Last Things

He’s missing all the lasts.

Last spring musical (and many associated events with that).

Last student council events and meetings.

Last lunchtime pick-up basketball games with friends.

Last day of class.

Last school picnic.

I’m normally not into the graduation sign thing, but given all the last things he’s missing, I ordered the sign this year.

This afternoon, for possibly the last time, I exceeded the speed limit on the school’s back driveway to pick up that sign for my front lawn.

Normally I’m not very sentimental, and I tend to shy away from social events associated with school, but I’m feeling sentimental today.

He’s my last kid to attend this school, and he’s made the most of his time there. He’s lived through a total reinvention of the school when it became an independent Catholic school in June 2018. He took on a leadership role in the student council and played the lead in the spring musical last year (and was supposed to do that again, before the coronavirus brought the students home from school and effectively closed down the stage).

I am hoping that the prom and graduation (now scheduled for midsummer) will get to take place, so these 52 kids who have been through a lot will have the chance to properly say goodbye to each other.

As for me, I may have said my goodbyes at 40 miles per hour in the back driveway this afternoon. Just in case I don’t get the chance to do so this summer.

Rainbow over the back of the school, April 2016. Copyright Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
"#WorthRevisit: It's Not Magic" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (

#WorthRevisit: Booties and Diplomas

The story of a pregnant high-school senior who wasn’t allowed at her own graduation ceremony has been all over the news.

For many years I was a homebound tutor for several local school districts. I have plenty of experience with pregnant and postpartum high-school students.

I do enjoy the one-on-one work with a student who is too ill/injured/postpartum/pregnant/anxious/depressed to attend school. (Yes, I’ve had students in each of these categories–as well as a few discipline cases and a couple of malingerers.) There are students I’ve only taught for 2 weeks or so before they return to school. Most of them, I never hear about again.

Every once in a while I run into one of my students, who lived here in town and had a baby girl during her senior year of high school. I was paid to be her English tutor, but I also did a good bit of informal encouragement; this young mom was breastfeeding her daughter, keeping up with her classes, and handling quite a bit of the housework. She later married the father of her baby and they have another child as well; now she’s a stay-at-home mom, although she did work quite hard when her little girl was young, managing a Domino’s Pizza. Her resilience, determination and dedication served her and her family well, and it touches my heart that every so often, SHE recognizes ME. She is eager to tell me how things went for her family and I love to hear how well they are all doing.

I remember that student so well. I held her 10-day-old baby while this student took a test on Shakespeare. My student was mortified when the baby threw up all over my sweater; as I’d had several years of motherhood under my belt (and was wearing layers), I just shrugged off the sweater and went on with the test. She was from the same Catholic high school that all 3 of my kids attended (my youngest is a student there now).

There’s nothing magic about a faith-based high school that will make it immune from problems like drinking or drugs or bullying or teen pregnancy.

What is different about a faith-based high school is the way it should be supporting a teen in any of those situations. Support does not mean condoning their actions but it certainly means helping them accept the results of their actions with grace.

Audrey Assad observed on Twitter, “How many teen girls at that school will quietly get abortions because they watch how maddie’s being treated and talked about by the school?”

Moms who give birth and then go on to finish high school do not have it easy. Many times they have it even tougher at home than your average student, and the fact that they rise to the challenge of their circumstances is not grounds for punishment.

If we claim to be prolife, what do we do for high-school students like this one? Banning her from graduation is not the answer.

Not even close.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

"It's All About the Wardrobe" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (FranciscanMom)

#WorthRevisit: Library Fun

Yesterday I was the Substitute Librarian, and substitute teaching is always an adventure, especially when you’ll be dealing with little kids.

After my stint in Morning Car Line I headed upstairs to discover that the librarian had filled the bookmark basket with an assortment of holy cards mixed with publishers’ postcards advertising children’s books. The overwhelming majority of the kids chose holy cards for their bookmarks, and there was much comparing of the pictures on those cards.

One first-grader displayed the Pope Benedict card he’d chosen and asked me to pronounce the name under the picture. Since these kids are only 6 or 7 and wouldn’t remember any pope besides Pope Francis, I explained that Pope Benedict was the pope before Pope Francis.

“I have a Pope Francis card!” another little boy bragged, waving a picture of Pope Benedict in the air.

“No, that’s Pope Benedict. Both of these pictures are Pope Benedict.”

“But this one is wearing red! He’s not the same one!”

Image sources: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr – Agência Brasil [1], CC BY 3.0 br, Link and [1]Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

It’s all about the random when you’re teaching. A few years ago, during Catholic Schools Week, I received a lovely packet of homemade cards thanking me for volunteering in the library.  Sentiments included:

“We are all very grateful for you donating your time for the school. You’re a very thoughtful person. As they say in Spanish, gracias!”

“It is a massive responsibility for you to go to the library every single Friday.”

“Every time you come on a Friday it makes me feel happy inside.”

“When you are supporting us we are supporting you.”

“I hope you are proud of yourself!”

“I am thankful because you could be doing something other than helping.”

“You are the greatest book stamper ever!”

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: What I Like about His School

Yesterday I vented on Facebook because I had to print (again) and sign (again) the technology-use agreement and tablet PC contract for TheKid’s school. I say “again” because I know I printed and signed those and hand-delivered them to school on registration day.

9 years ago the school went “paperless,” so the irony here does not escape me.

But as the conversation turned toward how long it takes me to write my last name on all these forms, I remembered an episode during Big Brother’s senior year that exemplifies the best about this school and the people who study and work there.

I wish this were still the school's slogan.
I wish this were still the school’s slogan.

Big Brother traveled to Mississippi with a cold and came back with airplane ear. So today I made a doctor appointment for him; this way he won’t have to suffer through the weekend. The plan was, I’d pick him up at school to sign him out at 11:30. He wouldn’t miss much class time that way.

The phone rang at 10:45; it was one of Big Brother’s former teachers. She wanted to let me know that Big Brother had fainted during Mass, and that an ambulance had been called.


We only live 5 minutes away from the school, and I explained that I was taking Big Brother to the doctor today anyway. Did he have to go to the ER? The teacher passed the phone to the principal, who promised to hold the ambulance until I got there.

Let me tell you, it’s pretty freaky to run out your front door and hear sirens that you know are responding to your child’s medical emergency–and that will get there before you do. Naturally, I hit both red lights on the way to the school, but once I was in the school’s long, narrow, winding back driveway, I set a new land-speed record (42 MPH in a 15-MPH zone, in the van. Usually my top speed is 37 in TheDad’s zippy little sedan.) Let’s just say it was a good thing that the police officers were already inside the school and not following me up that back driveway.

Running into the building, I was met by the principal, vice principal, several teachers and other staff members, some police officers and a paramedic–and a very pale Big Brother in a wheelchair. His worried-looking girlfriend was also in the hallway. I explained to the paramedic that Big Brother had a medical appointment in an hour, and signed the release form. Big Brother’s girlfriend headed to his locker to get the books he needed for the weekend. His English teacher teased him about going to great lengths to avoid the vocabulary test scheduled in her class later that morning. The priest exited the auditorium and spoke with Big Brother, making sure that he hadn’t scared him when he anointed him after his fainting spell.

I’m thankful that the doctor thinks Big Brother will be just fine; he was a bit dehydrated and has bronchitis. A Z-pack and plenty of fluids will get him past that. I’m thankful for the priest who took the time to anoint Big Brother and to stop by and see him after Mass. I’m thankful for the vice-principal who walked us to the van, just to make sure Big Brother was steady on his feet. I’m thankful for the teacher who called the house just after we got home, because students in her homeroom were worried, and for the teacher who told me to send her a text message after the doctor visit, because she was worried. I’m thankful for all the kids who texted Big Brother throughout the afternoon, checking up on him.

What I didn’t mention in that post was that when the ambulance crew got to school, they asked my son his name as part of their routine evaluation. A teacher told me after I arrived that my son’s response had the EMTs thinking they had a concussion victim on their hands; she had to assure them that this really is how our last name is spelled.

TheKid had his first soccer scrimmage yesterday, as a freshman at the same school. His coach was trying to get his attention while he was on the field and mispronouncing his last name badly; TheKid wasn’t ignoring the coach–he just didn’t think he was the one the coach was yelling at.

TheKid and his crazy-long last name are just beginning to make their way in this school. Mispronunciations and lost paperwork aside, I know it’s a good place. I know, even though they don’t use this slogan anymore, that he belongs there.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Exception to the Rule

I’m a Rule-Follower from way back. And nothing drives me crazier than people who think that the rules apply to everyone but them.

It would make me nuts when I was substitute-teaching: parents who’d send in notes asking for their children to be excused from homework because they had baseball practice, or who couldn’t be bothered following the car-line procedures (those are Safety Rules, people…), or kids who who’d mow others down in order to be first in line–as if being first to get to an assigned seat in the cafeteria makes any difference at all. I’m not a fan of the Entitled Generation.

Breaking the rules doesn’t come easy to me, so it was a hard pill to swallow this morning when I sent an email to TheKid’s teachers asking for an exception to a school policy.

Diabetes technology is ever-changing, and the newest incarnation of the continuous glucose monitor TheKid is using sends data straight to a smartphone. That means he’d need to be checking his phone several times during the school day: before lunch or snack, and any time there was an alert of an out-of-range blood sugar level.

TheKid’s school has a very strict policy regarding personal technology, including cell phones, for students: you can’t use it in school. I’ve always supported this policy, as a parent and as a substitute teacher. And today I had to explain to TheKid’s teachers why he’ll be using his iPhone in school.

This is the whole reason TheKid even has an iPhone. It gives him freedom–and it gives him data that helps him (and us) make decisions about how much insulin to take for a meal or snack or to correct a high blood sugar.

Having diabetes has required TheKid to exercise a huge amount of self-control. He can’t just grab a handful of potato chips out of a bag at a party. He has to consider how many carbs are in those chips and what his blood sugar is right now. He has to pause and dose insulin through his pump.

Now he’ll be required to exercise self-control in a new way. He’ll be bringing his iPhone to classes in his pocket, and he’ll need to check it. We’ll have to trust that he’ll only be using his iPhone to check his blood sugar.

Because kids are kids, and kids test limits, and I get that, I sent TheKid’s teachers a graphic that shows the app he’ll be using:

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

If a teacher sees him using his phone for other purposes, I’ve asked them to contact me. The usual school policy is to confiscate a phone immediately and return it only to a parent. That’s not going to work here, because TheKid’s phone is actually medical equipment. But if he’s caught using his phone for non-diabetic reasons, Hubs and I will need to deal with that at home, and in cooperation with the teacher.

I received gracious responses from TheKid’s teachers and the school principal, and I’m ever grateful for the support and concern we’ve experienced from the school ever since TheKid’s diagnosis. I am trusting TheKid to resist temptation as he’s done in so many other ways. We’re not breaking or bending the school’s technology rules for our own convenience or vanity or for some other self-serving purpose. I just keep having to tell that to the rule-follower in me.

Sub Plans

My “baseball” for a review game my mom invented when I was in middle school. My bag of tricks wouldn’t be complete without it.

I thought I could empty out that tote bag next to my desk at home. It contains a zipper pouch full of stickers, a pad of Post-It notes, a Sharpie, a chalk holder, and a pen. It’s got my “baseball,” two water bottles and some granola bars. There’s also a comb and a hair tie or three.

With that bag, I was ready to hit the ground running and deal with a class of 25 students or less on ninety minutes’ notice.

I am a substitute teacher.

It’s something I’d resisted for years. When I began volunteering in the school library the year Little Brother entered kindergarten, a few teachers asked me why I didn’t sub.

I guess I could have, but I never did. I never wanted to have to walk into somebody else’s classroom with little to no warning and deal with a bunch of kids who were chomping at the bit to take advantage of unsuspecting substitutes, all while wearing uncomfortable shoes.

And then the librarian asked if I would sub for her when needed. That was OK, because I’d volunteered so much in there that I knew exactly what to do and when to do it and where everything was.

Last fall, the school’s substitute-teacher pool was decimated after a couple of teachers were out long-term. I was asked to consider subbing for the classroom teachers.

To my surprise, I found out that I liked it. It’s not a huge school, so I know most of the kids (by face, if not by name.) And they all know me.

There’s a lot on a substitute teacher’s plate. You never know, going in, how detailed the lesson plans are going to be (or if there will be lesson plans at all). You might have to teach subjects you’re ill-prepared for (physics, anyone?) Murphy’s Law will have it that you’ll have at least one Duty (morning dropoff, recess, or bus) and there’s always the chance that your Special will be canceled, which means no bathroom break for you.

What does a substitute teacher do?

  • She reassures the children that their regular teacher is OK and will be back soon.
  • She tries to keep classroom routines and procedures in place.
  • She listens to children who need to tell her how their regular teacher usually does things. Every ten minutes.
  • She puts happy-face stickers in homework notebooks and remembers not to write cursive with students who have not yet made their First Communion.
  • She remembers that the second-grader she met in the library two years ago is hearing-impaired and needs the teacher to face her when speaking–even though there’s nothing in the sub plans to remind her.
  • She figures out, on the fly, how to deal with various other special needs that present themselves without warning in the sub plans:  the kid with a behavior chart, the OCD child who can’t work if she can’t find her pencil case, although there’s a perfectly good pencil on her desk that she could be using, the one who just doesn’t do any work all day long.
  • She muddles her way through fire drills and lockdown drills and shelter-in-place drills.
  • She leaves a journal for the teacher, detailing what work was completed in each class period.
  • And she uses her Teacher Glare liberally with older students whom she’s known since they were in Pre-K, and who should know by now that she doesn’t put up with much.

When I started working at last March, I took my name off the sub list. My job affords me a very flexible schedule, but I really can’t be at school on 90 minutes’ notice anymore. I subbed a few times last spring for teachers who had made reservations before I started working at CatholicMom, but that was really it. I went back to my one-morning-per-week library volunteer gig and was happy as a clam to be there.

And then this summer, the librarian asked once again if I could sub for her. She gave me more than two weeks’ notice, so I had plenty of time to make sure that I got things done at work. It was flattering when more than one teacher said, “You’re HERE? You’re subbing???” but I had to remind them that this was an unusual circimstance–and that I’d see them Friday as usual for library.

When I walked in to the school Friday morning and signed my name in the volunteer roster, I heard voices from the office: “She’s here. You can ask her right now.” Uh-oh…I knew what was coming. Sure enough, they needed me to sub one day next week for a middle-school teacher who’s been out for a week already.

It’s just one day, I had plenty of notice, and I knew they wouldn’t ask me if they hadn’t exhausted other alternatives first.

So on Thursday I’ll be picking up that tote bag once again, packing my lunch, and heading to school dressed in my teacher clothes, hoping I don’t have outdoor-recess duty–and packing an extra hair tie in case I do.

#WorthRevisit: Bells Are Ringing

worth revisitI’m linking up at Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You. As the school year draws to a close, I’m revisiting this post from June 2013.

Bells Are Ringing

This morning I went to Mass at the school, because they were honoring the parents who volunteered during the school year. Usually I avoid this event (it’s a social-anxiety thing) but Little Brother was persistent in telling me he really wanted me to be there.

He’s 11. How much longer is he going to be happy to see his mom volunteering at school? I returned the form saying I’d attend the Mass and social afterward.

When I got there, dripping from the rain because TheDad had mistakenly taken both our umbrellas to work with him, a smiling student met me at the church door and told me that all the volunteers were supposed to sit up front. So I did, because Little Brother wanted me to be there.

Fortunately there was no naming of names, just a group “all volunteers please stand up so we can thank you” at the end of Mass. I could deal with that.

Afterwards, we went into the cafegymatorium for a nice little reception. There were two decorated tables with these cute gifts that the first and second grades had put together–with handwritten thank-you notes from the kids. There were smiling seventh-graders pouring our coffee and juice and inviting us to take fruit and pastries.

I sat next to a mom whose oldest son is in Little Brother’s class, and across the table from a mom whom I don’t know, but who had a beautiful one-year-old daughter with her. The little girl had made an impression on me during Mass; she was very quiet most of the time, but when the altar server rang the bell, she exclaimed, “Yay! Bells!” Both times.

That reminded me of Little Brother at the same age. Big Brother was an altar server then, and I was up front with the choir. TheDad would sit in the back with Little Brother, and when the servers rang the bells, Little Brother would yell, “Big Brother’s ringing the bells!” You could hear him throughout the whole church.

I was telling the other moms at my table about this, and the mom with a boy in Little Brother’s class said that her sons used to ask her why the servers rang the bells. Her answer was that they ring the bells to show that this is an important moment. Of course, the next week, when the bells would ring, one of her boys would (loudly) say, “It’s an important moment, right, Mom?”

I was dreading that reception, and even thought about ducking out on it, but I’m glad I went. I’m glad I sat with moms who bring their children to Mass. I’m glad my child attends this school where the kids are taken to church and can learn about Jesus and why it’s an important moment when the bells ring. I’m glad that the parents can share, through funny stories about what their own kids did in church, how we help our children understand those important moments.

Tales from the Substitute: Compassion in Action

I was in the fourth grade today. The teacher had a death in the family and was attending the funeral.

SONY DSCAnd the kids blew me away with their compassion. I was reaching for a tissue at 8:05 AM.

As soon as they walked in (and before I even got a “good morning”) two kids were waving a huge piece of construction paper in my face.

“We’re working on a card! We have to get it done!”

I slowed them down long enough to determine that they had started working on a sympathy card for their teacher. These boys had come up with this idea on their own, and they were bent on getting it finished.

They got busy drawing enough lines inside the card so that every single fourth-grader in the school had a place to sign it–as well as the other fourth-grader teacher and me.

Checking the lesson plan, I figured out a good time for the boys to take the card around the classrooms for signatures.

Many of the students left encouraging messages on the other side of the card, in addition to signing their names.

My plan, before school, was to steal a few moments during religion class to have the students make cards for the teacher. I didn’t need to do that, because the kids took the initiative and had that giant card started first thing in the morning.

I’m sure their teacher felt all the prayers the children sent up today, and I know that when she returns to the classroom her heart will be touched by their very real, very spontaneous, very urgent compassion.

Image source: Wikipedia. Approved for reuse.


Happening now all over social media:  parents crowing about their children returning to school on Monday.

spiffy penI know that I’m ready for school to start and normal schedules and routines to resume.

What I don’t know is whether I’m going back to school along with the kids.

As far as I know, I’m done. I was asked to be there through Christmas. On December 23, I handed in my keys and told the secretary and my grade-partner teacher where I’d left a binder containing lesson plans, attendance records and grades. I took home my Christmas tree, Nativity scene and chalk holder.

I have no idea whether the teacher whose class I’ve been substitute-teaching will be back on Monday. I guess, due to those health-privacy laws, all kinds of things have to remain secret. And if I had a health issue that kept me from my job, I’d appreciate that privacy.

As Christmas vacation comes to a close, I am left more and more with the feeling that on Monday at 8 AM I’ll be getting a “where are you?” phone call.

My mom, whose decades of experience teaching in Catholic schools give her an opinion I can count on, says that it’s not my place to chase down anyone to find out if I need to be there Monday–but I should make sure to have some school clothes ironed, just in case.

So I guess I’ll clean the leftover candy canes out of my school tote bag and make sure there are plenty of stickers, band-aids and birthday pencils.

Beyond that, I’ll have to settle, right now, for not knowing what Monday will bring. That’s been one benefit of this long-term job. I knew where I’d be each day, and what I’d be doing. For me, that knowledge provides comfort.

I might have a day off on Monday, or I might be called in. I’ll feel better once I know.

Tap Dancing All Day Long

It’s been a loooooooooong day, spent doing what I call “tap dancing” the whole time. That’s when the substitute teacher has to readjust the plans while simultaneously keeping 18 kids in order, teaching a lesson, and making sure no one trashes the bathroom or breaks anything.

I didn’t succeed where those last two were concerned today.

But let’s back up to the beginning.

The schedule was off because we were going to Mass. Little Brother appeared in my classroom after the day’s opening prayer, because his class is my foster homeroom’s Buddy Class and we were going to Mass together at the suggestion of Little Brother’s teacher.

I was all for it, because my foster students are 7, and pretty wiggly, and I thought it would be good if they saw a good example of church behavior. The only thing that worried me was seating, because the classes have set locations in church and doubling my class size (with Buddies) would mean that other classes had to sit farther back. I left that whole thing to Little Brother’s teacher to figure out.

The seventh grade trooped in and we matched them with their buddies and lined everyone up. Their teacher explained to all the kids how Communion would work (since my kids don’t receive yet) and since he had to get to church to set some things up, we headed down the hallway.

Mass went amazingly well. The Buddies helped my class find the right pages in the hymnal. There was no horsing around or whispering. Definitely this was the high point of the day. After Mass we returned to our classroom and got started on the Snack-and-Bathroom Routine. Then I found out that my class wouldn’t be going to gym today.

wawa latteThere went my chance to use the bathroom and heat up the coffee that had gotten cold before I had five sips of it. But I figured I could fit in a quick restroom detour when we went to play rehearsal.

We finished our snack and did our Jesse Tree ornament of the day and moved the Holy Family a little closer to the manger. Then I lined everyone up in the right order (which has changed 4 times this week) and reminded everyone to use “Marshmallow Feet” in the hallway and on the stairs into the cafegymatorium. We exited the classroom silently and practically tiptoed down the hall. I was super proud of the kids, until the principal stopped us and said, “You’re not having rehearsal this morning.”

So we turned around and went back and I had to find something to do for 40 minutes until lunch, because my lesson plan said “Rehearsal.” I decided we’d work on the Snowman Handprint ornaments the kids were making for their parents (the other second-grade teacher got this all going. I’m craft-impaired.)

We were deep into an assembly line of “name on paper, paint on hand, hand on ornament, ornament on paper upside-down, go wash” when a first-grade teacher came in to offer to hold rehearsal in her classroom. I asked if I could send the kids as they finished their messy craft. And that was all fine until a Tiny Tattler informed me that two other girls were trashing the bathroom with the white paint. It was smeared all over the floor and mirrors.

I made the two of them clean their mess up as best they could with Lysol wipes. We all finished the craft, practiced “Joy to the World” in the first-grade room and then headed off to lunch. Late. I retrieved my cold coffee, went upstairs to the faculty room to (finally) use the restroom and nuke the coffee, then returned to my classroom to eat lunch alone because I was upset enough that if anyone had even said “hello” to me, I might have broken into tears right there.

As we were having inside recess due to cold weather, I retrieved my kids after my 20-minute break, and they played for half an hour instead of going outside. We worked for a little while on a timed reading test, then got ready (again) for our 1:15 rehearsal. Then the classroom phone rang; we weren’t going to be able to use the cafegymatorium until 2 PM. A first-grade teacher popped in to suggest that I have the kids all packed to go home, with coats ready, before we went to rehearsal at 2. That sounded good to me, so we got our coats, then since the ornaments were dry, we decorated them with Sharpies.

Everything was going along quite nicely until an ornament rolled off a desk and hit the floor. There were tears and shards of glass everywhere. No, I wasn’t the one crying–it was the little girl whose ornament hadn’t stayed on her desk. I reassured her that she could make a new one first thing Monday and we got on with our day, and then at 1:55 someone poked their head in the door to tell me that, no, we weren’t rehearsing after all.

I grabbed a Christmas storybook out of the teacher’s storybook box and we read a story. Then I took the boxes of inside-recess toys out and let them have some extra playtime. Every last one of us was just DONE at that point.

7 more school days until Christmas.