Growing Up Catholic: The Generation X Version January 31, 2012

It’s that time again:  Catholic Schools Week.  Since everyone is used to hearing about the Catholic School of the 1950’s and 1960’s, I thought it might be fun to share memories of my own Catholic education:  the Gen X version.  If you think it’s all scarred knuckles, mean nuns and resentment toward the whole institution, then read on; you may be surprised.

The Classroom

Besides learning impeccable penmanship and how to diagram any given sentence, I had some interesting religion classes.  It surely was not all Bible study, Church history and sacrament preparation.  As we got older, our conversations centered around relationships and ethics.  My senior year was spent doing Christian service, which meant tutoring kids at the elementary school.

One of my fondest memories was when Father Jerry would come visit for middle school religion class.  He wore Jesus sandals with socks all year round, and his sense of humor brought a unique entertainment value to his sermons.  Instead of just preaching to us, he brought in Bible stories re-written by guys in prison.  At the same time it was not uncommon to run into him walking out of the grocery store with diapers in hand for a young mother in need.

The Lunchroom

For all the flack that hot lunch takes nowadays, I have to admit that my hot lunch career at Catholic school was pretty darn good.  There were exceptions of course.  Tuna casserole.  Shepherd’s Pie.  And something called “Slow Boat to China”.  However the best part was the homemade, buttery bread (or sometimes rolls) baked fresh daily.  Oh what I would give to taste that bread again! 

Weekly Mass

I clearly remember celebrating mass with Father Hogan every week in the K-3 building.  We did not have a church nearby, so we celebrated on the second floor of the building.  There was a huge rug in the middle of the floor, flanked by two classrooms on each side.  Every grade hunkered down right there on the giant rug, and an altar was rolled out from the cloak room.  Each week a class was in charge of planning the mass, so students would do readings, pick the songs, etc.  At that age, we stuck to songs that we all memorized and shouted out with joy.  Songs with titles like “Friends are like Flowers” and “His Banner Over Me, His Love.”  There were always little actions which went with each song.  I remember them to this day, especially one song which I’ll just call “I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart”.  Our favorite verse was, “And if the devil doesn’t like it he can sit on a tack…OUCH!”  As we said “Ouch!” our little butts would jump in the air with glee.  (Yes, sometimes it got a little wild.) 

Later, in the 4th and 5th grade building, we would do an annual May crowning.  A fifth grade girl would be chosen by her classmates to be the May queen, and she’d have the honor of putting the bouquet of flowers on the statue of Mary.  Everyone else would bring a silk flower and make a big canopy of flowers for her to walk through.  Because of this, two of my favorite hymns are May crowning songs:  “On This Day Oh Beautiful Mother” and “Queen of the May”.

In junior high it was all about the Stations of the Cross for me.  Every year I wanted to read Station Six:  Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus.  I never got to; some other lucky girl always got it.  Not that I’m bitter.

The Uniforms

What would Catholic school be without a uniform?  From first grade until fifth grade it was a little plaid jumper.  Once I reached sixth grade it was the plaid uniform skirt.  Only certain solid colors could be worn with the uniform:  white, light blue, navy blue, or red. Being a little style maven, I lived for “dress up days” where I could wear my civilian clothes.  In the meantime I did everything I could to be as “non-uniformy” as possible.  Or at least as preppy as possible.  I wrapped Swatch watches around my ponytail.  I had monogrammed button down collars and sweaters from the JcPenney catalog.  I even tried suspenders and knit ties (it was the 80’s, people).  I once wore leggings until some anonymous tribunal decided that they were not acceptable.  Scandalous.

Sex Education (Yes, you’re reading that correctly.)

Some people may be surprised to hear that we had sex ed class.  In fifth grade we were told the basics (a real Ah Ha moment for me), but in eighth grade we had a full out sex education weekend.  It included a priest and some married couples from the area.  The best part was that at the end of each day we could all submit anonymous questions about absolutely anything for the panel of married couples to answer.  Sure, you didn’t hear anything like “Wow, sex sure feels incredible!” but I bet we got more honest answers than a lot of kids do nowadays.

p.s.  The weekend started with the priest naming off all of the slang words he knew for sex.  Unfortunately, I was sitting next to the girl with the most infectious laugh known to mankind.  Jessica, you know who you are.

Why do I tell these stories?  Sure, they may be entertaining, and I would like more people to know what it was really like growing up in Catholic school, not what they hear on television or from music lyrics or from fictional books.  However, I mostly tell these stories because I want to revive our Catholic Schools.  Some of these same traditions and surely plenty new ones are happening every single day in these schools.

I often think of and pray for my own school which has been struggling to stay open for several years due to low enrollment.  People say “it’s not like it used to be.”  Well, of course it’s not; it’s hard to offer the same experiences to a high school of 50 kids as opposed to 500 kids in 1964, or even 150 kids in the 1980’s.  It’s nice to see local alumni still contributing to the school.  However, the best gift they could give would be sending their own kids to the school.  Like other religious schools, no one is turned away if they cannot afford the tuition.

It’s Catholic Schools Week.  Check it out.


Sh*t that Twelve-Year-Olds Say January 30, 2012

Filed under: Humor — aniederkorn @ 9:25 pm
Tags: , ,

My sister-in-law (a middle school teacher) once told me that middle school is such a “totally fun” age to teach.  Ha, ha, I snorted… surely you can’t be serious.  Yet she insisted.  Not only are they funny, she told me, but they still think that you are funny.  They haven’t yet graduated into thinking that all adults are lame and therefore not possibly funny.

Now to be honest, “funny” was not the first adjective that came to mind when I thought of middle schoolers.  Annoying, obnoxious, smelly and disrespectful would probably come way ahead of funny, along with about fifty other adjectives.  Most of the time, a middle schooler’s idea of funny involves bodily functions and Adam Sandler movies.  Yes, I was a skeptic.  That is, until my husband spent a little time with one twelve-year-old girl in particular.

Here’s a sample.

First, she hit him with a random comment:

“Mr. Niederkorn, did you know that if you’re a midget you can get a disability check from the state?”

Next, a rational yet hilarious statement:

“Yeah, at the dance I wanted them to play ‘Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones, but they said it wasn’t appropriate.  But they played ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ like five times.  What’s up with that?”

And lastly, the comment-you-shouldn’t-laugh-at-but-can’t-help-it:

My husband:  Now you can’t be talking like that, that’s not appropriate.

Twelve-year-old:  What do you mean?

My husband:  You just used two derogatory words.  You can’t be talking like that, using the words ‘lesbos’ and ‘gay’ like that.

Twelve-year-old:  No!  ‘Gay’ is the name of the lady my uncle is marrying!  All the kids in her family have three letter names!  Her name is ‘Gay’!

Apparently I stand corrected.


How to be a Green Bay Packers Fan January 2, 2012

Filed under: Humor,Sports — aniederkorn @ 2:41 pm
Tags: , , ,

Last month a poll from Public Policy Polling came out declaring that the Green Bay Packers were now “America’s Team”.  My first reaction was, “THIS is news?  Of course they’re America’s team; everyone knows that they surpassed the Dallas Cowboys years ago!”  Well apparently now it’s official, and the Pack came out way ahead of any other team.

If you are currently not a Green Bay Packers fan, well, I’m sorry to hear that.  However, there is still hope for you.  First of all, you need to know that we don’t appreciate anyone just jumping on the bandwagon.  Once you’re a Packers fan, you stay a Packers fan, even if the team has a losing record and the quarterback is recording covers of Poison ballads. 

I understand this can be a huge decision for you, so you should take your time thinking it over.  My own husband struggled with this very same decision several years ago.  A former Minnesota resident, he grew up a Vikings fan (shiver) and yet I married him anyway.  I cringed every time I saw the bright gold and purple Cris Carter jersey hanging in his closet.  But then one day he came to me, sat me down, and told me that he was thinking about making a major change in his life.  This was not the look of a man who had decided to finally join a gym or pursue some new hobby.  The look on his face was deadly serious, and my brain was buzzing with the possibilities.  Was he joining the clergy?  Changing political parties? (Oh Sweet Jesus let it be that!)  Finally admitting that flat front chinos look better than pleated ones?  Nope, it turned out that he was converting to a Green Bay Packers fan.  I knew he would  eventually wise up. 

As for the rest of you considering your own conversion, I thought I would provide some simple rules before you make your decision.  Here are my five rules for How to be a Green Bay Packers Fan:

1)       Learn how to pronounce “Green Bay” correctly.  You’d think this would be simple, but sports announcers and non-Wisconsinites get it wrong all the time.  The emphasis is on the “Bay”, not on the “Green”.  Don’t ever say GREEN Bay; it’s a dead giveaway that you are not an authentic fan.

2)      If attending the games, be a knowledgeable fan.  That is, when Aaron Rodgers is calling out the plays, you keep your mouth shut.  When we’re on defense, you scream your head off.

3)      Learn how to park your car on a lawn.  Again, on game day there are a lot of Lambeau Field area families depending on that parking fee income to send their kid to college.  Pay the fifteen bucks (a steal compared to other franchises) and park your car in a neat and orderly fashion on their front lawn, allowing the good folks to maximize their parking space income.

4)      Learn to live without personal space.  If you are at Lambeau in the winter wearing thirty layers of clothes, things are going to get tight.  Don’t be afraid to get cozy with your neighbor so that the poor sap at the end doesn’t have one cheek off the bench.

5)      Be a courteous fan.  In Green Bay we help our neighbors flag down the beer guy, pass down the beverages and their change, then offer them our extra hand warmers.  We’re friendly; it’s what we do. 

If you can follow these simple rules (along with the aforementioned lifetime devotion), then congratulations…you may be well on your way to becoming an official fan of America’s team.