Monday, March 13, 2017

Figuring it out

Look at that enormous Sloat head. 
I'm typing this from the doctor's office. We're here for a checkup on Isaac, making sure he's growing like he should and hoping he won't be covering his face for the next ultrasound. 

I'm about to be brutally honest with you, and I hope you can forgive me for it. 

I don't want four kids. 

Up until this morning, I have been dreading Isaac's arrival, I've been worrying about my money, my time, and the fact that I've got three adopted children who might grow up holding a grudge against our sole biological child. 

Akeeli, Aven, and Drake, if you're reading this, I need you to know I never loved you any less than Isaac. Not for one second. I know you can't help feeling like you might feel, but listen: I love you more than you could ever imagine. I love you so much I'd die for you. 

On the way to Tulsa this today, I had to drop my truck off in Wagoner to get the oil changed. This is in no way a sponsored post, but the guys at Kevin Grover are seriously the best, and one in particular slapped me in the face with some truth this morning. 

He walked over to me, and I spent some time trying to figure out if I was looking at his smile or the sun. That's Neil being Neil though. I've never thought of him as car salesman, he's a friend who happens to be exceptionally skilled at getting me to spend huge sums of money on things with four wheels. 

My son weighs 2.6 pounds today. He's grown tremendously in the last two weeks. 

We're sitting in the lab now, waiting on blood to be drawn. In fact, I'm almost positive Alicia is actually reading what I type as I type it. She's talking about how much Isaac has grown over the past couple of weeks, and saying that he better slow down. I think she's finally realizing that when you have a giant for a husband, his kids might be huge too. I don't know, maybe just my head is giant. 

Back to Neil. He came over and shook my hand. 

"Two things to congratulate you for, Travis. One, you look fantastic, and two, your newest little one!" 

Everyone always does that. If they're familiar with our situation at all, they're so excited for us; for me. I get that, and I'm thankful for the empathy, but up until today, it was a forced smile, forced enthusiasm. So I smiled back at him, and I gave my prototypical response. 

"Aww, thanks! Be excited for her though, I don't want four kids." 

Neil didn't even blink. 

"Oh stop that, Travis. You've created an eternal soul." 

I'm alone now, Alicia has gone back to have her blood drawn, and I'm fighting tears as I type this. It's me and one old lady in the waiting room, and I don't need her wondering why the behemoth four chairs down is blubbering quietly into his cell phone. 

We've created an eternal soul. 

My son is an eternal soul. 

Isaac is an eternal soul. 

Somewhere in my brain a switch flipped. I took a couple of confused steps and finally spit out a response. 

"Thank you, Neil. I've never looked at it like that." 

"I'll leave you guys alone, I know you've got a busy day planned!" 

He bounced away, frustratingly happy, unaware of the chaos he'd just wreaked in my brain. Unaware of his creating a tectonic shift in the pangean plate that is my selfishness. 

You see, that's all it is, selfishness. One thing I've discovered since having children is that I am, by nature, a selfish person. I didn't realize that until after we'd adopted the kids, but it's true. I am a selfish person. I want my time, my money, my stuff, my wife. I, I, I, I. 

I'm not saying all that changed instantly. I know somewhere between now and the next eighteen years, I'm going to be selfish. But I was given a new way to look at things today. I have four eternal souls that I am now responsible for. Five and six if you count mine and my wife's, and that's a whole lot of souls to be in charge of. 

My dad figured it out. I don't know how, but he figured it out. Reading his writings from when I was a kid, I know he was frustrated, unsure of himself as a father, and selfish. But at some point he cracked the code. He figured it out, and he took responsibility for the eternal souls he'd helped create, and he did a damn fine job of it. 

Now I'm back at the doctor's office, waiting for my beautiful wife and my son to come back from getting a shot, which is apparently what you have to do when your husband's blood (A+), has a higher GPA than yours (A-). We'll leave here and go pick up two other sons and a daughter, all of which are mine

Today is a new day. Today I was verbally slapped by a friend who has obviously figured some of it out. 

Thanks, Neil. 

Here she comes. Gotta go. I'm gonna try figure it out. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#OklaEd chat questions for March 12

Photo credit
Well, someone somewhere messed up and gave me the keys to the pound sign Oklahoma Education (#OklaEd) chat on Sunday night.

My topic? How to help students succeed with "real life" English Language Arts (ELA) skills. I have a bee in my bonnet about prepping students for the workforce, and not just for the state tests they have to take. If that means they get through my class without knowing what a gerund is, but they can send their boss an email with the correct homophones in place, I feel like I've done my job.

I was asked to preview the questions in a blog, so here they are. I will give you my answers on Sunday evening, and I very much look forward to hearing yours as well.

Thank you, educators of Oklahoma, for what you do for our kids.

  1. Introduce yourself. Have you ever gotten a work email with spelling/grammar mistakes? How did you react?
  2. What ELA skills do you find yourself using the most at your job(s)? 
  3. What ELA skills do you think our students need to learn before they graduate? 
  4. How are you helping teach those skills to your students while staying inside your subject area? 
  5. How are you effectively demonstrating those skills to your students? 
  6. Do you use writing as a punishment (essays, sentences, words, lines, etc.)?
  7. How can you specifically alter your lessons next school year to teach some of these “real life” ELA skills? 
  8. Do you show your writing to your classes? Do you write in real time on SmartBoards, etc.? 
  9. Do you think it’s important for your students to see you make “real-world” writing mistakes (as long as you correct them)?
  10. Do you have a policy/reward system in place for when a student catches a typo/grammar mistake you’ve made? 
Have a great rest of the week, and I'll see you on Sunday!

Follow me on the Twitter here: @tstyles77

Monday, March 6, 2017

One


Let us not forget Lloyd's eyeball, lost in the battle. 

"Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

- Kahlil Gribran

One more.

One more trip to Oklahoma City. One more trip to the Big House. One more game. One more piece of hardware for the trophy case.

You gave that to us, Mustangs. You did. You gave us one more.

When you walk into the hall, there are still streamers and small basketballs hanging from the ceiling. There is still paint on the door, telling you to go get the gold. There are still signs on your locker that say, "State Bound."

All of these reminders of what happened on Saturday night. If I had to imagine, painful reminders. I'm here to tell you they shouldn't be.

You gave me one more chance to go see my favorite team from my favorite school play in my favorite place: the state final.

And let us not forget Coach Clark's tie, which remained the entire game on Saturday.
You gave me one more chance to hang out with friends I hadn't seen in forever.

You gave me one more chance to tell your story.

You also gave me one more chance to spend approximately $250 on food for the weekend, but we're not going to focus on that, believe me, my beautiful and loving and kind and forgiving (did I mention beautiful) wife has focused on it plenty.

You can't see it very well in this pic, but that bucket had a lid on it. 

When the final horn sounded on Saturday night, I didn't see anyone on the floor hang their heads. I didn't see anyone cursing, throwing a fit, or mouthing off to the other team. I saw what we all hope to see in the young men who represent our school: dedication, not defeat; pride, not self-pity; and sportsmanship, not petulance.

You gave me one more chance to be incredibly proud of my school, my town, and my students.

Marcus literally cannot believe how high Caleb is jumping here. 
Also, can we be honest, just for a second, and say that you almost gave me one more heart attack on Friday night? No one had hopes of winning that game. I do not care what anyone tells you, no one thought you would pull that off. But you did, and you did it in such a way that gives this amazing town one more story to tell about that time in the state tournament when a miracle happened.

You also gave one more chance to someone to score a basket in a state final. You did that. You gave that to him. He will never forget it, and neither will anyone who saw it.

"Travis, I'm sorry, I tried to take a good picture but I was crying." - Alicia
So was I, babe. So was everyone. 
As an aside, I would also like to thank the Ft. Cobb-Broxton players who helped make that happen.

So, Mustangs, if I see you in the hallway with your head down, I will address it. I will remind you that greatness is not measured in the color of your trophy, but in your character, in your work ethic, and in the way you represent our town. And for those, Mustangs, you get the gold.

For those, you are number one.

Thank you.

"Between the pavement and the stars,
beneath the weight of years of scars,
burns the same soul -
paint the sky blue.
Hallelujah,
you're still you." 

- Reese Roper

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Two

Two seconds.

Specifically, 1.9 seconds. But I'm rounding up because it's my blog and my story. So two.

Two seconds separated the Okay Mustangs from a loss in the semi-final round, packing up and driving home.

If you were there, you know what happened. If you weren't, you probably still know what happened. It was, in my opinion, the single greatest two seconds of basketball I've ever watched, and I watched Christian Laettner hit "the shot" in 1992.

I have hugged, I believe, everyone at the Big House this evening. I have done irreparable damage to my heart. I got real close to saying a bad word on Facebook.

And I sent this text before it happened.

I know I should be ashamed. But I'm a pragmatist.

It's now 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. Everything above this was typed when I got home last night, on an adrenaline-laced jag that made for great Facebook posts, but not so much in the inspiration department. 

So now I'm sitting here, staring at the computer, and hoping that somehow, words will appear on the screen the way the ball appeared in Caleb's hand last night. I guess I could set a timer on my phone for 1.9 seconds and add a little pressure. 

If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know I do a lot of talking about pure moments of happiness. Hopefully, everyone reading this knows what I'm talking about; hopefully all of you have experienced one. A moment in your life which causes so much joy, it temporarily blocks out every other thing in your life. You are lost in that moment. 

I believe these moments can't be directly obtained, they have to be gifted to you. I've been fortunate enough to have a few given to me. Last night I got another one. 

It had gone terribly, the end of that game. We built a lead, then lost it, and then to top it all off made a couple of bad decisions late that took some wind out of the Mustang sails. 

I watched fans head for the exits. I don't blame them, I was mentally preparing for the drive home, thinking about whether or not I wanted to spend another night in the city. I sent Alicia the above text. I checked out. 

I vaguely remember Ben Smith looking over and saying, "Anything can happen." 

The stage was set for Pond Creek-Hunter. They had overcome the number two team in the state, and they were headed for the championship game. I've seen a news article that said Chad had told the team not to contest the pass, then changed his mind. I can't tell you how valuable it is to have a coach who won't give up. I played for one. 

I'm not sure when the moment happened for Caleb Riggs. I'm not sure if it was the walk out to the floor to finish a game he probably didn't still want to be in, or if it was something in the PCH guy's eyes that triggered it. Maybe he never doubted, I don't know. I can definitively say he was not preparing himself to be on every highlight video the OSSAA makes for state tournaments from now until the end of time. 

The referee blew the whistle, handed the ball to the kid from PCH, and what happened next was something the town of Okay will talk about until we're all old and gray and wear the bottoms of our trousers rolled. 


Time stopped. The collective intake of breath from both sides of the stadium could have vacuum sealed an entire year's worth of saltine cracker packages. And then...

Anything happened.

If you'd like to see it from more angles than a dodecahedron, you can click here.

As an educator, an English teacher, and a "Literary Man," I feel it very important to maintain a firm grasp of the English language at all times, both to keep up appearances and because of some sort of inner piousness, I don't know, don't judge me. 

But after that shot, I lost the ability to make words with my fingers. 

All caps because, well, the situation warranted all caps. 

On March 4, 2016, I typed these words: "Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We'll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball."

Well, Fort Cobb is in the final, just like us. Waiting. Gunning for their third title in a row, and with the chops to do it. 

But we have guys who don't give up. Gritty players and coaches who stare loss in the face and defy it, challenge it, who beat the odds and overcome. 

Our little town of Okay was once known as Rex. Rex is Latin for "King." Author F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, and I beg to differ. The Kings vs. Goliath, Act II happens tonight at 7 p.m.

Last year I closed by saying how proud we all are of you, Mustangs, and that pride is still there. We are grateful for the moments you've given us, and we're standing behind you tonight. 

Now finish the job. 

"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise."

- Maya Angelou

Friday, March 3, 2017

Three

Three.
Because I am first and foremost an English teacher, it seems only natural that I should begin this with a word you probably don't know.

Triskaphobia. A fear of the number three.

There are superstitions about the number three: death comes in threes, if you take a picture of three people the person in the middle will die, and that it's bad luck for three people to light a cigarette off the same match.

Y'all look, the "S" is missing in Students. 
It would appear that for some, the number three is a bad thing, a thing to be feared. It's portentous, malicious, and terrifying, particularly if it's the amount of Christian Grey novels you have to read before you're through.

The Okay Mustangs headed out on a three hour bus ride yesterday, for the third year in a row, to try to win three games in three nights. If you've got triskaphobia, you might want to stop reading this now.

If you take 11 from 14 you get...well, yeah.
In education, if you stay somewhere for three consecutive years, you get tenure. Tenure, simply explained, means your position goes from temporary to permanent. You can stop wondering if you really belong, and you are able to approach your duties with a sense of security and a newfound purpose.

The Okay Mustangs belong in the state tournament. They're tenured.

Last night I watched our boys hit three pointers, saw our fans lift three fingers in the air proudly, and witnessed three incredible quarters of basketball (that fourth one got scary y'all). I watched a lead form by what can only be described as a dog fight, observed a blowout, and suffered heart palpitations as Cyril did exactly what good teams do: fight back.

I honestly had no idea number three was in this pic until I decided to caption it. 
In the end though, one-third of the goal was accomplished, and the Okay Mustangs walked to the locker room with heads high, with tenure.

Pond-Creek is waiting for us today, hoping this is their year, and you can bet they were up late last night, nervously contemplating how to stop the Okay Mustang three, how to defend Okay Mustang number thirty-three, and how to saddle all our players with three fouls in the first quarter.

33 + 3 = mad hops
The best things in life come in threes. The Holy Trinity, The Lord of the Rings, the Musketeers, BLTs, Destiny's Child, and the number of times that are charms.

Personally, I like the first one and the last one the most.

There are three players in this picture. I know, I'm reaching, but Caleb looks too good here. 
Let's go boys. Triskaphobia be damned. This third time is our charm.

And when the dust settles, when you're hoisting the gold ball over your heads, we'll all hold a single finger over our heads instead of three.