disapproving kitty

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Don't Be Hatin' on Your Brand of Crazy

     So it's come to my attention that people think I hate the kinds of parents who go crazy with Elf on the Shelf or any of the other hundreds of things parents (usually moms) do to make their children's lives magical and wondrous.  This is not so.  I am perfectly fine with anyone who wants to spend three hours after her kids are in bed making cookies and then powdering every surface in her kitchen with flour, and leaving little elf-tracks in it before heading up to bed.  She's more than welcome to do so.  I'm just saying that I reserve the right to think that she's absolutely nuts.
    I do my fair share of bizarre parenting things, like paying full fare to go to an amusement park for two full days with a 2 and 4 year old.  This means I've essentially paid close to 100 bucks plus hotel and gas money to spend two days standing in lines to watch my children go around and around and around while listening to peppy child-themed tunes through scratchy speakers.  It's expensive, exhausting and makes my children indescribably happy.  So I do it.  And it's insane.  Feel free to make fun.  I certainly do.  So, should you be a mom who absolutely loves to go nuts with the holiday elf or whatever else it is that floats your boat, knock yourself out.  I don't hate you.
     What I do hate, however, is when one of those moms comes along and accuses me and all my slacker-mommy friends of being bad parents or of even not wanting our children in the first place because we don't do these things that she finds so important.  I pretty much have the same issue with any people who feel the right to tell me I'm doing it wrong because I'm not doing it their way.  This goes for the breast-feeding advocate who tries to make me feel ashamed and lazy because my children were bottle-fed.  (There are reasons, and they are most certainly none of her business, thankyouverymuch.)  And it goes for the childless person who tsk-tsks me for allowing my child to eat crackers in the grocery cart while we tool through the store (Yes, I pay for them.  So do all the other moms who do this.)  And it goes for the strangers who shoot rude stares at my friend who takes her profoundly autistic son out in public, and he behaves as autistic children do.  It's for the helicopter parents who rebuke me for letting my kids play outside alone, and the ones who call anyone who lets their child "cry it out" a monster.  Same for those who want parental rights revoked for co-sleepers and late-breastfeeders, largely because it just weirds them out, and they call it abuse*.  All of these people will cite bogus, slanted or poorly done research to back up their judgmental claims, and none of them could tell me the difference between correlation and causality.  These people I have no truck with, and wish they would take their judgy selves off to mind their own beeswax.
   That said, I have great love and admiration for all the super-mommies (and daddies) out there who go positively bonkers trying to make their kids happy.  I know there's been backlash against these folks, and I've seen the ridicule and claims that it's making their children into a generation of whiny, entitled brats.  Frankly, just growing up in middle-class (and up) America in the 21st century is going to risk that, so what's the harm in throwing in an Elf?  I also have great love and admiration for slacker-mommies who are usually too tired at the end of a long working day to mess with all that, you know?  So, please stay off my back and I'll stay off yours, 'k?
Peace out, folks.  Enjoy the holidays, be it Chanukah, Solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year's or I'm-a-curmudgeon-and-don't-celebrate-nothing Day.**

*Calling things like lack of an Elf and bottle feeding "abuse" lessens the import of actual abuse, which, btw, I also have no truck with, and will (and do) report.
**C'mon.  You know someone who would celebrate this.  You know you do.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We Have to do Whatnow With an Elf?

Thanks to a FB friend of mine, I happened upon a new mommy blog, but it's not one of those mommy blogs about 900 detail-intensive ways to make sure your offspring have perfect childhoods.  It's called People I Want to Punch in the Throat and she's suddenly (like a couple days ago) exploded in popularity.
She wrote a bit about her "Elf on the Shelf."  For those of you without children or who, like me, have deliberately tried to remain oblivious to obnoxious trends in parenting like baby knee pads and The Perfect Child's Birthday Party, the "Elf" is a little toy Elf that comes out a Christmastime, like the Advent Calendar from Hell.  There are women who dedicate hours to making messes the "Elf" made and then cleaning them up, all for seeing the resultant joy and wonder on their children's faces.  ("Oh, that's funny, mommy!  Look what the Elf did!  Hee hee!  Can I watch Dora now?")  They do all this after the kids are in bed for the night.  These women apparently never sleep.
This new blogger's elf pretty much moves from one shelf to another, unless she forgets to move it.  She is my kinda mom.  Not to outdo her on the bad-mommy front, but my Elf does even less.  I know this because I do not even have an Elf on the Shelf.  My children have not read this book.  I didn't even know it was a book until she mentioned it on her blog.  I thought it was some bizarre Christmas tradition started by local women with way too much damn time on their hands.  Apparently not.  It is the invention of some author who must have felt that buying your children a truckload of gifts, wrapping and storing them, decorating a tree, and the house, baking 12-gazillion cookies, throwing a holiday party and making gifts for all 23 daycare teachers was not enough for Mommy to do in December in order to be a Good Mommy.   You think I'm kidding?  Jen (the blogger) got comments from women (you know it was women, right?) who said they felt sorry for her children because they did not get the full Elf experience.  I have seen a picture of this woman's house.  It is huge and gorgeous, with a nice lawn.  These are not deprived children.  One woman went so far as to claim that Jen must not have wanted her children in the first place.  Because she doesn't want to spend hours each night making phenomenal messes the "Elf" did and then spend hours the next day cleaning it up.  This makes her a BAD MOMMY.
If this is BAD MOMMY behavior, then Child Services is going to be banging on my door any second now.
Like I said, we do not have an Elf.  I was tremendously glad when our school principal outlawed Elves at school because it was too much of a distraction from the school day.  (Now I'm not just a Bad Mommy, I'm a Bad Teacher, too.)  I also let my kids watch television, eat Kraft Mac and Cheese (sometimes at the same time) and buy them clothes from the Thrift Store.  There are days they don't eat from all the food groups, they have been known to play in the back yard by themselves and I fail to get them into bed by 8:30 on a regular basis.
Right now, instead of taking my children to COSI, I'm letting the 3 year old have a long nap and the 4 year old is watching and episode of Pocoyo.  For the second time.
All I can say is that I know that I do lots of wonderful mommy things, as does the blogger and all of my mommy friends.  I even have mommy friends who have Elves that do goofy things, and more power to 'em.  You do your thing.  I'll do mine.  And, as they say, the kids will be all right.

PS -- I finally figured out how to make words into links.  Not that this is hard at all, but I'm a reluctant technology adopter, so I'm really proud of myself here.  Just sayin'.

I Need a Wife, Too*

My parents came to visit a few days ago.  I love my parents.  For three days, all the dishes in my kitchen were clean, all the laundry was folded and there was no cat throw up anywhere.  Life was good.   I commented on this to my mother, and she said that once she went back to work (when I was about 13-ish), she realized how much she really wanted to have a wife, too -- someone to cook and clean and help out with the kids because it was pretty damn apparent that she didn't have enough time to do all of that anymore.  And despite being generally decent kids, my brothers and I weren't all that helpful in the household-duties department.  I mean, we did the dishes after dinner, and even cooked occasionally, but we pretty much only cleaned our rooms at gunpoint.
Mom and Dad also kept the kids occupied and happy, a thing I mention only because both of them have just started to scream.  Darling Daughter has just taken Darling Son's toys again.  She's smaller, but always seems to win these fights.  She takes what she wants, and shrieks with unholy volume when anyone tries to take it back.  Her usual target is DS, who usually comes to us, weeping, instead of grabbing back or hitting.  Sometimes he even tries to reason with her, but as she's three, it usually doesn't work.  As his daycare teacher says -- DS is a lover, not a fighter.  DD, on the other hand, would punch and shriek her way through a crowd of kitten-holding nuns to get a toy she wanted, and that's just the way she's built.
Now, we do strive to impress upon DD that violence isn't acceptable, and eventually it will sink in, I'm sure.  (really.  any day now.  she's going to figure it out.  really.)  But honestly, I can't say with any certainty which way of approaching life is the better one.  So other than trying to mold aggressiveness into assertiveness in DD, and helping DS hone his negotiation skills, I think it's probably best just to let them be who they are.
I think this was also my parents' philosophy, and I'm rather grateful for it.  For that, and for folding all the laundry.  Come back and visit anytime.  (The clean clothes are piling up again.)

*iTunes - Music - Open Lines & Signals by Bernice Lewis

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Should Be So Lucky

I am out of sorts and bloated and angry for no reason and finding all things in my world to be pleasureless, bleak and gray.  No, it is not "that time of the month" thankyouverymuch.  No, this dip into the depths is drug induced.
I am on a 6 day course of prednisone.
It does this to me, on about day four.  I warned J that come about, oh, Thursday, I would start being out of sorts but when it actually happened I was caught unawares.  I was stomping about at work, unable to concentrate, and then just about falling down during dance class.  Thinking, for the first time, that I don't like this class anymore and ought to quit.  I have never thought this.  I love my dance class.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Oh.....yes.   Prednisone.
The reason I am on prednisone is because it is a steroid, and I am trying to reduce the inflammation in my elbow and shoulder so they stop hurting all the freaking time.  I would say more on my feelings about this, but there is always that chance that someone from my professional life would come along and read this, and my persona as a sweet, unsullied grade-school teacher would be tarnished.   So.  Enough about that.
Suffice it to say that it hurts considerably, all the time, and impairs my ability to do everything I would like to do.
The thing is, though, that it really is a minor problem.  I was reading today about some poor kid with mitochondrial insufficiency or somesuch and it's going to kill him.  I should be so lucky as to have a bum arm and all I need is to put up with prednisone.
Only, it isn't really working.  I'm still in a lot of pain (not as much as that kid, though, I'm betting) and it's all making me very grumpy.  My brain keeps telling me to cut it out and stop being such a wimp and be grateful I am not in worse shape but this isn't helping.  I tried having some ice cream, and that didn't help either.  I'm thinking of moving on to wine.  There's some nice Moscato in the laundry room.*
Last time I was on this steroid, I was listening to NPR, and Marketplace came on, with the announcement that Ky Ryssdal was on vacation, and I burst into tears.  Apparently I really like Ky Ryssdal.
What I don't entirely get is why prednisone does this to me.  I mean, it's a steroid, right?  The thing that men naturally have in vast quantities?  And yet, they are not walking balls of weepiness and rage.  Well, not most of them.  And here is me, ready to destroy everything in my path with burning rage rays shot from my eyeballs or, alternately, weep myself into a puddle.
The worst part, possibly, is that a dear friend of mine just sent me an advent calendar full of writing prompts, good wishes and pictures of the gifts she donated (in my honor, I guess) to the less fortunate.  So I have wonderful, uplifting and quirky things about which to write, and all I can think of is bleak landscapes, and unopened bottles of wine.
So, if you'll excuse me for a few days, I gotta go check on something in the laundry room.

*Don't ask why we have Moscato in the laundry room.  I don't know.   We have food stored in at least four different places in this house, and I'm not entirely sure why.  I think it has to do with the fact that any food I store in the basement pantry is forgotten about almost instantly and only recalled when I go down there to get something from the deep freeze.

Monday, December 5, 2011

whole lotta nothing

It's 11 o'clock and I should be headed to bed, but I keep procrastinating.  It's peaceful and quiet and since being put to bed, neither of our kids had been up for anything which makes the past hour or so golden time.  I want to stretch it out as long as possible, which isn't really wise, and taking a moment to blog something is just another means of avoiding what I should be doing instead.
At least it's creative task avoidance.  In my family, there are two kinds of task avoidance, crass and creative.  Watching tv instead of doing your homework, or mowing the lawn or whatever it is you have to do is crass.  So is playing computer games and monkey-clicking through websites for hours on end.  Creative task avoidance is when you actually do something that's at least partially useful, like doing the laundry instead of dishes.  Reading can count, as long as it's not just fluff and isn't what you've been doing for the past, say six hours.  So I'm counting this as creative.  But barely.
I've been floundering around a bit, trying to think of things to write about, but I keep falling short.  Not because of a dearth of things to write about, but because so many of them are just way too personal.  I love to read The Bloggess and MommyWantsVodka and such.  They're hysterically funny and reveal all sorts of personal quirks about the writers' lives.  And the lives and foibles of their loved ones.  Even though I know that practically no one is reading this, I still don't want to air our dirty laundry or complain incessantly about my kids or even talk about some of the stuff going down in my extended family that I've been thinking about lately.  I'm not sure how real bloggers get around this.
Maybe I need a theme, or hook to wrap this whole blog thing on.
Or maybe I just need to get off my duff and head to bed, because, really, this isn't very creative.  If I were being creative I'd be writing our annual holiday newsletter and not putzing around here trying to figure out how to make myself more interesting.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Only As Good as My Ingredients

I have all these cookbooks.  They're in a bookcase, and sort of just crammed in there because at some point one of my kids removed all of them from the shelf and scattered them about the floor for reasons beyond comprehension.  Well, my comprehension, anyway.  I'm sure there was a good reason at the time.  But now all of them are crammed back up there in such a way that if I even try to remove one, the rest cascade out, spewing bits of other papers all over the clean sticky floor.   Seriously.  My floors get sticky within seconds of being cleaned.  You could trap small mammals in the gunk on my floor.  But this is not the point.

The point is, I have all these cookbooks.  And I rarely use them.  When I do want to use one, like the really cool little bread one I got from mom that automatically falls open to the pizza crust recipe, I usually can't find it because it's hidden by all the little scraps of paper.  Recipes are written on those scraps, which I mean to organize into a binder or something, but I don't.  I just shove them onto the cookbook shelf.  And then I never find them again, or even remember that I have them.   Occasionally one will fall off and I'll read it as I pick it up (this does happen sometimes) and go "Oh!  Yeah, I liked that recipe.  I think."  But I won't be able to duplicate it because when I made it the last time, I used onions instead of scallions (which I never have) and tomato sauce instead of paste because I was out, white wine instead of red and omitted the capers altogether because who the hell stocks capers in their fridge?  Besides, I never remember that I like capers until I have them accidentally at a restaurant and ask my mom what they are.

So even with all these recipes readily available, some of them even in neatly indexed books, I'm always going to the internet to find ones specifically suited to what I want to eat.  Or, more precisely, suited to what I have on hand, or can reasonably substitute for.  Try asking "Joy of Cooking" for recipe that includes potatoes, half a stalk of celery, mini carrots and frozen chicken, but not wine because we're out.  "Joy of Cooking" will just sit there unhelpfully.  The interwebs, though, will hook you up.

Only it won't, really, because every damn recipe, even the ones rated "5 stars!" with comments like "this is the best thing ever!" will contain Onion Soup Mix, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom or both.  One even combined several "Cream of" whatevers and two types of powdered soup mix.  Seriously?  I think 90% of the recipes for crock pot chicken go something like this:    4 chicken breasts, 1 T dried minced onion, 1 bag Onion Soup Mix and a can of Cream of Chicken.  Put in crock pot all together and cook for 4 hours on high.  Serve over instant rice or noodles.  And all of them have 4 1/2 stars.


I mean, sure, I've done the easy-chicken-over-rice-with-mushroom-soup thing many times, and yes, it's good and it's simple, but why the flying hell does someone put this on the internet like it's some brand new amazing thing?   And who are the morons gushing over it in the comment section like it's the Best New Thing since forever?  I guess it's new to somebody. It gets a little tiring, though, to wade through 6, 534 recipes like this to find the one that doesn't include insta-food.

I swear, I could probably find a recipe for "Best Hotdogs Ever" that instructed users to nuke a hotdog (remove from packaging first) for 30 seconds, place inside bun (remove from packaging first), add a strip of mustard and eat.  The only thing missing would be details on how to chew.

The real reason, possibly, that I find this all so annoying is that I would actually USE some of these "recipes" if I could eat the ingredients.  But anything made by Campbell's contains gluten, and most of the dried soup recipes do, too -- or something that makes me sick in any event.  And somehow, I find them less annoying than the recipes that call for things that I have to google to figure out what the hell they are, like "sucanat."  Or pancake recipes that call for five different types of flour (buckwheat, millet, sorghum, brown rice and barley), coconut oil, organic eggs and fair trade vanilla.  These are the kinds of recipes that I suspect are out there less to inform people about how to cook fantastic pancakes and more to inform people about how fantastic (read: better than you) the recipe-makers are.  Besides, I've had these pancakes, and they chew like soggy cardboard, and taste like grass clippings.

So it's back to "Joy of Cooking" or one of the 4000 scraps of paper.

But first I need to clean my floor.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Whatever Happened to the One-Kid-Per-Year Rule?

DS got an invite to a birthday party last week.  We'll go, of course, since it's one of his good buddies from pre-school, but I'm not terribly thrilled by the prospect.  Not because of this birthday party in particular, but because I know it's going to be another one of the dreaded rites of one-upmanship that is invading whatever class it is we're now living in: The. Perfect. Child's. Birthday. Party.

It will be held at either A) some massive child-oriented kid's venue, complete with pizza, a store-bought cake, punch and high-decible activity (tab: $350.00 for a party of 25) or B) an absolutely perfect McMansion, free of any dirt, and with upscale hors d'oeuvres and wine for all the parents who get to stand around uncomfortably, trying to make small talk, or nodding and smiling as the four mothers who do know each other talk loudly about every other fabulous person they know that the rest of us don't.

Either way there will be goodie bags filled with little trinkets for each child, each worth, oh, maybe $5, which isn't much until you figure out that there are 25 of them, all thematically coordinated with the cake, decorations and birthday-boy's outfit.

The message could not be more clear:  We have spent an ungodly amount of money on our 5-year-old's birthday.

And whoo boy, you better pony up come gift-givin' time.

Last year, I dug through the box of books and videos we'd bought at the school book-sale, and found copy of a lovely, if little-known children's movie, and, I think, a hardback children's book.  If I'd paid retail, it was probably a $15 gift.  I put it in a gift bag from our pile of gift bags in the basement, had DS make a "card" and off we went.  It was a nice gift, and one that I would have been happy to see my son receive.

I did not fail to notice for a second that nearly every other child had produced a gift that had to be worth at least $30, and all were elegantly wrapped, often in a bag or paper that matched the theme of the invitation.  Our gift couldn't have stood out more if we'd brought in a turd from the lawn, wrapped in used kleenex.

DS didn't care, and neither did the birthday kid, I suspect.  He was too busy tearing the paper of the next gift.  I suppose I could have imagined that momma's thanks seemed just a tad insincere and had the definite subtext of "cheap family" with it.  Our gift, it was obvious, did not cover our tab.  And I didn't even drink any wine.

I should explain that up to this point, all birthdays in our household have featured relatives only, should they have happened to be in town.  Once or twice we've invited the neighbors over for cake, which I made, with homemade frosting.  (Duncan Heinz cake, though.  Good stuff. Alton Brown says it's okay to use a box for cake, so I'm good with that, too.)   Gifts, I kid you not, are often produced from "shopping" in the basement where we have a ginormous stash of toys and games given to us by other families, or bought by J at Thrift Stores.  (We have enough K-Nex in our basement to create a life-size amusement park by now.)

So I am unsurprisingly appalled by this latest trend in trendy birthday parties.  I want nothing to do with it.  We've been saying that for his 5th birthday, Dash can have his first "real" party.  I was envisioning 4 friends, over for play and some cake.  I would figure out some way to get a quiet word to the parents that any gifts should be under $5, please.  But earlier this week DS had an absolute meltdown in which he proclaimed, wailing, that the only way he could ever be happy again was if he could go to the bouncy-mansion place he's been to once before.  I have no idea what brought on the hysterical sobbing, but in an effort to calm him, I suggested that maybe he could have his birthday party there.  (I sometimes go insane when confronted with non-stop hysteria.  When it's bad enough, I'll do nearly anything to make it cease.)  Sigh.

I can see now how some parents get roped into this, but I'm still hoping to quietly back-pedal this into a 5-kid show at the house.  But maybe not.  Still, no matter what, I'm making the cake myself.  'Cause I stand firm, and that's where I draw the line.  For now.

Monday, September 19, 2011

3 Minute Fiction for NPR

            Grace fidgeted in her seat, resisting the urge to play with the door’s silver buttons.  She knew a sharp “Would you quit fiddling, already!” would issue from her mother the moment her fingers strayed, so instead she reached up to twirl a lock of her hair.  She wriggled, watching the scenery go by.  A sign read "Greentown, 1 mi."  Grace squealed with excitement.  It had been so long that she’d gotten to go anywhere; she could hardly contain herself.

            Not far away, another little girl squirmed on a stone bench, alternately bouncing on her freckled hands, and kicking at pebbles in the dust.  “Stop it,” chided her guardian.  “You’ll scuff your shoes.”

            “Won’t.” she replied, glowering for a moment before brightening as she saw cars driving through distant gates.  She looked anxiously at her chaperone.

            “Yes, that’s her.” he said.  “Don’t worry. You’ll know what to do. “

            She nodded, red curls bobbing.   The cars drove up winding paths.  “When she gets here, I’ll really get to leave?  For good?” 

He nodded.  “Of course.  You’ll take her with you, as her guide. “ 

She bit her lip, nearly jumping with anticipation.

            Through the window, Grace stared at the manicured lawn, graceful statues and carved stone fa├žades.  She had never seen such a beautiful town.  “Are we almost there?”  Her mother looked down at Grace's seat, her mouth set in a thin line that could have been angry, sad or just tired.  Grace never knew.  She looked away, folding her small hands back into her dress, and tried to be ladylike.

            When the car stopped, though, Grace forgot her mother’s silent admonition and scooted herself out the backseat the moment the door opened.  She ran full tilt towards a small pavilion, stopping halfway up to twirl and laugh in the sunlight until she heard a voice behind her.

            “Hey!  Over here!”  Away from the cars and people moving towards the pavilion was a pretty red-headed girl.  Grace glanced at her parents, but they were focused on each other, so she skipped down.

            “Hi!” she chirped.  “Who are you?  I just got here.”  The redhead just stared, and Grace suddenly felt shy, twirling her hair around her finger again.   The older man gave his charge a nudge.

            “Oh! Sorry!" she blushed.  "I’m Angela.  I know you’re new.  I’m… I’m your guide.”

            “My guide?” asked Grace.  She pulled harder on her hair, confusion mounting.

            “Stop that!” chided Angela, giggling.  “You’ll pull it all out!”

            “Pull it out?” echoed Grace, her brow furrowing.  She looked up the hill at her mother, who was seated now, clutching Grace's father.  Grace felt her hair, remembering now that it had all fallen out, and as she remembered her body flickered, a pale, balding image of herself replacing the peach-perfect of a moment ago. 

            “Stop it!” Angela gave her a little shake, really scolding.  “Enough of that.  That’s all done with.  You get to come with me now.”  Grace’s long hair and glowing skin returned.  She smiled nervously.

            “Won’t Momma be mad?  I didn’t ask…” Grace's voice trailed off as she looked up the hill to wave at her parents, but her mother's face was buried in her father’s coat.

            “It’s okay,” reassured Angela.  “She knows.  It’s time to leave.”  She reached out, taking Grace’s hand in hers.  “It’s okay. I know the way.”

            Together they stepped off the paths of Greentown and out into the wide, wide world.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When I Remember, I'll Tell You

     While cleaning the house today I had two or maybe even three possible threads going through my head that I wanted to post about.  I even started fleshing them out, deciding what tangents to follow and which ones to leave, what details to include and so on.  At the time, I remember thinking "I really need that Star Trek computer that allows me access my log from anywhere in the house so I can speak this out loud.  Otherwise, I'm going to forget this."  I was right.  I have forgotten everything except that thought about forgetting it.  It's like a dream I can *almost* remember, but can't.  Argh.  I think maybe it had something to do with gender identity and nail polish, but that doesn't seem quite right.

    I know I could have written down a few words on paper that would have reminded me, but I didn't.

     So, in lieu of whatever important and interesting topic I'd planned to write about, I'll just say that I had intense dreams last night, two involving getting back at bullies and one that involved time-travel and virtual keyboards that enabled me and my time-displaced companions to fly.  It was, in a word, cool.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Wanted Larry, but Got Moe Instead

   I have had so much in my head lately that I haven't been writing.  It's like my thoughts are all jammed up in the doorway, Three Stooges style, so nothing can get through.  In addition, most of what comes out in my mental ravings to myself are rants about politics, or teaching, or society in general, and I need to keep these thoughts from running rampant in a public forum.
   So I think I will choose a safer topic, like using technology in the classroom.  You see,  I went to another teaching conference a few days ago.  This one was heavy on the ways we need to integrate technology into our classrooms if we are going to truly prepare kids for what lies ahead.  We have this old model, see?  The model where schools have all the information and we parcel it out it workable chunks and kids learn it and while they're doing that they learn how they are learning so that eventually they can do it on their own.
     Only we got bogged down somewhere along the way with really good sounding words like accountability and quality which are Good Things, because we do them in the real world.  We quality test in the real world.  We take the product and we use it and stress it and try to make it break.  That's how we know if we have a good product.  If the product fails, we go back and redesign it and try again.  This is a fine way to treat a product.  It's not so fine a way to treat a child, though, and we keep forgetting that.
     We have also fallen victim to "The Streetlight Effect."  The Streetlight Effect is from an old joke, about a drunken man, on his hands and knees, searching around a lamp post at midnight.  A cop comes along and asks what he's doing.  The man replies, "I'm looking for my wallet, ossifer."  "Oh," replies the cop, "where did you drop it?'  The drunk waves a hand, indicating a dark part of the street a ways off.  "If you dropped it there," says the cop, "why are you looking here?"  "Because this is where the light is good!" exclaims the man.
     This is where we are in our desperate quest to improve schools by making teachers and students accountable.  We are testing and collecting endless reams of data to demonstrate our progress.  Facts and figures and anything that can be answered by fill-in-the-bubble tests.  The lamp light is strong and bright here because it's easy to see if someone has learned what year the Gettysburg Address was given.  The vast majority of these assessments test only a little bit of knowledge and comprehension.  But it's really, really difficult to assess the ability of students to apply knowledge to new situations, or to test analytical reasoning, or synthesis or the ability that students have to evaluate what they are learning.  All of these higher levels of learning are nearly impossible to accurately judge based on a standardized paper-pencil test.  So we don't do that.  We look only where the light is good.
    What we really want schools to do is prepare our children to become productive members of society, able to work, have stable, meaningful personal lives and contribute positively to the community.  We want to hold teachers accountable for doing that.  But we only know how to test for whether they've taught kids how to memorize facts and figures, and how to effectively take tests.  As long as we keep insisting that everyone play this meaningless game, then we are not going to create successful schools any more than the drunk is going to find his wallet by that lamp post.
    The really idiotic part is that good teachers CAN and DO assess for all of the truly meaningful learning!  We just can't parse it down into standardized bubble-test numbers.  And so much time is spent worrying about the test, teaching to the test, working towards that lowest-common-denominator that there is little time left for actual learning.  We've become so convinced that teachers can't do a good job that we don't give them time or support to do it.  The system is working against itself--the very quest to hold teachers accountable and make them better at their jobs is actually making them worse.  Which makes me wonder what the real goal of all this testing is in the first place.
    I wonder this even more when the results of all this testing, which doesn't really test what we want it to test, is going to be used then to evaluate teachers.  Something stinks pretty badly here, and I'm fairly certain it isn't the drunk guy.  To quote Mark Twain, "There's lies, damn lies, and statistics."  And all this questionable data is ripe for some very funny number crunching, cherry picking and even some downright lying.



I seem to have gotten off-topic.  This post was supposed to be about wanting to seriously use technology in the classroom, and not just as novelties or toys.  Me wanting to write a grant for iPads in my room.  Instead, this rant on education.

This is what happens -- I finally start to write and the wrong Stooge gets through the door.

Ah, well.

There's always tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I don't think there is a better term than futility, really.

     I started unpacking my school things into my new room today.  I'll actually be setting up two classrooms, which I've never had to do before.  I've been a traveling teacher, going to 4 or 5 different schools and carrying my "classroom" with me in my car, though.  If I was lucky, I had part of a bookshelf to store some essentials in each building.  In this case, I need two full rooms, all set up for 10 - 20 kids.  So it's a new experience.
     In a strange sort of way, I enjoy unpacking, and seeing what treasures lie in each box.  I did label the boxes, but often in cryptic "Random books!" sorts of labels, so it's less helpful than one might hope.  And despite all the labeling, I did not find the box with the scissors (handy for opening lots of well-taped boxes) until I had gotten to the bottom of the massive pile.
     This time the unpacking is laden with all sorts of mixed emotions.  I wasn't supposed to be doing this job this year, and while I'm happy to be doing it, I don't want to do it alone.  I've always had at least one team member with me, and now I don't.  Furthermore, as a teacher split between two buildings, and only teaching a small fraction of the students within each one, I won't truly be a team member of those buildings, either.  Through no fault of anyone there, I'm bound to be viewed as an outsider, and not really part of their staff.  It's just the way it is.  If I'm lucky, I'll see one of my gifted team mates once a month.  So I feel a bit adrift, and already missing my friends.  The other feeling is one of, for lack of a better term, futility.  This particular teaching position was saved by some last minute maneuvering of the district's administration, and they just revealed that gifted ed is on the chopping block again should the next levy fail.  A new levy is on the November ballot.  There is already a lot of negativity swirling about it, and I think it's going to be a rough sell.  So I hesitate to unpack for just a year.
     A lot of my "teacher books" are staying in their boxes entirely, and others are going into opened boxes, lids placed onto their bottoms, tipped onto their sides on the shelf.  I have access to them during the year, but when the time comes to move again, I need only put the lids back on top, and we're ready to go.
     A few days ago I went to a teachers' conference with a keynote speaker who was adamant about how school needs to be, and needs to change to teach effectively for this century.  So many of the things he talked about were things that we do with our gifted students in our non-traditional classroom.  I know that this is so good for my students, and I also know that there is a very, very good chance I will not be doing it next year.  I'll be prepping kids to answer bubble-in-the-answer questions on standardized tests.
     And it makes me sad.  And that's no way to start a year, so I'm trying to work myself out of it.  But I haven't quite gotten there yet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

things to be thankful for today

    I have about 3 weeks of vacation left, and a lot of my friends are bemoaning the end of summer, but I figure that 3 weeks, all together, is a luxury very few other Americans have.  So I will not gripe.  I will soak them up and be thankful.
     The vacation-y thing I did today was an excursion to a point midway between our house and my parents' house, to meet up with my mom and an Aunt I haven't seen in four years, but dearly love.  I was supposed to go up on Sunday, after a weekend helping run something called a regional gathering (food, games, speakers for about 100 people at a hotel.  Fun, but exhausting.)   I called off the trip.  I was just too wiped out to drive all the way to the Lake.  My mother suggested a meet-up someplace between here and there, and my Aunt, after driving a reeeally long way to get to Ohio, was gracious enough to drive some more to see us today.  We spent the day at an indoor pool which was not nearly large or exotic enough to merit the cost, but it was plenty big for my little ones.  Also not crowded at all.  And it was indoors where it was not 95 degrees and scorching.  So, good times.
    This Aunt is not one by blood--she married into the family -- and made a real effort when I was little to be special to me.  I can remember her taking me out to see "Annie," and another time to buy shoes--something that would have been an errand for my mother but became somehow a special outing with my Aunt.  She worked at it, and I appreciate and love her for it.   It makes me want to be a better Aunt to my own nieces, and try to do some special things for them, too.
    So, I'm grateful that there was something reasonably fun and entertaining to do with the kids halfway between here and the Lake, and I'm grateful that my Mom and Aunt were willing to make the trip, and that I have a pretty enjoyable family in general.  How many people can say that?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Things I Don't Write About

    They say you should write what you know, and what I know is mostly teaching, and kids, parenting and all the other odds and ends that make a life.  I try pretty hard, though, to not write about marriage.  I know Erma Bombeck and Judith Viorst made a good living writing about the trials and tribulations of marriage, but I think I'm better off not doing so.  For one thing, it would sorta be dirty pool, since I have this great place I could do all sorts of venting, and J does not.  Yes, yes, I know, he could start his own blog and tell everyone about how bad I am at remembering to close cabinet doors, and how often I forget to do things I said I would do, but he won't.  Not because he doesn't want to air our dirty laundry, but because writing isn't his thing.  And, he isn't into airing dirty laundry, either.  And neither am I, really.
     So if I wrote about our marriage then all I'd be writing is the good stuff, and people would think that we were some sort of Stepford couple with no problems at all, and frankly I don't think anybody wants to read about that, either.  (Well, I will say that J is really good at buying anniversary presents, and thinks of clever ones every year, and goes way out of his way to find something that fits into the "traditional" gift for that year and everything.  It's wonderfully cute and endearing and I get some marvelous gifts out of it.  I'll write about them sometime.)  And if I wrote about just marriage in general people would think I was writing about J and me, and we'd have people looking at us funny at parties because they'd think they knew stuff about us that they really didn't.
    Speaking of, that little story I wrote about the boy and the pancakes?  Entirely fiction.  J can cook when he wants to.  Just so you know.
    And when Bombeck and Viorst wrote about their families, and pretty much everything else, they were funny.  Really, really gut-bustingly funny.  I have discovered that I am mostly funny when I'm not trying to be.  When I try too hard, I am not funny at all.  I've played characters on stage and every time I've tried to give my funniest delivery of any line...nothing.  You could hear crickets chirp.  So it's probably best that I stick to other topics and not try to be funny about my dear ones' foibles.
   I'll just have to write about my own.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From Now On, I'm Sticking to "Goodnight Moon"

     I did it again, even though I know I shouldn't.  I should just play games on my phone and stop clicking links I shouldn't.  But I am glutton for getting really pissed off by people I don't  know and shouldn't care about.  Given the gazillions of flame wars out there about, well, everything, I'm clearly not alone in this, but I have a tendency to do it while surfing on my phone, late at night, before going to sleep.  This is a problem and also my saving grace, because it means I can't really engage in the dialogue effectively what with the tiny keyboard and all.   And because I have an unusually short attention span for an adult, I typically forget about the idiocy I was reading by the time I do eventually get to my computer.  But if I get annoyed enough, it keeps me awake.  I lie there running through lengthy diatribes in my head.
    If the issue is really, truly important, then I will get off my duff, go find my computer, and engage, even if it is 2 AM.   It wasn't that important, but it has bugged me enough that I'm still thinking about it.  This time, it was another entry into all the crap out there about How To Be A Perfect Parent.
   These articles aren't titled that, of course.  They're usually along the lines of "10 Reasons You MUST Breastfeed Your Baby" and include all sorts of pseudo-science nonsense about how women who don't breastfeed aren't as attached, the children grow up to be more hostile, sick and stupid and there's always the strong underlying implication that all women could breastfeed if only they weren't such slackers, or were more dedicated to their children.  All of this is crap.  Every last word.
    It's not crap because breastfeeding is bad, of course.  It is, in fact, one the healthiest things a woman can do for her baby.  But all the rest about attachment and intelligence is just guesswork.  There are some studies that show correlation, but none that show absolute causality, and most people can't tell the difference.  But that's not the reason it's crap, either.
     It's crap because who are they, (or who am I for that matter,) to stand there and try their damnedest to shame another person, about whom they know nothing, because they have chosen different parenting strategies from theirs?  It could be breastfeeding, or sleeping arrangements, the safety of baby products or food, vaccinations, appropriate diets, child safety or in the case of my most recent hands-up-in-the-air moment, getting your baby to sleep.  This woman was giving her top ten list of why cry-it-out, or whatever they call it now, was absolutely horrendous.  I think she even called it abuse, describing CIO adherents people who will let their baby scream in direst agony for hours on end and never go to them.  Pul-eese.
    On the flip side of that coin, I've heard advocates of co-sleeping painted at negligent, co-dependent parents who don't care if they roll over and smother their infant to death.  Right.
     I'm not sure why it is that believers one side or other of any parenting choice feel the need to absolutely lambast those who make alternate decisions.  Those parents are ill-informed, uncaring monsters.  Their children destined to be a crop of stunted, hobbled misfits who will be unable to function in the world!  That may be, but it won't be because they didn't get every color of vegetable every day or wash with Johnson and Johnsons.
     Gimmie a break, sanctimonious parenting-lady.  Parenting is guesswork.  You read it all, talk to all the people who've been there before and then give it a try.  What works with one kid won't with another.  And the ultimate truth is that while even if your way is absolutely right, my way might be just as right, too.  It's not a zero-sum game or a competition.  So shut it with your do-it-my-way-or-your-baby-will-be-scarred-for-life, okay?
     Because if you keep it up, I will have to get into a flame war, and I really, really do need my sleep.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Lake

     I'm at the Lake today.  The lake has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I've been coming here since I was an infant.  My father has been coming here since he was around four or five.  His Aunt Marie and Uncle Lohmie (pronounced all as one word --Uncooloamy-- by everyone I know) had a little cottage here.  Back then it had an outhouse out back, and a dirt and gravel road. 
     When I was five, they built an actual house, with a garage up back that still had some of the feel of the old cottage, with a small shower to wash off all the sand before you trooped inside.   It was definitely more comfortable to visit after that, but it had lost some of its charm. 
     When I was about 13, my parents bought a small cottage about three doors down.  They named it Shadynook, after a cottage my mother's family had had when she was little.  This new Shadynook was tiny.  It had one central room with an L-shaped screened in porch around the front and north side.  Two bedrooms off the main room, which had a kitchen of sorts at the back.  The kitchen area was so small there was no room for the fridge, so that was kept in the small bathroom, along with canned goods up along a supporting beam that became a shelf.  The shower was made out of thin metal that boomed like thunder every time you hit it, turning showering into a far more exciting experience than usual.  Not long after my family had cleared out 30 years of dust and dirt, we had friends over, and one of my brother's pals announced "Excuse me while I go to the pantry."
     There was no A/C, the walls didn't go to the ceiling, and the only phone was a single rotary dial up on the wall.  Important phone numbers, like the one pizza place that would deliver,  were scrawled up on the wood next to it.  Exposed two-by-fours of the un-drywalled walls were turned into bookshelves that housed hundreds of old paperbacks, and dozens of decks of cards.  There was no TV.   Entertainment during the day was the lake itself, and the dozen feet of sandy beach before it.  Two canoes, a rowboat, fishing tackle and enough pails and shovels to dig our way to China should we choose.  In the evenings we played Hearts and Spades or Oh, Hell and talked.  We played solitaire with actual cards.  And talked and talked and talked.  We were our own entertainment. 
   That little cottage is long gone now, with its thunderous shower, no privacy and mice, spiders and every other kind of critter imaginable sharing the space with us.  In its place is a lovely house that still hosts more critters than I would like, but it boasts Wi-fi, more computers than occupants, multiple flat screen TVs, gaming consoles, DVD players, DVR, gourmet kitchen with a huge walk-in pantry that doesn't feature a toilet, and three full bathrooms.  And it has central air.  Were it still the cottage, we couldn't be out here because it would be too hot to breathe.  So I'm not saying that I'd like to have the old Shadynook back instead.
     But every now and then I'd like to go to "The Lake."  I wish I could have the little cottage next door, where I could go and not be surrounded by the hum of electric gadgets, where everything was casual, and there was nothing between you and all the gorgeousness of nature but an old window screen.  I wish I could take my children there. 
    And then I'd want to come back into the air conditioning and get onto the computer. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

updated goal

     I'd really like to finish that story I started a while back.  I don't think I can post on it every day, though, so I think perhaps an updated goal will be to write each day, even if I don't post, to try to finish it.  I know where the story is going, and maybe how it ends.

    I have few deep thoughts today.  I've discovered that having lovely long nails may be aesthetically pleasing, but it's lousy for typing.  And while I enjoy having nail polish on, it's lousy for housework and any other job requiring use of my fingers.  I can't quite bear to cut them, though.

   So that's it.  Nothing much today.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The 60 minute nap

2:00 PM  Naptime.  Take kids upstairs, get them settled into their rooms.  I have time to lie down for 60 minutes!  Hooray!  I'm very tired, since DD was up several times with nightmares last night.

2:03 PM  DD wants her blankie.  Blankie is at daycare.  Alternate blankie is NOT acceptable.  Ten minutes of calming and distracting.

2:12 PM  She's in bed.  Ok, 48 minutes of a lie down till the handyman comes at 3.  That's a decent rest.

2:13 PM "Mommy!  I need help to go to the bathroom."  On the potty.  Off the potty.  On again.  "I want to go in YOUR bathroom"  "I want to go in MY bathroom"  On the potty, off again.

2:24 PM  Okay.  She is back in her bed.  I can lie down for 35 minutes!  That's pretty good.

2:26 "Mommeeeee!  I'm huuuuunnngry!"
     Me:  Do you want string cheese?
     DD:  No.
     Me:  Square cheese?
     DD:  No.
     Me:  What DO you want?
     DD:  Olibes.
     Me:  We don't have any olives.
     DD:  Why?
     Me:  We didn't buy any at the store.
     DD:  Why?
     Me:  We just didn't.
     DD:  Why?
     Me:  (time for a change of subject)  You can have graham cracker with peanut butter.
     DD:  I just want a cracker.
     Me:  Just a cracker?  Do you want peanut butter on it?
     DD:  No.  I just want a cracker.
Downstairs. Up again.  "Here's your cracker."

    Me:  But, OhfortheloveofMike....No.  That's not what you said.  You are stalling.  You can have the cracker or nothing.  What do you choose?
     DD:  (takes cracker, begins to wail)

2:44  She's wailing, but in her crib.  I can rest for 16 minutes.  Okay.  That's something. I settle in.  I can ignore loud wailing.

2:46  DS:  Mommy!  I need help wiping!  (are you kidding me?!)

2:50  OKAY.  Now they are both in bed.  Pottied. Washed.  Fed.  Quiet.  I can rest for...10 minutes.  It's better than nothing.  Ahhhhh.... Lying down......

2:53  (Knock, knock, knock!)  The handyman is here.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Ribs on the Sidewalk Incident -- Part 3

  On our way out we went past another playground, and believe it or not, the kids wanted to play on it.  Now, the adults in our little merry band had not eaten, were hot, dusty and sticky and wanted something cold to drink.   I knew this.  But I was determined that this was not a bad idea to take my kids here and in my deranged, hungry brain, I knew that the way to prove this was to allow them to play on the super-overcrowded playground.  Again.  

     I watched DD like a hawk.  This time, she did do her usual routine.  Larger kids and teens kept pushing her around, nearly kicking and stomping on her, with me using my best teacher-voice to tell them to cut it out.  C loitered at the edge, feeling a bit like the strange-single-man-hanging-out-inappropriately-at-a-playground.  Eventually it was time to go, and the kids did NOT want to leave.

    We had to drag them away as they thrashed and screamed.  I was hungry and tired and now feeling very bad for doing this, and for J not having found anything to eat, (and C, too, for that matter) and just wanting to get the hell out of there.  J was famished by this point, but trying his best not to show it.  I could tell, though.  It is really bad for him to get overly hungry, and I know this, and I felt like it was my fault, which made it worse.  Suggesting stopping to get him something to eat, or asking why he didn't get himself pizza earlier didn't help.  He just wanted to get the kids out of there, us into the car and himself back to Origins.   I was getting desperate at this point, wanting to get him some food, something he'd like, to help make up for bungling this whole thing from the start.

     We left C at Comfest, where he could wander off and enjoy its delights sans increasingly deranged parents and cranky kids.  J and I headed back towards the Convention Center and the car.  As we passed the last of the food stalls, I tried to figure out a way to insist that we stop and get some food but didn't manage it with the kids being absolutely "done" with everything and us wanting to get away from the crowds as quickly as possible.  DS and SS were throwing monumental tantrums.  I was very close to being completely out of my mind.

     Then I saw it.  Food!  Right there on the sidewalk!  Right next to the Convention Center was a table, covered with barbecued ribs, chicken, macaroni salad, a few other side dishes and cake!  Right there for the taking!  A man noticed my interest and said it was leftover from an awards banquet they'd just had, and we could have as much as we wanted for $5.  What a bargain!  I turned to J in absolute excitement -- here was food for him and this would save the day.  He could get a plate of this delicious sidewalk food of indeterminate quality and age from a complete stranger, eat it as we walked to the car and all would be well!  I was already digging in my wallet when J's voice penetrated my haze of deranged happiness.  He was saying that he really wanted to keep going, he only had twenties, he just wanted to get the kids to the car first.... I couldn't believe my ears.  He didn't want this?  He can get kind of unreasonable when he's hungry, was that it?  I even started to get a little angry with him.  Hmph.

     As we walked away I expressed my total bafflement at this ungracious refusal of what was clearly a perfectly good meal.  With what must have been an enormous expenditure of patience on his part, he explained to me like one would tell a small child or someone in a straitjacket that he didn't actually like barbecued anything, or macaroni salad and was most certainly not going to eat something sitting on a table outside the Convention Center that had been there for god only knows how long.

     Oh.  I, um, hadn't thought of that.  I was monumentally embarrassed, but all I could think of to say was, "I didn't know you didn't like macaroni salad."

     Once I got home, and everyone was cleaned up and in bed, it finally dawned on me how utterly ridiculous it all was.  I called J and discovered that he'd gotten a Bratwurst from Schmidt's, which is what he'd wanted all along -- but never said.  I guess I wasn't the only one not communicating well.

    I'd love to be able to pin this on him in some fashion, but I really can't.  It was all me, and a monumental fail on my part.  It's okay though.  If you're going to completely humiliate yourself, the best you can do is do it in front of someone you love.   

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Ribs On the Sidewalk Incident - -Part 2

   We left our story with me realizing I couldn't find DD.....

  I circled and circled the small playground, and started to panic as I couldn't find her anywhere.  Her SOP on playground equipment is usually to find one thing she really likes to do, like a slide, and do it over and over and over again.  But she wasn't doing the slide.  She was gone.  Just. Gone.  I panicked.  C started looking.  I desperately tried to call J but couldn't get through.

   The one and possibly only non-brainless thing I had done that evening was put DD's name and my phone number on a sticker on her shirt.  DS had one, too.  I knew, if she was found, that someone could try to call me.  Except phones weren't working.  J finally returned and began looking with us.  My baby was missing and I have never felt so afraid in my entire life.  

    When I am panicked, or even anxious, one thing that frequently happens is that I cannot see well. I mean, I do see things, but I can almost never find the thing I am looking for when I am upset or worried or in a hurry.  Once I'm calm, the thing I need usually surfaces right where I'd been looking.  I find this terribly annoying.  One learning theorist has a book out about lateral dominance and how it can affect our ability to take in and process information.  I love her work and what she says about how we function under stress fits me to a T.  

     So, I am at Comfest, surrounded by thousands of people and more stressed than I have ever been and I am trying to look for my daughter.  Then my phone rang.  It was a number I didn't know.   I answered, shouting "DID YOU FIND HER?  DO YOU HAVE MY DAUGHTER?" only to hear a woman's voice say "It's going right to voicemail."  But I knew, then, that she was safe.  A kind stranger had found her, was holding her, and trying to reach me.  I calmed down immediately, turned around, and saw her.  In a woman's arms, crying.  She was, maybe, 10 feet from the playground area-- just across a sidewalk.

     Relief.  Ohthankyoujesusthereismybabysweetbabygirl.  I had her in my arms before the woman who had been holding her was able to finish asking if she was mine.  I have never, once, made fun of people who have their children on little backpack-leashes, but I have been near people who scoff and insult those parents.  In the future, should anyone make such a comment around me, I will slap them.

     We rounded up DS and J and C and we were all hungry, and hot and DD was still hiccuping and anybody sane would have said:  "Let's get the hell out of here and find someplace with A/C and food," but we didn't.  J had found the right stage so we plowed on towards it and got there 20+ minutes early (see, I told you I'd planned for time to stop and eat. Maybe not time for playing on the playground and losing my daughter, but you can't plan for everything.)

    The kids were close to ravenous, even though I'd brought granola bars and drinks for them.  J, who was hungry himself, and none to happy about it, decided to get them pizza.  DD will eat nearly anything.  DS is much, much pickier, but will usually eat pizza.  J returned nearly half an hour later, pizza in hand.  We were sitting, watching the show.  It was pretty good.  I think C enjoyed seeing lots of womenflesh in sparkly outfits shimmying around.  I did too, but probably for different reasons.  The kids were intrigued for a little while, but were starting to fidget. DD was briefly entranced by another audience member -- a nearly nude woman in full black and white body paint.  We got to watch another 20 minutes of the show while the kids ate, but when that was done, so were they.

  ....final part tomorrow, I promise.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Ribs On The Sidewalk Incident, Part 1

This is about an incident earlier this summer, during one of the heat waves...

     J was at Origins, a huge game convention (boardgames, LARPs, Miniatures, etc.) and ComFest was right outside. Comfest is a huge gathering of people with alternative lifestyles and all those who come to enjoy watching them, buying their art, listening to their music and inhaling their secondhand pot smoke.  For some reason, I decided it would be fun to attend said event with the kids and go see belly dancers from my belly dancing school.  I'd never seen them perform and thought it would be fun.

   Already, it is clear, that my brain had derailed.  I'm taking my children, at dinnertime, on a very hot, muggy day, to an extraordinarily crowded event filled with people who like to revel in their own strangeness.  (Actually, Origins is filled with rather the same kind of people, but it's less crowded and there's good A/C.)  J loves Origins.  He loves to play games.  And I was proposing to take him away from it for a couple hours so that we could struggle to herd our children through this throng to watch belly dancers.  My original plan was that we would stop at a food stall on the outskirts on the way in, and once everyone was full up, we'd forge ahead into the melee to find the right stage.

    I failed to communicate this plan in any way to J, or to C, our friend who was coming with us (and, as of this writing, has not spoken to me since.  This could be a coincidence, though.)  We marched into the middle of Comfest, passing food tents left and right while struggling with the double stroller and two increasingly fussy children.  I kept thinking "we should stop for food" but some bizarre unspoken group-think had us all pressing forward to get to the performance on time.  The thing is, I'd had us set out over 90 minutes early, knowing we were stopping for food and knowing that an hour and a half to go approximately 1/4 of a mile with my children in the middle of Comfest is about right.  But since I am perpetually late for everything, I think my husband and friend sort of figured we were in a hurry to get there, and we just all sort of plowed forward.

     It was very, very crowded.  The stroller became a battering ram and we held the kids and just used the stroller to push through the throng.  We couldn't find the stage.  We were hungry.  Food lines for anything in the middle of it all were horrendously long.  Our smart phones, overloaded by the sheer number of people on the network, weren't working.  (C's was, but there was no map of where things were at Comfest to be found.)  Eventually, we found a playground swarming with children.  Both kids were immediately begging to play on it, despite the fact that it every square inch of it was covered with children. And teenagers.  And some adults.  But when you are hot, tired, hungry and a little bit lost, you let your kids play on the playground.  So off they went.

    C and I stood on the side and J decided to explore the park on his own to see if he could find the right stage.  A good plan.  C and I chatted, watched the kids, watched the people, and on one of my passes to make eye contact with both children, I couldn't find my daughter.


NPR asked people to submit answers to this question....

They asked about, oh, two weeks ago.  I'm sure the deadline is long since passed. I started the answer a day or two after they'd asked, then, well....

Has parenthood changed you? Was there a moment or incident that sparked the realization?
I'd like so much for the answer to this question to be a glowing endorsement of parenthood, of how it has made me a shining example of dignity and respect, love, tolerance and endless patience.  I could shine up my parental halo and wax eloquent about how my children have taught me the true meaning of life.

Um, no.

Parenthood has changed me from an intelligent, articulate human being into someone who is really tired a lot of the time.  I'm still intelligent, occasionally articulate, but my time to even sit down and write something like this has been compressed into the brief span after my children have finally gone to sleep and before I collapse into bed for the night.  This is not the best time to be an answer to a question you're planning to submit to NPR.  Parenthood has reduced my time for critical and creative thinking involving something other than how to get out mystery stains to an hour before bedtime, which is not my best time.

I used to spend my free time playing games (board and computer), or reading books, or doing a wide variety of arts and crafts, all of which involved tiny pieces of something and sharp cutting edges.  I did a lot of community theater.  After the first baby, most of that went.  I still read, but now all too often my reading is reduced to a glance at the cover of the novel I'm trying to start before I turn out the light.  Parents of older children tell me that some of these things return as the kids grow.  Hobbies that involve sharp tools, small bits or stirring things on a hot stove can eventually be part of my life again.

Parenthood has made me realize what an amazing, versatile, creative (and sometimes quite grumpy) person my husband is, though.  He is a better father than I could have hoped for, and I had some high expectations in the first place.  I think he could probably say the same about me.  Parenthood is a magnifier of the best and worst in us, and sometimes makes us pare life down to the things that are truly important.  The one thing that has truly, utterly changed, then is that my list of "Important Things" now permanently has my children in the top slot on the list.

I love them like I have never loved anyone in my entire life, and could not live without them.  But sometimes, oh sometimes, I do miss my sleep.

Short Story

  I love really short stories.  Drabbles, 100-word stories, are great fun.  I've seen terrific 55 - word mini-Drabbles, and excellent 250 word stories, too.  That's what I was aiming for with this one that's been bouncing in my head for a long time.  I could probably get it down to 500 with a lot of work and editing, but I don't feel like doing it right now.  So, instead, you get the long version.  Even so, I think it's somewhere between 800-850, which is still pretty short.
     Forgive me ahead of time, please, for being rather maudlin with it.  Like I said, it's been in my brain for a bit and sometimes I can't help what's in there.  I haven't thought of a title I like yet.  Suggestions welcome.

     I watched Josh's bare feet swinging back and forth as he sat at the table, silent tears starting to roll down his cheeks.  He reached out and pushed the cereal bowl away, sloshing milk onto the placemat.  "What's wrong, little man?" I asked, feeling helpless for the hundredth time.  "You liked that cereal yesterday."  I was nearly pleading, but he just slid off his chair and padded over to the bookshelf.  Carefully, slowly, he pulled out a large cookbook, the kind that's so big it comes with ribbons attached so you can mark the pages.  With difficulty, he struggled to push it onto the counter, then deliberately held onto the ribbon, and opened the book.  He glanced up at me, but said nothing.
     Josh had said nothing since the funeral.  Not one. Single. Word.  For the first week, Gram had been here, cooking, cleaning, steering me and Josh around.  We got up when we were told, ate when we were told, went to bed when we were told.  I had been in a haze, and hadn't noticed his silence.  In truth, I wasn't talking much either.  Sarah had been the talker in our family.  After a week, Gram had gone, and I had returned to work, and for dinners we lived on casseroles baked by kind neighbors, fast food, and when that failed, peanut butter.  Not that we were eating much.  We rarely ate at the table.  Usually on the couch.  Watching TV.  It wasn't until one of the daycare teachers had mentioned it that I realized that Josh wasn't just quiet, he was mute.  "Sometimes we find him crying in the corner," one of his teachers told me, "but he doesn't say anything at all."  I told her I'd watch him.
     She was right.  He'd nod, or shake his head, or I'd find him, silently sobbing in our bed, but he never spoke a word, even when I begged him to.  Anything.  Even "No!" would have been enough.  But the light had gone out of his eyes, and he wouldn't talk.
    But now, I was mute one as he walked to the fridge, opened it, and delicately pulled out the carton of eggs, followed by the glass butter dish and the milk, which was too heavy for his little hands and it thumped to the floor.  I rushed to pick it up, and as I set it on the counter I read the page he'd opened to.
     It was splattered and stained, and obviously well used.  "Pancakes."  I read aloud.  I felt that familiar hollow feeling of helplessness rise up in me again.  "Josh, I don't know how to make pancakes." I really didn't.  I couldn't cook.  I'd never been able to.  Sarah kept threatening to teach me, but as long as I cleaned up after her, she was content to be the household cook and baker.
     Josh continued to ignore me, instead fetching his step stool so he could reach the back of the counter, pulling forward containers of...something.  Sugar?  Salt?  I'd lived in this house for nearly ten years, but I didn't know what all magical things were kept in this kitchen.  This was not my domain.
    This is Sarah's domain.  Was.  My chest hitched.
    But Josh seemed to know his way around, and the array of items grew steadily as he pulled a canister of salt, another of baking power, a vial of vanilla, teaspoons and cups from the drawers, and carefully placed them on the counter.  "Josh," I started again, but he looked at me, almost accusingly, and headed over to the calendar, pointing.
    I looked.  "Yes,"  I said, "today is Saturday."  It was our first Saturday alone together.  Last Saturday, Gram had taken us out for breakfast before saying goodbye.  The Saturday before that... My throat caught.  I must have made a noise, because Josh looked up at me again.  He pointed more insistently and I suddenly remembered.  Saturdays I slept in, and Sarah and Josh made pancakes.  There was always a stack of them waiting for me when I eventually roused myself around noon.  Sometimes they were full of blueberries, or chocolate chips or there was apple-cinnamon syrup to pour over them.  I'd always sort of assumed that they'd made them from some kind of mix.  I opened the door to the pantry.  Gram had restocked it, but there was no mix.  Not that I thought it would satisfy him anyways.
    He wanted me to make pancakes.   My heart felt like it would freeze.  "I can't do this," I thought.  "I can't be Sarah.  I don't know how to do this."  I tears welled in my eyes as I looked at my desperate, silent son.  I felt like I was drowning, and I didn't know how to save either of us.  He stared at me, his eyes willing me to do for him what he needed, to keep this one tradition for him.  Something had broken so deep inside of him that he couldn't find words to express it, and I felt so profoundly helpless I could barely speak myself.
     "Josh," I croaked, "I'm so sorry, I don't know how to make pancakes."  Tears started down my own face now as I stood there.
     After a moment, Josh reached out and took my hand in his.  He pulled me back toward the kitchen.  I was about to tell him again when he stopped, and looked up at me.  Taking a deep breath he said, in his tremulous, little-boy voice, "It's okay, Daddy."  He nodded his head reassuringly.  "I can help you. I know what to do."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

are we saving time yet?

      I am seriously aggravated by my laundry.  About a year and a half ago our washer died.  I took it as a sign from the Universe that it was finally time to get a stackable set, because I really, REALLY wanted to put a laundry sink in my laundry room.  I was very tired of trying to do stain removal with a large bowl or in the kitchen sink.  With a toddler and a baby, there was a lot of stain removal to do.

     So I researched, a lot, and we finally bought the Consumer Reports recommended stackable set.  It arrived, was professionally installed and not too long later I got my sink installed, too.  I love the sink.  I hate the washer and dryer.  They cost more than my computer and they don't work well.

      The washer, one of the water-saving models, seemed to be "washing" my clothes with a tablespoon of water per load.  They'd told me that we wouldn't see much water sloshing around in the drum, but sometimes my clothes would come out nearly dry for crying out loud.  And my towels smelled.  And not the good, "nature clean!" scent kind of smell, either.  But it was brand new!  It couldn't be broken!  I knew, just knew, that if I called a repairman he'd come out and tell me that it was working just like it was supposed to and I owed them for the useless visit, even though we had the extended warranty.  It's that way with my car.

     Whenever my car is making odd noises, it's always perfectly fine when I take it in and the repair guys look at each other with that "look" I cannot stand.  It's the look that says "Stupid woman.  Doesn't know that her car is SUPPOSED to sound like that!  Let's charge her a gazillion dollars and only change the oil."  The end result is that I will drive my car around in a state of disintegrating disrepair until something actually blows up, falls off or makes it stop entirely, so that I have something concrete, dammit, that I can point to and say "There shouldn't be flames leaping out of my engine like that when I drive."  The sad part is that the repair guys will still give each other that "look" but now it's because I'm so dumb I don't know when to bring my car in.  So maybe that's not such a great strategy, but at least I don't have subject myself to car repair guys that often with this method.
   (True Story:  I once had my car in to have the brakes fixed. I picked it up after hours, on a Sunday.  After pulling out of the lot, I drove about 35 feet to a red light and when I stepped on my new brakes, the pedal thumped straight to the floor and the car sort of slowly, gradually, rolled to a stop.  Fortunately, I hadn't been going very fast, and did stop before rear-ending someone.  I pulled into the grocery store lot next door, and tested my brakes over and over, getting up to about 10mph, and trying to brake hard, only to roll to a gentle, eventual stop.   The brakes felt like they weren't even there. I spent nearly 10 minutes wondering if my brakes has always been this way, and if this was just how brakes were supposed to be.  Really.  This is how damn insecure I am about knowing when something is wrong with my car, and trying to avoid car repair guys.  My brakes were 100% dysfunctional and if I'd gotten up to any speed at all I'd have been in a very serious accident.  But I STILL questioned my own senses and reasoning ability.  Because it involved my car.  Turns out some kind of brake fluid canister had been so old and fragile that when the new brakes were installed over it, they just crushed it to bits and brake fluid drained right out of my car.)

   But back to the washer:  Eventually I called, and they sent out a very sweet looking older guy who confirmed that my washer was getting nowhere near enough water.  Ha!  So there!  Only it had been like this for more than a year and I'd waited that long to call.  Sheesh.  But it was still under warranty.  They fixed it, only I still don't think there's enough water, but I haven't called again.  The guy even said that this fix only MAY do the trick.  Otherwise there's something seriously wrong with the mumble-bumble-framice-ator and that will be a much bigger job.  But I haven't called.  If they come, and say "nope!  Workin' fine!" then I get to accept that I paid a lot for a crappy washer.  If it really IS not working right, then I get to live without a washer for several weeks while they try to fix it again.  I don't like either scenario, frankly, and I'm hoping that ignoring the problem will make it spontaneously heal itself.  (Kinda like the giant water spot in our garage ceiling.)

   The super annoying thing, now, beyond it not working well, is that when it gets unbalanced it just, stops.  It does play a sad little two note "I'm unbalanced" song, but if you don't hear it or get to it in time, the whole damn thing just shuts off.  So you get to the machine and the only clue you have that it didn't spin properly is that the clothes are sorta soggy and not stuck, semi-dry, to the sides of the drum.  And there's no way to start it up again where it left off.  You have to do it all over again, or do a rinse and spin cycle in its entirety.

    The dryer is no gem, either.   It dries things with a sensor to tell when they're dry.  Only it just gets to dry-ish.  I go in, all set to swap out the laundry and start a new load and whoops!  Needs another 10 minutes!  Invariably, I don't get back to it for at least another hour.  This is why laundry takes forever.

     Next time, I'm just going to get myself some Lifeboy, a washtub and board, and start using my jerry-rigged drying line for real and not just for sheets.  It'll take longer, maybe, but maybe I can work out some of this aggravation.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

When did Google become a Verb?

       Google has a new social network.  It's making a run for all the Facebookers out there. I am one of them, and I've had two of my friends invite me to Google Plus, so fine.   Whatever.   I'll join in and spend some time dropping people into circles and getting annoyed by my lack of ability to figure out how to actually use the site, and even more annoyed by the little number that keeps appearing on my Gmail account.  This little number indicates my "notifications" from Google Plus.  Maybe someone added me to their circle!  Maybe someone commented on my post!  Who knows?  I'd better go check!
        A great many of my Facebook friends spend time complaining about the interface and how it keeps changing with every upgrade.  Everyone carps for a long while, then we all get used to it and get aggravated when the next change comes around and takes away the thing we now like but endlessly ranted about when it first appeared.  I dislike having to figure out how to use the new functions and find my way around again each time there's a change, but in general, it suits my needs (needs I didn't even have two years ago, and never imagined) and I don't have to do much heavy mental lifting to figure it out.  Today, with G+, someone suggested that I read a nifty "users guide"so I could learn to effectively use all the functions.  I am so not doing homework to figure out how to use something that is a time suck in the first place.  Sorry.  Not happening.  Especially when it's in beta -- why learn it when they're going to change it all.  I have never been a "early adopter" of new technology.
         There's as Very Big Deal out there about privacy, and many people bemoan the fact that Facebook information is about as private as a Fourth of July Parade.  Google +, jumping on this bandwagon then, is all about keeping things Private For Your Safety.  With their new circles, G+ people can post things to only certain groups and keep their boss from seeing pictures of their drunken underpants-on-the-head pole dance at their cousin's wedding.
          Here's a thought:  don't post the stupid picture.  Or untag it as fast as you can.  Or, better yet, quit getting blackout drunk at weddings because you're too old for that kind of nonsense anyway.  Even smarter?  Don't "friend" your boss.  (What are we going to do now -- "circle" someone?)  Don't post things you don't want haunting you forever, because no matter how high you set your security, someone is going to be able to find your rant on pot legalization or the benefits of socialism or why fascism isn't such a bad idea for ruling some people.  It will be out there, in pixels, on some server, till the apocalypse.
        I realize that the kind of privacy violation that real computer people are worried about with Facebook is the selling of personal info.  What things do you post about?  What sites do you "like?" Who do you talk to and what kinds of things do they like?  How could all of this translate into targeted advertising, or, more malevolently, into an FBI file or an employment file 10 years from now?  Without realizing it, most people on Facebook give pretty much anybody who pays Facebook the right to use your pictures and probably your words to advertise their products or events.  This is definitely dirty pool, but I have to wonder what people expected?  Facebook is free -- but they're making tons of money.  Where do people think this revenue is coming from?
        Google is absolutely no stranger to this kind of electronic snooping -- they've been giving me targeted ads based on my email content for years.  So the idea that G+ is going to reduce our exposure this way seems rather foolish to me.  Maybe they won't use our pictures, but I'm fairly positive they'll use our information any way they can to make a buck.
       Google Plus might make it, I think, and drain away a lot of Facebook's business. Or not. They have a reasonable hit rate with taking tested ideas and making them all sleek and trendy in a new way.  However, until they manage to make it easy enough to use without having to read the user manual first, they're not going to woo folks like me, and all those further along on "early-middle-late-and-almost-never adopter" of new technologies scale.
       Like I've mentioned before, I'm really waiting for they day when my technology works like the computer on Star Trek.  I don't know how they're going to get Majel Barrett's voice to do all the talking, but I'm sure they can figure something out.  In the mean time, I can see that little red number on my gmail account, telling me that there's something going on there on Google Plus, and I should check it out....

I'd have gone to bed an hour ago, but the 2 year old needed to tell me something

It's been a busy coupla days.  I've started a post that is an answer to a question from NPR about parenting, but I haven't finished it yet as I've been busy, um, parenting.  It is now midnight and we just got DD into bed, hopefully, finally(?) for the last time about 20 minutes ago.

I do not have enough brain power at midnight to write something eloquent and erudite to send to NPR.  When re-reading the draft I am less than impressed with the quality of my own writing.  I suppose that's to be expected as I wrote it with a very tired brain, very late in the day.  Like now.

It's summertime now, and I'm far less busy than usual.  I know there are people who manage to hold down full time jobs, parent their children to be National Merit Scholars, keep a clean house, stay fit and write the Great American Novel while getting their 3rd Master's Degree.  I, apparently, am not ever destined to be one of those people.

I do notice, though, that after a long day of doing not much but lying around, my cats have wisely called it day and have gone to sleep.  They are wise, I think, these cats, and I will follow their example.