Last First Day

STS last first day

I don’t cook these ideas up on my own.  They usually start as a small seed and then, the fam tends to play off each other and sim sala bim:  magic!

I have been a parent at St. Timothy’s School for 14 years, and actually, Lisa worked there before we had children.  Our family’s history there goes back to 1994.  This year, Michelle, my youngest, is an eighth grader.  When she graduates, we all graduate.

There are some pluses to this forward movement:

No more BINGO night!  This annual fundraiser crams 2,000 people in an unairconditioned gymnasium that was built for 50.  The Donovan family ALWAYS wins something.  In 14 years, we have never even left the place with a Chic Fil A coupon.

No more meet the teacher events!  I have met them.  I have socialized with some.  I can tell you the books we will read in eighth grade lit.  I know that my kids will write an essay for the Daugther’s of the Revolution and some lucky sucker will get chosen to represent our school on the district level of this prestigious contest.  Aren’t these daughters dead yet??

Overall though, leaving this place is going to be difficult.  We have a lot of feelings and memories tied to this sweet place.

So, DJ, Stephanie and I decided that on Michelle’s Last First Day of school at St. Timothy’s, we should celebrate.  We weren’t as concerned about recognizing her as beginning our year-long emotional exit strategy.  The Headmaster may have to peel my fingers off of the playground slide at the end of the graduation ceremony in May.

Our first, simple thought was that the older sisters would join Michelle and me at morning drop off on the first day of school.  And then, the what if’s began…

“What if… we all wear old uniforms to school that morning?”

“DJ, can you fit your butt into your middle school skort?”

“I’m insulted you would ask.  I can.  It’ll just be a mini-skort.”

“Dad, you can wear a kid’s sweatshirt.  It’ll be funny.”

“What if we make a poster that says:  Happy Last First Day at STS Michelle?”

“What if we take apples to the teachers?”

“What if we snap pictures, take a box of Kleenex and pretend like we can’t let her go?”

“Pretend?”

When she woke up that morning, I told her that her sisters had decided to go with us to drop her off.  That they wanted to see their former teachers.

She seemed excited.

When they barreled downstairs in her uniforms, with red and blue bows in their hair, she seemed a bit hesitant.

“Are you guys going inside the school with me?”  I could tell she was worried.

“Heck yeah!” her siblings replied.

“Dad, you’re not going to wear that sweatshirt.”

“I’m a bit chilly this morning.”

“It’s over 80 degrees!”

She was fine when we paraded through the office.  The faculty were all in.  When we walked outside toward the courtyard, where the entire STS middle school gathered waiting for the classroom doors to open, DJ yelled out at the top of her lungs:  “This is Michelle Tanner’s Last First Day at STS!  Let’s all celebrate y’all!”

Michelle, who is typically in the middle of our antics quietly whispered to me, “This is awkward.”

A familiar voice from the crowd, one of Michelle’s best friends, responded, “Michelle, your family is weird.”

We beamed with pride at the comment.

As we worked the crowd, she slowly slipped away disappearing into her circle of friends.  Our attentions moved from her to others we’ve seen grow up over the past 9 years.  Hugs, pinched cheeks, photographs, blown noses and fake tears.

At the end of the day, I asked if we totally embarrassed her.  She said no.  Our behavior was not unexpected.  She also said, “It was pretty cool to have you all there.”

Perhaps one of the best things about this small, intimate school environment is that kids and their families can be themselves.  We’ve known most of Michelle’s classmates for years.  They’ve walked through our rough times, and we’ve walked through theirs.  There is a ton of safety and acceptance at our school – and for that, I am thankful.

Oh to be thirteen…

I can’t  believe that I was once one of them:  a middle school boy.

Two weeks ago I chaperoned our church middle school mission trip.  The three adults sat with our youth on the front row of the church the Sunday that we departed.  Late in the service, we all stood up front so the minister could “commission” our group which includes a charge to spread Christ’s love throughout the world.

We were all wearing shorts that day, ready to depart at noon.

Mid point in the service, our youth director looked down as the 12-year-old beside her took full use of the ink pen on our weekly visitor register.  His ball point was steady on his buddy’s right leg.  And what might one guess this young man would draw?  A penis.  Yes, he used the pen from the Friendship pad to draw private parts on his friend’s leg.

I didn’t see it myself which is a good thing.  Because I fear I would have rolled under the pew with laughter.  Although grossly inappropriate, it is perhaps one of the moments I will most remember from my years in church, right after my baptism and being ordained as an elder.

What are these dudes thinking?  Or are they?

If there is a deck of cards in view, they pick it up and begin flipping the cards all over the room.  They flip cards at windows, heads, legs, girls, the floor, the ceiling, the wall – I bet I picked up 6,800 cards that week.  And I nagged so much just to ensure that they would occasionally sleep and not forget to change their clothes, I found it easier to clean up myself than to ask them to help.

There were actually two church groups spending the week together in Asheville.  Although we separated during the day, at night we had programs as a large group.

On Tuesday, we visited a Labyrinth.  Our goal was to quietly walk the maze-like path while praying and pondering.  The boys took this as an obstacle course; a challenge to see who could run through the quickest.

Afterward, we all stood in a large circle on a concrete pad.  I had a clear view of one young man who was directly across from me.  His finger was lodged into his nose so far up you could not see his knuckle.  The girl beside him was from the other church and was staring at him with a look of disgust and amazement.  I could see her thought bubble, Is he really digging into his nose right here beside me?  Could he possibly get it any further up?  Can he possibly be my same age?

As his finger disembarked and he relaxed his arm beside him, the group leader announced to all, “Now grab the hand of the person beside you, we are going to pray.”

I wanted to save her.  I could handle a boogered hand much better than she.  I considered diving in between them, grabbing his snot remnanted digit so she would not have to.  But it was too far.  I could not get there in time.

Bless her heart.  I wonder what she thought as we all bowed to God.

Girls at that age are advanced.  Michelle and her friends were having intelligent conversations with the chaperones, listening to music, and braiding each other’s hair.  Calm, cool, and collected.

The boys were were walking around like Beavis and Butthead.

That’s why I volunteer with middle schoolers.  They are incredibly interesting.  Incredibly funny.  Unpredictable.  Pushing the limits.  Full of life.

I had a late birthday for my grade.  I’m a September baby.  My mother has repeatedly told me she should have held me back.  Although I’m fifty, my maturity level is the same as a 26-year-old woman.  Some things never change.

 

 

What’s My Role?

IMG_0532

I had the opportunity to chaperone our middle school youth group’s trip to Asheville, NC, this past week.  Asheville Youth Mission is a Christian organization that coordinates service opportunities for groups throughout the year in and around their mountain town.  We took 13 teenagers and experienced six mission placements in a week.

We worked at Manna Food Bank where Michelle, four other kids and I “got” to rip open hundreds of mesh bags full of rotten, slimy okra and toss them into a compost pile.  There was gagging and one episode of vomiting.  Not me or my child.  Michelle is used to disgusting food.  She was just thankful that she didn’t have to eat it for dinner this time.

We planned a pirate party at a day care center for adults with severe intellectual disabilities.  We shared some great jokes with our new friends:

What’s a pirate’s favorite country?

Arrrrgentina!

I left that afternoon both uplifted and incredibly grateful for my healthy children.

This was my second year at AYM, so I wasn’t surprised that I would be spiritually and emotionally moved at some point during the week.  I just didn’t know how.

Day 1 was the okra; not moving – emotionally or spiritually.  Perhaps gastronically, but that’s about all.

Day 2, however, hit me hard.

We pulled up to Hinds Feet Farm around noon.  It was not a corn field.  It was actually a safe place for people to go who suffer from traumatic or acquired brain injuries.   These adults come to Hinds Feet Farm, held in the back of a church, daily, where they build friendships and participate in programs.

I was fortunate to break bread with Sarah, Jay and Vanessa, three of about 15 present last Tuesday.  Jay immediately shared that Sarah was his wife; they both wore wedding bands.  Sarah clarified that their marriage was spiritual, that at this point they were unable to live together and had not yet had an official ceremony.

After lunch, several of our new friends shared their stories.  We learned that Sarah and Vanessa had been in car accidents.  Vanessa’s was three days after she turned 16.  Jay was hit in a brawl, fell backwards, and suffered significant bleeding on his brain.

Although their stories were inspiring, it was the lessons they shared that really hit home with me.

Each told us that they were intelligent; that they weren’t scary; that they just struggled with speech and with memory.  They asked us to treat them like real people.  Not to shy away from them.  Not to assume they aren’t smart.

As I listened to them, I thought about all that is going on in the world today.  Perhaps part of their struggles was my fault.

I don’t hang out with anyone who has a traumatic brain injury, so I simply don’t understand.  In fact, I don’t really hang out with Muslims, the homeless, those outside of my socioeconomic sphere, transgender folks, etc., etc.  Sure, I have acquaintances at work and throughout the community who are different from me, and, they are some of the nicest, most engaging people I know.  But I’m not eating dinner with them on Saturday night.  Instead, I spend my free time with my family (all lily white, middle class, southerners), and friends from church or clubs or my neighborhood (most lily white, middle class, southerners).  I’m guessing it is difficult to truly understand others if you don’t spend significant time with them.  In fact, Sarah said with slow, slurred speech, “You can’t understand if you don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.  And your feet are probably the wrong size.”  I think I should at least try them on.

At times, I get so frustrated with the unrest in our world.  Things seem so dire.  And yet, if I’m honest with myself, I can’t say that I’m doing anything to make it better.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more time pondering my role in all of this.  And maybe I should work a bit harder to connect with those who don’t look, act and think just like I do.

The Male Period

Kotex Test

Michelle jarred my memory.

“Dad, do you remember when you chaperoned our middle school youth mission trip last summer?”

“I do.  That was fun.”

“Do you remember when you and Brooks convinced the boys that they were going to have periods, just like the girls?”

“Vaguely.”

She recanted the story.

Several girls were on their periods the week of the trip.  They were middle schoolers; it was a bit embarrassing.

At one pit stop, the boys saw the girls purchasing supplies, and the teasing began.  Smirks.  Whispers.  The giggles.  Typical male behaviors.

At the time, Brooks, a cool, young, male chaperon, and I were not aware of the ongoing conversations.  As the story goes, one of the girls approached an 8th grade boy.

“Shut up!  You don’t even know what happens!”

“Yes I do.  It’s when the blue water comes out.”  The laughter resumed.

Apparently he had seen the commercials advertising the absorbency of some of the most porous pads.  In it, a cylinder full of blue water is poured into the pad to show its effectiveness.  Not one drop of the Windex looking liquid leaked.  Pretty amazing.

Made sense that the young mind assumed that was actually what came out.  You wouldn’t advertise muffin tins by putting spaghetti in them, would you?

The girls busted out laughing, and the poor clueless boy was bewildered.

Later that day, as the story was unfolded to Brooks and me, the girls asked if we would convince the boys they too would soon be having a visit from Aunt Flo.  It seemed like a reasonable request considering the males had indeed begun the fight.

As we entered the bus after our afternoon outings, one of the males again chose to bring up the subject, this time in earshot of Brooks and me.

“Fellas, why are you bringing this up?” I questioned.

“Yah,” Brooks followed.  “You know, everyone has them.  Your turn is coming.  I just started mine last year.”

I added, “Boys start later than girls.  Usually around 18.”

A silence fell over the bus.  I’d never seen such big eyes IN MY LIFE!

The fact that the girls were rolling in the floor quickly gave our joke away, but if only for a few minutes, we had them convinced.

Now, in the guys’ defense, it is tempting to tease females.  It is our way of flirting.  As a kid, we hit you.  In middle school, we pick at you.  When older, we use lines that are meant to engage you.  And generally, regardless of age, the woman ends up with the upper hand.  My mother had it.  My wife had it.  And all three of my daughters have it as well.  We might as well give up.  We will NEVER know more about ANYTHING than they do.

Middle School Lock-In Learnings

lockin

I was a chaperone at the middle school lock-in at church last Friday.  Whew.

That night, I discovered a couple of things that I didn’t know before.

1) Middle school boys are interesting.

They don’t wear coats, even at night in January.  For the most part, they also don’t wear long pants.  One boy did bring a coat but he tucked it, and it was large, into the front of his sweat pants.  He walked around like that for hours.

They throw footballs in the building, even after you ask them not to.  One balanced a half-full can of Coke, slanted, on an antique table in the church lobby.

I asked, “Does that still have soda in it?”

He responded, “Yes.  It wouldn’t work if it didn’t.”  Duh.

I’ll have to say, he didn’t spill a drop.

When given popcorn, you can follow them anywhere because they leave a trial.  It’s like Hansel and Gretel.  I wondered if any went into their mouths.  Which could explain why they each had room in their bellies for 10+ iHOP pancakes.

They will dribble a basketball or hang on a rim for hours if given the opportunity.

They do not know how to talk to girls, but they do know how to hit them.

2)  Middle school girls are determined.

We went to an arcade from 10 PM until midnight.  There, multiple girls found the game with the robotic clasper.  You put two coins in and with a joystick guide the robotic hand that is inside a glass box.  The goal is to place the hand in the exact right position, press a button to drop it down, and hope it grabs a nifty prize you can take home to put on your already cluttered dresser.  The problem is that the clasper rarely works.  It drops down, pinches together, and generally brings up air.

In this glass box, there were only rolls of tickets, the ones you win to claim more prizes.  On her first try, one girl scored a roll of 500 tickets.  She turned them in for more coins.  She then returned to the game to fish for more tickets.  If the clasper happened to grab another roll, she returned to claim more coins so she could return to try to get more tickets.

It was like she was spinning around in circles.

Insert coins

Win a few tickets

Get more coins

Insert coins

Win a few tickets

Get more coins

What was the point?  Where was this going?  What was the end goal?

I stand perplexed.

At least the boys were using their time to do productive things like blow up dinosaurs that were attacking earth in a vicious sort of way.  If, by chance, a real dino attack occurs, the First Pres. youth group is going to be instrumental in saving our planet.

3)  My brother-in-law can sleep standing up.

4)  You can fit 30 middle school kids under a desk.

Because our church is old, playing Sardines, where one person hides and if you find them, you join them, is quite an adventure.  Our church elevator has a stop at Basement 1 and Basement 2 if that gives you any idea of the depths of spookiness.

Dodging in and out of Basement 2 closets and mechanical rooms at 2 AM is freaky!

One kid hid under the Youth Director’s office desk.  When the last kid found them, there were 30 packed underneath.  They’d been there for quite some time.

Perhaps my greatest discovery?

5)  I don’t like people at 4 AM.

Whippin’ and Nae-naein’ Asheville Style

Asheville

Although I don’t fully remember, I think I agreed on my own accord, with no significant pressure.  No arm twisting, no gun at my head.

Last week, for five nights, I chaperoned a middle school mission trip to Asheville, NC.  There were 11 kids, our youth director, a cool 19-year-old intern, and me.

We stayed at First Presbyterian Church downtown with two other youth groups.  We walked 75 stairs to the fourth floor Sunday School room which was our home base for the duration of the trip.  We weren’t allowed to use the elevator.  They said it was cantankerous.  I suspect they wisely just didn’t want 45 twelve-year-olds pressing the stop button between floors two and three or calling the grocery store from the emergency wall phone asking if they had Prince Charles in a can.

I’ll have to admit, I was a bit nervous about this trek.  Although I worked with these kids throughout the school year on Sunday nights, it has been about three decades since I traveled with pubescents.

Each night, after we’d spent the day working at various nonprofits throughout Buncombe County, we had two hours of debrief activities with the five college interns who ran the program.

Yep.  We sat on laminated tile squares in the church’s Fellowship Hall for hours.  The squares were clearly glued to concrete because when we finally stood up, my butt bones ached like they’d been beaten by a beam of steel.

Now I love Jesus, but if you’re gonna talk to me about Him for that long, I need a cushion.  If I go back next year, I’m wearing biker shorts.

At one point I stood up and got a sniff of my hands.  I’d forgotten the smell of classroom tile floor.  If gray had an odor, this would be it.

My air mattress was comfy enough but occasionally little bubbles would float up and give me a startle.  It was like a kernel of corn had unpredictably popped on an unexpected point on my body.  At 12:15 AM, my left shin.  1:13, the outer side of my right bicep.  3:06?  My aching hip.

Although I left with a great appreciation for a lot of things, while there, I was most thankful for Tylenol PM.  It wasn’t a deep sleep, but that and the 3’ x 3’ floor fan by my head were my saving graces.

I have never in my life seen so many cheese balls eaten within a six-day period of time.  They were everywhere – crunched into the laminate, under air mattresses, and ebedded between some unbrushed-brace-filled mouths.  One kid even used the orange powder to paint eye-shadow on her friend.

By Tuesday evening, the boys’ room smelled like a dumpster:  sweat, farts, worn out boy tennis shoes, sour towels.  I felt like I was sleeping inside a very large jock strap.  I walked into the girls’ room, and there was a faint waft of roses hovering over their Lilly Pulitzer pulled up comforters.

I think I was pretty cool for a 50-year-old father.  I mean, I whipped and nae naed (for you nerds out there, it’s a new dance).

One night we walked through a Labyrinth.  We were told to be quiet and pray for someone who wasn’t like us.

I prayed for the kids.  They are no longer like me.  But they’re a sharp group, anxious to serve.

They have a lot of choices ahead.  My hope is that they have wisdom and that the time we spend with them today has meaning tomorrow.

Not a Creature was Stirring…

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The eight grade fall dance was coming.  I knew we had to act fast!

“Stephanie, do you want to host a sleepover the night of the dance?”

“Yea Dad!”

“We’d better get an email out quickly before some other parent decides they want to have twelve thirteen-year-olds over for 20 hours.  We don’t want to miss this opportunity.”

I actually don’t mind hosting.  I’m up late most nights anyway and… if you sit quietly and listen, you garner so much information in a really short period of time.  Which is good for a clueless father.

It took me, my afternoon sitter and another mom to get the dozen, and their stuff, to the house after school on Friday.  The excitement was palpable.

As the girls ate dinner, I was affirmed when one girl chirped up out of the blue, “I’m mean, like, abs are nice but some guys just take it too far.  I don’t like it when those muscles are all stickin’ out and stuff.”

How refreshing to hear.  I hope that 48-year-old women feel the same way.

One mom who ran by the house to drop her kid’s outfit off said, “You’re a brave man Danny Tanner.”

“I’m not afraid of no eigth grade girls.  I ran a Y day camp for five years.  They got nothin’ on me.”  And they don’t.  I can dish out as much as they can, maybe more.

As we neared the school for the drop off, two SUVs packed with adolescents, panic ensued in both cars.

“It’s only 7:02!  We can’t get there yet!  We have to be fashionably late.”

I had just pulled into the driveway of the school when I got the word.  “Stop!”  We pulled over, a good football field from the drop off point.  The windows flew open, One Direction’s The Best Song Ever cranking from my Dolby speakers, turned up to max decibels.  Bodies were hanging out of the windows, one or two popped out of the sunroof.  Of course, I couldn’t let a beat like that pass by – I too jumped out of the car and got my groove on, a couple of other parents passing us by in wonder – or disbelief.

When we picked the crew up, and the car doors closed, I think the dance was summed up by one of the wisest of the crew, “Boys are jerks!”  It was then qualified with, “You’re a man Mr. Tanner, you don’t count.”

“Yeah.  It’s always more fun getting ready than actually going,” Stephanie pitched in.

“I asked Bobby why he didn’t ask anyone to dance.  He said it would mess up his mojo.  I told him, ‘You’re at a small, private school.  Any mojo you had went out the door when you made the decision to attend this institution.'”

As the girls got into their PJ’s, one asked, “Mr. Tanner, do you have a wash cloth so I can get all of this makeup off?”

“Yea.  I have a paint scraper and a chisel too if you need it.”

About 10 PM I pulled Stephanie into my bedroom.  “At 1:30, the girls need to be quiet.  If they’re not, I’m coming out of my room in my underwear and yelling, and you don’t want that do you?”

“Ah, no.”

“Great!”

About 1 AM, it was like the night before Christmas – not a creature was stirring, not even Kimmey Gibler.

Oh, my car still smells like cotton candy.

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