Bubble Butt

Today’s words to ponder:
9year old boy: (looks up from his book, over my shoulder at a teacher walking towards us) “Oh, there goes “Bubble Butt” (nonchalantly, as though he’s thinking aloud)
Me: “What? What are you talking about? “(I don’t see the teacher approaching.)
Boy: (pointing to teacher) “Oh, her. That’s the teacher we all call Bubble Butt, ‘Cuz… well… I… don’t think I need to explain it (he pauses) … if you know what I mean…” And without moving his head, he moves his eyes and so they point straight at her meaty buttocks tucked tightly into what look like Jeggings or very tight jeans. He then scours my face to check if it’s ok to giggle at his own wittiness.

Where to even begin with this comment? Oh my, have times surely changed since I was in lower school. It would be so far from my realm of thinking to dare to say something like this to a teacher, not to mention the inevitable consequences that would follow. Yes, I did attend a Catholic School run by Franciscan brothers and nuns. Let’s just let that fact speak for itself. I also know that my friends who attended the nonreligious schools would never dare say such a comment aloud to their teachers either.

Not that we didn’t think such things; we certainly did, but to have the audacity to repeat these types of mischievous thoughts to our teacher was simply out of the question. It was absurd. I shudder to think what might have happened if our top nicknames leaked out. Top of our list was Boogey McAllister , named for her shameless nose picking while we read aloud, round robin style. I guess she thought she’d never be caught red-handed because we were meant to have our eyes focused on the texts. And her sister “Boogey Red” named simply for her carrot red colored hair. A close third was “Bartholomew Breath” whose breath smelled like a dead rodent rotting in her gums. And, she’d lean over your shoulder to explain something even when everyone avoided asking any questions for fear that she’d do her lean in. Plaque-induced Gingivitis doesn’t even begin to cover it. Whew…

Back in my primary school years, I was taught that children were to be ‘seen and not heard’, and to ‘speak only when spoken to’. Behaving the way adults expected you to behave was “a given”; something never to be questioned. Trusting and being at ease with sharing private thoughts with teachers was nonexistent. The teacher-student relationship was clearly defined. Teachers were the authority figures with all the answers. Students listened to what teachers said and learned everything from them. Questioning a teacher’s authority was out of the question, as was striking up any sort of casual discussions with them; most of all, discussions related to private jokes between students about teachers!

I can’t even imagine the harsh punishment that would follow the Bubble Butt comment in the school I attended which was called by its medieval name, a grammar school. Much lesser infractions resulted in being sent to Detention Hall after school dismissal whereby students would sit in a room patrolled by a scary nun with beady eyes glaring up over her Scotch taped eyeglasses at a roomful of delinquents. They were held there for various terrible deeds such as chewing gum, wearing the wrong color socks or folding up uniform skirts to a disgracefully short length, slightly above the knees. Students would be forced to stay there until they completed writing hundreds of lines of the same statements such as, “I promise to never speak without raising my hand.” Or “I promise to wear the right color socks’. Or “I promise to never fold my uniform up at the waist again.” Not that I ever spent time in the Detention Hall or that I’ve got any personal experience with writing such phrases. Of course, I’ve been told these stories by, ahem, friends.

I’m very pleased that times have changed quite dramatically since the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. I’m so glad that my students feel secure enough within themselves to share private conversations and jokes with me. Perhaps calling this teacher Bubble Butt borders on inappropriate, but not in the spirit in which this boy shared his secret. I got no sense that he and his friends were being mean-spirited or disrespectful. After our brief discussion about how name name-calling can be hurtful, this boy completely understood how it could be seen by others as inappropriate rather than his intention of being playful.

An open and respectful exchange of ideas between us was all it took to get this message across. We all know that it’s not possible to discontinue secret language and jokes between young children, but I’m confident that honest and respectful dialogue between teachers and students about appropriate boundaries and respect help to keep these comments in their proper place. God only knows the variety of names they may have created for me in two decades!


Bucket Fillers

Today’s words to ponder:
8year old boy: I did this all for you. (showing me his best piece of writing) I made it my best because you always make it your best writing… Also, I wanted to make you happy ‘cuz you make learning fun!
Me: Thank you. Learning is fun! Your writing should make you happy knowing that you always do your very best, for yourself.
8year old boy: Is this one of those “bucket filler” conversations?
Me: What’s a bucket filler conversation?
8year old boy: It’s when 2 people say encouraging things about each other so we can fill up each other’s bucket.
Me: I love that! Yes. I think this just might be a bucket filler conversation.

What a wonderful world it would be if we could all remember to fill each other’s buckets every day. This simple and pure gesture presented to me by an 8-year-old child really warmed my heart today. It also got me wondering.
I wondered how many times I’ve allowed opportunities to fill someone else’s bucket slip away. I also thought about the times I’ve waited long enough to say something so that it felt a bit contrived to mention at a later time. Things like, “I really appreciate …” and “You look beautiful …”and “I’m so sorry…” and “Your support means a lot to me…” and “Is there anything I can do to help…?”
I’m feeling very grateful today for this child’s simple unsolicited reminder of how rewarding it is for everybody to be a ‘bucket-filler’… And, a bucket-filler today; not tomorrow or the next day!

Plastics, Pillows and Petri Dishes

Today’s words to ponder:

18year old
Mom, you wanna know the thing I remember the most about being in Ms. Baxter’s class?

18year old’s Mom (and my friend)
Yes! Please tell me. I think Mary would appreciate hearing what you have to say.

18year old
Well a couple of things. First, she let us have this huge pillow fight! Then there was the cups project. We did an assembly where we tried to convince everybody not to use the plastic cups because they were not good. All we ever did in class was calculate how many cups everyone in the school was using each day and we just kept multiplying all the time! There was this Danish kid who had to play two parts in the show because he was the only one who spoke Danish. It was really funny watching him slide from one side of the stage to the other and changing character voices. That’s the kid who pulled up his shirt during our Morning Meeting to show everybody his belly button; the place where he was made with his dad’s sperm in the Petri dish.

What a riotous belly laugh my friend and I shared that day over this gem of a memory nestled in her son’s mind! As we sat on the dewy lakeside grass at Zurisee, eating our comfort food picnic of Caprese salad, chips, beer and a Lindt chocolate bar dessert, I felt honored. First, for experiencing this simple beautiful moment with my dear friend. The weather was perfect—slightly breezy, warm enough to wear a cotton skirt and cool tank top and to jump in the lake for a quick late afternoon swim. Not as oppressively hot and humid as it’d been. At this particular moment, I’d been reflecting on approaching the end of a beautifully restorative summer holiday which yielded my recharged batteries and an increasingly hopeful outlook. The timing of this young man’s anecdote was perfect.

Second, as a teacher listening to my friend share her son’s 4th grade memories, 10years later, now as a young man recollecting, I felt blessed by my career path. Ok, just to set the record straight, that year we actually did explore subjects other than plastic cup calculations. And, everything else he remembered was true. The Danish boy who played two parts in our dramatization did indeed tell us about his test tube /Petri dish conception with Mom’s eggs and Dad’s sperm. And we did have an extended pillow fight in class one day. Primary school teacher friends, I’m sure you’re completely unfazed, but for my non-teacher friends, before you consider reporting this mad teacher to the authorities, these classroom events are not as crazy as they might appear.

So, here’s the rub on the plastic cups…
We’d been studying the concept of water being a precious finite resource and the effect of human behavior on the environment. It occurred to me that we should investigate the continuous supply of plastic cups we’d been using carelessly, as well as the water coolers themselves, at our school. We interviewed the maintenance staff manager, the school’s Director and we polled every member of the school community for information we needed to calculate our cups and water usage.

We presented our findings at a school-wide assembly where we dramatized our collective usage and the “dominoes effect” on the larger global community. We explored and offered some solutions. We provided our confirmed data that Switzerland has some of the cleanest water on earth (including a statement from the manager of a local water treatment plant saying that Zurich Lake is officially clean enough to drink right from the lake!) and we encouraged members of our community to be mindful enough to leave their water bottles/coffee cups at school for personal use.

Ok, so maybe this 18year old was a bit sketchy on some of the specific details, but he definitely remembered that it was “an important topic” for us to spend time exploring in class. I’d always made sure that children understood that it’s not enough to simply ‘discuss’ topics. So, in this case, if we say that conservation is important, then we need to practice it ourselves. I embraced this golden opportunity for “authentic learning”, another thing we teachers love finding ways to implement. So, multiplication, graphing, organizing data, drawing conclusions, researching, presenting, the list goes on here, all in a real life problem solving arena, was just perfect! The end result of our investigation was all the water coolers and cups being removed from the school building forever and a letter from the Director, hand delivered and read aloud himself. He thanked us for our thorough inquiry into this issue and for raising awareness about water conservation.

As for the Danish boy … Being an international school with over 50 nations represented, creating regular opportunities for native languages to be spoken and celebrated is essential to building global citizenship. I remember that he really loved being the only child with two parts in our dramatization. He was also quite a natural on stage. After all, he’d already débuted his talents in his “improv” performance at Morning Meeting. Luckily, the students were so dumbfounded by his blabbering about his belly button that they didn’t ask much about the egg and sperm in the dish. We quickly moved on to the next student’s story which would’ve been equally hilarious.

Teachers know that “anything goes” when we allow a non-subject-specific forum such as Meeting Circles. That said, some of my most poignant ideas I’ve ever heard from my students are those shared during our class meetings. In these thought-provoking, orderly and respectful arenas, we’ve built up and strengthened many a “Community of Learners”.

And finally, our infamous pillow fight… I always allow my students to get up out of their seats and move whenever they seem fidgety. It’s been a very effective way to help kids redirect their restless energy. One day a student took our routine “up a notch” by sailing a pillow through the air across the room, Frisbee style, saying, “Mom let’s me do this ‘cuz it helps to get my squigglys out!” Ok, sounded reasonable for this overly energetic boy, so I agreed. And you know what’s coming now… Yes, that’s right. Within seconds, all the other students also really needed to get their squigglys out!

In my mind, it was still harmless. They let out their pent up energy by hurling soft colorful Ikea pillows wildly across the classroom for a few minutes. They did this each day. Afterwards, they were indeed able refocus enough to finish their tasks. (Little did they know that I’d hoped and prayed that the Director –who thought so highly of my environmentally- conscious students –wouldn’t ever come into our classroom during these moments which became a highlight for some students like this 18 year old!)

In retrospect, I can see how this really would look crazy to an unsuspecting observer. What passers-by wouldn’t know is that my students clearly understood that they could only ever have their pillow fights if all of their work was completed. Otherwise, they would not only forfeit their pillow fight, but their outdoor recess as well. Nobody ever missed either event. Ever! Another proud moment as a teacher… You can teach most children to be responsible enough to know that there’s an appropriate time and place for everything from plastics to pillows to Petri dishes.

Right Here…Right Now

Today’s words to ponder:

8year old boy: You have any kids?
Me: No. I don’t (I gulp at the dreadful memory in that doctor’s office; the one that still haunts me.)
Boy: Well, when you have kids, you should get them these Pokemon cards. They’re really fun to play with.
Me: Great! Let’s have a look then. Can you tell me about them? (I’m desperately hoping that listening to him explain his beloved cards will help to subside the stab of his innocent comment which makes my dormant wound erupt again and threaten another immediate collapse.)

Children are so fully present; their needs so urgent and immediate that there’s no time to be anywhere else, in body, mind or spirit. No matter what response their words or actions ignite in me, I always need to collect myself and become as fully present in the moment as they are. I love this aspect of my job.

Working with children has helped me rise up against both crippling grief and mundane annoyances. They force me to look closely at myself and gauge my moral compass. They ask tough questions which I feel obliged to answer honestly to the best of my ability because that’s who they are.

Young children can’t see barriers. Anything’s possible in their gorgeous minds; including no limits to optimal child-bearing years! What a gift I’ve been given to be around this optimistic state of mind every day. Spending my days with children brings me joy even in my darkest days. Children keep it real. They help me to keep it real too. What a beautiful blessing.

Not to mention… on a much lighter, vain note, I absolutely love it that he doesn’t seem to notice that my optimal child bearing years are ‘technically’ over.

Pillow Berries


Today’s words to ponder:

5year old boy: (My godson) “Du Muss Immer Eine gut frusttuck Esse! Ich habe wählte diese allein … nur für dich!

Me: ” Wow, Vielen dank! Das ist so suess! Und Das ist sehr nett!

5year old boy: “Bitte! Du bist meine Gotte!”

Just as I was feeling completely inadequate in my role as Gotte (godmother) to my friends’ gorgeous 5year old boy who’s full of life and joy, his sweet gesture touches my heart enough to forgive myself for being delinquent these last couple of years.

“He really picked these berries himself?” I ask my friend, Yvonne, his mother, the one with the gorgeous garden in Switzerland where the berries grow.

“Yes, especially for you. He was really looking forward to your visit and he just loves being out in the garden!”

“How adorable that he tells me I must always eat a good breakfast and that’s why he left the berries on my pillow, and that they’re only for me! ”

“Yes. He really is cute. (She smiles) And I must say, he’s really thoughtful in this way too.”

Young children are so absolutely forgiving. They don’t beat themselves up for not being the perfect person for someone else. They don’t hold themselves to the impossible standard of playing a particular role, created and directed by them. They don’t try to adhere to this role with all its unrealistic expectations that couldn’t possibly allow anyone to ever manage it. They don’t remember how long it’s been between visits or wonder if their last gift was good enough. They don’t count the number of times they ‘should’ visit the person who expects something (a lot) from them. They don’t feel the need to arrive for visits loaded up with elaborate gifts that are beyond their budget so that this person might see that they are indeed successful in this self-imposed role. They forgive those who cannot be at their birthday party, school performance and soccer game because they know they live very far away and anyway, a lot of other people who love them were there in your absence.

Young children don’t know how to do anything else but live in the moment without harsh judgments or expectations. Their simple wisdom brings me back to what is important each time it catches me by surprise, like this one. The more time I spend with young children, the more I know that they’ve got it all right. Their approach to the world makes the most sense to me and I benefit from imitating the way they live. So simple…so pure…so unbridled…how refreshing! I always learn something from the immediacy of young children.

I think it’s time that I go outside and pick some berries for someone, leave them on their pillow with a note and watch what happens!

What Rhymes With Stick?

Today’s words to ponder:

9year old boy: Wanna hear something hilarious that happened today?
Me: Sure. Tell me. I always love hilarious stories.
Boy: Ok, So, my friend yells out in class today…And, loud enough for all the class —including the teacher— to hear, “Your … Um… ‘private part’ looks like a stick.”
Me: Stone faced and a bit puzzled at first, my smile slips out against my will and I immediately start to rationalize my response. Teachers are human beings too. My response to his story is organic and this is always good for my students to see. Anyway, it’s too late now because we are both giggling.
Boy: (Seeing the ‘green light’ from me, he wants to tell me more but he’s not sure how far to go with the story.) Actually, ahem…. I think maybe it’s funnier when you hear it exactly the way he said it, but hmmm, I don’t really want to say it. He pauses and looks deep in thought for a second. OK, let’s put it this way, ‘stick’ and the word he actually said, both rhyme. Let’s just leave it at that.
Me: (Now I’m busting inside; both at his story and how adorable he looks trying to make this an appropriate story to tell his teacher.) Oh, ok. Got it… So, I guess everybody laughed a lot then?
Boy: (Scouring my giggling-turned- teacher- face for clues as to whether to proceed or end this story) Yeah we all bust out laughing, but the teacher sent him straight to the principal’s office and told us all to stop laughing. It was so hard to stop laughing. You know what I mean? (He stops between every other word to release his infectious laughter.)
Me: Yes. I know exactly what you mean. (The hilarity stuffed from my throat down to my stomach is killing me.) I see, so I guess your teacher thought it was an inappropriate comment?
Boy: Yes, she did. But I didn’t really. (He tries to wind down his hysterical spurts of laughter and talk in a complete sentence.)
Me: Oh. Why not? (Still got my Teacher Face on, but worry that my grin may creep out unexpectedly)
Boy: Well, the thing is. His um, his um…His private parts… Well, the thing is… It really does look like a stick! I saw it in the locker room. I, I mean all the boys know that it’s true because we see it all the time when we change for P. E. , but of course she doesn’t see it. And, I’m not kidding, it looks like a stick! So, my question is: If it’s true, then why can’t he just say it? You always tell me to say the truth, no matter what.
Me: Yes, I always tell you to say what’s true when we are discussing conflicts between friends, but remember, I also tell you that there’s a time and a place for everything. Saying something like this is disruptive for the class. Also, I think you know that word is slang for the medical word, penis, and inappropriate in a classroom. Some adults think it’s a word that should never be used no matter where you are. These could be reasons your teacher sent him straight to the principal’s office. She was not thinking along the lines which you were; that the boy was telling the truth, but rather that he was saying something that was unpleasant and disruptive for the other people in the room.
Boy: Yeah, I guess so. Can I get a drink of water? (Relieved that he’ll be gone for a few minutes, I let all my chuckles out before he returns. I’m sure he’s doing the same at the water fountain.)
Related Links:

Urban Slang

Today’s Words to Ponder:

13year old Boy 1: “What’s good Nigga? ”
13 year old Boy 2: “Head’n ta Hell, yo, Real Nigga shit…Ya feelin’ me, Brotha?”
13yearold Boy 1: “Word! Dude, Aint I told you stay out that shit?” (Both boys laugh loudly and high five each other …)

Ok, so with the help a couple of useful sites, I can say that I might possibly have understood about a third of this slang-filled conversation between two New York City teens passing me on a narrow street in Chelsea. Yes that’s right. I’m cool enough to know that the age old expression, “What’s up?” has been replaced by the current expression, “What’s good?” and that only those who are not “in the know” would ever use, “What’s up?” anymore.

And, that’s about as hip as it gets for me. The rest of their dialogue remains a mystery, except for “Ya feelin’ me, Brotha” (translation: “You understand what I mean?”) Also, if I were to guess, I’d say that this exchange had something to do with Boy 2 being in an inappropriate relationship with a woman. (translation: my gut feeling) Truth be told, I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so completely “out of the loop” listening to young people talking candidly. My, oh my, I felt like I was overhearing a conversation in another country, not in the place where I grew up.

As a person who loves language, it struck me as fascinating how urban youth circles challenge language conventions, manage a wonderful system of keeping adults out of their business and strengthen their inner circle bonds. I wondered how urban youth might be instrumental in the evolution of language.

As their laughter trailed off and they got further away from me, I thought back to when I was just like one of these boys. My teenage friends and I did everything we could to keep the adults in our lives completely clueless about our discussions and behaviors. Our primary aim was to keep our strong inner circle bonds, no matter what it took; secret slang included. I’m not sure how much my friends and I contributed to the evolution of language, but for sure some things among teenagers remain the same; all these many moons later.

Related links: