Friday, December 30, 2011


So, I've been reading. Reading like an addict, which is something I've been accused of on more than one occasion, and by more than one individual: You're addicted to reading. You just check out. It's like you'd rather read than hang out. You totally zone out. You don't even hear us when we talk.

Which, most of the time? Yeah. Reading addict. Confessed.

I've been soaking up SAHM stories wherever I can find them, and I've come to realize: I'm not a SAHM. I'm a teacher. A part-time teacher, working MWF from home, but I'm still a teacher. The teacher in me bubbles up to the surface; there's not a whole lot I could do about it, even if I wanted to.

So: Reading Addict. Teacher.

I always wanted a mentor. I spent years fantasizing that I would meet someone who knew everything I want to know. She would be a yogi, and a poet, and a storyteller. She would have practiced ballet and studied neuroscience, with a minor in anthropology, and she would always effortlessly look good (without ever having studied fashion) because her skin glowed with fresh air, pine trees and the wide open mystery of living. I never found her.

But the reading addict in me (she devours the written word like a crack addict; makes no distinction between the back of the cereal box, the New York Times, a hand-drawn graphic novel found in the woods, someone else's junk mail, an old love letter from my husband, Anna Karenina, Brown Bear, Brown Bear), she read somewhere (self help literature maybe, or a quote from Ghandi) that if you can't find what you want, try to become what you want.

And so I became a teacher, and I headed down the road I imagined my imaginary mentor would have headed down. Except it's slow going, because there are no gurus here.

There is just me.

And so I'm a beginner at yoga: teaching senior citizens and learning from books, websites, and practice. And I wrote poetry for a few years, when I was younger, but never really progressed beyond loving and imitating the Beats. Now I'm a storyteller for children and -occasionally- in this space. The last time I took a ballet class was in high school. Actually, no, that's not true. I took a class with two of my sisters when we lived in Arizona. Spring of 2000, I'd guess. I loved the barre work, still. I liked barre work as a child, too. I've studied neuroscience in the context of early childhood education, but anthropology remains a pipe dream, right alongside looking great without effort.

There's this image I've long held in my head, about turning 35 (which I did last March), and it's been flashing through my mind again recently. I'm in a large crowded hallway. If I examine it further, the hallway is a replica of the first floor of the Catholic elementary school I attended, which housed kindergarten through second grades. We're all trying to get in line, and I'm late. The line starts to move forward, and I slip in at the last minute, and I don't get caught. I made it! I am full of relief.

Just before my 35th birthday I returned to work, following maternity leave after the birth of my second child. Married? Check! Kids? Check! Job? Check! House? Check! I made it. Full of relief.

And then it all went to hell. Well, that's not precisely true. Only my job went to hell. Or wherever jobs go when they're killed by Congress. The back of a very long line of lobbyists, perhaps. A purgatory worse than hell.

I thought I was going to stay home with my kids. And then, you know, babysit. No biggie. But the imaginary mentor I've been imitating all these years? It turns out she's really, truly come into her own as a teacher. And every time enthusiasm bubbles up inside me and then overflows into joy? It's because I'm giving her free reign.

I'm a teacher. Losing my job doesn't put a damper on that, because it's not just a job. It's a calling. But it's also my career, and I'd like what I'm doing now to further it, even if I'm not technically in the workforce.

So in 2012, I guess I'll have to figure out what it means to be a teacher, working from home, with no employer. I've put the imaginary mentor on the job. And if she can't do it? Well, I guess I'll just have to do some more reading.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Still here. Just hibernating

I feel bad about going missing from this space. I have a whole lot of half written posts cramming the crevices of my mind, but when I try to write, I ..... wander off. Into my mind, or into the other room where I find myself mindlessly tidying, or into the never-ending wormhole that is the rest of the internet where I read instead of write.

It seems as if time is just careening by me, and I can't catch up. My baby turned one, and I can't finish the post for her birthday. I love her so, but the cost of caring for her almost constantly is a certain lack of focus. My boy can say, and do, and imagine new things almost every day, and they're slipping by me while I run, run, run, race in place, just maintaining the status quo. Just getting us all in clean clothes, and bathing every other day or so. Just planning a week's worth of meals at a time and getting the toys back on the shelves.

It's not too much, although it sometimes feels that way. It's just enough that it stretches me in every direction, and anything extra means something else has to go. I watched a new baby for a friend of mine who was returning to work and had childcare fall through at the last minute. He was a sweet boy, who was happy as long as he was in my arms. But with my own daughter not quite ready to relinquish my arms full-time, and my preschool son, and the two toddlers I watch three days a week, it was a lot to take on. I survived, and then suddenly there was just a week until Christmas.

We've been hibernating over our holiday break. The kids play on the floor, and the husband and I cuddle in warm, snuggly blankets and try to trick each other into changing the next diaper. New Year's is coming, and I'm full of ideas, and excited for what's to come.

I hope words are among the blessings to come. I miss writing. I miss you guys. I hope all of your holidays have been wonderful.

But I'm not quite ready to disentangle myself from the snuggly blankets just yet.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Really Funny Story About The Time I Nearly Lost My Mind Taking Care of Five Kids Under Four For Ten Days

At least I'm hoping it's really funny, once it's over. Because right now I'm smack-dab in the middle of the story, approaching the peak of the narrative, which is probably where my brain explodes and my head shoots around the room like a loosed balloon slipping from your fingers before it's tied, or bounces off walls like a ping-pong ball in a greasy pizza arcade. Why? Because: BABIES!

Okay, perhaps I exaggerated. I blame: BABIES! I had five kids under four three days last week, and two days this week, and four under four today, and three under four the remaining of the ten days. But whatever. That's far more math than I'm currently capable of doing.

It's two: BABIES all ten days. An eleven month old (teething) baby, and a four month old (teething) baby, and for those of you who can't add, that's A WHOLE LOTTA MOTHERFUCKIN' BABIES!!!11!@#%! I warned you about math already. Brain no compute good. Because: BABIES. Need things. All time.

And the future love of my life, the cleaning lady, who is needed more than ever because: BABIES, has yet to start because I can't leave the house because: BABIES!

So all I'm saying is, there better be a really funny punch line coming up. Even if it's at my expense. Which I have a feeling it is. But I'm so tired I'll probably laugh really hard for a while before I even catch on.



Thursday, December 8, 2011

One Brand New and Marvelous Thing

I have so many things I could tell you about. So many nights I've planned to write, and then the couch beckons, and the soft, fleecy blanket gets tucked around my toes, and all my good intentions are fast asleep before I type the first word. So tonight I'll tell you just one thing.

Since beginning this new chapter in my life, as a SAHM, or a WAHM, or a homeschooler of the infant-toddler variety, or whatever it is that I am since losing my job, there is just one thing that has troubled me. Just one thing that makes me feel as if I'm failing, as if working as hard and as fast as I can will never be enough. Just one thing that overwhelms me, fills me with resentment, and makes me question my ability to continue on this path. And I know there's no one in my life who can help me overcome this. I love my husband, but he can't be there for me in the ways I need. I've known for a while now that I needed someone else, someone brand new.

Today someone came to my house. We met over Craigslist, exchanged a few e-mails, set up a time to meet. The car was late arriving, and I stood at the window, began to feel hopelessness creeping in. But then I saw a vehicle creep slowly down the street, pull up in front of a grassy patch in my neighbor's yard, and park. I rushed to the back door, waiting to answer it before I even heard a knock. We walked through the house together, spent just moments in each other's company, but before leaving, this person spoke the words that delivered me from doubt, fear, and resentment. Spoke the words I so desperately needed to hear.

Yes, after seeing the house, I can do it for the price I quoted you over e-mail. I use all green cleaning products, so it will be safe for the kids, and I use a steam mop on the hardwoods. I can start next week, so just e-mail me your schedule and I'll fit you in a slot.

I have a housekeeper.

And I won't know for sure until next week, but I think I'm in love.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Settling In

Have you ever been in a meeting, and there's an announcement about some upcoming changes in the way things are done, and suddenly everyone is bustling with questions, complaints, objections, and a long list of all the problems that are sure to ensue?

Well, that's the point where I'm totally silent, and what I'm thinking is: damn, you guys, quit harshing my buzz! this could be, like, the BEST. THING. EVER!

And then the upcoming changes become the new normal, and all the nasayers have generally adjusted by that point: questions are answered, complaints are addressed, objections are either sustained or overruled, and the long list of problems are solved or never come to be.

And at the beginning of the new normal I'm still like: potential best thing ever, right? the sparkly unicorns will be here momentarily?, and then around the middle I'm like: sparkly unicorns? nirvana has not descended upon us? not best thing ever? then...maybe...worst thing ever? do i feel about this? paaanickyyy!?

So August was the buzz of the upcoming change, which was, of course, quite possibly the beginning of the best thing ever. That carried me through most of September, but then by October all I could see was that -WTF!?- life still consisted of a whole string of absolutely normal moments strung together, and things like eating, playing, cleaning, and going for walks had somehow failed to be fully transcendent experiences. So, did this mean I hated life?

Fortunately, November arrived, and with it the realization -yet again, because I seem to suffer the same delusions no matter the change, or my age, or circumstance- that: oh yeah! regular life! i remember this! it's just, like, normal. okay. cool. i can dig it.

A schedule with the little ones has evolved, mealtimes have settled down, and a certain peace has settled over the land. My husband built a walkway through the backyard -our final project before winter arrives- (we're going to pretend the whole fixing-the-snowblower-thing will be but a minor blip in the radar, yes, indeed we are), and then suddenly appeared back in our family life for the first time since August (it has seriously been 10-12 hour days every weekend completing projects around the house ever since I found out my job was ending. the house looks great. we are both completely burned.), and my loneliness abated.

The leaves are all falling, yellow, from the trees. I watch them from my perch on the couch, holding my travel mug of hot tea aloft in the air so the little bodies clamoring up and down don't knock it over. And although I know more changes are coming -winter's just around the corner- it feels as if I've finally caught up with the ones that have already happened.

This is my new life. And although the sparkly unicorns appear to have been waylaid somewhere along the way yet again, although nirvana has yet to show up at the door, let itself in, and take up permanent residence: it's still a pretty darn good one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Kafka and My Feet (finally) in the Sand

Yesterday I finished reading Kafka's The Trial. This morning I woke up without the cloud of melancholy that I've been unable to shake for the last week or so, when I spent a little time each morning and evening losing myself in Joseph K.'s tribulations. It was an engrossing read, but perhaps starting and ending my days with it was the wrong approach.

I know I've thought of the tedious process of washing, drying, folding and putting away laundry as byzantine more than once in the last week. I don't think the word byzantine is anywhere in the book, but I'm willing to bet you'd find it in the Cliff Notes. And considering that my washer and dryer are just down the basement stairs and to the left, straightforward would probably be a more accurate description of my laundering process. Boring would suffice if you wanted the subjective experience captured in a word. Byzantine it is not.

I also remembered that 1) my previous employer (actually, it's the agency we partnered with, but my office was in their building, and they thought of me as their own, so...) holds a Thursday morning playgroup for stay-at-home mothers and their children, where I can stop weekly and visit my old friends, and 2) I had promised to host a Friday night get-together for all of them, and promptly forgotten all about it. So for all my complaints about loneliness, in lieu of making new friends I could choose to expend a modicum of effort and simply get in touch with the ones I've got.

My husband spent the weekend building a walkway from our driveway to the deck of our home. It was an eight hour Saturday followed by a twelve hour Sunday. I think this concludes our home-repair projects until next spring. We do have to fix the snowblower (again) but he claims that this will be short project (I'm not sure why I believe him; this is a standard lie he tells me to make both of us feel better; we always choose to believe it; we want to feel better).

He has done a major home repair project every. single. weekend. since. the first one in August. No wonder I'm lonely! I lost my job, began working at home with only the company of young children, and lost my husband to a mistress much larger, older, and more demanding than myself, all at the same time!

He has a new job; I have a new job; our home repairs and upkeep have been on fast-forward (and our previous speed was ultra-low), and we've taken almost no time at all to rest, relax or unwind. This is a tough transition. We're ready to shift gears, settle down, maybe spend a Saturday picking apples and pumpkins instead of replacing doors, rearranging attics, building fences or scrubbing baseboards.

I kept wondering why Joseph K. continued to show such willingness to participate in his trial. It's as if the events swept him up and along like a river, and he couldn't seem to stick his feet in the sand and stop moving. Reading the book was dream-like: the attic labyrinths with their stuffy air where the court resided, my short morning stints to myself before being overrun by the needs of several small children, the odd encounters he had with strangers who seemed to know more about his own trial than he did; my husband and I, self-deluded and scrambling to survive this last, momentous project we had promised to complete before we had any inkling of how overwhelmed we would find ourselves by late October, the way he knew he was supposed to plunge the knife into his own heart at the end, the harsh standards we're holding ourselves to, and the moments where we find ourselves, exhausted and almost weeping over the kitchen counters, clinging to each other, showing one another the kindnesses we seem to be withholding ourselves for no very good reason whatsoever, except that we've been picked up by this current and carried so far into the river of having to do it right that we haven't stuck our feet in the sand and simply stopped.

The Court wants nothing from you. It receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go.

And it's that simple! Well, then, I think it's time to go.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I'm lonely.

There, I said. Not that it was particularly hard to admit, but it was hard to recognize. It shouldn't have been--I knew that I got my fill of social interaction at work. I worked with a great bunch of women, and I'm terrible at keeping up friendships. My sister -who also just became a stay-at-home-mom- was here this weekend, and we were talking about it. I started off by saying: I guess I should try to make some friends.

But then as the conversation continued, and I listed the type of actions I'd have to take to make -and maintain- friendships, I realized I might well choose loneliness: I hate making phone calls, and plans. I hate sticking to plans. When would I do things? Tuesdays and Thursdays are my only days with just my kids, and we already have a routine we like. We go to the gym one day and a museum the other. We like that! There's only a three hour window where we can get out anyway. Evenings? Between dinner, and bath and bed? Weekends? The only time I see my husband? Ugh. Forget it.

So I might just have to live with it.

The way I see it is, there are two paths to take with any problem: Accept it, or change it.

I usually try acceptance first, and see how that goes. This will be no different, I guess. So I'm lonely. The question is: can I live with it?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Unofficial Performance Review

Have you ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig? It's my dad's favorite book, so I read it one summer; I think I was 19. There's a section near the beginning of the book where the narrator -a former college instructor- talks about an experiment he did, eliminating grades for his writing students. The good students get better, pushing themselves harder than they've had to in the past, when the stakes were clear. The bad students get nervous and panicky, suddenly interested in what the criteria are for passing the course. Suddenly they begin to pump out work: more and of better quality than ever before.

I don't know if I'm a good or bad student in this comparison, but it's a little disconcerting that the goal posts have not just moved: they're nonexistent in my new life. And I'm running the gamut from panic to pushing myself harder in response.

I was always a good student: from kindergarten through graduate school. The criteria were clearly spelled out, and I did what I had to do to fulfill them. When I went to work, I did the same. If I had questions, I asked my boss, or did some research to find out what were considered best practices in the field. There were always rubrics and protocols, checklists to guide me. The challenges were usually intellectual.

Now the challenges are largely emotional, the terrain has shifted, and I'm out here on my own, with little guidance, and nobody observing, measuring, giving feedback, grading my performance.

I get nervous and panicky some days, like Pirsig's poor students, wondering what the minimum requirements are to consider this venture a success. Other days I go above and beyond what I imagine myself capable of, like the better students when the parameter defining the upper limit was suddenly lifted.

In the past week, I've finally gotten some concrete feedback, and it felt good.

One of the boys I babysit is dropped off by his grandmother once a week, later in the morning because he gets early intervention therapy at her house beforehand. She said as soon as she pulled into our driveway he began to pump his fists, kick both feet, and squeal with joy! This little boy has never been outside of the care of his family before, and he greets me each morning with a huge grin. It made me feel good to know I'm providing his first taste of life outside his family home, and that he likes it out here in the big, bad world.

The other boy has been in child care twice a week since he was born, with the same caregiver, before coming to me a little less than two months ago. His dad drops him off because he has such a tough time separating from mom, and he always cried and cried if she did the drop-off. But his father had a conference this week, and mom had to do it. She arrived, obviously nervous, with her son in her arms, and dropped down to one knee to set him on the floor. Suddenly my son opened his bedroom door and peeked out to see his buddy arriving. The little boy's face lit up, he yelled: Bye Mama!, kissed her quickly, and ran toward my boy, ready to play. She said in the year and a half he'd spent with his other sitter, he had never been so happy to leave her side. It made my day.

This is a challenging transition for me. Not the identity piece, which I expected, and which hasn't really turned out to matter a whit to me. I know who I am, and a professional title -or lack of one- doesn't change that. But the balance that I so carefully and deliberately set out to create for my life has been flipped topsy-turvy, and that is taking some time to get used to. I find myself more exhausted and emotionally depleted than I have ever been before. I find I need to dig deeper to find reserves of patience, compassion, and willingness to wait, to try again, to return to the same problems until they are solved to my satisfaction. I have to learn to take care of myself in ways I didn't have to before. I'm somewhat surprised to find out how hard on myself I can be.

But I'm doing right by these babies, if squeals of joy, pumping fists and feet, great big grins, and feet racing into our house and our hearts are any indication. And it's not like I'll be getting a performance review this year -or a raise!- so, hey: I'll take 'em! I will most definitely take them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mealtimes, Squealtimes

It's the mealtimes that are really challenging. I'm brainstorming to see if I can come up with a better system, but so far, I can't. Feeding four children, ages 0, 1, 2 and 3, is just very, very difficult. And very, very messy.

Here are my biases, laid out from the start: I've seen research that suggests that kids who are permitted to eat whenever they want spend more time engaged in learning. Kids who are forced to eat at preplanned mealtimes spend more time wasted: in lines, waiting for adults, sitting or standing around doing nothing. This is in a child care situation, not at home. There's plenty of research supporting family mealtimes, so that's not what I'm talking about here. Another bias I hold is that I think it's a good thing -and important- for kids to learn to listen to their bodies. To eat when and what their bodies crave. So my ideal is an eating area where children can come and go as they please, grazing through their day, getting the energy they need to learn.

You can probably imagine that this could easily be recipe for chaos, but you guys, I am already so far from my ideal!

The boys arrive in the morning and my kids are usually still asleep. They wake soon after the noise level begins to rise in the living room, and we all play for a half hour or so, until I get the hungry signal from one of the kids. Fortunately, once one of them wants to eat, they all want to eat, so I'm not completely abandoning my wait-for-their-signals approach to individual eating.

My daughter's in a high chair. The two boys are in small chairs with trays on the floor. My son sits at a child-sized table. When it's dry food, I let the other two boys sit at the little table. I like this: the camaraderie, the family feel of it, the opportunity for interaction between them. But if it's wet food, the 1 and 2 year olds will end up covering the wall and floor in it, and it's nearly impossible to clean off the wainscoting and out of the crack where the wall meets the floor. So I've limited that to dry food.

Breakfast and lunch work about the same way. I'm scrambling to get hands washed by holding each kid up to the sink and scrubbing their hands with mine. Then I pop the three younger kids in their chairs and click their trays into place, leaving my son to his own devices. I sprinkle dry cereal or snack crackers across their trays to keep them happy while I warm their food in the microwave.

The two boys bring their own meals (they need to, due to feeding and sensory issues, so it's not an option for me to provide the same thing for all the kids) and obviously I'm providing for my kids, so we have -at best- three different meals that typically need to be heated (that's if my kids are eating the same thing, which: sometimes).

Everybody spills, so the floors around each seating area need to be cleaned. Hands need to be cleaned. Faces need to be cleaned. Everybody has a variety of snacks in addition to the meals, so I'm just racing: back and forth from the kitchen with heated foods, with Clorox wipes for the floor, to rinse dishes and get them in the dishwasher, with high chair trays and rubber bibs, and cloth bibs that need to be tossed down the stairs to the basement laundry, with one more snack to try because low blood sugar is an issue, to slice that apple because he can't eat one independently, to peel that pear because she can't eat the skin, to refill juice glasses and make chocolate milk, and wash my hands again because I just used a Clorox wipe to get the oatmeal off the floor and I don't want to touch the banana with Clorox wipe residue all over my hands. My son is the only one who's really talking yet (we've got some special needs in the group), so there's lots of grunting, and lots of whining, and lots of frantic pointing, and it's all happening at once while I'm running, running, running. And also, I don't microwave plastic (ew, scary cancer stuff, I just won't do it), so all the food is scooped from plastic, to ceramic, back to plastic (they'll drop and break ceramic), and all those dishes need rinsing before they go into the dishwasher, and before I can even stop for one second one is whining to get out of the seat, and then another, and then another, and I have to clean up: the floors, the trays, their hands and faces, and everyone's whining all at the same time, and:

It's just really stressful.

I keep my cool on the outside because I am good at keeping my cool on the outside. It is, in fact, my job to keep my cool on the outside. But inside, it makes me feel like a crazy woman. An unhinged, panicky, crazy woman.

And that's not really good for anyone, now is it?

Today I tried to eliminate mid-morning snack-time (we have breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, then lunch, then an afternoon snack. Can you see why this is a problem?), but then I was hungry (I can't eat while they're eating; when would I eat?) and tried to sneak away to eat something and they all trailed me (like Greyhounds, they are!) and found me and wanted to eat.

For lunch today I fed them each individually, which was actually quite peaceful, but it took and hour and a half, and the ones who weren't eating were playing in another room and that's a long time for them to play without any interaction from me (I can see them, so they're supervised, but I wasn't in there playing at all, which -in my opinion- is a big part of what I'm here for, and: is the fun part!). It worked out okay today, but my daughter skipped lunch and went down for her nap early. I don't think it would typically work, and I'm not crazy about it anyway, as a regular thing.

I have tried to simply stop stressing out about it, but it's not working. Which leads me to believe that maybe I need to change the circumstances somehow, instead of trying to ignore the chaos. Figure out how to make it less chaotic.

But I'm not sure where to start. Anybody got any ideas?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Students and Teachers

My husband noticed he had a voice mail on Saturday morning.

What's this? I missed a district wide call last night? What could this be about? he asked as he dialed to retrieve the message.

And then: Oh. Oh God. No. Oh my God. No. Oh God.

He frantically scrambled for a pencil and began taking notes on the back of an envelope. When he hung up the phone he stared into space, shell-shocked. I glanced down, but could make little sense of the random collection of words he had jotted down: a boy's name, a small town south of us, the hospital where I took my daughter when she fell and hit her head.

I asked: What is it? Are you okay?

He just shook his head, and kept staring forward, looking at nothing.

* * *

Nearly three years ago a girl walked into my classroom with her eight month old son. She was a teen mom, there to take the entrance test to qualify for our GED program. Her son had never -since birth- been separated from her at that point, not even to sleep. He cried for 3 hours while she labored over math and reading problems. We took turns passing him from staff member to staff member, trying every baby calming trick we collectively knew, to no avail. He sobbed until he was back in her arms.

* * *

One of his students died on Friday night. He sustained a hit to the head during a football game. He continued the game for a few more plays; no one even knew there was a problem. He got hit again and went down. He rolled over, sat up. He could talk, but wasn't making a lot of sense, so they called an ambulance.

They were en route to the hospital where I took my daughter, when he took a turn for the worse in the ambulance. They headed for a closer hospital in the small town south of us where the game was being played. He died there, a junior in high school.

* * *

She qualified for the program, which means either her reading or math scores had to be below ninth grade level. I can tell you it was both. Later we found out she had a learning disability that had gone undiagnosed for her entire school career.

She was on her mom's public assistance case, and their welfare-to-work caseworker wanted her back in high school. The same high school, same district, that missed her learning disability for all those years. The same district that had shuffled her through to tenth grade when she was reading and doing math on an elementary school level.

They wanted to put her baby in full time daycare so she could go to school. They pay for it, but they don't pay much, so he'd have been in the cheapest daycare she could find. They told her it was that or find whatever job she could without a high school diploma, and they'd pay for daycare for that too.

They didn't want her in our GED program, where she would get parenting classes, and interactive time with her baby. She didn't know why they didn't support it, and they certainly didn't feel they owed her anything like an explanation for the decisions they were making about her life.

She'd never been a good student, and they wanted her in a substandard school that had already failed her. She had no work experience, and no marketable skills, but they wanted her in a dead end job. She had one thing going for her: she loved that baby more than anything, and her instincts were dead on when it came to mothering. She had that one thing, and they wanted to take it away from her.

* * *

My husband walked around in a fog all weekend. We took the kids to the farmer's market, and he kept forgetting what was on the list. He tried to plot out the sidewalk we're building through the yard next weekend, and couldn't focus on the numbers on the blueprint. The boy's story was on the front page of the Local section of our Sunday paper, and when I asked him if he read the article about Obama in the Opinion section, or saw the Victorian house for sale in Homes he shook his head and said: I didn't read anything except the article about my student. I never got any further than that.

* * *

I called my boss, and my boss called the caseworker's boss, but to no avail. They assigned her to high school, and she never went, never enrolled her son in daycare, just skipped every day and sat at home with her baby. They started docking her mom's public assistance, so her mom went down and screamed at the caseworker, who finally relented, and assigned her to our program instead.

She had perfect attendance. Her son, almost 2 at this point, still sobbed when his mom left his side. So we set up a desk in the nursery, and she worked there, while he gradually ventured further from her side. Finally we began taking her from the children's classroom for short -and then longer- periods of time. We were shocked to discover that working unassisted in the nursery she'd brought her reading scores from a fifth grade to a tenth grade level.

She was a month away from passing her GED when we lost our funding and had to close up shop.

* * *

The student who died would have been in my husband's first period, Monday morning class. Going into work this morning was daunting. I saw the weight of it across the slope of his shoulders as he headed out the door. I turned the tea water on, and wished there was something I could do.

Later, I took the kids for a walk and saw a large bunch of deep red mums that someone had tossed out with the trash, though they were still in bloom, whole, and beautiful. I picked them up, folded them gently into the hood of the jogging stroller, brought them home and arranged them in a vase. I placed it where he'd see them when he first walked in the door.

At some point between walking out the door of our home and into the door of his school, he squared those shoulders, heavy with the weight of the responsibility he bore for the students who would have even less ability than he to make sense of the senseless tragedy. He squared his shoulders, walked into that first period class, and spoke to the kids in his first period class, minus one.

* * *

I called her caseworker before our program ended and she assured me she'd transfer my student into another GED program. Her son is old enough for preschool now, and we pulled every string we could to get him enrolled. He cried the first time he took the bus without her, but overall, he's doing incredibly well.

The caseworker didn't keep her word, though, and refused to refer her to another GED program, after all. The day she found out, I invited her over for a bowl of ham and bean soup, a hot cup of tea, a honey crisp apple. We looked online for another GED program, one that doesn't require a referral from her caseworker. We're still trying, and she's worried her math and reading skills are slipping.

Her son is testing above the 90th percentile for his language skills though, a testament to her strong attachment to him, her willingness to throw herself wholeheartedly into parenting, to soak up skills like a sponge and then pass them on to him. She wants his life to be easier than hers.

We were texting last night, talking about her love for her boy, when all of a sudden I read the following line:

I was forest to have sex, thats how my baby was made.

I had to whisper read it aloud to myself, to be sure I understood.

I wrote her back:

You are an amazing person.

She sent me a smiley face emoticon before I went to bed.

* * *

I can debate educational theory all night long: Maria Montessori and John Dewey, the Reggio Emilia approach, and what the latest findings in neuroscience mean in the context of the day-to-day drag.

I have opinions about the politics of it: unions versus reformers, Michelle Rhee and what she did in DC, merit pay and standardized testing. And if my husband and I get started, the next thing you know the wine bottle is empty and we're both all riled up. A perfect date night for me would be back-to-back showings of the most recent educational documentaries followed by debriefing over generous glasses of Cabernet.

But what's missing from the conversation is the slope of my husband's heavy shoulders as he walked weary from our house into the still dark morning, saddled with the weight of what he'd say to those kids. There's no place in policy for the way my heart stopped for a moment and the muscles in my abdomen involuntarily clenched when my student sent me a text that spelled forest for forced.

We talk numbers, and strategy, and we have to. We have to. But every time someone's child connects a letter to a sound, sketches a still-life on a thick sheet of off-white paper, finally figures out what the hell fractions are all about ... there are billions of beating hearts behind it. And if it didn't start -and end- with our heavy, hurt, imperfect hearts: all the theory and politics in the world would come to nought.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dinosaurs Eating, Vivid Motion, and Other Worlds

My son stood up on his child-sized chair, where he could reach the chalk and draw on the bottom of the chalkboard hanging on the dining room wall. It's high on the wall because the lower half of the room is covered in wainscoting, unsuitable for hanging much of anything, let alone an oversized and very heavy, wood-framed chalkboard.

And then, because it's high, we've adopted it for ourselves: we make grocery lists, jot down appointments, and detail our lunch and dinner menus for the week. The adults have bogarted the big blackboard, and the children must make do with the much smaller chalkboard aback the white board easel that I got for free when my former employer tossed it in the junk pile.

But the boy managed to balance his feet where his seat should be, and draw on the bottom of the blackboard, and then he said: Mommy, look at my chalking!

I forgot all about how you're supposed to ask about the picture instead of telling about it, and I said: Hey! Y'know what that reminds me of?

And he said: what? And so I told him.

It reminds me of a dinosaur, like, his head is right here? And this is his tongue! And he's eating this ... ball of stuff, over here. It reminds me of a dinosaur who's eating.

And he didn't have any particular objection to that interpretation, in fact, he welcomed it, and so it became a dinosaur, eating a ball of stuff.

Over the course of a week or so he added more stuff to the dinosaur's ball-o'-food. He filled in the dinosaur's head. He called my attention to it each time, and each time I validated his efforts to increase the concrete-ness of the dinosaur, dining in our dining room.

And then, one Friday night, his father -who hadn't been privy to the ongoing conversations about said dinosaur and his insatiable appetite for round-or-sometimes-oval balls-o'-stuff- erased the bottom of board.

In Daddy's defense, we had an especially long grocery list that week. We'd been out of town the weekend before, living on leftovers, and a large number of household staples were depleted.

Once all of us realized what had taken place, my son said: Mommy, can you help me make my dinosaur again?

And I said: No! We can never make the same dinosaur again. We wouldn't be able to do it right. You can't recreate the past. But you know what this is perfect for? I can wash the board with a wet paper towel, and you can start a brand new picture, and the colors will be so vivid! It can be anything you want! And I can't wait to see it!

And he grinned and agreed. And he started anew, and at the end I said (forgetting again): Y'know what THIS reminds me of? People running. It reminds me of motion. The purple and the yellow, and the orange and the blue? Look like they are racing across the chalkboard like Thomas and James race to the Wharf!

And he didn't have any particular objection to that interpretation, but he did enjoy the word vivid. And so we talked about that for a while.

As parents, we define dinosaurs, motion, and vivid. We can make or break the meaning of things. We're creating and defining worlds here. This is powerful, important stuff. This is exciting, my little boy's favorite word. More exciting than Thomas and James racing; more exciting than what a dinosaur eats for lunch.

We can create worlds, erase them. We can start anew. Where else do we get the chance to do this?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Schedules Unfolding

The children are all here today. Three are asleep while my oldest plays with wooden trains in the living room. I mopped the dining room and kitchen floors as fast as I could once the kids went down, hoping to find some time to sit here and write, although now that I'm here, a folded towel under my feet that I used to shuffle-slide across the still-wet floor to get to the computer, I can't remember quite what it was I was so anxious to say. I was thinking while I rocked one of the boys to sleep, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star playing quietly in the background, my mind wandering from the room where I sat. I was comparing my house to the classrooms where I've taught in the past, and...

...Oh yes, the unfolding. More about the unfolding. So here goes:

The first thing I would do as a teacher is make a schedule for the day. When I taught preschool, it looked a little something like this:

9-9:30: Arrival; Free breakfast for those who qualify; Free play for others in limited areas of the classroom
9:30-10: Circle Time; Make a plan for free play
10-11: Free Play
11-11:20: Kids meet with teachers in small groups and debrief: talk about how the play plan went (this, incidentally, -the making of, sticking to, and discussing play plans- has been shown to do more for a certain type of early brain development than any other single thing you could do in a classroom. I loved it.)
11:20-12: Outdoor/Gross Motor play and Small Group Activities
12-1: Lunch, followed by Storytime
1-3: Nap/Quiet play/Books for those who wake up

When I taught family literacy, with infants, toddlers and parents, it looked a little something like this:

9-9:10: Arrival
9:10-10:05: GED class 1/Parent and Child Interactive class 1 (half the parents went to GED while the other half stayed with their babies in the classroom)
10:05-11: GED class 2/Parent and Child Interactive class 2 (the groups of parents switched)
11-11:45: Parenting class; Kids with staff
11:45-12: Circle Time; Dismissal

You'll notice the second schedule was more for the parents than the kids. That's because while infants and toddlers need routines, each child will need a slightly different routine. If you have a group of them, a new routine will evolve. Their needs will change as they interact with the others. So I have four children to care for, and it's been six weeks, and we don't have a schedule that fits on paper perfectly yet.

Who do you imagine is the only person in the group who has a problem with that?

If you guessed me, you win the prize! It's a handful of goldfish crackers and a Thomas the Tank Engine sticker. Also, you'll have to swing by and pick it up. I drive a Hyundai Accent and there's no way four carseats are fitting in that sucker.

I like things written out on paper: schedules, to-do lists, projects I'd like to complete around the house, shopping lists, meals planned for the month, developmental checklists with little boxes where the abstract beauty of a child's first word or step can be reassuringly checked off, made concrete, filed in a drawer somewhere, perhaps never to be seen again. Doesn't matter. I just like the making of the lists.

But instead, I keep choosing things like caring for babies and yoga. Things that don't lend themselves to list-making, things that laugh in the face of the best laid plans. Things that unfold. That emerge, half formed, from an interminable period of time where one sits. Sits with discomfort, and simply observes it. Sits with sometimes a rising panic, a screeching JesusFuckingChristJesusFuckingChristJesusFuckingChrist inside one's mind. And why? Because the noodles aren't heating fast enough. Observes the screeching mind and says: it's only noodles, heating in a microwave, and the children are only mildly hungry. it isn't the end of the world. I keep choosing things that demand that I separate my better self from the screeching voice and say aloud, in a calm voice: the noodles are almost ready, my little pumpkins! patience, babies, patience! your food will be here in a moment.

They eat at regular intervals, and their naps are synced up, but the rest of the day -the learning- just won't adapt. Babies demand that the universe adapt to them, which is one reason why I like them so much, if you want to know the truth.

My son just interrupted me. He told me: Mommy, I want my engines to drive on the back of the brown couch! Not on their rails, just on the couch! I could tell he found this most amusing, although I wasn't exactly sure why. Do you want to come and see them? he asked me.

I asked: Can I come and see when I'm finished writing? and I saw his face fall, just a fraction of a millimeter, it's true, but I spotted it. Or can I come and see it real quick right now, and then finish my writing?

Yes! he replied with a giant grin, and he raced into the living room and leapt onto the couch. His engines were lined up and squished between the back of the couch and the seat cushion, and while I'm still not entirely sure why this is even funny, he burst into giggles every time he looked at them. So I did too.

It only took a moment, and that moment meant more to him than another half hour uninterrupted at the keyboard would have meant to me. And yet I yearn for a piece of paper that says: 1:30-2: Writing.

It's the silliest thing, when I can escape the screeching brain and just look at it slantways, out of the corner of my mind's eye, and see it for what it is. It's a way to feel some semblance of control. I keep walking off the edge of whatever cliff I've arranged my life upon, and then lamenting the lack of control in the free fall. It's the silliest thing.

So I'll sit with it, and see what happens. Something always does, eventually.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hope and Change

I haven't told you the whole truth. I have another job, of sorts. I'm a private early child care provider, if you want the report for the resume. I'm a babysitter, if you want it plain.

Twice a week I'm a SAHM, two kids, both mine, 3 years and 9 months. Once a week I've got my two and a third, a boy, 2 years old. The other two days I've got four kids in all, ages 0, 1, 2 and 3. Three boys, the oldest mine, and then my baby girl.

The day I realized I was super badass is the day I realized my mom, mother of six, a SAHM for 20+ years, never had this many kids, so close in age, home at the same time.

It is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever done.

* * *

So, Occupy Wall Street? Anyone else amazed and hopeful? I walk through my house, wiping food from the hardwood floors with generic Clorox wipes, putting random CDs on -I let my 3 year old pick from his daddy's CD shelf and hope the swear words aren't audible, being not-a-music-person myself- and dancing with babies, one on each hip, and I hope for the future so fiercely it hurts.

I just believe in humankind. For no good reason, against all odds, I just believe in us. We're mostly good. We're working our way to better, even though it doesn't always look like it.

I mean, what's the alternative? Babies and dancing can't be in a world without hope.

* * *

The leaves are changing. What does time mean when you're no longer shackled to a narrative? My present story has been written down on paper, but it seems I haven't quite caught up to it yet. Or maybe it to me. Things speed up and other things slow down. Time is going faster than ever -can it really be mid-October already?-, but allowing things to unfold at their own pace -routines, and the suppleness needed to navigate the days gracefully- is excruciatingly slow. I'm bad at it.

I'm bad at allowing things to unfold at their own pace. I'm impatient, mostly with myself, but it slips over onto other people too.

And yet I keep choosing things that take time to unfold. Pursuing paths that require patience that I can only hope resides in my toes I'm digging down so deep.

* * *

We try, and we fuck up. And then we try again.

There's only ever hope and trying.

Any other way, the story ends.

And this feels so much like a beginning.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roles and Reversals

My husband becomes a summertime SAHD and we joke that he's turning into me: an unrepentant, satisfied slacker. I lose my part-time job, become a SAHM and -go figure- I start turning into him: an unapologetic, driven perfectionist.

We've traded roles so many times in our marriage, and -look!- here's another brand new amalgamation! I'll tell you what: it's a lot harder to be him. Unrepentant, satisfied slacker has a lot to say for itself. But alas, it doesn't seem to be that season for me. And Lord knows, I can't say I haven't had my turn!

So it's the season of change, for all of us.

Our boy turns three and sentences start tumbling through his mind faster than his tongue can formulate the words. Whole worlds are unfolding in the creases of his brain. He fights for control of whatever he can control, out in the real world. When given the reins, he spins narratives like spider webs: marvelous and shimmery, suspended in the air, catching us all.

And my girl? Oh, you guys, my wonderful baby girl!? Remember when I worried about her potential 'tude, right here? Well, she is just the sweetest thing ever to melt in your mouth since butter. But she knows just what she wants, and she will let you know just what she wants, and she will not stop letting you know, with increasing volume and intensity, until she gets it. Whereupon she's sweet as butter, once again.

I've been swimming laps, when I can. This Saturday and last I completed a mile. My husband kept the girl so I could swim without fear of interruption. The plan has been to gradually allow my daughter to adjust to the child care at the gym, with the end goal being that I could pick up more fitness classes. That seemed like the most practical thing: ensure myself exercise, and get paid for it at the same time. It would mean more teaching: I'm teaching my babies all day, and yoga one evening a week.

When I swim, though, I feel like the student. Like I'm asking my body and the water a new question with every pull of my arms through a stroke. I look at the space and the light between me and the ceiling, in a backstroke, and it's a little bit like talking to God. And what I'm saying is like some great big question that I can never quite put into words. My body is slicing and curving through the water like a question mark, like hands cupped in prayer.

I wonder if what I need right now is just to be the student.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Gym Childcare. Again.

I know, I know, I didn't talk this much about childcare when I had a job! And I both worked caring for children and used childcare for my own kids. Now I'm a stay-at-home-mom and it's all I can talk about!

We tried out a new location of our gym today. Just so this makes some sort of sense, we live on the west side of a relatively small city. I teach yoga in the heart of downtown. The gym where I teach is not a family facility, but it has locations in two different suburbs that offer family programming, including free childcare while the parent works out in the building. One suburb is east of the city, and the other is north. They are equidistant from our house--down to the very minute, in fact (I timed it today)! A membership downtown can be used at either suburban location.

We've been going to the eastern suburb. It's a newer gym and has really amazing facilities, as well as lots of cool classes for tots. But it's huge and incredibly busy, and every time I go there and use the childcare I'm anxious as all get-out (and here I want to clarify that it's just a free-floating anxiety as opposed to any serious gut feeling that something is wrong--I would absolutely heed a bad gut feeling, but I'll work through anxiety).

Today we visited the northern suburb. And here's where I exhale: Aaaaahhhhh! Oh, that felt good, didn't it? (Just say yes.)

At the eastern location, it's staffed by a large group of sweet, young girls (early 20s). They don't introduce themselves, ask any questions, or even pay much attention when you drop the kids. They seem to be doing a good job caring for the kids, but don't put a lot of effort into interacting with the parents. I observed their interactions with the children, and decided that if they were good with the kids, that's what mattered.

The northern location is much smaller, and older, with fewer programmatic bells and whistles. But, and this is more like a BUT when I walked into the door with my baby there were two grandmotherly women sitting on the floor with two other babies (compared to 15-20ish babies at the other place, and 4 to 6 staff). One woman introduced herself, and then asked our names. And how do we think she'll do today? she asked about my daughter. When I said she had done well the first time and then poorly the second time at the other location, she asked questions about her nap and feeding schedules, and then about what she likes to play with. I asked her to come get me if she cried, and assured her I'd be fine cutting my workout short.

She came and got me 10.5 laps into my 16 lap half-mile, all apologies, but I was so grateful that she had done just what I'd asked. And after rinsing quickly, tossing clothes onto my still-wet body, and racing down the hall to rescue my daughter, she and the other woman told me everything they had tried to do to comfort her, and shared stories about their own struggles with leaving their babies. They babied me, and it was just exactly what I needed. They encouraged me to come again, and told me they would let her cry for as long as I wanted them to (up to 15 minutes, which is their policy limit), and come and get me every time, until she adjusts.

My son was in a smaller classroom today too, with 15ish preschoolers as opposed to what could have been 50 at the other location. I'm not good at guessing crowd size; I just know it was crazy busy. He said he liked it better at the northern location today, and that he played with a little girl, and she was nice and funny. My son really enjoys these opportunities to get out and play with other kids and new toys, which is one reason I feel like this is important.

Without the encouragement of the women in the baby room, it would have been very easy for me to walk out the door and say: forget it. Instead, I'm going to try using a treadmill or elliptical for short periods so she can get used to the new environment in small doses. I hate treadmills and elliptical machines (so fucking boring when I could be walking outside in the real world instead of on a machine; except for the part where my kids hate strollers and it's winter 6 months of the year here), but the warm, supportive environment made me willing to try harder to find a way to make this work.

I worked in childcare for years, and it's harder to reach out to the parents than it is to care for the children. In fact, when I got my last job, I was psyched about working with the infants and toddlers, and very uncomfortable about teaching parenting classes. But over time, the parenting classes became my favorite part of the job, and -I grew to believe- the most important. Being on the other side, now, of the childcare provider equation, it just reinforces how serving the whole family makes all the difference in the world. Free professional development for the out-of-work professional! Ha! I do imagine that the things I learn during this time at home with my kids will come back with me into the workplace, whenever I make my way back there, and make me better at what I do.

In the meantime: the fucking treadmill, for me. And the damn baby room, for her. C'mon kid. We can do this.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anxiety Identified

I figured out what caused the anxiety that day. The Gym. And to be specific: the gym childcare.

It was a Tuesday when I went last time, and I had plans to go the next day too. But Wednesday came, and my daughter went down for her morning nap early, and we didn't get out of the house on time. Then Thursday we went back, but I kept the kids with me, and we visited the pool. No anxiety: we had a blast! The kiddie pool has fountains, slides, a basketball net! It's amazing, and the kids both loved it.

Meanwhile I'm concocting narratives to explain that disconcerting bout of anxiety to myself. None of them sound quite right, so I keep spinning stories. Days pass and the anxiety doesn't return.

Until yesterday, when I went and used the childcare again. It's just huge. And loud. And kind of a madhouse there. I dropped the kids the second time and went to the lap pool by myself where I swam a half mile.

I'd love to say that the feel of my arms slicing through the water and my feet flutter-kicking calmed me. And it did, kind of. I was a lap swimmer through college, and for a number of years afterwards. Then I became a fitness instructor and it fell by the wayside. I haven't swum laps since before we moved to our current city, which was 2004. It did feel good to do it again.

But every time I thought about my kids the anxiety would immediately begin again. And when I arrived to pick them up, my daughter's face was splotchy red and the staff was on the verge of coming to find me because she had been crying so hard, and they couldn't calm her.

I think most of that was bad timing. She had slept 13 straight hours the night before, so I didn't think she'd take her morning nap. Sorry, sweetie. The childcare is only open in the mornings, and she's in a transition where sometimes she naps and sometimes she doesn't.

My son, on the other hand, really enjoyed it the second time, crying only about the fact that he couldn't staaaaayyyyy when I came to pick him up. I think it's great he can have a chance to play with other kids (although he remains a little bitter about THAT BOY who beat him to the Thomas toy) since we can't swing preschool right now.

I'm not going to give it up entirely. I don't have a bad feeling about the place or the people; in fact, the staff seems very sweet. It's just scary. My kids used to be with a private sitter who I knew very well (we had been colleagues for a couple years before she retired and became my sitter), and she only had one other child there: her granddaughter, who was my son's age. So this big, huge place where my kids are separated into different rooms with what feels like a million other kids? It's a little intimidating.

But you know what else is intimidating? The 30 pounds I really, really want to lose. So let's keep moving forward, into the fear, shall we? Step by step, lap by lap, morning nap by morning nap. And hopefully we'll all come out the other end of this thing a little bit tougher, and a little bit less afraid.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Twenty True Sentences and One Lie

  1. I complained about wanting throw pillows on my blog, and my mother-in-law visited and bought us beautiful new throw pillows.
  2. Even though she doesn't know I have a blog (I don't think...)
  3. She also bought us a carpet for our living room.
  4. Speaking of rooms, I rearranged our dining room tonight.
  5. And then sat in it and looked at the moon out the window from my grey computer chair w/wheels. I want to make a rule that the kids can't touch that chair; it's not safe (or it's safer not to) (or easier, for me) . But that rule won't fly; I can already tell. A chair with magical wheels (and aren't wheels just inherently magical?) must be touched. I will need a new rule that means: be safe, in the context of the magical wheely chair.
  6. It's been raining a lot lately.
  7. (Could that be the lie?) (Boring!)
  8. The smell of rain is in the air all the time; I love the smell of rain.
  9. A 4 year old girl around here died of a mosquito bourne-illness recently.
  10. Then they sprayed, locally, to kill all the mosquito larvae.
  11. Now my yard has hardly any mosquitoes.
  12. It's weird. But kind of awesome, not to have them there.
  13. For some reason, looking out my window at the trees makes me want to have sex with my husband right now.
  14. He's reading in the boy's room.
  15. Sometimes our son needs -or wants- one of us to sit in the armchair and read by the light of his nightlights while he falls asleep.
  16. Sometimes one or the other of us doesn't mind doing just that.
  17. My daughter is ferociously teething.
  18. I'm pretty sure I'm fatter than I've ever been.
  19. We skipped the State Fair this year.
  20. I have a "music center" in my hallway now, and it's all kinds of awesome.
  21. I am super tired lately. (Wouldn't it be nice if that were the lie?)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It started last night, as my husband prepared for his first official day of school. He went in last week, but it was just to hear the superintendent talk, meet with other teachers, and arrange his room. Today was the real thing, with the kids. This is a new job for him: he's still teaching art, but with a different age group, in a new building, and he's specializing in photography, which is also brand new. It will be demanding, and my husband's a perfectionist.

He's the only other person who would ever care as much as I do about the state of our house, and the day-to-day details of our children. Watching him pile stacks of paper, jot notes, and pack bags, I knew I was losing him. It'll just be me and the house and the babies. My head feels competent enough, and my heart's downright loosey-goosey about the whole thing, but my stomach has it's doubts.

We got up this morning, and I got us all packed and out of the house right away. The baby needed to have her ID photo taken for her new gym membership card, which continues to amuse me! The boy and I went downtown together on Saturday and upped the free membership I get for teaching yoga to a family membership. But each member of the family gets their very own ID card, with photo, so we took the baby this morning to stand in place against the wall (with support, since standing independently is still beyond her ken) and receive her very own laminated card.

Then we all drove out to the suburban location about a half hour away. They have free child care (the downtown location doesn't offer this service) (remind me to rail against the race/class assumptions at work there another time) so I can work out while they play. I wanted to do a trial run today, and see how it went before I actually tried a workout. The preschool room was a madhouse, and I was nervous leaving my boy, but he was enthusiastic, and a kind young woman took his hand and guided him toward the toys. He went with her willingly, so I walked over to the baby room. It wasn't quite as much of a madhouse, but still pretty hectic. The staff seemed nice enough.

It was weird being on the other side. Usually I'm the teacher. I know how to calm a nervous parent, put a mother's mind at ease, make sure she knows her baby's going to be okay. Leaving my babies with a bunch of strangers was a lot harder.

I didn't even plan to work out today; this was just a trial run to check out the child care situation. I was wearing flip-flops, not prepared for any kind of workout unless they had a quiet room for individual yoga (they don't). So I wandered the hallways. It's a nice facility: a cycle studio, a huge family art studio, multiple swimming pools for adults and kids, a teen center, Weight Watcher's meetings here, a strength training class there. Time was ticking by very slowly though, and my hallway wandering began to feel a little creepy after I noticed the same people staring at me more than once while I passed them by, slowly and aimlessly.

I found a corner in the locker room and sat down, wishing I hadn't forgotten my cell phone on the mantle at home, so I could text someone to pass the time. I watched the seconds tick by on the wall clock. My stomach was jumpy, just like last night. This is all such easy stuff: I'm visiting a gym with free child care, for Christ's sakes, not performing brain surgery blindfolded! But it's so new, and it's scary. I had told the woman at the desk where I dropped off my children that this would just be a test run for our first time. I said 20 to 30 minutes. I watched the tick ... tick ... tick ... I determined that it would take me two minutes to walk from the locker room to the childcare center. At 17 minutes I could stand it no longer, and headed down the hallway, walking quickly, anxiety and relief brewing in my belly like a half-caf blend.

My daughter was fine. I had left her sitting on a thick mat on the floor, with a foam mini-staircase/slide apparatus off to her side, chewing on her name bracelet and grinning at the toys and other children around her. She was in the same place, but had tried to climb the stairs before rolling onto her back, the better to chew her toe and grin at the people behind her.

When I went to get my son, a few staff members told me he had cried for me. But he wasn't crying when I spotted him at the train table, and his first words were: Hi Mommy! Hi baby sis! I don't want to go HOOOME!

The utter disdain embedded in the word home could not be mistaken! I asked him about the crying on our way out to the car.

Oh yeah! he told me, I needed to find you and tell you about THAT BOY! He took my Thomas engine from the train table! I needed to tell you about it, and the teachers said I couldn't!

Did he take it out of your hands? I asked.

Well, no, Mommy!

Where was it? I asked.

It was on the train table! he answered. But I was seeing it, and I was wanting it for myself!

It was hard to get too worked up about that. I'm sure my firstborn told THAT (poor) BOY just how he felt about seeing it and wanting it for himself. A little crying about having to share at age three isn't going to hurt anyone. The kids were just fine.

So it was just me and my knotty stomach, all alone.

We came home, played and ate and one napped and the other watched a little PBS, and I kept the house clean as a whistle (my other great fear about being home: I hate cleaning. Straight hate it. I'm here to be a teacher, a mother, a reader of books and a builder of minds for my babies, not a maid. But since we can't afford a maid, there's a little bit of indentured servitude built into the role, and I'm not sure how well I'll deal with that!).

My husband came home so late I had to call and cancel my chiropractic appointment. The kids went down early in the evening, for what I'd love to call the night, but is more likely a late day nap.

It all went fine.

So why is my stomach still in knots? For God's sakes: what am I afraid of?

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Room of My Own

I wrote this post a year ago this weekend. I continued teaching yoga through the rest of my pregnancy, but didn't return after my daughter was born. I went back last Thursday night, and I'll be teaching the same class I write about here. At least for the time being! It's a nice reminder that life is cyclical. Someday I'll be returning to professional life too. We always find our way back to the things that matter most to us. Today that's my babies and my yoga practice. Tomorrow? Well, who knows!

So just hours after I post about how now is not the time for my yoga practice, I go teach my first class in over a month.  And suddenly I remember why I've been fighting for this ever since my son was born, why I hold on so tight.  Something magical happens when I teach a yoga class, and while these next few years may not be the time to focus all my energy on that magic, to help it blossom into whatever it might become given proper time and attention, neither am I really ready to let it go.

I felt ready to let it go, for a combination of reasons.  One of my classes got canceled for the summer, so I was down to just once a week.  Because of our week down South, our beach trip, and my sister's wedding last weekend (which I haven't written about, but really should, because it was beautiful), I had to find subs for nearly half of those weekly classes.  Then, when I returned after missing a few weeks, I found out that one of my subs had never shown, so my class members were upset, and I had another week where no one showed up in protest (not sure if I was back on the schedule and not wanting to take any chances with another potential no-show sub) and I went home without teaching anything.

So I've been out of touch.  Literally.  Out of the touch of my hands and knees to the floor in cat and cow, and out of touch with my breath expanding into my back ribcage in forward bends, and out of touch with where my breath goes easily and where it seems to struggle, and how it feels to stretch my spine in six different directions (forward, back, side, side, twist right, twist left, in case you were wondering).

And out of touch with the dim light of a studio in the evening, the day's last rays of sun slipping in between tall brick columns to filter through old windows in an old brick building in the heart of downtown where I walk past unwashed men digging bottles and cans out of city garbage pails to redeem nickels for the booze they hope will redeem them.  Where I wave to the Pakistani parking garage toll booth operator, and sometimes stop to talk with him, though I know not his name, nor he mine.  Where I pass the bar best known for beer and beef on wick, the first bar I ever visited in this city, years before it was my own, visiting a friend who attended graduate school here, and that never fails to alight a quick thought about the pleasures of beer and beef on wick before I quickly remember that I have both a baby in my belly and a toddler at home, neither of whom are particularly on board with Mama and Daddy doing nothing but drinking beer and eating beef sandwiches for the next hour or so.  Where the old man who's been attending my yoga classes for years now always waits outside the studio door and greets me with a smile and a story of his new granddaughter, born premature, but doing better each time I see him.  Out of touch with all these things that I have made my own over the past six years, and which I'm not quite ready to walk away from entirely.

So yoga and I, we'll be those friends who can't find the time to catch up as often as we'd like, but stay in touch just enough to keep the friendship alive during long patches of busy, bustling lives full of other obligations.  We'll be a marriage where we slip past one another as we hurry-scurry about, not quite able to remember what we used to talk about for hours, but once a week we'll reach for one another under the sheets, and for the time being, that will have to be enough.  It will be tiny corner that I keep swept up, even while the rest of my life is a messy blur of chaos, one little place for myself that perhaps has no space to expand, but that I don't fully abandon either.  It will be a room of my own.  Even if I very rarely visit.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bloggin' 'Bout Bloggin' 'Bout Mah Issues

  1. I had to remove my last two posts from the "unpacking privilege" series. They were less "unpacking" it, and more "dwelling in it, with failure to recognize". My younger sisters used to have a code for when things smelled bad. They would say: rank, stank, and reek. As in: Your sneakers? Um, sorry to say, but ... rank, stank, and reek! I got off on the right foot (ha!), examining my own privilege -making it visible- but I ended up invisible and rank, stank, reeking of it. I'll come back eventually. I always do. I'm grateful to have a forum for these issues, especially since my job -my previous place to unpack all this- is no more ...
  2. On the other hand, I never really intended to unpack my "spiritual issues". I've long felt that my religion of origin -Roman Catholicism- didn't resonate with me in any meaningful way. I went to Catholic school as a kid. Religion was like math--something to memorize. Very little I learned dug any deeper than that. But, by the same token, I didn't think there was another religion that would resonate either. I suppose I still feel the same way. And yet the same time... I feel very deeply devout. Toward ... well ... something. I guess I just haven't found it yet. And I certainly never expected blogging to be a vehicle toward finding or defining that something.
  3. My desire to discuss my differences with my husband surprises me. Now, I don't necessarily mean our differences in opinion (though that's part of it), but the actual differences in who we are and how we think, learn, and move through life. We are very different people. I love the hell out of my husband; I'm pretty sure he feels the same way. Since we've met, we have encouraged each other to take the path that felt right -regardless of the relative difficulty it might result in: financial, timewise, or otherwise- so we've run the gamut: from volunteer jobs, to working nights and weekends, to remaining unemployed for long periods of time while waiting and looking for what works. This results in any number of challenges: who's responsible for what on the home front? And at any given time? We are willing to keep that question -and others: who are we? who do we want to be? how do we get there?- open. To negotiate. And renegotiate, as circumstances change. And as they change us. And I can't help but want to talk about those changes as they take place.
  4. The Mommy Wars! Truth be told: I've long been obsessed with the Mommy Wars. Super obsessed. Since waaaaayyyyy before I had kids of my own. And at the same time, I think they are totally lame and outdated. I think we *ought* to be beyond them. Meanwhile, they fight to the death within me. So I guess I'll be "unpacking" that baggage as I work my way though it. Mommy Wars: you are my nemesis. And also kind of my BFF.
  5. For all of you: reading, commenting, writing your own way through these questions: thank you. This makes it so much more interesting, intriguing, worthwhile ... You bring me back to my keyboard, time and time again. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. Another thing I never expected ...

Monday, August 29, 2011


It was supposed to be Consequences. The title. Choices was last time, and consequences come after choices, right?

Well, they do in the linear and just version of the world we inculcate in our children in school. The same one advertisers use to sell us products to protect us from the consequences we don't really deserve if we can purchase our way out of them.

The truth is, I'm not certain I believe in consequences, or at least not as a simple and direct result of choices. Life is capricious and fickle. Things happen, certainly, but who can point to why? Why is a story we tell. Everything is really just a story we tell, when we get down to it.

Identity, though. Identity is a question mark. An ever-moving target. An amalgam of choices and consequences, resentments and realities blended together like stone soup. A story told by a notorious liar.

Someone I've worked with for the past five years asked me what I'm planning to do next. When I told her stay home with my children, she sighed. I already mentioned you to someone on the hiring committee, she told me. The job has Director in the title, and the employer is a prestigious university. I'm honored she would think of me. I'm worried the years off will hurt me in the job market in the future. I'm a little scared of walking away after working my way up to administration from lowly part-time teacher.

Later she told me, via e-mail: I think you seriously underestimate yourself. I think she's wrong there. I might underestimate the value of my particular skill set in the marketplace; she may have a point there. But I don't underestimate my abilities. It's just that I know what else I want out of life. And there's so much else.

There was another job in the paper last Sunday: a list of all the things I love to do; all the same things I've been doing at my present job. The pay was approximately quadruple what I've ever made before in my life. I called, just to be certain, but it was just as I thought: it required a credential I don't have. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then a colleague told me: You should apply anyway. Not many people have the skill set they're looking for, and you do. If they don't find anyone they like, they'll consider you without the credential and give you time to get it. I tucked that information away in my mind, and did nothing while the deadline passed.

I have choices (and they have consequences, though they don't seem simple), but here's what I just can't choose: I can't choose a job where I leave my babies in the early mornings and pick them up late for dinner. I can't choose a job that takes so much of my brain there is nothing left for daydreaming. I can't choose a job that allows me to do good in the world at the expense of being able to do myself any good.

I don't want fingernails bitten to the quick. I don't want to be lost in the shuffle of constant thinking so that when my husband speaks to me I don't hear what he's saying. I know myself. I know my capabilities, and my limitations. There are choices that sound so tempting, but there is no hesitation in my voice when I ask myself if they are what I really want: No. Not now.

My boss hugged me goodbye and she said: I'm just afraid when I call you back with another grant you'll tell me no. That you're too happy where you are. I couldn't answer that right away. I still don't have an answer yet, although the conversation's long over.

This isn't about sacrificing myself for my husband, or my children, although it might look that way to some. My teaching assistant told me she won't work full-time because her household won't run well if she does and I thought: Your kids are in school now! Your husband can't help with that? We all judge. I mean, really, who am I to talk?

This is about choosing not to sacrifice myself to a job that would fascinate me, even as it ate me alive. This is about me, and my need for time to breathe. This is about working out my identity, which is more than just my work. It is, in fact, partly based on my willingness to walk away from work that doesn't suit my needs. To trust (in the face of some very real fear) that I will find work that does suit me, when I am ready to look.

And so I stir my own stone soup, a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, added onto a base built of fairy tale fiction. My story about myself says this: She felt afraid. But she kept moving forward. The path was clear, but she didn't want to follow it. She forged her own, despite the fear.

My story about myself says this, and when it's very late at night and my children are asleep, when I look up at the stars I can almost believe it: She did just what she wanted, and she never paid the price.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


It's 1996 and I'm in the woods with a bunch of strangers, backpacking through rural Arizona. We're about to embark upon what's called a "solo," where we split up and spend three days completely alone: sleeping on the ground, fasting, drinking from streams after adding iodine drops to our water bottles.

This will change you forever, my guide intones. At the end of my solo I had streaked my face with mud and discovered a side of myself I didn't know existed.

I knew it wouldn't change me. All the things they say will change you: travel, falling in love, becoming a mother: they've only ever made me more deeply myself.

I spend those three days naked on a rock, looking up at desert trees, writing bad poetry and making lists in my mind: all the things I'll eat when I finally get out of the woods and back to civilization; my various perfect dream jobs, in order of likelihood of actual occurrence; all the religions I'd be willing to try out, knowing I'll never find one that fits. Then I plan my wedding dress, even though I'm not engaged, or even dating. I haven't met my husband yet; I'm decidedly single, just out of a long-term relationship that held on longer than it ought to. And I'm not a wedding dress planning kind of girl. I've never dreamed of that big day, never played wedding with my barbies, never particularly cared about weddings one way or the other before.

But here's what's inspired me: I bought a dress at the Salvation Army before the backpacking trip began. It's blue, with chiffon layers starting at the neckline and running all the way down to the floor. I want my Salvation Army dress remade in white for my wedding. My grandmother will do it; I know she will.

I don't meet my husband for another year after that trip. We're engaged within three months. My grandmother makes my dress: a replica of my thrift store find. My husband's grandmother makes his suit out of hemp; we order yards of it from somewhere on the Internet. We make our own invitations on homemade paper and the wedding is held in my parent's backyard. Our flowers are bought from the farmer's marker and stolen from farmer's fields the morning of the wedding. I make the arrangements myself, stick them in mason jars, and place them on the tables. My grandmother also makes the bridesmaid's dresses; she teaches me how to do the last one, and I stay up with her and sew the maid of honor's dress for my sister late into that summer night. The sky is dark when we finish, and I've made my first --and last, at least for the next decade, as it turns out-- dress.

Someone calls it a hippie wedding and I'm half-offended and half-amused. But of course, it was.

My father, a year earlier when he heard of my engagement, had asked: what's he going to do?

I knew he meant for a living; my fiancee was an art major with no job prospects after graduation.

I don't know, I answer honestly.  But we're smart, dad, and not afraid of hard work. We'll figure it out.

I can hear my father's grin through the telephone wire; he approves of that sort of answer.

The point is, we've always been the sort of people to look at a bright, shiny, perfect wheel right off the assembly line, glance at each other, smile, and say:  Bet we could reinvent that!

That's who we are. For better or for worse.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unpacking Privilege: Reality

This is Part 2 in a series examining privilege, and how it plays out in my life. For Part 1, go here.

I walk into work, fresh from a weekend of nursing my resentments. My tiny wounds --grudges borne carrying the weight of class consciousness around on my shoulders for years, though no one has asked me to do so-- blossom like blooms in May, fed by images of a life I imagine easier than my own. I'll be laid off at the end of this month; I'm going to be a stay-at-home-mom, but money will be tight, and I will have to juggle. I want to be a stay-at-home-mom with money that is not tight; I don't want to have to juggle. What I want is so very close to what I have, but rather than recognizing my good fortune, I feel slighted so close to the goal. Why can't I have just a little bit more?

My office phone rings. A student tells me her name, but it takes three times before I can make it out. She's practically whispering, and her voice just doesn't sound right.  

I'm sorry I didn't come to school last week. I'm going to come this week. We had a terrible week, our family, last week... her voice breaks off.

I've learned not to ask too many questions over the years. They'll tell me if they want to.

Some people think if you accept any kind of government aid, representatives of that government have the right to ask you any questions they want. To insult and harass you, to accuse you of lying. To insert themselves into your personal business, into your bedroom, into your very soul. To determine your worth as a human being before the eyes of God and the Government before they help you eat or feed your children, receive medical care, earn an education.

I'm not one of those people, so I shut my mouth, listen, wait.

My brother was shot in a drive-by, she chokes, the bullet went in his back and came out his face. I want to finish school, I do, it's just ... last week, I just ... couldn't. He's alive. I'm the only one he'll let near him. They released him, but I have to bathe him and everything. I want to finish though. I'll come this week. I'm sorry I didn't call. I didn't make any calls that day. I didn't answer my phone all day. But I'll come back this week.

This student is the only one who's been here longer than me. I've bought her Christmas presents, held her babies, taught them the letters in their name and listened to her fears about raising them in the same streets that claimed her brother years ago.

Once in parenting class we were discussing spanking, and she yelled out: If spanking worked, my brother wouldn't be running the streets the way he is! 'Cause I know he got his ass beat enough times, if it was gonna work, it would have by now! Shit, it MUST not work!

That evidence was far more persuasive than the research I presented, for many of our parents. They argued my research, loudly, point-by-point, but when she spoke the room got quiet. I saw heads nodding as they considered her first-hand evidence, anecdotal but no doubt echoed by experiences of their own.

I reassured her that it was fine to miss a week; that we'll be here this week, and then help her figure out where she needs to go next to finish her education. She's lucky, in that all her kids will be in school starting this fall. She can attend classes during that time; she won't need childcare. She has options. Lots of the others don't.

So if she's lucky, what am I?

I hang up the phone and pass the rest of the day in a pensive fog. My heart is heavy.

But I'm through feeling sorry for myself.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Unpacking Privilege: Resentment

I spent this past weekend with the kids so my husband could continue attacking our home repair projects like the one-man construction crew he is. I have home projects of my own to do: there are bags and boxes of outgrown clothing to store behind the attic wall, and other bins to pull out, unpack, fold, put away. There are baseboards to scrub and bins to buy; books to stack and art supplies to arrange. In the rush to make our home presentable before the start of the school year we've moved a lot of things up into our attic bedroom. These things need to be sifted through, organized, made sense of.

I need some time to make sense of everything, but there is no time. My husband has heavy lifting to do, and I need to corral the kids so he can get it done. This is the way our marriage must function, for now, --and this is neither the first nor the last time it will be so-- and both of us struggle with it. He doesn't want to be a one-man workhorse, and I don't want all my work to be pushed to the back burner until his is done. But this is how it is. It's temporary. It's going to get us where we want to go.

In between entertaining the children and attempting to mop the hardwood floors I tried to sooth the rough edges of my anxiety by perusing blogs online. Rather than finding any solace, I found myself resentful of the following things:
  • Beautiful houses (that do not need ridiculous amounts of work). (In my state of mounting resentment I was sure -absolutely sure!- that nobody but us owns a fixer-upper. Nobody!)
  • Expensive accessories, including, but not limited to:
    • purses (I have about 12 trillion purses upstairs that I own but never use, but no matter)
    • shoes (ditto)
    • jewelry (yep, ditto there too)
  • Pinterest boards of all types, especially those featuring:
    • clothing (I haven't bought clothing from anywhere but the Salvation Army since 2007; I'm feeling a bit peevish about it, can you tell?) 
    • home decor (I want new throw pillows. I can't have new throw pillows. This makes me grumpy.) 
    • anything nautical (get out of my face with your adorable beach house!) 
    • uplifting or inspirational slogans (if I wanted to be uplifted or inspired, do you really think I'd be sitting here feeding my resentments so voraciously!?)
  • And finally: anyone with any certainty about God and "his plan". (If God is involved enough that he cares about the minute details of your homeschooling curriculum then where the fuck has he been when it comes to the entire continent of Africa for the last several decades?!?) (And er, um, why do we have to fix up our own house instead of hiring a professional to do it?) (I think I somehow managed to think both of these things, with a special sort of resentment-fueled cognitive dissonance.)
    It was one of those moods.

    For Part 2, go here.

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Diving In

    I used to be the first person to jump in the water, and the last one out. As a kid, I'd ignore my mother's repeated calls to get out of the pool and into the car. In college, while everyone else needed one more beer before they'd brave the ice cold lake --looked as big as an ocean from the sandy shore-- I'd be impatient, hopping from foot to foot, finally plunging in alone under the moon, feeling as free as I ever have floating in the indigo waves.

    We took the kids to the beach again this summer. My son's not much of a swimmer, preferring to putter around on the shore, digging in the sand, creating worlds with his shovel. My girl wanted in that water though. I'd take her deep and she'd struggle to get out of my arms, imagining she could slip into the deep green of the lake and slither like an eel into it's depths. I'd hold her tight, take her closer to shore, and sit down, letting the waves wash over us, feel the undertow tugging at our toes as the water washed back out to sea.

    She was fearless.

    * * *

    I'd never have quit my job; I loved it. It was perfectly tailored to my strengths and interests. It gave me an outlet for some of my obsessions, and the spiritual impulses I don't have anywhere else to put. Having had that, though: The Perfect Job, I find it hard to imagine settling for the Eh, It's Alright, I Guess Job. I sound spoiled as shit, saying that. I recognize that. People everywhere are scrambling desperately for the Eh, It's Alright, I Guess Job, or even the I Hate It, But It Pays The Bills Job.

    I'm both incredibly lucky and a little bit smart, and I've dodged that particular bullet. For the time being, at least. We're all just one global financial catastrophe away from ruin, right? I say lucky, because I don't believe most of us earn the grace we're given, any more than I believe that we earn our devastation. God may or may not have a detailed plan for each of us; I'll leave that to the theologians. But I'm pretty sure the bumper sticker got it right when it read: Shit Happens.

    I say smart because we bought a house in my husband's name, on his salary alone. Now, if he leaves my ass and takes the house, that won't look so smart anymore, will it? But when I lose my job and we don't lose the house, it looks rather brilliant. It was, brilliant or foolish, a conscious choice to set myself up for stay-at-home-motherhood, to prepare our family financially for that choice.

    A choice I never made, although I certainly considered it often enough, even while fortunate enough to have landed The Perfect Job. A choice that has been made for me now. By the scarcity of part-time, professional positions, and my antipathy for full-time work. By the large-scale layoffs of teachers in my area, the scarcity of work available even if I wanted it. By the high cost of quality childcare, eating more than half of my take home pay in the best of situations. By the Congressional cutting, cutting, cutting, and the way the trickle-down effect seems as certain as death and taxes when it comes to poverty, but never to work quite right when it comes to wealth.

    * * *

    My favorite part of diving into waves has always been the feeling of utter freedom as your feet leave the sand and your body becomes weightless. My favorite part of motherhood is the abandonment of What's Supposed To Happen Now and the surrender to immersion in What Is Happening Now.

    My favorite feeling? My very, very favorite feeling? The one I wish for my children, for myself, and for everyone I love to experience as often as possible?


    * * *

    It's so sad that my program has been eliminated. It's so very sad.

    But it's not that sad for me.

    This is why it's difficult for me to believe that God is stage-directing our every move, or that The Secret to life is as simple as Like Attracts Like. If God directed Congress to eliminate a GED program for parents so I could stay home with my babies, then I'm terribly sorry to be the one to call attention to it, but God is an asshole. And if I Secreted myself into unemployment because I secretly want to be home, and the collateral damage is a group of barely literate mothers who have even fewer options than they did a month ago, then I'm an asshole and should be banned from Secreting things into being ever again.

    So I'm left with bumper sticker pseudo-wisdom, luck, and smarts.

    I can work with that.