the chronicles-kind of

October 11, 2019

It’s the small things.
This week I started a usual “custodian chronicles“ post, but did so half heartedly. I kept trying, in fits and starts, and kept getting interrupted . . . by small things.
And this morning it occurred to me that, for all the wildness that this custodian job has been for me, as I settle into the routine of it, I find it not all that different from any other sort of job – not all that different from life.
It’s the small things that mess you up: the last glove taken from the last box in the closet. You realize that the supply list was turned in last week, and no one realized that gloves should have been on it. In this sort of work, latex gloves are not an afterthought…they are a necessity.
But it’s also the small things that make it all worthwhile. The interruptions. The little one who gets a splinter at the outside lunch table and needs someone to walk her to the nurse’s office.
“Does it hurt?” I ask, to break the silence. “A little,” she nods. I smile at her six-year-old courage, nodding “Yeah-it will.” She smiles back.
The next day I see her in the hallway and I pause. “How is your hand?” She shows me the reddened spot where the splinter had been. “My nana pulled it out, “ she tells me. “Did it hurt?” I ask. “A little,” she says. I smile. “Yeah-it will.” She smiles back.

*photo comes from earlier in the week, when I wrote this first, and only, note for the weekly “chronicles”:

Mulch can grow on you. Before you picture pine straw shooting out of my head, I should explain that my first round of it, for work purposes, at least, was done in our recent run of blazing hot days, using bales of straw that had been left to accumulate dust and critters over the course of a summer. I spent that day sweating, sneezing, and sniffling my way through the process.
But today the day was cool (so much so that my nose – large and prone to chill as it is – was having fond memories of my New Hampshire face covering winter cap. With newly cold air and newly purchased mulch, I spent the morning inhaling fresh pine and fresh air, and marveling at this novelty of changing seasons.


October 7, 2019

“So how was your birthday?” Good …isn’t that what I’m supposed to answer? But what if life doesn’t care if it’s your birthday or not? What if you get a “surprise-you owe us!” bill from the insurance company, after enough phone call and letter writing time already spent so as to assume it was taken care of…
And what if your plan for a peaceful evening with your husband gets interrupted by a well-intentioned, but less-than-welcome banging on the door? (No-our goats are not roaming the streets. They are right there in the field grazing. But thank you for letting us know!)
I started to feel angsty and how-dare-you-universe-y about what I wanted, and didn’t get, for my birthday.
But you know, minor annoyances are, well, minor. In the grand scheme of things, what I DID get for my 40th far outweighs anything I did not.
I got a day-of series of videos from my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. My sister’s usual beauty wowed me, and her voice made me ache for her presence. Her boys serenaded me and sent a series of requests. We dutifully videoed ourselves and photographed the attendees of my birthday party (which were, at the time, our 3 furry friends). They responded with follow-up videos, and a new list. Our auntie and uncle tasks are looming 😉
I got a day-after full of festivities orchestrated by my mother, with a church family party to start the day and a cozy family dinner to end it.
I got a Saturday of freedom from work to galavant about with a best friend of a husband who is possibly even more nerdy than I am …and who gets a similar pleasure from randomly amusing, outwardly boring excursions (“Oh-let’s go to Walmart and I’ll buy beer so I can show off my ID … do I ‘appear to be under the age of 40,’ and so get to be carded?”).
And I could not help but remember, with a sobering dose of reality, that last year this day was spent in a hospital, recovering from a terrifying brush with the nearness of my own mortality.
So yes, I have just turned 40. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this year holds little to fear, and much to joy-fully anticipate.

1. Sweeping a football field (not to be confused with “dressing” it, as I had mistakenly called it before learning what the job actually entailed) is significantly more relaxing than sweeping a crowded cafeteria
2. From a 3rd grader, as he watches me spray down a graffiti-style series of math equations from a hallway desk that is infamous for such “artwork”: “Sometimes I try to wipe up some of that. To make your life easier. You guys get paid to wipe off desks; but sometimes it gets boring …”
3. Somehow I doubt that the School Custodian Manual will include a clause addressing “How to handle a dead bird if found sitting on a cafeteria table”

Scent of a season

September 30, 2019

Counting down to 40 …6 days.
We have a routine of Sunday dinners with mom and Lou. I should probably first clarify here that, as literal neighbors, we interact with them on a daily basis (and I oftentimes get the still-giddy-feeling-treat to work alongside mom, if she takes a sub job at my school …I find myself seeking out excuses to go see “my mama” during the school day. And she has been known to create messes that require a radio call to summon the custodian). But the privilege of an evening to just sit down and enjoy a meal together is one that remains, well, just that-a privilege. And a blessing, that I have not yet grown accustomed to in a way that would numb the beauty of it. So tonight, after dinner, the boys went out to take care of the chickens. Mom and I cleaned up a bit in the kitchen, and she mentioned that she had started making vanilla sugar. “Have you heard of it?” she asked. Sure, I’d heard of it. She pointed to the jar in the corner and so I picked it up and, at her invitation, opened the lid. My reaction at this point was, the best I can describe it, meant for grownup eyes alone. Lou and Peter walked in as I was standing there, eyes closed, about to take another hit. Sighing happily, I warned them that they might need to leave the women alone for a bit … in the throes of a scent-gasm. Mom and I had a hearty, heart-filling laugh, and it occurred to me that this moment might just be one of the happy delights of this season of life. Autumn has always been a favorite time of year for me and now, coming to it for the first time in many years (about 15 years now of life in parts of the world where no such season, as we think of it, exists), I cannot take it for granted. Rather than fear what is to come, known and unknown, in this moment I delight in a jar of vanilla sugar and a bit of belly laughter with my mama.

1.When turning on a school sprinkler system for the first time, one would be wise to determine, beforehand, in which direction the water will burst, upon turning the lever.
2. If one is gifted a pair of cute but impractical cat-scratching gloves, and if one has not unloaded one’s car to remove them, they can come in handy as quite-practical gardening gloves.
3. When asked to respond to a bathroom mess, the words “I’m sorry” tacked on to the end of an otherwise normal request can be safely assumed to be a bad sign.
4. Any given day may include any number of wild “things” needing to be taken care of …

*this week’s list is short one item, but I’m considering one of its items a sort of a two-for-one ;-)

1. Every school day includes a race (a half marathon may be an appropriate analogy, considering my previous reference to the daily scrubber routine). The last thing I do each day is clean up after the final round of student lunchtimes. Dependent on them remaining on schedule, this means that my cleanup is some days more rushed than others. Picture day, for instance…the final group of students in for lunch that day also happened to have their photo time scheduled not-quite-right-after-lunch. The logical solution for their teachers was to simply extend their lunchtime. My clock was ticking … and the daily pain in my foot was increasing its intensity with each moment. I was anxious for my own clock out hour, & had to repeat my daily comment to my coworker that, “I can’t finish on time today!” I have begun to say it every day, so that he can roll his eyes and remind me that I said the same thing yesterday, and somehow managed … But this time I was serious! The kids finally filed out and I gritted my teeth and clenched my jaw for a super-speed scrubbing. I somehow managed. Rolling the scrubber towards the closet where we would empty out the dirty water and refill it with the next day’s cleaning solution, I saw that my coworker had already opened the door. Instead of leaving it parked outside as I often do, at which point he takes over, I backed it in and brought it right up to the sink. My coworker was now nearby, so I stepped out and, to make sure he knew that I hadn’t already finished with the machine, I said, “I haven’t unfilled it.” He looked at me quizzically for a moment, then asked “You mean you didn’t empty it?” “Uh …yeah. I guess that would be the actual word for it.” I shook my head at my inadvertent creativity and sighed. “I have lost the ability to speak English, & my foot is about to fall off. I think I’m done now.” Perhaps expecting some sort of sympathy, I waited a moment for a response. He simply shrugged. “Welcome to our world,” he commented, putting his head down and returning to the task at hand.
2. In the world of school custodians and food service workers, one’s ideas of appropriate times of day to be done can shift according to one’s, er, shift. Today I went into the food prep area to get the cleaning solution I use for final table and bench scrubbing. Seeing me, the food service worker apologized that she had gotten distracted and had forgotten, “this evening,” to mix it the solution ahead of time. “No problem,” I assured her. Then I added, “And I love the fact that you also think of this final stretch of the day as ‘evening’ … by 8 I’m pretty much in bed already: 5 o’clock comes early!” She shook her head in a silent, smiling agreement.
3. Ever tried hunting for a diamond in a mop head stack? A teacher list hers yesterday and, as her room houses the washer and dryer we use for mop heads, the newly washed ones are one of the possible searching spots. Describing its shape to me, she admitted that “it would be a miracle” to find it but, well, you never know. She told me the story of a “fairy cross” she lost for 8 years and then found again, laying on the ground by the fence she had walked in and out of, countless times, over the course of those years. “If I find it, I find it. If I don’t, I don’t,” she shrugged, and smiled, thanking me for helping.
4. In between table cleanup, I was standing by the cafeteria wall, watching the activity while waiting for the next group to finish. One 1st grader caught my eye as he pounded on the top of his milk carton. His face reddening with frustration, I began to wonder why the carton was so hard to crush. He increased his focus, putting it next to him in the bench, and using his knee for more force. Still, the carton held strong. I began to silently root for him, Wilkins the stubborn carton to crack. At this point I was distracted by something else happening and turned away from the show. A few minutes later, he struts past me and tosses the carton into the garbage. On his way back to his seat he paused next to me, looked up, and, hands raised with exasperation, announced that, “my milk carton just exploded!” Up until now, I had assumed the carton was empty all along. This new bit of information had me stunned for a moment, as I wondered why, if he had been unsuccessful in his goal (the carton was still intact), he was so intent on making a mess that he had to go out of his way to claim that he had. I decided to call his bluff. “No, it didn’t,” I matter if factly responded. “You tried to smash it.” Clearly not expecting this turn of events, he started to speak, changed his mind, and instead scurried back to his seat. For the rest of his lunchtime, I tried to maintain a stern face as I saw him periodically look over to see where I was and then quickly revert his gaze with a sobered and studious expression.
5. Told ya I’d get up there

1.The dumpster is not my friend. This metal latch + my head, in lunch-rush-high-speed = 🤕
2.A tennis ball on a stick is magic. Apply pressure to black scuff marks on tile floors and, poof, offending spot disappears! When shown this trick, I blurted “that makes my day!” And then, when I promptly erased my first spot, I hollered “I did it!” with a gleeful giggle.
3.Gone fishin’?…cause you never know when you might be summoned to rescue a spoon from a toilet. *presumably, no visual necessary

4. Sometimes I feel like Amelia bedelia. My boss said he needed 4 each of 20 by 20 & 20 by 25. He was pointing at a large box labeled as such at the time. I roamed the storage closets until I located 4 boxes and begin carrying them, 1 by 1. When I arrived at the ladder by the roof with one of the boxes in my arms, reporting to him that I was unable to find 4 of each, he proceeded to take 4 of the filters out of the large box. No, he did not mean 8 boxes; he meant 8 single filters.
5. The roof is my friend. I have not yet climbed the ladder … but was promised that there is no “sexism” in work roles around here (not quite sure how that actually applies in this case but, ah well-I’ll take it). I will get to work on the roof. High places + me = 😆

861CA596-8FCD-4DCC-BD73-15A4A38C4DE3Part 2, to go along with week 2 on the job …

1. “Why can a girl janitor go into the boy’s bathroom ?”
Perplexed for a brief moment, I then had the wits to gesture to the empty room and ask him, “well do you see anyone in there?” He shook his head, no. I shrugged back at him.
2. Children are remarkably inventive when it comes to bathroom messes. Managing to get an industrial size roll of toilet paper wet…while it’s in a covered and locked holder? Check. Smearing the soap from the soap dispenser into an even layer over the floor (envision the complication of mopping this up, if you will)? Check. Sights better left unsaid? Check …
3. One’s personal hierarchy of food items changes significantly when one is the cleanup crew for said food items. Some particularly undesirable items I have encountered thus far? Cheese—any kind. Chocolate cupcakes with rainbow frosting and sprinkles—or any sort of celebratory treat, for that matter. Blueberries—yes, even this delectable fruit has its, er, dark side ;)
4. If night shift does not show up, it is possible-if not preferable-to clean 20 bathrooms before 7:00am.
5. When attempting to hoist industrial size garbage bags into dumpsters, keep in mind that they are not impervious to large quantities of unfinished milk boxes. Depending on how many said boxes are in the bag, it is possible to end up lodged in between the bag and the ground, without managing to get it actually inside the dumpster. If this happens, you will likely end up with a decent amount of milk spilled on you (remember the “not impervious “ part?)

Today marks one week as a full-time school custodian. As much as I would like to just melt into my current exhaustion, in the precious home hours remaining (it is currently 8:00 pm. I start work at 6:00 am), I feel compelled to make real this bizarre reality I have entered—to make it real by putting words to it. So here goes: a rapid-fire shortlist of some of the things I have learned this past week.
1.Children are remarkably observant when a new adult appears in their daily frame of reference. On my 2nd day of the job, one 3rd grader stopped while his class filed out of the cafeteria. I was on my way back in, after responding to a poop call (no, not the official term, but one that is aptly descriptive). He nodded towards the mop bucket I was pulling behind me and asked, “Why do I always see you with that thing?” My reflexive reply? “‘Cause you guys are always making a lot of messes!” He of course shot back with, “Nuh’uh-not me!” Of course not . . .
Today a little one asked me if I was the new janitor. Not sure if I should try to correct her terminology, or explain that I was technically a sub, I simply told her that yes, I was. She triumphantly told me then that she knew it . . . because she had seen me wiping the lunch tables. Yes indeed. That I was. 8 long tables, each comprised of 3 pushed together. Approximately 9 times a day, after each class files in and out, over the course of 2 and 1/2 hours.
2.Industrial backpack-style vacuum cleaners give one the appearance of stepping out of a Ghostbusters movie. Or at least I must assume as much, inspiring ““who ya gonna call?” comments as I walked past classrooms wearing the body-armor-looking gadget.
3.A/C units installed in the ceiling may require occasional mouth-siphoning from a tube if the drainage function is not operating correctly. You may then have a mouthful of water that you do not necessarily want to ingest. You may then need to holler to the nearest teacher, as she stands with her kindergarteners, to fetch you a wad of paper towels into which you may need to spit the offending water. This may or may not have actually happened. I may or may not have been involved in the process.
4.Some people go into a weight room armed with workout gloves, prepared to perform tasks designed to increase their muscle strength. Others go in armed with latex gloves, a leaf blower (to evict a summer’s worth of dust and fossilized critters), and a faithful, ever-present mop bucket.
5.If you spend an hour each day behind an industrial strength mop/scrubbing machine, scouring each spot on a large cafeteria floor, you will feel as if you have just run a half marathon. I can assure you that this is literally true. I have not felt the slightest twinge of physical lack of my formerly daily runs.

sticky connections

July 27, 2019

We are currently in the throes—about halfway through—the long and somewhat tedious process involved in becoming certified as Foster Parents. It is with a significant amount of fear and trembling that we do this; we question ourselves in our ability and/or readiness, and we also question whether or not we will actually be considered qualified (i.e. our present “income” and housing). But what we ended up with, after some emotional conversations about this process, is that, questions still hanging, we’re not ready to close the door on this. It’s not yet a green light; but it’s also not red. And until we get a clear “Stop!” we will keep moving forward. The past few months have had us all over the map, so far as future prospects go, and I think that is ok—not just ok: at this pivotal point in our mid-lives, it feels necessary to test out all our ideas and thoughts, no matter how random, different, or surprising (to ourselves and others) they may be.
It occurred to me today that, even if we do not end up having foster children placed with us, the process itself is good for us. Doing this training together is prompting good, and necessary discussions. Every once in a while, we also get breaks from the legal and logistic talk, and get to do activities like the one that this prompted me to call out (obnoxiously!) to the instructor, “That was fabulous!” [To my credit, she did ask what we thought of it :-)]
So this activity involved a series of sticky notes. We were asked to write down, one word per note, the 6 things that came to mind as our most important life “connections.” We then took our notes with us and walked in a circle while the instructor called out from the center. The idea was that we were traveling, but bus, no less, to Hawaii. But along the way, a series of travel complications required us to give up, one at a time, our connections. At the end, we were left with a single item left. With Peter and I walking together in this circle, some amusing interactions occurred over the course of the activity (i.e. “Watch it honey—you’re on a sticky note right now . . .).
The photo is of my 6 words. Your task, reader, if you choose to accept it, is to guess what order I gave them up in. I’m also curious what other people would choose as your 6 connections, and in what order you might give them up? Comments welcome!