Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dear Subbing Perks

Dear Subbing Perks,

As challenging as being a substitute can be, you actually do exist.  Which is probably why we continue to do what we do--face classrooms full of children and actually get some learning accomplished in the short amount of time we have to learn the materials and execute the lesson plans.  And attach some names to new faces while we're at it.  Here is my list of #TopTen Subbing Perks:

10.  Little girls bring me flowers.  I get flowers when kids return from outdoor recess, just because.  These little dandelion flowers didn't even make it through the day, but their sentiments are definitely long-lasting.  #MadeMyDay

9.  Little boys give me big, wet kisses.  Okay, one boy.  One loving, affectionate boy who planted his face into my belly and smooched it, marking the spot like a lipstick kiss imprint.  Except instead of lipstick it was drool.  As in saliva.  As in ewww my shirt is wet.  #GottaLoveKids

8.  I work as much or as little as I want.  I can accept as many posted assignments as I like, and I can block as many hours or days as I need to, and I'm loving this flexibility.  Today, I was able to take the day off to attend the kiddos' classroom Halloween parties in the afternoon, after making some spooky Halloween treats (mummy dogs and cheesy broomsticks) for them in the morning.  #FlexibilityRocks

7.  The work day ends when the bell rings.  There are no lessons to plan or homework to grade.  Which means I can still schlep kiddos to after-school activities AND WRITE THIS BLOG.  #TrulySavedByTheBell

6.  I get a natural transition for getting back into teaching.  Years ago when I'd walk down the halls of the kiddos' school, I'd think to myself: how on earth am I ever going to get back to teaching?  It's been so long!  Setting up a classroom would take weeks let alone trying to teach anything!  But now I can actually see it happening, and it doesn't seem as impossible or faraway.  #LifeLongLearner

5.  I have a part-time job and I am a substitute teacher.  #I<3StrikeoutTypography

4.  I'm following my yellow brick road.  That hopefully leads me to a suitable teaching position in the future.  No better way to do it than subbing in different schools.  #NetworkingAvenue

3.  Excellent social media addiction therapy.  Being unplugged is no longer as traumatic for me as it was before <blush>.  So the day's stream will still be there at the end of the day.  And I'll get to reading blogs when I get to them.  The offline world is full of real, live peeps, without which social media have no foundation for survival.  Carpe diem.  Seize the day.  #CatchUpAtNight

2.  Easiest (though not healthiest) weight loss method, ever.  Teachers have very little time for breaks and lunch as it is.  Trying to read the lesson plans + making sure I go to the restroom during a tiny lunch break = not enough time to eat.  In the past weeks, I have fully experienced the sensation of low blood sugar and pangs of hunger so striking that I had to stop what I was doing and EAT.  My body had ran out of reserves, I guess.  I used to yell at Dear Husband for skipping lunch cuz he was too busy to eat.  Touche.  #DontTryThisAtHomeKids

1.  I finally hired a cleaning service.  Hallelujah!  Not that I ever loved to clean, but I just couldn't justify the cost when I wasn't working.  This has been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders since I haven't gotten around to cleaning for so long.  Goodbye, cobwebs; goodbye, dust bunnies!  Hello, time to actually fold laundry and de-clutter the house!  #MajorFistPump

Our district now refers to substitute teachers as "guest teachers."  I guess that sounds a little more official and a little less makeshift.  Some have called me a crazy lady for doing what I do.  But I am a teacher, guest or not, and I do it because I love it.

So, Dear Subbing Perks, I'm glad I have you to count on at this time.  Life is full of surprises: I had never considered being a substitute teacher.  But this opportunity just happened to land magically in my lap and right now, I couldn't be happier with what I've got going on.  I'm exhausted but fulfilled, busy but grateful, and teaching and learning.  


Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Daughter Triumph

Dear Daughter Triumph,

There is nothing more rewarding for parents than to experience their children's accomplishments.  At some point in our lives, our achievement becomes that of our children's.  You, as it turns out, are one of those defining moments in my life that really show how proud I am of my little musicians.


Music recitals are designed to showcase a student's work and celebrate one's musical progress.  Of course, they require a lot of discipline and practice.  They also come with a lot of nerves and jitters.  Preparing for a recital is hard work.  Playing solo on stage is daunting.  Watching it all happen on the sidelines as parents is incredibly humbling.

DD began working on her most recent recital piece--the second violin part of the Bach Double--at the end of the last school year.  She worked on it all through the summer and into the fall.  This Double Violin Concerto is one of Bach's most famous work.  It is a spectacular duet, played by two violins, intertwining music so brilliantly that listeners easily swoon to the upbeat rhythm and beautiful notes.

It is, of course, lovely music until my own daughter has to play it, solo, on the stage.

Then it is time to sweat bullets.

You may recall DD's last recital mishap.  She lived through it, learned from it, and moved on.  Her Mama tried to follow her lead, but stumbled on the fact that this is a piece of music that spans five long pages.  Just the thought of her memorizing the music is enough to turn all of my hair gray.  So I did what I could to help her, and tried my darnedest not to turn this experience into a pressurized cooker.  We worked it, instead, in a slow cooker.  Slow and steady.  Simmering and stewing.

Then, less than two weeks before the recital, her teacher announced that he would accompany her and play the first violin portion, along with the usual piano accompaniment.  That's coordinating three instruments for a piece that is almost five minutes long.  Um, OMG!  But we persisted and kept with it, listening to the music, counting the beats, matching the parts.

However, as Life likes to throw us curve balls, something just had to interrupt this well-crafted plan.  That slow cooker had to unexpectedly shut off!  DD's school had a grade-wide camping trip days before the recital, where I wouldn't see or talk to her for 2.5 days, and she wouldn't touch her violin for that same length of time.  Can simmering and stewing continue without electricity?

Whether I liked it or not, I had to let go of it all.  I wanted her to enjoy her trip, soak in the bonding experience with all her friends, and just not have to think about the recital for a few days.  Maybe this last minute retreat into the woods would be just the thing for her after all the hard work and practice.  Maybe.

We got in one rehearsal with both violin parts and the piano accompanist just before her camping trip.  One.  They ran through the piece twice.  That was it, and that was what I had to ride on for the next five days until the recital.  Um, yeah.  But her teacher decided that it would be okay for her to use the music during the recital, which came as a great relief for me.  There would be very little chance for DD to have an unexpected brain freeze.  Whew.

On the day DD came back from camp, I was ecstatic to see her.  I was subbing that day, but my class had PE outdoors just as the buses pulled up.  I went excitedly to see DD, who, upon seeing me, was more excited to tell me that a fire alarm went off as her roommate was in the shower.  When I saw her, I was totally taken aback because as I watched her talk, it seemed to me like she grew an entire month older in 2.5 days.  I kid you not.  Her facial features seemed more defined, there was a worldly sparkle in her eyes, and I swear she was an inch taller than when she left.

Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but there's no denying my little girl is growing up, fast.

She's growing up so fast that she can take the challenge of playing the Bach Double with her teacher on stage, stay composed, and remain seemingly relaxed as she shuffled from one end of the five pages on the double music stands to the other.  She's worked so hard to hold up her portion of the piece to the first violin as well as the piano.  She's developed a craft of her own to stay focused, finish the piece, and reveal a beautiful smile and respectfully acknowledge both her accompanists.  She's continuing to make us, her lucky parents, so very proud.

After the recital, I admitted to her that up until her performance, I had probably heard enough Bach Double for the rest of my life, since she's likely played it hundreds of times.  I'd say at least a thousand, she replied.  (You see, exaggeration runs in the family.)  But after that recital, I think I can listen to it infinitely--at least the version that DD played.  But I'll always miss the first few notes, as both Dear Husband and I missed recording the beginning by a split second, him on video and I on audio, cuz we were both holding our breaths while fumbling with technology.

I am my daughter's biggest fan.  I proudly admit that I sit glued to the computer watching her play this piece, over and over, again and again.  I see more than the stoic and concentrated look on her face: I see her determination, her perseverance, and her courage.  I see flashbacks of all the hours and minutes we spent on this piece.  I see that she was more ready for this performance than I ever gave her credit for.  I see that she will be a more accomplished musician than I could ever be.

And then I feel my heart swell.

I managed--after outsmarting many blogging/technology obstacles--to get the audio recording for my own indulgence your enjoyment.  DD begins with the second violin part to the piece, and you will hear the first violin part join in at a higher pitch.  DD's part generally plays the lower pitch, and is at times harder to hear because of it, but you'll hear it.  You'll hear how she shined; you'll hear how she triumphed.  Just press play on the youtube link below to hear her play Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV, 1043, 1st Mvt., Violin II, by J. S. Bach:

And while we're at it, may I also share DS's piece, The Hunter's Chorus, by C. M. v Weber?  Again, press play on the youtube link below:

Neither of my kiddos played perfectly, but they interpreted the music well.  They played it the way the pieces were intended to be played.  Couldn't you hear all that hunting going on in DS's piece?  Oh, yes, time to wrap this up before this Mama gets too carried away...


So, Dear Daughter Triumph, you are proof that hard work pays off--specifically, on my part.  I cannot help but feel terrible for my insufficient support during DD's preparation for the last recital because I was helping DS with his easier piece.  Being a Suzuki parent is both difficult and rewarding; sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.  The kiddos have moved onto holiday music for the holiday group concert, and they couldn't be more excited, as they think playing familiar music is!  And this Suzuki Mama is learning those song as well, since DD will be playing harmony for the first time, which she interprets as having been "promoted."  Hey, so long as they enjoy playing the violin.

There must be something about that violin.  I think that love runs in the family, too. 


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dear Moving Onward

Dear Moving Onward,

Aren't you our goal in life?  We strive to better ourselves and move forward instead of halting and perpetuating in a funk.  But there are times when getting stuck is not only unavoidable, but also serves as an essential time for repose, reflection, and preparation to move forward again.  Peaks and valleys, ebb and flow.


I was at a Junction for the past few weeks.  Many things clashed together and made my brain experience an uninvited stagnation.  It was like being forced to stop at a railroad crossing--where one loses a few minutes of precious travel time--because there is absolutely no alternative whatsoever.

The kiddos' music school recently had a group concert, followed by a solo recital two short weeks later.  If you are at all familiar with this sort of thing, you'd know that one performance actually means practice, practice, rehearsal, practice, practice, practice, rehearsal...  Which then meant schlepping, hurrying, altering dining plans, altering schedules, altering parental-sanity, and altering parental blood-pressure.  To add more variety to the mix, Dear Daughter also had a school grade-wide two-day camping trip days prior to the recital, which meant shopping for gear, packing, losing sleep for early morning departure, missing my DD and wondering what she's up to (the school's policy is pretty much "no news is good news").

But the main culprit had been my busy subbing schedule for the last few weeks.  And these weren't day jobs here and there.  They were consecutive days of subbing for teachers who were gone for several days at a time.  Which meant days' worth of lesson plans to execute at a time, lessons that had to be followed timely so that the next days' lessons would be completed, and generally "holding down the fort" for an extended period of time.  Which then meant that I had only a few hours' stretch at home each day, just enough to check off parenting essentials, adequately self-groom, and get some not enough sleep.

We all know how kids suck the life out of us.  Having a classroom full of kids for a day pretty much left me dead by the time I got home.  There were days when every single muscle in my body ached.  I was too tired to friggin' get up to go pee.  But as Life would have it, there was still homework to check, kids to feed, whips to crack.  So to anyone who thinks teachers have it easy: think about spending AN ENTIRE DAY with your own kid(s) and being responsible for their safety, academic learning, and emotional well-being.  Then multiply that wonderful feeling by twenty to thirty more kids and 180 days.  Then if you still tell me that teaching is a cushy job, I will smack you in the head.  (And don't ever let me hear you complain about school being out for yet another Teacher Institute Day because you have to care for your kids all day.)  I'm not even teaching full-time yet, but all the nuances of teaching (notably how freakin' tired I get) are all flooding back--like being downstream of a broken dam and I'm barely keeping my head above water.


That you are still here reading this blog is amazing cuz only crickets have been residing here since over two weeks ago.  That I had to skip an entire week of posting was heartbreaking, as I had had the luxury to write--at the least, weekly--since this blog was born.  It was difficult but necessary to let go of the desire to write and post last week.  I usually compose my letters in my head as I go about my days, and then materialize them on the screen when I get a chance to write.  Well, it seems as though my brain broke during the last few weeks.  There was no composition going on in my head.  It was all a blank, like the movie projector at the end of its reel, flickering only static, blank images on screen.  I was even a stranger on Facebook, which could have actually given you reason to worry.  I was empty; I had nothing to say or write or show or tell.  I hadn't snapped a picture on my phone for entirely way too long.  I was just out of juice.

Then I worried.  I worried that I would miss all the essential posts on Facebook.  I feared that my Letters of Muse page was utterly neglected and growing cobwebs and seriously missing a "New Blog Post" update.  I fretted that I'm going to lose all my blogging friends since I haven't visited their blogs for weeks.  I worried that if this subbing gig is going to keep up this way, that my writing days would be over.  I dreaded that if I were to ever get back into full-time teaching, this blog would die a painful death.

If you "get" the exhilaration of the writing process--crafting thoughts into words, expressing a sentiment in very personal ways, and baring your edited soul without speaking--you'd have been scared for me, too.

But as each event concluded--camp girl returned tired and happy, kiddos performed at concerts with poise and confidence, and I survived each day and each assignment undefeated--I started to see that teeny tiny flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.  My painful Facebook/social media withdrawal has subsided in a healthy, rather relieving way.  I am actually writing and words are flowing--albeit slowly and spluttering-ly (notice I didn't say they all make sense).

I have a glorious day off teaching today.  What do you mean there are dishes in the sink and laundry to do?  And do I *really* have to go eat lunch?


The kiddos' school has something called Rocket Math as a part of its Math Curriculum.  It is a series of math facts that kids have to recall with speed.  These timed tests go hand-in-hand with conceptual understanding to achieve academic success in mathematics.  Kids move on through addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions each time they pass a leveled test.  Each time they pass, they have learned and mastered the facts.  Each time they do not pass, they find what it is they need to practice, improve, and memorize.  So when they are not moving forward, they are stopping to evaluate, recharge, and prepare.  Sometimes a stop is essential.

Stop and go.  Ebb and flow.

Now is time to move onward again.  My one tomato plant has grown taller than I now, but it's time to move onward from growing season to barren gardens as freezing temperatures arrive next week.  Violin recitals are over for now, as we move onward to holiday music and the next recital.  Dear Son moves on from yellow to orange belt in TKD, and DD moves on from running the mile to two miles in Running Club.  My huge wave of subbing assignments is over for now, but I'm moving onward with the thought of returning to full-time teaching.  Even though that bridge is still far away, it is a comfort seeing it there, just like that flicker of light at the end of this tunnel.  As with this blog, for now, it's alive and well once again.  Whew!  

My lesson learned: we make do.


So, Dear Moving Onward, you are a gentle push for us to keep going.  You are kind for waiting occasionally when we get stuck, but you are persistent in reminding us to not falter for too long.  You are the force that shoves me out of bed each morning and makes me a productive person.  Most importantly, thanks for lifting the railroad crossing gate so that traffic can resume.  I've got places to go and people to see now that I'm out of my funk!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dear Spent

Dear Spent,

People ask me how subbing is going, and you are what comes to mind.  Subbing is going well.  So well, in fact, that I'm completely and utterly stretched, and barely keeping my head above water.  It is really nice to earn some extra (but not-very-much) income, be productive, and be asked by familiar teachers for repeated and consecutive days of subbing (to be scheduled in advance as not to have to receive those 5:30 AM calls), so I'm not really complaining.  But when there's only so many hours in day, somethings have to give, so I'm still adjusting and learning how to juggle all of it.  Here is my #TopTen list of ways to know that I'm Totally Spent.

10. When the book on my nightstand has not been opened in days? weeks?  I've completely lost my summer-reading momentum.  My eyes can barely focus and my brain can hardly process anything by the time my body makes it to bed these nights.  #WhenWillIReadYouAgain?

9. When the lunch date that I have been planning to have with BFF since the beginning of the school year still hasn't happened yet.  #RainCheckWreck

8. When said BFF tells me that she hears crickets on my Facebook timeline.  #AnomalyOfAnOverSharer

7. When writing has taken a backseat to the point where all I can muster are silly little #TopTen lists.  #DrumrollPlease #ShortAndSweet

6. When grocery runs are done on the weekends as we all shuffle from one event to another.  #GlorifiedFamilyAffair

5. When the last time I cooked a homemade meal was more days ago than the fingers on my own two hands.  #Sigh

4. When the cleanliness of this house is hanging on by the strands of cobwebs that are growing by the glob-fuls under cabinet doors in the kitchen, bathroom, and in places I probably don't know since I haven't had to time to look.  #AlsoGrowingDirtyDishesAndLaundry #AndRaisingDustBunnies

3. When Dear Daughter's school accordion file has not been emptied in days? weeks?  Remedy: I've passed on this responsibility to DD herself.  Dear Husband made a drop box so she can empty her papers herself and I'll look through them when I get to them.  #NoteToSelf #DontForgetToLookThroughThem

2. When Dear Son's reading book bag (that needs to go back to school everyday to switch out books) is sitting on the floor next to my bed while he's at school.  (And I imagine his teacher is wondering how with-it this parent can possibly be when such simple daily routines are broken, and, embarrassingly, more than once.)  Remedy: I've passed on this responsibility to DS himself.  #PostItNotesToTheRescue

1. When there is no time or energy left to crush candies (gasp!).  Or remember to play Wordfeud with DH and Friend, whose eyes are probably stuck at a rolling position cuz I've resigned one too many games in the last few weeks.

And if you're wondering if I've forgotten DH on my list, or if I've just abandoned him altogether, well, he is about as worn out as I am these days, as he has to contend with Morning Madness when I run off to schools in the morning.  So you're looking at two peeps of zombified mental capacity by the end of the day, barely to be resuscitated by another night's not-enough sleep.  How it is we survive from day to day has been a miracle in itself.

Disclaimer: it is not only subbing that has me nearly drowned.  It's also the kiddos' after school activities and some other school-related evening events that have taken up every.single.moment of our time in recent weeks.  Treading water is hard work, I tell ya!

So, Dear Spent, though I'd rather spend my time gazing up at a beautiful sky and deciding what the clouds look like, I'm stuck catching up from one event to the next, wondering when my home will be clean and clutter-free again.  If this is to be my new normal, then I seriously need to be in bed already.  Goodnight.

(How do you juggle it all?  Tips, advice, and suggestions welcome!)