Bittersweet

Here’s a surprise.   I don’t usually cry on the last day of school.  Those of you who know me know tears come easily and frequently.  But on the last day of school, there’s such a rush to get everything cleaned up and sorted out that I’m usually too flustered and exhausted to feel those “I’m going to miss these kids” emotions.

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This year was different.  Because this was the class that joined me on the journey known as the Year of Shirley.  They’ll forever be linked with this time of my life, a time like no other.  They listened with round eyes as I told them of my adventures, of Shirley’s place in history, of her impact on so many.

Good teachers always let their students in on their lives.  When my daughter was young, they knew all about her.  Then I regaled them with tales of my cat.  And then it was my trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder country.  Whatever it was, they were interested.  Plus, I’m pretty good at spinning a yarn….whatever it takes to hook ’em.

But nothing has been as satisfying as sharing Shirley.  Perhaps the most moving lesson she helped me teach was “you do you.”  Let’s face it – not many teens were playing with dolls and hanging Shirley Temple posters on their walls. Suffice it to say I was not in the cool crowd. But this year – for the first time ever – I was able to tell my students that story as an example of “just because others don’t like it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like it.” In other words, be true to yourself.  Pretty powerful stuff.  Pretty relevant stuff.

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And so, I did cry today.  I’m crying still.  Because no matter what kind of class I have next year, they’ll never be THIS class.  I know the YOS will continue, and I know I’ll try to weave it into my teaching because the precedent has been set.  I can only hope next year’s batch will be this receptive, this open, this wonderful.

Thanks, kids.  Thanks, Shirley.

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Anniversary

People celebrate….or acknowledge… all kinds of anniversaries – weddings, births, first dates…even deaths.  Because if something is anniversary-worthy, it’s probably a life-changing event.

Tomorrow is my one-year anniversary.   A unique anniversary, to be sure, but just as life-changing as any of the events listed above.   On May 20th of last year, on a cool evening, I entered the Morris Museum to attend a preview of the Love, Shirley Temple exhibit.  I knew it would be emotional.  I knew it would be incredible.  I knew it would be my one and only chance to see costumes belonging to my life-long idol.  Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

My plan in writing this post was to recall, step by step, the events of that night, but truth be told, I just don’t have it in me tonight.  But I can tell you this – my life hasn’t been the same since.  Although I didn’t know exactly what was to come, the Year of Shirley began that evening.

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Sometimes you can pinpoint exactly when something begins, or changes.  When I read a story, we discuss the turning point – the point at which the character changes or the resolution commences.  We even have a hand gesture for it – kids will twist their fingers in the air to indicate that something has happened that will bring about a change in the book we’re reading.   My moment was walking into the exhibit on shaky legs, hand gripping my daughter’s for support, and greeting the tour guide with the ridiculous outburst, “Hi, I’m Melissa, and I’m the biggest Shirley Temple fan.”   As my Shirley soul sister says, “Oy.”  But no men in white coats were called in…instead, he laughed and welcomed me in, going on to patiently answer my questions and calmly field my comments throughout the subsequent tour.   Stuart Holbrook was more than a tour guide or a representative of an auction house.  Much more.  I wouldn’t realize just how much more until later.

And now it’s one year later.  There will be more anniversaries to celebrate – one for each auction, one for the birth of Shirley’s Army and another for Shirley-palooza – and more, I’m sure.  But I can’t help feeling overwhelmingly emotional tonight, on the eve of this particular anniversary.  Because nothing has been the same since.  And neither have I.

Some days are easy….today wasn’t.  But on days such as this one, I now have something  to hold on to, something I didn’t have a year ago.  To quote Shirley herself, “I’m pretty lucky, alright.”  And very, very thankful.

Happy Anniversary.

Responsiblity

It seems fitting that on this Earth Day 2016, I write about taking responsibility for the future.  Reduce, reuse and recycle are the three Rs of taking care of our planet, but I’m adding another one….remember.  It may not help keep the Earth clean and green, but it will add immeasurably to the happiness of the people who dwell here.  Because, of course, I want people to remember Shirley Temple.  With the unveiling of a USPS postage stamp this month, her name is out there – she was even “trending.”  So I’ve decided to take on the responsibility…in my very, very, very small way….to help the next generation come to know this American icon.

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Prior to attending Shirley-palooza (a five day event of everything curled and dimpled), I had my students design an envelope to be stamped and cancelled on the first day of issue. The volunteer doing the very precise work was way impressed with the children’s efforts, even taking a photo to post on his website! Proud teacher moment, for sure. The staff at the event gave me a campaign button that came from Shirley’s own collection – one for each child, and I gathered a few other things along the way.

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One of the first things I did upon arriving at home (jet lag be d****d) was to put together a little swag bag for each student, with an explanation of what was inside and what it all meant. It was important that I convey to them and their families that this was not just a goody bag, but a little collection of historic artifacts.

After four days of absence (and I’m rarely out!), we were happy to be reunited, and I didn’t keep them in suspense too long before doing my own unveiling. One thing that I can do pretty well is spin a yarn, and spin I did.  Their eyes were as round as saucers as I went through the event, making the biggest deal possible about each item, and explaining just what each meant.  They were knocked for a loop when I told them that the tiny red, white and blue SHIRLEY button was a vintage item, direct from a movie star’s home, and that people pay good money for them on eBay!  They were as respectful as I hoped, and no one lost a thing that day (a remarkable feat in and of itself!). It just so happened that two parents were there to witness the show, and they were impressed….as it should be.

I’ve spent a LOT of time this year weaving Shirley into my classroom lessons, because I take my responsibility seriously.  I even wrote a children’s story that features Shirley and her dog Ching-Ching.  In my dreams, I see it as the first of a series of Shirley stories, so that the children who aren’t lucky enough (!!!!) to be in my classroom can delight in the adventures of this child who was both a movie star and a regular little girl.  A child who grew up to become an adult who contributed to the world in significant ways.  A person worth remembering.

Diff’rent Strokes

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Spring Break?”  Wild times in Daytona? A vacay someplace tropical? Or, if you’re a family, a visit to Disney?  Most of my fellow teachers are spending their much-needed break relaxing, either away or at home.

Here’s a surprise.  Not me.

Oh, I’m relaxing, all right.  It just takes on a different form.

Here’s another surprise.  That form is Shirley.

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Instead of working on my tan (which is futile, anyway), I’m working on yet another Shirley-centric project.

On April 15, Shirley’s hometown of Santa Monica, CA will be unveiling an exhibit in her name.  It will feature costumes (many loaned by friends.  Yeah, I have friends who OWN Shirley costumes!), memorabilia and personal artifacts, most of which were acquired at the two recent Love, Shirley Temple auctions.  The items will be arranged chronologically, a timeline of her life.  And to tell the story, images and text will be posted.

Guess who’s been helping out with said signage?

Like my work on the auction catalog this fall, having the opportunity to participate in this exhibit is fulfilling.  And humbling.   And absolutely unbelievable.  How did I go from a NJ schoolteacher* with a not-so-hidden ST obsession to a consultant (my word, not anyone else’s!) on what’s happening in the world of Shirley?

So when I’m standing in front of the exhibit on April 15, there will be tears of emotion.  And one of those emotions will be pride.  Pride lasts longer than tan lines.

*still a NJ schoolteacher, and no plans for any changes along those lines!

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

If you’re a teacher, and you want your students enthralled, tell them a story about yourself.  And ham it up.  I have several go-to stories that I tell my class, all with a purpose, of course.  Often they serve as models for writing – I write tons of stories about my cat and his misadventures.

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But today I told a new one.  Here’s a bit of a preface:

We’re just beginning a unit on realistic fiction, and before I have the students attempt writing those types of stories, we read quite a few mentor texts.  I choose stories that feature a character trying to solve a problem, because eventually, that’s what their characters will do.  Those Shoes is the perfect “I want” story.  Knuffle Bunny illustrates “I lost something.”  Today’s story was Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola.  In case the title doesn’t give it away, the problem is “I get teased.”

I’ve read this book for many years, and it always serves as the catalyst for some serious discussion. I have a feeling this story might be somewhat autobiographical….the main character is a boy who likes to draw and skip rope and dance.  Even his father calls him a sissy – which HORRIFIED my students!  Generally the discussion is about how it’s ok to like what you like, even if others don’t.  Even though the main character is teased because he’s in dance class, he continues anyway, despite what others think.  And in all the times that I’ve read this story, I’ve never thought to connect it to myself.

But I did today. Today, after reading it and discussing it, my own experiences were ALL I could think about.  As in, how did I never make the connection before – it was so obvious.

So I told them a story about being different.  Of course, they’re well aware of my Shirley obsession.  And of course, as I’m their teacher, they think it’s way cool.  And it is.  But today I told them that, like Oliver Button, I was interested in things that other kids my age were not.

And boy, did I ham it up.  I didn’t exaggerate (because I didn’t have to – it really was as bad as I made it out to be!), but I spun a yarn of childhood passion and pain that had their eyes popping out of their little heads.  Told them how I liked Shirley Temple when no one else did.  How I played with dolls well into high school….and still do.  How no one really understood, how some people teased, how I continued to do what I liked to do no matter what others said.   I may have painted myself somewhat braver than I was.   Because I was never brave.  I just did it because that’s who I was.  That’s what I was compelled to do, what my heart told me to do.  I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried.  And I never really tried.

I was Oliver Button.  THAT was a shock.

One student asked if I had any friends who liked Shirley.  Instantly a name flew from my lips, once I hadn’t thought of in years.  As preteens, we shared the passion.  But she outgrew it, whereas I did not – clearly.

Another student said, “I bet they (those that teased)  are sorry now.  Your name is in a Shirley book.”  Well, I’m sure that even if they did know, their worlds would hardly be rocked.  But it did serve as an other discussion point – we should be true to ourselves, because you never know what might happen.

I am living proof.  Happily, happily so.

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Who Knew?

Some anniversaries are happy affairs, marking the occasion of a wedding or first date or some equally memorable – well, memory.  Others, like today, are not.  Two years ago I woke up to a post on my FB page….”Sorry for your loss.”  Instantly, though I can’t tell you how, I knew what it referred to.  Did the cyber equivalent of running to look it up, and there it was. Shirley Temple Black had died at the age of 85.  There were tears, of course, not just at the news, but at the outpouring of condolences to ME by friends and even acquaintances.  I mean, all you have to do is look at my profile picture to figure it out. Texts, Facebook  posts and emails came through all day – with words like, “You’re the first person I thought of when I heard,” “I remember how you had a poster of her in your room,” and “I know she was like a member of your family.”

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At school that day, a student came to me and said, “I heard something sad.”  This was before Shirley had the huge presence in my classroom as she does now, so I wondered how this child knew about my connection (the answer? Her mother saw my FB profile pic.  I’m telling you….says a LOT about a person!)  She went on to say that her mother told her not to mention it to me, as it might make me sad. (Sidebar:  If you want a child to do something, tell them NOT to.  Guaranteed to be done immediately).  “Are you sad?” she asked.  “I am,” was my response.

I could not have known on that day where I’d be two years later.  Could not have imagined it.  But here I am.  A part of a Shirley community like NO OTHER.  A person who has an active role in preserving her legacy.  A person who has met and KNOWS her family members.  A person who is blown away every single day that this has happened.

At this point, most people would say “feeling blessed.”  I eschew the overused – “awesome,” “amazing,” “it is what it is.” Variety, people!  So I guess I could say I’m fortunate, or lucky, or some such adjective.  But nothing else quite fits the bill.  So, just this once, I’ll say it – feeling blessed.  Very, very, very.

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And I think there’s more to come.

Upload Overload

Sometimes it’s just as easy to post some pics as it is to write about it.  Well, that’s not totally true; it’s ALWAYS easier to post pics!  And today I’m taking the easy way out.  Here are some January craftivities.  Has it really only been a week since New Year’s?!!!

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Top 10 Reasons Why Winter is Cool. One of the reasons is that I get to display these perky penguins!

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New Year’s balloons – restating our resolutions.  New Year’s hats – practicing compound words.

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Snowmen glyphs and fact/opinion mitten pairs

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Hot cocoa nouns and adjectives

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Reflections

6afe0bcd2fa3a99f1b8ffc8b8fecc6c3Some years I look back, and it’s not all that different from where I was a year ago.  I’m a year older – certainly.  A year wiser – hopefully.  Not too much heavier – please God.  But by and large, things have been status quo.

Not so this year.  Last December 31st, I could not have conceived of what 2015 would become. Warning: it’s about to get sentimental up in here.  In my wildest imagination, I could not have envisioned the Year of Shirley. Because the YOS was not just exhibits, or auctions, or catalogs, or costumes.  It was a genuine phenomenon.  A phenomenon of shared passion, happiness, interest and love.  Fulfilling in a way I didn’t know existed.

I measure happiness in tears.  That won’t surprise many reading this, and I won’t attempt to explain how it works to those who don’t know me.   It’s always been thus.  I cry as soon as the orchestra plays the first note during a Broadway musical.  Tears fall when reading a beloved story.  The waterworks begin when watching certain classic films.  The more I cry, the more that experience meant to me.  And I’ve never – N E V E R – cried the way I have this year.  One would think I’d run out of tears, but one would be incredibly wrong.

A year like this will never happen again, much like a child star of Shirley’s magnitude won’t be repeated.  But the next year just may bring equally thrilling and fulfilling things my way….and yours.  So, so long 2015.  It was a very good year.

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When It Rains, It Pours

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At least when it comes to blogging, it seems.  Weeks without a post, then two within a few days.  But you know what they say – strike while the iron is hot, which in this case means two things:  I have something to blog about AND I have the time to do so!

My last post was about the current unit of study concerning the moon.  In a moment, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but here’s the backstory.  We’re learning about the moon’s phases (and when I say WE, I mean WE – every year I have to relearn waxing gibbous and waning crescent). We have several cool tools to illustrate this, including a light-up moon that demonstrates each phase.  So today, I gave them THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE.  Just by saying it was THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE in a deep, reality-tv-game-show voice had them hooked.  Working alone, with partners or in groups, their task was to identify each phase by a description.  When I tell you I need an answer key for this one, I’m not kidding.  Distributed the paper, and they were off….

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This last little guy was the first one done.  He graciously declined offers to work with others, and when he was done he told me, “I knew I could do it alone!”  That feeling that he had?  It’s called pride.

Smooth as Glass

As I write this, I am knocking on wood.  I don’t want to give myself a kinahora (Yiddish for “jinx”).  Not that I’m superstitious, but why take chances? But this school year, as of mid-October, has been as smooth as glass.  In terms of management, easy as pie.  As far as the level of enthusiasm, high as a kite.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (idiom overload!), I’m simply basking in it.   Here are a few of the many things that make me happy each day:

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Our current unit of study is space – specifically, sun, moon and stars.  But how could I teach about the moon and not talk about Neil Armstrong? And how could I talk about Neil Armstrong without playing “First Man on the Moon” by Jonathan Sprout?  If I’m being truthful, the song IS why I’m teaching about Neil….if you don’t know J. Sprout’s American Heroes collection of musical biographies, you are really missing something.  This phrase gets overused, but I seriously get chills when the kids are singing, at the top of their lungs, “All for Apollo!”  Did it make an impact?  Look at their moon paintings:

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Because the interest level reached outer space, I added another craftivity (that’s what we call crafts that have a purpose)!  These are their retellings of Neil’s story.  Plus, I love a cute bulletin board!

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Here’s another.  Cuteness with a purpose = evidence of learning.

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Last week was the national Week of Respect.  How cool was it to have a former student, now an 8th grader, read to my class and teach them about being a person of good character?  Very, very cool.

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I’m going out on a limb when I make this next statement.  Venturing into the land of “maybe she’s gone off her rocker.”  But I’m choosing to believe that somehow the the magic that was the Summer of Shirley, now the Year of Shirley, has made its way into the classroom.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

1958:  American actor Shirley Temple wears a fairy godmother costume, which includes a magic wand and a tiara, in a promotional portrait for her television series of dramatized fairy tales, 'Shirley Temple's Storybook'.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1958: American actor Shirley Temple wears a fairy godmother costume, which includes a magic wand and a tiara, in a promotional portrait for her television series of dramatized fairy tales, ‘Shirley Temple’s Storybook’. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)