Happy Tortoise Day: Bonus Edition

Each Wednesday, I spend my day happily up to my elbows in tortoise turds as I volunteer in the reptile department of my zoo. It’s one of the best things I do all week. Look at the photo below (keeping in mind that it’s about three times larger than life). What’s not to love? Even when it pees on me.

One of my charges. This guy (gal?) is about the size of a golf-ball . Photo courtesy of Phil Colclough

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You may already be familiar with my supervisor, Michael, who was featured in the revised edition of a wonderful children’s book. In addition to signing autographs and generally being awesome, he works closely with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), which has undertaken a unique project. Tortoises in Madagascar are rapidly disappearing due to illegal collection for meat and for the pet trade. TSA has worked out a partnership with Antsakoamasy, a village in Madagascar. The villagers will protect the ever-dwindling population of radiated tortoises, and TSA will build a school for their children. The ultimate win:win.

The school is nearing completing and is set to open in March. What they need now are tables, benches, and school supplies for their students. Here is the exciting part. Furniture for the entire school will cost only about $1800 US dollars, and a only a few hundred more would purchase the necessary school supplies.  This is where you come in. Michael is headed to Madagascar with TSA in a few weeks to teach villages how to properly care for confiscated tortoises until the animals can be returned to the wild. I would love be able to help raise the funds before he goes.

My friends, this is an achievable goal. Every dollar will add up quickly. I think we can knock it out of the ballpark and help these kids whose families are working to help protect this precious and endangered animal.

.Important update to this project on February 29.

Adult radiated tortoise cooling off in the mid-day sun. Photo courtesy of Michael Ogle

Malagasy kids saying hey, photo courtesy of Michael Ogle

Channeling Spirit

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It’s school spirit week at my son’s elementary school. Woo-hoo and all that. I remember spirit week from my school days. My personal favorite was mismatched shoes day.  I enjoyed it so much that I kept continued the practice. Until my mom refused to go anywhere with me. Correction. Until my mom refused to take me anywhere. I was fourteen and it wasn’t exactly legal for me to drive myself. The bitterness still rankles. I’d have turned out better, I think, had I been allowed to wear one Nike and one Ked.

I will not hinder my son’s self-expression. At least not at the age of nine. And unless it’s a rat-tail. Therefore, I allow, nay, I encourage his participation in Spirit Week. With the new millennium has dawned whole new ways to show your school spirit. We have a list, everything from inside-out day (wear your clothes inside out. If you’re a rebel like my son, that means underwear, too) to hat day. For the latter, he plans to wear his coonskin cap. It’s too small for his over-sized cranium, and it’s the exact color of his real hair, lending the impression he has grown a second head of hair. With a rat tail.

The spirity day I am least comfortable with is Pajama Day. Wearing my pajamas to school is just shy of showing up to school wearing only my underwear. Perhaps that particular nightmare has been retired from the Hall of Dreams, so kids today don’t bat an eye at showing up in their Power Rangers flannels. Or am I the only one that ever had that dream? It makes my son happy that on one day a year he doesn’t have to bother getting dressed, so I let him.

No school will ever hold a spirit week like the one my son used to attend. We waited all year for the announcement of our particular favorite, making plans for how to outdo last year. . And then my son came home and declared “Tomorrow is crazy hair day!” I think I heard an angel sing. And we set to work.

We all got up extra early. My daughter took the lead in decorating her brother that year, and she outdid herself. She gelled and twisted and twirled her brother into the most awesome coiffure ever seen on Crazy Hair Day. A thing of beauty. Edward Scissorhands meets Darth Maul. A prize winner, no doubt. That ‘do defied the laws of gravity.

The best Crazy Hair in the history of the event

It was with great pride that I let my son out of the car and watched him saunter up the walk, taking in all the admiring glances from his pals.  Pride goeth before a fall and stuff. I took a brief look around to check out the ‘dos his classmates were sporting, and I was mildly surprised that the principal wasn’t participating this year. And guess what else? No one else seemed to be participating, either. I felt the blood drain from my face as the realization hit me. I had sent my child to school looking like a pin cushion on Team Jersey Day.

I am still waiting on my Mother of the Year trophy for that particular blunder. I believe they should change the name of the event to “Restless Spirit Week.” It still haunts me.

Dancing With Danger

It's a copperhead. It has nothing to do with the story, but it's the most dangerous thing I have a picture of besides my toddler.

As I approach middle age (and I am not telling you how close the target is), I am feeling the need to add some excitement back into my life. Not just excitement. I’m talking about a dose of terror that leaves me feeling lucky to be alive. Not bungee jumping. Too tame. Or sky-diving. Too cliche. Or refusing to file my tax return. Too stupid. No, when I want to achieve that living-life-on-the-edge experience, I leave for school five minutes later. Because I am an adrenaline junkie.

We live in what is known as The Zone of Parental Responsibility. Sounds fancy. Sounds all Dr. Spock, like this neighborhood is chock full of folks who tend to their children and make sure they behave. What it really means is that the school bus won’t come and get ’em. So we walk. And we love it.

We time our departure not so that we beat the bell. More so that we beat the crazies. Five minutes means the difference between a leisurely walk to school with my beloved child and dying in the road like an animal. Today, I say bring it.

Our neighborhood has no sidewalks, but it’s not usually an issue. There is very little traffic around our house, as we are about a half-mile above the school, and we’re in an area that few people can find and even fewer need to. In the evening, I can walk for a mile without being passed by a single car.  But on mornings when we leave a few minutes late, we find ourselves in  a live-action version of Frogger, one life left, no bonus.

As we walk down our hill, the game begins. There’s an intersection that is quiet for 23 hours of the day. But for one hour, all heck breaks loose. The road that we are on has the right of way, but during this magic hour, the stop signs on the two side roads are magically rendered invisible. I have walked this route 180 times in the last year, and I have yet to see a vehicle actually stop. Some pay lip-service to the law and roll slowly through, but most never actually hit their brakes. Car coming? Hit the accelerator! Pedestrian in the road? Eh, just drive around them. And they do. I have seen cars run the stop sign as my son and I were in the intersection and actually weave around and cut in front of us so that we have to stop so we don’t walk right into their moving vehicle.

Once we get past the Intersection of Death, the road dips significantly and narrows, and there’s a drop-off on either side. Two vehicles can pass each other, if they are both driving a reasonable speed and are willing to yield the right of way. There’s the rub. At 7:25 in the morning, this stretch of road is a speed-demon’s yield-free zone. More than once, we’ve had to make a dive for the bushes because the same soccer mom who nearly runs us down every day hits her accelerator in panicked tardiness and barrels down the center of the road. We know it’s her. We’ve memorized not only the make and model of her mini-van, but her license plate, as well.

If we can make it past Death Valley and up the hill, there are yards and driveways where we can claim brief sanctuary as all the general contractors in their enormous trucks zoom by to dump their kids, and we’re in good shape. Until we get to the school.

On a regular day, all is quiet on the road in front of the school. There may be a car or two unloading their offspring, but we can stroll through the crosswalk unharmed. Fast-forward five minutes, and we’re not so lucky. We can’t even see the sidewalk on the other side for the line of cars. Guaranteed, someone will be parked in the crosswalk. This individual will almost always have such darkly tinted windows that the driver cannot be seen, or they will be balancing a cup of Starbucks daily brew, a cigarette, or a cellphone as they reach back to unstrap their kid in anticipation of shoving them out the door. I guarantee they don’t notice me.

I now have a strict policy to not step into the crosswalk until I can see the whites of their eyes. Too many times, I have claimed right of way and nearly been squashed as Distracted Parent drives on while watching their kid over their right shoulder. Even making eye contact is no guarantee that they have actually seen me. Just last week, I crossed the street in front of a grandma parked in the crosswalk. She had made a little wave, which I assumed was an acknowledgement. You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass of you, and a grease spot on the road of me. She had apparently been waving in response to some conversation on the cell-phone she had dropped in the floor. She reached down to get it and started forward at the same time, just as I was walking in front of her. Judging by the look on her face as she hit the brake, that split second took about 200 years off her life. And she blames me.

Once I drop off my son, there is little traffic. Most parents drive up from the other direction, so I don’t even see them. I find the return walk a little sedate and rather boring, and I long for a bit of action. But never you fear. It’s just a few short hours until afternoon pick up.

 

Back to School Blues

This photo has nothing to do with the blog except that padlopers make me happy. And I need that.

The beginning of the school year is hard for me. It’s not the forced adherence to an arbitrary schedule. It’s not having to say goodbye to the kids I’ve had such fun with. It’s not the sudden inability to pack up the troops and head off on some fun adventure. Sure, there’s some of that. But here’s my secret. I despise the end of summer because I have to shop for school supplies.

When I was a kid, I loved shopping for my school supplies. I’d run home from school on the first day proudly brandishing my list. I couldn’t wait until dinner was over so we could dash out to the store. Each item on the list represented an opportunity to buy something new. All for me. The possibilities were so exciting. Would there be enough money in the budget for me to have the Garfield folders instead of the plain ones? Would my mom spring for those weird triangular pencil grips that were all the rage, even though I had nibbled through every one she had ever bought me? And if there was something really unique on the list like a watercolor set, so much the better And I couldn’t wait to go to school the next day and compare my new treasures with those of my friends.

Fast forward a few years and a few kids, and the shine has definitely worn off a bit. I dread the arrival of “the list,” and I am in a snit from the moment it arrives. I don’t mind outfitting my kids for a school year. What bugs me is that I am forced to go to Wal-mart.

I know that there are other stores that sell school supplies. Office supply places spam my inbox every day with their “unbeatable” deals. But school supply lists rarely contain only school supplies anymore. As much as I hate shopping at Wal-mart, it’s worse when I have to visit multiple stores. So off to the mart we go.

I don’t know about your area, but our big, soul-sucking box stores have a little cardboard kiosk where befuddled parents can pick up supply lists starting in early July. A simple courtesy or shameless marketing? And here’s the catch. They only carry the lists for nearby schools. In my town, there are a LOT of schools, and the Wal-mart that is most convenient for us is apparently out of our area.

There’s something a little demoralizing about being zoned for a Wal-mart. We’ve all seen People of Wal-mart . I’m sorry I can’t live up to those standards . And you can forget about visiting the one that is officially “in our area.” Yes, it is brand new, but the floor-plan was designed by a schizophrenic. The make-up and produce are in the same area, the whole building has a ceiling that consists of bare pipes. Except for the bakery, which has an 8 foot ceiling and such low lighting that it’s like buying your baked goods at a garage sale. Yummy.

The aisles themselves also also drive me nuts with their inconsistency, as though the whole thing was thrown together in a hurry. Nothing says “quality control” like having so much space in Baking that you can fit 5 carts abreast but making Storage Containers so narrow that two carts can barely pass one another. And there’s no way to get from the front of the store to the back without going to the path in the center of the store because the sections are now a perpendicular maze. I get so frustrated that I end up channeling the spirit of the floor plan designer, talking to myself and swearing under my breath.

So this year, the kids and I stopped by a Wal-mart while we were running errands in a different part of town. I was determined that this year would be different. I would not end the trip in a horrible mood. I would not complain. I would enjoy this time of excited anticipation with my children. Whatever.

The smell hit me the moment we entered the (well-hidden) school supply section. I sniffed the baby. I sniffed the older children. We collectively checked the bottom of our shoes. Apparently, we didn’t bring this delightful aroma with us. It was already here. It smelled as though someone had taken a dump in the floor. A big one. Having once reported to my register 15 minutes late because I was trying to prevent shoppers from slipping in a puddle of urine, I am well aware of the probability of that little scenario. Yes, I once worked at Wal-mart. And I have seen things.

And that little trip never got any better. We were unable to locate most of the items on the list, and we were forced across the street to Target. Don’t get me started. Target is just as soul-less, minus the poop, and I wasn’t any happier when I left their store.

But if you would please excuse me. My daughter just brought home her list. I need to run to Wal-mart.

Dear Teacher on the Sidewalk

You don’t know me, but I wanted to say thank you. You may think you’re just the unlucky soul who got stuck monitoring the car line at drop-off this morning, but you are so much more than that, and you make a difference.

You are the first face my son saw this morning as he skipped exuberantly down the sidewalk. You are the person who greeted him with a broad smile. I heard his silly “Good morning!” as you called him by name. I watched him grin and leap like a puppy to return the high-five you offered. I saw his chest puff out as he passed you, feeling like somebody. I saw. And I thank you.

This boy is nine, and he’s growing up way too fast. We have only a limited time before his attitude on school and education in general is firmly cemented, for better or for worse. And this morning, school is a place of fun, enthusiasm, joy, and acceptance. Thank you for giving him that, a small deposit in his love of learning.

Today I sent my heart skipping down the sidewalk to you, eyes, shining, hair askew, Daddy’s old brief case in hand. Thank you for holding it so gently.