Travel mercies (or how to travel internationally and not make an *#@ out of yourself)

I think I’ll just consider this blog post a public service announcement. This morning Patrick and I flew from Quito to Miami.  I am a people watcher, and a frequent international traveler, so I think I’m qualified to point out a few things that really frost my cookies.  All of the following happened at some point this morning on our journey.

-When you are visiting another country, please don’t start off a sentence with “In the United States, we…”  We probably do.  Or maybe we don’t.  That’s not the point.  The point is you aren’t IN the United States, and while this may come as a complete surprise to you, they don’t CARE how we do it in the United States.

-Don’t.  Don’t.  DON’T refer to the people of the country you’re visiting as “the natives”.  Seriously.  It makes you sound really stupid.  And it’s offensive.

-Yelling does not transcend the language barrier.  If they don’t understand English at a normal volume, they aren’t going to understand it when you’re YELLING IN THEIR FACE.  Ask someone for some translation help and save all of us a lot of embarrassment.  Which brings me to my next point…

-If you want to try and use your high school Spanish, go ahead.  Just don’t pull the old “Can you help me find the store-o where they sell the books-o?” routine.  Again.  You sound really dumb and you’re embarrassing me.  And it’s all about me.

-In the airport, you need to assume that you need ALL of your documents ALL of the time and they have to be 100% correct.  Don’t get in the boarding line and get up to the guy and go “Oh!  I had no idea I needed my passport!” and then proceed to spend 10 minutes searching through that elephant-sized carry-on that you’re bringing because you’re special, and the rest of us don’t need any carry-on space anyway.  And if they handed you a form, they want you to fill it out.  If they handed you five forms, they want you fill them out.  Don’t ask why–they don’t know.  Someone told them you needed to fill out that form, and you’re not leaving the country until you do, so just get writing.

-Don’t try and be funny when you’re waiting in line at immigration.  Assume that everyone around you speaks English, and don’t joke about bombs, or drugs, or anything else that will land you in jail in a Third World country.  Third World country jails were the prototypes for Hell, in case you’re wondering.  And please don’t do it while you’re standing by me.  I’m not going down with you, just because you think you’re hilarious.  Tell it to your cell mates.

-You are not more important than anyone else, unless you happen to be the President.  We’re ALL tired of standing in line.  We’re ALL tired of filling out paperwork.  We’ve ALL been waiting for our luggage for the last two hours.  Huffing around and yelling at the baggage guy (who seriously can’t help you anyway) is really annoying to those of us standing around you.  Be nice, people.  It doesn’t cost anything, and it keeps complete strangers from thinking you’re a Class A jerk.  Which does matter, in the long run.

-And last but not least…I can’t believe I have to say this, but I actually witnessed it this morning…DON’T put your passport in any bag that can/will be checked.  Seriously.  Airlines lose luggage like it’s a bodily function.  I KNOW you handed it to them in Quito at the gate, and we didn’t stop anywhere in between…but you need your passport to get through immigration, and you don’t get your luggage until after you go through immigration…you see where I’m going with this, right?  Your passport should never leave your possession.  Ever.  EVER.

There is an amazing, fabulous world outside the borders of the United States.  I think everyone should see as much of it as possible.  Just…don’t embarrass yourself.  Or your fellow countrymen.  Or you just might end up as the subject of one of my blog posts.

How to go to the dentist and make a complete fool out of yourself.

It has seriously been the longest ten days of my life.  Last week, I started with an earache that wasn’t an earache, but I wanted it to be.  I knew that it was a tooth, but I am terrified of the dentist.  I would have preferred to lose an ear than go the dentist.  Last Tuesday, it all kind of came to a head (no pun intended) and I ended up thrashing around in pain and wishing that lightning would strike me, because I was sure it would be less painful than the toothache.

At about 2:00 in the morning, I googled “natural remedies for a toothache”.  I had heard that clove oil worked, but all I had was ground cloves.  I made a paste and plastered it on my tooth, which dulled the pain for about 25 seconds and left me with a mouth full of ground cloves, which, if you’ve never tried it, is a fabulous way to see if your gag reflex is working properly.  Next up?  Lemon extract.  The stuff you use in cupcakes.  I was all over it–I had two bottles in the pantry.  Turns out that it DOES work, but it’s CAUSTIC.  Tooth pain was gone but I ended up with blisters all over the inside of my cheek and gum.  And it only worked for about 20 minutes or so.  No problem.  I soaked a cotton ball in the stuff and stuck it back there, blisters and all.  Wednesday I ended up missing work, because in my pain-induced insanity I took too much ibuprofen.  Does lovely things to the lining of your stomach, in case you’re wondering.

My friend Deb had graciously passed along the number of her dentist, and he was able to see me Thursday morning.  Pain level was still about a 37 or so, and I was also dealing with the panic attack that comes from being terrified of the dentist.  I spent two hours there, during which he removed the crown that was on the tooth, I cried, he told me what he thought was wrong, I cried some more, he shot me full of enough Novocaine to numb me stupid, I KEPT crying, only now I couldn’t actually feel it…I left drooling all over myself, but pain free.  Friday morning…the crown popped off.  BACK to the dentist for some superglue.

Fast forward to Wednesday.  I had a scheduled appointment for a cleaning.  I had been pain free since Friday, so I wasn’t worried.  I don’t know exactly what she did, but by the next morning, we were back to Square 1.  I couldn’t get hold of the dentist, so I did what comes naturally…I cried.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m an elementary special ed teacher, and crying in front of the students is not recommended.  It makes them nervous.  Finally got hold of him, headed off for yet another visit, and in the space of two short hours managed to achieve complete and utter humiliation.

I had already explained what was wrong.  He took me back, and sent his assistant in to start working on me.  The needle with the Novocaine was lying on the tray…and she wasn’t planning on using it.  I clenched my jaw like a three year old and wouldn’t let her touch me.  She went and got the dentist, who came in looking rather disgusted.  I rationally (not really–I was shaking and my fists were clenched) explained that they wouldn’t be touching me without numbing me…and here’s where it kind of all fell apart.  He explained to me that he had to do this particular thing while I wasn’t numb because he needed to see where it hurt.  I knew where it hurt, but apparently I wasn’t being scientific enough for him, because he insisted on figuring it out for himself.  So I cried.  And he explained that he was pretty sure that I was anticipating the pain that I THOUGHT he was going to cause, rather than being worried about the pain that I was already in.  And I cried some more.  I did have a few minutes of lying there thinking about the spiritual implications of anticipating pain, but then I started thinking that if the dentist was disgusted because of the anticipation, then God was probably doubly disgusted and since I really couldn’t handle any more tears I stopped and started thinking about more pleasant things, like that needle full of Novocaine.

After he had poked and prodded, and I had cried and cried, he said those magical words that every person in my position wants to hear…”OK, I think I need to numb you up a little bit now.”  God bless you, handsome dentist.  He then proceeded to use enough Novocaine to numb not only my entire mouth, but my right cheek up to the eyebrow, and my right ear, and a good portion of the right side of my head.  He numbed me up so nicely that I left his office at 6:20 and it was 9:30 before I could feel a thing.  I would have proposed marriage to him, except that I couldn’t talk, because I was numb from the brain down.

Admit it–you all really wish you could have been there, don’t you!

I’m sorry…

I’m sorry.  I’ve heard it said that they are the two hardest words to say.  I beg to differ.  I think that people say them all of the time.  They are not the hardest words to say.  They are the hardest words to mean.

Last week my sweet fourth graders had a sub for three days.  This, coupled with the fact that I (their Special Ed teacher) was also out meant that they were pretty much a mess.  Multiple complaints about their behavior came across our radar, and after a chat yesterday morning, the classroom teacher, the ESL teacher and I decided that they needed to be held accountable for their behavior, and that they needed to apologize to the teachers involved.  We talked to them at length about why we were disappointed and explained why we felt that they owed the teachers an apology, and then used part of our Reading time to have them write letters.

Yesterday afternoon I was reading through the letters.  Some of them genuinely apologized.  Some of them made me giggle with their words–“I’m sorry.  Really.  I’m so embarrassed!” and my personal favorite (from a little guy who barely speaks English and I can guarantee wasn’t involved in any misbehavior last week) “I’m sorry I didn’t click ‘Save’ when you told me to…”–and some of them were just kind of disturbing.  There was a lot of “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have acted that way if so-and-so wasn’t doing…”  There were also some false flattery attempts–“I’m sorry, but you have the most beautiful hair and you are the nicest teacher and I really like your shirt…”

I thought about this all evening.  I could easily push this off as “cultural”, since I live and work in a different country.  I could assume that the children weren’t really sorry and were just saying anything in an effort to get us adults to shut up.  But what I really think is this…we are failing at teaching our children to own their actions, and to recognize the impact of their behavior on those around them.  The majority of my kiddos yesterday wanted to use “we” instead of “I”.  There is strength in numbers, I suppose.  This morning, I talked to them about what an apology is, explained what it means to be sincere, and dialogued with them about how you apologize to someone, and how you respond when someone apologizes to you.  Some of my sweet babies (and they are babies–they are 9 and 10 years old) thought that it was alright to just throw off an “I’m sorry” without really meaning it.  And even more disturbing, once we had discussed forgiveness and how when someone apologizes to you (and I’m speaking of normal classroom issues here), you say “Thank You” and “I forgive you”, and then you move on, and you don’t bring it up over and over…and some of the kids didn’t really “get it”.  We talked about how they are each responsible for their own actions, and how they can’t blame someone else for their failure to behave properly.  Over 1/2 the class had used peer pressure as an excuse for their behavior the week before.

I know most of the parents of these children.  And the most disturbing part of all of this to me is that I’ve personally had conversations with parents about their child that included the words “…Well, he wouldn’t have done what he did if that OTHER boy hadn’t done…” and those same parents have tried repeatedly to shift the blame from their child to another child, rather than making them own their actions.  The “not-my-child” syndrome has become epidemic.  And what is happening is that now these children who were never taught to be responsible for their own actions are growing up, and they are adults who are raising their children to not be responsible for their own actions…At what point does it stop?  And at what point do we realize that by shifting the blame, and teaching our children to shift the blame, that we are teaching our children to LIE?  We are teaching them that it’s better to lie than to own what you’ve done?  We are teaching them that their word…their integrity…is worth nothing.

I’m not naive enough to think that I made any difference with my kiddos this morning.  But they really aren’t the problem.  The adults in their lives, who refuse to admit their mistakes and say “I’m sorry” and MEAN it, are the problem.  And unfortunately I doubt that anything I say will make a difference with them.

Never ruin an apology with an excuse.  ~Kimberly Johnson

My marshmallow day.

I’ve been saying for years that I need to schedule a nervous breakdown.  I’ve decided that today’s the day.  I woke up this morning, and right in the middle of my devotions, it hit me that my girls are leaving home three weeks from tomorrow.  And they are not coming back.  This led to me sobbing hysterically in the bathroom for half an hour, while my poor bewildered husband patted my back.  It’s not that he’s not used to me crying, but crying at 6 am is a bit much, even for me.  On Mondays he has to leave early because we’re not allowed to drive our car that day.  Today I think he might have been a tiny bit relieved to have a ridiculous government regulation in place to rescue him from the waterworks.

I got to work and since my first class of the day behaved like a bunch of monkeys in a zoo last week when they had a substitute,  I started my week by listening to their classroom teacher let them have it, and then I brought them downstairs to my classroom and let them have it again.  I really don’t think they were listening, but it was therapeutic for us.  I poured out my woes about my girls and my sob session in the bathroom via email to the classroom teacher before the day started, and she walked down three flights of stairs to bring me a marshmallow.  Because sometimes you just need a marshmallow.  And a friend who recognizes that.

Last week, during what can only really be described as “The week that the universe was out to get me”, I tripped and fell over one of our infamous Quito sidewalks.  They call them “gringo traps” for a reason.  During my public humiliation session (seriously–I think there were like 400 people who saw it happen) I rolled my ankle.  It’s still pretty swollen and doesn’t really want to move much…and it ITCHES.  Like crazy.  And it itches inside, not outside.  I refuse to even call my doctor, because although he’s used to my bizarre complaints, an ITCHY sprained ankle might be too much even for him.

Sometimes I think I really am too much.  I need a marshmallow.