Friday, March 2, 2012

Shifting Down

The Chevy Chevette was a human-sized roller skate. There was a hill in Lehi, of course it was on the road infront of the house of a boy that I liked. I was hoping to see him outside if I drove by. I learned to manuver the gears on the Chevette because of that boy. But the first time I took that hill, I was nervous - what if I got caught driving by?! Pedal to the medal!!!! When I got to the top of the hill, the car started slowing way down, and then rolling backwards! I had no idea what to do except brake. And there I sat, in the middle of the road like a desert tortoise. Luckily, the only way to move forward in a car that is stopped dead still, is to shift down into first gear and start over. Oh. That's how it's done. Lesson in shifting down, complete.

Forward thirty (cough) years. 22 of those years I have been driving in 5th gear. 5th gear will burn a person out over time.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I drive 30 minutes with Andy out to the school and I spend an hour at the high school, get into the car again at 8:40, and drive 20 minutes into the college for four hours, turn around and drive 20 minutes back to the high school, where I spend 6 to...18 hours and then we drive 30 minutes home.

I have only been doing this for about 6 months now, but I am burned O.U.T. What I thought was a step up in the right direction, is actually just MORE steps.

Can I slow down without giving up the fierceness of it? Can I shift down without ignoring kids in the process? Variety, (forward movement, progression) is, without a doubt, a necessary element of a quality life (Oprah, Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey...). But how can I dial it back without "dialing it back?"

The computer where I type my blog is in our kitchen and kitty corner from Andy's lazyboy. When I blog, Andy plays Zelda on the Wii. So if you start wondering why all my blogs have a kind of Japanese video game undertone, that's why. It's a deal we have. Gus and Lily, our dachshunds, go back and forth between us so see who's attention they can catch 1) to go outside 2) for treats. The two traffic patterns include a rug, or a tile floor. Gus is basically round and weighs about 18 pounds. If he's going fast he sometimes turns into a Curling rock on the tile. Gus hates the tile. It's slippery.

Consequently, Gus always goes back and forth via the rug. However, centered on the rug, right in his path between our two Lazyboys is a small 1920's magazine table. There is not room on either side of the table to go around it. So Gus goes under. He probably thinks its a short cut. Lily usually beats him to the treat by racing around the chairs (and we should have named her Bullet.)

Watching Gus is a lesson in perspective. The bottom of the table is eight inches from the floor. Gus is about eight and a half inches tall. Go ahead, get a good visual picture of how short that is. Got it? Gus NEVER chooses to go around the obstacles. Curling rock. He always goes straight through. He has to squat a little, take much smaller steps, and slow down. I watch him do it a dozen times a day. It used to be hilarious. Who am I kidding? It's still hilarious. Especially if you watch it from the back end. Oh wow. If you were in a bad mood, all you'd need to do is throw a treat over to the other side of the table and watch Gus go get it. I do it all the time.

Gus is nothing if not a tenacious mover and shaker. If he wants something bad enough you will see him look around and figure things out in his head. Nothing stops him from getting what he wants, but Gus is perfectly happy with a little treat and a belly rub. My wants and desires are a little more complex, though I'm always looking for a good treat and a belly rub.

I think Gus has the right idea. We should all approach things that are just a little too hard for our skill set by adjusting to the given circumstances (squat), bite off smaller portions (baby steps) and change our pace (slow down.) Of course I'm one to talk about slowing down, but recently, as I was laying around with my feet up, I realized that the world was still revolving. It was very difficult for me to think about all those folks that were free to move about the cabin when I was flat on my back trying to get a baby to stick.

I want change, I want forward motion and growth in my life. (Ironically, I've never felt more unproductive than when I was trying to create a baby.) It entire event really made me realize that I have gotten myself used to moving through life like a maniac. Is slowing down even possible now? What kind of bad example am I to others? Or am I the example of what not to do? Where is that coming from? The pressure alone, of living at today's pace, is exhausting.

I've recently required my high school techies to do an assignment that was worth about 350 points. It was called "Fashion and Costume History, from A.D. 1 to 1960." They were given packets of pictures to look at for each major era. Drawings, sculpture, and eventually photographs. They were to look at the examples of clothing from the time period and then diagnose the style, line, shapes, colors, etc... the elements of design. (Which we talked about incessantly). Then they were to do a pencil drawing of a design that they did themselves based on their perception of the time period. Choosing the popular colors from the time period, there was also an extra credit coloring page of a typical dress or suit from the time period that they could color for five bonus points. Coloring bonus! I would be in heaven - coloring and extra credit. Woot!

In order to meet the needs of all the learning challenges in my class, I allowed them six weeks to finish the 12 packets and do all 12 drawings. In my mind it would work that, the gifted kids could do more packets in the end for more extra credit, and the regular kids can take their time to do a good job. WAH!!!!!!HA!!!! Ha....ha. It could not have ended more typically. Except that I'm noticing that far fewer kids went the extra mile. They did "enough." Can I learn from that?

Some kids did what Gus does...stopped and diagnosed the pictures, adjusted to the situation (sharpened pencils, gathered the colors they would need, paper) and took one packet at a time. There were kids that finished in minutes, and kids that took an entire class for one time period. I was never a great artist, so I couldn't very well judge them by their talent level. I taught them how to draw the human body in perspective and if I could look at the drawing and tell what time period it was, I gave them full credit. Most of the kids that finished one at a time finished on time and their work was great.

Some kids took several packets at once. I thought to myself at the time "that's what I would do." They had great intentions, but once they started the observation and reading, the mountain of packets became overwhelming and the majority of those kids gave up. They finished the first couple of packets and then petered out. Most of those kids could not get the "mountain" out of their heads. I'm like that too.

There were some classic excuses for unfinished work, but none so good as this one: "I didn't have any colored pencils." I point to a box with probably 1000 colored pencils in 16 colors sitting up at the front of the room 15 feet away. "What's that?" I asked. "But I asked people to bring me some and they wouldn't." I shake my head to see if I had actually heard that. I lower my head and look under the desk. "Those your legs?" I asked. "Well, I didn't feel like getting up," they responded.

Now I've heard it all. I officially moved that excuse to the top of my list of shocking things I've heard kids say over the years...just above the former winners "What kind of service project could I stage for pictures for my Sterling Scholar portfolio?" Stage a service project? and "What can I do for you in the next fifteen minutes that I can put on my resume?" So much sure you can dedicate a whole fifteen minutes to it?

Lightbulb! Are they learning that kind of break-neck pacing from me?

Yeesh. One more thing to add to my plate of guilt.

I want forward motion and growth in my life. Especially now that I'm working through the possibilities that we may spend our lives with just those two little weiner dog stickers in the back window of our Honda and not more. The experiences always make me taller but the table is not. Can I adjust to the given circumstances? I believe that the table is never going to get any taller.

I'm at a crossroads. There are options. None of them is what I really want to be doing, but that option doesn't seem to be right for us. Right now. So which way to go? What to do as I continue to move forward... how do you shift down when you have been in fifth gear all your life?

Belly rub and a treat?