Tag Archives: high school

Old Blue Eyes and Me


In high school, seven people wrote in my yearbook “Dear Weird Barbara”.  Graduation is this Thursday, so I was thinking about these things.  I also was on the committee that organized the prom, but I didn’t go because back then (1971), I didn’t have a date. No one asked me. I couldn’t go stag because it was 1971.  My friend Susan  stopped by my job, where I worked as a dental assistant, and she showed me her wrist corsage, and her dress, and her purse, and her shoes, and her boyfriend… .  It’s been forty-six years and you can tell I’ve worked  that through and I am over it.

I didn’t have crushes on the Beatles or the Rolling Stones like my contemporaries.  I liked Elvis long after he stopped swiveling those hips and when he ate a lot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I sang along with Nat King Cole in my sunken living room.  My relationship with Frank Sinatra was long and enduring.  Though we were 38 years apart in age I hoped some day he would be in the neighborhood, need a glass of water, push the button to come up to apartment 5G and the rest would be history.  That dream followed me wherever I moved to from New York to Illinois to Massachusetts. I just thought even though he had married Nancy, Ava, Mia, and Barbara, that our paths had not yet crossed.  Just think about the last woman he married, Barbara Marx. Don’t you think I was in his subconscious?  Well, I do.  I was a mental stalker, long before that was a thing.  When my FHB and I met, I asked him what he thought of Francis Albert Sinatra and he said he didn’t care for his music.  Sometimes, you just have to take a chance on love, until the right one comes along. When I was single he was married and when he was between wives or with a wife etc. I was married so it just wasn’t in the stars.  Then he died, and I mourned.  I was single then.  Too bad.

I had dated some “bad” boys along the way.  There was one guy in college who was travelling to California between semesters and invited me along and he was somewhat of a Marlon Brando type. He was a great cartoonist and we were in the same political science course.  I didn’t know him well, but I thought a road trip might change that.   I tried to figure out the best way to tell my parents.  I was over eighteen and thought just telling them that I was taking a vacation to the coast and that I was driving with a friend would be enough information.  Needless to say,  it was still several years before I saw the Pacific.  Somehow, as cool as I thought I was, they didn’t.  Seemed like a good idea in the moment.  It was the 70’s.  Another interesting fellow took my picture in Central Park while a friend and I were hanging out there.  He said that he would call me and show me the pictures and we could have dinner.  He seemed nice.  When he did call, he said to tell my mother his name was something different than he had said it was in the park.  My mother wanted to know where he lived.  I asked him (this is when I would put my hand over the receiver and whisper to her as she stood next to me).  He told me he lived in Manhattan in a place called Phoenix House.  Sounded like a mythological place to me.  My mother pushed the button on the phone as she said “You are hanging up NOW”.  I didn’t know Phoenix House was a very well known drug rehabilitation place.  I figured he was probably on staff there.  My mother was not convinced.  A bit naive I was.   There was no dinner and no pictures.

I asked my mother to consider hypothetically,  if Frank Sinatra was lost in our neighborhood, and somehow he found our apartment, would she let me let him in.  I knew that she might crack under the pressure, as she had seen him at the Capitol Theater in New York City in the 1940’s and she told me she “swooned”.  She told me that if Frank Sinatra showed up at our door, she would knock me out of the way.  I guess I know where some of the weird comes from and where the interest in the “bad boys” also came from.  My father would roll his eyes as she sang along with Frank.  My FHB sort of does the same, but he sings along.  Oh the bad boys come and go, but the good ones you should hang on to.  It’s Witchcraft!






Who’s your person?

Photo of Barbra STREISAND

You probably know the song with the lyrics  “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…”.  It’s memorable and easy to hum and Barbra Streisand’s version is the only version we probably need.  This week those lyrics became more memorable and more meaningful in my line of work.

It was a back to school week after a relatively long spring break. With re-entry in school comes a period of adjustment, both for students and staff and the recognition that our students may have had a week off, but in a community that doesn’t have much, in terms of economics, many of our students may not have had a break from their daily lives and probably no vacations away, and for many their supports are those of us at school.  So, it was time to get to work.

Part of the work as a school social worker is prevention and education and talking about difficult topics, such as depression, anxiety and suicide.  No one wants to talk about that, but in the context of prevention, someone has to do it and make it real.  I was wrapping up a couple of weeks, prior to vacation and then doing the last class which was scheduled for this past Monday.  Essentially, my colleagues and I go into health classes and talk about what we do, how it works, and how to access help, for themselves or someone they care about, a friend or a family member.  I enjoy meeting the students in a more intimate setting of a classroom and to take their emotional pulse and listen to their thoughts and questions.  I told my youngest son, many years ago, that we have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak, so that listening is twice as important as hearing our own voice.  It bears itself out, if you are patient and open to hearing what is being said, between words.  Working with teenagers requires being up on the latest movies, Netflix shows and some books that are important to the kids.  Recent weeks brought some education for me on a new Netflix show that was based on a book, the name of which is 13 Reasons Why.  Essentially, it is about a high school senior who commits suicide but prior to her death she records 13 audio tapes which explain why she ended her life. It is focused on thirteen people who she came in contact with and how what might have been perceived as innocuous conflicts or interactions led to her belief that life was too hard.  The tapes were sent to the people to listen to and it is seen through the voice of one of those thirteen.  I was given the book to read, and I read it while on vacation.  It allowed me to dialog about depression and suicide and listen to the students.  Kids want to talk about their opinions and the show and the book. It was an easier entre’ into what they thought, and feel about the character because the conversation was not about them.  It is powerful to listen to and what they revealed.  It builds connections and bridges.  I always put my name and where my office is on the board and directions to how to get to me.  The way I wrap up the class is talking about the importance in school to identify someone who, on a really bad day, or on a really good day, who they can find and talk to. We discuss the need to connect with one another and that it may be a teacher, or counselor, or secretary but someone who they know will listen, not judge and help, just by being there.  I aske the students to think about who it would be, but don’t require identifying the person aloud.  There was a lot of positive energy in the room that day and we said our so longs and I headed back to my office.

When I got back, one of my colleagues said he had a girl in his office who had come to find me and insisted that she talk to me.  He brought her to me and she looked familiar and in a school of 2,000 students, I couldn’t place her immediately.  She was very emotional and her eyes were pleading and filled with tears.  She told me that she had been one of the students in the class I had just left. We talked and she revealed that she suffered from depression and although she had gotten help a few years back and had done well, she was now in a really bad place and scared of what she was feeling.  I evaluated her and we came up with a plan and after I determined that she was safe and able to leave the office, I asked her why now and why today, since she had felt this for quite a while.  She turned to me and smiled…..”You asked us to think about who was our person and I decided in that moment that you were my person. I knew you would help me”.  People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.  I’m always questioning who’s luckier, her or me.

Have a good weekend.  Listen to some good music.

Welcome to my klutzdom!

If I were queen of some place, my subjects would not bow down to me, but rather fall down as I am a klutz of royal proportions.  It would honor me if they did that.   I have a friend, who would, when I would stumble over absolutely nothing, say “Nice move, Grace” and laugh at my pratfalls.  In no way did I resemble Princess Grace of Monaco, so I knew that it was not based on appearance, but often disappearance, falling down, sighing and getting up.

My lack of balance, coordination , and natural skill for all things sports involved led me to never be a first draft choice for any games, school related or pick up.  In school, being picked last was the norm and in a game like dodge ball (which I have recently found out children don’t play because of aggressive behavior), I was usually the target and sometimes I would think there were extra points for beaning me in the head.  I was fairly oblivious to sports.  I knew I wasn’t good at following the rules, in life, nevermind on a field or court.  In junior high we played with a medicine ball which was enormous and more than once it rolled over me as getting out of its way quickly was a challenge.  I could run, not distance, but in a fairly straight line and I thought that was pretty good. In sixth grade we played softball as part of our P.E. time  and somehow, I could, once in a while, hit a ball.  The bigger problem was that when I was up at bat, I was so intent on hitting, that I would make a hit, and run with the bat to first base.  Invariably, the teacher, a.k.a. “coach”  Mr. Jacobowitz (who changed his name to Mr. Jarred) would scream at me “DROP THE BAT!!! DROP THE BAT!!!” and would threaten to pull me out of the game if I did it again.  I assured him that I heard him, got up at bat, and once again the bat and I ran to first base.  Automatic out, game over, benched.  Not sure what the educational part of building self esteem in young students was, but it seemed that after he had a heart attack (and changed his name), he no longer had that coaching responsibility. I did not feel at all guilty.

High school gym was a brief moment for me.  I did not go out for any teams and no one was looking for me to join anything that involved physical activities.  In fact, during my first class in gym, on my way to the locker room to change for class, I tripped over my shoelaces, and knocked myself unconscious. I remember waking up to people staring down at me, looking more incredulous, than worried.  There were enough kids, who knew my past, who said “she does that a lot, she’s fine”.  My mother was concerned about my apparent clumsiness and had my pediatrician write a letter excusing me from gym for four years. It was pretty sweet, I must say.  Instead I worked in the office and learned how to use a switchboard.  It was a long time ago.  It was not too complicated and didn’t involve keeping score or wearing sneakers. I was good.

I know that taking risks and trying to be more physically active is good in the long run for many reasons.  I’ve gone to gyms over time and fitness centers (more expensive gyms).  I had a pretty ridiculous experience on a stationary bicycle when I got my shoe lace stuck in the pedal and could not get off without a problem. The staff person mentioned that he hadn’t seen that happen before.  I also got thrown off a treadmill that accelerated from 3.5 mph to 7 mpg in a matter of seconds and I looked like a had done battle and lost.  Despite these ever happening experiences, I continue to try.  I worked with a personal trainer and she was terrific and I actually did something I never thought I could do.  I didn’t get injured! I went on a Body Solid Weight Assisted Chin/Dip Machine (I looked it up as this is not a part of my vocabulary at any given moment). I was terrified.  I imagined that I would somehow be propelled, through the ceiling of the fitness center and be launched into outer space.   I was not actually clear on the concept until I focused, put my anxiety aside and figured it out.  I actually liked it.  At that point in my short career as a gym rat , I decided to retire victoriously, and take up walking again.  Dangerous….at times, restorative, always. I realized that what we try and do won’t get us in the end, but not trying will never get us what we want.

So, enjoy that extra hour this weekend.  Use it foolishly. That’s my plan.

What I learned in school today..

Always grateful when Friday rolls around and here we are.  Writing this, as the weekend approaches and unfolds, allows me to prioritize those moments as I do my “week in review” in my head.  This was a very abundant week, both in work and in life.  That is a positive position to be in, because it means that I have experienced so much and life is full in so many ways.

Some background…. for the past 13 plus years, I have been working in a high school.  The New Bedford community has one public high school and a vocational technical high school.  I work at the public high school which has approximately 2100 students.  My job title has gone from “crisis counselor” to its current iteration of “student support counselor/school adjustment counselor”.  My profession  training is as a clinical social worker.  Working in an urban high school is challenging in many ways. The community is seeped in history of  whaling and textiles, of moments of great wealth from whale oil to manufacturing, but now we struggle to redefine ourselves.  It is a city of despair at times and economic challenges and yet there is a resiliency that I feel every day, especially at our school.  We are a melting pot of diversity and that is probably one of the greatest strengths in  our connections with our students.  We are a mix, like elsewhere in the country, of people who were born here, people who came here as immigrants, people who fled their native countries and sought asylum, and those who came for better opportunities. The children are a mix of all of those possibilities.  As the child of immigrant parents, who arrived in the United States as adolescents, fleeing oppression from Nazi Germany, I recognize the challenges and sacrifices, as well as the culture shock of being strangers in a strange land.  These are the students I speak to and listen to.  Many of our students have arrived here on their own, without family.  We become their family, albeit a rather large, sometimes conflicted, dysfunctional family.  We welcome you because even if we don’t know you, we know someone like you.  It is often as though we are looking in the mirror.

This week, a teacher came to see me, because not only do I support the students, but often the teachers need some direction or resources for their own challenges.  This time, I listened to a story about a student, who had come from somewhere distant, on their own, with no family here.  This student became extremely ill and was now fighting an illness, and laying in a Boston hospital.  The helplessness and strong emotional response was palpable in her every word.  She asked the question “What can we do? How can we help?”  This student arrived in New Bedford, ready to work and to learn, with little formal education and now was derailed from their dreams, struggling with serious health issues and no significant supports.  The teacher asked, if in my role as part of what is known as the “Culture and Climate” committee whether we could come up with some way to help.  This is what I do best, solve a problem and quickly.  Triage is part of my DNA, and as quickly as I could type an email, I wrote to our administrator and asked if we could begin a donation jar and she responded back immediately in the affirmative.  The next step was to meet with our art teachers and ask them to help create, with student input, cards for everyone to sign during the lunch periods.  They all responded that it would happen. It was a mission we could all embrace.  Within 24 hours the cards were designed, signatures and heartfelt, meaningful messages were written, and funds were pouring in to the big jar.  I walked around the cafeteria during my lunch duty and brought the big cards to each table. I explained what was happening and students volleyed for the pen, to draw a picture, write a prayer both in Spanish and in English or just sign their names.  They probably didn’t know the student, but it didn’t matter.   “Stay strong….keep smiling….get well….feel better”.  This is the best of what we are about.  Our school has struggles but lack of humanity and connection and a willingness to participate, even if you don’t know the person, is not one of our issues.  The cards and funds will be hand delivered tomorrow. The teacher, who has only been on staff for two years, was mystified and delighted by the response of everyone.  We may not agree about everything academic, but compassion and hope is a path we can follow.  It was a good week, a full week, and made me remember why I do what I do.  How lucky am I.  Have a great weekend.