It’s been a loonnnnnggg time. This morning, I woke up on the couch. It’s where I fell asleep in the middle of the night when Ivy began to bark, yowl, and whine. She wanted out, so I crawled out of bed and went downstairs only to fall asleep on the couch after I let her in. I decided it was easier to stay downstairs than go back up and covered up with Ivy snuggling in a ball at my feet. Hours later, as night slid into early morning, the pitter-patter of rain woke me and I heard a rumble of thunder. It was time to get up and get going, and Ivy wanted out.
It has been a long time since I have written a post, I have had many ideas but I have not taken the time to jot them down, or even start. I am suffering from writer’s guilt – wanting to write and feeling guilty that I don’t have the time. Maybe that’s what I needed, time.
I have been reading, grading, teaching, watching softball practices, camping, cooking, and watching the year wind to a noisy close. There are 23 days remaining in the year, hard to believe, but that’s what I have when the alarm rings Monday morning. We have finished reading The Giver and now we are on to our last formal writing assignment of the year – the persuasive paper. It’s a literary analysis where the kids defend their point of view about themes and ideas from The Giver. It is the best piece of writing the kids do and it is full of thinking for some as they wrestle with the big idea. Overall, it has been a good year and there have been many successes along the way, but the kids are looking ahead to summer and now I need to dig deep into my bag of tricks to keep them focused and learning. I need to convince them it is time to make the days count, instead of counting the days.
A few weeks back, actually on Easter morning, I recorded CBS Sunday Morning. I watched the episode a couple of days later and was hooked into watching a particular story. Jim Abbott makes his best pitch ever is about Jim Abbott, a former major league pitcher. I knew who he was and I sat down and watched it – twice. I made the kids watch it – O and W. You should have heard them holler, ‘I don’t want to watch this,’ ‘daaaaaddd,’ ‘this show is always boring…’ and then they saw the first minute and they watched, silently listened and learned. You can, too.
I remember rooting for Jim Abbott in the late 80s and early 90s, then I stopped following baseball and he faded from my memory, until a couple weeks ago. It all came back. A day after watching the piece, I was in a bookstore for a book I had ordered and I asked – ‘Do you have the book by Jim Abbott?’ and I couldn’t remember the title, but the clerk looked it up and found it, the only one on the shelf – Imperfect: An Improbable Life. I picked it up, paid for it, and went home. I read the first few chapters and it caught me. I finished it last weekend and I have wanted to write about it, the encounter, and the message. Nevertheless, I have not – time. Until now, this morning.
Last week, Steve, a sixth grade teacher and I sat down in between classes. I was waiting for my afternoon class to saunter in, and he was finished teaching for the day and we started to talk about some of the kids we have had in our rooms over the years. Mostly boys who are convinced they are the next major league pitcher, next NHL star, NFL number one draft pick, and can’t focus or work to their potential. Early in the year, I tell the students there is a better chance they going to be the next Mr. Watkins (me) or the next Mr. Jones (their dad) than the next Andrew Luck – this year’s number one draft pick. They look at me skeptically, as if I am purposely trying to destroy their dream. Then I tell them, make a backup plan, just in case I am right. Over the years – 13 of ‘em – I have had over a thousand or so kids in my classes. Two sets of my classes are now or should be working like me – in a real job, for real money. If the boys had had their dream come true, a few would be playing pro ball of some sort. But, to my knowledge, only a handful went on to play in college. I can say I know of only one of my former students who went on to an athletic career and played at a higher level. The irony is she wasn’t one of the boys who dreamed big, but a tiny little girl with red hair who I had the pleasure of teaching in my second year. I think she taught me as much as I taught her, but she did her work, took part in class, and did well in my class. I didn’t think of her until a couple of years ago when I ran into one of the teachers I worked with that year and she reminded me of Molly. We laughed at the irony and I love to tell the story to my kids. Molly ended up playing on the Women’s Olympic Hockey team and won a silver medal as a backup goalie. It’s a great story and Steve and I laughed at the irony. He hasn’t had any kids make it big, but he told me his wife had taught a kid who played for the red Sox in the World Series last year. The next day he popped in to let me know the Cubs had just acquired him in trade, we laughed, and I told him about the book I had just finished. He vaguely remembered Jim Abbott, as I did. I told him, I’d share the read.
Like many of the boys in my classes, I, too dreamed of making it big. I guess I did, but in a different way. Growing up, I lived next to a NFL player, Tom Regner. His career cut short by injuries was an inspiration of the possible for me. His restaurant was my first job washing dishes, pots, and pans in high school. He is now retired after a career in the restaurant industry. I haven’t seen him in years, but we connected last year via Facebook. As I think about Imperfect: An Improbable Life, we both made it big Steve and I, and Jim, too but in the most improbable ways. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one book at a time, and one memory at a time.
What life lesson did you learn through someone else’s story or the hard way? Please share!