The watch

It’s Saturday morning, again and I’m sipping coffee and thinking. Thinking about all I have to do and all want to do. They do not line up it’s not even close.

I didn’t win the lottery last night, but I didn’t expect that I would. Yet, that reduces my options to the realistic ‘to dos.’ Grading papers, planning, balancing the checkbook, paying bills, decorating outdoors, cleaning the house, etc., and in no particular order. And, the list goes on.

We chose to stay home this holiday weekend and so far it’s been restful and what we needed as a family. I’ve been working on a few ‘to dos’ that have been ‘to dos’ for far too long and I am making progress. The kids have been kids. They marched in the parade holiday last night and W had wrestling meet Wednesday and another this morning. My girls, B and O, went shopping at the mall last night, and I went to the bookstore for three books and came home with four!

I curled up with one of them, Night by Elie Wiesel. W came home from school a couple of weeks ago and exclaimed he had to buy a book, a precise book; Night by Elie Wiesel and specific ISBN, we found it and I figured I could read it, too. Our eighth graders read, but I never have. They claim it’s boring, but I made the same claim about much of what I had to read as a kid so, I don’t take much stock in student recommendations. I began with the forward and then started the introduction and put it down. I was sleepy. Ivy had curled up on the blanket beside me snuggling against my legs as a reminder who owns who. I drifted off quickly and I faintly recall hearing the girls come in from shopping though I don’t remember anything until the alarm woke me this morning.

A couple of weeks ago my students started writing their narratives in class and I wrote one too, I just didn’t write, post, and publish as I did previous years. I didn’t have the time or I didn’t make the time. It’s neither here or there at this point but, I looked back at the past two years and we are slightly behind where we have traditionally been in the curriculum, but the calendar is slightly off due to where holidays fall and it is a bit misleading when I try to match up year to year. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This year my birthday fell at the beginning of the process and I got to talk to my mom and my brothers. It is interesting how memory works, no single person’s recollection of the time period was exactly the same. Granted, I was 11 and in sixth grade, Warren was a year younger in fifth grade, David three years younger in third grade, and mom was in her mid-thirties with three boys, a job, and a house so it is no surprise that our memories are a bit different. I am the self-appointed family historian, long before I began the blog.

It looked like this and it was quite a distraction……

After talking with mom and my brothers on birthday, I took time to think about my narrative and the parts and pieces of memory that made it come to life. Instead, I decided to write about my dad on Veteran’s Day. Then wrote a couple of his friends in France an e-mail and linked the post. I got a nice reply from one of them. Yet, the narrative needed work and I didn’t have the time to wrestle with the ideas and memory. I wrote each piece along with my students, but it didn’t flow and it needed work. So, it sat. It probably still does. I went back earlier this week and revised it, cutting a part here, moving a part there, and making read better; I think it makes sense. My students handed their narratives in last week and they are sitting on my office desk waiting to be graded. They’ll wait until Monday. Below is my narrative without word counts, without explanation, in its finished form. I’ll publish to my students when theirs are graded and handed back. By then, we’ll be in the middle of Sherlock Holmes, a good place.

“The Watch”

It had been a great summer, but it was over and I watched the days tick off until school started. I was excited. Moving to junior high was exciting and I was the oldest of three boys, I was supposed to be grown up and ready. Fifth grade had gone quickly and with dad living and working in Saudi Arabia, it seemed to go even quicker. Dad had come back for a vacation at the end of summer. The visit been short and he brought us all presents. I got a grown up watch, a Seiko with a stopwatch and wearing it made me feel older, more mature, and ready for junior high, only I wasn’t ready, not even close.

But, with my habits, I was still back in elementary school, in fifth grade. In fifth grade, my dad had been away from the family for a year, the entire year. When he left, I remember him asking me to step it up and take on more responsibility. That is a tall order for a fifth grader especially one who struggled in school and just simply getting homework done.  Mom took a job and my brothers and I would come home to an empty house until Sam, an older boy, would come watch us until she got home from work. Sam’s job was to keep us three boys from getting into mischief, burning the house down, or killing each other; it wasn’t to make sure homework was done or started. By the time mom got home from work, cooked dinner and refereed the three of us, there wasn’t time for much else including homework. Somehow, I got by and passed on to sixth grade, but my study habits remained elementary.

Dulles Junior High School. I was looking forward to sixth grade and moving from class to class. I was excited about having different teachers for different subjects and a locker and changing for P.E. I had a lot to be excited about. I got my schedule on the first day and found all my classes. I found a friend, Robert, and I saw friends from Lakeview, my elementary school, and met new kids from the other elementary school across the district. By the end of the first week or so, I had figured out how to get from class to class with all of the books and supplies I needed.

I was especially excited about social studies, it was world history and I wanted to learn about ancient people, it looked and sounded interesting and for the first time in school, I had a male teacher. In fact, I had two male teachers: Mr. Burns for social studies and Mr. Boulet for RWS – reading, writing, and spelling. By the time the second week had rolled along, school had become school, its newness and excitement, had rubbed off, and the homework began. In elementary school, I had never been much of a homework machine and I quickly realized junior high homework had a new dimension to it. First, there was more of it and, second, it was harder, a lot harder.

The first weeks at Dulles Junior High began to catch up to me. I missed homework assignments, forgot books, and papers in my locker. I was more interested in playing with my watch or taking apart a pen and putting it back together instead of taking notes or following along in class. My grown-up watch was a distraction. My classmates would ask to look at it in class and there were a couple of times when the bell rang and I went to my next class and my watch went to another. I never lost it, but I never seemed to get what was going on in class, either.

In early October, war broke out in the Middle East between Israel, Syria, and Egypt. Even though my dad was in Saudi Arabia and they weren’t involved it was close, I could tell my mom was worried. There were phone calls in the middle of the night and a couple of weeks after the war began, dad came home for good. Dad coming home came at the perfect time for my grades and a not so perfect time for me. That was when my school life and my home life finally caught up with me.

It was the middle quarter and time to learn how junior high really worked. Despite my initial love for social studies and ancient civilizations, I wasn’t cutting it in Mesopotamia, I was up to my eyeballs in the Tigris and Euphrates, and I was way over my head in homework, lost assignments, and forgotten learning. Math wasn’t any better and for the first time in my life, I was failing a class, actually two classes. I remember Mr. Burns passing out progress reports, they were hand written and had comments. He made a joke about some of the comments he made – ‘….like his smile,’ or ‘…does a good job in class,’ or ‘….has kinky hair, like it!’ but when I got mine and looked at it, it didn’t say anything nice or funny. It said, ‘Grade F, Effort – needs to improve work, please call me for a conference.’ I don’t remember what I thought it would say, I just didn’t think it would be so harsh, so true.

I didn’t know what to do. I was paralyzed with fear and thought of what my mom was going to say and do. I was even more afraid of what my dad would say and what it would mean for my life at home. Even before the F, his return home had meant changes, we were not as free after school like we’d grown used to in the year or so he was gone. My parents were furious and life as I knew it changed. No more football in the yard after school, no more television watching, no more playing, no more fun, just homework until it was done. Dad made sure. He helped me with my homework and tried to explain math. His explanations of the Middle East and ancient history began to take root, and my school life began to get better. But, I didn’t feel grown up anymore, even with that watch on my wrist.

Slowly, I began to re-build my grades and my parent’s trust. They weren’t great, but I was passing my classes. As my school life improved, so did my home life. I could play football in the yard after school, but I had limits to how long I could play. Eventually, football gave way to basketball, and school began to get better, a lot better. I began to grow up, mature, and take on more responsibility, mostly for myself, but that watch meant I had time; time to learn, time to play, and time to grow up and mature. I just had to make the right choice how I would use my time. When I look back at that part of sixth grade, I learned from failure to use my time, to pay attention to the watch, because it was a reminder I only had so much time to do what mattered.

Throughout the writing process, I modeled good writing; I read and re-read making suggestions and asking questions about their writing and their experiences. I urged them to talk with their moms, dads, brothers, and sisters – to do some research. Some did, others took their own path. However, the most frequently asked question when writing is how much. I truly dislike that question. How much is too much, how much is too little? In an answer to the question, I use word counts for each section. It seems to work and many students buy into it, and I think their writing improves as they look at words instead of sentences and paragraphs.


“The Watch”

Paragraphs Word count Paragraphs Word count
Introduction 1 75-150 1 120
Rising Action 2-4 200-400 4 509
Climax 1-2 200-400 2 264
Falling Action 1 100-200 1 158
Conclusion 1 75-150 1 151
Total 6-9 650-1300 9 1202

I reminded my students that word counts are guides, not absolutes; though it’s helpful to know how much, it’s more important to write well with a purpose. The watch is more absolute, more precise, and there is only so much time. I wore that watch through middle school and it stopped working, probably from being dropped many times. I don’t know where it ended up. I have had many watches since, but that was my first. It was my first reminder of the importance of time. And, if I am going to be successful today and over this break, I’d better get moving. The sun is up, W is at wrestling, Ivy needs to run and I hear movement upstairs. Today is gonna be a great day, possibly the best day ever. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one moment, one memory, one tick.

Do you remember the first watch, the first real watch you received?


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5 thoughts on “The watch

  1. I’m amazed how similar events are NOW compared to how they rolled out when you were missing your dad in the Middle East. Life really is a circle game.

    As far as watches go, my first watch was a plastic, black Swatch. I bought it with money I earned while working in retail. Before that, I never thought about the time.

    Great piece, Clay. Also interesting to see how you grade! I love when teachers post their methods or their rubrics, etc. 🙂

    And thanks for continuing to visit me at my place. I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.

    1. Thanks, Renee! I am sorry it took this long to reply, what a heel! Thank you! I did have a good Thanksgiving and the countdown to winter break is on! The year is always faster on the other side of break. The curriculum is almost more fun, too. We are in Sherlock Holmes now and reading “The Speckled Band.” A good story that keeps the kids guessing! I am headed over to your place for a one sill a bill sentence.

Thanks for visiting MtDC. How are YOU Making YOUR Days Count?