Sunday, October 24, 2010

Creepy Crawly Guardian

This summer a spider came to make its home outside my closet window. Not just any spider, mind you... A HUMONGOUS spider. She has a gold body with black stripes, and black legs with golden flecks sprinkled up and down them. We have loved her. I have a bench by the window, and Micah climbs up every morning to open the shutters and look out at the spider.

We have talked all about spiders. I have told her that spiders are arachnids, and that they have two body parts, unlike insects that have three body parts. I have also informed her of the differences in the number of legs between a spider and an insect. We have even been able to witness how she caught a fly in her web, only to find the fly mysteriously absent the following morning. (She's truly a humongous spider, so I'm not exaggerating when I say it only took the course of a day for the fly to be injested.) So, it has been educational, as well as a wonderful distraction for a busy two-year-old who loves to "do make-up" with Mom.

The web is absolutely incredible. It is so intricate in its design and covers an entire space between the eaves of the house, the window and the bushes. When we first saw it, Dave and I briefly considered getting rid of it. But, it occurred to us that in Mississippi in the heat of summer there are these horrible, large yellow flies... Yellow, biting flies to be precise. So, we quickly united in our adoption of the spider and decided to leave her alone. Our own personal guard spider...

Friday at school, a bee buzzed its way into my classroom. The kids managed to step on it, but it got stuck to a student's shoe, so I swooped in, tissue in hand, to remove it. Somehow, the stinger managed to poke through the Kleenex, and I got stung on the finger. Yes, I got stung by a dead bee. It wasn't too terribly bad, and I modeled semi-adult behavior by not falling to the floor grasping my finger while heaving in sobs... Which is kind of what I wanted to do. Ms. Leggett and Ms. Jordan (my dynamic teaching team) gave me lots of TLC, so I was able to struggle through the remainder of the day.

When I arrived home, Dave announced his plan to trim the azalea bushes out front. This is a chore he undertakes once a year in the fall, usually at Thanksgiving. This year, we will be in Birmingham for Thanksgiving, so he wanted to trim the bushes a little early. As we were talking, we both realized trimming the bushes would disturb our spider's home.

That night, somehow the two events weaved together in my brain to form a dream... Suddenly, I was alone in a large, grassy field when I noticed a swarm of bees coming. I was terrified, thinking of the swarms of African bees and how people had actually died from bee stings. I stood there absolutely frozen, watching the bees approach. As dreams have a tendency to make all things possible without the pesky interference of reality and possibility, my HUMONGOUS spider appeared and built an ENORMOUS web in front of me. The bees could not penetrate my spider's web. I was completely protected.

Later, it dawned on me this is how God works in my life. He is standing by watchful and ready to take an active part... To save me in an instant... To protect me from anything harmful. The bees of adversity cannot touch me because God is there, spinning His web of protection around me, ensuring I am safe. However, if I decide to get in there in an attempt to manage and control without first seeking guidance, I am apt to really screw it up. Like maybe managing and controlling the bushes? Thus, I'm sure if you drive by my house this afternoon, you will see perfectly manicured bushes, with the exception of one... The one outside my closet window where our own personal guard spider makes her home.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Yesterday, when I arrived at work from a morning training, I was informed that one of our assistant teachers had been in an accident and may not be in Monday. Our attendance clerk told me almost as an afterthought... "Oh, Christy, by the way... I sent Ms. R. (principal) an e-mail, but Dip's husband called and said she has been in a car accident in Jacksonville and may not be in on Monday. He is on his way to Florida right now to check on her." I think I said something like, "O.K." or "Gosh, I hope she is O.K. Do we know if she is hurt?" or something equally as inane... But, I was quickly thrust into the other drama of school life and didn't really think about it again for a couple of hours.

Upon reflection, I didn't think about it because I couldn't fathom it. I couldn't imagine Dip was anything except O.K. I couldn't imagine her not being at school. Dip Johnson was an assistant teacher at my school. She worked at Singing River Elementary for nearly 30 years... Or maybe more than 30 years... No one is really certain. Dip's name was Marva, but no one called her that. She was "Dip", and we aren't sure why her husband assigned her nickname, but everyone used it because it suited her.

When I first met Dip, I had just begun my teaching career. I had been placed in a precarious position because I had been asked to document my assistant teacher's performance. I wasn't schooled in the ways of public school... And, honestly, I don't think Ms. Johnson liked me much. She always came by to offer friendly words of support to my assistant. But, I couldn't help the situation and did the best I could, trying to be fair and kind with my assessment.

My assistant teacher retired after that first year, and Dip gave me a nickname... "Mrs. Axwell"... (She didn't realize I knew she had donned the name... Or probably she didn't care.) But, the name was assigned as a warning that once someone worked as my assistant, they just might "get the ax". Be forewarned... Dip didn't trust me. But, she watched, and I think she ascertained that I just might have a heart for children. So, at some point, I became O.K. with her... And, I was welcomed into the school as One of SRE. Really I don't think I would actually fully qualify as a staff member had I never gotten Dip's unofficial stamp of approval.

Once I was deemed worthy, I was privvy to the wealth of information stored inside Dip's brain. She knew everyone, remembered everything, and was eager to share her knowledge. Some people might have thought she was a gossip, but the things she shared with me were always pertinent to my students' welfare. "Ms. Maxwell, did you see the paper? ___'s house caught fire last night..." "Ms. Maxwell, ____'s parents were arrested last night. That daddy got drunk and beat up the mama." "Ms. Maxwell, ____'s sister lost her job and had to move back in with the family. Six kids are sleeping on a mattress in the kitchen." And, I don't know how she knew it all... Further, I don't know how she kept up with all of it. But, she did. And, because of Dip, there were days I was able to better serve children because I knew the "back story".

Dip served as an assistant teacher in nearly every grade in the school at one point or another. She worked with my own children. I can't begin to tell the number of times Dip brought one of the girls to me for a treatment or just because she thought they needed a little extra care and attention. She looked out for Dan and Sarah, acting as a guardian angel ready to swoop in and deliver them if necessary.

But, lest I give the wrong impression... Dip was only soft on the underbelly. She could lecture a huge 5th grade boy until he hung his head in shame with no choice but to think of whatever "crime" he had committed and develop at least 10 ways not to do it again. Further, if she thought someone wasn't doing the right thing for a child, she would give them "up the river" or "down in the country". She was a fierce advocate for the rights of children. And, she was fearless. It didn't matter if it was the counselor, or the nurse, a teacher, or the principal... If she believed someone was not doing the right thing for a child's welfare, that person would have no question as to her thoughts on the situation.

One year, Dip became angry with me for something. I don't even remember the exact nature of my digression. We had started inclusion, and I think she didn't like something about the schedule. At any rate, she didn't speak to me for an entire school year. She continued to look out for "Sarah-Jane", as she always called her, but wouldn't speak to me at all. However, the next school year, everything was fine again, and I was accepted back into the fold.

Last year, when Dan's health was steadily declining, Ms. Johnson would see me in the hall and say, "I'm praying for those girls, Ms. Maxwell... You know I love those girls..." And, I would respond, "I know, Ms. Johnson. Thanks." There were days when I was just putting one foot in front of the other, and I just couldn't talk about Dan or her health. And, I have no doubt that Ms. Johnson acted as a silent angel on my behalf beseeching others to "let me be."

Dip Johnson was a pillar of Singing River Elementary. She will be sorely missed. However, I feel compelled to speak on her behalf... And, I don't think she would mind. Dip Johnson would not want everyone to be shrouded in mourning and darkness for long. Last week, I saw her at a table in the 5th grade hallway, working with students and helping them stay motivated to finish nine weeks exams. She did what she loved until God decided her time here is through. Don't feel sad for her. I absolutely know Dip is right now in a corner of heaven, having grabbed someone to chat... "I'm so glad to see her here in heaven... You know, I taught her mama and her brother. That family was so special... Her mama worked for the soup kitchen, helping folks after the storm..."

I would say, "Rest in peace, Dip Johnson, " but she will not rest... It was not her way. So, instead I will say, "Work feverishly and joyfully in heaven, Dip Johnson. You are needed there, and we will all get by somehow without you by honoring your memory and always, always doing the right thing for children."