Friday, August 10, 2018

Life on the edge: getting out of a knifepoint mugging

So, yesterday I had a unique and terrifying experience. Someone tried to rob me at knifepoint in a suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica. I got away unharmed, and he didn’t take anything. (I wasn’t carrying much anyway. My ATM Card and driver’s license cause I had to go to the bank later, and the US equivalent of $15 in local currency. And also some fresh lychee fruit that took me forever to find.) 

Because of the craziness of this year I decided I wanted a little vacation and decompression time before starting the new semester. So, I cashed in some airline miles and decided to head to Costa Rica for a couple weeks of pacific coast scuba diving and Spanish lessons—two things on my bucket list. I’ve been to south/central America many times and love it there. Usually I travel with other people, but I couldn’t find anyone who could come during the time I had off, so I proceed with the trip solo. Solo travel is actually pretty relaxing and enjoyable, and you meet plenty of people along the way. For much of this trip I’ve been with groups or new friends. 

Okay, now on to the knifepoint story. I’m decently travel-savvy and fairly street smart, so on the occasions where I walk alone I check my surroundings consistently and stay in crowded areas. While walking the .8 miles to my Spanish school this morning, I reached a point on the typically-crowded road where there was a lull in people and cars. An older-looking man crossed over to my side of the street. Rather than walk past me, he stepped right in front of me and started speaking quietly and intensely in Spanish. 

My spidey-senses immediately went off. Something was not right. And that’s when he pulled the knife from under his shirt. 

When someone wields a knife on you and you can’t understand what they’re saying, a few things run through your head rapid fire.

Why did this guy step in front of me? What is he saying? Are these Spanish lessons even working at all? What is he pointing to? Why is he pointing with a knife? A KNIFE?! Okay so this is not friendly chatter. Why is the knife so obnoxiously big? Is this his first day as a bad guy? Okay, so he either wants me to come with him to that empty field (no gracias) or give him my tiny bag (also no gracias—getting a stab wound stitched up would be less painful than filing paperwork with the DMV to replace a stolen driver’s license. Also it took me forever to find a market that had lychees and I was really looking forward to eating them for  my snack.) 

This man might’ve had a knife, but he grossly underestimated the number of Jason Bourne movies I’ve seen. So, I went into a mindset I didn’t know I possessed: action mode. 

I very quickly gauged the situation—and I mean, this thought process took place within milliseconds—this man was older (so probably not too fast or agile), had a knife the size of Texas (he was trying too hard to look intimidating so probably he’s in the Kindergarten Criminal program), he seemed a little nervous and didn’t want to attract attention (see previous comment), there’s a crowded intersection just around this corner so if I can get to there I’ll be okay.

Also, in that moment, I got incredibly angry. I just buried my brother. One of my dearest friends is dead. I was up all night because I’d had a bad batch of fried plantains. There was no way I was going to let this man take anything from me. I’m aware I look like a grown American Girl Doll and reek of tourist, but I have two things on my side: healthy lungs and long legs. So I used the element of surprise and, pardon my expression, I raised hell. 

I immediately dodged him and began running toward the bend in the road. He was just far enough away that I knew he’d have to try really hard to stab me or grab me, and I instinctively knew he didn’t possess that kind of reaction time. However, he started to run after me, so I began yelling at him so loudly and in English and what I could muster in Spanish. I think I said something along the lines of “GET AWAY! NO THEY WILL NOT ROB ME TODAY!” (Nonsense, but it worked.) 

Just as I thought, around the corner were a lot of people. I ran to a group of men who were talking to each other and looked back to see my assailant turn around, put the knife away, and walk in the other direction. Fortunately one of the men in the group spoke some English. I told him what happened and he asked if I was carrying anything valuable, which also struck me as a suspicious question. Probably he was asking if they took anything valuable in his broken English, but I was on level 7,000 alert, so just in case they were working as a group with knife-man, I said no and kept walking, grabbed a cab, and went the remaining .3 miles to school that way.  

As the adrenaline rush wore off, the reality of what had happened, and what potentially could have happened hit me. I was incredibly proud of myself for how quickly I reacted. I also knew I’d be taking cabs and Ubers the rest of my time here. (Which, fortunately I leave Sunday. I’m definitely ready to go home.) 

Lastly, and I’ve debated whether to write anything about this at all, but after thinking about it, I think it may be helpful to address. As I’ve told people what happened, on more than one occasion the initial response has been, “well, you shouldn’t have been walking alone.” You might’ve even thought that as you read this blog. 

Here’s the thing: I walk in groups as much as possible. But, when you travel alone, it’s not always possible to be with someone. Even when you travel with people it’s not always possible to be with someone. Sometimes you have to get from point A to point B by yourself. I take cabs or Ubers if I’m not sure about an area. Should I have taken a bus or cab sooner? Maybe. I’d walked this same path several times with other people before walking it on my own. It was safe. I’d been told by several locals, including my Spanish teacher, that it was safe and good path for tourists, even when walking alone. The only difference between this and other times was I was coming to class late because I’d not been feeling well, so the typical morning bustle was less than usual. 

Still, this didn’t happen at 3am in some abandoned back alley. This happened in a busy, middle class neighborhood in broad daylight. It was close to schools, churches, and police stations. (In fact, this all happened about 50 meters from a police station.) Is traveling in a group ideal? Sure. Realistic? Not always. Also, unfortunately, I've heard stories of groups getting attacked. 

I used common sense. I knew my surroundings and I was even aware that there was a strange lacking of people on that part of path. I’ve walked plenty of sketchier places both in the United States and foreign countries alone and been fine. 

When something like this happens it’s natural to try and find what the victim did “wrong” so we can avoid that same situation. But here’s the unfortunate and harsh truth: these things happen anywhere: in North America, in Central America, in “safe” places, and even to people who are careful. We like to believe that we can completely prevent these things if we do all the right things. I fully believe you can take wise precautions to avoid them, but sometimes they happen anyway, and you need to be ready and vigilant. That’s the reality of the terrible, fallen world we live in.

So feel free to lecture me on walking alone, but do it in your head. 

Overall, it’s been a wonderful trip with wonderful diving, people, and experiences. This was a fluke thing that could’ve been way worse, but fortunately is now a crazy story I get to share at dinner parties and maybe even gives me enough street cred to become a rapper. All that said, I’m ready to come home and have Chipotle. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Humor and the art of inappropriate grief

It’s been a little over three weeks since I got the phone call telling me that my younger brother had been killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Almost a month has passed since my family earned our lifetime membership into the bereavement club. (Definition aside, bereavement is a terrible word.) It feels like it’s been both a minute and a lifetime since hearing the news. When you’re grieving, the minutes, hours, days and weeks get put into a time blender. There’s now a date on the calendar where life permanently changed.

Tomorrow I head back to Atlanta to get back to “new normal.” I have several comedy shows and speaking gigs this week, and today I spent most of the day distracting myself by writing an accordion parody about IKEA. You know, typical grief coping stuff. (I did have a line about being found shriveled up in a living room display three years after following the wrong arrows, but I came to my senses and replaced it with a less gruesome jab at Swedish Meatballs.)

As a comedian, laughter—and what causes it—has always fascinated me. Some of the best comics I know have trauma and loss in their past. As I’ve learned in recent days, death and tragedy alter your perspective on life and change the lenses you use to observe the rest of the world.

Before experiencing it on a personal level, I had a vague idea of how grief would look and feel. One thing I believed about tragedy and sudden loss was that laughter would be very slow to return. I was absolutely wrong. Everyone processes tragedy and loss differently, but for our family, laughter happened pretty much immediately.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about grief humor: it’s wildly inappropriate, morbid, and was--and continues to be--absolutely necessary for us to process Mark’s sudden and tragic death. We laughed at the strangest, darkest things in those first few days. 

Grief and lack of sleep absolutely destroyed my filters for the first week (and I admittedly don’t have the best filters to begin with), and some very blunt and dark observational humor regarding our circumstances escaped my mouth unchecked. (A/N: My deepest condolences to anyone outside my immediate family who was on the receiving end of my dark sense of humor during this time. I don’t remember a lot of what I said, but from what people have told me, much of it was intense. I’ve been told there’s no wrong way to grieve, but I may have pushed the limits on that belief, and someday may write a book for people who “inappropriately” process grief through sarcasm and dark humor.)

However “inappropriate” this form of grief, I know laughter helped us survive our tragedy. Anyone on the outside probably thought my family needed to be sent immediately to the nearest asylum, but our closest friends and family bonded and processed our sadness through the random thoughts, memories, and ironies about our situation we collectively found hilarious.

A couple days after the crash I began thinking ahead to the comedy shows I have on my calendar. Despite sarcasm and humor being my grief-handling buddies, I knew telling jokes on a stage in front of strangers would be different, especially since I have several jokes in my act about Mark. My opening joke right now is about moving to the south and getting matched with my brother on E-harmony.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with those jokes. Mark was always lobbying to have more jokes about him in my act. He came to a show last October—the last he’d attend before his deployment—and his one criticism was that I didn’t have enough material about him in my set. He had a very absurd, goofy, and random sense of humor and I know he’d love it if I made large groups of people slightly uncomfortable joking about him posthumously. Long term I’ll probably keep the jokes that include him (and who knows, maybe add more, but not to the point of making audiences feel weird about laughing) but right now I may shelve them. Most likely I’ll decide once I’m on stage.

I’ve heard people say randomly over the years how much they needed to laugh. How they were glad for a chance to take their mind off of the trials of life. I know what they mean now. I’ve consumed a LOT of comedy these past few weeks and I have a new appreciation for laughter as medicine. I’m a fan of comedy anyway, but I watched and listened to more comedy in the past three weeks than I typically do in two years.

Despite being horribly sad about my brother, I do not have the market cornered on grief, loss, and tragedy. Many of you reading this have known incredible loss, and many out there are suffering similarly. I know comedy and laughter heals. I took it for granted before, but I’ve experienced deeply the power laughter has to give us hope. Hope that death doesn’t win in the end. Grief is such a heaven burden, laughter lifts the weight temporarily so we don't get crushed. At the very least, venting emotion through laughter provides a nice break from crying.

I will never stop missing my brother. Grief will always be here, but Lord willing, so will laughter.

So now, I move forward and use the gifts and time God has given me to provide a little bit of healing to an increasingly hurting world.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Surviving your 20s in the 21st Century.

Recently, after a show, I spoke to a young woman in her early 20s. She was in school, working, and on a forward trajectory in life...she was also lonely, depressed, and feeling completely hopeless about everything.

"I'm sorry you're going through that," I said. "But just so you know, it does get much better. I don't know if this is encouraging or not, but what you're going through is totally normal for your age."

"It is?" she said. "I feel like I'm the only one."

"Not at all," I assured her. "I went through it, and almost everyone I talk to in their 20s seems to be dealing with some sort of quarter-life crisis."

"How come nobody talks about it?" she asked. "Everyone just acts like they have it all together and I feel like I'm the only one who can't figure life out."

So, in case there are other 20-somethings out there struggling to get their footing, please allow me to lay before you what is "normal" at this stage of life and share some survival tips. I'm not sure how helpful it will be, but at the very least perhaps you'll feel a little less alone as you figure things out.

First, it's normal for life to be hard.

Surviving this norm: I'm not sure the particulars of your childhood, but many of us grew up in homes where a lot was done for us. Things like making appointments, bringing cars in for repairs, arranging insurance, paying bills, etc. were all done through our teenage (and even sometimes through college) years by adults who loved us and had our best interest at heart. However, at a certain point we have to take over the daily operation of our own lives, and in our culture this seems to be happening in our early-to-mid 20s. It feels overwhelming to suddenly "adult" and figure out insurance plans, find honest car mechanics, dentists, jobs, loan payment schedules, and whatever else comes with being a fully-fledged grown up.

So, you need to recognize that this is a normal, good, and healthy transition to independence. To put it simply, you're now living in the "real" world. You learn by trial and error, and sometimes you lose money by making a poor choice on where to get your car tuned up. You're toughening up and wising up, and learning how to live with the consequences of your decisions and actions. The alternative to this transition is living a sugarcoated existence where your parents continue doing everything for you. So, while it may be a hard thing, keep in mind that it is a good thing and a normal thing. "Hard" does not necessarily mean "bad."

Second, it's normal to feel like you made all the wrong decisions.

Surviving this norm: Everyone second guesses whether they made the right choices. Roads look smoother from a distance; it's only when you get up close that you see the potholes. If you'd gone down a different path you'd be second guessing that one because you'd see the potholes. You may need to do some course-correcting if you made a really bad decision, but don't waste time and energy wishing you could undo the past. Focus forward and know that every class, menial job, and decision played a role in getting you where you are now, even if it was teaching you how to be a kinder or giving you a better idea of what you're good at.

Third, it's normal to feel lonely and depressed.

Surviving this norm: I'm so sad this has become the norm, but most people I've spoken with experience this on some level. Many of us experienced depression and loneliness in high school and had high hopes of this changing in college and beyond. Or, perhaps you were fortunate to have had wonderful community in high school and college, but now marriage, parenthood, work, relocation, or all of the above have made you feel isolated.

Making good friends and feeling like you're a valued part of a community can be difficult in our constantly changing, online-driven society. Friends are a gift we often don't appreciate until we don't have them. So, be proactive about making new face-to-face friends. Try new meet up groups or a new small group at church. Introduce yourself. Say hello to your neighbors. Bring them cookies. Look for ways to serve those around you. Keep your eyes open for others who may be lonely and without community. Think of friendship as something to give rather than something to get. By giving, you will automatically get, but this mindset will keep you from a place where you constantly feel slighted by other people. Also, keep in mind that you don't have to "click" with everyone you meet in order to be their friend. Lastly, pray that God will bring you some good friends. I'm not sure why we go through seasons where the friendship well runs dry, but keep praying and seeking, and you'll find some!

Finally, if you find yourself struggling with depression and anxiety, try to establish some good habits to help you with life. Exercise, eat well, get outside, volunteer somewhere, read new books, join a recreational whiffle ball league, etc. All these things will help your mind cope with the the stresses of life. It takes some action to get moving in the right direction, and the hardest thing is to take the first step out of a rut. However, if depression is a chronic problem that these things don't significantly help fix, or your thoughts turn very dark all the time, there is absolutely no shame in seeing a counselor or professional to help you heal your mind.

Fourth, it's normal not to feel fulfilled one hundred percent of the time.

Surviving this norm: We're fed this idea that our work and life are only worth something if we feel fulfilled, but that's simply not reality. No one can feel fulfilled 100% of the time. I've certainly never felt overwhelmed with fulfillment while teaching students scales and making sure their technique is correct, but I do it because it's how you create great musicians and singers. However, I do feel fulfillment when my students perform, land parts, and grow as artists and humans. The knowledge that I'm laying the foundation for this keeps me going when the fulfillment isn't there.

Fulfillment is something that is earned through commitment and hard work. It will come, but right now you're laying the foundation for a fulfilling life. No one likes watching cement dry, but it's needed in order to create a strong foundation for the rest of the home. Ultimately, sometimes the fulfillment of a job or task is in knowing you're being a responsible adult.

Fifth, it's normal to have your expectations challenged.

Surviving this norm: I've often joked that adulthood is 80 percent managing expectations, 20 percent looking for a pen, and 100 percent finding a pen and realizing it's out of ink and having to search all over again. Life isn't going to go as expected. Sometimes it will be better than you expect, sometimes it will be worse. You're learning how to "go with the flow" and appreciate today for what it is, not what it might lead to tomorrow. No matter how many inspirational memes you may read each day on Instagram, these are lessons that can only be learned by living.

Some final thoughts...

First, don't compare your life with others. You've probably heard this one before, but it's worth mentioning again because it's such an easy trap to fall into. Life will be hard for different people in different ways and it will be easy for people in different ways. Some people will be born with the ability to sing four octaves, some will barely be able to hold a tune. Some people can handle huge amounts of stress, while others need a significant amount of calm to function. Remember, social media only shows you one part of the story. You're not in a competition with the rest of the world to see who can have the best life. It's not a race, there is no prize. Take a breath. Put down the phone. (After you finish reading this blog, of course.) Eat a cookie. Carry on.

Second, train yourself to focus on eternal things, not immediate things. It's so easy to lose sight of why we're doing what we're doing. I don't care if you're parenting, working, or just pursuing hobbies, you need to remember why any of it matters. Ultimately, what you're doing brings glory to God. You are made in His image, and you were created to love and serve Him. One way you do that is by cultivating the earth and make it an organized, functional, and beautiful place. We serve a God of order and creativity and by doing anything that contributes to those two things we're reflecting His image. Unloading the dishwasher? Order. Writing a novel? Creativity. Changing a diaper? Order. (And sometimes creativity if you're on a plane.)

Third, it will not always be this hard. Sometimes it will be, but not always. Right now you're setting a track record. You're plowing the field and planting the seeds for your life. You're figuring out an education, job, relationships, friendships, marriage, babies, and whatever else comes with being a new adult. Things will be difficult, but you'll pull through and then the next time you go through something difficult you'll remember that you've done it before, and that'll give you the confidence that you can do it again. (Even if you really don't want to.)

In my 20s I had about $48,000 in debt, numerous low-paying part-time jobs that I didn't enjoy, no clear picture of what I wanted from a career, no discernible natural talent, and my personal trend was to quit or ghost when things got hard or uncomfortable. But, it was in my 20s that I learned how to work hard, develop skills, fall and get back up, navigate insurance deals, (That never stops being frustrating. You're welcome.) eat cheaply, shop at thrift stores, make friends, let things go, forgive, and stay in touch with people. I learned many of these lessons the hard way, through gut wrenching humiliation and sleepless nights. I survived, and I'm stronger and wiser for it.

I'm 33 now. I have no debt, too many wonderful friendships to count, and I not only love my job teaching music, but I'm good at it, it pays fairly, and it's work I find meaningful. On top of that, I frequently get to travel the country telling jokes and speaking. I couldn't have planned this life in my 20s when I was , but everything I did in my 20s prepared me for it without my knowing what it was going toward. Life isn't perfect, but it's nowhere near the anxiety and pressure I felt in my 20s. I wouldn't trade the wisdom I gained in my 20s for any amount of youth, no matter how much our society worships it.

If I have to leave you with one final piece of encouragement, it's this: God is already in the future, and things will be much less scarier when you're actually there. You is smart, you is kind, you is important. Now, get out there and live.

Monday, July 10, 2017

God's Will Is...

     Yesterday I returned from almost two weeks in Lima, Peru with Big World Ventures. (Next year they're going to Guatemala. Right now my plan is to be there, and you should definitely consider sending your teen or coming as a family. It is truly an incredible ministry that changes the lives of teens, and brings a lot of encouragement to the communities in the countries they visit.)

     While in Peru I spoke about the will of God to our group. I've noticed most high school and college students stress about whether or not the choices they're making at this stage are "God's will" for their life. 

     The evening before I gave my talk our group attended a church outside of Lima. I sat in the back of the church (I'm a back row sitter in every culture) with my bilingual friend Dave, asking occasionally for a translation of what they were saying, and reviewing my notes for the talk. In this warehouse in the middle of Villa el Salvador, where rows of plastic red chairs were set up, motorcycles parked behind seats, and cats roamed freely among the congregants, I watched cultures collide and kneel before the God that created them both. It was loud and chaotic and occasionally a wad of toilet paper would be passed down a row to someone who hadn't brought any. (Most bathrooms in Peru don't have toilet paper so people supply it themselves.) Worship lasted almost an hour, sermons and testimonies were given both in Spanish and English, friends were made through short conversations of remembered high-school Spanish, Facebook requests sent, and the whole 3-hour service ended with a clean-up dance party.

During the service I wrote this short reflection on God's will and shared it at the end of my talk.

What is God's Will? 

           God’s will is every act of mercy you show, every chore you do obediently, every kind word you say.

            God’s will is walking away from gossip, sitting in silence with a hurting friend, putting your head on your pillow at night and thanking God for the day.

            God’s will is getting up at 5am to make it to your job on time. It is loving your spouse through good times and bad. It is saying, “I’m hurting and I don’t understand,” and continuing to serve anyway, trusting your Heavenly Father will work even this for your good.

            God’s will is opening orphanages and bringing clean water to impoverished countries. It is handing out bulletins and greeting new faces at the church you’ve attended since you were a small child. It is organizing the church potluck and making sure the best casseroles aren’t all brought out at once, so that everyone gets some and not just those whose spiritual gift is being first in line.

            God’s will is writing a best selling novel. It is being president of a company and leading it with integrity. It is bringing people their food and tipping out when you go home at the end of the day.

            God’s will is celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. It is mourning the death of a spouse, child, or friend. It is saying, “Lord, I don’t know how I can get through this,” and waking up every day to God’s new mercies. It is realizing that when you weren’t strong enough to hold on to God, He held on to you.

            God’s will is being single and childless. It is taking what the world tells you is a deficiency and watching God turn it into a beautiful story. It is going when called, witnessing miracle after miracle, and living each day knowing Christ is enough.

            God’s will is repentance, humility, and obedience. It is feasting on His word and praying prayers both short and long. It is casting your burdens on Him because sometimes they’re too big for us and our backs get tired. It is reaching the end of the days He’s numbered for you and hearing God say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter in to the joy of your master.”

Monday, January 16, 2017

Anatomy of a Kindergarten Music Class

My kindergarten music class the first week of school. 
What I said: "Listen close because the music is very soft!"
What they heard: "Please dog pile by the speaker."

I've taught music, mostly private lessons, off and on for my entire adult life.

This past year I decided to try something new. I took a job teaching music classes at a small elementary school here in Colorado Springs.

This job has pitched me one of the biggest learning curves I've experienced in a long time. This learning curve happens weekly on Tuesdays at 1:45pm, when sixteen kindergarteners walk, run, bound, roll, pout, hug, twirl, and ninja-chop their way into my classroom.

In all my years of teaching I've never had a kindergarten class. They're much, much different than older grades. They're fidgety, wiggly and squirrelly. They have the same filters as drunk people. I often feel less like a music teacher and more like a judge that specializes in cases on line cutting. Also, I get end-of-the-day kindergartners, so by the time they come to me they're in dire need of some protein and a nap.

Let me give you a sample of a typical kindergarten music class:

1:45--Kindergarteners arrive at the music room. I tell them to line up quietly so they can get the entrance code. (A short rhythm or melody they repeat back to me to gain entrance into the room).
Amy and Mindy completely ignore me and continue talking loudly, Adam does donkey-kick-spins on the hallway floor, and Veronica shouts that Collin cutted in line. Collin claims he didn't cutted in line, he just really wanted to be in that spot. I tell Collin it's not nice to line jump, and instruct him to apologize and go behind Veronica. I ask Adam, who is now punching the wall, to join the line. He complies with a ninja move into the line and accidentally hits Sarah in the arm, who begins to cry. I tell Adam to apologize and put his hands in his pockets, then comfort Sarah and examine her owe-y. It's determined she will live.

1:47--I try to get everyone's attention by spouting off a "1-2-3 eyes on me!" This has never worked in the history of me using it (which is approximately 100,000 times), but I try again anyway because so many teachers I know swear by it. It doesn't work. Then I sing "class class!" and about 90% of them respond with the appropriate "yes yes!" Close enough. They get their entrance code and are instructed to go into the room and sit in a circle.

1:48--They begin walking into the room. Sascha, who always comes to class pretending to be a cat, meows at me as she enters. Three of the kids stop to hug me on the way in. Collin offers me a booger, and I tell him to go get a tissue. He departs the line and heads next door to the bathroom.

1:50--Half of the children sit quietly in a circle as instructed. Adam is swinging across the coat hooks like monkey bars, Annie hides behind the desk, and Amy and Mindy sit off to the side talking. Sascha climbs on a chair and meows loudly. A couple of the boys roughhouse on the other side of the room.

1:52--I loudly praise the children who are sitting obediently. This gets the attention of the delinquents and they join the rest of the class. As soon as everyone is in the same area they begin rearranging their spots in the circle. Veronica wants to sit by Amy, but Amy wants to sit by Mindy, but Mindy wants to sit by Sascha, but Sascha is between Ben and Liam cleaning her paws. No one wants to sit by Adam because he keeps saying "pooooooop" under his breath. Tucker, Sarah, and Eli all want to sit in my lap and fight to push each other out of the way. (It's the most flattered I feel all week.) Wyatt sits in his spot and loudly says, "teacher look at me! I'm sitting the goodest! Teacher! Aren't I sitting the goodest?"

I acknowledge that Wyatt is sitting like a champ, as are Jake, Tanya, Liam, Ben and Annie. I tell the rest of the kids that they have until I count down from three to find a spot and be quiet. It's amazing how this works. They all feel the pressure of the countdown. By the time I reach "one," we're in a circle. The first big task of the day has been accomplished.

1:56--We sing our "rules song" and do a rhythm game. Everything is going smoothly until I realize Collin never came back to the room after going to get a tissue. I panic and tell the kids to sit quietly in their circle while I step outside. I check the hall and the bathroom. No Collin. Uh oh. I go across to the art room to see if he wandered into that class. Nope. On my way back to the music room I spot Collin in the lunchroom, sprawled out under a table eating crumbs off the floor. I instruct him to come along back to class. He puts one more crumb in his mouth and follows.

2:09--Collin and I go back to the music room. The orderly circle I left has turned into a tiny human dog pile. Collin doesn't miss a beat and hurls himself on the top of his classmates. I'm not sure if this is characteristic of all kindergarten classes, but we tend to have at least one dog-pile per class. I make a mental note to ask their classroom teacher if this is normal behavior for this age.

2:14--I break up the dog pile and we gather around the keyboard to do the Do-Re-Mi song. Adam and Walt detach from the group and try to scale the radiator. (Our building is more than 50 years old. If the kids don't kill me, the asbestos probably will.) They get a warning and return to the group. We continue learning movements to the Do-Re-Mi song, but  I look up to see Adam back on the radiator. I send him to the time-out corner and return to the song.

2:21--Adam comes out of time out. We're about to move on to a game of Freeze Dance when Eli screams, "Emergency! The shoes on my feet are not mine!" I ask him where his shoes are. Apparently he traded shoes with a first grader during recess. I tell him to stop by the 1st grade classroom after music and trade his shoes back.

We play Freeze Dance, and then a game I invented called Musical Meerkats. Amy, Veronica, and Mindy get separated for talking. Amy argues that she wasn't talking, only answering, and there's a difference. She throws her two "best friends" under the bus and suggests they get punished instead of her. Mindy and Veronica declare they're no longer her friends and Amy starts pouting.

I look over to see Adam sitting on the top shelf of the music cabinet. He goes back to the timeout corner.

2:34--I decide we've had enough games for the day and decide it's time to move on. This week is Beethoven week, and I have a book to read them about the composer. They sit on their lines as I get the book. Ben complains loudly that he can't see the pictures. I assure him it's because I haven't opened the book yet.

I start by telling them that we were going to learn about Beethoven, who was a famous song writer and musician. Collin immediately interrupts me and informs me that he knows I'm lying, because dogs can't write music. I tell him that the dog in the movie Beethoven is named after the Beethoven we're going to learn about. This answer satisfies him.

We get about halfway through the book with little drama. Adam gets released from his second timeout. When I get to the part that talks about Beethoven's performance in Germany, Sarah blurts out, "your mom goes to Germany!" I tell her to sit quietly and not to make jokes about other people's moms. Tanya says, "She was talking to me. My mom's in Germany!"

My bad.

2:45 We finish the Beethoven book and it's time to line up. I tell them Liam is the line leader. I catch Collin trying to cut in front of Liam to claim the spot as line leader, and I send him to the back of the line. We sing "following the leader" as I escort them to their next teacher. As they exit, they bombard me with hugs, and Veronica tells me she loves me, and they run off to PE.

As I walk in silence back to my classroom to await the arrival of my 2nd graders, I am exhausted and overstimulated, but for some reason I can't wait until next Tuesday at 1:45 when I get to do it all over again. They may be sticky and crazy and loud, but they have a way of worming their way into your heart.