Friday, July 20, 2018


I have lost my mind.

I was quite confident I had it, knew where it was, used it on a regular basis. But at this juncture in my life, our household consensus is comprised of three teenage girls. Majority rules -- whoever made up that saying obviously lost their mind as well --  and therefore this mama's brainpower is worth diddly squat.

I don't know how to choose appropriate clothing  anymore, because anything I suggest on Target shopping trips is OH-MY-GOSH-THE-UGLIEST-THING-EVER. Bathing suits, shorts, tops, dresses. Doesn't matter. I can't pick 'em like I used to, I guess. 

My ability to maneuver a grocery store is also shot. We NEVER have anything in the house to eat. I could even drag them with me, bribing them with a trip to the Starbucks counter at Kroger. They get to pick out what they want from every section, just so I'll be sure I didn't miss something on the list. No matter. The next day as lunch time comes around, I hear the haunting phrase, "we have NOTHING to eat in this house." Wow, I must have forgotten to lock the doors as well, because obviously the homeless people down the street have found their way in and raided our pantry. Hate that.

With my remaining brain power -- remember, I am dumb as a door knob -- I'm going to form a support group called TMI, which will stand for Teen Moms Incompetent. We'll meet once a week to share stories of how our teen sons and daughters are pointing out our deficiencies with brutal honesty -- what we often call tough love. Others who have survived temporary mind loss will be there to show us the way and remind us that in most cases, teen mom brains find their way home.

Here's how I envision a meeting going.
TMI member 1: Yesterday I picked up my daughter from cheer and she hugged everyone on the sidewalk before getting in my car. They all waved and smiled. One even made eye contact and said bye to me personally!
Other moms: Awwww!
TMI member 1: Right? So I'm thinking, yay! She had a great day and she's going to tell me all about it in the car. This is going to be such a happy moment! Then she gets in the car, straps on her seatbelt, and I said, "So looks like you had a great day!" Immediately, her face contorts and she asks me if I'm kidding. Didn't I see  how Amy (not her real name) gave her a dirty look and Morgan didn't wave goodbye, she just stood there? It was a horrible day. So I asked her what happened and she says, "Nothing." She gets on her phone and starts typing away about something. But it was nothing.
TMI member 2: Hi my name is Janice and I'm a TMI survivor.
TMI group: Hi Janice.
TMI member 2: Ma'am, I understand your plight. Unfortunately, teenagers have a type of x-ray vision that allows them to see, or appear to see, things that adults cannot conceive. The best thing to do is to practice nodding and saying, "Oh, that's too bad." Don't ever make the mistake of saying, "I understand," because that will set off a series of triggers in the teenage brain that could cause a lengthy argument.

At this point the group practices nodding and saying, "Oh, that's too bad." Practice as a group, then with a partner.

TMI member 3: Hi I'm Pam.
TMI group: Hi Pam.
TMI member 3: I'd just like to share something about my daughter that's been happening recently. She and I have a show we watch together every night after our family dinner. She helps me clean up and then before I know it, she's calling me to the living room and saves a seat for me on the couch. I just love this time together!
Me: How old is your dear angel?
TMI member 3: She's 10.
TMI group groans, giggles, whispers.
Me: Hon, you're looking for the Tween Moms group. They're at the church across the street.
TMI member 3 apologizes, quickly gathers her purse and scurries for the door. One mom hollers, "We'll see you in a few years!"

TMI alumni member: Ladies, remember that in most cases your mind WILL return to normal. Your teenagers will not be teenagers forever and they will eventually regain their memories of the things we do for them. In many cases, they will start to call you every day, ask you to visit them as adults and even come back to live in our hometown so they can be close to you. Until then, you should decrease all verbal reasoning tactics with your teens and  increase your wine intake.

Thank God for my alumni members who share these nuggets of survival. Yesterday a friend was in the office with her grown daughter. Her daughter confirmed what my friend said: They do come back to you, sometimes they even apologize for the way they acted, and they might even become your friend.

In the meantime, if you're the mom who hasn't yet lost her mind, who doesn't have an eye-roller, a huffer or a complainer just hold on to that little nugget of love for a while. If I hear your anecdote on the wrong day, I might request you for a group transfer.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Snow Globe Moments

Have you ever counted the seconds it takes for the snow to fall inside a snow globe once it is shaken, stirred, and returned right-side up? Not long. Twenty, maybe 30 seconds before the last little flake of white lands on a tiny painted surface and it's time to shake it again. No matter, for watching each piece fall in slow motion is mesmerizing, magical and peaceful.

My snow-globe moment wasn't found in New York watching the Rockettes Holiday Spectacular. Nor was I at one of those drive-through nativity scenes or attending a children's Christmas play. Nope. For 15 glorious minutes this evening, my teenage daughters and I decorated our Christmas tree.

How in the world did I get them away from phones, music, homework, Snapchat and Netflix binges, you ask? Rather than film a YouTube how-to video, I have created a step-by-step plan I like to call "Tinsel and Teens: How to Turn Back Time."

Before your cheeks turn Santa-Claus cherry-red with excitement, keep this in mind: The magic is temporary. Research has proven teen attention span on any given activity is 30 minutes, max.  Also, capturing these moments with photography is at your own risk. At the sight of a flash, your teens may run as fast as Tinkerbell fleeing from Captain Hook.

The first step is to plant the idea in their heads at least two hours prior to when the decorating is to take place. Feeding your subject first is absolutely mandatory. For example, tonight I cooked a full four-course meal AND offered fast food. Whatever you want! I said.  Burgers from Braums? Sure! Starbucks afterwards? Let's get a Grande!

Any preset rules of a sit-down, family dinner are strictly off the table. Subjects must be allowed to eat in front of the TV. Tonight we had to complete the current episode of 90210: the post-millenium version (bye-bye, Brandon and Dillon). And as one of my teens tried to sneak up the stairs, I reminded her of my hesitant "yes" to a midweek, school-night concert. In Dallas. (That's another blog post altogether).

After your half-grown children are in place, carefully unload the boxes of tinsel, lights and shiny ball ornaments. If they put on a holiday playlist like Pentatonix Holiday Album, do not squeal with delight. Keep calm. DO NOT sing along. If you have to turn and sip -- err, guzzle -- your glass of wine, do whatever it takes to act like this is an ordinary activity, and you are down wid' it. Chill, yo.  Stay cool when one of them holds up a Tinkerbell ornament and recalls a memory. Whatever you do, don't cry. One tear and they'll run like rats from a trap, never to be seen again.

When one of the teens begins traveling around the tree with a string of lights, and the other one is snapping pictures, then and only then may you pause, never allowing them to see what you see: Images of chubby hands stretching high to hang ornaments from evergreen branches. Memories of Santa photo opps, candy-colored velvet dresses and wish lists for dolls and toys.

Following these steps, you may, for mere seconds (okay maybe minutes), enjoy a breath-taking,  slow-motion mini-movie, complete with surround sound Christmas music and scenes from the past. Perhaps one will decide it's her turn to put the star on the tree and climb up the ladder while you hold it tight. Finally, don't breathe. Enjoy until the last tiny flake falls, and whatever you do, refrain from sharing it on Instagram, Facebook or (gasp!) a blog.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

30 Minutes

Last week, my prayer mentor  ... okay, she's my counselor ... challenged me to take 20 minutes during my work day to pray. My physical response to her idea was like that of a child being told he was going to get a shot at the doctor's office -- eyes bugging, body tensing, fists balled, head vehemently shaking in a defiant negative answer.

To justify my body language, I started in on a list of top-10 reasons why I can barely eat lunch, let alone donate 30 minutes to Jesus. Actually, I told her my lunch break was only 20 minutes, which sounds much more desperate, until she questioned the legality of allowing a teacher such a short lunch period.

"Well," I said, "We get a half hour, but by the time I drop the kids off at the cafeteria, check my box in the workroom, make copies, check my e-mails and walk all the way to the far corner of Oklahoma where my room is, I really only have 10 minutes."

She didn't flinch. She didn't even offer a bless-your-heart or a poor-thing.

I continued with my war on time by explaining what happens when I walk down the hall. I get stopped by other teachers to meet for "just a quick sec" or I remember that I have to call a parent, check e-mails, finalize our e-newsletter, grade papers of the five students who forgot to turn in the quiz the day before, and find which of the school's three copy machines might be working. Then and ONLY then would I allow myself a handful of nuts and a bottle of water before time to report for cafeteria duty.

She just clarified. "So you get 30 minutes for lunch."

"Ummm, yeah."

Why was this such a big deal for me? I truly felt my chest tighten and my mind whirl into defense mode. Nope. There was no way I could take time to walk outside, listen to a sermon, pray or even  ... GASP! read the Bible during the work day.  How would I get everything done? I began questioning my career choice, thinking I should have been a defense lawyer instead, when she suggested that if I give that time to the Lord, I would actually get it back.

"Just try it for two weeks," she said.

 Once I let down my guard and realized she was trying to help me, much like God does, I began to soften to the idea like butter on hot bread. Come Tuesday, I was all set at 12 sharp, walking head-down and avoiding eye contact in the hallway. Sure enough, another teacher reminded me it was a co-worker's birthday and we were all eating lunch together in the classroom.
"Be right there!" I announced. I don't want anyone to know that I'm pre-menopausal and I forget EVERYTHING.

So then comes Wednesday. Right before lunch, I checked my e-mail "speedy quick" and clicked on the one from the principal, begging us to take a "minute" to read her weekly newsletter.

Thirty minutes later, feeling inadequate after reading all the cute quotes and viewing fabulous pictures and posts and Pinterest pins on the fabulous things other fabulous teachers are doing, I laid my head down on the keyboard and prayed. It was more of a begging, really. "Jesus, take the wheel!" I cried.

Tomorrow is Thursday. So I'm taking my Tupperware, sneaking out the side door to my car and keeping my promise to her, to God and to my students.

Dear students, I promise to pray for you daily. I'm going to pray for the first five on the roster diligently and daily for six weeks, then switch to the next five. When I've reached 20, I'll start over again.

I promise I will listen to what you ask me, even if it's not relevant to what I'm teaching. I never want you to feel stupid for asking a question. You are good, you are kind, you are important. Yes, you.

I promise if I need to reprimand you, I will make it discreet and individual. You will never be publicly humiliated unless you earn it 100 percent.

If you ask me to get you a book, I will search high and low to find it for you, no matter the cost. If your love for reading grows while you're with me, then I have succeeded as a teacher.

I will be honest with you when you are wrong, and praise you with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader when you are right. (You know I will, 'cause you've seen me do it. Don't think I won't.)

Your parents will know about all the wonderful things you do, because I will tell them and take pictures of you doing it. Just because you're in fourth grade, doesn't mean you shouldn't feel famous once in a while.

I will teach you everything I can, so that when the time comes for you to know something, you'll already know that you know it. You won't worry because no matter what grades or numbers or letters are stamped on your test, I will still love you, because you are my babies for the year.

Finally, I promise to practice the Speer Pledge with you. I can't claim it. Once upon a time when my own children were in second grade, their dear teacher led them through this saying just before the bell rang.  They came home happy every day. So I'll say it with you.
"I am special and unique. There is only one me. I will be the best I can be. I will respect myself and others. The world will be a better place because of my life."
Yes, it will.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Grand Theft Auto

"They're stealing my car! Wade, they're stealing my car!"

I yelled this like a quarterback's mom at a football game as I watched my car being backed out of my driveway just two weeks ago. Creepy thing was, I was being watched as well.

We had just returned from a family dinner at Joe T-Garcias on a beautiful, balmy July Thursday night. Wade and I had our Hispanic babies in tow -- okay they're 10- and 12-year old girls, but I think of them as our children -- and they were staying to spend the night. I sent them upstairs and remembered a few things I left in my car. I walked outside, popped the trunk, retrieved a bag, and came back inside.

Two minutes later, I was making my way up the stairs to our window-framed landing when I saw the glow of red lights on the driveway below. Why were police lights in my driveway? I wondered. I looked out and saw two black males standing in front of the car as one driver backed it down the driveway. Even in my shock, I was able to take a mental picture of one of the boys.

CRASH! In his haste to commit Grand Theft Auto, the driver ran into the brick stoop that frames our side staircase. I guess he'd been taught that if you're going to do something, you may as well do it right, so he kept going, slowing down only to pick up the white male who stood at our curb as guard post.

Upon hearing my holler, my crimestopper husband leapt from the couch where he was resting his tired, bare feet. This is important to note because he ran outside like our Jack Russell Terrier chases after cats. Wade began to scream choice expletives at the criminals, waving his finger gun and tearing the pads of his toes on the hard, tarred street.  The boys were well on their way down Elizabeth and turned left at the 8th Avenue light, disappearing with my car.

Angeles, seasoned in watching crimes being committed, grabbed my phone and thrust it toward me. "Here Mrs. Speer! Call the police!"

I called. They came. We looked outside and realized the boys had rifled through my husband's unlocked car first, found a key fob and realized they hit the jackpot when it started my car (also unlocked). I also learned later on our neighborhood Facebook page they had started their spree two hours earlier, going through other unlocked cars for stolen treasures.  I was so pumped on adrenaline that I went into full crimestopper mode, nearly tearing the report from the policeman's hand as I eagerly completed a full, written description of the perpetrator. I was also excited to use the word "perpetrator" in an official form, shortening it to "perp" in my discussion with the police officer. I'm sure he was impressed. Or not.

Our next late-night interruption came two days later in the form of a phone call. The police found the car and it was ready for pick up at a towing yard in Euless. No church for us Sunday morning. I felt like we were going to pick up a lost dog from the pound as we drove up to the office. "Can I see my car now?" I begged the man behind the window. "Sure!" he answered, just after I dropped nearly $300 to get it out. Ouch.

What we saw next nearly made me physically ill. As I opened the door to my little Kia Sorento, a wave of stale smoke nearly knocked me to the coliche-covered ground. The criminals left handcuffs, random phone charging cords, Wendy's french fries, and a bag of clothing in case a change of clothes became necessary. Also left on the floor was Jesus' green card -- not the same likeness as my Lord and Savior -- and a Big Red soda. Finally, they even used my favorite lipstick to create artwork on one of the headrests. The artist even signed his work, "Kobe."

Getting in my violated vehicle made my skin crawl, so dear husband drove it away while I followed him in his car.

Thanks to the FWPD and our wonderful neighborhood officer, Sergio Gualdarrama, we uncovered a few more details about the incident (I say "we" because I felt like an empowered citizen now and I was determined to get 'em.) Little did I know that the perps had been arrested -- all four of them. The driver was only 15 -- just a year older than my twin daughters -- and the other three already held criminal records for armed robbery. The officer also informed me they had already processed the vehicle by the time I picked it up. In other words, the police removed the big ticket items the boys had stolen, including guns (yes, guns in my car) and left the residual goods inside.

It makes me distressed to think that when the 15 year old hopped in the drivers' seat that night, he would take a turn that would forever change the course of his life. Maybe he had a chance. Maybe he was a good athlete or excelled in math or science. Now he'll have Grand Theft Auto on his permanent record. I hope when he returns from his vacation in juvey that he'll find a new group of friends and start over.

My little lost Kia is in the car hospital, recovering from the scrapes and bruises to the tune of $8,000 (thank God for insurance). Our house has a broken limb, which we'll fix eventually.
I'll end this story with its moral, something policemen every preach on a daily basis. DON'T LEAVE ANYTHING OF VALUE IN YOUR CAR (especially a key fob) and LOCK IT EVERYWHERE YOU GO.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Post Dismissal Brain Malfunction

A blog about school days may seem anti-climactic now that the doors are closed for the
summer. But it is only today I can reflect on what actually happens to my brain during the
academic year on a daily basis.

When the dismissal bell rings and the last student leaves at 3 p.m. so does my ability to
formulate complex sentences. I can't remember words like "pencil," "website," "classroom,"
or even my name. In an effort to recapture the lost vocabulary, I stare into space, as if the word
is going to come soaring at me from above and pop into my head. Instead, my head
resembles the brown rim at the bottom of a coffee cup at day's end. Nothing there, empty, sad,

It's really bad when a parent stops me in the hallway to ask a question after a day of instruction.
Here's what it sounds like:
Parent: "Hi, Do you know what happened to Susie's benchmark test results from the fall
and if her grade has improved for this 6 weeks' progress report?" It's February.
Me. "Ummm ...yes. She. Did. Good. Ummm."

So then I start snapping my fingers as if high level vocabulary words will magically appear in my head, like Cinderella's fairy godmother with her dress. Alas, I appear as if I'm
musically challenged and looking for a lost rhythm with my snapping.

Parent: "Do you know what skills she's struggling with in reading?"
At this point, academically challenging words like "author's purpose" or
"fluency level" have left me like a plane bound for Cancun.
Me: Hold up the imaginary phone in my hand, nod and mumble, "Conference tomorrow?"

This is largely because for a full seven hours... and I'm talking FULL, a teacher says things like
"Stop. Pick that up. Please. Get out your journal. Yes. Bubble in your mouth. Raise your hand.
Fabulous answer. Not exactly, but good try. Put away the fidget spinner. This is your warning.
Where is your permission slip? Get your finger out of your nose, please. Put some hand
sanitizer on it, you'll be fine. Stop drumming on the desk. Please. THE FIDGET SPINNER IS MINE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR AND ALL ETERNITY!"

I feel especially sorry for my own children when I come home and they ask what we're having
for dinner. "Ummm," I answer, snapping for the magic to happen. "The yellow stuff, box,
cheese. Meat. "
My daughters look at me with that special teenage gaze. So loving and helpful.
"You mean mac and cheese with meatballs?" they answer.
"YES!" I jump and point emphatically, like a winner on Family Feud.

When will the words return? I wonder. I try to revive my brain cells with an adult beverage
or two, which only results in more staring, snapping and silence. Not effective.
Maybe this summer I'll develop a series of post-dismissal communication queue cards.
When I have after-school meetings or parent conferences, I can just point to cards that read,
"Your student is struggling with long-division skills but excels in spelling words with
-ing endings." Or "I agree; small group instruction allows for differentiation among all students."
Genius, right? Just as long as I make those cards before 3 in the afternoon.
Otherwise, they'll read much like talk show queue cards. APPLAUSE. LAUGH. NOD.

Unexpected Joy

I wrote this last October and just found it under my drafts, waiting anxiously to be published. So 8 months later, summer's here and so is this blog.

Little brown faces with candy corns painted on cheeks. Sticky hands carrying monster-sized, sugar topped cupcakes with Boo! scribed in loopy chocolate writing. Sneakers thrown askance next to a line leading up the bouncy house slide. Hip hop music pumping in the background. Such was the setting for the annual Fall Festival held at Cavile Community Center, smack in the heart of Stop Six.

Tonight, there was no place I would have rather been. Since last week, I'd been looking forward tthis day, for no other particular reason than I hoped to see a few familiar faces since I taught in the neighborhood just two years ago and had volunteered at the festival with my church small group last year.

Well, I take that back. It had been a really crappy day. I was late to school, my amazing lesson plans were thrown out the window with the uncooperative technology, and one of my students had a meltdown because I wouldn't let him watch YouTube  (as if that were ever an option in my classroom), all before noon. I usually regroup during my teeny-tiny lunch break, but due to new district initiatives, I spent my quiet time revamping our weekly newsletter and recreating data spreadsheets for data I am behind on collecting. My poor little lunch sat in my mini-fridge all alone, waiting for me to retrieve it. And sat. And sat.

So when time came and the bell rang, I was eager to get out the door, scoop up my family and head to the center of the Fort Worth East Side projects. Sounds crazy, I know. But I was so ready to love on these kiddos and watch them laugh, run, play in a land where their little lives are nothing but full-on war, day in and day out. I know, because I lived it with them as their teacher for two years.

We arrived at our station, the bouncy slide, and little shoeless bodies were lined up, ready to climb up and slide down. I surveyed the small concrete area that had become a sugary wonderland for these kiddos, all thanks to the people at my church who organize the fall festival every year. You'd have thought I was pulling up to grandma's house when I nearly jumped out of the car, dragging my twin girls behind, looking for familiar faces. There my husband, here a couple from our small group, there another friend from church. And then my heart party started.

Eye contact with a wide-eyed little girl eating an apple. She looked at me and then toward the ground, still walking my way. "Hey Adrianna! Remember me?" I put my arm around her and asked her how she was doing in school. Another familiar face arrived. "You Mrs. Speer? You look different?" More inquiries as to grades and living situation. My conversations dominoed, one former student after another, hugs and shared cupcakes and "what have you been reading lately?" I have to admit, my volunteering wasn't as much working a booth as it was working the crowd, and my loving all over those kiddos was filling my heart so abundantly that it began to overflow.

Then one little girl, Janascia, told me another former student, Mikayla, was also at the festival. She grabbed my arm and walked me toward her. "Mikayla!" She yelled. As the girl's puppy dog-painted face turned to meet mine, we both squealed and hugged each other. "What are you doing here?" She said. Another few girls encircled us and we started talking about other teachers, easy classes and students who had moved.

I asked Mikayla what kind of grades she was making.
"I'm makin' A's, B's and F's," she stated.
"F's!" I said. "When you were in my class you were a straight A student.What's up with that?"
"That's 'cause you was my teacher. You were my best teacher ever!"

I'll tell you what. I may not ever make Teacher of the Year. I'm doing good to stay afloat, and most days I feel like I'm drowning in paperwork, progress reports, plans and people-pleasing. Many days I look at the piles of papers I haven't graded, the boards I haven't cutesified (I made up that word), and the students I failed to love on during the day and wonder why I do this to myself. Lord knows it ain't the money. My husband knows its not all the free time I'll have on the weekends. But the kids-- this kid -- are the solitary reason I spend 50 hours a week trying to reach just one of them. Because every once in a while, I'll reach out into a sea of hands, and one of them, like Mikayla, will reach her tiny brown hand out and grasp onto mine for dear life. I went there tonight to love on warstruck kids, but I left in tears of undeserved joy. Thank you, Mikayla.