Mental Health Day

I am a big believer in mental health days! Thankfully, I am very fortunate in that my general health is very good (I know, I know – don’t give yourself a bad omen). Like your overall health, I think your mental health needs constant attention. So, I make sure to give myself mental health days.
It all started back in high school. I remember discussing my need for a day off with my mom. I clearly and rationally explained that I needed a break, have taken no sick days, and generally do the right thing.  So, as a reward for this, I wanted acknowledgement that I knew when my body needed rest and some space. After promising to make up missed work and agreeing I would not make a big deal out of our arrangement, my mother acquiesced. It was a great system. While walking to school with my neighbor and friend, I told him, “I don’t think I am going to feel well a week from Thursday.” 
He looked like Elmer Fudd when searching for Bugs Bunny, “What do you mean you are not going to feel well a week from Thursday? How can you know that?” 
With a fake cough, I continued, “I just know. Trust me. A cold is coming on.” 
The day after my mental health day, my friend would take note and inquire how I could know so far in advance I would be sick. He was generally a bright guy but did not seem to be familiar with mental health days. Maybe, he would have called it cutting – how gauche! I was beyond such a vulgarity.
Well, this past week, my nearly 8-year-old had his first mental health day. Yes, I admit it is young to be starting with such a concept though he is advanced.  My wife and I have given up all hope for the coveted “Parent of the Year” award, so we can do what we think is right (if anyone is associated with child services, please keep this between us). He actually has been asking about one since last year when he found out a girl in his class took a day off even though she wasn’t sick.  His requests grew into protests when my younger son and I both had the week off starting with President’s Day.  Around this same time, my wife and I were getting more and more exasperated with the comments on his behavior charts. While we don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior, maybe a break from school would do him good. It certainly would relieve the stress from us for a day.
Anyway, we allowed him the day off on the condition that he gets all his work done, that he recognize this will not be a regular event, and he does not discuss the day off with anyone. Of course, he agreed to these stipulations. I am pretty sure he barely heard the rules and would have said yes to wearing a dress and eating broccoli every day for the next month as well. Well, the very same day he returned to school, my wife received an email from the teacher.  Everyone in the class knew about the mental health day, they were very jealous, and she was concerned that he did not have the patience to listen to a crucial math concept which he had missed due to his day off.
Ahh to be rebuked by teachers. It makes me feel young.  It makes me feel like I need my own mental health day.  At my age, I should get more extra mental health days. After all, I’ve got seniority, and I need a break.

The Dollar Store

My wife loves dollar stores. She enjoys seeing what they have there and getting a bargain. There are at least a few dollar stores which she has called, ‘my dollar store.’  I, on the other hand, don’t have patience for dollar stores though I certainly don’t mind a bargain.

Sunday mornings are lazy times in my house. It is one of those times when if I am on the phone, my mother will say to me, “Are the kids awake? Everyone okay?”  Yes they are awake and just fine thank you. You see, we have three televisions in my house, and all of them are typically in use on Sunday mornings.  My wife watches in our room while doing laundry, my younger son watches in the den while playing with his Thomas trains, and my older son watches in the playroom while playing with Lego.  Before I run out of the house to do errands, I receive grunts for hellos from my beloved family. It’s special – very special – this bonding time.

Well, this Sunday morning (closer to afternoon – but same idea), I took the children with me on some errands. It would give my wife some space and get the children away from the television. Besides, one of the errands was to pick up their grandmother (my mother) at the train, and my mother loves when they greet her at the train. However, to get them away from the television on a Sunday morning required bribing.  One of our stops was the dollar store, and the children were allowed to pick something out. The five items, including the ice pop for my younger son and the car carrier truck for my older son, came out to less than $10.  The children did not complain in the store, said thank you, and smiled.  They say ‘big kids, big problems and little kids, little problems.’ Well, in this case it was little kids, little needs. These are needs I could afford without even having to think about it. I think I am beginning understand why my wife loves the dollar store.

Trying to Make a Difference

I take my job seriously.  While I am at times frustrated and disappointed with the students and question their work ethic and desire to learn, that does not stop me from trying to give them a quality lesson every day. I pride myself on my work ethic.

The Spring term began in the beginning of February.  Shortly thereafter, my 10th grade classes and I began reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel. The autobiographical book focuses on the author’s experience during the Holocaust. It follows Elie and his family through the period from before the war through deportation, concentration camps, and finally liberation.  As one would expect, it is a gut-wrenching tale full of sadness, although the author mostly stays away from expressing his emotions. 

I have taught every high school grade over the course of my 9-year career.  However, I have the least experience with 10th grade. Therefore, this was the first time I would be teaching the book Night – or any book related to the Holocaust (10th grade curriculum at my school). When my assistant principal instructed me to teach the book, I had mixed emotions. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to teach a book focused on the Holocaust. I had ideas on how I would do it but nothing concrete. While I always feel an obligation to get the students interested in the text, this book, Night, has been different.  As a Jewish teacher in an inner city school made up primarily of Carribean Americans and Hispanics, I have always felt like a bit of an outsider. While religion rarely comes up in class, it is still abundantly clear to the students and myself that our backgrounds are dramatically different.  On top of that, it is clear that the students have little knowledge of the Holocaust other than the day or so that they spend on it in history class.  So, teaching Night is so much more than helping the students appreciate literature, learn some literary elements, or other typical English class lessons. 

I have struggled with Night. I want everything to be perfect. I want to be engaging, and the students to be enthralled, curious, moved, disturbed, inquisitive, etc. Surprise – it is not going that way. Some kids don’t like the book. Some say it is boring. Some even put their head down in class (and I ask them to pick it up).  I want to shake them and say, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know how serious, how terrible, how important this subject is?”  However, I have not said any of those things. Part of me thinks I should be even more passionate than I have been and maybe it will rub off on the students. Another part of me says, “what is important and meaningful to me does not necessarily have the same impact on others. Besides, not everyone deals with depressing/heavy material in the same way.”  The topic is close to me and is clouding my judgment. It is difficult for me to teach the book. However, it is worth it when seeing even just a few students get an understanding of the terrible part of history known as the Holocaust.  I’ll continue to prepare and hope that tomorrow even more students will appreciate the lessons taught.

Start Your Engines

This weekend was the Pinewood Derby.  You know what the Pinewood Derby is – right? Well, I actually never heard of it till recently. You see my older son is in the boy scouts. He likes the events but is not interested in the meetings. No surprise there for a child who has focus issues.

Anyway, back to the Derby. It is one of the signature events of the boy scouts’ season. The boys are distributed blocks of wood, wheels, and numbers and from there, they design race cars.  I was with my son every step of the way – poor kid. My father always blamed the tools.  One time my Dad and I were putting together a barbeque. There was some pressure since the family BBQ was to be at our house that night. My father and I started early in the morning making our way through the 842 steps. When we were finally ready to light it, the tension was palpable: Would it work, would it blow us up?  My father told me to back up as he readied the flame. However, we stayed side by side — both ready to leap should catastrophe strike — and held our breath. It worked! Success. It did not look exactly like the one in the picture, but that did not matter.  So my poor carpentry skills are inherited and, unfortunately, seem to have been passed down.
Well, my son and I did get the car together, although the two-step process certainly made it a reasonable task even for us. He painted the car – not my choice of colors – and he seemed content with the final product. We were ready for the race.

When we walked into the location of theDerby, it was very crowded. I had no idea how seriously people took this. There were whole families there, an elaborately laid out track, electric timers, etc. I could hear Brent Musberger saying, “You’re looking live atFair Lawn,NJwhere 25 excited anxious racers are ready to do battle on the track.”  Corn dogs were being sold.  Some kids even had sponsorships. Ok, maybe not, but the feeling was there.

My son’s car – number 10 – won one race, came in second in another race, and was a last place finisher a number of times. He was okay with that, so I was too. The cake and juice to celebrate the successfulDerbyput a sweet spin on the events that seemed to leave everyone happy. My son and I are already plotting the car for next year. My wife is the crafty one in our family; she is going to have to get involved.