Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I spent much of yesterday leaning over the shoulders of my third-graders, trying to telepathically remind them that sentences need capital letters at the beginning and periods at the end. They didn't notice me, though. They were too deeply ensconced in the state-mandated writing assessment, which requires students to read a brief prompt and then respond with their own perspective in five correctly-spelled, appropriately-punctuated paragraphs.

The test was miserable. It was two and a half hours of nervous mumbling and restless shifting and hovering teachers trying to prevent computer glitches. I'll say this for my little troopers: they hung in. For two and a half long, grueling hours, they scribbled, erased, typed, backspaced, searched for commas, searched their souls, and filled up computer screens. I am ashamed to say I wasn't sure they had it in them.

Their teacher, on the other hand, had to pee. Which made two and a half hours seem like five.

Eventually, my little group completed their tests and I was permitted to release them onto the playground, where fingers that only moments ago were "about to fall off" became recharged with spring air and gripped swing chains. Birds sang and pebbles flew from under scuffing sneakers. The kids were once again permitted to be kids. For fifteen minutes, anyway.

And their teacher was permitted to run to the bathroom.

Afterward, I picked up one of my younger, as-yet-un-writing-assessed children and got him ready for inclusion. One of my inclusion periods is a P.E. class in which I provide behavior support, which means I get to watch nineteen first-graders circle the gym at high speeds and bounce basketballs off each other's heads. I'm not exactly sure some days whose behavior I'm supposed to be supporting, but we've all come through it alive and well so far.

Because of make-up picture day in the gym, though, today we were supposed to be going to the art classroom instead. I had my charge next to me and the other eighteen P.E. students behind him in a line. We made it halfway to the art room when their regular ed teacher popped out of her classroom and announced, "The gym's free. They're supposed to be going there now."

"Oh. Okay." So I turned the line around and walked them back up the hall to the gym (which is, of course, at the furthest point possible from the art room). Sneakers squeaked on linoleum and little voices whispered. My own charge walked next to me because he so doesn't do lines.

But there was no gym teacher in the gym.

So I turned the nineteen restless children around and headed them back down the hall. This time, there was a lot more whispering and muttering -- bad, since a few students from another group were still finishing up the writing assessment. I worked on getting the children quiet without raising my own voice -- quite a feat, to telepathically tell nineteen children to quiet down, but it seemed to work -- and took them back toward the art room.

Halfway there, their regular ed teacher met us in the hall again. "The gym teacher's on her way."

Oh. So back up the hallway we went toward the gym. The whispers grew like wind in the trees. My telepathy failed me and I had to clear my throat several times, but we managed to stay quiet, and my own little charge handled this string of changed plans quite well. He was still calm and seemed to think the whole thing was rather funny.

The gym teacher met us in the gym and announced, "I'm so glad everyone's finished testing!"

Uh ...

I broke the news to her, gently, that there were still a few students testing, and she informed me that we weren't supposed to be in the gym if there was testing going on in the building because we make too much noise. So we lined them all back up and we walked them back down the hallway toward the art room. By this time, half the class period was over.

The gym teacher walked at the beginning of the line and I brought up the rear with my little charge. Just as we at the caboose passed the computer lab, the exhausted computer teacher burst into the hallway and announced:

"DONE! Thank God!"

Oh, Lord Jesus.

I signaled the gym teacher and we stopped our line, turned them around again, and marched them back to the gym. The gym teacher permitted them to skip their exercises and just play a well-earned game of duck-duck-goose, since they'd already gotten their workout marching up and down the hallway.

Ten short minutes later, gym class ended and I returned the first-graders to their teacher. My little charge and I retreated to our classroom.

"That was a fun gym class," he said, kicking off his gym sneakers and pulling on his street shoes. "I liked that gym class."

I gave him a smile and sat him down with a phonics box, more than a little tired. At least he enjoyed the confusion! I guess it's a matter of perspective.

My little positive-thinker worked on the phonics box silently for a while, matching plastic objects to the pictures they rhyme with. Then I heard a small, worried giggle, and I approached him.

"Everything going all right?"

He held up a plastic plum and a plastic pear. "What rhymes with mango?"

I don't think I even knew what a mango was till I was twenty, but here this child thought both the plum and the pear were mangoes. Worn out as I was, this struck me as beautiful.

I nudged the plastic ants off of the card with the picture of two people dancing. "Tango," I told him. "Tango rhymes with mango." Because we can work on fruit tomorrow. Today, I'm going to try to see things the way he does.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is my new shirt!

Question. Why would you put a snow-white, long-sleeved, brand-spanking-new shirt on your second-grader with autism and then send him into the den of ketchup, chalk crayons, and nose blood that is a special education classroom in springtime?

I have been following this child around all morning with a Shout wipe. Because, here's the thing about second-graders (with or without autism):

1. They are natural magnets for ketchup, markers, mustard, chalk crayons, and the grubby little hands of their classmates.

2. Their noses sometimes bleed during allergy season.

3. They can't stand to have spots on their clothing.

"This is my new shirt." That's the mantra of the day.

"Sweetie," I tell him, "Don't rub at it. Let me get the Shout wipes."

"This is -- this is my new shirt." Followed by a nervous giggle. Which tends to be followed by a mega-meltdown.

Quickly, I drop the third-grade spelling list and swoop in with the Shout wipe. Disaster is averted. For the moment.

I turn back to the third-graders and resume their spelling test. "Setting. The setting of my story is in rural West Virginia in the present day. Setting."

Just as my third-graders, without exception, write S-I-T-T-I-N-G on their papers, I hear a very nervous giggle behind me. I turn to find my second-grader surrounded by markers with no lids. He is a rainbow in shades of green -- lime, forest, kelly. He looks perhaps like he was pleased with himself for a moment. But then it sinks in and the giggle pops out.

"This is -- this is my new shirt."

I am out of Shout wipes. We teeter on the brink of crisis.

"This is my new shirt, too," I lie, tugging at my own worn old green school shirt. "See? We match."

The giggle fades. A true smile blooms.

"We match. We must be best buddies."

Crisis averted. At least until his parents see what's become of his brand-new shirt!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To Orange Cat


Winter held

... and held and held ...

and I was stuck in a snowdrift,
couldn't cut a path
out to find you.

This is wrong.
I was not given the gift of poetry.

I was granted prose instead --
rambling long --
thinking in complete sentences
with punctuation.

But sometimes wrong is all there is.
That winter
didn't end ...
... and didn't end ...
... and didn't end ...

so where would the period go?

No, this has to be a poem
Phrases shattered out of sentences
and scattered across endless snow

White and white and white and white

And one little dollop of orange.

With the spring thaw
came healing
for everyone but you --

found shattered and scattered
on the very first day of spring.

I wish there was no period
at the end of your sentence.

-- To Henry-Cat, who went on his way March 21, 2008

Friday, March 19, 2010

Is it Friday yet?

I just got hit in the head with the teacher's lounge door.

And I mean, I got hit with some considerable force! The teacher coming out of the lounge was on the run, having dashed to the restroom between classes. She was hurrying back to meet her class of twenty first-graders, and I was walking with a hand on my little repeat-offender runaway's shoulder to make sure I didn't lose him, when I spotted one of my other students hiding behind a door down a hallway.

I knew he was supposed to be with the speech therapist, who was standing nearby, seemingly looking for him. Because this child is also a repeat-offender runaway (I have three runners this year), I knew I needed to check with the speech therapist and make sure she knew where he had gone.

Let me paint the picture for you. Second-grader darts full-speed down one hallway. First-grader hides behind a door down a different hallway. Special education teacher, in heels and a skirt, charges full-speed after the second-grader while looking over her shoulder to check on the first-grader. First-grade teacher bursts from the teacher's lounge at top speed. Speech therapist shouts a belated warning.

Door collides with special education teacher. Door wins. Teacher nearly falls.

Second-grader stops running and first-grader comes out of hiding -- they are laughing too hard to continue plotting escape.

My ears have been ringing ever since. Or maybe they were already. So far today, I've broken up two fights and three screaming arguments, taken the same child to the office twice, been shouted at by an irate parent, kept two kids in at recess to finish a test (which is totally against my religion, so you know I had to be desperate) -- and then watched a third-grader LITERALLY EAT the test paper he'd just stayed inside twenty minutes to complete.

And then I ran into a door.

So let me ask again: Is it Friday? Because I barely know where I am at this point, let alone what day it is! Please tell me it's Friday!

It is? Pshew!

Uh oh, I pshewed too early. Here comes my next group. Too bad that door didn't knock me out!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A little trouble and a lot of fun

This summer, my partner and I are moving back to the town where I went to college. He's going back to school to study culinary arts -- YUM!

Yesterday was the application deadline for the summer term at this college. Said college is two and a half hours away from our house, so you would think he could just mail in his application.

But. There is an application fee. And we didn't have the money till Saturday.

I had a doctor's appointment anyway, so I took a day off work yesterday and we planned on heading out of town early in the morning to get everything done.

We slid into the car at five and turned the key in the ignition.

Nothing but crickets.

Okay, so we knew this day was coming. For weeks, the car has been refusing to start at random moments, then roaring to life minutes later as if nothing ever happened. You'd think we would have taken the car to the garage at that point to find out what was wrong.

But garages have never been kind to Dooley-Lilly cars. We take our cars to the garage and the mechanic humanely euthanizes them. Our cars do not get clean bills of health. They get the kiss of death. Garages are where Dooley-Lilly cars go to die.

So we tend to procrastinate about seeing a mechanic. Just a little. And if the car was willing to pretend that nothing ever happened, well, then, so were we.

Then last week, the car shut off while Jake was doing 50 on the twisted back roads of our county. Thank goodness there were no speeding coal trucks on his tail. But by then, we were broke and waiting on payday -- no money to take the car to the garage and find out whether or not it would live.

Saturday, there was high water all around us. The creeks and rivers in our county were on the verge of bursting their banks. All over the state, reports came in of floods, of closed roadways and wet basements and flood shelters in churches and fire stations. Facebook was nothing but a constant stream of photos from various corners of the state: "High water in Charleston." "The Greenbrier is up." "Check out my wet basement." "This used to be a trailer park."

We, being us, decided to make a quick run out to see the creek at its highest point. Because we're stupid like that. We also decided to take the dogs, just in case we couldn't get back. We made it just a few miles out of town and realized that more rainclouds had blown in and that if it started raining, the creek that was lying next to the road, touching the bridge and sending small waves across the yellow line, was going to flood the road completely and block our path home.

The first few drops of rain fell just as the car died.

Screeching, laughing, scaring the dogs, we wrestled the car to its senses and zipped home before it could shut off again. We made it just as the storm came.

So we were pretty sure we needed to see a mechanic, and we planned on stopping by the garage on our way out of town early, early, early Monday morning. Which we would have done, had the car started. But it was no longer willing to pretend.

No big deal, we said. We'll call a tow truck, ride with it to the garage, get this handled. We can still get Jake applied to school. We can still make it out of town.

Town. Ah, our little town. There's only one tow guy listed, and apparently, he sleeps late. It all came down to Joe the Tow Guy, who apparently was having a bit of a lie-in Monday morning. He Would. Not. Answer. His. Phone.

At eleven, six hours after we planned on leaving and in utter desperation, we called a tow truck from several towns away and he came as quickly as he could, which was none too quick. While we stood outside waiting for him, something large and red caught my eye for the very first time:


Apparently this billboard has been at the gas station across from my house, facing my front window, for weeks. I swear on all that is holy, this is the first time I ever laid eyes on it -- twenty minutes too late for it to help us!

We rode in the cab with the tow guy while he stopped to run a few errands, finally dropped us by the garage, and charged us sixty bucks for his trouble. The garage guys doubled over in laughter when they found the problem. A loose battery cable. Nothing. They didn't charge us, figuring we'd paid enough for the tow bill.

So, sixty dollars poorer and quite relieved that the car survived its garage trip, we finally dashed across the state to get Jake's paperwork done. The rest of the day went off smoothly. He got his paperwork completed. I got to listen in on a lecture from one of my favorite professors. We had food that did not originate in our remote and limited county. And we got to see old friends we'd missed. Plus, we went to a bookstore and a Starbucks, neither of which we'd seen in months.

The power was off in town while we were there, which was odd, but not unpleasant. It was nice to walk along in our old favorite spot, a riverside park with water so high only the tops of the trees stuck out. It was dusk and there were no streetlights, no store lights, no traffic lights reflecting on the water. The only lights shone from the bridge, way down the river. We stood together and thought about how in a few short months, we will live close enough to visit the park every day if we want.

It can't come soon enough.

Just after nine, we finally headed home. Or, what I mean to say is, we headed back here. Home is where we'll be heading in a few months' time.

I just hope the car keeps working till then. But if not, I know the number of a tow place.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Day in Quotes

TEACHER: "You've only got three problems to finish. Come sit down, okay?"

STUDENT: "Miss Dooley? You know better than that!"
(After which he flopped onto the floor and refused to work.)


TEACHER: "Who can summarize what's happened in the novel so far?"

STUDENT: "Ooh! I can! He went to the thing and they said he -- he said he wanted to and they said he couldn't, and then, and then that one guy, he -- he flew back to the place and the one kid wanted taco chips and she got them at the store and he had wings."

(And, so help me, every other kid in the classroom understood what that meant.)


STUDENT WRITING: "I aet all the vechfebils."

(I was quite impressed by this try at "vegetables.")


And, my favorite:

STUDENT: "Miss Dooley, is it hard being real old?"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My sister blogged about Asperger's.

Please go read my sister's blog. Oh! It's gorgeous.

I'm a liar again! Only ... not so much?

On her blog, Cynthia Willis was kind enough to nominate me once again for this award, in which nominees are asked to conceal a single truth in a long list of lies.

While I'm grateful, of course, to Cynthia for passing this along, I do have to wonder. Should I be proud of being honored for my lying skills twice in the space of two weeks?

Well, I am. I was raised that if you're going to tell a lie, you should make it a good one. But it also got me thinking. Are we writers liars, really? I mean, if you read Livvie Owen Lived Here, you'll find that of course it is fiction -- but -- fiction with a lot of fact concealed within, just like the list the Creative (Liar) Writer award asks nominees to compile.

Sure, there is no Livvie (although there is a girl who organizes her kitchen dishes and hums to herself, and there is another who calls her parents by their first names and who used to use third person when she was upset). And because there is no Livvie, there is no way she could have lived in over twenty different places in a single county (although somebody did -- actually, five somebodies, of whom I am the youngest). And none of those places could have been an abandoned Nabor post office (because of course Nabor doesn't have a post office, as it's not a real town -- but Canvas, WV, had a post office-turned-apartment and any little girls who happened to live there really did have mail slots between their bedrooms).

In fact, each of the places Livvie lived in the town of Nabor comes straight from my memory. With some changes, of course. Some fictionalization. Some little lies.

So this Creative Liar award has got me wondering. Am I the only one who hides so many of my truths in fiction?

Surely not.

Maybe "fiction" is the biggest lie I've been telling.

So, this award. I'm supposed to nominate seven people to tell me a whopping list of lies. I nominate YOU. Post a comment in which you tell me something true that you have hidden in your fiction. Make me feel better about not being a very good liar.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Writing Challenge

March 1! Spring is in the air! (Disguised as snowflakes. Still.)

I just wanted to pop in and mention Denise Jaden's March Madness Writing Challenge. I'm jumping on board to try to add 31,000 new words to my WIP. It's like a mini-Nano, but with prizes -- gotta love that! Anybody else want to come play?

Also, I dreamed about my novel last night. Nothing useful. I dreamed the MC was living in her father's garage, selling paper mache animals at parties, and I think her father might have been Santa Claus. No more lemon pie at bed time. I think those particular plot points can safely be left out of this draft.