Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Election Hinges on the Sea World Issue

Here is a transcript of the conversation between me and three girls, including my daughter (five years old), and two friends/sisters, ages five and seven, in the minivan on our way to soccer games this morning:

7yo: What is that sign in your front yard?

Me: Well, there are elections coming up...

5yo: What are 'lections?

Me: It's when people vote for leaders.

7yo: Who are you voting for for President?

Me: I am voting for Obama.

7yo: (nodding) Yep, that's who my family is voting for.

Daughter: Who's that other guy who is never going to be President?

Me: (laughing) Well, that other guy could be President, and his name is McCain.

7yo: He's going to do it just like President Bush.

5yo: I couldn't remember 'Bamo's name, so I was cheering for the white-haired guy, but then I remembered it, so I started cheering for the brown-haired guy.

7yo: The reason I don't like President Bush is he took out the bestest part of Sea World and put in the Elmo stuff.

Me: (laughing again, and trying hard to commit this dialogue to memory) So, President Bush is the reason they changed Sea World?

7yo: Yeah. He ruined it. But...if Oback Obamo is elected, he will put in some more parks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Purse Strings

Our kindergartener came home from school this afternoon with a foreign object: a small black velour purse.

"What's that purse in your backpack?" I asked our daughter, who was busy making the non-alcoholic sangria I promised she could have since she lusted after the real kind I made for a shower on Sunday.

"Oh, that's a purse Mr. D found." Fork in hand, she mushed up the oranges in her cup.

"Who's Mr. D?"

"He's the man who cleans our school. He came in our class and asked if the purse belonged to any of us."

"And you said it was yours?"

She looked at me wide eyed and nodded.

"But, honey, that's not your purse."

"I thought it was." Her head down, she focused on furiously smashing fruit.

"Sweetie, did you really think it was your purse, or did you really want that purse?"

And then big tears welled up and overflowed onto her flushed cheeks.

So we had a little talk about lying, and returning that purse and, well, confessing to Mr. D or Ms. D, her teacher (no relation).

"But then Mr. D will know I LIED..." she wailed.

"I know, honey, but if you bring the purse back, Mr. D and Ms. D will understand that you want the owner of the purse to have it again, and that you're sorry. You learned something important, right? Everything will be okay, I promise."

But I could tell she was not convinced, and her wheels were turning.

Next I found her rummaging in her "office" for a piece of paper.

"What are you doing, sweetie?"

"I'm writing a letter to my teacher. I don't want to tell her I lied, so I will just give her a note." She began sounding out the letters.

A few minutes later, she presented her confession, written in black crayon on orange construction paper: "UM I THOT DAT PRS WUS MYN IM SRE MES D" [the rest of her teacher's name crawling up the side of the page].

She read aloud, "Umm...I thought that purse was mine. I'm sorry, Ms. D."

...maybe next time she semi-truthfully confesses her sins we will suggest that opening an admission with "ummm" slightly diminishes the strength of the message...

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Reason I am an Amateur Blogger instead of a Professional Writer

is because I can't seem to express how I feel about Sarah Palin as accurately and confidently as Kathleen Deveny does in this Newsweek column.

At the end of the day, and at the end of this Election, I imagine we will agree with Deveny that "when there are enough women in our political life, maybe we will be able to judge them as individuals, rather than representatives of all things uterine."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

List: Who's in Your Minivan?

I think a coworker and I were comparing Survivor contestants one day last year when the topic of conversation drifted to Celebrity Crushes. I recall mentioning my husband's affinity for Winona Ryder, which I don't get (I mean, she looks fabulous with short hair and has those doe eyes...but her Weird Factor kind of ruins it for me).

I began naming a few folks whose profiles--or personalities--I admire.

"Oh, like, who's in your minivan," my colleague nodded, encouraging me.

"Who's in your minivan?" I replied, bewildered.

"Yeah: if you could have five passengers in your minivan, who would they be? With special attention to who rides shotgun, of course..."

Now, my Mazda MPV minivan seats seven, so my list shall have six passengers. Starting in the back:

1. In the last row, to my right: Brandi Carlile. Have you seen this woman sing? She's beautiful in a very normal, not-even-trying way, and her voice and guitar fill up an arena. She's awesome. I'd like to be her friend.

2. In the last row, squeezed in the middle seat: Brad Pitt. I know it's trite. But it's trite for a reason. The guy doesn't have perfect skin and has some pretty funky cowlicks, but he's got It. And while I hate to jump on a People Magazine Sexiest Man Ever Bandwagon (he's the "first solo two-time winner," egads), he's gotta be in my minivan. He's in the back, but still. It's about how he's helping save the world, and stuff.

3. In the last row, left side: Matthew Fox. It pains me to put him in the far back behind me, but we'll hang out during pit stops. It's his earnestness, his facial hair...he's absolutely My Type, if this is based on appearance alone. But as Charlie on Party of Five, he was the big brother I never had. Only I didn't so much want him to be my big brother when I was watching.

4. Middle row, to my right: Lenny Kravitz. I need him there so I can glance over my shoulder for a glimpse now and then. And so I can hear him humming to the music we're playing in the minivan. When he sings "American Woman," I start running for the border.

5. Middle row, behind me: Hilary Swank. I think she's incredibly talented and sexy and sort of mysterious. She sits there because I don't mind if she and Lenny hook up...but I would be jealous if she and Matthew Fox got it on.

6. SHOTGUN: Jon Stewart. I would mostly likely crash the minivan with Jon as my copilot, because I would be alternately laughing and trying to make out with him*, but it's worth the risk.

Who's in your minivan? Post your passengers.

*I asked my husband if it was disrespectful to him to say I wanted to make out with Jon Stewart. "No, honey," he answered. "He's not very good looking." If that makes you feel better, honey.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Bee Going Crazy

As I drove out of town yesterday, chatting blithely with my good buddy on my hands-free device, I happened to notice two suspicious-looking, high-school-height-appearing persons on a corner. They were covered head to foot in sweat gear, with their hoodies' drawstrings cinched so tightly only an inch or two of face, mostly nose, poked out. It appeared they were wearing gloves, and one was wielding a rake. They were sort of jabbing and ducking, and then darting around the corner.

It was just weird enough for me to hang up on my friend and make a right turn to go around the block for a second look.

I came back around and pulled over, trying to figure out what the heck they were doing, or whom or what they were menacing with that rake. But then I am pretty sure they spotted me, because they ran down the block and through a gate into a backyard. The gate had a house number that I noted as I drove by, vowing to figure out just which one of our students lived at that residence.

This morning when I arrived at school I asked our registrar to look up the address. She cocked her head when I recited the number and asked if the house had dark brown shake shingles.

"Well," she said, "I don't have to look that up. That's the Does' house!"

Of course it was Jonny Doe's house.

Jonny Doe and I go way back, as I taught both of his older siblings (AND he's visited my office a time or two...). He's a student I chat with casually on the quad at least once a day, and he has even devised a special handshake for the two of us. He can be a knucklehead, but he's eminently loveable.

"So, Jonny," I greeted him today during Break, "were you by any chance standing on a street corner yesterday, say, around 4:30 PM, wearing your hood and carrying a rake?"

His eyes widened and he started laughing.

"Did you see us? Cool! Ms. M, we knocked out the BIGGEST bee hive! I used the rake, and G had the spray...I even tasted some of the honey--yum!"

"Those were your Bee Suits, Jonny?"

"Yeah; we even covered our hands with socks."

"I thought you saw me, because you ran off into your yard..."

"Yeah, no...that was when the bees were chasing us."

"Right. And I can totally relate to your bee problem...But it looked kind of bad, you know...two kids, incognito, running around with a rake..."

Jonny looked around and then lowered his voice. "Well...shhhhh. We did set off some firecrackers to get the bees out of there, and one of the rockets kinda went into the street...but I don't think it caused any damage."

And then that was me, hands over my ears and singing, "Lalalalalalalala...." as I walked away shaking my head.

Meanwhile, our bee exterminator returned today to blow out the hive on the left end of the wall, which he missed when he came out on Monday to take care of the hive on the right end of the wall.

Enough already.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pending Discharge from ER

Husband was out of town this weekend, which meant the house devolved quickly into chaos, laundry wasn't folded, but I could begin catching up on DVRed episodes of ER from April and May. These are episodes my other half watched in full last spring while I fell asleep on the couch. Hence, he is caught up and ready for the Final Season Premiere on September 25; I am woefully behind.

I haven't been able to talk him into reviewing these episodes with me on the nights we're together in front of the TV, so they have waited patiently (and thankfully unerased) in the DVR machine (however that works) for the opportunity presented by husband's three weekends in a row out of town this month. That is the only bright spot of this Triple-Weekend Single-Parenting Gig: I control the remote.

On Saturday night I watched 1.5 episodes, and last night I caught up on the .5 and one more. There are still three more hours of ER in the DVR (give and take commercials, of course). But honestly, I think I can only handle 1.5 worth of ER episode per sitting. ER is intense. This is the show, after all, which prompted the magazine Utne Reader to publish the debate "Is ER Art?" back in 2000. I love this show, but sometimes I am not in the mood to feel bad, or hopeless, or even inspired in a wow, what an emotional ride that was kind of way. So on those nights I watch Dateline NBC. Because reality is so much more comforting.

Last night, as I got teary over Abby and Luka's falling-apart marriage and laughed at a silly scene in which Pratt taught Morris and Frank to use "I" statements, I remembered why this might be my favorite show ever (I know! Even over The Muppets, Donny and Marie, and Little House on the Prairie!): fabulous writing, amazing acting, appropriate use of pathos, and some little extras--clever episode titles (literary references!) and great episode-ending songs (I will always remember hearing the song "Sand and Water," by Beth Nielsen Chapman, for the first time during a particularly poignant scene about a mother and baby). Last night, Luka told Abby he was moving out, to the tune of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals singing "Falling or Flying." Yeah, that got me.

But this will be my last year of ER--since 1994. I didn't even have to wean myself while I was living in Kenya; missionary friends in Africa, also fans of the show, would invite me over to watch videotaped episodes sent from the U.S. by relatives. It's not so much that the characters' storylines have me hooked (there have been so many cast changes over the years that one can't get too attached), but I think a weekly ER visit has served to satisfy my inner Pre-Med. After all, I started watching the show right after college--right after I admitted I wouldn't be a doctor when I grew up. I get a little charge when a "doctor" on the show notes, "That could cause an MI!" and I think to myself, Yeah, a myocardial infarction, I hear you. For a moment, like my daughter pretending to be a mermaid in the living room this afternoon, I am satisfying my own childhood fantasy.

And then, back on the show, Neela starts crying about choosing surgery as a career and her subsequent Lack of Life. Thank you, Neela, for reminding me that my Vice Principal Pity Party pales in comparison to 30 sleepless hours of work saving lives.

ER is art.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

List: Things I Am Avoiding Spending Money on...for Better or Worse

1. New Carpet. I can't even talk about our carpet. It grosses me out. But the gross factor is only outweighed by the paralysis factor that kicks in when I think about a) moving furniture, and b) choosing new carpet. Where to begin? It feels like a big commitment, both the choosing and subsequent moving.

2. Kids' Birthday Presents. I don't want to get all political here, but I don't know a single child whose birthday party we've attended recently who Actually Needs Something. So can we just agree to quit this gift-buying business, unless the spirit moves us? It's not that I don't like giving gifts. I don't like to on demand.

3. Pajamas. In general, the pajamas I own are those someone else gave me. That should give you a sense of how old my Real Pajamas are, since the last legitimate time someone should have given me pajamas was when I was about to get married. Seven years ago. I also resist buying kids' pajamas, except at Christmas, when we follow a family tradition of giving new jammies on Christmas Eve. My thought is that pajamas don't matter, so why not wear old tee shirts and leggings or shorts? Past dusk, members of this family aren't trying hard to impress anyone. They don't have a choice: Mama ain't buying jammies.

4. Cafeteria Meals. Our little public schooler loves nothing more about kindergarten than using her PIN and choosing from the menu options in the cafeteria. She has a newfound sense of power. She is now a powerful consumer as well as a powerful example of how small children are already being schooled in Buy Now, Pay Later. Or, Buy Now, Never Even Know Who Pays Later or How. After she came home with two little yellow notes from the School Food People saying, "YOU OWE US," we had to make some rules. For instance, You May Buy Your Lunch on Mondays and Fridays Only. On Tuesday, she took her lunchbox to school, put it on her desk and it remained there unopened and festering until Wednesday morning when her father retrieved it.

"I knew you were going to be mad, but I couldn't help myself," she admitted as she recounted just exactly what terrific meal she chose for herself.

5. Running Clothes. See Pajamas, above. I don't need to look cute when I run. I can't look cute when I run, I am pretty sure. In fact, don't even look at me when I am running. Thank you.

6. Disposable Items (mainly paper towels). Honestly, it just feels like throwing cash in the trash to buy a paper version of what a washable dish towel will do.

My husband and I do not see eye-to-eye on this one. And don't worry; I willingly spend money on toilet paper (the cheap kind).

7. Electronic Devices. I am the person still using a first-generation iPod. I have a cell phone high schoolers make fun of. My hands-free device still has a wire. Our household is one of the few I can think of that has a TV shaped like a box--you know, with depth to it.

When it comes to electronica, my philosophy is, if it ain't broke, don't replace it.

Stay tuned: the list of Things I Waste Money On is much, much longer.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Can Spell Any Word Tacked on the Board in Front of Me

I had an opportunity to meet Ms. D, our daughter's kindergarten teacher, on Friday. I was excited to leave work early, pick my kid up from school, and celebrate her first week of kindergarten with a trip to the ice cream store (note: I would have added my own celebratory glass of wine later on that evening, except that I had to head back to work for a first Home Football Game and Dance).

The teacher patted our daughter on the head, called her a "delight," and mentioned that she had already pulled her aside for some Phonemic Awareness Testing.

"First I asked her to write 'dog,' and she said she couldn't. Then I asked her to write 'cat,' and she waited a moment, and then wrote it perfectly."

I just nodded at this account, not sure where it was going. I was also feeling not entirely sure, as well as curious to learn more, about what our daughter can and cannot do. At our house, her abilities seem highly variable and quite dependent on mood.

"Because she had no apparent trouble writing 'cat,'" her teacher continued, "I asked her again to write 'dog,' which she promptly did. I praised her and told her, 'Look! You can do it!'"

Ms. D raised her eyebrow, with a glint in her eye.

"And then your daughter pointed out that both of those words were posted on the bulletin board behind me."

Friday, September 5, 2008

They ARE Wondering. And They Are in Law Enforcement.

(Just a little update to this post from last month. *sigh*)

We have a small bee problem in our backyard (concrete) wall along the alley. This is a not a new problem; I will save a lot of time here by simply writing that some of our temporary solutions have involved spraying and others have involved duct tape. None have really worked, particularly not the solution called Ignoring The Problem because we keep hearing about how Bees Are Endangered.

I think the bees and our wall (beginning to fall over on one side of our yard, incidentally) have fallen under the homeowner category of Deferred Maintenance. That is, until our neighbor who lives behind us across the alley paid us a visit last week. He had just learned that the reason his recycling bin hadn't been emptied during the last two pick-ups was because the Recycling Man was stung by one of our bees a couple of weeks ago. He was very nice about it, and I was certainly chagrined to discover that our general Alley Lack of Attention was causing neighbors trouble again (last time it was overgrown bougainvillea, providing cover for shady characters).

After I called Bee People for advice, which can be summed up nicely in You'd Better Buy a Brand New Wooden Fence, my husband once again employed a vaguely explained temporary solution. And we offered to take our neighbor's recycling bin to our street...but it was not recycling week after all. Which, I guess, bought us another week to figure out what to do.

Just now I was in the backyard and spotted our neighbor in the alley. We greeted one another, and I apologized, profusely, again, and assured him we were taking care of the bees, with as much conviction in my voice so as to almost convince myself. Daughter #2, looking for Mom, showed up at my side. Our neighbor's eyebrows shot up and he said, "Hi! Who are you? Are you...well...the one...?" He looked at me, a little embarrassed. "It's just that sometimes we can hear..."

"Yep, that's her," I replied. "Unless, of course, it's her older sister." Egads.

I laughed and rolled my eyes, clenching my internal fists and stomping my virtual feet. They can hear us across the alley! CRAP!

"My wife and I joke that maybe you're beating her...but then one time we heard her yelling, 'I want ice cream!' so then we knew, nope! She's not being beaten." He smiled encouragingly.

Glad we got that cleared up.

At this point the ice was broken, I suppose, and we reminded each other of our names. My eyes landed on the left breast area of his tee shirt, where the letters SWAT were clearly printed.

"So, ummm...are you a cop?"

"Oh, I'm a deputy sheriff."

Uh huh. Of course you are! Great.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

About Bristol

I am going to admit here to a rather primal, spontaneous and emotional reaction to the news that Sarah Palin would be John McCain's running mate. It's going to happen, I realized. Women are going to make it to the White House.

Since then, of course, I have learned more about Palin's politics. We're not on the same wavelength on most Hot Topics. But there's a bottom line I can't ignore, and she has earned my admiration. She's a woman. She's a mom. She's working mom. She's a working mom of five. She's a leader. She's a governor. She has run marathons (okay, and she also hunts and stuff). The point is, all politics aside, she and I share some characteristics, and it's pretty apparent she has a lot more guts, and a greater willingness to sacrifice, not to mention a much greater ability in general to Manage It All.

I had already eaten a huge helping of humble pie after reading about Michelle Rhee in Newsweek, who is my age, and in my business. Her similar profile, yet strong convictions and resolve in the face of opposition, still have me questioning just what I am willing to do, and to give, and to stand up for.

And then along comes Sarah Palin. I read about her a few months ago after she gave birth to her youngest child, a son with Down Syndrome, while governor of Alaska. I became a Vice Principal when my youngest (of two, mind you) was five months old, and that pretty much threw me for a loop. So here, I remember thinking, is someone undaunted by being a mom (of a child with disabilities, no less) as well as a leader and a public servant. She can do it. So I should really just suck it up, myself. Can we work on that? Yes, let's.

But while my hat goes off to Sarah Palin and all she's accomplished, I have to hope she's not our next Vice President. It has something to do with the fact she's the Republican running mate, something to do with her stance on abortion and Intelligent Design (to name a few issues about which we don't agree), and also something to do with her daughter Bristol.

Here is a pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old girl under intense scrutiny. I would argue that her life would be a heck of a lot better if her mom weren't Vice President. If that doesn't seem fair--that is, to argue that we shouldn't elect Palin for the sake of her daughter--I would argue that this election shouldn't be about her daughter, then. And clearly, it already is. What Bristol does with her reproductive self and unborn child as well as her marital status shouldn't be a projection of her mother and her politics, in my view. But my views and those of the Republican party aren't exactly aligned when it comes to who should weigh in on a woman and her body. The smiling nods of approval at her apparent choices to keep her pregnancy, keep her baby, and marry the child's father suggest that if she were to opt otherwise, those would be wrong choices, not to mention reflect poorly on her mother.

I don't want to be cynical here, nor do I want to insinuate that politics have already trumped highly personal prerogatives, but I certainly hope Bristol has choices. I hope the father of her baby does as well. I hope there will be no "vetting" of her every move. I hope she and her baby won't be the examples put forth when there are national discussions of reproductive rights, marriage rights, childcare, daycare, and the Unwed Teenage Mother.

I hope she, and her mother, will be treated as separate, discrete, unique, thinking women, who can make up their own minds.

As for me, mine's made up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In Which "Sammy" Lost His "Y"

Today was the first day of kindergarten. Our little newly-turned-five girl had been treating this threshold as No Big Deal. Which seemed rather reasonable, since she has been in seven different in-home daycare situations and two preschools in her short life. And her kindergarten teacher would be the same lady who taught her cousin last year.

She was more concerned with why I would not allow her (myself, that is) to buy a Bratz backpack and fill it with Bratz folders and Bratz pencils (Me: They look mean and unhealthy, and, well, bratty. And they wear too much makeup. Her: I know they wear too much makeup...and they don't look mean; they just want people to know they're serious. Me: No Bratz. Not in our house. Period.).

Nevertheless, reality set in when she and I and 15 other kindergarteners and their parents occupied Room 3 for the first official time. She realized there wasn't a single familiar soul in the room besides me, and I was bound to leave before too long.

The whimpering began shortly after she found her name at her table and figured out how to sling her backpack over her chair. "What if I can't do this, Mom?" her little voice quavered. When her teacher invited her new crew to the carpet for Morning Stuff, while the parents retreated to the sidelines like wallflowers, it was my daughter who kept glancing back and mouthing "Don't go..." Her pleas inspired sympathetic looks from the other parents, whose kids all looked to me like kindergarten redshirts--bigger, and more mature (although, to be fair, our tiny daughter is not a good yardstick).

When tears began welling and I watched her attempts to surreptitiously wipe them on her sleeves, I knew it was time for me to make my exit. My last glimpse of my kindergarten kiddo was of her accepting comforting words from a sweet girl seated next to her on the mat.

But of course by the end of the day she was on top of the world. She ate pizza and peaches ("in that yummy juicy sauce, Mommy") and had chocolate milk from the cafeteria. She saw her cousin and old preschool friends at lunch and recess. She learned that her "crown" is her head (huh? "Mom, from 'Jack and Jill'!"), that there's no talking when others are talking, and that she needs to raise her hand to ask or answer a question.

I asked if anyone was naughty at kindergarten.

Her eyes grew wide. "Yep," she offered. "'Sammy' [ed: name changed to protect the mostly innocent] was mean to lots of people."

"What did the teacher do?" I asked.

"Well, she wrote all our names on the board. And if you're not nice, she erases some letters."

I almost spit out my wine. "Really?" I tried not to laugh. "So how many of his letters got erased?"

"Only the Y," she shrugged.

At which point it occurs to me that perhaps having the First Letter of Your Name erased represents a much greater stigma.

I'd hate to be named Amy in Ms. D's class. Or T.J. That's for sure.