Frank’s Revenge

I think my mountain bike feels jilted.  As you know, I have a sleek road bike, The Rocket.  What I’ve failed to mention in previous seasons is that I have another bike.  Yes, the red-headed step-child of bikes.  Frank the Tank.  Frank is a hulking 40 something pound Giant mountain bike with a tricked out Judy fork.  That’s as much as I know about bike parts, so save us both from a very boring conversation and don’t ask about components or wheel size or any of that other stuff.

The past two years I’ve been smitten with the Rocket and our long, smooth, beautiful road rides.  Although I’m ashamed to admit this, whilst cycling on the Rocket, Frank sat unloved, unridden, and increasingly bitter in the garage.  If you’re not a cyclist, you’re probably a bit skeptical about the fact that bikes have feelings.  If you are a cyclist, then you are no doubt aware of the perils that a scorned bike can unleash.

On a Sunday in December I registered for my first cyclocross race.  Cyclocross is an unforgiving combination of mountain biking, hauling your bike over barriers, and then riding some more as fast as you can over a marked course.  Sometimes you even have to run and push your bike.  I don’t run.  Ever.  But there is a small group of unbalanced people who think this is fun.

So, Frank and I started the race full of excitement.  (Actually, Frank was full of vengeance, but I was not yet aware of his state of mind.) Let me just state for the record that riding Frank for the first time in 2 years in a cyclocross race was dumb.  Very dumb.  Frank is equipped with platform pedals, not the kind that attach to your shoes.  I’ve grown quite attached to The Rocket.  Literally.  With shoes that clip into the pedals, I pull up on my foot and the pedal comes with me.  When I push for extra power, the pedal obliges.

Not on Frank.  When I pulled up on my foot, the pedal spun around and impaled my calf.  Then I’d angrily slam my foot on the pedal causing the opposite pedal to spin forward and gnaw on my shin.  You’d think after one or two times, I’d learn and adjust.  You’d be wrong, my friend, so wrong.  Most of the time I was focusing all my energy on not crashing and so I’d forget that my shoes were not attached to the pedals and I’d try in vain to harness extra power by pulling up on the pedals.  Every single time those pedals would zip up and nail me in the exact same part of my legs.

Despite the increasing amounts of blood and pain in the general leg area, I was actually having fun.  After completing 2 laps I was scraped, bleeding and bruised, but proud to have tried something new.  (Ok, so I got lapped and most everyone did 3 laps, not a measly 2, but still.)  Strangely, when I stopped riding, I found myself eager to do it again.  In fact, I thought “I should go mountain biking today.”  So I did.

About an hour or so after cyclocross, I thought Frank and I had made amends.  We’d splashed through mud puddles, cruised over rocks, and turned my legs into hamburger.  So after the race, I agreed to go on a short, “flat” 9 mile mountain bike ride with my team captains, Nick and Abby.  “There’s only one hill and the rest of it’s really flat.”  Nick assured me.  It turns out that Nick blocks out the parts of rides he doesn’t care for.  Either that or he was in on Frank’s master plan of torture.

The first half of the trail was full of steep inclines followed by way too technical descents.  Basically I dragged all 40 something pounds of Frank up and down hills for four and a half punishing miles.  I knew this was penance for the years of neglect.  That didn’t stop me from making several demeaning remarks about Frank’s weight.  He had just cause to complain about my weight, too, but Frank is a gentleman and kept his comments to himself.

After all that cajoling, grunting, sweating, pushing, and pulling Frank, I was rewarded with four and a half miles of the most beautiful singletrack I’ve laid eyes on.  It was smooth with some interesting curves and just the right amount of mud puddles.  It was blissful.  I loved every second of it and I have a feeling that Frank and I are friends again.  I hope.

Gold, Frankincense, and Midol?

It started out as an average Friday morning.  Students filed in showing off their loose teeth and lugging their book boxes to their desks.  I stopped at each desk to check in with my kids and collect their homework.  Just then a father with special needs walked in.  In the middle of a conversation with one of my kids, the dad blurted out “Here’s her folder.  Do you want her papers now?”  I patiently held up a lone index finger, the universal sign for ‘I’ll be with you in a moment’.

After finishing the conversation with my student, I turned my attention to the waiting parent.  We had a quick conversation about where his daughter should put her homework folder and I turned to go about my morning business.  The father continued in a loud, unmodulated voice.  “Mrs. McCauley, I know what I’m getting you for Christmas.”  I wasn’t sure how to best reply, so I uttered a noncommital “Oh.”  Then he delivered a surprise verbal punch.  “I’m getting you the Costco jar of MIDOL!”  He smiled, so pleased with himself.  I stared, mouth agape.  I didn’t feel like I’d been rude or unkind.  It’s not like I gave him the OTHER finger or anything.

As I stood totally unsure how to escape gracefully from this conversation, his face turned the blotchy crimson of a pomegranate.  In an even louder voice he stammered “I mean the Costco jar of Tylenol.  Not the other, you know, thing.”  This really didn’t clear anything up for me.  I stared at him, head cocked to the side, in total disbelief that this conversation was still going on.  He continued “You know because of all the headaches you must get.”  I do not have a poker face at all, so I’m sure my increasing look of incredulity was apparent.  I stood unable to extricate myself from the awkwardness and to my dismay he rattled on.  “You must get a lot of headaches.  I didn’t mean the other thing.  I don’t want you to think I was saying anything weird or anything.”  Seriously!?!  This entire conversation was totally bizarre.  Unable to bear the possibility of any further comments, I said “Don’t worry about it.  I put my foot in my mouth all the time.  Have a nice day.”  I willed my legs to move me to the student sitting in the desk furthest away and to my great relief that was the end of the dialogue.

Although I only get a headache approximately once a year and I am as fortunate when it come to other unmentionable aches and pains, come this December I’ll be commemorating the birth of the Christ child with the deluxe jar of Midol or Tylenol.  Who knows, maybe in the spirit of generosity and goodwill, I’ll receive both.  Take that, wise men.

Mrs. Holland’s Opus

Oh the dread of freshman Algebra.

Walking to my Algebra class, my feet were lead. Outside the door I would give myself a pep talk. A “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough and doggone it people like you.” sort of pep talk because once I was inside that door I would face Her.

My teacher.

My teacher who, when I didn’t understand an equation, would repeat the same directions. Only louder. My teacher who shook her head and took deep breaths when I told her I still didn’t get it. After a few weeks I stopped asking her to explain.

My counselor wouldn’t permit me to switch classes, so instead I went next door most days after school to Mrs. Holland, another algebra teacher. Mrs. Holland would explain concept after concept in several different ways until she and I were both sure I understood it. Sometimes it took days for me to grasp a single concept. It didn’t matter to Mrs. Holland. She even invited me over for dinner and extra tutoring before my final, to make sure I would pass. She was my savior.

Two years later, it was time to take Algebra 2. My mom and I met with my counselor, begging to be placed with Mrs. Holland. To my dismay, I was again placed with Her. I dropped out and enrolled in a night class of Algebra 2 at the local junior college. I did just fine, thanks to Mrs. Holland.

As a teacher, I have the pleasure of introducing early algebraic thinking to many of my first graders.  Sometimes it takes them a long time to grasp difficult concepts.  I don’t mind at all because I was that kid with the perpetually raised hand and look of total confusion.  When I see that look on a student’s face, I smile and think of another way to shed some light on the concept.  I try to give my students the time, space, and information they need to become mathematical thinkers.  In short, I try to be like Mrs. Holland.

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