Category Archives: kids

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 5

Canto Five – Everyone is Naked Under Their Clothes

The night was typical.  Six nasty old hens pecked Valerie’s hands as she searched under them for eggs.  The last one of those took a girl-fist to the side of the head.  That, of course, didn’t faze the stupid hen.  Chickens apparently have their brains hidden safely in their butts.  But chores always came to an end.  Mom was always sympathetic about chicken-stupidity-caused peck marks, and rubbed salve on them, visible wound or not.  Then it was time to finish any homework needed, and up to bed.  And Val always slept naked under the quilts and comforters.    She slept well because… well, because naked was good when you were asleep.

Morning came, as mornings do, with a stupid rooster crowing the sun up.  Of course, if hens are stupid, roosters, having the additional mental handicap of being male, were stupid times ten.  No, stupid times twenty.  Beau the rooster always got it wrong.  The sun was never actually up until at least a half hour after the stupid rooster claimed it was up.  Chicken pot pie.  As Valerie pried her eyes open, she imagined chicken pot pie cooking on Mom’s stove.  Beau-flavored chicken pot pie.

When she got to the bathroom, Daddy Kyle was already in there shaving.  No problem.  Once again Valerie marched in naked as the day she was born, though with considerably more hair on her head.  She went straight to the shower, grabbed the shampoo off the shelf, and twisted the water on to just the right level of warm she always used.  Warm, soapy water all over your body… piles of foamy shampoo in your longish hair… it was a little like Eden must have felt to Eve.  And Eve liked being naked too… at least, until the mistake with the snake.  Of course, Eden had to end when the water began to grow cold.  Even in the summertime the well could put out near freezing levels of cold once the water heater was drained.

Kyle looked at her when she stepped out and grabbed a towel.

“No hot water left for me again, huh, Princess?”

“Sorry, Daddy.  I need a good hot shower in the mornings.”

“Shouldn’t you put on a robe or something, dearest?  You come in here every morning completely naked.  You are getting too old for that.”

“Old?  Too old for what?

“When a girl reaches a certain age, she starts to change.  When that happens, well…”

“But, Daddy, you are used to seeing me naked.  You changed my diapers while Mommy and I were still in the hospital after I was born.”

“I know… I know…  And it isn’t that there is anything wrong happening.  It’s just…”

“You can’t be getting shy.  I’ve seen you naked too… a lot.”

Kyle’s face reddened.   He was apparently trying hard to stutter on.

“When a girl reaches a certain age… well, she…”

“Yeah, she changes.  I know Dad.  Mom told me what to expect.  But honestly, I don’t even really have boob bumps yet.  I look like a little boy when I’m naked… except I don’t have one of those water hoses to pee with.”

She was standing with the towel in her hand, looking at him while she was completely bare and being mildly amused by his extreme discomfort.  He finally sat down on the closed cover of the commode, completely defeated.  She decided to push things a little.  She dropped the towel and went to sit on his knee even though she was a little damp around the edges and quite sincerely still naked.

“Princess…”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

“No… I mean, yes, I love you… but this is not a good thing for a big girl to be doing.  I worry you are getting so used to being naked around a man like me… even though I’m your Daddy… and one day… when boys, um… get curious… the way boys are… and, well…”

“If that’s what worries you, Daddy, no boy besides you has ever seen me naked.  And I won’t let a yucky thing like that happen… until the time is right.”

“Okay, but promise me the time is not right until you are thirty.”

“Daaaad!    You know everyone is actually naked under their clothes.  Everyone has a body… so no one should be ashamed of it.”  Surely he recognized that bit of wisdom.  After all, it is what he’d said to her on the subject more than once.

“Okay.  I trust you and believe in you.  But develop a little modesty maybe?  Put on a robe when you come in here.  Or wait till I’m done.”

“Don’t you like me like this?”

“I love you.  But you are getting to an age where you being naked like this around me… well… begins to get… um, uncomfortable.  And your little wet behind is making my pants wet.  I have work to do today, and now my pants have a wet spot shaped like your butt.”

“Oh, Daddy!”  She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.   He put an arm around her shoulders and gave a squeeze.

“I hope we can start getting some better habits going, Princess.  We don’t want to get your mom mad or anything.” Valerie hopped off his damp lap and padded over to retrieve the towel.  She wrapped it around herself and then gave him one more grin before she barefooted it out of the bathroom and toward her waiting school clothes.  You never knew anything for certain.  Maybe one day she would just have to go to school naked… to show Daddy that… well, okay… maybe not to school.

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Filed under humor, Iowa, kids, novel, NOVEL WRITING, nudes, Paffooney

Here is My Heart

Yesterday I posted another maudlin doomsday post. I probably gave you the opinion that all I do with my time is mope around and think about death. And maybe write a little creepy black Gothic poetry. But that’s not me. I am a lover of the humor in stories by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Kurt Vonnegut. I am a former teacher that managed to teach the entire zoological range of possible middle school and high school students in Texas and did it without being convinced to hate them rather than love them. Yes, my heart is full of mirth and love and memories of weird kids and troubled kids and kids that could melt the meanest of hearts.

My passion is writing fictional stories about the kids I have taught, including my own three, and setting it in a fictionalized version of my little town, the place in Iowa where I grew up. And I put them in plots of impossible fantasy and science fiction in a way that can only be explained as surrealism.

Nobody reads my books. So far, at any rate.

But that isn’t the important thing. The important thing is that, despite my illness and deteriorating quality of life, my books now actually exist. I put off being a full-time writer for 33 years as I finished my teaching career. A writer has to have something to write about. So, teaching came first.

Writing novels was always the ultimate goal, however. I am a story-teller. The story itself is in the very center of my heart.

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Filed under autobiography, cartoony Paffooney, humor, Iowa, kids, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, surrealism, teaching, telling lies, writing

I Hope You Dance…

When you walk to the front of the classroom and take up the big pencil in front of a group of young teens and twelve-year-olds, there is a strong pressure to learn how to sing and dance. That, of course, is a metaphor. I was always too arthritic and clunky in my movements to literally dance. But I looked out over a sea of bored and malevolence-filled eyes, slack and sometimes drooling mouths attached to hormone-fueled and creatively evil minds. And I was being paid to put ideas in their heads. Specifically boring and difficult ideas that none of them really wanted in their own personal heads. So I felt the need to learn to dance, to teach in ways that were engaging like good dance tunes, and entertaining in ways that made them want to take action, to metaphorically get up and dance along with me.

I wanted them to enjoy learning the way I did.

But the music of the teacher is not always compatible with the dance style of the individual learner. The secret behind that is, there is absolutely no way to prompt them to dance along with you until you learn about the music already playing in their stupid little heads. (And you can’t, of course ever use the word “stupid” out loud, no matter how funny or true the word is,) You have to get to know a kid before you can teach them anything.

The discordant melodies and bizarre tunes you encounter when you talk to them is like dancing in a minefield blindfolded. Some don’t have enough to eat at home and have to survive off of the nutrition-less food they get in the school cafeteria’s free-and-reduced lunch program. Some of them have never heard a single positive thing from the adults at home, enduring only endless criticism, insults, and sometimes fists. Some of them fall in love you. Some due to hormones. Some due to the fact that you treat them like a real human being. Some because they just stupidly assume that everyone dances to the same tunes they hear in their own personal head.

Some of them automatically hate you because they know that if you hear their own secret music in their own self-loathing heads, you will never accept it. They hate you because you are a teacher and teachers always hate them. Some of them, deep down, are as loathsome as they think they are.

But, if you find the right music, you can get any of them, even all of them, to dance. It might be hard to find. It might be a nearly impossible task to learn to play that music once you find it. But it can be done.

And if you get them to dance to your music, to dance along with you, I can’t think of anything more rewarding, anything more life-fulfilling. Have you ever tried it for yourself? If you are not a teacher, how about with your own children or the children related to you? Everybody should learn to dance this dance I am talking about in metaphors. At least once in your life. It is addictive. You will want to dance more. So the next time the music starts and you get the chance… I hope you’ll dance!

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Filed under commentary, education, kids, metaphor, Paffooney, teaching

Miss Terry G.

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Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra

As a school teacher, you will simply have to accept that, no matter what you do or say, some students are going to love you, and some students are going to totally hate you.  You can’t control that.  The only thing you can control is how you feel about them.

She came into my classroom that first day in August, and I knew from the very first glance that she was one of a kind.  She was very angular of feature, standing, walking, and sitting in a very stiff and upright posture.  She did not bend easily, in body or soul.

She insisted on having a front seat so she could learn, and I had to move one of the other girls who really didn’t care where she sat so that Miss Terry could have a front seat.  She was a note-taker who constantly noted practically everything.  I think she even noted down some of my jokes in the precise order that they were told.  Disorder had no place in her world, and she did not tolerate disorder even from a teacher.

And Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra (not exactly her real name) never smiled and never laughed.  So you can guess what my primary objective was whenever I had her intense little face in front of me.  She hated it whenever I made her smirk or lose control of a slight giggle.  And the few times I ever got a real, unguarded smile out of her, she was absolutely beautiful.

The little raven girl would often snipe at me when she answered in class.  She often told me that my discipline was too lax, that the lessons weren’t ordered in a way that was efficient, and that I really wasn’t as funny as I thought.  And I didn’t let that get to me.  I know from faculty lounge conversations that she often got on the nerves of almost all of her other teachers.  But I unconditionally loved her.  And I know I got to her more than merely once or twice.  If we were keeping score, I was winning.  But we were not keeping score, and I let her think she was completely in control of her own education.

Her senior year in high school, she and another girl whom I loved and was also graduating came back to visit my seventh-grade classroom.

“You know, Mr. Beyer, looking back on junior high, of all the teachers I had, your class is really the only one I remember.  I liked your class.”

Naomi, the girl who came with her, was also a little shocked by Terry’s pronouncement.  But she quickly added, “You were the best teacher we ever had.”

“Well, I don’t know…  Yes, I guess you are right,” the raven girl said.

“Thank you, that means a lot coming from you,” I said.  “By the way, who are you again?”

Her eyes got wider.  “You don’t remember me?”

I laughed.  “I tried hard to forget you.  But it didn’t work.  You are Homero’s little sister.  You were one of the best students I ever had, Terry.”

The smile I got from that lame joke was the best one.

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Filed under education, humor, kids, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Telling Teacher Stories

My Art

Here’s a secret that is only a secret if you are one of the well-over-six-billion people that don’t know I exist; I loved being a public school teacher.  I taught for 31 years.  24 years of that was in middle school.  I taught more than 1000 different seventh graders.  And I loved it.

Please don’t reveal this secret to any mental health professionals.  I like my freedom.  And I am really not dangerous even after teaching that many seventh graders.  I promise.

But it has left me with a compulsion.  I confess it is the reason I write humorous young adult novels and why I continue to write this blog.  I have to tell teacher stories or I will surely explode.

I have to tell you not only about the normal kids I taught, but the super-brainy mega-nerds I taught, the relatively stupid kids I taught, the honor students, the autistic kids, the kids who loved to sleep in class, the classroom clowns that tried to keep them awake, the kids who loved my class, the kids who hated my class, the times I was a really stupid teacher, the times I achieved some real milestones for some wonderful kids, the kids I still love to this day, the kids I tried really hard to love, but…. (well, some kids not even a mother could love), the drug dealers I had to protect my class from, the kids who talked to me about suicide and abuse and horrible things that still make me cry, the kids I lost along the way, and, well, the list goes on and on but this is an epic run-on sentence and the English teacher inside me is screaming at the moment.

You get the idea.  Like most writers… real writers, not hacks and wannabees, I write because I have to.  I don’t have a choice.  No matter what it costs me.  And what do I have to talk about in writing except being a school teacher and the almost infinite lessons that experience taught me?

I loved being the rabbit holding the big pencil in the front of the classroom.  And that metaphor means, as crazy as it sounds, I loved being a teacher.

 

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A Mr. Holland Moment

Life is making music.  We hum, we sing to ourselves, movie music plays in our head as the soundtrack to our daily life. At least, it does if we stop for a moment and dare to listen.   We make music in many different ways.  Some play guitar.  Some are piano players.  And some of us are only player pianos.  Some of us make music by writing a themed paragraph like this one.  Others make an engine sing in the automotive shop.  Still others plant gardens and make flowers or tomatoes grow.  I chose teaching kids to read and write.  The music still swells in my ears four years after retiring.

The 1995 movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, is about a musician who thinks he is going to write a magnificent classical orchestra opus while teaching music at a public high school to bring in money and allow him time to compose and be with his young wife as they start a new family.

But teaching is not, of course, what he thought it was.  He has to learn the hard way that it is not an easy thing to open up the closed little clam shells that are the minds of students and put music in.  You have to learn who they are as people first.  You have to learn to care about what goes on in their lives, and how the world around them makes them feel… and react to what you have to teach.  Mr. Holland has to learn to pull them into music appreciation using rock and roll and music they like to listen to, teaching them to understand the sparkles and beats and elements that make it up and can be found in all music throughout their lives.  They can even begin to find those things in classical music, and appreciate why it has taken hold of our attention for centuries.

And teaching is not easy.  You have to make sacrifices.  Big dreams, such as a magnum opus called “An American Symphony”, have to be put on the shelf until later.  You have children, and you find that parenting isn’t easy either.  Mr. Holland’s son is deaf and can never actually hear the music that his father writes from the center of his soul.  And the issue of the importance of what you have to teach becomes something you have to fight for.  Budget cuts and lack of funding cripples teachers in every field, especially if you teach the arts.  Principals don’t often appreciate the value of the life lessons you have to give.  Being in high school band doesn’t get you a high paying job later.

But in the end, at the climax of the movie, the students all come back to honor Mr. Holland.  They provide a public performance of his magnum opus, his life’s work.  And the movie ends with a feeling that it was all worth it, because what he built was eternal, and will be there long after the last note of his music is completely forgotten.  It is in the lives and loves and memories of his students, and they will pass it on.

But this post isn’t a movie review.  This post is about my movie, my music.  I was a teacher in the same way Mr. Holland was.  I learned the same lessons about being a teacher as he did.  I had the same struggles to learn to reach kids.  And my Mr. Holland moment wasn’t anywhere near as big and as loud as Mr. Holland’s.  His was performed on a stage in front of the whole school and alumni.  His won Richard Dreyfus an Academy Award for Best Actor.  But his was only fictional.

Mine was real.  It happened in a portable building on the Naaman Forest High School campus.  The students and the teacher in the classroom next door threw a surprise party for me.  They made a lot of food to share, almost all of which I couldn’t eat because of diabetes.  And they told me how much they would miss me, and that they would never forget me.  And I had promised myself I would never cry about having to retire.  But I broke my promise.  In fact, I am crying now four years later.  But they are not tears of sadness.  My masterwork has now reached its last, bitter-sweet notes.  The crescendos have all faded.  But the music of our lives will still keep playing.  And not even death can silence it completely.

 

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, happiness, insight, kids, movie review, teaching

Justifying The Existence of Aeroquest

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The question may arise if anyone who wasn’t forced to read the novel Aeroquest because they have the misfortune of being my relative ever actually reads the book, “Why did you ever write such a gawd-awful thing?”

The truth is, I didn’t write it, not by myself at any rate.  The essential plot of the novel is such a jumbled mess because the story is lifted directly from a game of Traveller, an RPG from Game Designer’s Workshop.  The basic characters in the novel were all player characters.  Their design and personalities are created by adolescent boys in the 80’s and the paths they chose in the story strongly reflect the chaos of youth.

The Aero Brothers, Ged and Ham were both created by one of my favorite students of all time.  I will refer to him here as Armando Carrizales, though that was not his real name.  I am trying to explain the novel here, not mortify an adult former student living somewhere in Texas, or even elsewhere.  Armando’s idea was to use Star Wars characters.  Hamfast Aero was actually Han Solo in the game.  And when Armando wanted to create an all-powerful psionic character, he created brother Ged Solo, using the first name of Larry Winslow’s character Ged Stryker (And Larry did not know how to spell “Jed”).  Because I really liked Armando, and he was bright, creative, and a good problem solver, I eventually chose his characters as the main characters of the novel.  He was good at organizing expeditions, collecting gear and matching it to the purpose in the adventure before him.  But you do need more than heroes for an adventure game, or for a novel.

Emilio Jalapeno was a very different kind of kid, but also Armando’s real-life best friend.  He was a skinny kid with a goofy grin, and was always ready with a joke or prank that would either make you laugh, or make you palm your forehead and consider murder.  His first Traveller character lasted all of fifteen minutes because he decided he wanted to take his shiny new pistol and kill everyone on the entire planet they were on.  That character, whose name I have forgotten, was actually gunned down by his own adventuring party.  So Emilio had to start again.

He created the character Trav Dalgoda.  He got the name from the first syllable of the Traveller game and a name he spotted on the cover of a magazine laying on the table.  Trav was simply Emilio in an RPG form.  He wanted to have an eye patch like a pirate, but he wanted to have two eyes.  He wanted to wear wide ties with messages on them, like a cartoon screw next to a baseball.  And he dearly loved to blow things up.  A time would come in the adventure where he had access to really big weapons, and we had to let him experiment with killing everybody on an entire planet.  This, then, was the needed comedy relief that kept us laughing through shared adventures.  And Trav’s ability to get into really big trouble would eventually drive the plot forward.

Sinbadh the Lupin, a dog-headed humanoid alien, was also Emilio’s character.  The fact that he based his entire character on talking like a pirate from Treasure Island was a source of endless hilarity.

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Tron Blastarr, the scar-faced villain, was created by Armando again.  There was a time when Larry Winslow wanted to create a villain character in the most desperate way possible.  But the evil villain Mantis, who was really just a living head on a robotic body, and the enigmatic psionic Xavier Trkiashav never really got their chance to be truly villainous.  One became a laughable boob while the other became a hero and the leader of the Psionics Institute.  Tron, however, was a perfect pirate.  He led the band of adventurers on merry chase after looping, curling space chase, eventually becoming the first player character to get married and have children.  He retired as a villain with a fleet of stolen space ships, and a planet (the airless world Outpost1) as his pirate treasure.

So, to claim I wrote the novel Aeroquest on my own is to completely overlook my collaborators.  It is a mess of a comedy sci-fi novel that I am still trying to iron out and rewrite, but it is also a story I shared with some who were very near to my writer’s heart.

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Filed under aliens, Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, humor, kids, novel, NOVEL WRITING, science fiction, strange and wonderful ideas about life