Monday, June 28, 2010

For Someone Determined to Leave Traveling Behind...

For someone determined to leave traveling behind, I manage to do an awful lot of it.  Drove east across New York State last weekend to celebrate an anniversary:

Then west across New York state, this past weekend, for a bachelorette:

Except for me, who was more like:

Ha!  Just joking.  I just couldn't resist that picture.  I only stayed for the first hour of the party but I was quite happy and content, because not only did I have plenty of old friends to catch up with, but there were also plenty of these, to console me about all the wine I wasn't drinking:

 And now we're thinking of driving to Boston next weekend, to celebrate the fourth of July, in this:

It's my hubby's new car, and you know what sold me on it?  The part of the review that read:
"Overall, this would be a fine vacation hauler for a young family."
Except we got an '09 instead of a '10.  Woot woot for the slightly used car!  That's still under warranty!  Apparently I am destined for the open road, no matter my proclaimed feelings on the matter.  But Boston is far from a certainty, at this point.  Just a possibility.  After all, we've been traveling the past two weekends, and then we fly down south for a week, which will involve a multi-state road trip on top of a plane ride, in two weeks.  And then we're going to Connecticut in late August for my sister's wedding.   But who wouldn't want to be in Boston for the fourth?  To see these:

Oh boy.  The travel bug has bitten.  It's an addiction, and I don't know if I'll ever recover.  What's worse, I'm not even sure if I want to.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Large Plans Writ Small

We were invited to a weekend party last Saturday, celebrating ten years of marriage for some old friends of ours.  We met them in Arizona, and there were six of us who got married that year, three couples in the same summer, all meeting on the west coast, and marrying on the east: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.  It was Massachusetts who celebrated this weekend.  We were planning to camp in their big backyard, but our air mattress pump exploded in the car on the way there (necessitating a short stop at a wildflower sanctuary, where we aired out the car and waited for the smell of whatever chemical was hissing from the pump into our vehicle to dissipate).  So we had no air mattress, and then the toddler displayed a marked reluctance to sleep in an unfamiliar environment when it came time for his sorely needed afternoon nap.  We ended up driving there in the morning, and home again in the evening.  It was a long, but beautiful drive across New York State, and our son slept much of it, giving us a chance to talk and reflect on our own upcoming ten year anniversary.

I've always liked big plans.  If we're going to Texas and Louisiana to visit the in-laws, I'm all about stopping to see any friends we can along the way, or researching campsites, cities, towns and sightseeing along the way.  We hosted Thanksgiving the month after we moved into our new house, even though it meant sitting on folding chairs, and we held my sister's engagement dinner on our deck where the families of the bride and groom first met.  We've probably hosted a big party for family or friends at least once annually since we got married.  So when my husband suggested that we, like the friends we were on our way to visit, host a huge get together later this summer to celebrate our tenth anniversary, and we began to talk about a guest list and menu, I was surprised to find myself feeling a mounting sense of dread rather than excitement.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I waited half a decade to have children after I felt ready, or that I didn't bother to substantially grow up in almost any area of my life until after I was 30 (no career, house or children until after that), but I really don't miss being in my twenties at all.  I don't miss going to bars or parties.  I don't miss having a big group of friends with whom I lounged around, wasting time by the hour (although I miss and still love the people, I don't miss that phase of my life).  I don't miss going out unencumbered by children.  I don't miss late nights, or lazy days with no babies hanging on my limbs.  Don't get me wrong; I loved it.  At the time.  But, God, do I love what I've got now, and for right now: I love it so much more.  I wouldn't give a single one of my messy mommy days for a blast from the past.  I'll get those days back again, some time when my children are older and less in need of my limbs for crawling and cuddling, and my attention for teaching and soothing, and my whole heart for every minute they're awake and in need of mama.  And, honestly, I'm in no hurry.  I'd slow it down if I could.

One of the biggest changes for me, since becoming a mother, is that I've gone from very, very fly-by-the-seat of my pants to very, very routine-oriented.  My husband is a happy man, as he's always preferred routine, and I've always been tearing him from it, dragging him into whatever next adventure I could find.  Suddenly I'm settled, at long last, and it's as if I was born to be this way.  I love the rhythm of knowing what comes next, and how my son will respond.  I love the way the rhythms and routines of the day offer so many opportunities to teach, and so teaching my son flows naturally from what we do each morning, afternoon and evening.  I love the lull of sameness, like a slow song playing in the background on repeat.  I honestly don't know who's most comforted by it: myself, my husband or my son!

And a huge summer party to plan?  Waaayyy outside of the routine.  Way, way outside of it.  So far outside that it will not only disturb the routine of the day itself, it threatens the routine of my whole dang summer!  Planning and purchasing, and budgeting, and cleaning, and landscaping, and to-do lists with a definitive date hanging over our heads, and ..... no.  I'm just not up for it.  I've done it before, and someday I'm sure I'll do it again, but hosting huge parties, much like traveling, is something I feel no sadness in setting aside for the time being.  Much like I felt no sadness in setting aside stable employment for the whole decade of my twenties.  Heh.

On Father's Day morning, I let my husband sleep in, and when he awoke we hit the grocery store for fresh bagels, cream cheese, and strawberries for the kiddo and myself, and a sandwich of his choice from the sub shop for daddy on his special day.  Then we drove to a favorite park, with a playground overlooking a lake, and ate breakfast out of grocery bags at a picnic table.  We timed it so the toddler would fall asleep on the drive home and segue into a peaceful afternoon nap.  It was simple.  And it was good.

We decided to book a small cabin on a beautiful beach about an hour north of our home for a long weekend to celebrate our tenth anniversary.  We can drive there easily after I get out of work that afternoon, and toss most of the food we need in a cooler.  There's a pizza place/pub right near the cabin, and it's a half mile walk to the beach.  I'm so looking forward to our regular routine, replacing beach with work in the morning, sticking with the afternoon nap, cooking a simple dinner over a camping grill, or grabbing slices at the pizzeria with a cold beer for my hubby in the evening.  Watching the sun set over the water, and walking a short half mile back to our temporary home for a few short days of simple sameness.  Right now, nothing could sound better to me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day: Thank You!

My dad owned an auto repair shop with his brothers and his dad for the first half of my life at home.  He taught auto mechanics to high school students for the second half.  He always had a shop in our garage, and the smell of a shop makes me think of my dad to this day.

When I went away to college for the first time, there was an auto shop between my apartment and the campus that I walked past every day on my way to class, right before hopping a fence and cutting through a cemetery.  It was usually closed in the morning on my way in, but open and lively when I passed it on my way home in the late afternoon or early evening.  One night after passing the shop, I wrote this poem for my dad, upon returning to my first apartment after leaving my childhood home.

Missing My Dad
 Walking by garages in the twilight,
weathered box buildings, 
lit with florescent bulbs.

Small black pools of engine fluids

staining cement floors;

red steel tool shelves

cluttered with contrivances of the trade.

And the unmistakable scent

of motor oil and men's sweat

intermingling in the autumn air.

I fall in love with men with dirty hands

because of you, Dad.

And to my husband, a man with constantly dirty hands, I can only say:

Thank you so very, very much, on this Father's Day, for making me a mother.  
Thank you -forever- for giving me this:

The brand new father is behind the lens of his very first Father's Day gift, 
his new Nikon, received a month before the birth of his first child, and well worth the early gifting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Climbing the Wreckage

I want a man with the heart of a poet, and the hands of a day laborer.  I want a house, built by you, entirely from driftwood, kindling, bent nails, old bricks and glue.  I want you to carry me over the threshold of that house like a brand new bride, though it's been almost a decade, and I'm pregnant, and heavy.  I want you to carry me like a whisper, and when I look around at the inside of my newly built abode, I want you to whisper lines of Rilke in my ear like a promise, or a prayer.

You want a woman like a cloud, you can sink into, rest, and float.  You want a woman who carries you to the sky without ever thinking about it.  You want to paint castles in that sky, and turn them over like blueprints into my open, eager hands.  You want driftwood and kindling to align just right, and bent nails to straighten like magic under your wand.  You want that wand to be hammer and paintbrush and pencil, and you never want to choose between them, for even a moment in your life.  You want me to cup you in my hands like I could hold you forever without the slightest effort.

We have a house with crooked walls, and cracks where the foundation is gently sinking into a steep hill, half covered in ivy, and half in weeds.  I imagine lottery winnings like a to-do list written by a structural engineer.  I want to win big and pay off all our student loans.  You want to splurge on a car with a muffler that works.  In our backyard lies a large pile of oak planks, a pallet from a garage knocked down without the proper permit, and a ladder we acquired somewhere neither of us can quite recall.
    On Saturday, right after we buy our groceries at the Farmer's Market, we can climb that pile.  We'll watch for nails, and make our son wear his shoes.  I'll insist sandals are fine; there aren't that many nails, after all, and I always cut corners.  You'll shake your head at me, but hold our hands tight, and keep us safe.  I'll pretend you're carrying me, like a bride over the threshold.  You can pretend I'm lifting you up like a cloud, if you want.  But we'll both have to climb to get to the top of that pile, and chances are it will be raining, and slippery, and the mosquitoes are getting bad out there lately; have you noticed?

    But let's climb anyway.  Let's climb that pile of wreckage, which is what we really have, here today, out of all our big, silly dreams.  It's oak, you told me, and it will burn long next winter when we use it in the fireplace.  And it was free.  I found it on freecycle, and you loaded into the back of your loud, broken station wagon that, I'm sorry, we still can't afford to fix.  Not this paycheck, and maybe not the next one.  But let's climb the pile of broken, battered dreams in our yard, and shout lines from Rilke into the rain, and let's show our boy that the climbing, the scrambling toward the dreams, is the part that makes you laugh the loudest, and the longest.  There's not always enough laughter in the big dreams, but there's so much laughter in slipping, and in falling.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    What We're Up To

    Watching and listening to every version of this song available on youtube.  The first time I heard it, I was a teacher's assistant at a child care center in college.  I loved it, and found it oddly haunting.  Now it's my son's favorite lullaby.  Here are our favorites.  If you only watch one, choose the last one.  Despite the lack of visuals, and the weird presence of Baby Bear from Sesame Street, it's hands down the best rendition of the song I've ever heard.  My sweet baby boy sits on my lap and we are still, silent and mesmerized.  Enjoy!

    Best version with visuals:

    Best live version:

    Best listening version:

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Superwoman's Secret

    I woke--45 minutes early--to the sound of a crying toddler, who was, himself, awake 90 minutes early.

    I rescued him from the crib, and I cuddled and comforted.  I provided toys as distraction.  I escaped for a quick shower.  I provided crayons as distraction.  I switched a load of laundry and got dressed.  I provided food as distraction.  I packed breakfasts and lunches and drinks and snacks.  I lured our kitty cat from her haven in the backyard so as to provide one more foolproof distraction.  I switched and folded a final load of laundry, and packed the car.  I hurried to use the bathroom before we left, as this baby appears to favor my bladder as its most comfortable resting spot.  Miraculously, we made it out of the house on time, and completed the babysitter drop off and work commute without further complications.

    I arrived at work to a mailbox full of new documents to peruse.  I booted up my computer.  I made a bagel.  I skimmed documents.  I attended an impromptu kitchen meeting while buttering my bagel.  I checked our program's database for updates.  I delivered necessary documents to the classroom, stopping quickly in the restroom on the way.  Our first student arrived early with her toddler, and our school day began.

    I cuddled the toddler, because she is a marvelous cuddler, and because her greeting is a flying leap through midair, landing in my arms, limbs wrapping tightly around my waist and neck.  In the face of such a greeting, what choice does one have, really, other than to cuddle?  I took her to the classroom, and set her up with a big fat paintbrush, a fresh cup of water, and a brand new package of watercolor paints.  I sat across from her with the latest database printout, and my own records, to cross reference.  We worked hard together, comparing, contrasting and combining: her colors and my figures, while we waited for the other teachers and students to arrive.

    I kept one eye on the classroom gate, awaiting the rest of our crew.  A rambunctious baby was carried in, attempting to escape her infant carseat, and clamoring for a bottle.  A tired toddler rolled in, running late, and needing a quiet space to sit and prepare for the busy morning ahead.  Two teachers appeared, bearing apple juice and cereal.  I held hands, guided children to chairs, poured cereal, laid out thick mats for almost-crawling babies to safely explore, took attendance, greeted and sent parents to various rooms for testing or tutoring.  Then I ran to use the bathroom, and retreated to my office to analyze data and write reports.

    I cross-referenced the first report and discovered three errors that will take us from noncompliance to compliance for the month of May.  I added them to a master list of changes to send our data entry person.  I raced from my office to the classroom to teach a parenting class.  I took one look around at the particular group of parents present, tossed my lesson plan to the wind, and pulled a new, more appropriate plan out of thin air.  I assigned an exercise, sprinted back to my office, procured new supplies, stopped at the copier to make copies, ran back to the classroom.  I taught my new lesson.  Class dismissed!

    I printed reports for an afternoon meeting.  I organized information.  I ate bites of lunch in between receiving and replying to text messages, photocopying papers for all parties expected, cross-referencing columns of data, taking notes, and discussing potential problems and possible solutions with a colleague.  I ran to the bathroom right before the start of the meeting and noticed a pair of baby pajamas, clean and unfolded, next to the changing table.  A new mom had been searching for a clean outfit for her daughter who had wet right through the diaper and soaked her clothes, and she'd left the extra, unchosen outfit out.  I stopped to touch the soft, white, fluffy fabric before folding it and putting it away in the extra clothing bin, where it will wait for another such accident, sure to occur before too long.  I daydreamed about my own sweet baby-to-be, and smiled at the thought of adorable brand-new baby pajamas, while I emptied my bladder for the umpteenth time.

    I attended the meeting.  I presented the latest findings from our program data.  I fielded questions, and made notations, and helped to brainstorm, and when the meeting ended I sat alone with piles of paperwork, and tracked down answers, and recorded them, and finally I stacked the piles of paperwork, dropped them on my desk, made a pit stop at the restroom on the way out, and drove home.

    I cooked lasagna.  While my husband cooked lasagna (even Superwoman has her kryptonite), I hugged and kissed my son, and switched and folded laundry, and changed into sweatpants, and read stories about pokey puppies and scrawny lions, and youtubed nursery rhymes, and sang along, and tidied the living room, and sent an e-mail, and checked a voice mail, and switched another load of laundry, and read another small stack of books.  Then I sat down with my family and we shared some delicious lasagna.

    And then, at the very end of this long, productive day, I went into the bathroom one last time, sat down, suddenly noticed seams where there shouldn't be any seams, and realized ..... my underwear have been inside out.

    All day long.  And this is the first time, in my many, many stops today, that I have noticed a single thing.

    If today I am Superwoman, and cooking is my kryptonite, perhaps this is the source of my power?  I might just have to try it again tomorrow, in order to find out for sure.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    VBAC Attack

    So, the big surprise at my first OB-GYN visit in this pregnancy came after he said:  So, you had a c-section last time.  What are your thoughts about what you'd like to do this time?

    I went into a little stream-of-consciousness spiel about how I'd like to try for a VBAC this time.  Last time, I kind of talked myself into natural childbirth by reading a million midwifery books.  Although I really wanted an epidural, I talked myself into going natural.  And it didn't work out, but I wasn't heartbroken over my cesarean section, and I wouldn't be heartbroken over another one.  But I'd like to give it a shot with a VBAC, but this time I was pretty sure I wanted an epidural (I eventually got one last time too, but the circumstances were all ass-backwards and anti-birth-plan-ish).

    And he waited patiently for my spiel to come to an end, and then he very kindly, and with much regret, informed me that the practice, due to a recent internal battle, no longer allows VBACs.  Nor does the hospital where I delivered last time.  Honestly, I think he was more disappointed than I.

    He told me my options were to agree to a scheduled cesarean, switch to a VBAC-friendly practice, or: you can pretend to agree throughout your pregnancy, and then simply refuse the surgery.  No one can force you to have surgery against your will.  That's assault.  Of course, that would be a difficult and uncomfortable choice, and it's completely up to you.  I'm just informing you of all your options.

    I would never in million years choose that last option.  But I just love that he offered it!  It's as if I walked into a dealership to buy a minivan, and the salesman showed me a hot little Harley Davidson, and then told me that there were very few women toting infants and toddlers in sidecars, but if I were up for it, well ..... he just wanted to be sure I knew about all my options.

    Just in case I happened to be, you know, a TOTAL BADASS!  Willing to FIGHT, for my RIGHT, to VeeeeeeBAC, while in labor!

    Which I'm most definitely not.  But it never hurts to be mistaken for one.

    So I decided to switch practices, and was referred to a new one by a coworker who recently delivered a 10 pound, 10 ounce baby boy via VBAC.  Either she's a rock star, the doctor's a miracle worker, or there's a little bit of both going on.  I'm not above hanging out with the two of them, hoping some of that magic dust rubs off on me!

    Although I am sincerely hoping to have a smaller baby this time.  My son was 9 pounds, 15 ounces, and I'm sure that was a factor in my failure to deliver him vaginally.  Also, his head was gigundous (and still is, my beloved little bighead!).  Now, my husband weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces at birth, and his noggin' is also on the large-and-in-charge side, so we might be battling some big (pun intended) genetic tendencies here, but it's certainly worth a shot to try and build an ittier-bittier bambino this time around.

    The doc said one option is to go on a diabetic diet, even though I'm not diabetic, because any spikes in blood sugar act as a growth hormone on an unborn baby.  The bad part of this option involves pricking my fingers with pins all the time to measure blood sugar.  The good part involves potentially avoiding pushing a ten pound toddler out of my lady parts.  I'm willing to give it a try.

    So baby and I will be bonding in a most unusual way.  We're going on a diet together.  Expect to see us looking slim and trim, with a stylish little bump, in the latest maternity wear.  Just a teeny, tiny fetus and his badass mama, rockin' it (hopefully) VBAC style for the coming season.

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Memes, High School, Handwriting, and Destiny's Child Rewritten

    The first time I heard of a meme, it had nothing to do with the internet.  It was a magazine article about how ideas spread throughout cultures. I found it fascinating.  I remember that it relied heavily on "The Simpsons" as evidence for the existence of memes.

    The first time I ever met NES, it was the first day of ninth grade.  I came from a small, Catholic school.  She came from a small, Jewish school.  We met outside our large, public, inner city high school, and we had no idea how to find the classroom for role call.  It turned out to be in the basement.  We turned out to be friends who, lo and behold, are still friends some twenty years later.  Twenty years!?  But yes, this fall.  Wow!  We are clearly much too young for that number to make any sense whatsoever.

    The first time I heard that some schools are neglecting to teach cursive, I debated my husband and sister, who were horrified by this idea, and practically proclaimed it the end of civilization as we know it (okay, perhaps I exaggerate slightly).  I kept coming back to: who cares!  As you can see below, I'm all about the cursive/print hybrid.  This is a particularly messy sample, as my toddler was celebrating my apparent resemblance to a jungle gym by climbing me while I wrote.

    Wanna join the meme?  Consider this an open invite, and see below for the rules of the game!  Write on!

    Write down the following, snap a picture (or scan the document), post it, and tag others.

    1. Name/Blog Name

    2. Right handed, left handed or both

    3. Favorite letters to write: I was stuck here.  I like loopty loops, but even I'm not entirely sure what that last letter is.  W?  U?

    4. Least favorite letters to write:  That last letter is supposed to be a capital Q.  No clue how to make one, except that it looks like the number 2.  And I don't like it. 

    5. Write: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

    6. Write in caps:

    7. Favorite song lyrics:  This is a song I made up, after hearing Destiny's Child sing "Jumpin' Jumpin'" on the radio with my son.  It's my favorite song today, mainly because it is carved into my brain like a surgeon professionally implanted it.  I figured I shouldn't be teaching him about ballas with full-grown pockets quite yet.  Our version goes:
    Baby, leave your mama at home/ Playground's full of kids and they got toys of their own/ Baby, leave your daddy at home/ It's 11:30 and the playground's JUMPIN' JUMPIN'!
    8. Tag 7 people:  I am a terrible tagger, but that's why I issued an open invite!  Happy handwriting!

    9. Any special note or drawing:  I doodle my name ALL the time.  Either I'm a failed graffiti artist, still practicing my tag in vain, or I'm a narcissist.  I blog.  You decide.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010


    When I was a girl, my mother told me that the reason women do more cleaning than men is because "men don't see the dirt".  If women wait for men to see the dirt, so that they will clean it, it's the women who will have to suffer through a long drawn-out period with an unbearably dirty house.

    I remember thinking at the time:  Oh, I can outwait a man.  I can not see the dirt.

    In this one small circumstance, I was right, and my mother was wrong.

    There are some ways in which I inhabit stereotypes of masculinity.  There are some ways in which my husband is more in tune with what's been pigeonholed as feminine.  I would love to report that he sees the dirt so quickly, and then takes care of it so seamlessly, that I can amble in like the bumbling husband on a sitcom or a commercial for dish detergent, and find only clean counter tops and streak free glasses, and never goldfish crackers ground into the floor, but alas, in this regard, we are more like a caricature of two men married to one another.  Neither of us particularly notices the dirt.  Or, if we notice, the sight does not move us enough to keep things constantly sparkling.  Like I said in my last post, we catch as catch can, and content ourselves with mediocrity.

    No, this is not really about housework, which is equally shared in our home.  It's about emotional temperament.

    And in this, I have always felt more male than female.  I am detached, and compartmentalize my feelings.  When I struggle emotionally, I withdraw.  Typically, I am even-tempered and slow to anger.  When angry, I am logical to a fault (and I do mean a fault.  It's incredibly annoying to argue with me!  I have all the answers, and what's more:  I'm always right.).  I want to process quickly, find solutions, and move on.  I am also inattentive and oblivious to my surroundings.  I don't notice things like new haircuts, or outfits, or where in that pile of crap on the countertop my keys could possibly be hiding.

    My husband is very emotional.  He feels things deeply, and is quickly moved to anger, frustration or sadness.  He processes with his heart, rather than his mind, and there is no place for logic when emotion is at the fore.  He often calls himself a "moody bastard," and I do my best to bite my tongue, so as not to shout out: hear, hear!  Still, I coddle, and cajole while he's in the clutches of these moods, and although it can take a while, he eventually works his way out of their grip.  He is, on the other hand, incredibly attentive to detail, and notices and remembers little things about people and places that I easily overlook.  He also finds my keys and sunglasses all the freakin' time, and without bitterness.  I moved directly from my mom finding my things, to my husband, and if left to my own devices I think I'd have to get multiple body piercings and hang all of my belongings directly on my own body.  Knowing me, this still might not be sufficient.

    I was talking with my sister this weekend.  She has a daughter three months younger than my son.  She's due with her second baby three weeks before I'm due with mine.  She has a feeling she's having a boy this time, and thus far, no strong feelings for me: I'm just curious about whether I'll have a boy or a girl.  We were talking about gender, and the expectations and reactions it provokes in parents, as well as other people.  Her daughter is a beautiful girl, and people stop her all the time to tell her how adorable she is.  My sister is concerned about this because her daughter (not yet two), is beginning to get dressed in the morning and then turn to her mom and ask: adorable?  I thought it was interesting because that's something I don't even think about with my son.  Sometimes I say to him: you're just so CUTE!  But he's never picked up on it or repeated it back to me, and to worry about it simply never crossed my mind.  I don't anticipate a lifetime in which he'll be judged first and foremost on his appearance.

    My son has my temperament, and for this I am grateful.  There are many things I hope he inherits from his father: his artistic aptitude, work ethic, cooking skills, superior visual-spatial abilities, creativity and problem solving, his good looks, and the way he throws his whole heart into everything he does.  But I'm glad he has my sunny temperament, and I'm grateful I inherited the same temperament from my father.

    So now comes the time when I admit something I'm not particularly proud of.  If my son were to have inherited his father's temperament, I think I would indulge him, the same way I indulge it in my husband.  An emotional temperament is the flip side of sensitivity, and so I can forgive it in the male species, where sensitivity is considered a rare and coveted trait.

    But if I have a girl with her father's temperament?  I think it will be hard for me to be equally accepting.  Because girls are stereotypically sensitive, emotional, moody.  Because I am not.  Because I don't really get people who are, and I don't expect to get boys and men, so I can chalk it up to the great unknown, and be happy my husband is so loving and attentive.  Because my husband will never be a teenager under my care, and my son will be a stranger in a strange land while he navigates teenage boyhood, where a daughter will be walking a path I walked once, and it might be harder to separate myself from her.

    This is all empty conjecture, at this point.  Perhaps I will have another boy.  Perhaps I will have a girl with the sunniest of spirits, and she will make my son look like a great big grump in the shadow of her perpetual cheer.  We won't know, for quite some time now.  But it's funny how we wonder, and worry, and weigh possibilities in the interim, while we wait.  Or at least I do.  My husband is less likely to follow every "what if" to its possible outcome.  I'm the one always imagining what the future might be, tracing endless narratives to their various conclusions, weaving tales to tame the unknown.  And isn't that just like a woman?  ;-)

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    Housework. Meh.

    I grew up the oldest girl of six.  My husband grew up the only child of a single mother.  We're both used to being in charge.  But I expect chaos and for things to rarely go according to plan.  He expects plans to be followed, and timelines to be adhered to.

    We've been married almost a decade now, and the way it mostly works is that we split things up.  I'm in charge of certain things; I do them my way.  He's in charge of other things; he does them his way.  When he offers to help me, I know that I shouldn't accept the help unless I'm willing to let go of the way I want them done.  Micromanaging doesn't work for me, and being micromanaged doesn't work for him.

    I don't offer to help him unless I'm willing to be what we quite openly call "little slave".  He doesn't want help; he wants a robot that he can program to follow precise instructions.  So when I walk into the kitchen and say:  Hey, I don't mind being little slave right now, if you want some help with dinner, he knows he can get the only kind of help he really wants:  I want you to cut these potatoes, but they need to be exactly this big, and it's best if you cut them this way first, and then this way, and you should really use this knife, wait!  Can I just show you first?  Okay, now you try.  Okay, but try holding the potato at this angle before you cut it.  I've found that works best.  Okay, that's pretty good.  I can show you again if you want.

    I don't help him very often, but there are those lucky days when the stars align and I don't mind being mercilessly bossed around.

    If he's the Kitchen Nazi, I'm the Laundry Tyrant.  I've flatly forbidden him to separate clothes.  My whites turned pink and brand new clothes shrunk down to doll-sized a few times too many, and he's officially off duty.  I can be almost asleep, and if he so much as mentions switching a load over to the dryer, I jump out of bed faster than a fighter jet, and just as furious, racing down to the basement to be sure my perfect piles of whites, darks, brights, warm delicates, cool delicates, towels, baby clothes and other-according-to-tagged-instructions are not disturbed.

    The kitchen is his domain; the laundry is mine.  The rest is shared territory, and we both muddle through as best we can.  Occasionally one of us is bitten with the cleaning bug and goes on a whirlwind spree, tossing items back where they belong and mopping floors like guests are arriving imminently.  Once in a great while the mood strikes us both simultaneously, but that's only when guests actually are arriving any minute.  We've both learned not to try and force a high speed cleaning binge on the other party, and not to feel guilty when we see our spouse infected with that fever while we'd prefer to skim a magazine, munching on mixed nuts. 

    For the most part, we catch as catch can, and content ourselves with mediocrity.  I'm a big believer in a place for everything, and everything in it's place.  My favorite place for things is the garbage, where I won't ever have to clean them again.  I'm whatever the opposite of a hoarder would be.  A purger?  He's a pack rat with the gift to see potential art in what would otherwise be called trash.  He also likes to keep things like every empty yogurt container and lid to pass through the house for a full year, with only a vague idea that they could be great for storing some unknown items sometime in the fuzzy future.  In the meantime, he keeps them on the kitchen counter, in an ambitious pile with plans to dominate the air space and eventually conquer the ceiling.

    It's really a wonder we don't fight about housework more often, but I think we're both afraid to start that argument for fear of the inevitable: pot? meet kettle. kettle? pot. conclusion.  We both have our strengths, and we both have our weaknesses, and while I won't go so far as to say they balance each other perfectly (the living room floor is currently carpeted in books, blocks, and play dough tools and toys to create every doughy letter, number and shape known to man, while we sit content on our computers, writing and playing a video game.  Perfectly balanced would likely mean at least one of us would clean the floor!), they are what they've been for the past decade plus, aren't likely to change, and aren't worth fighting over most of the time.

    However, if anyone out there is seeking a treasure trove of empty yogurt containers, complete with lids, I am not above a stealth maneuver whereby I smuggle them out of my house, and send them directly to yours!  And if I pass on prematurely, someone do my husband a favor and introduce him to a nice girl who can cook.  We spent an hour in the kitchen a week or so ago while I learned to brown hamburger meat.  I don't even want to get into the number of misconceptions I apparently harbored about that simple task.  Suffice it to say I prefer a nice trip to the dentist, complete with a cavity filling, to preparing dinner on any given day.  However, I am learning.  And he's learning to make suggestions in a soft, suggestive voice, rather than the tone of a drill sergeant on the tail end of a cocaine binge.

    Plus, the toddler will eventually be old enough to clean the house, and isn't that the number one reason anyone has kids?  I know.  The gods are laughing at me now.  And as I look around my living room, it's perfectly clear that kids create far more mess than they can ever help to clean.  But still: one can hope.

    After all, if I can brown hamburger meat under the watchful eye of my spouse, and not only do we live to tell the tale, but we sit together, side-by-side enjoying said meat, lacking even the social lubrication of a large bottle of wine to see us through this climbing-Everest-worthy event, I will remain steadfast in my belief that anything is possible.  My boy turns two this summer.  As soon as he's potty trained himself, I'm certain he'll take the initiative to start mopping the hardwood floors.  And the hubs and I can finally begin our long-awaited life of leisure.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    That Tired Old Trope of Maternal Guilt

    It is generally understood, in our culture, that mothers feel guilty.  It seems to matter not whether they have done something to feel guilty about, only that a cape of guilt is donned at the advent of a baby's birth, never to be removed again, or at least not for long, and presumably not without inviting dire consequences.

    I often find myself wondering if this is really a malady that affects many mothers or simply a media construct.  I wonder because I do not feel guilty most of the time.  In fact, I rarely feel guilty.  If I do, I take it as a sign that I have done something to precipitate that feeling, and that I should correct it posthaste.  It seems to me that would be the point of guilt, if indeed it has any point at all.

    Raised Catholic, I perhaps have a lower threshold of tolerance for guilt than some people.  Although my parents never went in for the ol' guilt trip as behavior modification, so it's not as if I rebelled against and later rejected it.  In fact, it was as a Catholic child that I remember deciding that guilt, as some sort of ongoing emotional state, made little sense.  Guilt should be temporary, because when it arises, you should change your actions, so as to avoid feeling it again.  It's a sign that something is wrong, that you have done something wrong.

    Isn't it?  Isn't that what guilt is all about?  Because this mother-guilt portrayed in the media seems instead to be an all-encompassing vagary that settles permanently in the background providing ambiance for motherhood, with very little to do with the actual qualities or actions of the mother herself.

    Women who love working feel guilty for working, while their children are thriving in care that is likely better than a mother forced from a workforce she loves, into full-time childcare she's not particularly interested in providing, would be in a position to offer, simply because there's a worn-out old story, tired from the twisting of the truth it takes to tell it, that all women should prefer to spend time nurturing new life, for free, than to express their creativity and intelligence in any number of other wonderful ways, and for pay.  Women who work because they have to, feel guilty about doing so, as if providing food and shelter for their children is doing them a disservice!  Women who pinch every penny and balance their checkbooks on the backs of their own labors because spending their days with their babies is what they want to do most, in the deepest recesses of their hearts, feel guilty because they're not pushing paper in a cubicle they couldn't wait to leave, lest the workforce moves on without them while they take a break, reevaluate, and do what they want to do instead of what some phony feminist figment of our cultural imagination tells them they ought to.

    None of this makes any sense to me, and it's a waste of the supposedly superior emotional skills of our gender.  We could be taking down Dr. Phil here, with the combined force of female emotional intelligence, and instead we're feeling guilty, all the time, about every little thing.  Or are we?  Do you mothers out there feel guilty about your perfectly legitimate life choices?  Is this a real phenomenon?  Is it a story sold to a consumerist culture by a media hasty to jump on the quick and dirty pre-sold story line?  Or is it perhaps shorthand for stress?  For a certain female propensity to internalize stress and feel as if we ourselves should singlehandedly overcome the myriad sources of stress, rather than asking or expecting the world to change to accommodate our needs: for balance, for beauty, for a moment to breathe.

    I'm curious about all you moms out there, and despite my focus on mothers in this post, about you non-moms too.  I think the guilt-industrial-complex is especially pronounced in motherhood, but it seems to target all females.  Ironically, in addition to mothers, it's sold especially hard to those who choose not to become mothers.

    So women, I'm wondering: when it comes to guilt, what's your story?  I'd love to hear it.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    One Hundred and Three About Me

    1.  I published my hundredth post three posts ago
    2.  So I was planning to make it 100 things about me
    3.  But then I accidentally didn't notice it until too late
    4.  Then forgot about it for 2 more posts
    5.  So here I am with 103 about me
    6.  And I thought, for some reason, that this would be a super easy thing to do
    7.  But already, by 7, I'm kinda tired of it
    8.  Okay, so I was born in Niagara Falls, NY
    9.  My dad fixed cars for a living
    10.  My mom stayed home and raised 6 girls
    11.  I was the oldest of the 6
    12.  Later my dad became a high school auto mechanics teacher
    13.  He really wanted to be an engineer
    14.  But he lost out on his free college via the GI bill
    15.  Because there were too many kids and he had to work
    16.  My mom is a wonderful mother
    17.  If I'm even half as good as her, I'll take it
    18.  And I think I'm a pretty good mother, so far
    19.  I remember being poor as a kid
    20.  I think it made a bigger impression on me than my sisters
    21.  I remember having to wear hand-me-downs from other kids at school
    22.  That sucked
    23.  Although now I wear almost exclusively hand-me-downs
    24.  So apparently it didn't scar me for life
    25.  Unless it did, and that's why I have no fashion sense
    26.  I was spanked as a kid
    27.  I don't plan to spank my kids
    28.  But I don't think it's always child abuse or anything
    29.  I was most definitely not an abused child
    30.  I'm not a purist or hardliner on almost any issue
    31.  And I don't really care what other people do, or think they should do what I do
    32.  For example, I breastfed til my son was 17 months old
    33.  And would have kept going if the doc hadn't suggested I wean to get pregnant again
    34.  But I really don't care in the least if anyone else breastfeeds
    35.  Same with circumcision
    36.  In a birthday book I read once, it described people born on my birthday as: appears nonjudgemental, but this is due to the fact that this person does not deeply care about the choices of others
    37.  Yeah, that pretty much sums it up
    38.  I met my husband in college
    39.  He was dating someone else when we got together
    40.  It was a small town and I felt very judged
    41.  Now I wonder if other people were really judging me or if I was judging myself
    42.  I'm not sure
    43.  Probably a bit of both
    44.  I wore makeup after that happened
    45.  It was like a suit of armor
    46.  That's the only time in my life I've ever consistently worn makeup
    47.  My husband is a very hardworking man
    48.  I wish he would relax more
    49.  Sometimes I feel like the only wife in the world who is always saying:  Don't clean the kitchen!  Just leave the mess and play video games for a while!
    50.  I feel like it is my responsibility to help him relax
    51.  Even though I recognize the folly of that sentence, and it goes against everything I believe about self-determination, I still believe it to be true
    52.  I will continue to try and force him to relax
    53.  And I believe I will ultimately succeed
    54.  I'm just starting to tell people I'm pregnant
    55.  I told my boss
    56.  And she said:  Family always comes first.  Let me know if there's anything I can do
    57.  That made me feel better about my job
    58.  Which I am still struggling with negative feelings about
    59.  Although they are slowly getting better
    60.  I'm still considering staying home after the second baby is born
    61.  But it would be very hard to afford
    62.  I just went to Target a few times in the last couple weeks
    63.  And started to think about how if I quit my job, I could never go to Target again
    64.  Apparently, I work to support Target
    65.  Also, we need a new roof
    66.  So when we're done paying off the consumer debt we're working on now
    67.  We'll need to replace all that debt with a home improvement loan
    68.  Which means I'll probably have to continue working
    69.  And I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing at this point
    70.  Part of wanting to quit is probably just me being pissed at my job
    71.  Which is really not a smart reason to quit a great job that I love
    72.  I have the opposite of low self esteem
    73.  I think I'm better looking than I actually am
    74.  I know this is true, because when I see photos of myself, I'm all:  Whaa?  I'm way better looking than that!
    75.  Then I just get rid of that photo and go back to imagining myself as way better looking
    76.  I'm aware that I do this
    77.  But really, why not?
    78.  I'd rather choose to enjoy my delusion
    79.  I am perfectly content to be ordinary
    80.  At some point in my twenties, I realized I would probably not write the Great American Novel
    81.  And would, instead, end up a teacher
    82.  With a husband and a couple kids
    83.  And a house somewhere in the state where I grew up
    84.  Just like most of my family
    85.  And instead of being a letdown, it seemed totally awesome!
    86.  It is pretty much totally awesome
    87.  And I think the beautiful thing about life is that all of us perfectly ordinary people: are so extraordinary to each other
    88.  My son thinks I'm the best thing since sliced bread
    89.  And then someday he'll think I'm lame
    90.  And then he'll realize I'm ordinary
    91.  But he'll still love me so much it makes no sense
    92.  And that's extraordinary
    93.  I stay up way too late almost every night
    94.  Because I am a night owl, and have been my whole life
    95.  And now that I'm pregnant I nap in the afternoons
    96.  While my son naps
    97.  I just reread this list
    98.  And realized that circumcision thing was pretty confusing
    99.  We didn't circumcise
    100.  But I'm not all judgey about people who do
    101.  Although you might want to let your daughter know what to expect
    102.  If it ever seems imminent that our children are planning to get it on
    103.  I'm just sayin': forewarned is forearmed, when it comes to foreskin.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    A Teacher's Thoughts on Unschooling

    I spent a year as a special education teacher in a classroom for kids labeled "emotionally disturbed".  What a terrible label, no?  But, as you would expect, these kids were not easy.  I did a great many things wrong that year.  I did a few things right.

    One day, in the midst of a math lesson that no one understood, I stopped teaching, grabbed a hunk of clay from a cupboard, carried it to a table at the back of the classroom, and began to punch it, hard.  Stupid math!  I shouted at the clay.  I hate you, math!  I gave it a number of good blows, and then looked up at the class, and very calmly asked:  Who wants to go next?

    Another time, after being teased mercilessly by my students for the state of my car (it was an almost twenty year old car covered in dents, and I worked in an affluent suburban district), I offered the following journal question on the whiteboard in the morning:  If you worked for Pimp My Ride, and my car came on the show, what would you do to improve it?  I prayed my principal would not enter the classroom and see the word pimp written at the front of the room, but I got my best creative writing pieces of the year that day.  One kid hooked me up with an aquarium full of live fish in my rearview window.  Perhaps not the best safety feature, but I have to admit, pretty awesome.

    The best thing I ever did was to admit to my students, one day in a moment of dire frustration, that I, too, found their curriculum boring and stifling, and that if it were up to me, we would take off together in a bus and learn about what we saw while traveling.  I didn't plan to tell them this.  I blurted it out, because teaching fifth grade curriculum was boring, and stifling, and because it was true.  I'd have taken my chances in a bus full of students they called "emotionally disturbed", and to this day I'm convinced it would have been a good sight better than the classroom.  We had a long, engaging conversation about traveling, and learning, and we bonded as human beings, rather than in the roles we had been assigned, and poorly acting out, for the rest of the year.


    The hardest pill for me to swallow would be to continue teaching, but not get paid.  Teaching is my profession.  I have two degrees, and four certifications!  I went to graduate school!  I would have a hard time continuing the work, but sacrificing the paycheck.  I say the hardest pill; that would be the only pill.  Everything else about unschooling sounds less like a pill, and more like heaven.  The more I read about it, the more I want, want, want!

    Still, I think I probably won't do it.  I plan to send my son to public school.  To our inner-city public school, to be precise.  The test scores are rock bottom, and the graduation rate is deplorable.  But our neighborhood school is highly recommended by parents, and I think it's worth a shot.  I believe deeply in the ideal of a public education, and my son will learn to read on my lap, so I'm not afraid, at this point in time, of his being stunted by our city schools.  Now, if he starts off there, and I see the endless twinkle in his eyes beginning to dull, or his spirit beaten down by some rote, repetitive, curricular crap, I reserve the right to change my mind.  Only time will tell.


    The motto of the program where I teach now is:  A parent is a child's first, and best, teacher.  We attempt to teach our parents, who spend most of their days honing the skills they need to survive severe poverty, to provide their young children with the experiences they require to develop strong literacy skills.  As with any skillset, some are better at it than others.  Some struggle, and some walk in the door and blow me away.

    The first mother I met whose skills were so good she should be teaching the class instead of taking it was an exotic dancer.  She talked to her babies, and all the others in our classroom, like she was born to be a baby whisperer.  In another life, she could have had my job.  In another life, I suppose I could have had hers.

    She won't homeschool, because she'll need to work, unless she meets a man who sticks around long enough, and has the skills, to provide her the financial security to make that choice.  It's unlikely, given the track record of the last two.  It's also a shame, as she'd make an excellent teacher, especially to her own children, who lit up her eyes like a Christmas tree every time she gazed at their little faces.

    But she, and most of the parents in my program, are learning to homeschool their infants and toddlers, preparing them for the same supposedly substandard education my son will receive at the city schools I'm not sure what to make of yet, and hesitant to judge, as my experiences have shown me that conventional wisdom overlooks an awful lot of possibilities.  If, indeed, a parent is a child's first, and best, teacher, then we are all homeschoolers in a sense, and for a time.


    Although I call myself a schoolteacher, I work mostly with the students who slipped through the cracks, the ones who were failed by traditional schooling.  I, myself, was well-served by school.  I'm cut out for it.  I like to sit quietly, and read, and write about what I've been reading.  School was a haven for me.  But if all those books taught me anything, it was that the most important thing to do with your life is to follow your deepest joy.  It might not be easy; it certainly won't be without sacrifice.  But it will always be worth it.

    And so, despite the fact that a school district pays my salary, that I have - at this point - every intention of sending my children to public school, of marching into those old buildings to join the overworked, underpaid, sometimes wonderful and sometimes worthless professionals, to help educate all of our babies, in the very best ways we know how, despite my personal commitment to public education, to those parents who choose, for whatever reason, to homeschool their kids, I can only say:  Bravo!  I hope you find magic in those moments with your children, and I hope we're lucky enough to find some of our own, behind those old walls of brick and mortar.

    And who knows?  It's never too late to take off in that proverbial bus, if the curriculum grows too boring and stifling.  Whatever the setting, I want our lessons to be alive, moving like a lump of clay under the force of a good, strong punch, swimming like a fish in the aquarium of a pimped-out car, connecting like a classroom of teachers and children who stop for a minute, to be human beings together, despite the sometimes steep institutional odds set against it.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    More Conversations with the Toddler

    In the Backyard in the Morning

    Me:  That's your pool!  Daddy's filling it up, and then we can get in it, and go swimming!

    Toddler:  Is hot, Mommy.

    Me:  I know baby, it's hot.  But we'll feel better when we go in the pool, okay?

    Toddler:  I want go in a cool.  Is my cool!  Hi dada!  Hi cool!


    In the Dining Room in the Afternoon

    Toddler: I want dwink!

    Me:  That's Mommy's drink.  You can have a sip.  It's ginger ale.

    Toddler:  Yum Mommy!  Dwinda dwoll good!  I want a dwinda dwoll!

    Me:  It's in the kitchen.

    Toddler:  I want a dwinda dwoll in a kinitch!


    In The Kitchen in the Evening

    Toddler:  I want cookie.

    Husband, looking in the cupboard:  Hmmm ... this is where I usually hide my candy...

    *A snickers bar tumbles out of the cupboard*

    Me:  You hid that from me!?  That's EVIL!

    Toddler:  I want evil!