Friday, April 30, 2010
I'm extremely worried about the rapid death rate of America's grandparents. Mainly, I'm worried that I'm causing their premature deaths singlehandedly.
I have evidence. Last week, on the day my students had a major paper due, I received the following email from four different people. This is an amalgam, but they were very, very similar:
I know you are very strict with assignment deadlines and you say that you do not accept excuses and I totally respect that and therefore would never try to do so. However, I just found out that my (Grandmother/Grandfather, Nana/Pop-pop, Gamma/Gampa) unfortunately died from a (heart attack/pulmonary event/liver disease/falling anvil) yesterday and I have to go home and be there for my family since this is a difficult time for all. I hope you understand that as a result of this difficult situation I will be unable to turn my paper in today."
Not one email. Four. In a class of 30 students. The odds of four students from one class losing a grandparent on the same day are approximately *465,283 to 1.
(*Actual figure as computed by my C-3PO ratio adjustment calculator.)
It's clear to me now: when I assign a paper deadline in class, I'm marking my students' grandparents for death. I clearly possess some sort of dark, Voldemortish power that I never even knew about. There's no need for a death panel in this country, with me on the job.
I know what you're thinking. No, Pirate, such a widespread epidemic among the elderly is simply not possible. Do not be naive, Pirate. Your students are "playing you,"as the kids say. They're trying to "sell you real estate," or make you "eat the brownies." They take you for a "moron."
Sure. As excuses go, of course, Dead Grandparent is a pretty smart choice. The fact is, I don't get emails about dead parents or siblings. If students are lying, they're doing so with one careful eye on their own karma. Killing off grandparents is relatively safe.
And what can a teacher do about it? Make the student prove it? You could demand to see some documentation: a death certificate, the program from the funeral, receipts from the estate auction, the hand-knitted afghan that Sweet Nana left behind after she went to her reward... but that makes you the biggest schmuck teacher of all time, right? (I have colleagues who have actually done this, by the way, demand proof when a student alleges that a death in the family kept them from finishing an assignment. I freely admit that I lack the stones to go that far.)
You can flat-out accuse the student of bullshitting. But at some point, someone will be telling the truth about a grandparent's death, and unless you have a heart like a petrified walnut, you don't want to punish that student just because others have set a new low standard in weasel-like lying.
The Dead Grandparent really is a classic ringer. It worked for Johnny Fairplay on Survivor. It worked for Ferris Bueller's girlfriend. Distinguishing truth from bullshit is tough; all a teacher can ultimately do is rely on instinct. (My advice is watch the eyes when the student tells you their story in your office later. Watch for darting pupils. Or sentences that end with question marks: "Yea, my grandma, like, died? So I, um... can't turn in the paper today? Because of how I'm upset and stuff?")
But then again... what if they're all telling the truth? What if my students' grandparents are keeling over and is my fault? What if my enforcement of assignment deadlines is somehow cosmically responsible for the brutal and untimely demises of my students' beloved grandparents? If so, I feel just awful.
The least I can do is let students know at the start of the semester that if they stay in my class, they're likely to lose one if not both grandparents. Maybe I should put an addendum in my syllabus, recommending that students spend some quality time with any elderly relatives the weekend before our major deadlines -- take them on walks, listen to some stories about the Depression, say any heartfelt goodbyes.
Or maybe I'll just take the opportunity on the first day of every semester to do my best impression of John Houseman in The Paper Chase:
"Ladies and gentlemen, look to your immediate left. Now, look to your right. Look at each other. One of you has a grandparent.... WHO WILL DIE IN THE NEXT FOUR MONTHS. Probably on September 28th, November 3rd, or December 9th."
Saturday, April 24, 2010
A few weeks ago, SaucyWench and I tweaked our weekday morning schedule. Until a few weeks ago, she was the one who took the Mini-Pirate to school, and I'd pick her up in the afternoons. But we decided that, on the days I don't have morning classes, I'd take over the a.m. drive duties, so that Saucy could have a little more room in her mornings. She could read the paper, get some exercise, and basically find a little crumblet of zen before her work day steamrolled over her. A perfectly reasonable request on her part. (Although I'll confess that I was sort of a Cranky Pirate about it at first. In a strictly passive-aggressive way, though -- I said "Sure, no problem, I can totally take the kid to school!" and then secretly grumbled about the whopping fifteen-minute delay in my day that would result. Pirates can be babies sometimes.)
It's been interesting, in a couple different ways. For example, each morning, my daughter and I have a Discussion, based on a Daily Topic. So far, our morning drive agenda has covered:
1) Advanced Robotics (Mini-P: "I prefer my robots without noses.")
2) Time Travel ("I'd rather go forward than backwards, because I want my own jet pack.")
3) The Environment ("Litterers are so stupid.")
4) Famous Inventors ("I want to be an inventor. My first invention will be my jet pack.")
5) Banking Reform ("I don't know, Daddy, I'm still not convinced that more federal regulatory powers will help us stay competitive in an increasingly connected global economy.")
I'm learning a lot. The kid's better than NPR.
That part's been fun. Something strange has happened though. When I describe it, I'm pretty sure I'm going to sound deeply lame, but here goes.
I've taken Mini-P to school before, of course. But not on a regular basis like this -- just every once in a while if Saucy had an appointment or some sort of lawyerly work thing that required her to jam downtown earlier than normal. The last time I did it was in January. And back then, it actually did take more time. It used to go like this: I would drive Mini-P to school, park nearby, get out, walk with her into the courtyard to hang up her backpack, hang out with her a bit before the bell rang, stand with her to say the pledge, and then head out after goodbye hugs. It was a little time-consuming, but nice.
But when I started taking on the driving duties a couple weeks ago, I discovered that there's been a shift in the routine since then.
At some point over the last few months my wife and daughter transitioned to a new system, an easier one: The Drop-Off. In this scenario, you just pull up to the circular drive in front of the school, let your kid hop out, and then drive off, letting the kid fend for herself. (See, already I'm sounding stupid. It's not like there are dingos surrounding our elementary school. There's no "fending.")
I'm sure this is going to seem so ridiculous to parents who do this all the time. After I post this, I'm sure I'll feel like a total schmuck. Because clearly this is no big deal -- parents do this all the time, with kids way younger than mine. They pull up to the curb, push the kid out, tell them to make Smart Choices, and then speed away. Hell, some parents probably don't even come to a complete stop.
But this was the first time I did The Drop-Off with my girl. When Saucy informed me of the new routine, I said, "and she's fine with this? She doesn't need us to walk in with her?" Saucy assured me she didn't. She had friends to see, secrets to trade, she didn't need us to follow her in.
So the next morning I did what my wife assured me is the new normal: I drove Mini-P to school (Discussion Topic of the Day: If You Could Be Any Supervillain, Which One Would You Be?), pulled up to the sidewalk, and told her to hop out. I thought maybe she'd be heartbroken that I was too busy to walk in with her and say a proper post-pledge goodbye.
Nonchalantly, Mini-P, unbuckled her seatbelt, popped open the passenger door and climbed out, dragging her oversized backpack behind her. "Have a good day," I called out. "You too," she called back over her shoulder as she adjusted her backpack straps and slammed the door shut. It was all very congenial and mature.
I pulled out of my spot and navigated around other dropping-off parents as my kid half-skipped, half-ran towards school, her blonde shaggy hair flying behind her, that giant backpack bouncing off her tailbone. I rounded the final curve in the drive just as she reached the main doors. She turned back once, saw me, then smiled and gave me a quick wave.
I saw her in my rear view mirror as she ran off towards to the main doors, and disappeared inside. Then I drove off into my own day of grading, course prep, and a couple meetings. Feeling weird. I guess that was the first time my daughter and I parted company in such a way, wishing each other well, and heading off in separate directions.
We've successfully executed The Drop-Off several times since then. It's quick, easy, convenient. All good. I feel the same uncomfortable twinge each time I watch her gallop off into her day like that as I pull away. Maybe I'm just too sensitive. Plus lame.
Or maybe it's just strange to see your kid in your rear view mirror, running away from you.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
This morning, seven students were absent from my 8 a.m. class. A pretty high number, especially considering a major paper was due. I didn't get it, until I heard a couple students outside greet other sleepily and wish each other a happy 420.
Later in my office, one of my absent students came in, looking surprisingly lucid (albeit a little bleary), clutching a bag of Funyuns. Josh. Josh said he apologized for missing class but could he still turn in his paper?
"Is it finished?" I asked, trying not to breathe in and get a contact high.
"Well, almost. It'll definitely be ready by the end of the day."
"But... that's unfair."
"Because it's not my fault that I missed today."
"How do you figure that?" I asked.
"I thought there was no class today."
"Why would you think that?"
"Because, you know..." he paused, trying to figure out a) if I knew the relevance of today's date, and b) if I'd consider it a valid excuse for missing class.
"Because today is the anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolutionary War?" I asked. "It's the day the Chicago Cubs played their first game in Wrigley Field, back in 1916? The day Marie Curie first refined radium chloride? The day Manfred von Richthofen, also known as The Red Baron, shot down his 79th and 80th victims in 1918, marking his final victories before his death the following day?"
Josh looked like he sort of wanted to crawl into his Funyuns bag and curl up there.
"Josh, April 20th is not a holiday. Government offices are open. There's trash collection. There's mail. I can pretty much guarantee that Unofficial National Toke Up Day will never end up on the calendar. If it ever does, I'll cancel class. But not now. Cool?"
"Ok," he said dolefully. He started to shuffle out, then turned back again: "Oh, I may have to miss class tomorrow too. Are we doing anything important?"
Eager for more fun facts about 420? Go here.
Posted by Didactic Pirate at 12:10 PM
What say ye?
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Mini-Pirate is our family's official Toilet Paper Czar. After my wife arrives home from her weekly supermarket sweep, Mini-P is charged with the task of opening up the pack of t.p., and distributing an equal number of rolls to the bathrooms in the house.
The following conversation took place today after Saucy brought home the groceries:
"Kiddo, your mom bought toilet paper. Are you going to put it all away?"
"Cool. Hey, how many rolls of toilet paper are there in that pack?"
"'Kay. And I forget -- how many bathrooms do we have?"
"Huh. So how many rolls should go in each bathroom?"
"Erm... oh, I know. Four."
"Wait. I'm not sure that's right. Are you positive?"
"Of course I'm sure! There are twelve rolls, and we have three bathrooms, and twelve divided by three equals... (she quickly checks again in her head) four."
"Oh, yea. That's exactly right. I forgot about division. Good job."
Mini-Pirate snaps her head up and stares at me.
"Hey!!! You just made me do math!!"
"You did so. You made me do math on a Saturday."
"Oh, I guess I did. Sorry about that."
She looks at me through narrow eyes for a moment. Then, she plucks out rolls of toilet paper and walks away slowly. As she climbs the stairs I hear her mutter:
"Crafty. But it won't work twice."
We shall see, Youngling. We shall see.
Posted by Didactic Pirate at 5:50 PM
What say ye?