The day I flipped out at the social security office

Sometimes my students become really angry. I can relate.

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Photo: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Teaching middle school is a tough gig. Kids in grades sixth through eighth grade can be loud, impulsive, and frenetic. It’s enough on some days to make me consider finding another vocation. So at the end of a long day when I’m telling myself that there is no way I’m teaching middle schoolers another year, it helps to recall that I, too, can be loud, impulsive, and frenetic.

In fact, I once was so loud, impulsive, and frenetic that someone should have reported me. Someone probably would today.  What makes my story even worse is that my meltdown occurred when I was 26, twice the age of my seventh-graders. It’s embarrassing to recall how immature and idiotic I behaved. But, hey, at least I can empathize with my students when they have their own moments of anger.

Here’s my story. It was 1992, around 4:28 on a hot Thursday afternoon a few months after my wedding day the previous April. I was at the social security office located in a Phoenix office building to fill out a form update my social security account to my new last name.

I turned the knob to open the maple hardwood door. It didn’t turn. Didn’t even budge. So I knocked. No reply. I turned the knob again. Yes, it was definitely locked. I heard the shuffling of papers inside the office. The lights were on. There were people still there and they weren’t letting me in.

I reflected on the situation. I had taken off from work early to arrive before the 4:30 closing time. If the taxpayer-supported personnel on the other side of the door didn’t answer, I grumbled, I would have to do this all over again another day.

I was incensed. I felt cheated. I made a scene. I knocked again. I asked, “Can someone let me in?” I knocked again, this time more loudly. I asked, this time a little louder, “Is anyone there? Could you please just take this form?” It was just a silly form. A piddly piece of paper. Someone just needed to take it from my hand, I thought in desperation.

And so I pounded on the door. I couldn’t think. I was out of control and I didn’t care who saw me. I got down on my hands and knees—in my dress and heels—to look under the door. I could see feet moving around inside. There were whispers. It was now 4:31, a measly minute past closing time. No response. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I would be heard.

I stood back up and continued to pound the door. The adjacent window, conveniently crafted of obscured glass, revealed shapes and shadows within.

“I know you’re in there!” I yelled, continuing to pound. “I can see you moving back and forth! Take this form so I can leave!”

But they didn’t. No one ever answered the door. So I left, angry, red-faced, and embarrassed, knowing with disgust that I would have to return to this hallway within the week.

I came back a few days later well before the closing time and quietly and politely conducted my business. I didn’t even complain about the poor service of a few days earlier, which was probably a mistake in retrospect. Then again, they would have figured out I was the loud, impulsive, and frenetic woman from earlier in the week and might have called security.

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Photo: Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Looking back now at my social security office fiasco demonstrates that anger can get the best of us… even those of us who know better than to throw a tantrum at age 26.

My past experience with such intense anger helps me to empathize with my students today.

And honestly, I’ve only witnessed one to two student meltdowns in my classroom during my years of teaching. I can usually ward off an angry episode with a quickly whispered conversation, or, for another example, an invitation to the student to leave the room to get a drink to literally cool off. Tactics such as these help to diminish the anger.

But anger does happen once in a great while and I totally understand where it comes from.

  • Sometimes students feel powerless. Been there. That’s exactly how I felt that day in that office.
  • Sometimes students feel they’re at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. Done that. At the social security office, my priority did not align with the office personnel’s at that particular moment.
  • Sometimes students yell. Check. It’s just a natural reaction when it seems no one is listening to you.
  • Sometimes they argue. Me, too. We all have ideas we want to communicate.

Yes, I can relate to the frustrations my students feel and how they express those feelings of helplessness and lack of control. In the environment of school–or any other setting where people with different priorities meet up–tensions arise and play themselves out in myriad ways… even so far as taking to the floor in your dress and heels to yell through the crack. Wait—at least my students haven’t tried that yet. Gotta give ’em credit for that.


Thanks for reading! If you found this interesting, please click “like” and feel free to leave a comment. I also write on my teaching blog called elabraveandtrue.com and Medium.com. Check out both sites for more writing. 

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Seize the moment. Or not.

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Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

A ripple of regret dashes across my mind. The clarity of this moment lays bare the brevity of my life.

Have you ever been listening to a news story on the radio, or read an article online about a solar or lunar event that’s about to be visible in your area? A blood moon. An eclipse of some sort. An unusual proximity of the Earth to Venus, for example.

As you’re listening, the announcer concludes with a date or year when the event will occur next. Sometimes the date is far into the future. 2068. 2090. 2092.

This happens to me every so often. Then I do the mental math and quietly recognize that when that celestial event happens next, I’ll likely be gone. I’ll run more numbers in my head and figure out that my kids will be well past retirement. My grandchildren, which don’t even exist yet, will be nearing it.

When I was twelve, I figured out that I would be 35 at the turn of the millennium. It was exciting then to ponder the passage of time. However, now when I think that far ahead, the certainty of experiencing any milestone is not so assured.

I don’t mean to be depressing. I don’t write this to wallow, but to point out often it’s moments like these that cause me to intensely ruminate on my reality, my life, my time on Earth.

Am I doing what I want to do? Am I doing what I consider important work? Does every day serve a purpose? Even if it’s a small purpose, or even if the work seems of little worth, it should still be significant.

With that understanding, you’d think I would make a point to experience each and every celestial happening that comes my way. You’d think I’d stay up late to seize the moment and see those meteors that will never be this visible or frequent again in my lifetime. You’d think I would wake at 2:30 a.m. to gaze at that moon. But I don’t. Sometimes I do, but usually I don’t.

On those occasions when I don’t venture out, I instead silently acknowledge that this is indeed one moment I will not experience again.

A ripple of regret dashes across my mind. The clarity of this existential moment lays bare the brevity of my life. I suspect that one day I might wish I had made the effort to see the rare events of the night sky.

When that day comes, will I instead be content? Will the purpose and significance of my life, despite those moments when I choose not to observe the heavens, offset my occasional apathy and indecision?

When that time comes, I intend to answer “Yes.”


Thanks for reading this little “slice of life” post.  If you found this interesting, click “like” so others may more easily find it. Feel free to leave a comment? Does anyone else skip out on the “last in my lifetime” heavenly events? 

 

My daughter and the peeping tom of Venice

 

It was scary to think how much time and effort this man had put into his actions that night.

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Photo: Msporch on Pixabay

Imagine being 22, female, and in Venice, Italy for a three-month internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. At 2 a.m. on the day your father plans to leave after helping you get settled for a week, you notice that the motion sensor outside your door is lighting up frequently. Too frequently, in fact, for this time of night. In addition, some of the lights are brighter than others. That’s odd.

You also hear strange noises outside. You ask your father to check the exterior heating/AC unit that you assume must be malfunctioning. He discovers not a malfunctioning appliance, but a rickety lawn chair that someone has been using to stand on so they can peek inside your apartment.

Read more about my daughter’s internship experience here.

The peeping tom had made his first appearance earlier that evening, after dark around 7:30. My daughter’s landlord–let’s call her Maria–had come over to help with the t.v. reception and while they were making adjustments, my husband and daughter had both noticed someone outside the apartment loitering in the walkway. They discussed the strange loiterer, but Maria eventually dismissed him, explaining that he was likely just someone from the neighborhood who was curious with the activity in the apartment since it had been vacant for quite some time.

So, in the middle of the night, when my husband ventured outside to check on the furnace and instead found a rickety chair, and a man with frizzy, shoulder-length hair rounding the corner about thirty feet down the corridor, real concern set in. Trying to assess the situation, my husband walked further down the corridor and noticed another lawn chair that had been stepped through around the corner. My husband immediately called Maria, who then immediately called the polizei.

While they waited for Maria and the police to arrive, both my husband and daughter tried to make sense of it all. Upon reflection, they both figured the peeping tom had ruined his first chair while peering in the window, and gone to retrieve another. My daughter also realized that the brighter lights from the motion sensor were more than likely flashes from a camera. Did he deliberately walk back and forth often enough to cause the motion sensor light to camouflage the camera flashes? It was scary to think about how much time and effort this man had put into his actions that night.

Fifteen minutes later, three uniformed police officers were there assessing the situation. Then, unbelievably, the frizzy-haired man sauntered by. Actually, because of the way the walkway turned, there was no way for him to avoid the small gathering without looking suspicious. He tried to play it cool, his camera hanging from his neck.

When my husband recognized the man, he nodded to the police officers who stopped the man and asked what he was doing out so late at night. He replied that he was a photographer taking night shots of the city.

Maria didn’t stand for it. Her Italian temper flared and her arms waved in anger. She accused him of spying and told him to leave the neighborhood and never return. She informed him that a police report was being filed at that moment and if anything happened later, he would be sorry. He was never seen again.

Although this was incredibly scary for me to hear about back in Missouri, it was good to know that, in general, Venice is a quiet municipality known to be “one of Italy’s safest cities.” The full-time resident population in the historic city center has declined dramatically in recent years, and today rests at about 55,000. We had researched the city’s crime statistics before our daughter left on her trip and were reassured. What causes the most trouble for the millions of tourists who visit each year? Pickpockets. What about violent crime? According to Frommers, it’s considered rare.

The next day, my daughter actually considered returning home; maybe this adventure was too much to take on and this incident was a sign that it just wasn’t meant to be. After an anxious day of pondering her options, she decided to stay; however, she did want to find a different apartment.

After attempting and failing to find an alternative rental with the help of my husband (who postponed his return flight for three days), my daughter returned to her original apartment, where Maria assured her she would be safe.

Still, my husband and my daughter took a few precautions. Before leaving, my husband helped her cover the windows with white paper. They figured that if a peeping tom had no view, there would be no temptation. They also made a point to meet the older woman, a Venetian native, living just across the passageway.

Over the next weeks, my daughter got on with her new Italian life. She began working a routine schedule at the museum and truly felt comfortable and at home there. She made many international friends. She became more brave and confident in her new surroundings.

Gradually, her strange experience became a distant memory. Most importantly, she didn’t let the peeping tom’s bad behavior define or detract from one of the most valuable experiences of her life so far. It had been a rough start, but she was determined to thrive.


Thanks for reading! If you found this post interesting, click like so others may more easily find it. Also, feel free to leave a comment on your own strange travel experiences.