Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stuff and More Stuff

On Thanksgiving morning Maggie laid down on the living room floor and died. She was old and had been sick for a while, the kind of "dog sick" that you know to not even go to the vet for tests lest you get a 500.00-2,500.00 guilt trip. 

While the kids finished loading the car with turkey, dressing and pies to head north to my parent's house, I dug a hole and buried my wife's favorite dog. I read Psalm 103 of Vespers over her grave. That is our family tradition for pet funerals. "What Thou givest them they gather, Thou openst Thy hand, they are filled with goodness. Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled, Thou takest away their breath and they return to their dust. Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit and they are created and Thou renewest the face of the earth..."

We left a ham and some extra dressing at home for Maw and her son for their Thanksgiving. Maw wouldn't dream of invading our family time as a stranger to my parents. Maw is an old, old friend from our former church. Maw let me stay at her house for a few weeks when I got divorced and was excommunicated from our church. I shot her dog for her in her back yard and buried him when she couldn't afford to have him put to sleep. They called us when they were evicted from their apartment and were going to stay with us for 3-4 days until they got their own place. That was 5 months ago now. Maw is sixty five and looks like 90. Her face is like a powdered walnut, deeply lined from years of two packs a day and a life of bad relationships and mentally ill kids. She lives from crisis to crisis.

She has been on disability for 20 years and is medically addicted to morphine due to a botched back surgery after she broke it lifting a patient when she was a nurse. Her son is her only child who will help her. He is bipolar and can't afford his medication unless he has a job with insurance and has a hard time getting a job without his meds. He spent two months in our basement wailing. He stabilized and found a job recently but lost it when he had a manic episode on the job and had to be taken to an emergency room. We are still trying to find a place for Maw to live independently that she can afford on 900.00 a month disability. She sleeps on our couch because all the guest rooms are in our basement and she can't navigate stairs. She is constitutionally guilt driven and knows she is an imposition. She spends her days while we are at work cleaning house, doing our laundry and dishes and has dinner ready when we get home. Thank God she's a good cook. We are grateful for her help and don't try to stop her. Her worst nightmare is to feel useless and like a charity case.

I spent Christmas Eve with my daughter and grand baby at Superior Court and the Sheriff's Department taking out an order of protection against her boyfriend. The very short story is, it took over a year for her to see what I saw in him within a couple weeks. My daughter says she got the "only learn the hard way" genes from me. Probably so. But he is gone and out of my daughter's life now and I didn't have to do anything I'd have to do time for.  Speaking of the grand baby, this is my pride and joy...  Sorry, pregnant people, she has used up all the "cute" in the universe.
In spite of another stellar performance review at my school job, I spent most of my Christmas break  working on applying for a job with a Fortune 500 company. I also painted a friend's house for him.  I survived four interviews at the Company. I also survived climbing ladders and hauling materials for 4 days with my semi-fresh knee replacement.  By the end of my Christmas break I knew I couldn't punch a time card for someone else and move human data around on an Excel spreadsheet again for a living.  Thirty years of self-employment was calling me back, even if it hurt.  That, and I made two weeks' school take-home pay in four days doing construction, even at a "friend and family discount price".

After looking at my student's fall semester grades and the upcoming semester schedule for standardized testing, I also knew I couldn't continue to hold the educational flaming hoops and crack the whip for my students anymore.

After two years as a "guidance counselor" I learned that Education is an industry. It is not about "no child left behind".  Education is really about "no federal dollar left behind".  Yes, there are sincere people who love to teach and have the best interest of the students in mind. God bless 'em. Most of the teachers I know are fundamentally discouraged with the state of American education. The bottom line is that the students are now the product that is being sold to the State and Federal education departments for money.  Standardized test scores, graduation and drop out rates and attendance hours are the benchmarks for payment. The thing no one wants to address in the latter days of our American self-image culture is this: No, not EVERYONE can be ANYTHING if they just try hard enough. The fact of the matter is there are kids who cannot do upper level algebra and physics and pass a standardized test for rocket science and English in order to graduate from high school.  The fact of the matter is, some kids might do better in a trade track that doesn't require them to know pre-calculus or how to write a coherent essay according to Six Traits Writing.

I came to the conclusion that I was a salesman for a product I didn't believe in once I got immersed in it.  Yes, I had bright and wonderful kids and parents, but I also had kids who I knew were being screwed by the system and I had no alternatives to offer them that would not negatively impact my performance review, our school's State rating and ultimately our school charter and funding.

So, a couple days before I returned from Christmas break I emailed about 30 of my old clients and told them I was considering returning to construction and asked if they had any projects they needed done,  The response was overwhelming.  I had several months' of work lined up immediately.

When I returned to school after the Christmas break, I knocked on my Principal's office door and said, "Do you have a few minutes?" She said, "Only if you aren't going to resign."  I turned and walked away and she said, "Oh, no... come on in." It was hard to leave the job.  I told her it would be much easier if I was pissed at someone or hated the people I worked with, but the fact of the matter was, I loved my co-workers and the essentials of the job:  I loved my students and families. I told her the financial bottom line was we were going deeper and deeper in debt and I needed to make more money, whether it was with the Fortune 500 job or construction.  It wasn't worth getting into the philosophical education issues.  Discussing philosophical issues is a luxury that people can engage in  if they aren't starving.

I wanted to leave without anyone knowing I had resigned, just slip out the back door on a Friday afternoon.  I hate "goodbyes" from my years as a Navy brat and moving every 2-3 years as a kid. But, there was too much stuff to turn over to other people to keep it a secret. I did manage to avoid an office going away party and hugged a few special folks before I left. 

I've been back at construction now for two weeks and have more work than I can do if I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week. The trick now is juggling work, not finding work.

I've been attending Church services again somewhat regularly for the past few months. I didn't attend for over a year, now I pretty much go to services and leave.  I'm not privy to any inner workings, I don't attend parish meetings or ask about leaderships' decisions.  I help chant services and sing tenor if needed, but mainly I pick up my grand baby from our daughter on Sunday mornings because she has to work. So my main job is I take the grand baby to Church. It is probably the most important thing I've done at church since I've been a Christian.

Over Christmas our rescue Rottie started looking lethargic.  We took her to the vet and ran a bunch of expensive tests which, of course, were inconclusive. They put her on some antibiotics etc.  She didn't improve so we took her to another vet who did an X-ray.  She had several masses on her spleen and other internal issues.  They said she wouldn't make it through the weekend. Toward the end she couldn't get up.  I came home from work and she couldn't lift her head, but her stubby tail wiggled when she saw me. She lived another 3 days.  

"A dog is better than I, because a dog loves and does not judge." (Abba Xanthios)  I look forward to reuniting with all of our dogs that are buried in our back yard. They will sit at the right and left hand of God before I will. 

I was painting a house this week.  An old Mexican couple were cleaning for a couple days. They spoke enough English and I spoke enough Spanish to get by. The husband asked me, "Are you Christian?" I said yes.  He said, "...my spirit told me so."  I left the job that evening and the owner called me and said "How far away are you?  My (seven year old) daughter made you a Valentine and is crying because you left before she could give it to you."  I turned around and went back for my Valentine. 

I remember forty years ago a young man asked me, "How can I be like Jesus?"  and I told him, "be the kind of person who, when you walk into town, children run to you."  I don't know why I said that, but I like it still and always hoped to be that person. 

All in all I suppose if you have a chance to keep someone from sleeping behind a dumpster, your presence transcends language and dogs and children like you, what more can you wish for in life?