Monday, August 26, 2013

And she never complained

In just a few days, it will be 4 years since we lost my mom, Leta Schwiderski.  At the time of her death, I wanted to deliver a eulogy at her funeral.  The Diocese of Peoria has a "rule" against this type of addition to the liturgy so I was denied the opportunity.  It was probably just as well because I wouldn't have been able to get through it but I have always regretted not sharing my thoughts.  Since this blog is my way of working through things in my life, I'm using it as a forum to get past the regrets.
Our mother, grandmother, sister-in-law, and friend, Leta Schwiderski lived a life much different ours. She did not have the advantages that she made sure that Frank and I had but she never complained.
Mom was born in 1917 in Toluca, Illinois to immigrant parents, Massimo and Maria Passini (or one was ever sure of the spelling as her parents were illiterate in both Italian and English), the youngest of four children.  Massino passed away in the early 20's leaving Maria with four children and no mean with which to return to Italy. She housed single coalminers as boarders (in a two bedroom "company" house), took in washing (with a wringer washer and outdoor clotheslines) and cleaned the local post office.  Mom never shared much of her childhood memories but she also never complained.
Mom attended St. Ann's elementary school (as did my brother and I) and intended to go on to high school.  When the first day of what would have been her freshman year came, Mom made plans to meet her friends on the corner across from the school.  Whether it was a communication problem or whether Mom was late to the meeting place, I have never learned.  When she arrived, her friends had already gone in.  Mom was very shy and she could not make herself walk into that building alone.  So, instead, she walked 3 blocks to the local garment factory and applied for a job.   At age 14, Mom went to work full time.  I'm sure that she missed doing what her friends were doing at school but she never complained.  Her weekly paycheck went to help with the family's living expenses.  She bought a wooden ironing board with some of her first paycheck....the ironing board is in my laundry room.  It is no longer used but it's still here, part of the family.
Our dad, Clarence (Bud) Schwiderski noticed Mom and pursued her relentlessly.  Mom was not interested and perhaps Dad's sense of style had something to do with that.  Dad was a farmer and had the habit of going "uptown" in his denim bib overalls, minus a shirt and with a red bandanna tied around his neck.  This was not something Mom considered in good taste or the height of fashion but it was the Depression...  Dad finally wore her down and she improved his look.  He never gave up the bibs but he added a shirt and lost the bandanna.  They dated for several years and Mom waited patiently through World War II, writing to Dad every day.  All of her friends were in the same situation, waiting for their fiancees so I'm sure that she never complained.  After all, he was coming home and all in one piece.
When Dad came home from the War, he wanted a more secure future for his family than farming could provide so he went to work at Caterpillar Tractor Company in Peoria.  Dad was an avid hunter and outdoorsman so his choice of second shift (3 to 11 p.m.) was perfect for him.  He could still hunt in the morning and when nothing was in season, he could do private contractor work.  That choice left Mom at home alone every night.  I'm sure that she hated it but she knew what Dad needed to be happy and she never complained.
Dad's second shift work made Mom a single parent in many ways.  Parent-teacher conferences, extracurricular clubs and sports and everything that was involved in parenting was pretty much left up to Mom.  It wasn't that Dad didn't care, it was that times were different and Dad put our financial stability ahead of his parenting responsibilities.  And Mom never complained.
Mom walked everywhere she went.  She never learned to drive a car.  Everything that she needed was located within walking distance from the house that Dad built less than a block away from her mother's home. The grocery store, post office, church and bank were all within walking distance.  Shopping for clothes was another matter.  She shopped mostly from the Montgomery Ward catalog but we did need to shop for school clothes and Christmas gifts.  If Dad wasn't available to drive us to Streator or Peoria, Mom had to ask someone to take us on these shopping trips.  Aunt Rita usually got the call and Mom paid for the gas.  I know that she felt that she was imposing on others but she really had no other choices and she never complained.
Frank and I were fortunate to be able to attend college and that meant moving away.  I know that Mom was lonely during these years because she was truly at home alone in the evenings and no longer had the responsibilities of taking care of us. When I came home for a weekend, I used to complain because she talked the entire time that I was home....I couldn't find a minute to myself.  But Mom never complained about being alone.  And she was proud to have two college graduates when she had not been able to make herself walk into the high school.
We also made Mom proud by each marrying a terrific spouse and presenting her and Dad with 5 grandchildren.  These grandchildren were the highlights of her life.  (And being a Nonie now, I understand completely how much she loved the title!) She understood that jobs moved us far from home and that meant time with these grandbabies was limited.  We came back to Illinois as often as we could and she and Dad drove out to see us a couple of times a year.  She would have preferred to see our families daily but she understood and she never complained.
A lifetime of smoking cigarettes result in Dad developing COPD.  His last years were tough ones and their travels came to an end.  There were many hospital stays, many doctor's appointments, and lots of medication but Mom never complained about the care that Dad needed.
Dad passed away in 1998 and we were all worried about how Mom would handle being alone with no one to care for after all the of the years of devotion to us and then Dad.  She surprised us by forcing herself out of her comfort zone and discovered the senior citizen services provided by the state.  Mom joined a group of ladies who hopped on the county van every week for a shopping trip to Peoria, Streator, Pontiac or Bloomington.  She made a whole new circle of friends and faithfully joined those bus trips even if she had no shopping needs.  She especially enjoyed the "secret" stops that the bus made at the local casino.  Since this was a state-provided service, the driver was technically not allowed to make this gambling visit but everyone was sworn to secrecy and you never saw a happier bunch of ladies....imagine..putting one over on the state of Illinois!  There were no big winners but the adventure was enough excitement for them.
Mom was able to live on her own for many years even when she could no longer hop on the bus.  Friends like Cathy Althaus and Joanne Butenas were there to fill in when Frank and I could not.  But the time finally came when it was no longer safe for Mom to live on her own.  She moved into assisted living at Heritage Manor in Minonk and this time, she did complain.  She wanted to be back in her own little house where she could stand on her front porch and see the place where her childhood home had stood.  She wanted to eat what she wanted to eat and watch TV when she felt like it.  She wanted to go to the church that she had been married in, where I had been married and where Dad's funeral had been.  She wanted to sit by her picture window and keep an eye on the neighborhood.  (Her vision was awful but she never missed a thing and could tell me how many strange cars had been at neighbor Kay's over the weekend.) But she did understand and finally adjusted to life at the Manor.
One of my favorite memories of Mom during this time was her 90th birthday.  We hosted a dinner for her at Capponi's (which she always preferred to Mona's).  Her family and 3 out of the 5 grandchildren were there as were the ladies from the bus.  It was a memorable evening and one she truly enjoyed.
We were able to have Mom with us until just days before her 92nd birthday.  She lived a long life and one that was, for the most part happy, but even in the bad times, she never complained.   I miss her every day and Sundays just don't seem right without our weekly phone conversation.  But I do know that Mom has been reunited with Dad and the rest of the family and that if there is a shopping van, I am sure that she is on it.  Now if I could only stop complaining!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

You CAN home again...but do you want to?

I spent yesterday helping the new librarian at my former school.  She is very nice but very overwhelmed so when she called to ask for help, I just couldn't say no.  (I even gave up a day of sewing with friends for this if you can believe that!)
School starts on Monday and I, wisely, have scheduled to spend the day with the most perfect grandchild in the world.  Otherwise, I know that I would have "volunteered" to get her started on her first day and that would not have been good for either of us.
What did I learn?  You can go home again but it isn't the same.  I feel good about getting her started with the database update for the students.  I worked from 8:30 to 5 and we managed to update grades 1 through 5.  She will need to do kindergarten on her own but it is doable.  Some of the teachers stopped in to visit and some barely acknowledged me in the hallway but that is nothing new.  Some administrators were more pleased to see me than others...again, nothing new.  I was able to see a couple of favorite former students and be reassured that they are ready for life after Binion.
The most important thing that I learned from yesterday is that I am glad I was able to retire.  Financially, things may be tough for awhile and we might have to give up some trips that I hoped we could take but my sanity is worth more than money.  The library schedule for the coming year is ten times worse than anything that I have been a part of in my 20+ year in education.  "Teaching" kinders for 45 minutes with no teacher assist would be torture.  I know that some of you have kindergarten students for 8 hours but your rooms and lessons are set up for this.  The library is an all-purpose room for all grades.  The schedule is not set up so that the librarian can develop "centers" for the primary grades because her next class could be a 5th grade class...don't even think about 11 year olds with play-doh! And she has absolutely no breaks in her day.  Yes, she has a duty free lunch but that comes after her daily lunchroom monitoring assignment (during which the library is closed!).  Yes, she has a daily conference period but it is at a different time every day.  I am not sure when she is going to be able to even go to the restroom as there are no "passing" periods scheduled between classes.  I know that this schedule was devised so that the teachers have more time to plan together and collaborate.  I understand the importance of that but there is no time for the librarian to collaborate with the teachers and that is what librarianship should be all about.  We are an extension of the classroom and need to reinforce what is being taught.  That cannot happen when there is no time in the day to even chat with a teacher.....oops...remember, Judy, you retired....this doesn't concern you anymore.
So...will I go back again...I am not sure.  I will continue to check in with Mrs. V but I need to learn to let it go and let her develop her own plan.  And I will not go in to help her shelve the 1000+ books that will circulate in her 6 day schedule....shelving is one of the things that I hated the most about my job.  But I am glad that I went in yesterday....John will much happier coming home to a somewhat bored wife than to a raving lunatic.  And we might actually talk about something other than school.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Here We Go

My Birdville ISD buds returned to work today.  My DH starts back tomorrow.  To celebrate the end of the summer, we spent the day with Ben, the most perfect grandchild in the Universe.  Unca Tim gave Ben another swimming lesson and after his (Ben's, not Tim's) nap, we checked out a local splash pad.  I had hoped that the splash pad would be a bigger hit than it was.  Apparently it is hard to get excited about a splash pad when you don't like the sensation of water on your head.  We finished our day with a delicious dinner prepared by DIL, Dianna, when we delivered the boy home.
So....tomorrow it begins....the first day of my retirement.  I had originally planned to jump right into my planned schedule....starting each day with my trip to the Y, cooking healthy dinners, finishing up and starting quilts that have Christmas delivery dates and sewing on Fridays with my little sewing posse...but I have changed my mind about that.  I am taking a vacation this week.  (Of course my friends think that I have been on vacation all summer but that is just not true!) I plan to do a little grocery shopping, cook what sounds good, sew what I want to sew, watch season three of Downton Abbey, stay up late reading and sleep until I feel like getting up.  I am having breakfast on Wednesday with two other retired library goddesses and will probably pick up Ben again on Thursday.  And then on Friday after a day of sewing with my buds, I think it will be time for Happy Hour at the Three Parrots.  After all, my teacher friends and family members will probably need a drink or two by then even though the children don't actually return to the classrooms until next week.  Professional development and room preparations are just as difficult as dealing with the children and the professional development portion is just plain mind numbing!
Now I need to contact my last school to remind them that I no longer work there and that they can remove my phone number and email address from the phone reminder system.  I really don't care that "Meet the Teacher night" is Thursday. 
So...let's see how this retirement thing goes......

Friday, August 9, 2013

A little pre-planning pays off

When I decided to retire, my conscience would not let me just walk out the door and let my replacement fend for herself.  There is so much to being an elementary librarian that others do not see and the beginning of new school year can be overwhelming if one has never taken on these tasks before.
First of all, each returning student's record must be updated in the database.  That means changing at least three fields (homeroom, grade, and class) for each student...all 700+ of them.  There are shortcuts but the particular company that provides our circulation software does not include them in its manual.
Likewise all teacher records in the database must be updated, especially if there were classroom or grade level changes.
And then there is equipment to be checked out to each teacher.
And lesson plans for the first day of school.
And instructions on the set up and operation of the morning announcements close circuit television system.
Not to mention decorating and making the library feel like "home".
Because I did not want any new person to come in and flounder or face overwhelming tasks, I spent many hours preparing a Binion Elementary library manual complete with instructions on how to handle all of the above situations and providing all of the passwords that the new librarian would need to even begin to operate the library.  I scheduled the book fairs for 2013-14, started the book orders in my favorite book selection sites, alphabetized all of the returning students' library cards, left one year's worth of lesson plans, gave her all of the shortcuts that would make data entry easier, and cleaned up all of the errors that I could locate in the database.
All of this information was saved on a flash drive and given to the principal who labeled it and put it away for safekeeping.  As a back up, I provided the lead librarian with a copy of the flash drive and told key teachers of its existence.
Well, I am happy to say, that the work payed off.  Today I received a call from the new librarian (I cannot call her my replacement because I'm irreplaceable, right?) gushing her thanks for my time and effort.  The flash drive was MIA until today and she had been at a loss on where to even begin.  She had checked all of my files and there was no paper trail.  Thankfully my buds mentioned the flash drive's existence to her and she was able to jog the principal's memory.  She has admitted to having a few sleepless nights so I hope that since we spoke Mrs. V will get a good night's sleep tonight.
I am still struggling with the "did I make the right decision" concerns but at least I know that I did not abandon my former life without instructions to the new kid. Every little victory helps.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

These times, they are a-changin'

I've been retired since June 1st but being a teacher, I don't feel retired.  I've spent this summer break doing what I always do during the summer...traveling with my family, enjoying adventures with good friends, seeing movies and plays, playing with the most perfect grandbaby in the world and floating in Jeri's pool.  So when someone asks me, "How do you like retirement?" The honest answer is...I just don't know because I don't feel retired.
But the summer break is winding for teachers.  My teacher buds on Facebook are itching to get back into their classrooms to organize and decorate for the coming year.  My DH John is stocking up on the school supplies that his students constantly forget.  My DS Andy is busy getting his training room ready and being on hand for pre-season volleyball and football practice.  Some friends are squeezing one last quick trip before the craziness begins.  Others are finishing up professional development requirements.  And me?  I'm starting to get nervous.
I feel like I should be out shopping for a new convocation dress but since I won't be going to convocation, I don't need one.  I feel like I should be working on a book order so that I am ready when the budget is released in September but the only book budget I have now is with Barnes and Noble and my nook wishlist.  I feel like I should be working on some new lesson plans for my kindergarten visitors but the only lesson plans I have right now including reviewing colors with GS Ben.  I feel like I should be thinking of redecorating the library but the only redecorating I'm doing involves my master bathroom.
So how will I feel when my teacher friends hop on the bus and it doesn't stop for me?  How will I feel when I finally realize that my days as Mrs. D. are finally over?  How much will I miss the way that a group of kindergarten students vibrate when they are engrossed in a story?  How much of a hole will there be in my heart when I don't have my fifth grade posse with all of their drama to fill it?  I honestly don't know.
I've considered lots of day-filling options like subbing (but only in the libraries), getting a part-time job (but where?), volunteering in friends' classrooms (not thrilled with that option), or volunteering in an elementary library (but I hate shelving).  Nothing feels like a good fit.
So that's where this blog comes in.  I hope to use it to explore my options and I hope that you'll come along as I attempt to reinvent Mrs. D.