Maybe I’m a bad mother,
But when the door slams and
You’re on the other side of it,
My heart does not break.
The jarring bang and rush of your explosive exit
Spawns a fear that reaches into my gut,
Grabs a fist full of viscera and twists.
Fetid yellowed claws reach up to pierce tender membranes,
And my breath escapes in a pathetic whine,
But my heart does not break.
Now I have two choices.
I can chase you. Scramble frantically to
Find you and then beg and cajole, give in,
Go back on the punishment that prompted your escape.
Forfeit all future influence.
Or I can trust and wait for you. Bide my time
Until you get cold or bored or find you’ve got
No refuge out there in suburbia.
Trust and wait while you
Stomp through the neighborhood,
Enraged at my lack of generosity,
My unwillingness meet you half way.
Trust and wait for you to
Realize that the loss of your laptop for a week
Isn’t worth a night on the streets so
You should come back to me.
Though the fear clamps down harder
And I struggle for breath,
My heart still guides me,
So I will trust,
And I will wait here in the dark
With my intact heart
Until we are on the same side of the door again.
I’ve been working on a series of poems about memories tied to the house I grew up in. Although I haven’t lived there since I was eighteen, I still inhabit that blue split-level in my dreams. The series is my way of reclaiming it. That and Google Earth. I took a virtual walk from my old house to my school the other day. It made me miss it even more.
I miss our kitchen
With its back staircase and hideous patriotic linoleum.
I miss the double wall oven
And the window over the sink,
The one my mother leaned out to scold me when
I banged the porch swing too hard.
I miss the bottom cabinets and
The possibility of a delicious
Something way in the back that my
Brothers hadn’t found yet.
I miss the yellow wall phone with its
Long tangled cord, dangling
That phone two stories
Over the bannister in the hall,
The cord twisting and lengthening.
I miss the table where I spilled
Grape juice on my stuffed mouse’s nose.
Choked down salmon croquettes.
We sat in fixed seats each night.
Was that on purpose?
Mostly, I miss the closet by the table,
Half way up the wall,
Wide and deep with
White louvre doors.
The coffee urn for company was there.
A fondue pot I recall using once.
Shadowy, yellowed boxes.
The odors of grease and coffee grinds.
The best Hide and Seek spot.
Brothers, did you know?
I could hide in there for hours,
Fold my legs, duck my head,
Pull a battered box beside me and
Make myself so small. I could
Watch you peer in and not see me.
The ruckus of the house was only slightly muffled there,
And long after you gave up, slammed outside to
Find friends and other mischief,
It was safe and dark behind the coffee urn.
Tell your friends I
Said you can’t go
Think you’re too young
Don’t care what you want
Consider it dangerous
Have threatened to ground you
Just don’t get it
Will totally freak.
Tell them I’m
Out of touch
Too involved in your life
Tell them whatever it takes to save face, just don’t
Catch a ride with drunk kids
Be swayed by deceitful people
Let anyone hurt you
Make babies too soon
Exploit your body
Surrender your voice
I’ll carry the burden of unpopularity if it
Lets me cling to desperate fallacies:
Of course it is futile.
The world will claim you eventually.
But for now,
While I have the luxury of believing
I can save you,
For now, blame me.
I wrote a lot of poetry when I was young. I’d scribble something in a spiral notebook during homeroom, and then I’d tweak it for the rest of the school day. Cross out lines here in history. Substitute a word there in math. By the three o’clock bell, I’d have a tidy little poem. There was something about picking out just the right words to capture some little truth that felt right to me.
In jr. high I won some contest (I have no idea what it was… my evil English teacher submitted one of my poems without my say so), and I submitted a few to my school’s literary magazine. The feedback I received was positive (and I’m including the incident when someone plagiarized one of my poems–it’s got to be a form of flattery, no?), and I was feeling pretty good about poetry. That all changed when I became a writing major in college.
In college I learned, with time and diligent practice, just how much my poetry sucked. I could get three poems going in a week on my own, but when it came to specific assignments in specific poetic forms, I couldn’t find my voice.
My poetry wasn’t as horrifying as my one attempt at children’s literature (apparently, a four year old protagonist who resigns himself to a serious lack of attention from his long-suffering but cold mother is “too dark” for children’s lit), but it wasn’t pretty, either. The language was stilted. The poems would meet the assignment requirements without capturing anything poignant or real. Disheartened, I walked away from poetry.
For the last couple of years, however, my interest in poetry seems to have crept back in. I credit our school’s participation in the Poetry Out Loud competition somewhat. To get my students excited about reciting poetry, I’ve shown them footage from previous competitions and other examples of spoken word poetry, and had them write their own poems, assignments I always attempt myself… it seems fair.
While the exposure to poetry has hooked only a handful of students (and by that I mean that they still maintain an interest in poetry outside the classroom), it’s most certainly sunk its hooks in me. I moved from just reading and watching spoken word performances to writing my own again, even memorizing a couple of them, and it feels just like it did years ago: real. It’s like my poetic pilot light’s been re-lit.
Of course, I still suspect that while my poetry resonates with me, it isn’t necessarily good in any objective sense, so I’ve kept my poems mostly to myself. Imagine my shock, then, when the poem I hesitantly posted last month (“It’s Painful to Watch You Sometimes“) got more hits and more praise than anything else I’ve posted. The same happened with “There is Risk Here.” I look at my blog stats and just giggle. Apparently the little bits of truth I try to encapsulate in my poems resonate a bit with others, too. It’s been an unexpected and joyful detour in my writing journey.
The focus and bulk of my writing is still prose (mostly creative nonfiction with a little short fiction thrown in) but it feels good to be friends with poetry again. So while it feels right, I’m going to keep this poetry thing going for a while. I hope my readers like it. I know I do, and this time I’m not letting anyone talk me out of it.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending my high school’s musical. Neither of my children were involved with the show, but I wanted to go see my students, a good number of whom have been working hard and talking non-stop about the show. It was no polished, Disney version of a high school musical, but I actually appreciate that.
In the movies, every single kid is super talented. In real life, the talent is more varied. Some kids have voices of angels while others simply have voices that they generously choose to share with us.
In the movies, shows are produced within an inch of their lives and everything runs smoothly unless some complication serves to move the plot along. In real life, kids miss cues. Streamers from party poppers accidentally get stuck in the lighting and need to be fished down by teachers, the stage crew, and eager members of the orchestra. Mistakes happen. It’s all part of live local theater. Enjoy it.
In the movies, audiences are spellbound. They know when and how enthusiastically to clap and are otherwise quiet, attentive, and respectful. In real life… Well, let’s just say this is not the case.
Years ago, after attending an elementary school variety show, I wrote about basic etiquette for school performances, specifically elementary school variety shows. Based on some of the behavior I witnessed last night, I think it’s time for an updated and simplified version of “3 Basic Rules for Attending School Performances.”
1. When the lights go down, shut up and sit still.
This goes for children, too, even at child-friendly shows. Some shows obviously attract a larger number of young viewers, and it is realistic to expect some noise from the peanut gallery during those performances. It is, however, your job to teach the children in your care how to behave during a performance, so model appropriate etiquette and steer children toward quiet behavior. Pay attention to their cues. When a child stands in the aisle, pulls on your arm, and chants, “I want to go! I want to go! I want to go,” he wants to go. Take him. Quickly.
2. Clap politely for everybody and refrain from screaming for anybody.
It is almost never appropriate to scream out the name of one performer. At the appropriate points, like when a musical number is over, the whole audience should clap for the entire cast without screaming, hooting, or hollering. Obviously, some performers will elicit heartier applause than others. This is to be expected, which is why some numbers get applause and others bring down the house. However, this does not change the fact that calling attention to yourself or deafening those around you are inappropriate. This rule applies even at curtain call when the audience is given an opportunity to express their appreciation to the cast as a whole and to single performers.
3. Refrain from criticizing performers both during the show and immediately after the house lights come up.
First, the cast and crew are not professionals. They’re students who have worked hard for the last couple of months to pull together an entire show while keeping up with homework, household chores, and budding social lives. Sure, some of them sing a little off key. So what? It’s not easy to get up there and sing and dance in front of the whole community, especially if one or two performers shine above the rest. Let’s support everyone’s efforts, not just their results.
Second (and this one is nearly identical to the earlier version of the rules), others can hear you when you criticize the performers. Who knows if you’re sitting next to someone’s dad or grandmother or friend or teacher? Who are you to publicly criticize someone else’s kid? If you have a student involved in the production, keep in mind that your assessment of him or her is biased, just as ours is about our own kids. And if you don’t have a student involved in the production, remind yourself that you just paid less than $10 for an entire evening’s entertainment. An increased level of expertise is a whole lot of cash and a bus ride away. Go for it.
Once again, these rules are nothing more than reminders that respectful behavior and an awareness that none of us is alone in this universe are always in vogue.
And I repeat: we’re all in this together. Act that way.
The persistent supervision of every
Who, what, when, and where in my life
Is not akin to a juggler keeping balls in the air.
The students I govern each day,
They are the matter I endeavor to keep aloft.
They roll, retrievable.
Mine are not always resilient.
If anything, I am a juggler of eggs.
I observe, anticipate, propel and protect,
Try to stay focused,
Fight the unrelenting urge to
Stop. Block out the ceaseless swish and whirl.
Perhaps keep one eye open,
Hold my breath against the sickening crack of
Fragile shell on unyielding ground.
I listen hard, jolt and re-jolt myself out of derelict reverie,
And try to keep those fragile eggs from falling on my watch.
I am not so vain to think that they are raw
And any sloppy toss, any clumsy catch
Will end in catastrophic crunch and ooze.
But when they’re hurtling past my face,
It’s tough to tell which would sustain the impact
Should I let my mind drift,
Miss my mark and lose my grasp,
And which are already cracked from
Some previous lapse of attention
And vulnerable to life’s unapologetic solidity.
The students I govern every day.
Don’t insult us with playful imagery,
A juggler keeping balls in the air.
They roll, retrievable.
Mine are not always resilient.
I am a juggler of eggs.
There is risk here.
– Beth Silverman Landau, 2011
A couple of nights ago, I came to the same conclusion about the local news.
To understand my fascination with what passes for news around here, you must first understand that as a NJ native (go ahead, make your Jersey Shore jokes… I’ll wait) news has always meant some politics, lots of crime and violence, and a few feelgood stories of charitable donations or volunteerism to help offset the crime and violence.
The overall message of both print and televised news was, “There’s lots of bad stuff going on out there, but don’t worry – Mrs. Applebee’s 3rd grade class all wrote letters to soldiers in Afghanistan.”
Out here in South Central PA, the overall message of both print and televised news seems to be, “We’ve got to fill up that paper or newscast somehow.”
The above clipping is case in point, as is the following synopsis of the first 10 minutes of a local 30 minute newscast (as witnessed and interpreted by my family):
Top Story: It’s Windy
Sound byte w/accompanying video, looped:
“The wind blew this branch almost 2 yards today.”
“This is news?”
Story 2: Wind Causes Barn Fire
Firefighters responded to a barn fire believed to have been caused by the wind. Maybe an underlying electrical issue had something to do with it, but let’s go ahead and blame it on the wind anyway.
Sound byte w/accompanying video:
Firefighter: “The wind was blowin’ so hard we had to start in the back so the house didn’t catch, too.”
Newscaster: “Arson is not suspected.”
(Inferred: “Unless you count the g-d wind. Bastard.”)
“I think I just saw that branch roll by in the background.”
Story 3: Wind Blamed in Another Fire
Something about the g-d wind being blamed for another fire that obviously had an underlying cause.
Sound byte w/accompanying video:
Serious newscast-type information totally eclipsed by convulsive laughter in my living room.
Various versions of, “There goes that freaking branch!”
Story 4: Protesters Take to the Streets in Lancaster.
People who cannot be bothered to show up for school board meetings or governmental forums risked their lives and the well-being of shoddily constructed and nonsensical signs, selflessly braving the nefarious winds and taking to the streets to protest the philosophical theft of a nutritionally-void, obesity-causing, supposedly Lancaster-created treat.
Sound byte: w/accompanying video:
“Despite the high winds, citizens of Lancaster have gathered together to protest Maine adopting the whoopie pie as their official snack.”
Protesters chanting: “WhooPIE, WhooPIE…”
Protester 1, face obscured by wind-blown hair: “We’re a peaceful people, but the whoopie pie is OURS.”
Protester 2, cramming whoopie pie in her mouth for emphasis: “Mwhuh uh fwuhmmy bwumph!”
“Thanks for that visual, lady.” “The whoopie pie is OURS!” “I think I see the tree branch!”
Lest anyone think I’m knocking South Central PA, remember that I’ve chosen to raise my family here. When we moved here from Georgia thirteen years ago, it was quite a shock that we hadn’t moved “back north” but to what’s semi-lovingly called Pennsyltucky.
There are no real bakeries here, the Olive Garden is routinely voted “Best Italian Food in York County,” and people here are, as a whole, so unused to attending live theater that they do not know when to clap. Anyone who questions the status quo is coldly informed, “It’s the York County way.” Did I mention that they have no real bakeries here?
However, we stayed because our jobs are here, we’ve made good friends, and the schools are good. It’s not terribly crowded, the cost of living is reasonable, and we’ve come to find that we absolutely love living in suburbia less than three minutes from rolling hills, apple orchards, and produce stands. All in all, it’s a good trade off for the non-news we find so amusing.
The local news here will probably always crack up this Jersey girl, but it’s hard even for me to argue that cringing and asking, “What’s this world coming to?” beats giggling and asking, “Is this really news?”
NOTE: Please feel free to post comments with links to other non-news from your area. Share your local color!
It’s painful to watch you sometimes,
Muzzled by hormones and contrived, impossible images
That teach you to shine by conforming and hiding your light.
Your minds whirl while you wonder what they think
In the halls, your heels click,
Arms wrap around tummies in too tight jeans.
Your eyes dart wildly as you propel yourself within the throng,
Ungainly and uncomfortable,
Seeking attention and approval, and pushing your power
Deep inside a contradictory shell of self-consciousness.
So rigid you cannot escape it.
So fragile that you are crushed by any perceived slight.
My job is to teach you to think and to write,
To know yourself,
To share yourself,
To speak with the authority of someone who deserves to be heard.
But I remember this constrictive tunnel vision,
This cold weight in my belly,
This uneasy electrical charge in my chest,
And sometimes I have to just look away.
– Beth Silverman Landau, 2010
I knew something was up when a group of students’ heads simultaneously swiveled toward me for no apparent reason yesterday.
The grins on their faces made it clear that the reason for their sudden attention had nothing to do with the Great Expectations review they were supposed to be working on. It is the rare student who breaks into a smile over Dickens, and even then it’s a quickly hidden giggle, not a grin.
“So.. uh.. hey, Mrs. Landau,” the biggest grinner said, “What do you do in your free time?”
I wasn’t sure why that question inspired grins. Was it the idea that I existed outside of the classroom? Had there been some supposition about what I did when I wasn’t teaching English? I didn’t ask. When you’re dealing with a group of 9th grade boys, it’s often better not to know.
“I drive my kids around. I do mom-type stuff. I see my friends. I blog.”
“You BLOG??” they exclaimed, “Who does that?”
“Lots of people,” I told them. “There are blogs about anything you can imagine. You should check it out and see what you see.”
“Yeah, but you?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I’m a writer. It’s what I love. ”
As I said it, the world slowed down. The room got a little brighter.
“I’m a writer.”
It’s been clear to me and to those who know me well that my drive to write has been reawakened, but it’s not something I broadcast. In fact, I’m a little shy about “coming out” as a writer. It seems pompous, somehow, to say, “I’m a writer.” Bogus, even. Sure, I write, but I’m not really published. It’s mostly me and my Mac, just as it’s been me and a succession of notebooks since I was 12. So I haven’t been able to simply call myself a writer.
For me, the difference between “I write” and “I’m a writer” is one of tense. The former is present tense; it describes current behavior. The latter, though technically a present tense clause, essentially functions in the present progressive tense; it says that this began earlier, it’s still going on, and – darn it – it’s going to keep going on. Saying, “I’m a writer,” feels like a bigger deal because it supposes a future.
English weenie that I am, after applying grammar to the situation, it dawned on me that my ability to call myself a writer, to suppose a future for myself, happened amongst various conversations about Pip, the protagonist of Great Expectations. In the first part of the novel, Pip comes to find that he’s got “great expectations.” His perceived dead-end life as a lowly blacksmith vanishes, and he finds himself facing a wide open future as a gentleman.
Now, my life is not a dead-end and my job as a teacher is not lowly (despite what the press has to say about teachers), but I do feel a little like Pip does when he’s told of his good fortune. Having great expectations for my re-burgeoning passion for writing feels like a door’s been flung wide open. To quote Pip’s brother-in-law, Joe, “Astonishing!”
My referring to myself as a writer meant nothing to my students, of course.
Though my proclamation and subsequent personal connection to our current unit had me feeling giddy, my grinners promptly turned around and went back to pretending to review for the test. The world resumed its normal pace. The change in lighting, which had nothing to do with my personal growth and everything to do with a student hitting a light switch with her head, was quickly remedied to a soundtrack of giggles.
Oh, and it turned out that the boys just wanted to know if I watch Jersey Shore. The grins? I’m still not entirely sure.
In other words, life quickly returned to normal. But normal feels a little more open, a little braver, now that I’ve “come out” as a writer.
“Who does that?” my students wanted to know.
I’m a writer and I do, that’s who.
I love, love, love watching Super Nanny. I’ve only seen it a few times, and I don’t think I could even tell you when it’s on, but when I stumble over that show.. BOOM! I’m hooked. Sunk. Otherwise occupied until the credits roll.
Why? Simple. I love Super Nanny for the same reason people love “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” “Engaged and Underaged,” “Scott Baio is 40 and Single” or “Breaking Bonaduce.”
We love these shows because they make us feel normal. We can watch people be selfish, nasty, superficial, misguided and generally screwed up, and then we can turn off the t.v., think, “Well, THOSE PEOPLE are messed up,” and go back to our own mundane lives feeling all self-righteous and normal.
For instance, one of my favorite things to do is to watch “America’s Next Top Model” while eating Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream directly from the container. Mmmmmm~! I know it’s a bit twisted, but I don’t care. It makes me feel all smug. I can’t explain why.
Maybe it’s because I’m short and these girls are all nearly 6′ tall. Maybe it’s because pictures of uber-skinny women contribute to a society that breeds 10 year olds who think that unless their stomachs are concave, they’re fat. Maybe it’s just because I’m fascinated by fashion and love Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream. Who knows?
I can, however, tell you exactly why I love watching Super Nanny: it makes me feel like a fabulous parent. I’ve mentioned before that parenting is hard. At what age is it appropriate for a kid to go up to the park without a parent? At what age should a kid get a cell phone? How do you NOT turn to the little punk flirting with your 10 year old daughter and say, “What’re YOU starin’ at, Junior?” Seriously, how do you not? I had trouble with that one yesterday. Oops.
What’s not hard are the problems suffered by the parents on Super Nanny. Is it okay to let your 5 year old routinely strangle your 2 year old? Um, no. Next. Should you react to your daughter calling your home a dump by buying her more expensive things to make up for it? Um, no. Next. Should it take 4 hours to get kids to go to bed every night, and should you end up sleeping in their room because it’s the only way to get them to stop screaming and throwing things down the steps? Um, NO.
The kids and parents on Super Nanny are totally out of control. I watch kids kick, bite and curse at their parents. I watch parents refuse to set any limits and then wonder why their kids act like little demons. I shake my head and say, “OMG, these guys are totally out of control!” And then, after the credits roll, I turn off the t.v. and return to my own life feeling much more in control than those other parents.
Life with kids is semi-out-of-control by nature. The second you get the hang of a certain age or stage or habit, the kid grows out of it and you’re into uncharted territories again. I find it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when my kids push my buttons. It’s easy to get mad and lose sight of the fact that kids are supposed to push their parents’ buttons.
And yet, in the midst of this, I’ve managed to raise kids who don’t kick, bite or curse at me. They argue, they fight, and they roll their eyes, sure, but they’re decent human beings. They’re polite and helpful when I’m not looking. They’re funny and smart and they keep me on my toes. Pains-in-the-butt sometimes? You bet. But in general, they’re really cool little people.
I don’t take credit for all of this, though my mother advises me to do so since she knows I’ll take credit for all of the bad stuff. After watching Super Nanny, though, I do allow myself to take some credit for not messing them up too badly yet.
Summer is just whizzing by, so I thought I ought to examine my Summer Goals 2008 list and see how I’m doing.
1. Begin and finish a MAJOR landscaping project.
We’ve actually exceeded my expectations for this project and made huge progress. I’m even attempting to reseed sections of my lawn in the middle of the summer heat.
A common misperception is that lawn planting is a spring or fall thing because the seed prefers the cool weather. I did my research, though, and found that it’s not the heat (it’s the humidity… no, no, no), it’s keeping the seeds wet enough when it’s very hot (okay, since it has to do with evaporation, maybe it IS a humidity thing!). So we’re diligently watering, watering, watering… I have high hopes. Yay us!
2. Begin and finish one grad class.
Okay, I’m in the middle of the class and it’s going well. The only thing is, I have to teach myself to chill out… repeat after me: every grade does not have to be an A, every grade does not have to be and A, every grade does not have to be an A.
To clarify, my grade is currently 100%. My problem is that I’m spending too much time on assignments, and it’s just not necessary. My fear, though, is that I won’t get an A on something.
That’s a lie. I don’t want an A on everything – I want 100%. Impossible expectations, anyone? So my amended goal here is to chill out and deal with it if I happen not to ace an assignment.
3. Take up swimming (as in laps)
I’ve tried. Really. Honestly. Unfortunately, I really prefer sitting on my (expanding) bum and reading. I haven’t given up, but I’m thinking that swimming across the bay with AM is never going to happen.
4. Learn Spanish
I’ve actually made some progress with this. Now, instead of being able to only discuss what prescription insurance will and won’t cover, I can also ask, “Is that your chair?” This is important. At school we often have situations where unclaimed chairs appear randomly near Spanish speaking kids. I’ll be indispensable!
Yeah, alright, that’s crap. I’ve actually picked up more Spanish reading Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses” and “The Crossing.” There are entire conversations in Spanish, most of which he does not translate.
I’m wondering if finding a jr. high level novel in Spanish and making a once-a-week lunch date with some Latino kids in my school wouldn’t help me more than walking around my kitchen talking to my iPod.
5. Clean out all of the closets and cabinets in my house
ROFL – I haven’t cleaned out a single closet or cabinet. Not one. Not a SINGLE one. Must get moving on this. Ugh – just disgraceful..
6. Simplify and incorporate technology into all of my curriculum units.
The simplification part is coming along. I have come to the conclusion, along with my ever-loving husband, that I just cannot keep doing what I’m doing in regards to grading load. So focus number 1 for me this summer has been re-thinking what I do and why I do it. I’ve made great strides. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but I think I’m on to something….
I suppose we’ll see whether or not I’m right once the school year is in full swing. Check back with me in November. That’s usually when I hit the wall..
7. Re-arrange my classroom.
I’ve been shoving filing cabinets and bookcases and desks all over the joint, but I’m still unsure how I’ll end up.
Actually, a lot of my choice has been taken away. I’ve just learned that my classes are going to be BIG this year, so I’ve got to figure out how to get another 3 student desks in my room and still have room to teach and “walk the rows.” Wish me luck – I’ll need it..
8. Learn how to relax again.
Though you cannot tell from the above updates, I’ve actually been doing a great deal of relaxing. I spend a huge amount of time in my pajamas, and yesterday I never even left my property. When I veg, I veg, and it’s wonderful.
A big breakthrough in this area is that (trumpet fanfair) my kids have finally decided to sleep in this summer! Whereas in prior years they’d be up at 7:00 every day, sometimes they’ll stay in bed past 9:00.
I know this sounds early to some of you, but to my parent friends out there, I’ve gotta tell you – this is as big as the first time they manage to get to the toilet before they throw up. Big time improvement.
So it seems that I’m making progress on my lists… all except for the closet and cabinet thing. That’s okay – we’re looking at a house in a better (and much coveted by us) neighborhood tomorrow. Although it’s doubtful that we’re going anywhere (you know about the housing market, right?), it’s likely that it’ll get me thinking about how much cleaning out I’d have to do if it all fell into place.
My 12 year old son is headed off to lacrosse camp tomorrow. Sleep-away camp. It’s his first time at sleep-away camp, and although I’m the one who suggested it (indeed, I’m the only sleep-away camp advocate in this house), I’ve been freaking out as we pack him up and get ready to ship him off.
He and I spent almost an hour in Target earlier today making sure he had all the necessary toiletries and other camp goods. Travel sized shampoo – check. Travel toothbrush and accompanying travel-sized toothpaste – check. Sunscreen (a million SPF because we all know he’ll apply it once if he applies it at all) – check. Laundry bag (my son: Why do I need that?) – check. Go Phone with unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes – almost check.
Last year it was “the summer of the contact lenses.” When he asked for contact lenses the prior September, we let him know that he had to meet certain goals before we’d agree: washing hands after using the bathroom without being reminded, cleaning his room without (much) fuss, and getting the optometrist to give her consent. It took him over a year from the initial serious conversation, but he was out of his glasses and into contact lenses before he hopped on the middle school bus.
This year it is “the summer of the cell phone.” Slowly but surely, my son is growing up. We’ve avoided the cell phone thing for a while now. My 10 year old daughter has been asking for one since 3rd grade, but my son just hasn’t been interested. It makes sense, as my daughter is the one who takes the house phone into her room and blathers on about God knows what until someone else in the house needs to make a call.
My son, on the other hand, has never been on the phone for longer than three minutes, and his longest calls involve leaving insanely detailed voice messages on our cell phones when he arrives home from school ahead of us. “Hi, Dad. It’s your son. Um, Joe? I’m home. You’re not. It’s 3:25. I don’t have a lot of homework, just a couple pages of math. Oh, and I have to read a story. I don’t know what it’s about….” Phone calls with friends usually sound more like, “Hey, wanna play Wii at my house? Cool. See ya.”
Right around December 25th, however, things changed. His friends got cell phones. His friends’ friends got cell phones. It seemed that every person over the age of eight had a cell phone. Though we were resistant the first time he broached the subject, as we began loosening the apron strings in other areas of his life, the idea of getting our almost-teen-aged son a cell phone seemed increasingly plausible. Not too long ago, we sat down with our son and had an updated version of our pre-contact lens conversation.
We let him know that he had to meet certain goals before we’d agree: losing the chip on his shoulder when we ask him to practice drums or lacrosse, taking out the garbage without us having to ask three times, and, the biggie, going several weeks without losing his house or locker keys, iPod, Nintendo DS, or anything else of any importance.
I wish I could say that he’s met all of these goals. It sure would’ve made my pre-camp trip to Target less of an ethical dilemma. As it stands, however, he still has keys or iPod or glasses go missing semi-frequently (though he claims none of these disappearances is his fault).
So, as I stood in front of the Go Phone display in Target, my son’s attention successfully diverted by an aisle full of Wii games and accessories, I had to decide whether he was really ready for a phone or if I just really wanted to be able to get in touch with him while he was away at camp.
I had the Go Phone in my hand. I was standing at the electronics counter, ready to make a purchase, but sales help was nowhere to be found. As I waited, I called my husband.
“Am I crazy?” I asked, “Should I do this? Is he ready? Does he need it?”
“He’ll be fine,” my husband assured me, “Relax.”
So I did. Sort of. After pulling myself out of the electronics section, I gathered my son, bought the rest of his camp gear, and got out of there, managing to avoid making a long-term decision based on pre-camp mom psychosis.
I’m still fighting the psychosis. I want so badly to write little notes and hide them throughout his duffel bag, but after picturing some bonehead reading them aloud to the whole camp I’ve decided against it.
Meanwhile, he’s all packed up and ready to go, and I’m sitting here worried that he’ll be homesick and, thanks to my rational decision, unable to call home at will. It’s a sure bet, however, that the stash of junk food I’ve hidden in his duffel bag in lieu of little notes will go a long way to distract him from homesickness and ensure popularity with his campmates.
I know it makes me feel better. Wish us luck.
It’s the beginning of my summer vacation, and as usual I can’t relax. It’ll take a few days (or even weeks), but right now, I’m still on overdrive… and what do I do when I’m on overdrive? I make lists. Right now, it makes most sense to list the things I’d like to do now that I’ve got all this time on my hands.
Summer Goals 2008:
Begin and finish a MAJOR landscaping project.
-Beginning? Absolutely. Finishing? No way… it’s not even physically possible as some things, like planting sections of the lawn, can’t be done until autumn. However, I think it’s safe to say that whatever we end up with at the end of the summer will be better than the untamed mess we’ve got now.
Begin and finish one grad class.
-This one’s not a problem at all. I actually really like taking classes. I know, I know… one more sign that I’m a total dork. Bug off – I don’t care.
Take up swimming (as in laps)
– Well, I splashed my way across the pool a couple of times on day one, resplendent in my brand new goggles, while an octogenarian looked on with an expression of amusement and worry. On day two I kicked my way across several times, this time clutching a kick-board. On both days I followed this up by collapsing on the grass and panting unattractively.
The plan is to try to get to the pool earlier in the day (earlier = less crowded) and just stick with it. I’ve got my husband and AM cheering on my efforts. Perhaps, though, they underestimate how uncoordinated, afraid of drowning, and self-conscious I am. But I promise to try.
– You’d think that someone who spent literally years working in a pharmacy in Perth Amboy and who took multiple Spanish classes (beginning in HS and ending with Conversational Spanish in college) would not have to set this as a summer goal. Unfortunately, the most complex string of sentences I can muster at this point is, “Lo siento. Su seguro medico no paga para este. Va esperar?” And I can’t think of too many instances, outside of pharmacies, when this will come in handy, so it’s back to lessons for me.
I’ve purchased an audio book and downloaded it onto my iPod, so I’ll spend the next few months conjugating verbs. “Hablo. Yo hablo. Habla. El habla. Hablamos. Nosotros hablamos.” Fun, fun, fun.
Clean out all of the closets and cabinets in my house.
-Disclaimer: I have this on my summer goal list every year and it’s never happened. The same two closets get cleaned out and then I give up and give in to the clutter. To shake things up, I’ll start with different closets this year. Beyond that – no promises.
Simplify and incorporate technology into all of my curriculum units.
– Ugh – it’s way too close to the end of school to think about this one! The simplification part WILL happen, and the incorporation of technology is most likely happen to some degree.
Re-arrange my classroom.
-I actually enjoy doing this. Of course, if you have read my blog about couches, you know that arranging rooms isn’t my thing. I think I’ll try to get a bigger, stronger person to help me move the filing cabinets this year.
Learn how to relax again.
-I’ll master this in August… right before it’s time to head back.
Bye. Oh – adios!
On our last full day of school, my 11th grade students asked me if I was going to share with them some words of wisdom. Apparently, in prior years, teachers have taken the last day of school to share life lessons with the kids. I asked them what type of advice they’d gotten last year.”Oh, I dunno,” one kid answered. “Just generic stuff… I forget.” “Yeah,” a handful more agreed.
They said they’d be interested in my words of wisdom if they were more specific and applicable. Of course, they didn’t use the word applicable. It’s June. They stopped thinking several weeks ago. But that was their point.
The only one I could come up with at the time was, “Don’t sucker punch someone who is standing at the top of a flight of stairs. If that person catches herself halfway down and gets back up, she’s getting back up PISSED.”
I wasn’t sure that was too appropriate, though, so I began thinking about what good, specific, applicable advice I could offer my students. I tried to come up with advice that might be new to the kids.
A few of these might sound familiar to some of my old friends, but for what it’s worth, the following list is what I came up with. Some are more serious than others, but all are true.
*Do not antagonize people who are driving like maniacs. Let go of your pride, let them by, and stay far enough away that, when they inevitably crash into a tree or someone else, you can drive around the wreckage. Trust karma.
*Don’t bend wicker.
*Yes, everything needs to be tied down in the truck, no matter how jam-packed it is.
*Wherever you work, no matter what position you’re in, make friends with secretaries, custodial and maintenance staff, and anyone else most people overlook. They may not make the rules, but they run the show.
*Almost everybody likes baked goods.
*Listen up when people talk about themselves. They’re telling you what’s important to them. Remember the names of their kids and pets… and then ask about them occasionally. You can make friends with even the grumpiest people this way.
*If you ever put your hands through a window – freeze. Most damage sustained by people who put their hands through windows is actually sustained when they jerk their hands back through the now jagged glass. So as you hear the glass crack, freeze. Then, assess the situation before you carefully remove your hands.
Impalement injuries are similar… more damage is done getting the object out. That’s why occasionally you’ll see news footage of someone being taken to the hospital with part of a fence sticking out of his abdomen. I would imagine, then, that the above advice applies. If you ever impale yourself with something – freeze.
*There is a correct bandage for everything.
* If you’re going to try a new hairstyle, bring pictures to the salon with you. The words “not too short” are relative. Pictures help.
* If you have two friends: one who’s super nice and one who’s a bit blunt, take the blunt one shopping with you.
*Remember that people can see you when you’re in your car. It may feel private, but singing and dancing like a total goofball in your car is essentially singing and dancing like a goofball in public. Don’t interpret this as “you shouldn’t sing and dance in your car.” Just remember that others can SEE you and behave accordingly.
As a side note, nose-pickers, the above advice applies to you, too. If you wouldn’t jam your finger up your nose on line at Walgreens, don’t do it in the car… we just don’t want to see that.
That’s all I could come up with for now. If you’ve read my previous blogs you know my “leave the cat” mantra and assorted other advice on everything from how to behave at a school performance to how to not annoy your neighbors. I’m thinking of gathering some of the best ones, typing them up, and actually going over them with students during our last 20 minutes together before summer break.
Anyone care to make additions?
My husband and I went to see our daughter in her elementary school’s talent show this evening – and believe me, I’m using the term talent very loosely – and once again I was amazed that people act like such jerks in public. Therefore, to the aforementioned jerks, I present three basic rules for attending school performances:
1. When the lights go down, shut up and sit still.
Also, make your children shut up and sit still or remove them from the theater, even if that means missing the show yourself. When the house lights go down and the stage lights come up, you’re supposed to give your quiet attention to the performers. Extended noisy or restless behavior during a performance is a big “screw you” to the performers and everyone around you. It also screams, “This is about ME!” almost as much your jumping up on stage to join the kids in their joyful, impromptu performance of the Macarena after the curtain call.
2. Clap politely for everybody and refrain from screaming for anybody.
Sitting and talking while other people’s kids are on stage and then pounding the ground and screaming when your kid takes the stage is a big “screw you” to those other kids and their families. It also screams, “I have no class!” almost as much as your third grader ripping off her hoodie and writhing suggestively to music about gangs, prostitutes and God knows what else.
Side note here – my experience has been that the ruder people are to other performers and the louder people scream for their own kids (and this includes air horns and other “hey this is all about me” noise makers), the less their kids actually deserve such grand gestures of appreciation.
3. Refrain from criticizing performers both during the show and immediately after the house lights come up.
First, these children, the ones who look or sound like they don’t really know what they’re doing, are the ones who made up their own acts. Appreciate that. It’s genuine. They’re not professional performers. They’re goofy public school kids who are excited to be on stage at all.
A second grader hacking out Alouette on the piano is genuine and adorable. A fourth grader alternately rocking and then massacring our national anthem is genuine and (mostly) amusing. Sixteen girls in professional costumes and full stage makeup performing a series of moves choreographed by a dance teacher? Well, that’s cute, too.
But if they dance with precision, it’s not because they’re more talented or deserve an audience more than the second and fourth graders. It’s because an adult created the dance, taught them how to do it, and made them practice. In fact, I think the second and fourth graders who get out there on their own and perform without a net have more guts than the kids in safe, choreographed groups. And in a talent show that’s short on talent, moxy is important.
Second, others can hear you when you criticize the performers. Who knows if you’re sitting next to someone’s dad or grandmother or friend? Who are you to publicly criticize someone else’s kid? Turning to your spouse and saying, “That sucked big time. Lisa was so much better,” is a big “screw you” to the friends and families of that performer. It also screams, “I am a self-important jerk!” almost as much as the bedazzled T-shirt you are wearing, the one with your kid’s picture and the words “Star of the (name omitted) Variety Show” emblazoned on the front.
Remember that your kid’s performance tortures the rest of us just as our kids’ performances torture you. I suggest trying to be positive, but if you’ve really got to complain, wait until you’re somewhere private.
All of the above rules boil down to the same thing: be aware and respectful of others. Understand that this show isn’t about you and your kid. It’s about us and our kids.
I understand that these shows can be torturous, I truly do, but they’re fun for the kids and a rite of passage for the parents, so deal with it with a little class, will you?
We’re all in this together. Act that way.
(Original post date: Saturday, April 12, 2008)
Technology has had a profound influence on the way we talk. Pretty much everyone I know has accepted “google” as both a noun and a verb. In fact, there’s actually a term for looking yourself up on google – it’s called an ego search. I admit I’ve googled myself (oh get over it – it’s very natural and normal). I did not, however, actually find anything about myself. An actress shares my name, so most google hits are about her, not me.
Another way technology is affecting language is through the increasing popularity of acronyms, thanks largely to text messaging. It’s not uncommon to hear people actually say TMI, and if a kid leaves my classroom and says I had a total BF, you can be sure he’d been pushing my buttons, big time. BFF is another acronym that people actually use. I’ve yet to hear someone say LOL – largely because it means a sound, so chances are if it’s appropriate to say, you’ve probably already done it.
Meanwhile, we’ve been trying in earnest to incorporate technology into our teaching methods at school. Lately, though, it’s starting to sound like we’re all speaking another language. If you walk into the faculty room you’ll very likely hear a conversation like this:
Hi! I’m so excited – my moodle’s up and running, my kids just finished their web quests, and tomorrow they’re commenting about each other’s podcasts on the forum.
I’d love to see that. Do you know how I can incorporate my wiki into my moodle?
Select wiki from the “add a resource” pull-down menu… wait, that builds a new one. Hmm..
I’ll twitter it. When I had issues integrating sketchcast and my smartboard I twittered it and got a response in, like, minutes. It turned out to be a bandwidth issue.
Oh, so IT has to update the server before you can use them together. Gotcha. You should ITDirect it so there’s a record of that problem. Have your kids’ blogs been better since that video conference?
Not really, but they’re loving blabberize.
Who doesn’t? It’s sure more fun than criterion. Say, did you find the google.docs tutorial on teacher tube?
Yeah – it’s on my del.icio.us. I’ll send you the url.
If it’s on your del.icio.us I should have it on my RSS feed, then. Hey, did you hear about the kid who downloaded Ganja Farmer to all the PCs in the lab?
I heard his teacher caught him with net.op, and they gave him ISS for an acceptable use policy violation.
I love how it took some kid a class period to download unauthorized software and it took IT months to get photo story up and running.
I know. Oh, before I go… any idea why I can’t upload my exam.view files to a moodle quiz? I keep getting a terminal error message.
No, but if you want to cross-reference your moodle glossaries, I’m your girl. You know…
I know, I know… I’ll twitter it
ok – g2g. l8r g8r. ttys.
(Original post date: Tuesday, April 01, 2008)
Oh God – if you’re out there, help me to be a good sports mom tomorrow.
Let me have faith in my son’s helmet and assorted pads. I didn’t know LAX was a contact sport when I said my son could play, though the cumbersome and expensive array of protective gear should’ve been my first clue.
Let me not stand up, point and yell, “Hitting!” I know they’re not in kindergarten, but it’s just not nice, so help me keep that opinion to myself.
Let me not have to cover my eyes or gasp and speak in Yiddish, causing those around me to gawk. I can’t help it if I channel my grandmother when I watch people get hurt or hit each other with sticks. It seems that the hitting with sticks is inevitable, and people getting hurt can’t be far behind, so I’ll need some help with that.
Let me think only generous thoughts about the other players and assorted adults. It would be good to get through this without thinking “@$$&#!*” even once… though I can’t even drive from here to the grocery store without thinking at least one of those, so perhaps that’s asking too much.
Let me not end up sprawled on the ground, my brand new fold-up chair on top of me as I say, “I told you those legs weren’t locked.”
Let me not complain bitterly about the cold and the fact that it was over 70 degrees the day BEFORE I had to go sit in a field for an hour.
Most of all, God, help me be calm and supportive, and let my son see how proud I am of how hard he’s been working. Despite my qualms about him playing a contact sport, I am proud that he’s busted his butt – and I don’t think it’ll hurt him to know how to get knocked down, get up, and keep on playing.
Oh, please disregard this prayer if you don’t get done feeding the world’s hungry, smiting all total schmucks and creating world peace by 5 pm tomorrow.
Either way, I’ll try my best.
My husband and I happened upon the movie Alien the other night, and since we couldn’t agree on anything else on the 300 and some channels, we settled in.
We had missed the best scene. You know, the one where the alien bursts out of the guy’s stomach. It was at the part when the crew knows there’s some sort of alien on their spaceship (well, duh – they’d seen it burst out of the guy’s stomach), but they have no idea what, exactly. They’re tracking it armed with flashlights, a couple of guns, and… a net.
It’s not a big industrial “let’s go catch us some potentially dangerous alien life form” net, either. It looks about as substantial as a butterfly net you might give to your nephew. Yes, they set out looking for what we later learn is an enormous, vaguely insect-like creature whose blood is metal-burning acid armed with a butterfly net.
Of course, the first thing they track down isn’t the alien, but the captain’s cat. The scene is very tense. Their guns are aimed, the net is poised to catch the dreaded alien, and ROWR! It’s a kitty. So what do they do? They send Harry Dean Stanton after the cat.
Why? There is no explanation other than to move the plot along. There are a lot of crew members to kill off, so they may as well have one of them walking around going, “Here, kitty kitty kitty,” before he’s slaughtered by the really creepy, much-too-large-for-a-butterfly-net alien.
Later, when most of the crew has been decimated, the remaining crew members have realized that a butterfly net is not going to be at all helpful, and their only mission is to get the hell off of the ship, the captain hears the cat, stops getting the shuttle ready, and wanders off to find the cat.
What is THAT?
I understand that many people are deeply, deeply attached to their pets. I lovingly fed my daughter’s hamster medicine through a tiny syringe and bawled when he died, and I am aware that this is only the tip of the iceberg. However, I firmly believe that when you’re in deep space, a horrifying alien has annihilated your crew, and you have one chance to get out of there, you need to focus on your goal – living, and leave the cat.
It struck me that we do the same sorts of stupid things in our daily lives. We concentrate on the wrong things, the minutiae, and lose sight of the important stuff. Parents do it when we get on our kids’ backs about cleaning their rooms when they’re trying to tell us about something truly momentous like the bus driver farting audibly. Teachers do it when we focus on sticking it to the smirking, eye-rolling punk who manages to tip over his desk every day, when we should be focusing our energy on minimizing opportunities for punk-like behavior. Students do it when they waste time bitching about mean teachers (and let’s be fair, sometimes teachers are mean), when they could be doing their homework so the teacher won’t have anything to be mean about. We all do it – we get stuck on something that seems important and in doing so lose sight of the main goal.
Later in the movie, as I watched the captain go back, yet again, for the cat, I decided that “leave the cat” was going to be my new motto. So from now on, whenever I realize I’ve been doing something nit-picky that actually distracts me from my larger goal, I’m going to think about Alien and remind myself: leave the cat.
(Original post date: Monday, March 24, 2008)
Until recently I don’t think my kids knew who Jaime Lynn Spears was… unfortunately, now they do. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, JLS is Brittney’s little sister, she’s 16, and she’s knocked up.
Now, as a rule, I try to stay as far away from the Disney Channel as possible, but the other day I was straightening up the family room when my daughter came in to watch a show. I looked up just in time to see JLS looking all pure and virginal.
“Ugh,” I said. “Is that Jamie Lynn Spears?”
“Yeah,” my daughter replied. “Isn’t she pretty???”
“Yeah,” I muttered. “And foolish.”
“Why? ’Cause she’s pregnant? I heard she’s giving the baby away.”
Oh boy was this not the conversation I’d had in mind when I went in to straighten up.
“Imagine having to do that, though,” I answered, heading up the stairs, attempting to escape from any in-depth discussion about JLS’s decision making.
Alas, my son had heard her name and was waiting in the hall.
“You know,” he said casually, “I just think she’s unlucky, that’s all.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you usually don’t get pregnant the first time you do it,” my 11 year old son replied breezily.
Oh, jeez. Where should I start? “Who said that?” I demanded.
“Everyone on the bus.” Of course.
For those of you without school-aged kids, let me warn you: the bus is the root of all evil. It starts in kindergarten when they learn what the middle finger means on the bus. Then you’ve got to get into what the f-word means.. that’s a whole other issue. I recommend tellling them it’s like a really strong “darn it!” until you’re ready to have “the talk.”
I take it back. Don’t listen to my advice. It’s so easy to tell others what to do when what comes out of my own mouth is so often NOT what I ought to be saying.
Case in point…
Best answer: “Son, let me calmly address two problems with that opinion.”
What I actually said: “Oh, ya think it was her first time, do ya?”
Not the best lead in, I realize. I did manage to get it together. I explained that yes, you most certainly CAN get pregnant the first time, and that you should ALWAYS use a condom to avoid pregnancy and diseases.
“Oh. Okay.” he said. I thought we were done. Whew.
“So what exactly is a condom?” he asked.
That’s no big deal to explain, right? Yeah sure. Go ahead explain exactly what it is to an 11 year old boy. Try it… I’ll wait. But I forged ahead and explained. He looked at me like I was making it up, then laughed his head off.
“Oh,” he said again, “Okay.”
I could tell from the look on his face that there was another question coming. What now, I wondered. I braced myself.
“So, um, Mom.”
“Can I ask you a question?
“Can I have some ice cream?”
Whew. So here’s what I want to know: what’s the world coming to when this type of conversation is sparked by a Disney show??? What’s next? The Wonderful World of STDs?
(Original post date: Tuesday, March 04, 2008)
I have a new addiction: Puffin Corn. My daughter asked if we could by this “different kind of popcorn” with no hulls since the orthodontist says she can’t eat regular popcorn. I said sure, wondering how they get all those hulls off…
Well, it’s not freaking popcorn. It’s more like cheese curl stuff shaped like and flavored like popcorn. Except it’s got a softer texture than cheese curls. It sort of melts in your mouth.
My first reaction was, “Oh gross.” A couple of handfuls later I started liking them. And as my greasy fingers grazed the bottom of the bag, I realized I had a problem.
This stuff is tasty, but a whole bag is something like 3,000 calories, all of it crap. Ugh, and the grease… indigestion city! It didn’t matter. All I wanted was more, more, more Puffin Corn!
I tried to fight it. I didn’t open the second bag. Someone else did, I swear! It’s not fair to ask me to avoid it once it’s open. Plus, it’ll get stale really quickly, so it’s wasteful not to eat it all. I’m nothing if not frugal.
Yet fate is cruel. I paid for this transgression. My stomach complained. My intestines punished me severely. My kids asked, “Are you coming out soon?”
I swore it’d be my last time. I walked right by it when I did my weekly grocery shopping. I thought I had it beat. And then, I’m sorry to say (sob!), I fell off the wagon.
When I head home from work at about 4:30, I am HUNGRY. It is stupid to go to the grocery store at that time of day for any reason. Processed food seems so appealing at that time of day. It’s salty or sweet or creamy or crunchy… and I don’t have to cook it. On a good day I’ll find myself trying to rationalize serving Hostess cupcakes as the vegetable with dinner. On bad days? On bad days it’s best just to go home. Make do with what’s in the house. Scrambled eggs or French toast. Leftovers or bowls of cereal. Anything will do – just don’t let me go to the supermarket at 4:30 after a crappy day.
If only we heeded our own advice. Alas.
My intentions were pure. Bread, milk, Diet Snapple. That was it. Bread, milk, Diet Snapple. The bread and milk were no problem… I zoomed by, plopped them into my basket, and headed off for the Diet Snapple.
In my regular supermarket, the Diet Snapple is in an aisle with juice and water and soda. No problem. That afternoon, however, I’d stopped at the store closest to my house. In this store, we’ll call it The Devil, the Diet Snapple is in the snack food aisle.
It wasn’t my fault! I ignored them as I sailed past to grab the Diet Snapple, but they called to me. They sang. They cajoled. They said I could eat just a handful and save the rest for another day. It wasn’t a fair fight. Filled with joy, I grabbed that beautiful blue bag of heavenly, overly-processed, grease-filled, artificially flavored, crunchy goodness.
I held off until I got home. I may be an addict, but I do have my pride. I waited until I was in my own kitchen, my children out of sight, and then I ripped open the bag and began to stuff myself with Puffin Corn. Oh, sweet abandon.
Half an hour later my daughter came upstairs to find me sitting at the kitchen table moaning and turning green, the empty blue bag pushed away and little fake-corn crumbs littering the table. “Again?” she said. “Didn’t you even save any for me?” It was a shameful moment.
I’m trying to kick this thing. Every day I tell myself, “Just for today, I will not touch Puffin Corn.”
But it’s a difficult battle.
Just thinking about it is making my mouth water.
I’m so weak.
I’m going to score some Puffin Corn. I’ll try again tomorrow.