Friday, November 30, 2007

Fanny O'Rear Buys 4XL Granny Underwear on!

Hellooooooooooo, Facebook! Which genius marketing firm told you that the Beacon feature (which broadcasts members' online purchases to ALL their friends) would be a grand idea?


The article I read this morning about this ill-conceived plan highlights the case of a sweet husband who bought a diamond ring for his wife FOR CHRISTMAS on, the purchase and exact specifications of which were promptly sent to all his friends and HIS WIFE.

That is a sad story (only sadder if the ring was in fact for someone other than his wife...). And it gives us so much to talk, diamond rings? On Like, why 1/5 ct., huh, Sean? What does that mean? Oooh, now I am feeling snarky and mean. Which is Exactly My Point. The story fails to consider the more awkward implications of this rather obvious invasion of that elusive, once-upon-a-time-notion called "Privacy." Namely that the average person probably makes much more mundane and much more personally revealing purchases online, the particulars of which I am doubting he wants Everyone He Knows To Know About (and Talk About Behind His Back).

Is it possible that the marketing gurus in charge of this scheme were so focused on Americans' natural penchant for purchasing that they forgot that our inherent consumerism (and its excesses) are often guilty secrets? Did someone think this was a brilliant way to capitalize on the "fact" that we already announce to one another each and every acquisition? Dear (Address Book)! I bought a replacement nozzle for my ShopVac on! FYI! TGIF!

So silly. But take-backs make great news!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving Gratitude, Naikan Style

As I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner tonight I spotted the newspaper lying on the dining room table, and with just a twinge of resentment I thought, Ugh. I haven't read it. Not today, not yesterday. And then my mind went to a nasty place...Yeah! And if one more person asks me, Hey! Did you see the paper today? I am going to scream, NO! I don't have TIME! I am too busy being a Mom and working and picking up my kids and making dinner and then packing lunches and... and THEN I thought, I pretty much Don't Like That Person who responds so negatively, martyrishly when I innocently offer, Wow, did you see that article today?

So it's fair to say that I make a daily effort not to be That Person. And it's also fair to say that I could be reading the paper Right Now, instead of being all self-analytical on My Blog. But here I am. Because, *sigh*, my mind is going to that nasty place Too Often. And lately I have been in need of some kind of inspiration and recalibration.

I've been claiming that the 20s are for figuring oneself out and the 30s are for applying that knowledge. Here's what I know: I'm not a devout person nor a churchgoer, despite growing up and being confirmed in two Protestant denominations and having enjoyed youth group and the community offered by belonging to a church. I tend not to jump on spirituality bandwagons or trends, though I am curious, inquisitive, and willing to look into and consider. I would typify my philosophical/spiritual approach to life as being like constructing a collage or quilt: I pick up pieces here and there and glue or stitch them on, some of them more or less relevant at any given time.

Recently the Little Whiny Victim inside me has been throwing some fits, feeling a little like everyone is out to get her: Why oh why is she adrift on a sea of meaninglessness and what is the escape hatch besides quitting her job and selling her house and declaring bankruptcy, etc.? Meanwhile, the Practical Me is ashamed of Inward-Tantrum-Throwing-Me and suggests that there might be a way to rationalize this situation: Hey, remember that article you read in The Sun that made sense about perceiving things as NOT ALWAYS BEING AGAINST YOU? Can we find it, RIGHT NOW, PLEASE? And then Petulant Me regards the shelves of back issues of my favorite magazine and feels somewhat paralyzed by the seeming impossibility of finding my insightful needle in that dusty magazine haystack. So it's been a few more weeks of my vague sense that I should be looking for it.

But I found the article online today, encouraged by the added impetus of a friend waxing poetic about having a Sisyphean life but, Camus-like, needing to embrace it.

The article in question was an interview with Gregg Krech, of the ToDo Institute, about Naikan, a Japanese therapy that focuses on our perceptions of interactions with others. This approach seems particularly relevant to someone like me: married, with small children, in an intimate extended-family network, working with a boss, working with employees, serving young people, and living in a close-knit neighborhood. In other words, I interact with Many People on Many Levels All Day Long, which can lead to the frustration and irritation associated with Too Much Human Contact.

Naikan in a nutshell (as defined by me) is about walking in one's adversary's shoes and accurately seeing his/her perspective, and adjusting one's attitude accordingly. Also reflecting on the pain and agony one causes others on a daily basis. As in parenthood and everything else I need to understand how to tackle, I pick the best parts the sages have to offer and discard what doesn't apply, make sense, or fit. So, Naikan for me is about feeling grateful for the Many Things practically anyone in my life does for me, versus resentful for that One Annoying Thing any one person or The Entire World did to me today. It boils down to the glass half-full/half-empty outlook, and I am sure Voltaire's Candide might have fun with the rather Optimistic practices associated with hardcore Naikan retreats (like estimating the number of one's diapers one's mother changed, and appreciating her for it...) but for me, it serves as a simple refresher. For example, I could relate to this segment from the interview:

Krech: ...When you get home, and your spouse asks, "How was your day?" of course you respond, "Let me tell you how my day was. I had no water; there was a traffic jam; the copy machine was broken..." And yet you could say, "You know, I had a great day. The coffee maker worked; the car started; there was air conditioning at my office..."
Winter: But your spouse would look at you as if you were crazy.
Krech: You're right. We've gotten in the habit of only seeing the problems, because they are more dramatic. That's what gives a story value. But the cost is that we begin to focus our attention only on problems or traumas or tragedies...

Not that I can picture myself thanking the door for opening and the computer for obligingly booting up, but with Coworkers and Spouses and Other Moms and Pretty Much Anyone it's easy to fall into the No Really, I Have It Way Harder Than You trap. Like in college, when we would waste time at dinner comparing who had more studying to do (YAWN).

For me, a trip to Children's Hospital serves well to make me both humble and grateful. Despite the fact that we're usually there with regard to our daughter's medical issue, it's pretty hard not to notice that there are families and children dealing with conditions and disabilities and pain so much greater than our own. I always leave feeling fortunate.

So I am vowing to Not Complain About the Holidays, and to be More Zen about the Driver Who (For the Love of...!) Will Not Let Me In, and offer all the Characters I encounter on a daily basis Freedom To Be Who They Are.

And even some Gratitude.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nutcracker 'Sweet'

Snapshot: PBS airing the Nutcracker Ballet. Me, happening upon it via remote control. My daughters, leaping and dancing and twirling across the rug, so inspired.

Women in Leadership, Those Bitches

A few weeks ago I sat in on an AP Psychology class where the students were discussing an article about gender as it relates to learning, education, achievement. I listened rapt, struck by how much has changed since I was in high school almost 20 years ago (girls out-matriculating boys into college, for example), and how much hasn't (still no female President of the United States). I came back to the class to talk about how my views of myself and my career, as well as my very ambition, have been altered by becoming a mother, and the kinds of thinking I continue to do about my present and future as a woman in a leadership role.

I remember that when my job as school administrator was open (but I hadn't yet thrown my hat in the ring), there was talk among the women in the school's office about preferring that a man take the position. I think if a similar position were open today, and despite my general perception that the women I work with enjoy working with me, they would still profess that they'd rather work for a man. My own empirical evidence suggests that most women would prefer to work for men, at least in theory, no offense intended for some of the real women they've worked for.

I explained to the class that women in leadership are easily characterized as "bitchy" (boy did they love hearing me use that word) and we explored some possibilities why: perhaps women assert more authority than necessary out of a sense that they need to establish it; man in control is a more acceptable archetype; the bossy, nagging woman is too easily associated with familiar "Mom" in her most negative incarnation.

Many of the theories and ideas I attempted to articulate were described in this editorial, which appeared in the paper last week. The author, Pitts, explores why it may be acceptable to the American public both that a woman can ask out loud about Hilary Clinton, "So, how do we beat the bitch?" and that in response, John McCain can laugh without retribution. In his article Pitts admits that perhaps he's part of the problem; he can't imagine himself "cuddling up to" any women in government he can conjure (with Nancy Pelosi, mother of five children, likely being one of Congress's more experienced cuddlers...) But my sense that the public, comprising men and women, is more comfortable with a paternalistic "daddy" president upon whose lap we can collectively cuddle makes me wonder if we aren't all just a little fucked up when it comes to gender and authority.

And I also wonder why, when the general consensus here in America is that we're more developed and progressive, countries like India and Pakistan and Great Britain and Israel and Argentina and Chile and the Philippines have already managed to choose (and survive, somehow) female leaders.

I recoil at the question "Is America ready for a female President?" and at the underlying notion that the election question is simply whether to vote for a man or woman. Would it were that simple, really.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude and Perspective

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's because I consider it an equal-opportunity celebration: anyone can participate because ultimately, it's about being grateful. I know the original Thanksgiving story has a dark side, and I know turkeys don't fare well in November, but I love the underlying sentiment and when you really distill it down, it's not about buying or receiving, not about being lucky in love, not about religion, not about being proud to live here, but simply about finding something to be absolutely thankful for and finding others to share it with, whether they're family members, friends, or people in the same place with you at the same time.

I think this is the ninth or tenth year my family has provided desserts for the Thanksgiving celebration at a downtown Resource Center for families affected by AIDS or HIV. I've always asked my students to participate and they've always come through--in the early years my seventh graders baked lopsided cakes. More recently our high school junior Navy ROTC students have been the committed volunteers. Various families have offered their homes as the dessert drop-off sites, and various family members and students and friends have accompanied us to deliver the goods.

The woman who coordinates volunteers for the Center has become a dear friend, though the kind of dear friend we only see once a year. She is a career health educator who has committed much of her free time to the Center. Last November, when we touched base as we always do a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, I learned she had spent the year since we saw her last battling life-threatening cancer of her reproductive organs. She had surgery right before Thanksgiving and was looking and feeling weak. I even wondered if we would see her this year. But before I could call her, she left her annual message on our machine asking if we were planning to help, and as always, expressing appreciation and giving us the opportunity to gracefully decline if we weren't "available." When I called her back, so glad to hear her voice, she asked about our daughters before I could inquire about her health. Over the course of our conversation I learned, after so long knowing her, that her not-yet-30-year-old daughter recently suffered a debilitating episode of Multiple Sclerosis and that she has an adult son who is severely developmentally disabled. Still she is thankful for all she has and dedicates time to others outside her family, outside her community, beyond her immediate reach.

And so I am grateful for the rather random relationships we fall into, foster, and which develop into meaning for our lives. I am all the better for knowing this woman who inspires and challenges me. This far outweighs the value of a minivan's worth of desserts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life without Binky

So, this plane ride/trip was momentous in that it was the milestone past which my younger daughter would no longer have her pacifier (it's hard to give up the binky when you know it will silence your child in the presence of a captive audience in the near future). Needless to say, we're back from our trip. And the Binky Fairy has claimed her booty.

Both of my daughters have been pacifier girls. The whole pacifier thing hearkens back to nature versus nurture (are some babies born to be suckers??), and I will admit, I may have trumped nature in that I encouraged the pacifier...easy pacifying, easy taking away--unlike thumbs (and I should know, former thumbsucker). So I've had two addicts. We cut Daughter #1 off at 2 years old. I have vague memories of the pain. Daughter #2 made us realize we needed to act sooner, Or Else. You see, she was becoming a complicated Binky Dependent. Not only does this daughter enjoy sucking on a pacifier, she wants to hold one. Or two. Or two or three per hand. I am pretty sure her max is six binkies--one in mouth and two and three in hands. She went from having them only at nap and nighttime to wanting them Always. And frankly, I like hearing her talk. Binkies curb talking. It was time to end Binkydom.

Last night was The First Night of No Binky. We snipped the ends off all the binkies we could find. I thought, if the pacifier thing for her is partially tactile, I don't have a problem with her carrying around emasculated pacifiers... Well, nothing doing. She recoiled in horror when we presented the first snipped Binky. They were offensive to her. Not functional; not meaningful.

Hence, bedtime was hard. She cried and sobbed and begged for...something. I told my husband I was ready to cave (I knew where one pristine Binky was hidden...) She eventually fell asleep. And the miracle is that she slept Through the Night* (*Through the Night=until 4:45 AM). She accepted that her Binkies were Broken at that early hour, and snuggled in with me in our bed.

At breakfast, I told her sister, "We should really be proud. She slept through the night with NO BINKY." Daughter #2 heard that key word and looked up from her toast, reporting, rather analytically: "Binky...broken."

She came home from preschool today unscathed. After searching fruitlessly through her cubby at naptime to no avail, she accepted her Elmo jacket and shoes as consolation prizes. And slept. I can tell what happened at school, what the teachers said, because she has shared, rather impromptu, "Binky...broken. Sorry! So sad..."

Oh, kids. They're really amazing. And I am proud of my little noogie.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mother Lusts

I was in a bookstore this weekend and saw a book called "Mommy Porn" or something, with a photo of a shirtless dad/dude vacuuming. I chuckled and thumbed through it, I lust for the far more practical, actually, and men don't even need to be involved... here's my wishlist:

1. Drive-By Grocery Pick Up: Trust me, I have had deliver to my home and appreciate the convenience it offers, but I am talking about something far simpler and more spur-of-the-moment: I want to be able to call the store from my cell phone while picking up my kids from daycare with an order of a measly grocery bag full of the essential items I need to make dinner tonight and the lunches tomorrow. I'd like some (ok, maybe good-looking male) person to run out with my credit card receipt and bag as I drive by.

The point is, I don't have the time or patience to unbuckle my kids and take them into the store with me when they're ALREADY tired and hungry, and when all I need is some bread and milk and tomato sauce, dammit, and it's already 6 PM.

2. Preschool Pick-Up Runner: I would like my daughter's preschool to have a designated person who runs inside when he/she sees my car coming and returns with my daughter, her lunchbox, etc. Then I don't have to park and bring my other reluctant child inside with me. And carry both of them and a lunchbox and preschool art and preschool flyers and cajole them back into the car. I imagine teachers too would like to us sometimes to get our kids and GET OUT. I would use this service 75% of the time. The other 25% I would enjoy seeing the other moms, dads, and teachers. Everything in moderation.

3. Airport Grandma: I would like a background-checked grandmother available on every flight and at every airport restroom for the mother or father with more than one child and who cannot leave bags nor children unattended when one child needs to take a 20-minute poop. This nice lady could: 1) watch the younger child run willy-nilly through the terminal, or 2) take the pooper into the restroom while I supervise willy-nilliness, or 3) change the younger pooper's diaper in the airplane restroom while I remain seated and entertaining the remaining gremlin. Have you ever tried to fit yourself and two small children and fold out the diaperchanger thingamajig in the airplane restroom? This is why one of my children needed a diaper change for the duration of the flight today and didn't get it.

In retrospect, it may be curious that Southwest Airlines refuses service to customers who aren't dressed properly but not to those who have soiled themselves :).

Here I am whining about wanting a little more with my already modern conveniences, but *sigh*. I suspect I will add to this list before too long.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Packing, unpacking, folding, unfolding...repacking...

My daughters and I depart tomorrow morning for a weekend trip to visit friends who live a one-hour airplane ride away. Living moment to moment as I have been, it wasn't until after work and picking up the girls that I began thinking about packing and preparing to get away. My strategy for determining what to bring and assessing my progress is making a big pile of all the things we need to take and adding and subtracting from it. This looked like a fun game for my almost-two-year-old, who methodically emptied her drawers to add to my stack. All of her clothes. Systematically, armload by armload, destroying my organizational strategy by exclaiming "More jammies!" and throwing them on the heap. At this point, I am not sure what I packed in the bag nor what I tossed back into her drawers, after she was safely distracted by another task: putting on a flowered turtleneck like a pair of pants.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The greatest Joy/the greatest Pain

After I gave birth to my first child, a dear friend of mine told me something I will never forget. She confided, "Now that you're a parent, you will know the greatest joy, and the greatest pain." Although I suspect I have yet to suffer the greatest pain, this quote from Keri Russell, in an article about her titled "The Felicity of Motherhood" in the latest issue of Newsweek, reminds me of the wider range of emotion I've experienced since having children:

6. Actually, being a mom isn't always felicity: "I thought when you have a baby, you get this wisdom. But I still feel like a kid. I'm really happy, and I feel really crazy, too. I cry. I break glasses on the floor. I have spaz attacks. I feel rage I've never felt. Your heart and your feelings expand. In a way, it's nice. You're living more."


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Directions for Living

I used to be a creative writing teacher until I sold my soul to the devil and became a school administrator. I am being only partly facetious, as I have been struggling lately with what I consider to be the "soulless" aspects of my new job. This struggle comes with crises of conscience and identity, and next thing I know, I am singing a Talking Heads song and asking myself "How did I get here?" Now that I think about, I kind of do live in a shotgun shack...

To stave off these descents into the self-reflective abyss, I am taking action to reclaim the parts of my work life that sustain me beyond my job. This week an art teacher and I began collaboration on a joint creative writing/ceramics project. Students are going to write "Directions for Living" and then create something--sculptural or functional--out of clay that will be the vehicle for their writing. Today after we introduced the writing component we walked to the park to brainstorm and begin writing our own keys to the good life. I shared with students an example I wrote for my seniors in 1998 and shared with graduating 12th graders in my classes thereafter:

life is long--
long enough to try again.
to be wrong and be right and to start anew.
humble yourself.
grow from your shortcomings.

praise not only gods, but People.
find prophets and sages, wisdom and insight
in children, landscapes, birdsongs,
simple folk, the misunderstood.

say you’re sorry, when it matters and
it counts and it’s true.
trace the roots of envy. weed them out.

go great distances for those you love.

sweat. trust. love. accept. give. hope.
bask. assist. embrace. shed. gaze. open.
persist. acknowledge. inquire. donate.




part the branches. open the door.
peek behind the curtain. ask to be let in.

vow to yourself a life of adventures,
however small or big.

you will leave a wake;
must leave a wake.

But lest you run roughshod over the earth
on your path of courage and adventure,
look back every now and again
at the footprints you leave behind.

I can't wait to see what students write. And I can't wait to see what they make. And I can't wait to see what I make, ha! (No experience on the pottery wheel).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Query of the Day: What happened to Bird Flu?

Huh? Enlighten us, oh Media People. What shall we fear today?

Oh yeah...MRSA. You already told us.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why I can barely live without my weekly run

One weekend morning each week I run in my neighborhood. It's the same one-hour circle; the only variation is whether I start by heading south or west. Recently I have become acutely aware that this weekly run is a pretty significant part of my life. Which has a little to do with fitness and a lot to do with some of the things that happen when I am running.

1. Seriously, running only once a week is my last frontier. I used to run marathons, and now, busy mom/busy high school educator, this is what I've got. I love running, and I love this hour I have on Saturday or Sunday morning.
2. Sometimes jackrabbits cross my path in the canyon, hopping into the brush. Seeing one never fails to make me almost giddy (clearly I am too much a city girl now). Who doesn't love seeing a bunny? Makes my day.
3. I usually listen to my iPod on my long run, and songs tend variously inspire or remind me, or serve as a soundtrack for my thoughts (below). Today it was Crowded House's "I Feel Possessed" that took me right back to college, and a vague memory of mourning a bad short-lived relationship. A couple of weeks ago I felt the need to memorize the Indigo Girls' "Song of Devotion" and listened to it at least four times in a row. And over several successive weekend runs last summer, I choreographed in my head "What Goes Around Comes Around" by Justin Timberlake. This must have been my mind avoiding more important business.
4. I do good thinking while I run. Okay, sometimes I obsess on a distracting situation or person, but most often I problem-solve work or relationship issues, and even experience moments of epiphany. I make to-do lists. I "write" scripts for apologies and thank-yous to deliver later. I come up with plans and ideas. My mind feels free to both wander and commit. It's delicious.
5. Despite the fact that I do my run arbitrarily backwards or forwards, sometime between 8 and 10 AM and on either Saturday or Sunday, there's a man I often encounter, walking in the opposite direction, at the same spot on the same hill each time I run. He's always wearing the same shirt, and the same great smile, with his admirable sense of determination. I spotted him once on the other end of my run, so I know he does the same circle through the neighborhood I do, except he walks it, which must take him at least an hour and a half. I miss him when I don't see him. These are the kinds of random connections I have with people that make me feel connected to the UNIVERSE. I am not overly superstitious or spiritual, but there you go.
6. Running connects me to my neighborhood. I take stock of houses for sale, landscaping ideas, barking dogs, people on porches, new construction, and garage sales. My daughter's little pink bike was a running find. So was my brother and sister-in-law's rocking chair.
7. I feel energized and hungry all day after I run, so I eat a lot and revel in being a healthy person. One beautiful day out of the week.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

freak show

I am mustering up the required energy to chaperone the high school Homecoming Dance tonight. As the designated "Freak Napper," I will be roaming the dance floor wielding an imposing flashlight, whose beam is meant to identify and, hopefully, discourage "freak" dancing. The students have become so accustomed to me invading the dance floor that some of the boys see me coming and actually do a comical routine of exaggerated gyrations just to make light of the roles we play (them: testers of the line; me: rule-enforcing adult). At some point tonight I will mock my own generation's contribution to the continuum of dance trends by doing the "Sprinkler Head" (since I could never pull off "Running Man").

Meanwhile, in the living room, my daughter is dressed up in a tutu doing an impromptu ballet to Colbie Caillat's song "Bubbly."