A New Year Older, Oh La La…

OMG oh my God… a New Year  means I am a year older.  How did this happen ?  When I look in the mirror,  I am shocked by the reflection of the stranger in the glass.  My nose  enlarged, my chin recedes and my lips, barely visible, regress.  The corners of my mouth turn down. What is that goofy mask I am wearing ?  My jowls sag, my chin doubles, my eyes bag, my hair greys, my skin wrinkles.  Now I understand why women undergo the knife. Forget simple face lift, I need an entire body boost.  But once one starts nipping and tucking there is no end.  Face peels, botox injections, cosmetic surgeries.

I am lucky that due to my medical treatment, I have a great camouflage for aging. I have to wear big bulky dark glasses that a student once told me, « Looks like a dead animal covering your face ! »

My shades conveniently hide any imperfections.  Also since I see everything in dimmer mode, I assume people have trouble seeing me too.  But take off the dark glasses and look out.  My face has been ravaged by time….too many summer days under blazing suns life-guarding, too many hours teaching sports outdoors, too many year ignoring the natural elements and swearing off synthetic beauty products. Mary Kay be damned.

Cheer up. With age comes wisdom.  Smile.  Are you kidding me ?  I love The Color Purple, but not for teeth.  I look like I have mouth filled with blueberries.  Antioxidants and antibiotics do a number on the canines.

Teeth whiteners, brighteners lighteners.  Creams to regenerate, rejuvenate, to blend crows-feet, cover age spots. Make ups to hide, tint, color, and resurface the skin.  Consumers spend a small fortune pursing the foundation of youth in a bottle. Cover the mirrors, succumb to the battle, embrace growing old gracefully.  And take it from me, never, ever leave the house without the dark shades.

Like a lot of women, feeling slouchier, slumpier and frumpier in the new year, I rushed to the nearest department store for a little inexpensive pick me up for returning to teaching.  I tried on a pair of fitted, navy blue sweats in front of the mirror in the hallway of the dressing room, glaring at my reflection when I heard a voice behind me.

« Wow,  you look great – slender and long legged. That’s the build designers had in mind, when they invented that style , » the clerk said…  Check out your backside !

Now I have the perfect solution to ace the aging game, forget the face off, present the backside first.

Snow Storms Leaves Passengers Stranded in Europe, Including Me!

Well, that was an interesting voyage. Round trip to nowhere. We left the house before daybreak and ten hours later, returned home in the dark again. We never left the airport, yet felt like we’d travelled for weeks. Since most European countries lack heavy snow removal equipment even a couple, little snowflakes creates huge havoc on the entire continent.

Lechault’s snowed in at home

First bad omen: our taxi got stuck at the stoplight at the corner of our street. While our wheels spun on a patch of ice, a Renault Scenic smashed into the back of a Volkswagen Passat at the adjacent stoplight. Fifty yards further, a Mercedes slammed into the stoplight on the overpass knocking out the traffic signals.

In bumper-to-bumper traffic, we crept toward the airport. As soon as we arrived at the check in gate, a voice announced on the public address system, “Due to inclement weather, the Geneva airport will be closed until further notice.”

Ever optimistic, KLM personnel insisted we check our bags and pass controls to wait at the gate, just in case. But as soon as the Geneva airport reopened, the Amsterdam airport closed. We counted as one after the other flights across Europe to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Madrid, and Moscow were cancelled on the departure board. Our flight was rescheduled for noon; fifteen minutest later the red sign popped up, “cancelled.”

Luckily, Geneva is a small airport, so I felt at home in what turned into a mini reunion of the international school. All morning, I chatted with a colleague whose flight to London was delayed. In the afternoon, I caught up with a couple of 12th grade students who were booked on that same ill-fated, KLM flight. We waited for rerouting in a line that crawled forward a foot every fifty minutes. After four hours, we finally reached the rebooking counter, and I offered hopefully. “We could fly to Chicago instead of Minneapolis.”

Fat chance flying anywhere. During the Christmas holidays, flights worldwide were over booked. Forty-five minutes later the airline agent suggested, “Sunday, we have space on a flight to Paris with a stop over in Washington, then Minneapolis.” I collapsed on the counter!

“Pleeeaaasssee, I have health problems, can you recheck for a more direct flight?”

By then, I looked like I rolled under a cement truck, so she searched the computer screen again. A half hour later, she found a Continental flight to Newark then on to Minneapolis.

Last leg, flag down a taxi and head back to our own bed. Passengers across Europe slept the night in the airports. Since snow is a natural phenomenon, the airlines aren’t responsible for providing meals or overnight accommodations. It could be worse. In light of everything else that could go wrong in life, it is ONLY a cancelled flight. And when it snows, it is best to be stranded at home.

After the taxi dropped us in front our snow covered house, I discovered students had left a bag of homemade chocolates and a bottle of wine on my doorstep. There is a God, after all.

Bonne nuit. But will I sleep? Yikes, in 48 hours, I am flying over the Atlantic again!

Back to School in the 21st Century

In the 1930’s my grandma started her teaching day by shoveling a snow covered path to a one-room schoolhouse and splitting wood for the potbellied stove.

Today, we flash identity cards to guards at campus gates, open doors with electronic keys, display notes on whiteboards, take attendance on line, post homework on websites, keep in constant contact with parents, students, administrators and colleagues via the Internet.

Yet back to school in the 21st century has never been more challenging. No matter how long one has been teaching, la rentree is always stressful. To add to our anxiety, our nightly news reports teacher strikes, school shootings and failing test scores in academic settings around the globe. Teachers in France protest the retirement age. (Age sixty sounds good to me.) Students on the West Bank practice safety procedure in gunfire. Where we once learned to crouch under desks during tornado drills for natural disasters, today’s youth are trained to hit the deck to avoid manmade bullets and bombs.

Discipline is a whole new ball game. Chewing gum and wearing torn jeans are no longer a grave offenses Teachers reprimand students not only for talking in class, but for playing games on Laptops and, iphones. Now we confiscate cell phones, iPods and weapons during lessons.

Whereas teachers once caught cheaters red handed copying from a neighbors’ papers, now students take information word for word from the Internet and swear it’s not plagiarism because they got it off Wikipedia. As soon as new tools like Turn-It In are developed, techno savvy kids figure out a way to beat the system.

Text messaging and SMS are wreaking havoc with the language structure, pupils write essays in code. Every line includes “i” in place of the pronoun, “I.” Students can only follow instructions in 20-second increments. Sensory overload from too many electronic gadgets has obliterated their attention spans.

Hyper vigilant, ultra techy kids maneuver around cyberspace with the agility with which we once flicked paper notes folded into mini footfalls across the classroom.

At the touch of fingertips we are immediately connected to data bases filled with student profiles, parent background, and libraries full of facts.

How much information is too much information?

With online courses, videotaped lectures, assignments recorded on phone-in messages, one wonders will the teacher one day be obsolete? Yet, when was the last time the computer offered a smile of encouragement, a kind word or a pat on the back.

We are more connected than ever, but not always in a good way. The teacher’s role, though ever changing, is still invaluable retaining the tenuous link between generations, connecting – school, parent, child – and bridging family and society.

Recently the new superintendent of Chicago suburban high school welcomed back the teaching staff with this message. “I guarantee you my own children will not remember which university you graduated from or how well you know your subject content, but whether or not you connected and met his or her needs.

Perhaps our greatest role in a society that is changing faster than ever due to globalization and World Wide Web is to retain the human bond, to CARE. Communicate, accommodate, respond, and then educate.

I long for the good old’ days of grandma’s one room schoolhouse, when all the teacher had to do shovel the snow, stoke up the fire, clean the chalkboard and teach ABCs.

Carpe Diem

As usual, I was moaning about my students, my lumbago, my work load and then I almost lost my bro. Dick was a dead man walking with 99% blockage of not just any old blood vessel, but of the Widow Maker, left anterior descending coronary artery, so named because if the artery gets obstructed the result is usually the Big One, sudden death.

The doctor said that my 54-year-old brother in law has the heart of 70-year-old man and wonders how a man who lives so right, could have a cardiovascular system so wrong. Dick, a non-smoker, exercises daily and eats veggies grown in his own garden. Good habits. Bad genes. His dad died at a massive heart attack with no warning at age fifty-four. Dick’s only warning was strange pain in the neck.

Dick, cheerful, outgoing, athletic, is a wonderful husband and father, a soccer coach, and businessman, who loves the outdoors. He’s always the first to do someone a good turn for no ulterior motive. He donates gallons of blood, gives his Christmas check to the underprivileged and contributes to church and community service projects. A good man.

He’s the kind of guy who takes a thousand pictures of his nephew’s first U.S. college ball game, to capture one perfect shot, so that Nic’s parents in Switzerland could feel a part of that milestone. The guy that buys his in-laws (he named Outlaws) goofy gifts like matching shirts with gaudy fish patterns. That drives 500 miles to surprise a friend. That never forgets a Mother’s Day.

When my sister, Karen, called to explain the crisis, the only time she broke down was when she said, “I would have been lost without Nathalie by my side.” Our daughter, Nat, in her last year of Medical School, moved into Karen and Dick’s basement to help defray expenses. Nat was working ER at the hospital where Dick underwent emergency surgery. Dick, a man of great faith, knows God was watching over him. And Nat was at the right place in the right time doing what she was born do – console, comfort, guide – people through the perils of the medical world, that other planet where they communicate with doctor-speak, another foreign language.

Last week, Dick comforted Nat after a tough day when she came home distraught, after they tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate a Code Blue baby in a case of child neglect. This week, Nathalie held my baby sister’s hand when the cardiologist explained her husband’s alarming test results and requested his living will before the procedure.

Forty-eight hours later, Dick is home with a stent restoring the blood flow to the heart. When people call to wish him a speedy recovery, he doesn’t lament the diseased heart, medical bills, or pills for-the-rest-of-my-life regime; instead, he rejoices in the miracle of being alive.Ever positive and upbeat he tells you, “I guess God still needs me here on earth.” As do his wife, daughters, mom, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, in laws and out laws, neighbors and friends.

In the aftermath of almost losing a loved one, we face our own mortality. Dick inspires us; he always lives each moment as though it may be his last. With a broad grin, The Dead Man Walking wraps you in a bear hug and shouts his motto, “Seize the day, Sista!”