friends, saying something along the lines of celebrating having survived parent-teacher conferences.  And how I love my friends for thinking that I was celebrating the end of parent-teacher conferences where I’m the teacher.  No, no.  I was celebrating surviving my own child’s parent-teacher conference where I was the parent!   And how I love my friends all the more still for saying it’d be OK if I had two more or ten more.  They get me.

Wearing my professional hat at conferences often leaves me filled with wonder.  Sometimes shock.  Sometimes awe.  I work with children whose family’s lives may include extreme poverty, street violence, substandard housing and homelessness, poor education, unemployment, underemployment, and pretty much every other trauma known to limit education outcomes.  My students live the kind of neighborhoods about which people intone, “THOSE” neighborhoods, the kind you see on the news, but wouldn’t dare to dip even your pinky toe into.  This is where I work.  Every day.  Often but not always, their basic needs of food, shelter, and connection go unmet.  But it’s not always, and I hate hearing mass judgment of the poor as “THOSE” people.  It’s inaccurate and it’s unfair.  My students teach me every day, but most recently they’ve been kicking my ass (and by ass I mean psyche and heart–anatomy is hard).   In my therapy recently and at conferences last week, these are actual exchanges I had or overheard.

Student to me:  I met my daddy last week.  He in jail.  Is he my blood?  (She’s nine)  My mama stabbed my daddy, but only on his hand, so it wasn’t no big deal or nothing.  But she had to go to jail for awhile, but not as long as my daddy and then I was livin’ with my granny and she told me that my daddy was from the block, but I don’t think he know my mama.  Like she never knew him.

Me to her: I’m pretty sure she knew him.

Her:  Nuh-uh

Me:  Well, she knew him for at least a little while about 10 years ago.

Her:  My daddy say that that they make you drink pee when you in jail.  I don’t wanna go to jail.  That nasty.  I ain’t drinkin’ nobody pee.

Me:  Let’s work on those comprehension and reasoning skills so that you can avoid jail, OK?

Parent to a fourth-grader:  Put your fuckin’ shit in your bookbag and LET’S GO!

First grader with an intellectual disability to me:  My uncle killed my dog Saturday.

Me:  WHAT?  WHY?

Him:  He didn’t like him.

Me:  WHAT?  WHY?

Him:  He didn’t like him.  You can hear me?

So, despite having a two-drink minimum after conference for my big kid, I’m reminded that it could be worse.  A lot worse.  The gift of a good education is one whose importance and value cannot be stated strongly enough.   This is part of what made me nuts about my big kid’s conference–and it’s not that it was BAD, but it wasn’t GREAT.  My kid doesn’t understand how critical it is to get his work and words on the paper–how you write and (I HATE THIS) how you test is how you’re judged.  It’s how you get into a good high school.  It’s how you get into college.  It’s how you do better than the other guy you’re interviewing for a job against. He doesn’t get the why.

My son struggles with problem-solving and reasoning.  We’ve known this, but now we KNOW this. In some ways the universe has smiled upon him, providing him financial stability (sort of), safety, and love.  We don’t struggle in the same ways the families of some of my students struggle, that I can say for sure.  This is not to suggest that we lead a charmed life either.  If you’ve read more than one paragraph of anything I’ve written previously, you know that too.  But he needs help improving reasoning and problem-solving skills, and that is something he does have in common with the students I serve.  How could I have failed to notice til just now?  Christ, talk about being asleep at the wheel.

Education is the single best way to rise against ignorance.  Says the mother who slammed a couple drinks after conferences. . .