Cursing Clyde


The words bounced off the spines of books carefully shelved in our school library.  I stood frozen, considering how the year had led up to this exact moment.

My classroom had a small hole in one of the windows.  In the span of years I taught in that room, it was never repaired.  The winter wind whistled through that hole, a faint sound I only heard during moments of peace before school or after I’d zipped my little ones into their jackets and sent them home for the day.

That year my students were particularly noisy, there was not a timid voice in the whole bunch.  They were hard workers, but in their work they were noisy, talking aloud to themselves, reading with enthusiasm, counting in booming rhythms.  Even their whispers were deep and throaty.  The constancy of their voices was the running monologue of our classroom.  And it was loud.

Clyde was six years old and his legs grew quickly, stretching out his kindergarten belly, inching his pants up above his ankles.  He face was milky pale, with only a hint of color gathering in the hollows under his eyes.  His brown eyes were wide and his forehead wrinkled into folds under his shaved head whenever he asked a question, which was all of the time.

Clyde’s mother was deaf and his primary language was sign language.  In class he constantly searched for the words to voice the thoughts he could so fluidly convey with his hands.  When he heard a new word, he snatched it up and added it to his vocabulary regardless if he knew the meaning.

It was this voracious hoarding of words that brought Clyde to words like sh*t, holy sh*t, to be exact.  When he was excited about something, that pair of pungent words flew out of his mouth.  The first time I heard him curse, my mouth fell open.  His face belied the fact that he didn’t know what the words meant.  I pulled him aside and explained their meaning and we came up with a list of phrases he could say instead like “Oh, boy!”  or “Wow!”  To his credit, Clyde did his best to use the substitutions and only slipped up now and again.

Clyde was a meticulous artist.  He could draw anything and everything in exquisite detail, but most of all he loved to draw cars.  He drew convertibles with sleek lines and monster trucks ready to rumble off the page.

Every week our class went to the library to check out books and each week the librarian handed out library awards.  There were two things a class had to do to earn a library award; keep the library clean and remain quiet.  My class excelled in keeping the library tidy, but we’d never earned a library award, because try as they might, my little guys just couldn’t keep their voices under wraps.

That is until one particular trip to the library.  Every child was quietly checking out books, quietly reading them at tables, quietly poring over the pictures. I grinned as I watched the librarian pen an award for us.  I pictured it hanging front and center in our classroom, a monument to the day we’d finally, finally quieted ourselves.

The librarian mentioned that there were some new drawing books over in the corner.  Clyde’s ears perked up and he walked over the corner.  The new drawing books were on display on top of a bookshelf.  There were books with sketches of horses, cats, dogs, and carton characters.  And there was a shiny new book about drawing cars.

I watched Clyde flip to a page demonstrating how to draw a race car.  I watched his eyebrows shoot up.  I watched as he hoisted the book above his head like a trophy.  And I watched him search for the words to describe his jubilation.  I waited for one of the phrases he’d been practicing in class.  As I walked over to share in his excitement, he let fly.

“HOLY SH*T!!!”.

My entire class, my entire formerly quiet class, let out a collective gasp followed by an explosion of voices all calling out.

“Mrs. McCauley, Clyde said a BAD WORD!”

Realizing what he’d done, Clyde quickly plugged in one of his substitute phrases, stammering out an embarrassed, “I meant, ‘Oh boy!’”

But it was too late.  I smiled at his effort, smiled at his enthusiasm over a book. I even smiled at the librarian who tore our library award right down the middle before throwing it in the trash can.

A day or two before Christmas vacation, I sat at my desk after school scrawling lesson plans.  The Good News Club was meeting in my room and I listened as they sang Christmas songs.  Clyde was a regular member and he sang along happily with the CD of carols.  When Silent Night came on, he excitedly told the club leader he knew how to sing this song in sign language.  I put my pen down and watched as Clyde stood in front of thirty or so other kids, signing each word, each verse with small hands still dirty from the playground.  The other children began to sign with him, copying his motions with their own hands.

I was captivated.  Clyde’s version of Silent Night was so beautiful that it both broke my heart and filled it at the same time.  His hands moved through the air, telling the story of Christ come to Earth, telling it in a way that brought me to tears.  The stunning story of the holiest of nights as told through the hands of a six year old was breathtaking.  After the song, Clyde sat back down on the carpet without ceremony.  I sat dabbing my eyes.  For a moment there wasn’t another sound in the room.

We never did get a library award that year.  And that’s okay.  On the last day of school, I fingered the hole in the window, feeling the hot breath of summer leak into my classroom.  There was no wind to blow through and in the silence of my empty classroom I found myself wishing for the voices of my students.

As I think about the most profound thing I’ve heard a student say, I think of that loud group of children.  But mostly I think of Clyde.  I love knowing that the kid who peppered the year with profanity was also the child who used his hands to speak what words cannot.

Can O’ Light

The final school day of 2009 passed without any Midol incidents.  This year I received many cards from my students and a handful of lovely gifts.  The handmade journal and the dragonfly pin in particular suit me perfectly.

There was also one more gift that is a superb addition to our home.  It’s a luminary carved from a recycled can.  Behold the Can O’ Light.

It’s simplicity is beautiful to me.  From the manger to Christmas carols to candlelight services to sipping hot cocoa in the glow of the tree, my wish for you this season is that you find simple beauty.

Must See Christmas Movies

It’s holiday movie season and there are a few on my list to revisit before the big day.  In no particular order, they are:

1. Love Actually:  I love the weaving of the stories and the deadpan English humor.  A word of caution-I saw this in the theater with my mom and the scenes with the nude stand-ins were a touch, uh, awkward.

2. Four Christmases: One word: Mistletoe!

3. The Holiday: I’m not sure why I love this movie.  The writing is average.  The acting is nothing remarkable, but for some mysterious reason, this one is mandatory.  I think it’s the adorable old man.  Especially his water aerobics scene.  Hot stuff.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon):  I love any movie with a character with a heart full of unwashed socks.  I crack up every year reading this book to my class and the narration in the movie only makes it better.

5.  Elf: It’s impossible to dislike a movie with the line, “I’m sorry for ruining your life and shoving eleven cookies into the VCR.”

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas:  I love the music and the message.  That little tree is just so sad and endearing.  You didn’t know a tree could be endearing?  Obviously you haven’t spent very much time with your Christmas tree.  Shame on you.

*Not on the list because they’re television shows are the Festivus episode of Seinfeld and the Chanukah Armadillo episode of Friends.

Candy-gram? No. Pizza guy? No. Landshark Socks? Yes!

This Christmas, I received things in pairs.  For example, I received two homemade scarves.  I am now the lucky beholder of gift certificates to two different bike shops.  In my stocking were two pairs of socks and a pair of necklaces.  My mom even gave me an ornament of A Partridge In A Pear Tree.  Ok, it’s a stretch, but I’m the one writing this, so it counts.

The thing I’d like to talk about today are the socks.  Both pairs were stocking stuffers from Terry.  One pair were made of read and green soft, fuzzy goodness, perfect bedtime socks.  The other pair of socks are the best pair of socks ever created.

Before I tell you more about the socks, let’s talk about my favorite times of the year.  To start with, I love the week of 4th of July.  That is the week Terry and I both celebrate our birthdays and I volunteer with Youth to Youth.  I also enjoy the week of Easter vacation.  Not only do I enjoy the days off, but it is a time for me to reflect on my relationship with God.  Another favorite time of year is the week of our anniversary.  The fact that my favorite person in the world has stuck with me for another year is pretty amazing shocking.  But there is one week that is in a whole other category.  I’m not saying it’s better than those other weeks, I’m just saying it’s worthy of its own special category.

The week I’m talking about is, of course, Shark Week.

During Shark Week my DVR just about faints from exhaustion.  I am mesmerized by sharks.  Fierce white tips, fat nurse sharks, powerful great whites.  I am in awe of them all.  My hair could catch on fire and I wouldn’t even notice that my scalp was singeing because I’d be too busy watching Great Whites propel themselves straight into the air, hunting the playful inhabitants of Seal Island.  From their ultra-sensitive noses to their rows and rows of teeth, I am an unabashed shark superfan.

So back to the socks I got for Christmas.  Let me tell you what makes these the King of All Socks.  To begin with, they are cycling socks.  That in itself makes them far better than all other types of socks.  Secondly, they are made by The Sock Guy, creator of awesome cycling socks.  The Sock Guy must also be a fan of Shark Week because these socks have sharks on them!  Strike that.  These socks are sharks.  Great White Sharks.  The toe is the nose.  On the ankle is the fin.  And the mouth on the underside is full of pointy teeth.  Just in case you’re still not getting the greatness of these socks, here they are in full predatory action!

Can’t you just hear the Jaws music playing?  These are by far the most ferocious socks I’ve ever seen.  Surely, they will make me a more ferocious cyclist, too.  Sharks have to continuously move forward.  Otherwise they die.  As I’m chugging up hills, I will have sharks on my feet.  My feet will have to keep pedaling, if only out of mortal fear.