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Now that the Oliver production was over, things were getting back to normal in our household for Jake and Sean, but certainly not for me.
"You boys need to eat your breakfast quickly, otherwise you're going to be late for school," Dana said.
Dana wasn't just talking to Sean and Jake. I was now part of the early morning rush, with my new teaching assignment.
Part of the timing problem in the mornings was due to Barney, who liked to grab clothing from the boys' laundry baskets or drawers, whichever was available. This morning he had grabbed a pair of Sean's underwear and wouldn't let go, then he took off with Sean chasing him. He was very good at fetching, but not at returning whatever he fetched.
"Drop it!" Sean said sternly, as Barney was tugging away as Sean was trying to pry the garment loose.
Of course, voice commands didn't work with Barney, but Sean knew how to outsmart him and he took his hand and ran it back and forth across the rug underneath Barney's front paws. This distracted Barney and Sean was able to pry them loose. Barney wasn't happy that he was outsmarted and he barked at him as he followed Sean back to his room. That put Sean behind schedule and Jake and I were finished our breakfast as Sean was just starting.
"It's my turn to drive this morning, Dad. I'll get the LX warmed up," Jake said, as I gave him the keys.
Sean and Jake thought it would be good if we drove to school together, instead of them getting the school bus each morning. They thought it would be good for 'bonding' and they could get some 'needed' driving practice in.
"I'm getting better with all this extra practice, eh, dad," Jake said, as we backed out of the driveway.
"Well, I must admit that you have improved. You haven't run over the garden bed at the end of the driveway for a week and Mom's really happy about that," I said, with a smile.
It had been two weeks since I had taken over Trudy's accounting classes and it didn't take me long to realize why teaching high school was better left to the younger ones. Even though I had taught the small class of students in the Introduction to Business class when the boys were in Grade 9, that was nothing compared to the experience of having 52 pairs of adolescent eyes, once again, staring at me daily in anticipation of me helping them unlock the great mysteries of accounting theory. Somehow, the promise by Graham Barton of the assignment being 'a piece of cake for the master teacher' wasn't turning out to be as prophesized.
My two classes were second and third period and by the time I got my breakfast and we got to school, it was no use trying to go home and come back a little while later. So, I offered my services to the Resource teacher for the first period of the day.
My role in the resource room was as a tutor for some grade nine kids who dropped in periodically for Math and English help. However, much of what I did was help them with organization and study habits, which were the main problems.
I was also learning more about 'Slow Processing', which is what Brandon had been diagnosed with. He was now making great strides because of the accommodations that had been put in place for him by Rose, the Resource teacher.
"Brandon is a very intelligent boy and the accommodations are having an impact on his academic success. When we started out, I scribed for him when he wrote some of his tests, but that's no longer needed," Rose told me one day.
Rose had done a lot of reading about 'Slow Processing', because Brandon wasn't the only student she had with the learning difficulty. She had become one of the experts in the board on the subject and she had given a number of workshops to other resource teachers on it and the accommodations that were necessary for students to succeed. Rose was grateful for the extra help and I was enjoying the one-to-one interaction with the younger ones.
"Brandon's marks are now in line with his intelligence scores from the initial tests that we gave him," she said.
Brandon had also been given a Wechsler IQ test and the difference between his Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI) and Processing Speed Index (PSI) was more than 30 points, which indicated learning accommodations were absolutely necessary. He was given extra time on tests and sometimes he wrote his exams in the resource room.
"He's become more confident and is excelling in most of his subjects. He's also come out of his shell and is asking more questions when he doesn't understand something," she said.
Dana and I had noticed the change in his personality over the last year and I was glad to hear of his success. Part of the personality change was due to his friendship with the boys, who had taken him under their wings. They delighted in helping him become a 'cooler dude', as Sean put it. The other major factor in Brandon's more confident nature was Rose, who was his advocate and someone he could go to when he needed help finding the words to use to question teachers when he didn't understand something.
"He is also making great use of the calendar in his iPhone, which I understand was your initiative, when you were working with him in grade 9," Rose said.
This was the type of feedback about students that had made teaching a rewarding occupation for me. The other satisfying part of the career was my interaction with my colleagues. I had been accepted by the present group of students in my classes and I was accepted by most of my co-workers, but my presence on staff was not without its controversy.
Joan Renat, the OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation) representative, whose title was Branch President, took me to task in the staff room one day, blaming me for Trudy's breakdown. I had gone into the staff room to talk to Graham Barton, the head of the Business Department. Within minutes of me sitting down she came and stood over me with a menacing look, to scold me.
"You and your boys are the reason Trudy is on medical leave with a breakdown," she said, with a voice that was louder than it should have been.
By now, the conversation in the room had dimmed as people were looking to see what would happen. She was blaming me for setting a bad example for the boys, who she said gave Trudy a hard time on purpose.
"Joan, you've made two very serious errors in a matter of minutes. You've revealed confidential details about another staff member and you've made false allegations about me in front of my colleagues."
"Not only that, you've taken a job away from a young teacher," she said, ignoring my rebuttal.
Graham piped in and said, "There was no one on the supply list or on staff that could take the accounting classes and Al graciously agreed at my urging to take them. As the Branch President, you should realize that you're on dangerous ground with what you've just said."
Graham's comments and icy stare finally made her realize that she had stepped over the line, but rather than apologize, she turned and left in a huff. I decided that I would give her the benefit of the doubt and not take formal action about her inflammatory comments towards me. She was clearly upset and likely Trudy's version of the story, which I knew was not terribly accurate, had coloured Joan's judgement. Joan's problem was her gullibility and her blind faith in Trudy's character. For some reason, she was very sympathetic to Trudy and enabled her bad behaviour by always taking her side in a conflict.
"I'm sorry you had to listen to Joan's ranting. When it comes to Trudy, she has blinders on as to her real character. I have a strong suspicion that Ms. Rayner's mental state isn't as fragile as she makes it out to be," Graham said.
As much as my return to the classroom was an intrusion on my personal life, I wasn't complaining. The two classes had some great kids in them and for the most part they were eager to learn and were fairly motivated, for high school kids.
The top two students were Sean and Stéphane, but there were a number of others that were doing quite well, including Charles and Jake. Charles had always had a keen interest in business, because of his grandfather. Jake was just a good student at everything he did, but he wasn't particularly passionate about accounting, or business in general. He wasn't looking to make that a career, but he realized that he needed to understand things of that nature when he was out on his own.
I was finding the feedback from the boys each night after school to be intriguing. They had to take the school bus home, but they weren't complaining, because that's when they caught up with the day's school happenings with their friends. They usually rolled into the laundry room and dropped their backpacks on the floor with a thud.
"Boys, one of these days you're going to break the tile," Dana said, as they thundered into the kitchen like a ravenous pack of wolves.
"Our backpacks wouldn't be so heavy if it weren't for the accounting book someone made us use," Sean said, between bites of his snack.
Trudy had them using an outdated book that was in the cupboards at the front of the room, but I had purchased a new set of texts before I had retired. She didn't want to take the time to alter her lesson plans (or what she laughingly called them) so she used the old text which was considerably smaller than the new one. When I took over, I collected the old ones and re-issued the newer, but much bigger one.
"Just think of all the muscle building exercise you boys are getting," I said, with a smile. The two of them rolled their eyes in disgust.
"Carly thought your joke about Debito and Credito, the two Italian accountants, was lame," Sean said, as he licked his fingers clean.
Glen handed him a napkin before Dana could start into him.
"My students in the past always laughed at that one," I said.
"They were being polite," Jake said, as he paused between bites.
"And your tests are hard. We didn't have to think with Ms. Rayner's tests," Sean said.
"That's because you knew the questions and answers before you wrote them," I said, with a chuckle.
Nothing about the subject was hard for Sean, as he had the highest marks of both classes. One of the girls in the class had complained to him one day that he had an unfair advantage, because he saw the tests at home before the class wrote them.
"I told her not now," he said, as he chuckled.
The after-school conversation always took on a new dimension when Garth arrived from the school bus. He usually had some important detail to tell us about his day, followed by relative silence as he ate his snack, then topped off by a new joke. However this day he brought in a large package he had picked up beside Glen's backpack in the laundry room that was wrapped up in brown paper.
"What's this?" he asked his brother.
True to form, Glen wasn't particularly informative and said, "Something I did in art class."
"Oh my," Dana said, as she looked at the oil painting on the canvas as Garth decided to unwrap it.
It was a marvelous picture of a scene from the Muskoka region of Northern Ontario. It almost looked like something one of the famous Canadian Group of Seven painters could've done.
"That's looking out over the lake from the cottage we rented in Huntsville in the summer. We're studying about the Group of Seven in class and I thought I'd experiment," he said.
"Looks like the experiment was successful," I said, as we stood back to take in the beauty of his work.
Dana had now recovered and praised him for the techniques he used, which none of the rest of us understood. She was also very complimentary about his use of perspective and a similar style.
"I know that you were trying to duplicate the style, but you've added your own interpretation to this piece," she said, as Glen now had a big smile on his face.
He told us Susan loved looking over the lake from this vantage point so he took some pictures before they left.
"It's for mom's birthday, so don't say anything, Garth."
He wasn't going to get it framed, but Dana insisted on taking him out that night to the art store and picking out something appropriate.
Garth's attention now had moved from his brother's painting to a new joke he had heard in school.
"A farmer was milking his cow," he said, with a smile, after he had swallowed his final bite.
He told us that the farmer saw a bug fly into the cow's ear, but he couldn't see where it went when he got up and looked. When he resumed milking the cow, the bug squirted out into his bucket.
"It went in one ear and out the 'udder'," he said, as he made gestures like he was milking a cow, while he broke into that famous giggle.
We groaned, as that was not one of his better ones. Glen was especially vocal, as he would also hear it again at the dinner table at home, when Garth retold it to Susan and John.
The joke reminded Garth that he needed someone to read over his written assignment he had done. It was designed to have the students do some research on an animal in the library, then write a paragraph about what they discovered.
I volunteered and after I read his work, I asked, "Garth, how do you spell crocodile"?
"'K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L'," he said, with a puzzled look.
"No, Garth, that's not right."
I thought that was odd, since the animal he did the research on was the crocodile. I should have known better, because he answered, "Maybe it's wrong, but you asked me how I spell it".
After we got that corrected, he decided it was time to get us caught up on some more jokes from his repertoire. He was now into reading the Sherlock Holmes books and he had a joke that featured Holmes and Watson.
"Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip and after they put up their tent they went to sleep. Holmes woke up a couple of hours later and shook Watson," he said, with a big smile."'Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see'," he continued, in an English accent.
He was really getting into the acting out of the scene and Watson's response was that there were 'millions and millions of stars'.
"Then Holmes asks 'What does that tell you?' " he said, as he paused to giggle. That meant that we were getting close to the punch line.
He gave Watson's pedantic response and used big words such as astronomically, astrologically and theologically. We were pretty sure he didn't know what they meant, but he obviously had memorized this part of the joke well. At the end of the dissertation he said that Watson asked Holmes 'What does it tell you?'. At this point he paused for the pre-giggle before the punch line.
"Ok, Garthy. What does Holmes say?" Glen asked, trying to move the joke along.
"He says 'It tells me that someone has stolen our tent'," he said, as he launched into a full scale laugh.
We all laughed at this joke, which pleased him a great deal and added fuel to his laughter. He certainly liked his own jokes.
Before Glen, Sean and Jake took off for the media room to watch a bit of TV before Glen and Garth would leave for home, the mail arrived at the door.
"There's a letter for you, Sean," Dana said, as she handed it to him.
"Cool," he said, as he opened it.
He started to smile as he read its contents. We were curious as to who it was from, but we didn't want to interrupt him.
"Are you going to let us in on the identity of the mystery writer?" I asked, as he put the letter down after he finished reading it.
"It's from Mel," he said.
"Why did she write you a letter? You talk to each other every night on Skype," Dana asked.
He told us that his English teacher had given them an assignment to write a letter to someone and Sean chose Melissa. This was her reply and they thought it was cool to use the 'old fashion' way.
"Does this mean you'll be writing your reply in another 'old fashion' letter?" Dana said, as she smiled.
"Yeah. It's kinda neat to get a letter in the mail," he said, as he returned her smile.
We were surprised at his enjoyment of the literary exercise, as this is the type of thing that was right up Jake and Rachel's alley. We were also happy at his improved literacy, which was showing up in fairly respectable marks in English.
"This is just like Romeo and Juliet, eh son," I said, as he gave me one of his looks.
The boys were back into the swing of the hockey season and Glen, Sean and Jake were enjoying the competition. The league was smaller, as there weren't as many of the older boys participating in the house league in their age group. They were Midget level and the league contained two other teams from neighbouring towns. Garth's division had enough teams that they didn't need to include any other outside teams.
The father that had taken over Garth's hockey team was working out fairly well, at least everyone except Garth thought so.
"I wish Ricky was still our coach. He knew how to make us play better," he said.
We were all able to attend one of Garth's Friday night games and as usual, Dana and Susan were 'loudly' involved in the game. Susan had inherited Dana's vociferous enthusiasm during her boys' hockey games and together with Dana they were always major contributors to the 'cheering'.
After the game, I accompanied John, Sean, Jake and Glen to the hallway outside the dressing room, where we were going to meet Garth after he got changed. When we got to the dressing room door, the coach was talking to him outside in the hall. We stopped nearby and even though the coach could see we were waiting for him he kept talking at a volume we all could hear.
"Do you understand what cooperation is? What a team is?" he said to Garth.
It looked like he was scolding Garth, as he was a little perturbed. We couldn't understand what had taken place, because Garth hadn't made any of his 'unique' plays during the game that he sometimes was noted for.
"Do you understand that what matters is winning together as a team?" he said, as he continued.
Garth nodded yes.
"So," the coach continued, "when you're offside or you shoot the puck down the ice and it's called icing, you don't argue or curse at the referee. Do you understand all that?"
Again, Garth nodded yes with a puzzled look on his face and all of us were a little concerned, as we thought the coach was picking on him. Garth was not like what he was describing.
"Good," said the coach, as he glanced over at us. "Can you please explain that to your mother and grandmother?"
Glen, Sean and Jake turned away as they started to laugh.
"Oh oh, I guess we have a job to do," John said to me, as he tried to stifle his own laugh.
Apart from hockey, Sean and Jake's musical interests were taking up a lot of their time. The band, which consisted of Sean on guitar, Charles on drums, Jake on Bass and Stéphane on keyboards, had not been as active since the boys were into classical music. They did from time-to-time have some jam sessions in the studio, as they all enjoyed playing popular rock music.
The first week in December, the band that normally played at the contemporary service at church was unable to perform, because they had a 'gig' the night before out of the province and couldn't make it back in time for the Sunday contemporary service. Erin Brady suggested the boys take over, which they were a little reluctant to do at first, but agreed at Erin's urging.
"Erin gave us a bunch of songs and two of them are by some real old dudes from your time," Sean said with a smile, as he moved away before I could tickle him.
Over the week, we heard some of the practising as the studio door was open. It was going to be a real 'rockin' service, unlike the more sedate music arrangements the house band usually played.
On the Thursday before the service, they had a rehearsal at the church and we asked them afterwards how things went.
"Erin said we should be a little more subdued," Jake said, with a smile.
"I have to cut out a couple of solos. She said it wasn't a rock concert," Sean added, with a chuckle.
Most of the music they played was from the Christian rock arrangements that were available to the churches through Socan (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada). Instead of a hymn book, we had a digital projector hooked up to a computer that displayed the words on a screen at the front of the church, so the congregation could sing along to the songs.
There were two songs that were old tunes from the 60s. The first one was a song made famous by the Youngbloods called 'Get Together'. Jake took the lead and Sean sang harmony. It was the more subdued of the rock songs and the congregation enjoyed the enthusiasm the boys put into the music. Even Sean's 'lame' guitar solo, which is how he described it, sounded great.
"He thought it was too easy and he was going to punch it up, but apparently Erin wasn't too keen on that," I said to Dana after they were finished.
The last song they played at the end of the service was 'Free Ride', by the Edgar Winter group, which got everyone in the sanctuary 'rockin' along. Before they played, Garth and Derek made their way to the front. They sang the chorus parts as Jake once again took the lead.
"Well, that was a more lively service," Susan said, with a big smile when it was over.
"I don't think Mrs. McKnight needed her hearing aid," I said, as we all chuckled.
The congregation gave the boys a big hand as Erin thanked them for taking over. Afterwards, a lot of the congregation went up to the front to thank them as they were packing up their instruments. Even Mrs. McKnight, who was a little stuffy, made a point of thanking them afterwards.
"She liked everything, especially our last song. She said it got everything in her body moving," Sean told us.
"She also said we were a cute group," Jake added, as the boys laughed.
All the kids were continuing with their music lessons. Sean was taking violin lessons from the same instructor that Rachel used, who was the assistant Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony orchestra, who lived in the town. Jake was still with Colin, who had been teaching Jake the bass since he started, but Sean wasn't taking guitar lessons from him anymore.
Stéphane had progressed to the point where he was getting ready to take his grade 10 Conservatory performance exam on the piano. One of the things he had to do was play with a group and he had a number of options and one of them was to play a piano concerto with a small ensemble of strings. The conservatory would hook him up with some players, but he asked the 'group' if they would accompany him and he Okayed it with the examining bureau.
"We have the adagio from one of Mendelssohn's Piano Sextets in D Major, Op. 110," Sean said, one evening at the dinner table when the boys told us what they were going to do.
"Stéphane said Mendelssohn was our age when he composed it," Jake added.
"Who is in the sextet?" I asked.
As we thought, it was Charles on the viola, Jake on the double bass, Sean and Rachel on violin and Melissa on cello, with Stéphane on the piano.
After dinner they found a clip on the Internet of the piece and played it for Dana and me. The piece was really quite good and was one neither Dana nor I had heard before. The adagio was not as difficult as the other parts and it would be something the kids would not have a lot of difficulty with, after they put in some serious practice.
"Stéphane had to re-write my violin part. I'm playing what the second viola usually plays," Sean said.
While they were doing their homework I decided to look at the music that Stéphane had provided for the boys. The piano part looked interesting so I went down to the studio and plunked away on the Clavinova. After about twenty minutes I looked up and the boys were at the door listening with big smiles on their faces.
"I think we found a piano player so we can practice next weekend when Mel's here and Stéphane's away," Sean said to Jake.
Stéphane was going to be in Ottawa at a youth leadership conference and they wanted to get in some practice, because Melissa was coming in to stay with Rachel. When I realized they were serious, I protested and I wormed my way out of it. They were disappointed, until Dana had a go at me.
"Those boys really want you to play with them. You're a good role model for them in everything else, so I think it's time you used your musical talent and joined them. You've been practising, so all you need to do is overcome your performance anxiety. They won't bite," she said, as she followed her sermon with a kiss.
I decided that she was right and I agreed. This was going to be a new experience for me, as I had never played the piano in an ensemble before.
"Now just remember, I'm the practice piano player, so if I make mistakes, which I'm quite confident I will, everything will be good when Stéphane returns," I said, as I smiled and sat down at the Clavinova at our first rehearsal.
Things were a bit rough at first, but I finally got over my nervousness. After a few false starts, things moved along smoothly and the kids didn't pay too much notice of my playing, as they were concentrating on their parts. It actually turned out not too badly and they were happy that they were able to work on their timing with the piano.
"That was cool, Dad," Jake said, after we finished.
"See, we don't bite," Sean added, as the group laughed.
Stéphane 's exam was the next Saturday and Rachel was staying at Melissa's that weekend and we dropped Sean and Jake off at Katie's the night before. Stéphane's parents were driving him into Toronto the next morning to the Royal Conservatory where the exam was being held in one of the smaller concert halls. Since Ronald was a year older than Charles, he drove the two of them in, as he was allowed to drive on the QEW, which was the major highway leading into Toronto.
The boys got home on Sunday afternoon when Katie and Marty drove them back and stayed with us for dinner. The boys were very positive about the performance and the examiner was very complimentary after they had finished.
"She said we were a great accompaniment for Stéphane and that we should all be taking our individual exams," Sean said.
"We're pretty sure Stéphane got a good mark," Jake added.
We didn't know all the details of the arrangements that had been made for the kids' transport, as we left that to Katie, Marty and the boys to figure out. In the course of the dinner conversation, it came out that the performance was in the afternoon and that Melissa drove the boys back to Katie's after dinner as her parents had let her take the car by herself. They were out for the day and couldn't ferry her back and forth. The boys told us they decided to go out to dinner after the performance.
"I thought you said the exam was in the morning," I said, recalling an earlier conversation with the boys.
Katie and Marty turned and looked at Sean and Jake and it was obvious that there was a timing discrepancy. There was silence from both of the boys and they gave each other a panicked look.
"We meant to say the afternoon. We were practicing in one of the practice rooms in the morning," Sean said, with an unconvincing voice.
I wasn't quick on picking up what was happening, but Dana was.
"I hope you and the girls were 'careful'," she said, as she looked at Sean and Jake.
I thought Dana was talking about the driving, which didn't make sense to me.
"That's not what I meant," she said, as she was still looking at the boys.
Without hesitation, Jake answered, "Of course."
Debit and Credit accounting theory
Mendelssohn's sextet in D Major, OP 110 - Adagio
An excellent resource on slow processing
Another slow processing resource
The Muskoka region of Ontario
The Group of Seven
Free Ride - Edgar Winter Group
Get Together- The Youngbloods