Saturday, September 29, 2007


  • How 'bout them Os in last night's game! Woo hoo!!! Our entire region wants to extend a hearty thanks to that team.

  • The weather lately has been wonderful. Warm - sometimes even too warm - and sunny. Every time I go use the outdoor shower, I think, "Today is it. It's the last day I'll be able to use it this season." I've been very fortunate to have about five such last outdoor shower days so far.

  • C and S had their flu shots this morning. This was the first time administering the shot didn't require multiple people holding C down. But it wasn't easy either. He sat in the corner on the floor when we were in the exam room, head down, not looking at anyone. When it was his turn, he had this look on his face, and I know what he was thinking, where he was at. Because I was there, too. It was all I could do not to cry.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Missing Link

Last night my husband and I went into the city art museum to hear a talk by a well-known illustrator. Aside from the pleasantness of an evening out with my hubby, the talk was great. I came away energized and inspired.

The illustrator is working on a book that’s kind of a follow-up to a bestseller from a few years back, only it’s about how we – our bodies – work. It’s going to be an amazing book. Seriously. The moment it’s available for pre-order on Amazon, sign up.

(Until then, he as numerous books in circulation, and all of them are worthy additions to your home library.)

At the end of the talk, the illustrator took questions from the audience. In response to one question (and, sorry, I don’t remember the actual question), the illustrator said that his work is all about the drawing. Making art is not the focus. He draws for himself, to learn, and in the end, his measure of success is how well he understands his subject.

It struck me that here is the missing link between arts education and pure academics in the schools.

Now, I love visual arts and creating objects or images just for the sake of it is a joy to me. I would not have majored in art history and studio art otherwise! I think kids should have that opportunity, too. That is the ideal, of course. But in this time of tight budgets and focus on standardized testing, art for the sake of art in the schools isn’t winning funds (at least in my district).

I think what visual art teachers and departments need to do is show how the skills and techniques kids learn in art class can be applied to learning in the academic classes. Maybe even disassociate some of those skills from “art” class.

For example, how does one represent what is in front or in back when you are drawing a cell? How do you show where the light is coming from in an image of the solar system? How do you show which mountains are taller on a map? What is the relative proportion of an atom to a molecule as a whole? These questions apply some basic drawing skills. When the art teachers can link some of these observation and drawing skills into other parts of the overall curriculum, the teacher can show how integral art class is to overall learning. Then they can move on to using other techniques and materials to develop appropriate visual metaphors for those academic topics.

The illustrator also talked about the materials he uses. He said he uses “cheap” tracing paper and pencils and markers. When he’s working out these problems of how to understand and represent how bits fit together, using expensive paper and materials just impedes the process, and using tracing paper, he can continually build images as his knowledge advances.

It’s just so simple and logical! Thinking back to my own elementary and high school education, I always understood more when I could map out or sketch or diagram what I was trying to learn. It was part of the doing that lead to the true understanding. The sketching wasn’t always pretty – it doesn’t have to be! – but it helped clarify and set what I was learning.

When it comes to arts in my local schools, music definitely has an advantage. I support music, of course (C plays French Horn), but visual arts need more of a representation. Just this morning, while talking to C about the illustrator, I learned that C doesn’t even have art class right now. He only gets a half year of it, and his half starts in January. I was horrified (and thank goodness he’s in an extra-curricular art class). Music, however, is twice week, plus small group lessons. The music department has a non-profit supporting organization in town – but visual arts does not.

One of the cool things about thinking of arts education in this way is that it removes the pressure of (perceived) talent from the equation. These are some basic skills in hand-eye coordination and observation and spatial understanding I am talking about, and relative aptitude for color or gesture have little to do with it. But like other muscles, these are muscles that need to be exercised regularly to be strong and flexible. Once the muscle is strong and fears and perceptions overcome, creativity and confidence flow. Then the art for art’s sake is a fuller and richer experience.

Art classes are more than extras in school, and they are more than fund-raising greeting cards for other school programs. They truly are a necessary and important part of our kids education.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Over the past year, on a religious level, I’ve been focused locally as our parish searched for a new rector. Our new rector started in June and seems to be a nice guy. We’re all still getting to know each other.

Even though I was locally focused, I did perk my ears whenever news of the differences in the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglican Communion would reach a certain pitch. Then I started reading more blogs with Episcopal connections – the Daily Episcopalian, a woman priest on sabbatical, a woman priest somewhere in my diocese (I think), a priest down in New Jersey. I started to understand more what was happening in the greater Episcopal Church in the US and in the world, and was a little more concerned and sad about it while hoping (and praying) for compromise all around. However, I was also feeling a bit overwhelmed with day-to-day life and soon enough would let the issues move to the background in my head.

This summer a close friend from town and church moved to one of the most conservative Episcopal dioceses in the country - and I really started to take notice of what was happening.

Before M moved to Texas, I would have called her moderate to moderately-liberal in terms of church politics. She is, after all, a New Englander by birth. (I used to joke that was Southwestern liberal is further to the right than a New England conservative.) After M’s arrival in her new town, she went looking for a church. I went online in an effort to help her after visits to two parishes didn’t impress her. I was shocked with some of what I read on the diocesan Web site.

The bishop of M’s new diocese is exceedingly conservative, is threatening to separate entirely from the United States Episcopal Church and take the diocese under the leadership of one of the African primates. Among other things, he does not recognize female clergy – and since the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is a woman…well, you get it.

I did find one small parish near my friend that (in very careful wording on their Web site since they are still under the authority of the conservative bishop) was of a more open and accepting philosophy. But by the time I was in touch with M again, she’d had a happier visit to a larger parish and decided to keep going there. They had enough youth activities for her kids, friendly adults – and an older lady who ran the nursery who took a real shine to her youngest and now takes care of him twice week.

I looked up this parish, and was fairly stunned. My New England friend was at a church that was right in line with that conservative bishop. It was clear from the language on the site that the parish drew a very hard line on certain issues. For example, M’s eldest sister would not be welcome there - a woman who, until the untimely death of her partner last spring, was in a multi-decade single-gender romantic relationship, with children. (On an amusing note, the rector of this parish dresses like a Catholic cardinal.)

While I was rather surprised, the most important part for my friend on her local level is that she feel welcome and accepted, especially in this delicate time as she acclimates to a whole new region of the country away from family and friends. Perhaps as time goes on and M feels more comfortable and secure in her new community, she can speak up more about her own experiences.

It did get me thinking more about this potential schism in the Anglican Communion. What does it mean to me, a lay person? My parish? My diocese? While priests and bishops discuss and debate and align and secede and all that, how this impacts the people in the average pew is missing from the discussion.

I’ve tried several times to sit down and write out all the bits and pieces as I understand them and how they play out in the potential schism – and failed utterly. It's not just about acceptance of homosexuals and the installation of a gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire (though that seems to be the catalyst). Instead, for background, I am going to send you to several sites that have lots of talk and history and links (click often for many different points of view).

The Episcopal Church (official site)
The Episcopal Church of the United States of America (wikipedia)
Father Jake Stops the World
Episcopal Cafe
Stand Firm (for a conservative approach, to be fair)

There are plenty more, believe me.

For me, as a lay person in my parish, a potential rift means very little. While I would be sad that others would leave the church I found so welcoming is sad, but it is their decision to go. My pledges would still go to the same place. I have no issues with Gene Robinson, the New Hampshire bishop whose installation helped spark all this. By all accounts, he is loving and warm, and approaches life and the theological struggles thereof just like the rest of us do. I would have an issue if he were a promiscuous gay man, just as I would have an issue if he were a promiscuous straight man.

For me, as an individual beyond the church, I get upset thinking about how these ultra-conservative voices preach absolutes. It’s been my experience that the person who spouts black and white is the person to listen to the least: the boastful person who so sure that he or she is right and there can be no other path is the one I will not follow – and I have a hard time even hearing that person. It’s a bit like dealing with a petulant (pre-)teenager. We’re waiting for them to get over the fear already and move on to the dialog, but it’s taking an awfully long time.

On a parish level, there might be a little more impact, but very little. Such impact is highly dependent on parish leadership, and I can’t see our new rector taking us in a super-conservative, schismatic direction. If he did, I'd seek a new church home. There are a couple people around who might like a more conservative direction (particularly the senior warden) but that is balanced by the growing and vibrant nature of our parish. It’s hard to argue when pledges are growing, pews are filled every Sunday, the church school is growing, outreach is increasing – and the rector is working hard to make sure everyone feels they have a home there.

At the diocesan level, there is a much bigger impact, mostly legal and financial. Already one parish has decided to separate, and one priest has gone to Africa to be installed as a bishop under Nigerian oversight. The physical churches in the diocese are owned by the diocese (although cared for by the individual parishes), and cannot be taken with departing church members. For example, the members of the parish that departed are now meeting in a storefront (and interestingly, former parish members who had left that church when it took the ultra-conservative turn are back in the original building with the a new interim rector, reorganizing and reforming the more inclusive congregation they knew and loved). While it is sad to see clergy and members leave, I think our diocesan bishops are doing their best have it happen with grace and not with too much acrimony.

There was a House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans over last week. The US bishops met with each other and with the Archbishop of Canterbury in an effort to find compromise. For that to happen, however, all parties must truly be willing to listen and to compromise. When most of the conservative bishops left before the meetings were over, that signaled to me that they were not willing to listen or compromise.

Schism has been threatened before in my lifetime, I believe. When the US Episcopal Church started to ordain women in the 1970s, there was talk. It didn’t happen, the world didn't end, and we all learned from each other and to live with one another and our differences. I think that scenario can happen again. At least I hope it can.

If schism does happen, however, I will be sad, but we will go on. We’ll be fine.

The next morning: Late yesterday a statement was released by the House of Bishops to attempt to address the issues. Neither side seems particularly satisfied with the statement, so it must be a decent compromise.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Challenge

I have a neighbor who annoys me.

Then W moved in two years ago with her family, I was hopeful and open. While I knew I would miss the neighbors they were replacing, those neighbors were just moving across town and I knew our kids would see each other and such. This new neighbor seemed fun and nice.

We made many efforts in those early months to get to know the new neighbors. Some things seemed odd to us, but we overlooked them. Over time, however, the odd and off things seemed bigger than we could overlook, and, well, we didn’t want to know them any more than we did. So we cooled our efforts.

Not that we are mean to each other or anything. We are cordial and smiley when we see them, and if they needed help, I would help. But they make me nuts, mostly around child rearing issues. Words that jump to mind when describing these people are presumptuous and entitled. Honestly, we avoid them. My kids avoid them.

Another neighbor and I have discussed this. While trying not to be overly gossipy, we did agree that there were some issues we have with safety, appropriate behavior, supervision and interaction with our kids. Each of us was a little relieved that we weren’t the only ones feeling these things. And neither of us feel we can approach W about our concerns.

This morning at church, I was helping a little girl from my class find the restroom when around the corner came W’s mother and the two kids, looking for Sunday School classrooms. I was surprised.

OK, I admit it. I was bummed. Church was one of the places in town I considered a refuge from that relationship. We see them at the bus, at school, at the grocery store, soccer. Everywhere, it seems. But not at church, until now.

My thoughts about W and her family turned less than charitable. I became a bit mad. Why did she have to come here? To my church?

Pretty quickly I stopped myself. It is not my church. It is the church that I attend and to which I am quite loyal. But all are welcome here. Including people I personally find annoying. If I truly believe that, then I must act that. I must follow through.

So I am concluding that this is my challenge. A reminder that I must be kind and loving and accepting – I must be Christian – in the face of what I might find annoying or upsetting. I must treat them as I want to be treated.

I must be better than I have been.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Obviously I’m a Bad Mommy

There’s this blog I peruse every few days called Design Mom. It has some fun things.

This week’s guest mom has a post up about lunches and bento boxes. Go read it. I’ll wait.

What did you think about it?

I mean, really, what did you think about it?

After guffawing over the ingredients of her husband’s lunch (“an eggplant or roasted tomato spread with yummy cheese, lettuce and any veggies in season, and put them on a piece of lavash bread” – if my husband wants to take lunch to work, he’s gotta make it himself), my first reaction to the bento box part was, “Oh, puh-leeze!”

See, it sounds to me like just another way for some moms to dis other moms. “What? You don’t garnish your child’s lunch with cute faces and put it in perfectly designed Japanese-inspired boxes? Huh? You don’t make your child’s lunch at all? (GASP!) YOUR CHILD EATS THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA LUNCH!?!? BAD MOMMY!!”

I can channel Martha Stewart as well as anyone, but I draw the line at garnishing lunches. First of all, my kids’ lunch repertoire is sadly limited. The only packed lunch I can guarantee they will eat is peanut butter and honey on white and a small cup of yogurt. Second, if I sent my boys to school with lunch that looked like that, they would be laughed out of the cafeteria. I do have to make my daughter’s lunch, and yes, she might like smiley faces, but time is tight in the mornings and it does not include any leeway for carving radishes.

My boys eat better- or at least more - when they get the school lunch. Somehow “made by mom” hold no allure for them. I agree that school lunches aren’t perfect, but our district is making efforts to provide better and more balanced meals, and increase healthy options. I know each boy gets fresh fruit with their lunch, and they drink their milk.

Okay, okay, I can see doing something like this on a special occasion. But every day? No way. If you have enough time to create lunches that look like that on a daily basis, you need to get out into the world more. You need a life.

Truth is, there have been more that a couple mornings that we’ve been rushing around so much that I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth, or put on matching socks. I figure if everyone (not including me, clearly) gets out the door fed, dressed appropriately, with backpacks (with homework completed) and anything else needed for the day, knows where they are going and why, we’re ahead of the game.

In the depths of my (sadly disintegrating) memory, I recall reading a piece on the pressure of Japanese moms to produce these perfect bento box meals. I remember thinking then, “Thank goodness there’s not that specific pressure here, too.” I wish I could find that article again.

But let me just say this - let’s just NOT GO THERE, okay?

Update: A ha!! I found it!! The article I mentioned above…from 1999…is here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Impulse Buys

A while back - and I do mean a while, maybe years - I purchased some peppermint extract on impulse at the grocery store. Perhaps it was the holiday season and I thought I would use it in Christmas cookies. I don't know. At any rate, it sat unopened in my cabinet.

Until last weekend, that is, when I randomly decided to add two teaspoons of the stuff to brownie mix.


I've been on a baking spree lately. I think it's the turn in the weather: days are cooler and evenings have more of an edge. Last week I made challah, mint brownies on the weekend, chocolate chip cookies today, and probably more mint brownies tonight to contribute to C's class at the Open House tomorrow. I'm dreaming of apple pie and pear pie and cinnamon rolls and sweet potato biscuits.

This is also the time of year that I'm best kept out of cooking stores. A trip to Williams-Sonoma might result in a new cake pan or cookies cutters or a gadget not needed in the least but still lots of fun. Even going to the grocery store is a little risky - I might come home with some ingredient I'll never use.

Like peppermint extract.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Wish I Liked My Coffee Black. But I Don't.

Imagine, if you will....

You arrive in the office after a long, horrendous commute and you go into the kitchen for coffee.

You pour yourself a cup.

You realize that there is no milk or cream or half & half or creamer or any other lightening substance.


Yes, I'm grumpy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hell City

I used to think of tattooing as an interesting phenomenon. While I never really liked or understood the whole-body tattoo thing, I thought smaller tattoos could be cool or fun or something (as long as they were hide-able, too) and for a time I thought I might even like a small, discreet tattoo somewhere. I figured it was someone else’s business if they wanted to do that to themselves, not mine – but I’d chuckle when wondering if that person would feel the same way about that skull or snake forty years from now when they were a grandparent.

That changed on our vacation.

The second weekend of our vacation, we stayed at a very nice, historically significant resort (low summer rates!). It's a beautiful place, and it's design was Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired. My kids love this resort because of the pools and a water slide (disguised in a tower with a waterfall at the end of the pool). I liked it because it was the place always held up to me as the epitome of elegance and I have fond memories of it from my childhood: my father took us to Sunday brunch there on a handful of very special occasions, among other things. This was the third time we stayed there on a trip west. Love those summer rates.

As we drove into the resort we saw a sign that read “Hell City Tattoo” with a devil and an arrow on it. My husband and I looked at each other quizzically and wondered what the heck it was about. As I checked in, I noticed several very tattooed people in the lobby and figured it was a meeting or something. I was sure it would be fine. Little did I know the extent of the “meeting.”

But over the next several hours it became clear – and we became horrified. It was not just a meeting, but a full on, weekend long exposition and festival. There were hundreds of attendees. The ones I had seen in the lobby were the most reserved, it seemed.

By eleven that night, we had seen more tattoos with dark and obscene imagery that I could have imagined. We’d seen dozens of people with minimal clothing on in an effort to show off tattoos (and piercings). We’d seen many inebriated people. We’d experienced second-hand smoke (tobacco and illegal substabces) in the hall of our non-smoking wing. We’d heard yelling in the halls, and derogatory comments about non-festival attendees. These turned out not to be isolated incidents. I attempted to contact management for the first time that first night.

Even though I understand why the hotel accepted this group (revenue during the slower summer months in the scorching hot desert), this was not an appropriate group for this hotel, I feel. The parent company (Hilton) has plenty of properties that would be more appropriate for such a group – including properties closer to nightlife and closer to potential new clientele. The resort we were at purported to be family-friendly and tasteful – but this weekend was turning out to be most definitely neither of those things. Had I known in advance that this was happening, I would have changed hotels. There is no way to know from the hotel’s Web site what kinds of events are happening there (and I never dreamed it would be something like this), but from now on, it’s something I’ll check.

The next day, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to be there and was worried about what the kids would see. But the boys insisted they wanted to be near that pool and that slide. The people with tattoos were “weird” but they would ignore them, they said. I agreed, said we stayed, and I regret that.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t ignore them. They truly were everywhere. They were intimidating to the kids – especially the ones with facial tattoos. I told the kids not to stare, but there was no place to look that we didn’t get bombarded with “interesting” imagery. Then, of course, the tattoo expo attendees would make more comments about the non-attendees staring at them.

As a fairly tame example, one morning I went down to the cafĂ© to get coffee. Sitting at one of the tables was a man (heavily tattooed, of course) wearing a tshirt with the following on the back: An exaggeratedly curvy female in a minidress leaning over. One hand is at her mouth covering and surprised “Oh!” look. Behind her on a stool is a male figure with his head under her skirt. It was 8AM and M wanted me to explain this to him.

Eventually, the kids didn’t even want to go to the pool. We went off grounds more than initially planned. I tried to make the best of everything.

Over the next day and half, I contacted security and asked for more coverage around our wing, especially around the smoking (I don't take any chances with C's lungs after his illness and with his asthma). I talked to the concierge. They considered it a “comfort” issue and said they had to “respect all our guests.” They seemed to be “respecting” one group of guests over and above the rest of the guests.

At this point, there were only 24 hours left on our vacation, and as it was Sunday, I figured most of the tattoo people would be gone that afternoon. I was trying to salvage what I could from the stay. That evening (at 7:00PM!) I saw housekeeping staff still trying to clean out trash, including cases upon cases of beer cans and liquor bottles from what had been attendee rooms.

I finally found one sympathetic ear on our last visit to the pool Monday morning (and there were already drunk attendee leftovers at the pool at 10AM!), one who indicated that it had been a tough weekend for staff. Some small bits of our stay (parking! woo!) were comped, but I left just disgusted.

I don’t think I am easily offended. I have a fairly warped sense of humor. But the sheer volume of obscene and disrespectful images and activity in this location did offend me – deeply. I was there to enjoy a lovely old resort with my family, and yet I couldn’t take my family out with anxiety over what they might see and hear.

I have since written a scathing letter to resort and Hilton management. While doing a little research for that letter, I learned that Hell City Tattoo didn’t make any effort to hide what they were. Their Web site and expo press talked about events at the expo as “diabolical mayhem” and there were plenty of references to partying. They had a kids section of the expo – where kids could get “coffin rides.” Seriously. The Web site also talked about the location of the expo as being an example of “mainstream acceptance” of their lifestyle.

I think everyone lost here. Hilton and the resort lost face in scheduling a group not appropriate to the property, and lost probable repeat customers (including me). Hell City Tattoos lost a lot of that potential acceptance by they way attendees (and organizers) acted during the events. Non-tattoo guests of the resort lost respect for both – and lost time in what should have been a relaxed visit.

So that experience has completely – and I mean completely – turned me off of tattooing. When I think about it, I am disgusted. Yes, it’s still someone else’s business, not mine, but I think it’s tacky. Period. Even if you argue that it was a few bad seeds and most people with tattoos aren’t like that (and I agree), I am just so totally turned off.

(Sorry, Jen.)

Maybe I'll soften over time, but for now, don't show me or talk about your tattoos. I'm not impressed.

I Scream

I have a new favorite ice cream flavor: Burnt Caramel.

Sounds a bit weird, I know, but it is so, so good.

On Friday evening, I took the kids into town to meet up with Daddy and go to an alumni event at his alma mater. This was a very specific alumni event - it was for alums of his now defunct major (or, more appropriately for this institution, "course" - and yes, it is obscure enough to no longer warrant it's own department) only. It was at a boathouse on the river and included sailing.

We ate some barbecue and cornbread, saw some people we knew from years back, looked for familiar names on plaques on the walls, and enjoyed the late summer evening. We could not get S out onto a boat, even though she was happy to wear her Lego life-jacket around. The three boys, however, enjoyed an excursion on a Rhodes 19. They looked good out there.

After the event, we went for ice cream. We'd first mentioned ice cream in hope of bribing S onto the boat, and once the words were said, it had to happen regardless. So off we set, we in our flip flops, S in her stroller (thankfully, I'd remembered to bring it), and two already tired boys in Croc knock-offs. Note the footwear.

There used to be a branch of the ice cream shop we had in mind a short walk away at the Student Center. Not anymore, and we found that out the hard way. The main shop was a few blocks up, and I hesitated as my husband said, "Let's just do it." I figured we'd be better off walking back to the car and driving up, by my husband convinced me there would be no possibility to park nearby and, besides, it's a very short walk.

Except when three kids are involved.

The walk was a few blocks further than we remembered. Of course, the last time we walked it was, what, eighteen or twenty years ago? M complained that his legs hurt, C grunted frequently, and S was tired and whiny.

Finally we arrived - and there was a parking space right out front, of course. We chose our flavors. Cookie Doh! for S, Cocoa Pudding for C, Belgian Chocolate for M, Kulfee for my husband, and Burnt Caramel for me.

It was so good.

So. Good.

We took our time eating our ice cream (and sharing tastes of one another's choices) - both savoring the flavor and dreading the (long) walk back to the car. Finally, though we had to do it.

The walk back to the car seemed to take forever. In reality it was maybe 25 minutes. More moans and whining ensued. It was already technically after bedtime and we had to drive home to the outer suburbs. Every few minutes, though, one of us would mention our ice cream again. The perfect texture, the completeness and sometimes subtlety of the flavors.

Everyone's feet were a bit sore by the time we reached the car, but we all agreed it was worth it. Next time, though, I'm taking the car.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Young Lives

I've had some posts percolating in my head, but they have been interrupted by town events.

There was an horrific car accident in town on Friday morning. Three high school boys, two of them brothers, wrapped around a tree on a curvy country road. All three had to be extricated from the wreck with machinery and all three we helicoptered to the city for treatment (two different hospitals).

C was on the bus when another bus driver who witnessed the accident called the bus headquarters over the shared radio frequency and asked them to call 911. We heard the sirens ourselves. It wasn't until later in the morning that the schools were told that the victims were fellow students. News crews arrived, town staff gave something of a press conference, the schools crisis team went to work. It was on several local news Web sites and on television broadcasts.

Everyone in town waited for news. Rumors started - one was that the absolute worst had happened. But by evening, there was an update. The two older boys were critical and the younger one was in fair condition. The boys were at two hospitals a fair distance apart - and, at the very least, the brothers were at the same hospital.

Yesterday there were further updates. The younger brother was upgraded to good condition, and the passenger was upgraded to serious. The older brother is still critical. The names were released. Kids came together around town. The InterFaith Council planned a vigil for later this afternoon. Everyone is waiting for more information today.

I feel sick with worry, and I didn't know these kids. I feel sicker when I think about their parents and what they are enduring.

NOON: The town has just been informed that the older brother (and driver) has died from his injuries.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Split Personality

On Tuesday, when I was picking up C from his after school program, R, the director said, "Ask him about the dominoes." I looked at R quizzically. "It's good," she said.

In the car on the way to pick up M and S, I asked C.

He refused to answer. The more I pressed, the more indignant and surly he became. In an effort to save the evening, I dropped it.

Yesterday, when I picked up C, I asked R what the dominoes were all about.

There's a boy who comes to the after school program who is a fairly high functioning autistic. Many of the kids find him a little annoying. This boy absolutely adores C.

On Tuesday, C was the first to the program room. Before the rest of the kids arrived, C started setting up a domino run - you know, the kind where you push one domino at the beginning to set off a chain reaction felling all the dominoes.

The domino run C created spelled out this boy's name. So when the boy arrived, he was given the honor of pushing the first domino to set off the run. R said it was a moment that made the whole room smile.

I don't get to see this side of C too much anymore - glimmers with S every now and again, but not often. With us at home, C lets more of the grumpy pre-adolescent side through. I suppose that's the way it's supposed to be - he's grumpy with his family, the people he knows will love him no matter what, and shows the nice and kind and fun side to the outside world.

I hear that over the next few years, as full-on adolescence blooms, I'll get even more of the surly and even less of the nice. That there will be a range of unpleasantness and all we can do as parents is be consistent about expectations and set boundaries and be available. I hear that there will be days I won't like my son very much, even as a love him more every day. Even though part of me hopes it won't come to that, I remember my own adolescence and cringe.

I also hear that one day, the nice will start coming back again. And when it does, it's more fun and joyous and comfortable than one expects.

Until then, I'll depend more and more on tidbits like this one - anecdotes from outsiders reassuring me that he is okay, he is still the kind, sweet little boy who used to sit in my lap and put his hand on my neck while I read "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" to him over and over again.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


My mother is in town. Yes, just two weeks after our trip west, my mother is on this coast. She’s in town for other reasons, but arrived a day early to spend time with us. I invited her to do so. I believe there was good, loving intent all around.

But isn’t it strange how just one word – truly, one word – can change the whole tone of a visit and turn all that good intent and effort upside down?

In this case, the word is “fancy.”

My mother uses the word fancy as a kind of a compliment and an insult all rolled into one. For her to say, “My, what a fancy dress,” means, “Yes, it is a lovely dress, but who do you think you are to deserve to wear such a dress?”

She has used this word to her intended effect on many occasions. It can cut down my sister and brother and me in a heartbeat. Our visit had started quite well, so I thought such comments wouldn’t be an issue. I was feeling relaxed and hopeful.

Last night, after a dinner picnic on the beach, and what I thought was a nice relaxed evening after the kids went to bed, we headed up to bed ourselves. Mom was to sleep in S’s room, while S slept in her Dora sleeping bag in our room. Then, in about 10 seconds, were two “fancy” comments:

Upon walking by the upstairs bathroom, “There’s that fancy floor.” Then, upon walking into S’s room, “My, what fancy sheets.”

What the bathroom floor and S’s sheets look like don’t really matter here. The floor could be cardboard or marble and the sheets burlap or spun gold. This was about control. She was asserting a bit of motherly control over the tone of the visit.

I wanted to curse at her. I didn’t. I didn’t respond at all.

I had been falling asleep on the couch minutes before, but now my mind was racing. How could she? Why did she? How dare she?

Eventually I fell asleep. But slept fitfully.

I know this isn’t really about me. It’s about her issues, not mine. We don’t have much in common, so there isn’t much to talk about. We can’t talk religion (she’s still a Christian Scientist at heart), politics (we’re quite opposite), or family (she thinks she shouldn’t get involved in many issues around my sister), she likes rocks and fossils and I like art and writing and gardening. I like to think I able to accept these differences more than she can: I don’t know why it is this way, but it is. Whatever discomfort or disappointment or regret or whatever she feels about our (lack of) connection manifests itself in these little controlling comments. It’s sad.

It hurts.

This morning I made strawberry pancakes for breakfast and we went to a museum in the afternoon. I dropped her at the hotel she is staying at through Tuesday. I’ll see her tomorrow night at a dinner, and then she’ll fly back west the next morning.

I love my mom. I do. I’m sad about this visit. But maybe seeing one another as much as we have in the last 2-3 weeks (and, really, it's very little compared to many families) is just too much for us. Maybe we just need our respective coasts.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Play Day

I have an upcoming birthday ending with a zero. I wouldn't say I am looking forward to it - at this point I'd just like to get it over with and move on.

I've point-blank asked for a digital SLR for my birthday. I think I'm outgrowing my point-and-shoot, and if I am going to get back into printmaking, I need the right tools. I've even narrowed down which one I want to manufacturer and model.

Recently my coworker and friend acquired this exact model camera (hi!). She was kind enough to bring in said camera last week for a little camera play day. We went out at lunch and walked toward to local farmer's market as I played with the camera and she showed me features and how to do various things. It was fun.

Yesterday, eba downloaded the photos I took and sent them to me. Here are some of my favorites:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Visiting Day

Today was M’s visiting day at school. This means he went to his classroom for 15 minutes to meet his teacher and perform several get acquainted tasks. And yes, this counts toward the 180 school days required by law.

I have been nervous for this school year because last year wasn’t so hot. He did fine last year, of course, but that was more because of the work I did to keep him on track than the skills of his teacher.

Since M already is reading long chapter books and completing math workbooks well above his grade level, I worry he won’t feel challenged in school. As such, I both cringed and chuckled at the final question on the “Tell Me About Yourself” questionnaire in the class this morning. M did, too.

We whispered about it for a few minutes, trying to come up with something age-appropriate. But then we started feeling a little silly. In the end, M wrote these three things (in very neat writing, I might add) on the questionnaire in response to the “What are three things you want to learn in second grade?” question:

  • Differential calculus
  • Particle physics
  • Economics

I sure hope the teacher has a sense of humor.

M accompanied me to my office for the rest of the day, so it’s a visiting day in another sense, too. He’s sitting quietly at a coworker’s desk, reading and doing some drawing, and (I think) relishing this time with me. We walked along the river to go pick up some lunch and he grinned the whole way.

Monday, September 03, 2007


It’s taking a while to recover from our vacation. The part where we traveled around with the kids was great. The part where we were near my family was mostly fine – just fine, but there were some moments, of course, and fairly classic ones at that. What I am recovering from is some mother comments and sister stunts.

Now, I would love to dish with you about what was said and done. Truly, I have some juicy stories. Or, I should say, typical stories. Those of you who have heard sister or mother stories before would be amused and/or aghast. But as we all know, the Al Gore’s Nifty Invention is not all that anonymous and one must take care. Even what I have written thus far is risky.

I’m also trying to start scanning pictures of my father for a photo book I am putting together. I intend to give this book to my siblings and niece and nephews (and my own kids) for Christmas. I borrowed some photos from my sister and brother, and am digging through a couple of boxes of old family photos.

That, along with the recent visit, is churning up some memories.

So here I am, feeling a little bit whiny and self-pitying, wondering why it is that families can be the way that they can be. The emotional support that I have yearned for over the years is just not there, even as I have made my best efforts to offer up support and a listening ear. I know in the end that it’s really not me, it’s them, but it still aches deep down.

At the same time, I continue to feel resolve to not let this happen in my own nuclear family. I can’t guarantee this, of course, but I do and will try to keep communicating and to keep being there without being overbearing. And always to love and accept, of course.

I seem to have done a decent job of shielding the kids from my issues with my family. They love visiting and seeing their cousins and aunt and uncle and grandmother. C even talks about going out there for college to spend more time with them (Note to the higher power: Please, no!), even as my two oldest nephews talk about leaving there. I am glad for the kids’ enjoyment of the trips/visits. It helps balance my anxiety, and in their glee they don’t notice my moodiness as much.

I haven’t been able to get organized since we’ve been back. I’m getting through the basics in a day, but I’m scattered and slow and I’m not getting as much time outside in the sun as I should be. The sunshine would help.

School starts bright and early tomorrow. C’s bus comes at 7:00AM. M’s at 8:30 starting on Wednesday (just visiting day tomorrow). S will see all her friends at preschool tomorrow and is beside herself trying to wait for that.

(Meanwhile, my husband just took C up to the city for an x-ray of his foot. C seems to have broken his little toe on his left foot yesterday – while hanging out with his pediatrician’s son. The toe is swollen and purple. They won’t be able to do much, but C will get a note to be excused from gym for a couple of weeks.)

I’m looking forward to getting back into a regular routine. Routine, time, space, and distance seem to be what I need to recover from these trips. I’ll get over the whiny-ness and self-pity in short order. Going through pictures of dad will be more sweet than bitter and the kids will have a more even mom.

Bumper Stickers

One of the things that can make my commute almost enjoyable is bumper stickers. It's interesting to see what people put on their cars. Some recent sentiments that made me smile:

"God Bless Everyone. No Exceptions"

"Are you a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?"

"Less War, More Dancing"

"Stewart/Colbert 2008"

In honor of the weekend, I recall a long time favorite (and in case my political leanings weren't already clear):

"The Labor Movement. The folks that brought you the weekend."

Happy Labor Day everyone.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Leave Them at Home

We saw some crazy things on our vacation. I already mentioned the French Elvis Fan Club.

On one of our first couple of days there, we dropped by a local mall to pick up some sandals for S. I'd accidentally left hers back home. S was in her stroller as it was a big mall and I wasn't familiar with which exit and parking lot was closest to the store we needed.

At one point, we waited for the elevator to go upstairs. The elevator car arrived and before going in, we - of course - let the previous riders out. One woman exiting was pushing a nice stroller that looked like it had totally enclosed area for the rider. I thought this would be a good idea for avoiding bugs and such on outside walks, but didn't really understand it for inside a mall.

Then I looked more closely.

The occupant of the stroller wasn't a baby or small child. It was a dog.

Yes, I did say dog.

One of those little dogs that I call yip-yip dogs. Typically barky and shrill and jumpy. Ick. Thankfully this one was not barking.

I was fairly horrified, but tried to just move on. But then ten minutes later while walking back to the car, we saw a second yip-yip dog in such a stroller.

Granted, I am not a little dog person. I don't get this whole carrying little dogs around thing. But if that's someone else's thing - fine. I can even understand needing a stroller for an older or convalescing dog. But to go shopping? With your infantilized yip-yip dog?

Let me be very clear about this: non-service dogs do not belong in malls!!