Sunday, December 27, 2009

Our Year, on Facebook

Mom, Dad, Big Sister, and Little Sister are attending Auntie and Uncle's Wedding.

Big Sister joined the group Kids Who Love Barack Obama.
Little Sister likes this.

Mom became a fan of Aretha Franklin's Inauguration Hat.

Mom completed the quiz Which of the Seven Deadly Sins Are You? with the result Gluttony.

Dad is fishing on his lunch break.

Mom, Dad, Big Sister, and Little Sister are attending Road Trip to the Bay Area.

Mom is ignoring another much-needed home repair.

Little Sister became of fan of Peeing in Your Bed When You Don't Want to Get up in the Middle of the Night.

Mom is boosting the economy at Target.

Dad is learning long and short vowel sounds.

Dad became a fan of Sleeping on the Couch.
Dog likes this.

Mom posted something on Dad's Wall.

Dad sent Mom a My Heart Request using iHeart.

Little Sister is stalling at bedtime.

Big Sister is riding a two-wheeler.

Big Sister joined the group Orange Gators Tee Ball Team.
Mom, Dad, and Little Sister like this.

Big Sister and Little Sister are attending Cousin Snugglenest.
Dog likes this.

Mom is attending High School Sports Championship Game(s).

Big Sister became a fan of "Whatever."

Dad is working on the weekend.
Mom commented on Dad's status.

Mom is attending Class of 2009 Senior Prank.
Big Sister and Little Sister like this.

Mom is grooving to Lady Gaga at the Prom.
Dad commented on Mom's status.

Cat completed the quiz Which Muppet Character Are You? with the result Beaker.

Mom is thinking about her Grandma and Grandpa.

Mom, Dad, Big Sister, and Little Sister are attending Beer Can Races Summer 2009.

Big Sister is I love everything about the beach except the sand.

Little Sister became a fan of Dislike Button.

Mom is attending 20th High School Reunion.

Dad is attending 4th of July Parade.
Mom, Big Sister, and Little Sister like this.

Little Sister is jumping in the pool and swimming!

Mom and Dad are attending Neighborhood Happy Hour.

Mom is attending Indigo Girls Concert.
Mom likes her own activity.
Dad commented on Mom's activity.

Mom is if one more appliance breaks I am giving up and going Little House on the Prairie.

Dad is letting in the repairman.

Big Sister is mermaid birthday party!

Mom began her fourth year as a high school Vice Principal.

Big Sister joined the group First Graders at McKinley Elementary.

Little Sister poked Big Sister.

Big Sister wrote something on Little Sister's Wall.

Mom is dealing with injured and dead wildlife.

Big Sister became a fan of Taylor Swift.
Mom and Little Sister like this.

Mom and Dad became fans of the Village.

Little Sister changed her mind. Again.

Big Sister is drawing in her office.

Cat has a hairball.
Dog likes this.

Mom wants new carpet.

Big Sister and Little Sister are attending Strategically Timed Temper Tantrum.

Mom and Dad became fans of Time Out, Hasty Exit from Restaurant, and Withholding of Privileges.

Big Sister attempted to unfriend Mom.

Mom sent Big Sister a We're Related using I Will Always Be Your Mother.

Dad is pulling weeds in the school garden.

Mom is fighting with the sewing machine over Halloween costumes.

Mom and Dad are attending Budget Cuts.

Big Sister and Little Sister are new cousin!
Mom and Dad like this.

Mom, Dad, Big Sister, and Little Sister are attending Mammom and Bampa's 40th Anniversary Cruise.

Mom, Dad, Big Sister, and Little Sister are thankful.

Mom is looking for a Poodle Purse and Fairy Computer.

Mom is asking for carpet cleaning for Christmas.

Dad is taking some time off for the holidays.
Mom, Big Sister, Little Sister, Dog, and Cat like this.

Mom, Dad, Big Sister, Little Sister, Dog, and Cat are celebrating a healthy, happy 2009.
Everyone likes this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Giving and Getting

A friend of mine recently mused on his blog about the growing popularity of buying/giving, noting that more and more retailers offer donations to charities and causes when you spend on yourself. He initiated a discussion on this trend of convenient altruism, and whether or not this was a sign of the demise of truly selfless giving.

I thought a lot about what constitutes true benevolence--the kind that entails sacrifice and doesn't automatically come with a big fat dose of self satisfaction. Does giving to make oneself feel good in some way diminish the giving?

This year, as we did last year, our family and extended families adopted a family in need for the holidays. Two of the children in our adopted clan were the same ages as my girls and the cousins, so our kids went shopping and chose presents for them that they would have wished for themselves. We included gift cards for the parents so they could be Santa for their children too.

We drove out to their East County trailer to deliver our gifts last weekend. The five year old daughter welcomed us into her humble home with warmth and excitement. Her parents were gracious and kind despite the mildly awkward occasion.

The little girl opened a few gifts and then disappeared into her bedroom. She emerged with a stuffed cat and offered it tenderly to our three year old. Her mother gently asked her if she really wanted to give away her favorite toy. She nodded with conviction, and before we left, she had given away two more of her treasures to my other daughter and her cousin.

During our visit I was conscious of this episode being to a certain extent about our need to give (we even had the gratification of observing the receipt of our gifts), as well as our desire to have our fortunate children be part of something altruistic. We attempt to model this kind of giving because we (selfishly?) want our children to be good, generous people. We attempt to fight the consumerism, materialism, wantism, grass-is-greenerism that surrounds us and even worms its way in from time to time.

Nevertheless, I tried to imagine my daughters giving away their most prized, treasured possessions to someone they had only just met and would not likely see again.

I'm still mulling that over.

In the meantime, our daughter named her stuffed animal after that kind kindergartner who showed us what the season is really all about.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Wonder

We've spent the last week or so hunting down the elusive requests on our daughters' lists: Fairy Computer (three-year-old) and Blue Sparkly Poodle Purse (first grader) proved the most challenging.

The Fairy Computer will be a Pink Princess Computer with some Fairy Decals, looking just like Santa's elves got busy with gum and glue in the North Pole.

Now go ahead and Google "Poodle Purse," and I promise you will find a plush handbag in the shape of a poodle. It is even available in blue. But that's not exactly what our first grader means, you see. The Poodle Purse is a little bag with a poodle inside whose head sticks out. You can find them at "like, a fair, Mom." Right. A fair. Santa will know what I mean, she reassured me.

Gulp.

But the poodle stars lined up nicely for us on a trip to the mall last Monday to visit Santa and eat Chinese Food in the Food Court. On our way back to the car we stopped in the toy store to have a peek. And what do you know, some purses of the poodle ilk were nestled on a shelf. They would have gone completely unnoticed by me had Daughter not squealed, "Those, Mama! Those are poodle purses!" These were actually Chihuahua Purses and Papillon Purses, but still. My daughter, it turns out, is not crazy nor conceiving never-before-seen creations, thankfully. That evening I spent a fair amount of time clicking on links to various versions of the Poodle Purse. Santa, it turns out, prefers the Bichon in 2009.

Some years are better than others in terms of gift for the kiddoes. This season will be a few smaller items versus The Big Reveal. And there is one little gift I am excited to wrap and put under the tree for our First Grader.

Not unlike many of her peers, our grade schooler likes her sandwich bread soft and without all those annoyingly healthy and crunchy seeds and nuts. She happens to have a friend at school who packs her sandwiches on that plushy, smushable-into-a-ball, completely non-nutritious Wonder Bread. Apparently there have been some lunchtime trades to confirm her love affair.

Does Wonder Bread even still exist? a friend mused. Yes it does. And my daughter begs me to buy it every time I head out for groceries. And then I come home with Whole Grain.

A few weeks ago Daughter went to play at another friend's house. She came home, triumphant, to report that her pal's mother let her choose "anything" for lunch. Our darling ordered up Tuna on Wonder Bread, and that mama went to the store and bought a loaf of that wondrous stuff.

Best part of the story? My daughter's friend is gluten free, unlike the Wonder Bread they had leftover from my kiddo's lunch date.

Our little Wonder will get her own loaf on Christmas morning. French toast, anyone?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mangrove

I was thinking today about this poem I wrote. It was inspired by a visit to Wasini Island when I lived in Kenya. On this small island with no roads and reachable only by small boat, I felt very far away.

Mangrove

If I ever see you again
I think it will be at the end of the world
Where tree limbs plunge inexplicably downward into
sand and saltwater
And you are rooted with the tide,
merging earth and water,
your arms reaching reaching
out to me and beyond
This lonely peninsula.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Checking It Twice

Dear Santa,

One of our teachers presented me with this challenge: Choose one item that is on your holiday wish list (or one item that is not on your list) and reflect on what this item's presence on (or absence from) your list reveals about where you are in your life right now.

I have an answer, but not a comfortable one.

I'm reminded of the time I sat in an important interview for a Rotary Club study abroad scholarship, and one of the questions asked was, "If you could be any animal, which would you be and why?" Inexplicably, "beaver" popped into my head.

Beaver? Really?

Like a character in a comic strip, I tried to push off that thought balloon, but it bobbed there stubbornly.

Beaver became my answer. And I got the scholarship.

Now here I am, trying to be careful what I wish for. Because what I really want this year, Santa, is a new baby.

On the Want/Need Continuum, this wish is as far on the Want end of the spectrum as possible. It's maybe even greedy. Not only do I not need a baby, there are plenty of reasons why I might expect you to put this desire in the "I Hear You, but...Try Again" category.

You know I am a lucky woman with two healthy children, a husband, and a home. Our daughters, six and three, are at pretty self-sufficient ages and with help from family and friends, we manage our busy two-working-parents household.

I come from a large brood and didn't think I would follow in my parents' footsteps and have five children. But I always imagined three. Two would be too few; four would be too many. I never pictured myself in the "2.1 kids" column.

But who am I kidding? Not you, Mr. Claus, who knows when our daughters are naughty and nice. Much of the time, two is more than enough for us. We've got man-on-man defense down, but we're still outwitted at times.

Nevertheless, after some years of overwhelm, we're in a good groove.

So it's hard to explain why I want to upset our tidy apple cart. I just want a baby. I do. I want to not want a baby, but, I don't.

It's not that I'm hoping for a boy, Santa. And I'm not dying to be pregnant again. I'm willing to explore a variety of Stork Options.

Truth is, I think I want a baby so it won't all be over. You know, childhood. Our house currently has no crib and no diapers and no highchair. Our youngest is careening toward kindergarten. Soon, it seems, I'll be the mother of older kids, cooing at and longing to hold the babies of my younger parent peers. I see it already: both daughters will be in high school together and then a few years later, both graduated and gone.

I can't help wanting one more toddler, one more learning-to-talker, one more footy-pajamaed snuggler. I want the soccer games and school shows and chaotic family dinners to span more years than the three between our two. I want another one at home to keep us young.

Ultimately, Santa, maybe that's what I'm really after: my youth. A sense that I am not marching too quickly through life's stages. Career? Check. Enough Time for Myself? Check. Family? I want more of that.

I know what you're thinking, Santa. If I get what I want, my stocking will be full of Sleepless Nights, Diaper Changes, Crying, Drooling, Spit-Up, and more Laundry and Whining.

I'll admit I have to wonder if we have room in our house for another inhabitant and enough money in the bank for daycare and college. Love in our hearts, though, we have to spare.

Santa, over the years I've come to expect your wisdom applied to my wishes. So, whether or not 2010 brings me a bundle of joy or a carton of contentment, I figure something good is coming my way.

Your Friend,

Fer

Believing

In the van on the way home from helping decorate my parents' tree:

"Mom, I think I believe in Santa Claus..."

Great. Here we go again. Our six-year-old Santa Skeptic, thinking too much.

"But I am just not sure Santa is actually the guy who delivers all the presents."

"Okay, so who do you think does?"

"Well, it could just be some regular person. Like, maybe Santa is just a character made up so no one knows who the real person is."

"But how could a regular person deliver ALL those presents? I mean, it has to be someone magical, don't you think?"

"It could be a lot of people, with helicopters or something."

"But Santa has been the same for hundreds of years...and he lives forever. Whoever delivers the presents would probably have to be like that, right?"

"Okay, so maybe Santa is just a character we all believe in and there's really someone else--like maybe even a girl--who doesn't want anyone to know who she is. And she lives forever."

"Hmmm. I think you're on to something here. And I guess we'll never really know who Santa is, huh?"

Silence. But I can practically hear the wheels turning in the seat behind me.

"I wonder what her name is."

"Well, since we don't know, maybe we could just call her 'Santa.'"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bark or Bite

By now, New Moon fever has dulled to a faint howl, but the books and movie are still coming up in conversation. I saw the second film in the Twilight series two weeks ago and at least a couple of hours before most of my students due to free tickets to a special screening with friends. The movie was fabulous entertainment, as was the audience, cheering whenever Edward the Vampire or Jacob the Werewolf appeared on screen, shirtless.

So, there was a lot of cheering. And I felt slightly dirty the next day when I discovered that Taylor Lautner, the actor who plays Jacob, is only 17 years old. I could write about the sexism double standards at play here, and I thought about it...

But the real debate is Team Edward versus Team Jacob.

Now, before you log off your computer in disgust because you, like a friend or two on Facebook who have joined the group, "Team Edward or Team Jacob? How about Team Shut the F*** Up?" let me clarify that I am not entertaining the notion of which hottie is hotter. The point to ponder is what a friend's wife called "The Age-Old Conflict in a Woman's Soul."

Early in New Moon, elusive, often emotionally inaccessible Edward leaves heroine Bella, with the parting words, "You're no good for me." What he means literally is: "You're a juicy steak I want to bite into all the time." But that's just vampire speak for "It's not you; it's me," so we can relate as Bella pines for him while the seasons change. Seasons in Forks, Washington, by the way, are marked by either Rain or Snow (symbols, respectively, of tears and frozen hearts?).

I spent the first portion of the book annoyed with Edward and impatient with mopey Bella, but just before we are ready to give up on this sob saga (set to an appropriately emo soundtrack in the film), Bella does the expected: dusts herself off and finds herself a worthy distraction in the form of Jacob. Jacob is a brooding long-haired boy/man living outside town on the reservation. Bella and Jacob become close friends--but just friends. And not for lack of trying on Jacob's part.

I suppose we're supposed to feel the sexual tension between Bella and Jacob, but she pretty consistently dogs him (mastering the last-minute head-turn) to avoid being unfaithful to Edward, who has bailed on her. Nevertheless, this is meant to be a conflict, and Jacob is her bird in the hand. Except, we discover, he is actually a wolf in the woods. Which totally fits, since he plays the puppydog so perfectly. The faithful pooch. Loyal to his pack, to Bella, etc.

So now Edward and Jacob have something besides Bella in common: they're both monsters (albeit, monsters locked in an archetypal rivalry between their "species"). But Jacob is bound to lose the battle for Bella's heart, and he knows it: "I’m so sorry that I can’t be the right kind of monster for you, Bella. I guess I’m just not as great as a bloodsucker, am I?"

Jacob can be petulant and whiny, but he's always there.

Though Bella makes it abundantly clear whom she chooses, the 'Edward or Jacob' conundrum persists nevertheless as allegory: Who's your Jacob? Where's your Edward? Did you marry your Wolf or your Vampire?

We can imagine that Edward symbolizes passion, intrigue, the tortured poet, one's "soulmate." Dangerous love. The kind that might come back to bite you.

Jacob, on the other hand, represents safety. Dependability. He's an adoring friend and he'll stick around, put up with your moods. More the shaggy dog than wild hound.

If I ventured a guess, I'd bet that most of my friends committed to their wolves. Maybe after being once bitten. Or even twice.

But who doesn't want her Wolf and Vampire too? Is it possible? When a friend of mine pressed his wife to reveal if he was her Vamp or Dawg, she cleverly convinced him that her Vampire had become her Wolf. Graceful move, Sister.

The Twilight series, for the record, doesn't help us ground our expectations. After all, for Edward and Bella to work, she needs to join him in the Vampire World, so they'll both be young and immortal, forever. Frozen in time. Implicit is that their youthful passion for each other sustains.

In reality, we're graying and so are our mates. And retaining our youth is not as simple as saying to one's lover, "Bite me."

The danger is having your Wolf in the den and imagining one's Vampire is still out there, at large. The one that got away.

Maybe that's the allure of Twilight for the demographic say, above the age of 18. Edward Cullen is a safe fantasy (and he's not a minor in real life, either).

Bur offscreen, and at home, the challenge is not letting our long-term relationships suck the lifeblood out of us.

So here's to keeping it hot in the doghouse.

Woof!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Forty Years, and Four Days, of Family

My parents, according to legend, met during middle school biology lab. My mother's version of the story has my father as her lab partner and trying to take over frog dissection, thinking she would be squeamish and amenable to simply observing the process. Mom was having none of that and, baring her scalpel, vied for vivisection rights. The rest, as they say, is history. They finished middle and high school together, endured four years on opposite coasts during college, and married promptly after my father's graduation in 1969.

And miraculously, while other couples of their generation set new records for American divorce rates, they persevered for decades.

A few years ago our parents (of five offspring and by now eight grandchildren), declared that we would be celebrating their 40th anniversary with them on a trip, somewhere, sometime in 2009, and we should make ourselves available. We're there! we declared.

Plans narrowed to a Mexican Riviera Carnival Cruise out of San Diego during Thanksgiving week. We marked our calendars and watched as the economy shortened our cruise to four days, three nights: round trip to Ensenada and back. But we didn't care; we'd be together, in cabins down the hall from one another, and who knew what capers would transpire.

And that is how it came to be that a Mammom and Bampa and their four kids and their spouses (minus the pair who gave birth to Grandchild #8 just three days before departure), along with six grandchildren plus a mother-in-law and cousin boarded the Carnival Elation for a 40th Anniversary Adventure last week.

Our party of 18 was rarely all together in one place, except the day we conspicuously navigated the streets, shops, fish tacos, and margaritas of Ensenada. In various groupings and combinations we swam, mini-golfed, water-slid, toasted, gambled, spa-ed, buffeted, feasted, napped, exercised, and ate some more. My husband figured out on the second night of dining (rather coincidentally on "Elegant Night" when they serve lobster and prime rib), that no one will stop you--or more importantly, CHARGE YOU--from ordering two entrees. So he did. Steak AND lobster. And then several of my family members followed suit.

My generous parents provided the opportunity for us all to come together and celebrate, in effect, our very existence (and closeness to one another), thanks to them. In foresight, in the moment, and in hindsight, it was an exquisitely unique and special time.

Some other cruise highlights:

Delayed Departure: Our family's strategy was to board the ship as early as allowable, even if it was going nowhere. Our excitement began in various lines at 12:30 PM on Monday, but it wasn't long before we were enjoying reggae music and Mexican Mamas ("$7.50 for the first one and ALMOST one dollar off for a refill!") poolside. I believe the ship was meant to pull out around sunset. But alas, some of our fellow passengers were running late, and "because Ensenada is an easily reachable destination," Carnival announced that we would be extending our truants the courtesy of delaying departure.

Our entourage, along with most other passengers, was gathered on the top deck, anticipating the casting off of lines. My husband and brother-in-law discussed the possibility of mooning our comrades when they finally made it aboard. But we eventually decamped for dinner preparations, and the boat started moving, and then my sister-in-law got seasick.

Club Carnival: I just assumed any childcare on board was costly and questionable. Instead, it was FREE and AWESOME. So awesome, in fact, that 1) Daughter #1 was angry with us when we picked her up "early" at 9:45 one evening, and 2) after their first time, both girls begged to go back. We spent our days with the girls but took them to "Kids' Camp" each night so we could dine with the adults. As a gift to Daughter #1, we left here there until 11:30 on the last night. That's how much we love her.

The Coca Cola Scandal: Giddily relating her first Kids' Camp experience as she and her dad made their way back to our cabin, our First Grader admitted that, "Dad, you're probably going to fire me. In fact, yep, you're definitely going to fire me." The fire, though, was the glint in her eyes as she confessed that when the counselors gave her the choice to have water or Coke with her dinner, she totally went with Coke. "But Mom," she explained later, "It wasn't my fault. They gave me a CHOICE."

"And," she added, "I love Coke."

The Hairy Chest Contest: Taking for granted that this cruise would be a true escape from work and regular routine, it only occurred to me two days prior to our departure (from our own city's port, natch) that it was Fairly Likely that one of my students would be on this cruise. As we converged upon my parents' stateroom on the first afternoon before leaving port and watched our fellow passengers and family members board below, I spotted two former students on the gangway.

Well, I figured, former students are in a different jurisdiction from current students (and then there's international waters to factor in, ha ha!). Out of respect for the fact that these young men were in the less desirable position of having their former vice principal on their vacation, I avoided crossing paths and making direct eye contact.

However, my daughters and I did walk through the pool area as one of our alums was competing in the ship's Hairy Chest Contest. Daughters wanted to stick around. I did not.

Blackjack: Like so many of the things I do, I gamble one-dimensionally. What I mean by this is I know the simple aspects of one game, ignore the complicated stuff like buying insurance, etc., and then make up my own guidelines to keep me safe. I apply the same strategy to my sewing machine, for example. I know how to stitch in a straight line and I can sew stuff. Don't talk to me about button holes.

Guidelines that keep me safe in blackjack include agreeing how much money I will put out initially, and then how much I am willing to lose. At some point I decided I wanted to win enough to pay for the massage my husband kept hinting he'd really appreciate. Following the old "quit while you're ahead" maxim, I walked away from the table on the third night $100 up. And still not totally understanding the finer points of gambling.

Shane: So much to say about Shane. I'll try to keep it brief and stick to the best parts.

On our last night aboard the Carnival Elation, various adults gathered in my parents' cabin for a pre-dinner drink and Together Time. Door propped open, I happened to make eye contact with the resident of the cabin across the hall as he headed unsteadily out of his stateroom, drink in hand.

"Cheers!" I lifted my drink, and he responded in kind, peeking into my parents' "well-appointed" stateroom (certainly in comparison with his interior windowless room).

"Wow," he murmured, "This is a nice room! Where are you guys from?"

"San Diego," we answered, "What about you?"

"Well, have you heard of Riverside?"

We all nodded.

"Yeah, well. Actually, I'm from Hemet." (A town slightly more remote...)

He paused a moment, and then opened up.

"You know how the boat was delayed?" We nodded. "Ha! That was me and my buddy. It was his birthday last week, so we went to Vegas, and then it was my birthday this week, and we scheduled this cruise. We got here and realized we forgot our passports. We had to drive all the way back to Hemet. But we remained in contact with Carnival the whole way, and told them 'Don't worry; we're here! We're parking.'" He shook his head ruefully and took a swig of his drink.

"We were actually still on the freeway, like fifteen miles away."

My brother-in-law mentioned that "someone" had talked about mooning the late arrivals. Shane laughed, loving that he had achieved some shipboard infamy.

"Anyway, I figure we saved the boat four laps outside Ensenada."

We all drank to that. Our ship had spent an entire day "at sea," basically idling outside our one Mexican destination.

Shane, we learned, was a divorced surgical tech and dad living with a divorced roommate and planning to start a Physician's Assistant Program. "Life has been great since my buddy and I moved in together...we have so much fun."

It was only one sentence or so later before we learned that Shane's "buddy" and roommate was his sister's ex-husband.

You can't make this stuff up.

He asked us if we had encountered a group of now-infamous Bachelor Party guys on the cruise. In Speedos? With the Bachelor wearing an obligatory crown everywhere he went? Yep, we'd seen them.

"Well, we saw them in Papas & Beer in Ensenada." (Ed.: But of course!)

"I asked them if any of them had gotten laid."

He took a sip of his drink as we waited in anticipation for the answer.

He shook his head. "They didn't."

It was the perfect non-story to make us all raise our eyebrows and look around uncomfortably.

Proving, folks, that while the drinks ain't cheap on a Carnival Cruise, the childcare and entertainment is.

Here's to my parents, and 40 years of traveling, living, and loving together. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for a wonderful time, then and now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Feeling Thankful (that Dinner Is Tomorrow)

Our cruise ship returned to San Diego this Thanksgiving Day morning after making a short voyage south to Ensenada (more on this trip later). Because most of our extended family was aboard--and exhausted--and the turkey in my mom's fridge is still defrosting, we plan to pretend tomorrow is our Thanksgiving.

So we emerged from the managed chaos/cattle call cleanly titled "Debarkation" into the sunlight of a familiar port we call home on a day when everyone is cooking or otherwise ensconced in family affairs, with ostensibly nothing to do. Except unpack and watch in horror as our kids, hungover from too much Carnival Cruise Kid Camp Fun, cackle and careen uncontrollably toward today's end, which we hold out hope will be more whimper than bang.

Without the competing attention of our Family Thanksgiving Dinner at Mammom and Bampa's, though, we had the opportunity to stick around for the feast at Christie's Place, a resource center for individuals and families afflicted with and affected by HIV and AIDS, where we have delivered homemade desserts on Thanksgiving for over ten years. We were present for the speeches before dinner was served, therefore, and listened as person after person thanked friends for being lifelines, for being supportive and nonjudgmental, for accepting and keeping them alive. One man in the mainly Spanish-speaking crowd delivered his Thanksgiving blessing in Nahuatl (Aztec).

Our initial contact at Christie's (who has become a dear friend over the years) is the leader and facilitator of a weekly Spanish-speaking support group as well as a university employee busy researching and promoting early HIV/AIDS intervention. She openly celebrated the uniquely diverse demographics of her participants: gay and straight, transgendered and cross-dressing, afflicted and affected, all coming together to help and support one another in good health and habits.

Recognizing some of the faces in the crowd as regulars at Thanksgiving over the years, I recalled a piece I heard on NPR a few weeks ago. People diagnosed with AIDS and HIV are surviving longer than ever expected in the 80s and 90s, but not without effects: research is revealing cognitive deficiencies among long-term survivors, associated with either the disease, or the drugs used to treat it, or both. Meanwhile, AIDS and HIV have moved out of the mainstream of disease activism, and funding wanes.

Raoul and I stood on the front steps as he explained to me that in his lifetime he has been in prison, on drugs, and without hope. At his initial diagnosis, he shared, he thought he would soon be dead. Now he is a caseworker who steers newly diagnosed patients toward resources and support. He gave me his card asked me to let anyone afflicted and afraid know that there were people out there who understand.

Meanwhile, our kids had seconds on turkey and we lingered as folks began packing up leftovers to take home.

Now it's 6 PM and my Facebook Friends are updating on successfully-served birds and pie. And we are winding down, with a tart to bake for a Friday Thanksgiving Feast yet to be had and oh-so-much to be thankful for, not the least of which is our good health and fortune.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home Alone

I'm at home sick today, and therefore faced with the surreality of being in the house when No One Else Is. So many possibilities! If you're not feeling crappy, that is. One voyeuristic opportunity I realized shortly after the other three human inhabitants blew out the door this morning and silence settled in was that I would have a sneak peek at the secret life of our pets.

Which so far has consisted of them following me around and lying down where I do.

Being away from school, that living, breathing city of 1000+ people, on a day when it's functioning without me always feels strange. I will acknowledge that, as someone who works in an educational setting, I am plenty accustomed to days off. It's days off without my children and anyone else's that seem eerie. When I finally pried myself from my bed and the gripping novel I was reading to take a shower and hit the pharmacy and post office, I marveled at the child-free world I momentarily inhabited. I finally passed a teenager in the cosmetics aisle, and as we made eye contact, I thought, You should be in school, girl.

So should you, Vice Principal, I reminded myself. We probably both called in sick.

We grow accustomed to seeing the usual characters in our daily dramas, as routine and cyclical as soap operas. In the meantime, there are other worlds whose residents we rarely meet. I was several months into my first year of college before I realized it had been a long time since I'd seen a dog or a baby: my world was professors and twenty-somethings. Now it's mainly teenagers and other parents of young children. I rarely escape from campus during the school day to run errands. And I avoid them on weekends with my daughters, save the requisite Costco or Target run.

So I was in the post office today for the first time in I can't remember how long, standing in line with no clerk in sight thinking, I am in the post office, in the middle of the day! Who are these other people? What are their jobs? Are they on lunch break? And then a man, frustrated over the wait, grabbed the box he'd chosen from the shelf and packed but hadn't paid for, and left. I was glad that he opted not to go postal, and also that I was not Vice Principal of the Post Office.

Back home I kept the TV and music off and listened to the weekday sounds of my neighborhood in concert with my snorting, sneezing, sniffling, and coughing. Cars passed, dogs barked, birds chirped. I was home to lend a neighbor the weed whacker and when the Arrowhead deliveryman arrived.

Of course, what I truly desired--and what everyone deserves--was a (healthy) day off of work (or child rearing) alone in my house or out exploring those other foreign mid-week worlds.

Like, I wonder what dramas unfold in spas on Wednesdays?

Maybe someday soon I'll find out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

List: Gifts

I've been thinking about gifts and giving recently; after all, it's almost the season. My four siblings and I have been drawing names for an exchange for many years, and now that we're all married, our spouses are included too. This year, we're using the theme "Memories" to guide our gift giving/conceiving/making for one another. I'm torn between conjuring artifacts of past good times and the opportunity to facilitate new ones.

Meanwhile, I think of the memorable gifts I've given and of which I've been the lucky recipient; I can't be alone in feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of cataloging the bounty of my family's and friends' generosity. But here are a few examples that spring quickly to mind:

1. The Six-Pack of Pacifico: When we bought our house and escrow closed, some friends of ours--not even friends we see every day--were waiting on the curb with beer when we pulled up with our keys. It was a wonderful, sweet surprise. And a unique moment we got to share with them because they took the time to honor it.

2. The Running Watch: One of the best friends I made when I lived in Washington, D.C. as a young college grad and Teach for America teacher was Robin. Robin was a bit older than I, but a fellow runner and marathoner-in-training; we met at a local running apparel store that hosted a weekly training run. For the next three years Robin and I were regular running partners and confidantes. When I prepared to leave D.C. to teach in Africa, Robin gave me a gift. When someone leaves you, he shared, you should give her something that you will miss, something symbolic of your time together. Robin gave me his running watch, which had a beautiful woven nylon strap and which I know he loved. I wore it till the battery needed replacing; now I save it to remember Robin and his philosophy behind the gift: sacrifice and give truly.

3. Art: We are fortunate to have incredible artists as friends as well as to work in the company of talented student artists. My friend Sarah has given us a number of her paintings over the years, including a pair of aerial landscapes as a wedding gift. My sister-in-law's stepmother went to Kenya right before we got married, and my brother and sister-in-law commissioned her to paint a gorgeous work called Bride Price, which features Maasai women and cattle on wood. One former student framed and gave me his photograph of Buddha, and another painted me a second version of a painting I admired.

4. My Sister's "34" Email: For my 34th birthday, my sister sent me a list of 34 things I have accomplished in my life, among them, successfully "sunscreening a smiley face" onto my stomach one family vacation. There are thirteen years between my sister and me, but that email reminds me how close we are nonetheless.

5. Wedding Vows: My husband blew me--and our guests--away with the vows he wrote and shared on our wedding day. For our fifth anniversary, he asked my sister to hand write them and sketch our wedding flowers, gerber daisies, onto watercolor paper and framed them for me.

6. Grandpa's Almond-Wood Box: My grandfather was a carpenter, among his many talents and vocations. For one of my birthdays when I was a teen, he gave me a red-velvet-lined jewelry box made of almond wood. It's simple and elegant and a treasure to me.

7. Dataman: I got Dataman for Christmas when I was maybe seven years old. I loved that calculator; a nerdy first generation video game, it was all math, and my favorite game was one in which you guessed which number Dataman was "thinking" of. When I mentioned that Dataman was one of my fave toys as a kid, my bff set off secretly to find it online and order me one. She revealed her plot only when she was unsuccessful in locating the near-extinct species. But that was one of the best gifts someone never gave me, and the thought is what counts.

8. Wedding Quilt: Our dear friend and honorary family member Auntie T has been an important part of every stage of our lives, particularly our wedding. She organized my bachelorette sleepover party (and baked the penis cake, ahem), bought and arranged our flowers, and sewed us the most amazing wedding quilt, with fabric from her world travels and hand-embroidered poems and favorite quotations. It's been on our bed ever since.

9. Tiffany Daisy Earrings: Preparing to walk down the aisle at my wedding, I had the assistance of both parents. My mother attached my veil and arranged my train--her very own, as I wore her wedding dress. My father brought out a signature robin-blue Tiffany jewelry box and gave me a pair of earrings--daisies with tiny diamonds in the center--the same flowers on my mother's vintage 60s gown and in my bouquet. The emotional moment that ensued held up the ceremony and had many wondering if I had cold feet and left my husband-to-be, standing and staring at our crowd of friends and family as our violinists continued to play. I love my earrings and wear them daily in my 'second piercing' holes.

10. Various Books: Some of the most meaningful gifts I've received over the years have been books, sometimes because of their significance at the time or insights into the person who gave them. Most recently, a year of McSweeney's selections and David Foster Wallace's This Is Water, a surprise from a colleague. Also: A collection of Pablo Neruda's poetry, a hardcover copy of Huckleberry Finn, Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder, Fooling with Words by Bill Moyers, and Franny and Zooey.

And one of my favorite gifts to give (I think I've passed on more than ten volumes): The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Driving while Cussing

One of the most memorable conversations of this week was at our dinner table Tuesday night. Husband was discussing work, and my response to one of his comments was, "Too bad people feel the need to b-i-t-c-h about everything, huh?" Our six-year-old just sighed and shook her head and said, "Mom, b-i-c-h is NOT a good word."

And then she added, "You know what else is not a good word? F-r-i-c-k-i-n."

Yes, we've already covered those terms. The former goes back to a moment a few months ago when we were in the car and some broad in a Chevy almost hit us and then ALSO flipped me off. At least I had the foresight to spell the word to describe that driver. I had to restrain myself on Tuesday from explaining to our daughter that the verb form of "bich" is not nearly as bad as the noun form. Right? And, of course, frickin' is better than its alternative.

But really, I should just stifle myself and let the kind people hired to teach our daughter do their good work, since our daughter is receiving an excellent, well-rounded education.

We love our daughter's school. It's the elementary school of our youth, with neighborhood kids walking to campus daily, alumni from the 40s, 50s, and 60s still showing up for meetings and to support its current programs, and some of its very own teachers living only blocks away. It's a traditional school; the only 'bell and whistle' it boasts among competing language immersion, arts and science magnet, and museum and co-op schools is the International Baccalaureate Program.

The IB Program at the elementary-school level is primarily a qualitative approach to education, community, and self, promoting global awareness and reflective learning. International Baccalaureate tenets have become more evident in her first-grade homework, with our daughter being asked to write thoughts about classroom and community values such as respect.

For last week's homework, she had to reflect on what her world would be like without rules. We read the prompt, and she thought about it for a while. And then, exhibiting few libertarian tendencies and like the appropriately good six-year-old citizen she is, she wrote,

"If there was no rules everyone would do the wrong things. People would smoke and crash there cars."

And then she drew some blissfully happy people, living the lawless life:



Again, I am tempted to explain to my daughter that smoking isn't actually against the law; it's just against the law to do almost everywhere. Then we could have a discussion about how smoking is bad for you, and yes, honey, there are things that are bad for you that are not against the law, and things that are not bad for you that are against the law, and things that are bad for you that are against the law...like riding in the car with your seat belt unfastened. In fact, could you please fasten your seat belt before I get arrested? Thank you.

It's so interesting to me that elementary-school-aged children readily correlate "doing bad things" with smoking. It's like the gateway crime. I remember back in the 80s when I was a teenager and out with my mom and my little brother, who spotted a smoker ahead on the sidewalk and stopped us all in our tracks with pointed finger and stage whispered shock: "OH MY GOSH! There's a SMOKER!" Math and grammar skills might not stick, but anti-drug education DOES.

In the early grades, anyway.

The extent to which smokers have been vilified as a result of more and more stringent laws restricting their activity (while tobacco companies continue to turn profits) has actually made me pity them on occasion. I can feel the shame emanating from the gentleman lurking in the gap between attractions at Sea World, trying to sneak a quick puff. Meanwhile, alcoholic Uncle Bill is welcome to his fourth beer over at the Anheuser-Busch Beer Pavilion.

Nevertheless, I have to wonder why driving while texting is illegal and driving while smoking is not. After all, driving behind smokers subjects me and my passengers to second-hand smoke. AND, the last two drivers whose crazy maneuvers had me shaking my head (who makes u-turns in the middle of a four-way stop?) both had cigarettes in hand. I had to hang up the phone and slam on my brakes.

The truth is, daughter, laws or no laws, the frickin' b-i-c-h-es are going to keep smoking and crashing there[sic] cars. And smiling. It's just human nature.

In the meantime, dagnabbit, there's a new rule in our house: No more bad words, not even s-p-e-l-l-e-d out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Last week I was part of a team of school district staff on a field trip to our local recycling facility. I love learning how things work and where stuff goes and comes from (but not enough to submit myself to the Master Cleanse, mind you) and this was just such an opportunity, kind of like last spring when I got to go on a submarine and it even submerged and left port. But that's another story, in which I admit that I was surprised submarines had absolutely no windows, not even those little portholes like on the ride at Disneyland.

If the aim of this trip was for us to come back with renewed vigor and vision for our schools' recycling programs, it totally worked. I came away with a stomachache just thinking about even one plastic bottle sitting forever in a landfill. Word to the people is: when in doubt, recycle; at the plant they'll sort the trash out of the recycling, but there's no sorting at the landfill.

Now about that sorting. I truly had no idea how it worked, imagining all this time that our recyclables were simply dumped into some huge metal centrifuges, and, with effective "spinning" technologies, materials were divided by weight and density. And I didn't give a whole lot of thought to what happened to all that stuff next.

Perhaps my most significant observation at the recycling center was how both simple and complex is the process of sorting our plastics, cans, bottles, and papers. The first thing that happens, for example, is that trucks carrying recycling dump everything into huge piles in a big room. Then a crazy system of conveyor belts carries the materials up and through the building past real human beings who first pull out stuff that shouldn't be there, like potatoes (I saw a lot of potatoes! Who are these people putting perfectly good potatoes in recycling?) and engine blocks, which the owner pointed out would really "muck up our operation." Hand sorting is followed by some very cool and high-tech (European) "optical" sorting which I will describe in layman's terms: mixed materials pass under a light/mirror thingy which is meant to reflect off of metal recyclables. When the reflection occurs, a puff of air is activated from below, which tosses the metal materials up into the air and into a separate area. That gizmo was fun to watch.

As you ascend higher up through the building, the sorting becomes more precise, with colors of glass separated into different bins and opaque and clear plastics distinguished from one another.

As you may imagine, it's a messy, noisy, smelly operation. A fine layer of material fragments including glass covers all walkways, stairs, and floors, crunching underfoot. The air is cloudy with particulates. I'll admit, I experienced one gagworthy whiff that relegated me to some mouth breathing. It's a dangerous job, too--but the company boasts full healthcare for all its employees AND their dependents.


I confirmed that we don't need to sort our own recylables--the trucks will still commingle the materials until they reach the plant. Cleaning and/or rinsing items isn't necessary either, and in Southern California, there's a good argument for conserving the water you'd use. FYI: You shouldn't put the plastic caps back on the bottles you recycle, even if you smush them--they do some bionic smushing of all the plastic into tight cubic bales, and caps on bottles prevent optimal smushage.

All our recycling, once it's sorted into like materials, is sold and shipped, mainly abroad. Cardboard goes to Asia; paper to Mexico...some glass goes to California vineyards with which the company has contracts. Some of the buyers reuse the materials, others recycle them.

Watching all that waste--albeit recyclable--made me want to Reduce My Use. I found myself taking some accountability for the byproducts of my daily life. It feels good to recycle, but we're still consuming a ton of stuff and throwing it away at alarming rates, where it has to be driven somewhere and dealt with.

I don't know what to tell you if you're not even using your potatoes, though. Reduce them to french fries, at least!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Report from the Front

This just in from the Homecoming Dance on Saturday night: Freak Dancing is still happening. The Los Angeles Times and Salon.com are reporting on this issue today, coincidentally.

My take? It's all fun and games until someone feels violated. And that could be me, just watching it.

Chaperoning this situation? It's like sweeping water uphill. Or whacking moles.

If you haven't hit the dance floor in a long while, here's an instructional video (demonstrating that after 9 minutes and 33 seconds, even freaky dancing can be boring). Note: Most kids I know skip the directions and go straight to the "back-to-front" step, adding a little "bend over" with "hands on knees."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parents, Lying like a Rug

Oh gosh, isn't it satisfying for the American Public to watch a kiddo sell out his lying parents, as Balloon Boy did on National TV? Indeed it is!

Umm, that is, unless it's you, American Public, and we all know you're a bunch of liars, too.

Of course, kids lie. My own kids have been known for fabrications, and then there are the lying students I'm hired to catch as high school vice principal. I've learned that it's not so hard to tell when someone's lying; what's hard is figuring out what to do next.

But it's those darned parents that have been teaching innocent kids to fib. Parents like you and me. Maybe you're not constructing balloons and elaborate hoaxes which implicate your own children, but I know firsthand that you're calling your child in sick to school as your flight leaves for family vacation in Mexico. And I know this because your sophomore told his Algebra teacher he needed to know which assignments were due while he was in Cancun.

Busted!

The problem isn't that parents aren't trustworthy. It's that those darned kids can't be trusted to Keep The Story Straight. They lie, and then like Balloon Boy, they throw up from the stress.

But according to research, we're lying to our offspring about everything from Santa Claus to what happens when people don't brush their teeth. We are both premeditated and spontaneous liars. And all the while we proclaim that lying is unacceptable.

Apparently, I am guilty of a classic parenting lie: The Police Threat. This untruth is best employed when your child is in the throes of a hair-curling tantrum. "If you don't stop screaming," you warn, "the police will come." See, the thing about this scenario is that there has been many a time I believed I was telling The Truth. Not only because we have a Sheriff living behind us. Once, my daughter actually yelled for the police, who, allaying my fears in this instance, didn't come.

Another version of The Police Threat comes in handy when your child is attempting to get out her carseat mid-freeway.

This weekend, though, my hollow threats came back to haunt.

On Sunday I took my daughters and a friend to Sea World. We were all pretty exhausted at the end of our excursion, in part because we walked around in circles in the parking lot for what felt like an hour before we found the minivan. As we loaded up, my weary arms didn't properly slam shut the back hatch of the van, and I noticed the "open door" light only after we had exited the parking lot. So I pulled over on the shoulder of a busy road, hazard lights on, and scurried to the rear of the van to secure the door. By the time I got back in the driver's seat, a police car had pulled up behind me.

I thought it was bad form to flash the "all okay" sign and drive merrily away from the cop without explanation, so I stayed put and rolled my window down as my passengers fell eerily silent. I explained to the helpful policeman why I pulled over, and we both went on our ways.

"Whew," I heard my daughter whisper to her friend as we merged into traffic. "That was scary. I TOTALLY thought my mom was going to get arrested."

Aww, honey, I was tempted to interject, Getting arrested is what happens when you LIE!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Glad Game

Last night our daughters snuggled up in Mama's bed for an old-school Sunday night movie: Pollyanna. I could recall few details from the film except that Pollyanna was a super happy young lady and something bad happened to her.

As the term "Pollyanna" has come to have such a negative (because of its excessively positive?) connotation, I was curious to see if the title character was getting a bad rap or if her good cheer was genuinely annoying. So I cozied up with my girls for a little nostalgic walk down Buena Vista lane.

My analysis: If you're a Hayley Mills fan, an optimist, or planning to name your baby "Pollyanna," I'm pleased to tell you that the protagonist, known for "pestering people all over town with her sunshine and happiness," is a worthy hero.

Sure, she can put a dubiously positive spin on the most dreary of drags, but she's also a sort of Ass Kicker of Crankpots. In a key scene in the movie, Pollyanna takes off her white gloves and tells off a hypochondriac old biddy: "You could be GLAD you don't need this horrid old coffin! You could forget about dying and be glad you're LIVING!"

And you know, it's hard not to feel your fist pump a bit in solidarity, for haven't we all wanted to implore a Grump Grouch to lighten up, already? SHEESH!

Pollyanna teaches the citizens of her town The Glad Game, which she learned after some missionaries sent her a pair of crutches instead of the doll she coveted. "We could be glad you don't need them," her father helpfully suggests to his disappointed daughter, thereby establishing a new cheery way of looking at life's lemons.

But then her dad dies. And later Pollyanna falls out of a tree and her legs are paralyzed. So, yup, in an ironic twist, those crutches suddenly become useful. Well, that is, if she's lucky and the surgery works. The movie ends and we're left wondering. (Oh, and by the way? Six-year-olds are troubled by unresolved endings. Very troubled! You could be glad you don't have to worry about your six-year-old worrying about Pollyanna if you don't have a six-year-old!)

But anyways, the real point here is, in these tough times, what with Global Warming and The Recession and Swine Flu and Afghanistan and your own Personal Troubles and then Obama trying to give us all Health Care and winning the Peace Prize, we could all use a little daily glad, dontcha think? Perhaps somewhere between Chicken Little ("The sky is falling!") and Voltaire's Pangloss ("It's all for the best!") is the appropriate mix of doom and hope.

Now, admonishments to "buck up, little camper" are more easily swallowed when they are delivered by a perky little girl than from a well-intending neighbor reminding one that, "Hey, at least your whole house didn't burn down!" Which is why it's best if we all simply play an internal form of The Glad Game. Unless, of course, you're hanging on a cross and can muster up a rousing chorus of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

So, if your inner Eeyore is getting the best of you, make like Pollyanna, who suggested to those looking for something about Sunday to be glad about (I guess Sunday sucked in the olden days) that "we could be glad that the next Sunday is six whole days away!"

Flash a peace sign at that road rager in the next lane; smile sweetly at those who cluck disapprovingly at you and yours; express sincere gratitude to those who serve begrudgingly.

Tinge your cynicism with humor, laugh at your minor misfortunes, and remind yourself, Hey! I could be glad it's not worse!

Monday, October 5, 2009

List: Nickel and Dime

At my first Administrative Cabinet meeting as a new vice principal in our district, I remember the superintendent asking principals to submit a weekly "5/10." The exact concept of the 5/10 I do not remember, but I think it was something to the effect of "write the five most important events or reflections of the week, and don't take more than ten minutes to do it." The brief summary was a simple way for the superintendent to stay in touch with what was happening at each school site.

That first week of school as an administrator, I wasn't required to turn in a 5/10, but I created my own modified version and sent it to my principal. My rule: summarize the week in five things that made you go "hmmm" (or, "grrrr...") and ten things that made you smile. The 5/10 became a weekly routine for us, thereby creating a record of our first year's notable events, hilarious episodes, and poignant moments.


This last week has been a rough one at work and a good one at home, with no appropriate story on the tip of my tongue. So instead, I summarize it below in a 5/10.

Hmmm...


1. The untimely passing of a colleague and friend
2. Swastikas
3. 9th Grade Girl Drama
4. Mutual Combat
5. Hair dye allergy


:)


1. Post-dinner Family Walks
2. Husband and I coaching Micro Soccer
3. Mid-week extended-family dinner at Mammom's and Bampa's house: swimming and soup and the best part of our day
4. 1st grade Homework Journal
5. Saturday Night Padres' Game with our girls: ice cream, peanuts, fried calamari, and the Frankenfriar
6. The California Ballet's Alice in Wonderland
7. Super Hero capes
8. Seven Daughters red wine
9. Halloween decorations
10. A friend's gift: new mix CD playing in the car

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reigning on Her Parade

Bright and early this morning, our first grader started planning today's parade. First, she hand-drew an "American" flag, found a twig in the backyard, and brought them to me to staple together. Then she outfitted the wagon with a blanket and pillow, and when her little sister refused to hop in, a stuffed Snoopy and Strawberry Shortcake doll. Finally, she strung a whistle around her neck, strapped on a crown, leashed the dog, and asked for my support and participation.

Which is how I found myself alternately "halting" and "forward marching," as we circled the block in our own Sunday morning household parade.

Now, I know some gung-ho, down-on-the-floor, every-minute's-for-my-kids kind of moms. And I know others who aren't fans of early childhood and can't wait for their kids to reach some state of intellectual parity.

As for me, I'm somewhere on the spectrum closer to Down in the Dirt Making Mud Pies than Why Don't You Check and See if Jonny Next Door Can Play. But I'll plead guilty to "just a minute, honey" while I finish cleaning the kitchen, putting on mascara, and checking Facebook. And sometimes I just don't feel like playing with Polly Pockets. Again.

But I have enjoyed amazing moments recently when I wholeheartedly give myself over to my daughters' cockamamie schemes and projects. I'm trying more and more to gulp back my reflexive "Do we really need the double-decker fort?" and to not look at my watch when we're on a walk and the three-year-old is literally stopping to smell the roses. Every rose, in fact.

So when Eldest Daughter asked if today could be Parade Day, I smiled gamely and said, "Yes, dear, right after we go to Walgreen's and buy me some hair dye." While she assembled her float and "soldiers," I colored my greying tresses.

Soon we were marching behind our little patriot: the dog, the little sister, the dolls in the wagon and I, as she waved her homemade flag and blew her whistle. Someone recognized us (despite my newly darkened 'do) and hailed us from a passing car, putting a little mid-parade spring in the step of our drum major.

The best was when we reached home, though, and my daughter turned to me with unsuppressed pride and glee: "Mom, our parade was so much fun...and, so...successful!"

Worth it or what?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Here, Fishy Fishy Fishy...

Dagnabbit, I killed our Summer Fair Fish.

This was not the fish we won ourselves at last year's fair; this fish was one of a pair that my sister-in-law generously bestowed upon us after she took the kids to the fair this year, claiming "turnabout is fair play."

Eldest daughter promptly named them Lily and Leona. Leona promptly died.

But Lily? Defying all expectations, predictions, and natural laws regarding goldfish lifespans in our household, "she" lasted through Labor Day. I'll admit, that little survivor grew on me, as she became part of my morning and evening routines: make lunches, feed Lily; make dinner; feed Lily. Hi there, Little Fishy. I can't believe you're still alive! was my daily greeting as I pinched those smelly fish food flakes and let them float down into her bowl.

The longer the lone fish lived, the more invested I became in her well-being, which is why I felt guilty one evening last week as I noted that the water in Lily's bowl was one shade past murky and that I was one more day past when I thought I should probably clean the bowl.

I sure hope fish like fluoride, I thought the first time I filled our fishes' bowl in June, using a carefully-proportioned mixture of hot and cold bottled water from our water cooler. I continued in that vein all summer, until last week, when we were nearly out of bottled water and between deliveries. I knew deep in my soul that tap water could be deadly for fish, but I went ahead and mixed in some good old San Diego faucet water, complete with chlorine, boron, haloacetic acids, and lead.

Lily was belly-up before bedtime.

This wasn't my first mishap with goldfish. In middle school, when we were tasked with conceiving a science fair project, I chose an ill-fated experiment which flew under PETA's radar, thankfully. While other friends tested the effect of temperature on height of tennis ball bounce (requiring only an oven, freezer, tennis ball, yardstick and about one hour), I set out to determine how size of container influenced goldfish growth.

For months, my bedroom was host to a card table with rows of varied-size jars of goldfish. Goldfish died and I replaced them in what turned out to be a seriously flawed investigation. To measure the weekly growth of the fish, I used a graduated cylinder and observed and recorded displacement of water.

That is, when I remembered to put water in the cylinder. More than a handful of goldfish went *BONK* down to the bottom of the dry cylinder or got stuck pathetically to the side of the glass when I was more focused on the task of catching the fish than on preparing my measurement vessel.

Not to mention that any of you with half a scientific brain are by now noting the number of insurmountable variables at play in this experiment, which I made a weak effort to control, starting with amount of food fed each fish. Assuming, of course, all those different-sized fish required the same amount in the first place.

At the end of the experiment, I proved very little, except that 16 jars of fish will stink up one teenager's bedroom in a matter of days.

Instead of swearing off animal experimentation, I went on to torture mice in Genetics Lab in college. I eventually saw the light and switched career paths from medicine to education. The last experiment I conducted was on 9th graders, and they all survived.

But poor Lily, she didn't make it to Veterans' Day.

I had to break the news to our daughter, who had helpfully written up the following guide to fish care in June:



Daughter was bummed but forgiving, and participated in a bowl-side "burial" in the bathroom, a ceremony also known as "Fish Flush."

Since I am confessing to some killings here, I might as well mention that we're offing pumpkins and bees lately, too. But not ants. The ants are staying away.

For now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

Last night we received an auto phone call from our daughter's school that the student body and staff would be observing Patriot's Day on September 11th by wearing red, white, and blue. We laid out an outfit and carefully explained the importance of the day.

Our daughter is in first grade; she wasn't born yet on September 11, 2001. Like many five- to eighteen-year-olds in school today, she doesn't know about or remember the events of that day. She grows up in her present, which is our post-9/11 world. Now, we bear the responsibility of teaching our children about that day and its aftermath. The facts. The possibly whys. And, of course, our own interpretations.

One of the seniors at my school worked all summer on a memorial tribute to the people who died on September 11th. He ordered 3,000 flags and carefully handwrote each victim's name, age, and place of passing on a tag attached to every one. With the assistance of his family and a group of friends, he placed the flags on a hill in our quad, in gridded sections representing the Twin Towers.


At the end of our first class period, this student read a speech he wrote about September 11 and its significance for him and for all of us. He noted that our freshmen were first graders--my daughter's age--in 2001. He reminded us that on that day, regardless of nation of origin, we were all Americans.

The principal invited everyone to gather on the quad for the pledge of allegiance, and firefighters from the station across the street joined us as students filed silently out of class and observed the ceremony.

I felt a chest-swelling connection to my fellow humans as our Navy Junior ROTC students paraded the colors down the hill between the two towers of flags. I was proud of the young man who conceived our school's tribute to September 11th, and that he recognized and seized this opportunity to teach his peers. I was proud of our students and their reverence for the moment and respect for one another.

While I vividly recall the difficulty of sorting my own emotions and of understanding others' after 9/11/01, this morning was uncomplicated: I was moved by the American flags at school and those in our city flying half mast. I felt comfort in the unity of Americans and citizens of other countries taking time today to honor the lives of our innocent victims.

Politics, partisanship, personal issues were absent. I felt part of something good.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daily Bread

This morning I drank my coffee and read this lovely account of his typical workday, written by the cousin and son of dear friends of mine. My journey to Africa began when a friend and I studied African history together in college, and it was his family's connections to a Kenyan school which landed me a teaching job there for a year in 1996-97. My friend's cousin--the author of this piece--and his family became my home away from home in Kenya, and I am forever grateful for them.

It seems appropriate to post this link today, on Labor Day, as Eston thoughtfully describes his job, Kenya and its people, and the evolution of work in that country brought on by climate change and political upheaval.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

School Rules!

Most people assume that in my job as High School Vice Principal I spend my days contending with unruly students, garnering confessions and meting out punishments.

The truth is, at our smallish school with students and staff members who generally genuinely respect and care for one another (and there are rainbows! And unicorns!), we have it pretty easy in the discipline department. I get to spend most of my days out on the quad cultivating positive relationships with students, and they get to have fun at my expense and notice each and every change in my appearance.

Over three years since leaving the classroom, I have gradually come to terms with my new role. I even have fun.

Which is not to say that some aspects of being The Enforcer don't suck. I'm not fond of searching students; I don't like being lied to; I wish I didn't have to invade students' space--while they invade one another's space--on the dance floor; I am not a fan of discovering that students have made poor choices.

And every fall, I dread the Back-to-School assembly where I explain The Rules to the student body. The privilege of presiding over this presentation has been passed down over the years, vice principal to vice principal. It is I, a microphone, a PowerPoint of slides on What Not To Do, and a captive audience of restless teenagers hoping to be entertained.

I'm pretty sure that scenario is an archetypal Worst Nightmare, except that I am wearing clothes.

My first year, I gave the same dry warning speech six times, once per period, to students in the English classes. Never again, I swore, after boring even myself to tears. Thereafter we began dividing the student body into two groups, upper- and underclassmen, to deliver the Message of Doom.

This is what educators call "Frontloading" at its best:

Don't smoke or drink or possess intoxicants or even lighters or matches. Don't give away your--or your parents'--prescription drugs. Horseplay could get you suspended. Gum is the Devil. No spaghetti straps. Watch out for plagiarism. Here's what will get you a Referral to the Office. Turn your cell phones OFF. What you post on Facebook and MySpace could come back to bite you. Stop stealing each others' stuff.

Or ELSE. And don't say we didn't warn you.

This year, in an attempt to soften our statement, I enlisted the support of a talented student filmmaker, who graciously offered to record footage over two schooldays' time, because that's what he had, and stay up all night editing a Rules Video for the assembly.

I tend to claim that the students ARE my job, and that my job doesn't exist without them, and it's true. Without them I wouldn't have work, and without them my work wouldn't work.

PROOF of this, and of the brilliance of teenagers:



He'll be famous someday. Watch.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

She Capshered the Love in Our Harts (six years ago)

Our eldest daughter turned six today. The birthday countdown finally hit blast off! today after months of discussion and planning. Her party is tomorrow, which thankfully curtails the extension of festivities beyond one more day.

In her defense, I'll admit that when I was a child, my parents had to initiate a rule that there would be no talk about my birthday until after Christmas each year. My birthday is February 4. My daughter comes by her birthday diva-ness honestly.

She's six. Six is a solid number. Her age by fingers requires two hands now. Accordingly, our petite firstborn is growing. She's spent the summer eating voraciously and mastering new skills like riding a "two-wheeler" and diving into the pool.

The entropy of independence is becoming more apparent as well. She is gradually migrating from our center, needing reassurance less, and requiring it differently, when she does. Where she used to seek physical refuge, she now requests a more intellectual explanation that there's nothing to worry about.

I'm beginning to recognize that our first grader has her Own Life. By Own Life, I mean to say, aspects of her and her doings to which I am not privy--or not invited to observe. What an amazing leap in development happens between one's child pleading, "Mommy, Mommy, come see; let me show you; look at my..." and the shrugging, "I don't know when/where I got that/did that/learned that/heard that...but yeah, it's mine."

Earlier this summer as I was purging lesser peaks in the mountain o' papers our daughter generates in Her Office, I stumbled up on some unfamiliar writing. It didn't look exactly like her handwriting, and it didn't sound like her usual missives. So I didn't think much about it until a week later, when I found a similar script in her notebook. The best way to characterize these "passages" is to say they approximate...cheesy song lyrics. Really badly misspelled song lyrics.

I timidly asked my daughter (fearful of embarrassing her and thereby extinguishing her compulsion to pen power ballads) if these were, indeed, her "songs?" written here and there. And her confirmation gave me a funky twist in my stomach like I had just read her diary.

Maybe because they're love songs. Where is this material coming from? Beats me. Overexposure to Disney Princess Songs is partially responsible, I'm sure. My own penchant for melodramatic poetry might be a genetic clue.

Here's a sampling (with spelling partially edited for clarity):

It looks like your dad (dead?)
But it looks like you
I like it the more you say
that is sounding just like you
I'll see you like you
It is just like you look like bfore!
I will see you speedin out all your love
You can allways hear love!

and:

When are you gona save me
When I capsher your love in my hart
When are you gona love me
Just when gona part go and capsher the hart
Just go and capsher the love
Go and capsher the...
Everyday just go and capsher the love!

and:

I will see you floing in the wind
Today I am seeing you flo
Days and days it will do!
You see me floing around to!
Youll see to
You see me floen my love around

These songs, they're funny; they're bewildering; they're a little bit poignant, too.

Oh, our little girl in the funky long socks. You, verging between small child and someone you are able to define by yourself: Happy birthday. We love you so very, very much.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One-Pot Wonder

My ideal family meal is one that includes all the food groups and fits in one pot. I am a fan of the casserole, the stew, the soup, the Crock Pot Creation. All my creative energy focuses on one dish; there's no need to compartmentalize; as far as setting the table goes, simple: it's either bowl-and-spoon or plate-and-fork. One-stop slop.

Last night's dinner fit the bill, and I write about it here not because it so much represents the best of the one-pot repertoire, but the among the most haphazard in terms of what I scavenged to throw in there.

We subscribe to an organic farm's biweekly veggie delivery. The original months-long subscription was a gift from my aunt after the birth of our first daughter--a thoughtful, rather cutting-edge meal/gift at the time. We let it run its course and lapse; we renewed it last year when the farm called with a rational plea: Help us survive in these tough economic times.

I've enjoyed the culinary challenge posed by the random assortment of food arriving every other Thursday. We never know what's going to be in our box. And sometimes, even after it arrives, we don't know what is in the box. I've learned to recognize swiss chard, bok choy, thyme, fennel, starfruit, kumquats, and purple green beans when they're bundled and unlabeled on our doorstep. Right now we've got a bag of tomatilloes whose fate I'm pondering. They narrowly survived last night's Amalgam Stew.

Most of my cooking begins with an anchor ingredient--the protagonist of the Dinner Drama. Last night it was a bag of green lentils. I sauteed an onion and garlic in some olive oil in the pot, and then foraged in the fridge for what else could boil up nicely with the lentils. I chopped up some nearly compostable carrots, beets who were waiting to be properly roasted, summer squash and kale. I poured in a big can of peeled chopped tomatoes, three cups of water, a tablespoon each of vegetable bouillon and curry powder, and simmered our summer stew.

Eldest daughter's sniffer sensed something on the stove, and she pulled up a chair to investigate.

"Where's the meat, Mom?" asked our little hard-core carnivore.

I satisfied her by adding some chicken-apple sausage.

We ate outside, in homemade ceramic bowls, with optional dollops of sour cream on top.

And dinner even earned that elusive seal of approval from our discerning daughters, with a request for more: "This time a super meaty scoop, please!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crossing the Line

I was thinking tonight about the poem I wrote for Almost-Not-My-Husband more than ten years ago in a rather desperate attempt to win him back after suffering temporary delusions (you can read about my uncomfortable epiphany--#9--here).

I remember the stereo turned up high with a mix of significant-song CDs on shuffle play as I handwrote my verses on papers and glue-sticked them to a large-ish piece of cardboard. I drove that cardboard plea over to his apartment and propped it against the front door.

I'm still not sure why I constructed a billboard of my ode instead of slipping a folded piece of paper beneath his door, although I suspect that it was clear at the time that this was a Dramatic Moment deserving of bold print and edification. I'm grateful I was gutsy enough to unleash some dramatic flair, because here we are surviving our seventh year of marriage.

I recalled the poem tonight as we sailed our boat in the Wednesday night Beer Can Races. The notion of a starting line in sailboat racing has always fascinated me. Certainly there is a line. You just can't see it in the water, of course, though it's defined like any other line by points. At our Yacht Club, Beer Can Races start between a flag in the water and a black-and-white-striped stanchion on the docks. Determining where a boat is in relation to the line requires looking back and forth between the flag and stanchion. So much depends on your position relative to that line. And your line of sight. Meanwhile, you're constantly in motion.

The start of a sailing race is about getting to the starting line at the start of the race, and not before, and not too late. Boats that are too far ahead turn around in front of yours and everyone angles for a spot between those two points. I guess it would be as if everyone in a running race had to be jogging toward the line--from different directions--intending to cross it right as the gun was fired. It's exciting and chaotic, with potential for near misses and collisions.

Tonight, and when I wrote the poem, I recognized how many starting lines are largely symbolic. A sailboat officially enters the race when it crosses that invisible line, but it's been racing toward the start long before the horn is blown.

The lines in our lives are often blurrier. It's hard to say when, exactly, I stopped being "young," at least in the minds of others. Where my private and my public lives diverge. As always when I return to work after a break, I struggle with the line between Working Mom and Mom. If each of my roles--Mom, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Neighbor, Vice Principal--are lines of my life, they intersect, run parallel to one another, and sometimes feel perpendicular. I'm pretty sure I'm straddling a line between "getting started" and "all done," particularly when I'm considering how much is enough. And I find it's the seamlessness, when one line merges imperceptibly into the next, that breeds contentment.

Drawing lines in the sand, it turns out, accomplishes only philosophical stands: the temporary definition of a status quo, subject to shifting winds and whims.

And on winds and whims, in my poem I acknowledge that I let myself be blown off course for a time before I recognized where I truly belonged. When the line between beginning and ending came sharply into focus.

Eleven Minutes

The starting line is a blur
of lapping waves and churning water
much like us I’m not sure when exactly
that moment was when we started
but we were ahead
before we knew it.

Winds blew;
You adjusted sails when
shifts caught us unaware.

No expert sailor
nor navigator,
I steered us to the end*.


*My husband would like me to mention that the ending of this poem left him unsettled. Given the fact that I, in fact, altered course before the finish line, we're now revising the last line of this poem to read, "I steered us around the mark."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Party Parents

By now most of us have heard the horrifying story of the deaths of eight people, including four children, when a New York woman drove her van the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway and plowed into an oncoming SUV. The driver, a mother of two, was allegedly drunk and under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident.

Since the event, there's been no shortage of sorrow, outrage, and social commentary. Time Magazine alluded to the incident in its recent article, "Moms Who Drink: No Joking after the Schuler Tragedy," arguing, in effect, that the "three-martini playdate" is over. And that there's been some "backtracking" by the "white-wine swilling" moms, particularly those in the blogosphere.

Time appropriately acknowledges that the "boozey" books on parenting its article references represent more of a backlash against pressures to parent perfectly than a rallying call for moms and dads to get their drink on. Nevertheless, the author summarizes a wide range of reactions among writer-parents, from defensiveness to condemnation.

While it's natural for a tragedy involving an apparently loving mother, a carload of kids, and vodka to raise media speculation, I find myself feeling uncomfortable with this accident being used to draw broad generalizations--and slippery-slope connections--about parenting and alcohol.

For one thing, the incident seems a little too bizarre to be emblematic. The collision happened in the morning after Mrs. Schuler drove away from a campsite where she vacationed with her family. It's unclear how, where, and when she had an opportunity to smoke and drink before inexplicably getting in a car with children. She pulled over at one point and called a relative to explain she was disoriented. And her family members claim to have never seen her drunk. Based on these "facts," one might surmise she was a deeply troubled woman who exhibited few signs she was careening toward cataclysm.

Should we be concerned that there are scores of other mothers only one fateful offramp entrance from destroying several lives? Perhaps. Though I think the more widespread issues of drinking and parenting are subtler, and more complex.

There's no doubt that parenting and alcohol are intimately connected. Or contextually intertwined, at least, in conversation, and on Facebook:

"The kids are driving me nuts. I need a drink!" or "Hosting a birthday party with twenty children under eight," which prompts the response, "Have you started drinking yet?"

Parenthood apparently provides one with license, excuse, and entitlement to enjoy an adult beverage in the way a sucky workday used to. But there's added nobility, with endorsement granted like virtual toasts: "Mommy Martyrs unite!" "Cheers for Beleaguered Dads!" And from our deliberately kidless friends: "You're crazy; have one on me!"

In that way, drinking is more of a metaphor, an acknowledgment of both the proud moments of parenting as well as its less-than-golden times, when we're not loving it or making ourselves particularly proud. Pour yourself a tall one=give yourself a break.

It's also a weak link to our more free-wheeling, independent days. A bunch of thirtysomething parents reluctantly pushing forty at Happy Hour sigh as the caps and corks pop off the bottles as if to say, We still hang out. We still have a social life. We still have fun.

While the neighborhood kids run under foot, of course.

But it's been interesting--not to mention, sobering--to note the differences between the drinking habits of our 20s and our 30s.

In my 20s drinking was something I associated with Going Out. Out was where the alcohol was, usually, unless it was stockpiled at home for a party. My drinking was generally confined to weekend nights and to going somewhere, with a cab ride home. Drinking was social; drinking alone was weird.

Since having kids, I--and my friends--don't go out like we used to. Making plans to venture beyond the front yard is a logistical and financial commitment requiring forethought, what with getting a sitter, and determining who's going to drive.

Therefore, drinking becomes just as likely--or more likely--to be associated with staying in as with going out. And if drinking is associated with staying in, and staying in is what we mostly do, when is it drinking time?

Well, it's always 5:00 somewhere, huh?

So suddenly the drinking horizon is broad and flat and stretches as far as the eye can see. Except often the only eyes that can see are one's partner's. Which begs the question, if a mother passes out on the couch and no one is there to hear her sink into the cushions, is she really drunk?

Perhaps it's the monotony of our predictable, structured lives (often lacking in spontaneity outside the occasional unprompted tantrum) which creates companionship out of the cocktail, particularly when one parent gets home late from work: make dinner, play with kids, clean dishes, help with homework, read stories, brush teeth, tuck in, clean dishes, do laundry, prepare lunches. Lather, rinse, repeat. The beer or glass of wine falls in line like one more habit, one more "check."

What so easily becomes daily routine ("just one more...") give us pause. Is it possible some of us drink more than we did in our 20s? We recalibrate and talk about cutting back, compare our drinking habits with those of our parents and their friends as we grew up. Is our generation really any different? Some of our parents were lonely ones and late-night drinkers and some gave up alcohol altogether along the way. So it goes.

In the meantime, it occurs to me that for some parents, light suggestions to enjoy a drink can be heavy prospects. The ones for whom drinking doesn't take the edge off; instead, alcohol is the edge, and there's real fear of falling off.

It helps to remember there's a grey area between the occasional empty wine glass and the oft-vodka bottle. That somewhere en route to the wrong way on the freeway there was likely a parent who needed to talk, who needed reassurance, who needed the real break and not just the happy hour.

It's easy for the media, and for other parents, to point to one extreme case with horror and judgment and relief that wasn't us. But more honest dialogue about drinking in our culture--and acknowledgement that discomfort, disapproval and shame seem to drive it underground--might save a mom, a kid, a family or two.

I'll toast to that.