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Teachers and Coaches

August 24, 2014 Leave a comment

2012-09-04_08-02-48_676Fifth grade was a nightmare for me. A year filled with stress induced migraines and a constant feeling of dread. At the center of my memories of this time stands the imposing image of a strict, red faced women who was my teacher and she caused me to hate school.

The reason I mention this is because I’ve been thinking about both teachers and coaches a lot lately. Partly because the boys just found out who their teachers are going to be this year, partly because of the video going around featuring the little league coaches post game talk to his kids and partially because of the constant attacks that our teachers seem to be under by media and politicians.

And I mention my fifth grade teacher because she serves as a contrast to most of the teachers I’ve been fortunate to have in my life and to highlight the importance of good teachers in the lives of our children. She was the rare exception in a long line of teachers that would become positive influences on my life.

There was Mrs. Cahill who welcomed me into her classroom in second grade when I was new in the school after moving to New Jersey from Colorado. She made sure to give me the attention I needed then as well as connected me with my earliest friends. She was tough, but always with a smile.

There was Mrs. K in fourth grade that would take breaks during the day to read to us from the Chronicles of Narnia. She could have sat at her desk and let us do busy work, but she chose to do this and my earliest interests in writing started there.

There was Mrs. Racioppi who became the first big influence on my writing. I initially dreaded her writing assignments, but I learned to love them as she encouraged creative writing and helped me start to develop my writing voice.

There was Mrs. Unger who’s eyes absolutely lit up as she talked about science in eighth grade. I don’t think she could tone back her enthusiasm if she wanted as she passed on her love and interest on to use. Even when our experiments failed (you can’t cook a hot dog in a handmade tin foil oven on a cloudy day), she was quick to help us find the lesson in the failure.

The list of teachers really goes on and on. Mrs. Eckle who scrapped her whole course plan when the Gulf War broke out to guide us through history as it happened. Mrs. Fitzgibbons who brought literature alive with such excitement that I learned to love Shakespeare as much as Salinger. Mrs. Casey who made religion fun and helped us figure out why it was important in our lives, dragging us out from under the fear the Baltimore Catechism delivered. Mrs. Lucas (who recently passed away) taught us the importance of how history still affects us in the present. Mrs. Wilmarth who patiently worked with me through the difficulties of Algebra, refusing to leave me behind as the rest of the class grasped it faster. And, of course, the Frank Zappa loving Mr. Setlock who made everything fun, cleverly masking the fact that we were learning important things like biology.

The very sad thing of it is that adults should not have to stand up and say that teachers are important and trying to remind other of that fact. They should simply be standing up and applauding our teachers. So many dear friends of mine are teachers and I see them struggle at times because of critical parents, a skeptical media and heartless, stupid politicians. I believe the average American would take their teachers and put them high on pedestals, but there are loud voices out there that want to tear them down and I cannot fathom why. The fact that teachers are important, deserve our respect and should be paid well should be a universal truth like water is wet and the sun is hot.

Good coaches are also important because they pick up teaching our children after they have left the classroom. The life lessons learned on the fields and courts become ingrained into the kids. I once read something about how athletes in high school tend to have much higher self-esteem than non-athletes. And I would think this would have to extend to other activities like forensics, religious groups, scouts, theater, etc. The importance of having someone that can help you learn the things you love is invaluable and can only have a positive influence on you. Coaches and advisors are teachers, as well, and become huge parts of who our children grow to be.

The past couple of years I’ve coached Little League baseball and basketball. While it is always rewarding, it is difficult more often than not. This past baseball season left a bad taste in my mouth and left me resolved to not coach baseball again even if my kids decided to play again. However, as I watched the little league coach video and truly think about how much the teachers and coaches of my children invest of themselves, I can’t help but re-think this. I watch the sacrifices that teachers and other coaches make and I feel like I need to do my part. I’m not saying I’m a good coach or looking for any kind of praise, but I can’t help but feel that I have a part to do.

I feel like if we continue to attack our teachers there are going to be less college kids that chose to become teachers and not only will the quality of education diminish, but there will be more teachers like my fifth grade teacher.

And Mrs. Racioppi or Mrs. Fitzgibbons, if you happen to be reading this…I am so sorry for all my grammar mistakes. And thank you. To all you other teacher, good luck and God Bless as you embark on a new school year.

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If I Could be a Fly On that Bus

May 28, 2014 Leave a comment

schoolbusThis is a short one, but a good one that I’d like to carve in stone here to remember for all time.

A couple of weeks ago, the boys were talking about something that happened on the school bus, which caused Andrea to ask, “What the heck happens on that bus?”

Matthew, without skipping a beat, responds in a semi-ominous and mysterious tone, “You can’t even imagine!”

Now I need to know what happens on that bus!

Categories: Matthew Quotes Tags: ,

Just Another Day

May 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I wrote this at the start of my senior year in college for the college newspaper, in October 1994. 

SunriseAfter the long dark night, a faint glimmer of light appears low on the black horizon.  A chorus of crickets is replaced by an orchestra of birds.  They proclaim the birth of a new day.  The blackness hanging in the air turns to a dark blue.  The once blackened horizon is covered by a garment of orange and red.  It is the royal gown of the daughter of night.

Finally, like it has done for billions of years before, the sun rises, spreading its mighty arms and embracing  the vast  lands of its domain with its magnificent lights.  Morning has broken, and life stirs within its loving embrace.

Through a second-story window, the sun has cast one of her morning rays gently across the face of a tiny red- haired baby boy.  The small child stirs and opens his sky-blue eyes.  Like an angel spreading its wings, the baby spreads the corners of his mouth revealing a tiny but beautiful toothless smile.  His eyes open wide with excitement as he talks quietly with the sun ray in a language that only the two of them can understand.  Two hundred miles away, the little angel’s uncle thinks about him and smiles, knowing that he is going home soon to see him.

The sun spreads her rays through a classroom window.  A student stares down at her notebook, doodling as she waits for her professor to stop talking.  It is her last class on Friday, and she thinks about her plans for that weekend.  She is going on a road trip, visiting an old friend from high school at her college in Rhode Island.  It is going to be a long trip, but who cares… at least she will be away from college for a weekend.

In her doodling, a number appears followed by a date:  220 days, May 13, 1995.  She has to use her long dark hair to cover her face as her eyes light up and a huge smile takes control of her lips.  People would think she was crazy if they saw her smiling that way in her Spanish class.  Not much time left.  A guy next to her just happens to catch her smile.  He smiles also, thinking she was smiling at him…

In another part of campus, the sun casts its light across a white envelope with one of those clear plastic windows.  A young man peers into the envelope.  As he does so, he jumps for joy:  he will be able to buy plenty of beer tonight.  Just as he does so, a young lady stops to talk to him.  It’s the girl he has been flirting with since he first met her in his Geography class.  She asks him if he wants to study with her for the test next week.  It’s going to be a good day, he thinks.

With the sun burning on her back, a girl dressed in green sprints down the field carrying her field hockey stick.  Her entire concentration is on the small white ball that is rolling and bouncing along the grass towards a predestined rendezvous point ahead of her.  She starts her back swing and fires.  Another unidentifiable girl covered from head to toe in protective clothing dives to her right.  The small ball rolls just beyond the edge of her stick.  The girl in green shouts in joy as she is mobbed by her teammates.  Laughter surrounds them.

With the sun reflecting off his glasses, a man talks excitedly on a pay phone with his mother.  He’s telling her about the job he will have when he graduates in two and a half months.  His four and a half years at college have paid off.  Barely able to speak in his own excitement, he tells her about the black 1995 Camaro he is going to buy in January.  He tells her to tell Dad that he is getting in his car and is headed home.  He will be there in four hours with a bottle of champagne.  He tells her to be dressed nicely because he is taking them out to dinner.  Tears are now in his eyes.  His mother, her voice trembling in pride, tells him that she loves him.  He returns the sentiment, hangs up the phone, and jumps into his old, rusty Chevette.  He pauses, takes a deep breath and gently pats the dashboard of his car.  1995 Black Camaro, he thinks with a smile bigger than the Grand Canyon.

As the sun sits low in the western sky, two old friends talk comfortably on a small white bench beside the creek.  After weeks of fighting, they have settled their major problems.  A difficult road is ahead, but the worst is behind.  A peaceful silence falls upon them as they stare deeply towards the full moon that has risen early on the eastern horizon.  He finally turns to her and tells her that even in friendship, he will always love her.  They embrace.

Across the creek from them, a young man zips past on a green and black bike.  His Notre Dame hat sits a little crooked on his head.  As he rides through the center of campus, he thinks about tomorrow’s game, the laundry he has to do, and the fact that he has survived yet another stressful week.  The cool, crisp autumn air feels good after the long, hot summer. There is just something about it that makes him feel so alive and free.  As he reaches the peak of the hill going toward his apartment, his eyes are met with a fiery red, orange and purple sky.  He loses his breath. No matter how many he times he sees it, he is always impressed by an autumn sunset.  He pedals faster toward the sunset, the light reflecting off his face.  He smiles, and then thrusts his arms in the air, as if he were flying.  LIFE IS GREAT, he thinks.  “Thank You, God,” he says.

Darkness and Light

December 19, 2012 1 comment

darknessandlightThe other night, I sat at church and watched the Christmas concert for my sons’ Catholic school.  I watched with an overflowing heart as my kindergartner and my big first grader sang, one with a giant smile on his face, the other studiously singing the words as he seemed to be scanning the audience.  They stood among their friends and classmates, all of them decked out in their Christmas best. They were the very faces and minds and pureness of the innocence that the Christmas season promises every year.  Their equally well dressed parents, friends and teachers watched and reflected the children’s excitement.  It was a building that, even before the concert started, was rumbling in the excited talk and laughter of the children and parents alike, to the point where a member of the faculty had to remind all of where we were. It was a building filled with such joy.

And it was a night that was dedicated the the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  It seemed like such an appropriate tribute.

Like much of the country and all decent human beings, I have desperately struggled against the sadness of this senseless attack.  It’s a sadness, I think, that may lie in our souls for a long time. A sadness that will fall to the depths of the scars that we all still feel from September 11, 2001. A friend of mine  recently talked how she will be walking around happy, having a good time and then think about what happened and instantly be filled with panic and sadness. I think it is a range of emotions that many of us share. As a parent, the thought of what those parents of those innocents are going through is unbearable.  It is impossible to not project those losses into our own lives and families.

My sons are the joys of my life. I have no doubt in my mind that the reason I am on this earth is to be Benjamin and Matthew’s father and to do all I can to give them a happy life.  If I accomplish nothing else in life except to raise two happy, loving boys into two happy, loving men then my life will have been a success.  The thought that one person in a single instant could wipe that all out is terrifying.  That fact that one man did exactly that to so many families has me living in a perpetual heart break.

In the days since the attack, I have found myself relishing in my sons’ laughter, love and even pestering.  I find myself just starring at them in wonder.  However, there are times when I need to turn away from them to hide tears because, it is hard to watch them without feeling a sense of remorse and guilt for all those fathers in Newtown that have lost their joys. I guess it is a sort of survivors guilt, even though my sons were secure and safe, hundreds of miles away.  I take some comfort in my belief that those 26 souls have made their way to heaven, but I mourn the hell that has been left behind in Newtown.  The fact that it is Christmas, the season that is suppose to be all about the children, these feelings get amplified to the point where I just want to take down the Christmas decorations and move on.

Of course, that is not possible because it is the season of children and forgetting that and not celebrating our children would not be honoring the memories of those lost.  For now, I keep my grief hidden away from them and do my best to repair my heart with their laughter.

I am doing all I can to make this the best Christmas my sons have ever had as some small way to honor the families of the victims.  It is a dark Christmas for them which makes me feel like I need to do more to make our Christmas brighter.  I’ve become more patient with them, taking time to help them fix the LEGO village under the tree that they destroyed.  I have stopped doing far less important things to check out how the Christmas pig is riding the crane (don’t ask). Last night, I walked into the family room where the TV was still on and saw a message on the screen that it was about to power down because there was no activity for four hours because we were all upstairs playing and talking and laughing.  The pile of presents from Santa in the basement seems to have doubled since last Friday.  There is little I can do for those Newtown families, but there is so much I can do for my own.

During the concert, the principal, used the metaphor of the children being the brightest lights in this world, and that is so true.

So often, we face evil and sadness and pain in this world. So often, there are people that suffer and struggle in the darkness that sometimes seems to dominate this world.  When the darkness lashes out at the tiniest, most innocent, yet brightest lights in our world, the sadness becomes that much more profound.

We struggle for answers on how to battle the shadows that live in people’s souls. I am sure the answer lies only partly somewhere between the polarized sides of the gun debate and how we help the mentally ill in this country.  I know that the biggest part of the answer lies in that raucous building of children, educators and parents and in similar buildings around this nation and this world.  Whether it be a church, temple, mosque, a kitchen table, a mud hut or any place that people gather in love and joy, embracing hope and faith.  It doesn’t matter if that faith is in God (or gods), science or ourselves.  We fight the darkness by passing that faith, hope and love on to the children with the hope that the next generation will grow up in a better, brighter world.

During the concert, I also found myself staring at my sons’ teachers and the rest of the school’s faculty.  I really wanted to go up and hug each one of them, because I don’t doubt the love they have for our children and what they do.  Many are parents themselves and I can only imagine what a painful time it must be for them.  Yet, there they were, smiling and laughing and celebrating our children.  May God bless them and educators everywhere and may God watch over our children and the families of Sandy Hook.

Kisses and Hugs

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The other day, we received our catalog from “Oriental Trading”, a company from which Andrea has ordered candy and other little gifts for the boys to bring in to school for their friends for different holidays.  Benjamin and Matthew love looking through it and picking out what they want to give their classmates.  The most recent catalog, of course, was geared for Valentines Day.

So, Matthew picked it up and started excitedly talking about what he wanted.  At one point, he saw something with “XO” on it and said he wanted that.  Then he asked what the “XO” meant.  So, Andrea told him that it meant kisses and hugs and jokingly mentioned that if he gave them out to the girls in his preschool, he would get kisses and hugs from them.

Matthews enthusiasm quickly subsided and then told Andrea, “No, I don’t think we should get those”, before thumbing throught the catalog looking for something else.

Smart boy.

Journey into the Past; Glimpse into the Future

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment

This past weekend was my 20th high school reunion, as well as Andrea and I’s 12th wedding anniversary.  Needless to say, the weekend was dripping with sentimentality, nostalgia, flashbacks and, of course, alcohol.  A lot of it (not the alcohol, thankfully) continues to stick with me.

While the boys hung out at grandma’s house, Andrea and I made the trek up to my old high school  in North Jersey, a place that I’ve been to maybe twice in the last 20 years.  Since my parents moved away from the area just before Benjamin was born, I have only been in my hometown (extended hometown) just once in the last six years.  Even though the trip up was in the dark, it became a gut churning journey down memory lane that would serve as only the prelude to a complete time warp.

As I hung out in the “old gym” (as it is called now) and wandered the hallways with my wife and old friends, I marveled at just how quickly time can pass and just how much things can change while still remaining the same.  The school, while having undergone some dramatic changes, still retains most of the key areas that we knew as students…enough to make it feel familiar and even a bit comfortable.  The jokes and conversations echoed back through the last twenty years and while faces, hairlines and waist sizes have changed, the laughter hasn’t.  To see the faces of old crushes and ‘kids’ I admired and respected weathered by time (fabulously, I must add) and children warmed my heart…a few I had even known since I was seven years old (31 YEARS!).  It a was true joy to be there and catch up with these ghosts from my past.

And not all the ghosts were friendly, either.  When I think back to just how painfully shy I was in my first two years of high school, those halls, especially the “freshman” hallway, dragged up memories of hopelessness that I hadn’t felt in 22 years.  I can remember my very first day of school there, looking up and down that hallway and feeling utterly lost and confused, looking into some of those faces that felt comfortable now, with suspicion and maybe even a bit of fear.  While I was never bullied or even the butt of jokes, my own insecurities would beat me down on a daily basis in those hallways.

However, I shared the night with a few of the best friends I have ever known in my life, and while I’ve been in touch with them on and off through the years, there was almost a feeling of home to be back in some of the same places and talking about some of the same things that we did back then.  They were the ones that helped me through those early dark days and helped me create truly special memories.  I would see a couple of the biggest victories in my life as a result of these friends and even acquaintances in those hallways.  They were victories that would lead to so many more great memories and set the pace for the rest of my life.

And to be there, with the best friend I have ever known in Andrea on the eve of our 12th anniversary, really just made it that much more special.  I honestly believe that if it weren’t for those great (and even not-so-great) moments experienced in those hallways, my path would have never lead to the woman I love and the two wonderful children.

This is were my journey took me into the future and thoughts of my children.  (I do need to be honest, Andrea and I only get a night away from the kids maybe three times a year, so I wasn’t thinking too much about them as I drank down my wine and beer.)  I couldn’t help but think about the boys and what their futures would hold.  They should go through school just a year apart and while the potential of them being each others best friends is very strong, I can only hope and pray that they find a solid group of friends and their overall high school experience is just as memorable.  I hope that they surround themselves with the same caliber of friends I was fortunate enough to know throughout my life.  I pray they don’t struggle with the same insecurities that made some days darker than other for me, but I hope that if they do, they will have the friends to help them through it.  My biggest hope for them is that one day they find the love that I have known for the last 17 years (Andrea and I met in the fall of 1994).

I joked with Andrea as we drove there that her, Benjamin, Matthew and the Mets 2000 NL Championship ring on my finger was all that I had to show for the last 20 years.  If that statement were really true, you could take away the ring, include my friends and family and my cup would still “runneth over”.

Growing Up Sucks

September 23, 2011 Leave a comment

For nearly six years, Benjamin had been my little companion on commutes into and from work, everyday…Matthew for more than four years.  I would always drop them off and pick them up from daycare everyday, which accounted for 30 minutes to an hour a day where we would talk about our days, joke and laugh.  (We have had some strange conversations in the past during these rides.) Even when Ben started school last year, it was less than a quarter mile from Matthew’s daycare, so I continued to drop him off.

This year, Ben started in a new school that is the opposite direction of where I had to go, so he started taking the bus.  I hadn’t thought anything about it before, but that first day of heading up to daycare without him really broke my heart.  Even though I had Matt with me, it really made me sad for the rest of the day.  The memories of Ben holding Matthew’s hand during the drive when he was a baby mixed together with their laughter in my head.  I miss them together in the back of my car.

Even Matthew feels it, also.  He often complains that he misses Ben during the car rides and you can see it in his eyes.  However, it is so wonderful to see the joy in their faces when they are reunited at home.  I think it has caused their rough-housing to get more rough and their play times louder, but it is just so sweet to see their love for each other.

Less then a year from now, I’ll be along completely on my commute to work while they take the bus…I’m not sure I will be able to handle that.  Watching them grow up is awesome…but it sucks, as well.