• 2 + 2 = Orange

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 10/19/2014 5:00:00 AM
    By all accounts, I was a low-maintenance child. Go ahead, ask my mama. I amused myself for hours in the gym or sitting at her desk or playing in Uncle Larry's room. Lots of invisible friends and an imagination that would not stop.
    I recreated scenes from movies and plays, performing each role as if I were before an audience of kings and queens. I imagined a thousand ball games with each dribble and every touchdown. Good times. Great times.
    Of course, as children can and will, I pondered many things...
    How do cows from the mountains walk normally when they are in the barn at the fair? (Because everybody knows mountain cows have two long legs and two short legs.)
    Why does God live at the funeral home? (Because Aunt Sally went to live with God and we went to see her at the funeral home. Therefore, God must live at the funeral home.)
    And, when they made up words, if somebody had decided that "orange" was a better number than "four," then today, 2+2 might not equal "four" but, instead, "orange."
    Just sayin'. My mother never dealt with the orange question. I should ask again.
    I thought about a lot of things. I still think about a lot of things. 
    My children ask an incredible amount of questions. There are moments when I feel like Sophia and Miles are more closely related to Albert Einstein than their mother or their father. Sometimes, my patience grows thin.
    They ponder many things, those two. And I try to remember the enormous patience found in my mother and my Uncle Larry and the many souls that crossed my path.
    By all accounts, they are low-maintenance children. Go ahead, ask their mama.
    I'm preparing for the orange question. Good times. Great times.
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  • Gallons and Gallons Of Tea

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 10/12/2014 5:00:00 AM
    Virginia passed away this week. Virginia was our family's best friend for thirty-five years or so.
    Big Red. Miz J. Virginia Terry Johnson. 
    I'll not claim this moment to say all that must be said. This is not about Jeffrey. Or Terry. Or Ginger. Or Michael. It is, as it plainly should be, about Virginia. A life well-lived if one ever was.
    Virginia was a school teacher, among many things. And a church choir director. Two roles with which I am long familiar.
    Virginia taught chorus at Carver High School and at least "fitdee-leven" elementary schools. "Fitdee-leven." A Blanche Poole phrase. Don't dwell on it. Just accept it and keep reading.
    Virginia was a part of the Summer Enrichment Program with C. Douglas and Maggie and Uncle Larry and Gretchen.
    She took kids to church. She took kids to contests. She took kids to Krispy Kreme. She took kids home. I was sitting there many times when a grown man would stop at our dinner table and pop the question, "are you Miz J?"
    Virginia always, ALWAYS, peered over her bifocals and replied "tell me your name and what are you doing?"
    It cost nothing to be kind.
    The conversation would end and Virginia would invariably explain to the Mayflower waitress, "I taught that young man. Isn't he handsome? Now, this is my friend Margaret. She teaches at North Forsyth and this is her son Jeffrey and we need gallons and gallons of tea."
    Big Red. Miz J. Virginia.
    Hers was a life lived out loud. She was bold. She was brash. She was outspoken. She was opinionated. She was talented. She was fun. And she told the best stories! My Lord, but the woman could tell a tale.
    I miss Virginia. We need tea. Gallons and gallons of tea.
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  • Common People

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 10/5/2014 5:00:00 AM
    I left Spry Stadium last night.
    Women's soccer. Wake Forest and Clemson. Double overtime. Tie game. It is what it is. No reason to agonize. No reason to gloat. It was over.
    For perhaps, maybe, the third time ever... EVER. Sophia and Miles spent the evening with somebody other than an immediate family member. In other words, a babysitter. Kathryn had the kids. Kathryn was waiting for me to come home. Vikki was flying somewhere along the east coast. My only thought was to get home and kiss my babies.
    I backed out of my parking space.  I turned to the right and headed toward the exit. The Clemson team bus was on my right. Handicapped parking spaces, all empty, were on my left. A dark car pulled into the parking lot, veered to the right and straddled two handicapped spaces, blocking my exit.
    I shifted into reverse, backed up, shifted into drive and completed my turn. I was now squarely between the mystery car and the Clemson team bus. The driver of the mystery car exited his vehicle and began walking toward the stadium. I lowered my window half-way and said "you might want to try parking in a space next time."
    He wore khaki pants, a dark jacket with the Clemson logo and an orange hat with an upper case "C' embroidered on the front. He was, by any reasonable account, a well-dressed man. A fan? An alumnus? A coach would have been with the team. My guess? Father of a Clemson player. Just a guess.
    My thoughts and my car turned toward home. and I then I heard him...
    My car instinctively shifted into reverse and the power window lowered the last eight inches.
    "Did you say something to me?"
    "What did you say?"
    "I didn't say anything."
    "We both know that's not true."
    "I don't know what you're talking about."
    "Yes you do. I heard what you said and don't call people names. It's rude. It's disrespectful. It's common. Don't be common."
    "You have ten feet clearance. You still can't fit through there?"
    "I'm not talking about your parking. I'm talking about your behavior. You're a common human being. Common."
    The mystery driver's partner, girlfriend, wife - I am unfamiliar with their relationship status, exited the passenger's seat and walked around the car. She was, in the parking lot light atmosphere, a woman who appeared to have spent many days in the unforgiving South Carolina sunshine.
    She joined the exchange. "Why don't you learn to drive?"
    "Why do you associate with a man with no manners?"
    Common people.
    I went home. Common people.
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  • Saturday

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 9/28/2014 6:00:00 AM
    Well. I arrange monthly community service projects for my school kids. It is not a course requirement. The project is completely voluntary and I am not allowed to give academic credit for participation.
    I wish. I wish I could. I wish participation was mandatory. I wish these children, my children, had no option but to climb out of the bed and show up to work for people they won't see, in a place they don't know, for a cause they cannot understand. I wish I could say "your grade for the day is..." while all I can say is "thank you."
    This is simply more evidence that the people ultimately in charge of education in North Carolina have failed to grasp what is essential to a life well-lived.
    To realize the world is comprised of others is a pretty tall order. To fully immerse yourself in the trials and tribulations of another human being demands humility and the willingness to say "I'm not number one."
    What a world if every leader believed "you matter more than me." Former Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe said "all my assistants are smarter than I am. Why would I hire someone who knows less than I do?" A great thought from a good man.
    The folks who surrendered two hours Saturday morning have a much better idea now as to how to get along in the world and how to lend a helping hand when it is needed. Thank you.
    Everybody else? Opportunity lost.
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  • 60 Seconds

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 9/21/2014 5:00:00 AM
    If asked, my school children will likely tell you "it cost nothing to be kind" is my go-to phrase. It rolls off the tongue. I treasure the thought. I say it all the time, probably too often for some ears.
    Every teacher has a signature phrase. For Olon Shuler, it was "only in America." For Grey Cartwright, it was a rambling sermon about "this red pen will cut you down faster that any samurai sword ever could." For my mother, it was "drama is life-life is drama."
    For me? "It cost nothing to be kind."
    Now you know what I believe. Now you know how I aim to live. Kindness. Random acts or intentional moments. Either way, it matters. The world, for all practical purposes, is a small place and I'm a big believer in trying to get along while helping the man next door.
    It doesn't seem like too much to expect. Or ask.
    On more than one occasion I've asked my children, "would you rather be angry for one minute or happy for sixty seconds?" They invariably choose the sixty seconds. Smart children. Perhaps, even, wise.
    Imagine my surprise this week when I shared some good news about some kids I know pretty well. I expected the adults in my life to surrender sixty seconds and say "well done. I'm proud of you." Maybe a pat on the head or an encouraging smile. But that did not happen. The sharing was problematic. The expectation was too much. Sixty seconds was too much to give. Sixty seconds was too much too share. So much for the man next door.
    It cost nothing to be kind.
    Maybe I'm wrong. It might cost sixty seconds. Maybe.
    And for some, that was just too much to ask.
    You reap what you sow, you reap what you sow.
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  • Shine No More

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 9/7/2014 6:00:00 AM
    I observed a lot of people this week. In my classroom. In the hallways. Walking past my car. During ballgames. Working. Playing. Laughing. Crying. Even loving?  Yes. The whole loving thing was a little much, at least for a forty-four year old married man with two young children. Get a room.
    I digress. To my observations... 
    Generally speaking, I did not like what I saw. A lot of self-centered behavior. Ridicule. Or, at least, the belittlement of others. Poor choices. Mutual disrespect. An absence of decency and common courtesy. It was, in a most enormous way, disappointing.
    I expected more. I expect more. I cannot sway the tides. I cannot change the attitudes of the mass of humanity I regularly encounter both intimately and from afar. It is indeed as I have often read, "as for me and my house..."
    Miles Griffin, I expect you to always be the man I love and admire.
    Sophia, I expect you to always be the lady I love and cherish.
    As for pretty much everybody else, some of the gold with which you have so often shined rubbed off a little bit this these last few days. You can do better.
    You can be better.
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  • Everybody Says

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 9/14/2014 5:00:00 AM
    Few things in the world, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say "few moments" in the world, can ever honestly boast to be an "everybody thinks" moment.
    "Everybody thinks...
    Everybody says...
    Everybody wants..."
    I have found it to be significantly more likely to say the only time you can accurately say "everybody says" is to say "the only time 'everybody says' anything is never - 'cause everybody never did anything, much less everything so everybody never said nothing."
    Now. If, indeed, everybody followed that... please move forward to the next paragraph. If not, please try again from the beginning.
    I'm depressed some days. Saturday was one of those days. It hit hard, which is a far cry from hardly hitting, the art of which the Wake Forest offensive line appears to have perfected against powerhouse Utah State. Back to me.
    I was depressed. My children, yes my children, were behaving poorly time and time again. Vikki is on the road. She did her best to give me a much-needed pep talk from her hotel room in New Hampshire. It did not work. Before our conversation ended, the love of my life started checking off her "everybody" list... (and my mumbled responses follow)
    I love you. (Un-huh.)
    Sophia loves you. (I love her. Most days.)
    Miles loves you. (Him too.)
    Your mother loves you. (That's her job.)
    Our lifegroup loves you. (No they don't.)
    The kids at school love you. (Because I have the power to fail them.)
    Everybody at Wake Forest loves you. (Stop it. I'm the hired help, that's all.)
    And so it continued. I was not in the mood. To hear it. To say it. To believe it.
    We went to lunch with my mother at Texas Roadhouse. The food was fine. The service was fine. It was loud. The poor behavior from the resident kindergartner and her three-year old brother did not improve. I am not a fan of the chairs and the booths are not intended for large folks. My mother was talkative. It was a meal. No different from a thousand others I've shared with the same, exact people.
    That is, until the bill arrived. Six dollars and fourteen cents. "The bill was taken care of by another table. This is just for the dessert." (Ice cream for the children, not me.) The waitress smiled. 
    "I don't understand."
    "Another table paid for your meal. It was a lady named Jan. And she said 'Go Deacs!'"
    Everybody at Wake Forest...
    OK. I got it. Point taken. Thank you, Jan, wherever you are.
    I'm still not a big believer in "everybody says" but, for today, one was enough.
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  • The Abacus

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 8/31/2014 5:00:00 AM
    We survived the first five days. Yay team. Bravo. Time to invoke the over-used "only 175 more to go" mentality. I detest that phrase.
    School, like any truly noble endeavor, is not meant to be simply endured. Or survived.
    Celebrate. Embrace. Jump in the deep end and flail about. Get wet. Put your head under the water and taste the salt. One cannot learn to swim swim by tip-toeing in the shallow end of a kiddie pool any more than you can learn to fly by reading a book at the central library.
    You must do. You must live. You must experience.
    School is no different. Reading helps. Writing helps. An abacus may help. Maybe.
    To truly learn you have to taste and touch and feel. Mix the red play-dough and the blue play-dough and see what happens. Toss a crumbled Alka-Seltzer in a small Coca-Cola bottle and watch for bubbles. Steal a sheet from the hall closet and wear a toga to class as you act out the death scene from JULIUS CAESAR.
    School, my friends, is doing. School, good folks, is living. Not math nor science nor English nor history nor any topic so anointed by the powers that be can ever be fully grasped though worksheets and lectures, accentuated with the occasional Power Point. It must grow. It must blossom.
    So... we didn't survive the first five days. We thrived the first five days.
    The reading was good. The writing was less good. The abacus... that was living.
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  • 8:20 Monday Morning

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 8/24/2014 5:00:00 AM
    School begins Monday, and that is a good thing. Exciting, in fact. I will sleep little, if any, Sunday night. Darkness will come and the midnight hour will seem set in stone.
    I am anxious. Not for unfamiliar students or unanticipated responsibilities or even a principal born three years after me! But for Sophia.
    Our Sophia. My Sophia. She is her father's daughter. Yes, she has her mama's personality but I am the one to whom she clings when storm clouds appear on the horizon. She falls asleep in my lap. I read the bedtime stories. I make the bubbles magically appear during bath time. We sing the silliest of songs. We dance in the kitchen. She questions her mother at every opportunity, reasonable or otherwise. She does whatever I ask without so much as a pause. We talk. We laugh. We nap. We share secrets. I teach and she learns. She teaches and I learn.
    My child. Tomorrow, I won't be needed quite as much.  Perhaps I'm wrong but only time will tell and I'm far too impatient to contemplate how wisdom and perspective might alter my point of view.
    Kindergarten begins Monday at 8:20. My feet will be in room 345 waiting for nine children I already know.  My heart and my head will be altogether somewhere else. Waiting, hoping, for a phone call from my wife wondering how "it" went. "It" will, of course, go fine. My wife is strong. Russian-woman-from-a-Dostoyevsky-novel-strong. I am not worried about Vikki Griffin. Miles, the younger brother in this family saga, will miss his sister but, as are most three-year old superheroes, he is made of flubber and will bounce back no worse for the wear. Sophia is thrilled. She is excited. Tonight is Christmas Eve in August for my favorite princess in pink.
    Then we have, me. I am not ready. I am not prepared. I miss her already. I love Sophia. 
    Sophia Elizabeth, I am proud of you. I believe in you. I love you. School is a wondrous adventure and oh, the places we'll go! Remember, it cost nothing to be kind. You are my happy thought. Always.
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  • Hump Day

    Posted by Jeffrey Griffin on 10/13/2013 7:00:00 AM
    Some things are plain out funny.  A lot of things... are not.  Among the former and the latter lie commercial after commercial.  Television commercials.  Radio advertisements dwell in another realm and, truthfully, cannot compete with the legendary spots that have graced the small screen for decades.
    I've always loved Coca-Cola commercials.  I like McDonald's commercials.  Who doesn't enjoy the latest production from the clydesdales in St. Louis? 
    Occasionally I'll shed a tear over a particularly sentimental moment committed to video, but those moments are uncommon.  Rarer still are the spots that make me laugh out loud.  I'm not talking about chuckling or giggling or snickering.  I mean full-on-my-sides-are-hurting-I-think-I-have-to-pee-pee-belly-shakin'-tear-rakin'-good-ol'-fashion-hollerin' funny.  Know what I mean?
    This leads us to the Holy Grail of network advertising... the spot that becomes a part of our daily conversation.  Remember "where's the beef?"  Or "whasssuuup?"  And the latest nominee for the commercial hall of fame, "what day is it?" 
    Hump day is a part of our cutural identity.  I take great delight in responding to everyone who utters the question.  My children giggle and beg to "do again, do again."  The boys in my room at school are feverishly trying to discover their inner Barry White so they too can shout out to all who will listen - "hump day!  Oh yeah..." 
    A side note, the Barry White thing isn't working out so well just yet as most of their attempts sound more like Betty White.  Anyway.
    Mr. Underwood, my friend and cohort next door, actually sends unsuspecting kids to my room every Wednesday with one simple question, "Mr. Griffin?  Mr. Underwood wanted me to ask you, what day is it?"
    Hilarity quickly enuses.  Maybe not hilarity but most definitely a moment of personal glee.  The things teachers do...
    It should always be so easy to bring a little joy into the world.  Who said the small stuff doesn't matter?  Not me.  And especially not on Hump Day.
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