29 April 2008

Pushing back the walls of ignorance

Lately I've been trying to write here about things besides V, though I know she is why many of you come here. It just helps me to remember that I'm not just a mama. Which is not to minimize mamahood, mind you...

Anyway, I haven't talked much about work here, mainly because 1. I'm not yet tenured (June! Hopefully!) and 2. I have an irrational fear of getting dooced, so named for Heather Armstrong of Dooce (you should totally click on her link, because right now she's got a video of Prince covering Radiohead, and that is worth clicking, if you ask me). It's funny, really, because I have nothing negative to say about this job 99.99% of the time. I love teaching, love my students, love my colleagues, love our administration. But lately, things have become excruciatingly difficult. Teaching, colleages, administration is all good. Which leaves, of course, students. Student, really...anyway, this is the hardest thing I've encountered in ten years of teaching. Ten years! Think of how many students....a thousand?

In light of the excruciatingness of all this, I thought I'd post this poem I wrote a few years ago about why I teach. I wrote it as an example for students who were writing a "this is the way" poem and didn't understand how to do it. As such, it still reads like a creative writing exercise, but I'm comfortable with that. Today, I need to remember why I do this job.

And this is the way you worry about your lisp and enunciate to correct it; and this is the way you think hard before getting a visible tattoo; and this is the way you stay awake at night wondering if they’re learning and trying to finish your grading and thinking up new assignments; and this is the way they don’t know how to spell; and this is the way they lie to your face and you have to hear the truth somewhere inside; and this is the way you learned how to tell the difference between morning sickness and a hangover; and this is the way you teach birth control and prenatal care even though it’s a writing class; and this is the way you ask the girl with the finger-mark bruises on both arms who did this to her and she stares at you blankly and says “Did what?”; and this is the way you see their hurt and wish you could take it away; and this is the way you mourn students who’ve died of meningitis or in a car accident or who hung themselves in their dorm room; and this is the way you care about students beyond what you ever expected; and this is the way they see the world completely differently from you; and this is the way they make you feel alive and this the way you want them all to be healthy and joyful and kind; and this is the way your friends have jobs they leave behind on the weekend and you don’t; and this is the way they race around your brain and make your head and arms and heart ache all day long; and this is the way you push them to think for themselves, and this is the way your tires get slashed, and someone threatens to blow your head off with a shotgun; and this is the way you keep your phone number unlisted and try not to love them too much; and this is the way you hold them too close sometimes; and this is the way you need summers off; and this is the way they show up in your dreams almost every night; and this is the way, in the end, that you teach.

26 April 2008

My next tattoo

I had a dream the other night that I had an enormous tattoo from my right hip to my ankle. It said "Elvis Presley" in red "Wonder Woman" print. What do you think that means, exactly? It was sort of empowering and strange at the same time. Now, I'm in the market for another tattoo, since my last one was over 8 years ago, and my first was 8 years before that. I seem to have a weird every 8 year kinda addiction. Hmm. Anyhoo, I like this peacock for several reasons. Here, let me list them:

1. It's a peacock, and I lurve me some peacocks. (I have a peacock room in my house. did you know that? it's a long story)

2. It's an old-school-flash tattoo. It is a bit dark for my tastes, and I kinda like that gorgeous blue real peacocks have all over the place. But I do like the 50s-esque look of this one.

3. I don't know anyone with a peacock tattoo. (of course, I don't know anyone with a leg-sized Elvis Presley tattoo, either, so perhaps this isn't the clearest criteria....). I have a cousin with a bird of paradise on her upper thigh, but no peacocks that I know of.
4. It would look pretty on my ankle or my arm, the 2 spots I'm considering.
I also love turtles, and butterflies have a mighty significance in my family...and I'm seriously considering a fancy letter V. So I have a lot of choices, and in all honesty, I suppose in order I'm considering a butterfly, then a V, then a turtle or peacock. Which means, let's see, the turtle/peacock won't be on the schedule until 2024.
Maybe I need to change my 8 year rotation. OR: get this...I could find a picture of a peacock-turtle-butterfly with the letter V prominently involved. Wow. Sometimes I even impress myself.
Send your recommendations & art submissions, won't you? I can use all the help I can get.

What we've been up to lately

Remeber this post? To mock me in my optimism, spring has come and gone already. I'm glad we got outside to play last weekend, because last night and today we got about 8 inches of snow. Maybe 10. I don't know. The wagon in the backyard is just a ribbon of red between the snow on the ground and the snow heaping on top of it. But to prove we did have spring, I offer the following evidence (photographed from just behind the first hung out laundry of the year).

V set up most of this on her own, including empty tin, terracotta, and plastic pots. Then she found two perfect sticks and sang and drummed and drummed and sang. I love to watch her when she thinks I'm not paying attention: she plays with her whole body (as these pictures show) and just sings from deep inside herself. I hope she never loses that pure joy of play. I'm grateful she's helping me find mine again.

While we were enjoying the weather, I broke out the sidewalk chalk. I don't know who decided to market big fat chalk sticks to use outside, but I love him or her. I introduced V to hopscotch, and though I'm no good at it, she's mildly obsessed. At least she was until it got covered in snow. To hop, she bends her knees and throws her body up in the air: it's awesome. Not all that effective, mind you, but fun to watch.

Our collective family has been suffering from what I thought were allergies, and maybe it was, but now we all have nasty colds. You may recall that when V has a cold, she mostly wanders around dull eyed and listless, occassionally yelling "Mama! Boogers!" It warms a mother's heart, really, to be so needed.

The reason I suspected allergies first, though, is the seedlings V and I planted several weeks ago. Mostly tomatoes, but you'll notice an enthusiastic pumpkin there, too. I'm really pleased at the progress they've made, just being left alone in our upstairs south window. I keep them watered and rotate them about once a day, but other than that it's been really cool to see things grow so quickly, and V seems to genuinely care about the "upstairs garden." It's too bad we'll never get to plant them outside though, since winter has already returned.

(V's face here is her new interpretation of "smile." I blame Dora the Explorer.)

12 April 2008

Because we are country folk, and this is our way.

One day a few years ago, a deer bounded through our backyard. I know for many of my family members this is not that odd, but we live a good 15 blocks from the city limits on all sides (well, 12 blocks on one side) so it startled me. Shaun said I was hallucinating, but I ran out into the backyard to check and our neighbor to our west was doing the same. We totally had a "Did you see that too? Dang!" moment together. It was lovely. Though it's not likely safe for the deer, I wish it happened more often, really.

In only mildly related news, I had a nightmare once about being attacked by wild birds, prompted by the flock of turkeys that live by the Georgetown Bridge. I dreamt I stopped to take pictures of them (which I have done on several occasions) and they turned on me, and up from under the bridge came chickens and hawks and loons. The loons were the fiercest, and bit me repeatedly, even as I tried to close the car door without hurting them.

You'd think that would make me dislike this story, but actually I love wild birds, and it makes me really happy that no one is talking about how to get these beautiful creatures out of town.

But if a loon shows up at my front door, I'm not opening it. Just fierce, I tell you.

06 April 2008

At least she hasn't destroyed the temple. Yet.

Dear Samson,

Look, I understand why you’re upset. I know you didn’t see this coming: frankly, neither did I. I mean, I kept hearing all this conflicting information: some people adored your long hair (my mom, your mom, little old ladies in the grocery store). Others, like your father, thought it was just getting in your way. All I know is that the snarls you woke up with on Saturday couldn’t have been worse if they’d been made my actual squirrels. Three combs broke just looking at those tangles.

Even before you were in the chair, I apologized to the hair professional for the mess she was about to encounter. And perhaps your screaming, which brought no fewer than 4 other stylists over with offers to help, is what made me finally decide. (Well, that and the knowledge that your hair grows faster than you talk, which is near the speed of light). At any rate, I hope you don’t look back on this weekend angrily in the coming years. I promise you can grow it out again, if you want to. It just had to be done.


That one time when we did that crafty thing

I was beyond thrilled to get this book by my favorite blogger, Amanda Soule, this week. She has inspired me many times, and this lovely book is no exception. At Ms. Soule’s suggestion, I sat down with my 2 7/12 year old daughter to do some painting. Here is a transcript of yesterday, our first formal attempt at family creativity.

Me: Hey, you wanna do some painting?

V: Painting! Yay! Yes! Let’s paint!

Me: (glowing at her enthusiasm) Okay then! Let’s put down some newspaper, and lay out some wooden dolls and a couple of blank wooden boxes, and some small plates for pallets, and some brushes, and a damp cloth to wipe our fingers, and turn on the lights, and set out all 30 bottles of paint.

V: (rocking back and forth in her chair excitedly) Yay! Painting!

Me: I know! Cool, huh. So, what do you want to paint first?

V: This one! (she selects the biggest wooden doll form, which is okay, but it’s, erm…the most expensive, and one of only 2 that I ordered special from the internet)

Me: (Remembering Amanda’s chapter on “Using the good stuff”) Cool! What color do you want to start with?

V: Blue! Yay, painting!

Me: Right! Blue! (Pouring a quarter size dollop of blue metallic acrylic onto the aforementioned plastic plate) There you go!

V: (giggling as she blobs blue paint on the head of the Expensive, One of Only Two doll figure)

Me: Um, hey, do you wanna spread that around at all? It’ll dry faster.

V: (ignores Mama completely. Continues blobbing)

Meanwhile, I’m carefully painting 6 other figures, and trying to use up some of the metallic blue paint before she puts all of it on this poor doll figurine.

Me: You can paint that box, too, babe. I thought maybe our dolls could use those boxes as little houses.

V: (Smacking her paintbrush absent-mindedly inside the wooden box) I made a butterfly!

Me: Wow, that does kinda look like a butterfly.

V: I’m done now. I want some cheese.

Me: What? We’ve only used one color. And it’s only been 4 minutes since we started. What do you mean you’re done?

V: (louder) Cheese, please.

Me: But you painted that cool butterfly…

V: (much louder): CHEESE!

Me: If I give you cheese, will you paint some more?

V: No.

Despite this, erm, mediocre beginning, I feel good to be trying new things and letting go of my ideas of right/pretty/good a little bit. In fact, we painted again today, this time for about 7 minutes. If we keep this up, by May we’ll hit 40 minutes easy! As to the book, I am only halfway through it, but it’s already been worth the price: we’ve never had a weekend with so little TV. In a few months, I hope V’ll be up for embroidery, too: that’s one of my favorite sections so far, and includes, for those over 3, some burlap in an embroidery hoop, a blunt needle, and some thick floss in 5 inch stitches. Sort of a “no rules” approach that I would’ve loved as a kid. In the meantime, I gotta work on making her some sewing cards. Plus, sewing is a lot less messy than metallic blue paint.

04 April 2008

Winter's last hurrah

Photos by Myra

Hey brother, can you spare a coupon? An epic tale of urine & finances.

I like the internet. I like to look stuff up on it quickly & make snap decisions on whether it’s reputable or not. I like to discover different points of view, ideas I’d never thought of, and stuff that might improve my quality of life. And videos of singing cats.

Three years ago, one such search (well, not the singing cats kinda search) led me to make all of V’s cloth diapers. All of them. 3 sets of sizes, in various configurations (some didn’t work at all, but by this last round they are pretty close to perfect for her). Initially I just wanted to learn about where one might purchase cloth diapers if we decided to go that way, but a Google search led quickly to the Sew Your Own Diapers website, and I was gone. I spent over ½ my pregnancy at the sewing machine, zigzagging fold over elastic around waterproof bum covers. I dreamt about diapers. I talked about them at family gatherings. It was embarrassing for everyone, really.

In the process of researching sewing my own diapers, I ran across information on Elimination Communication. (that's the actual site I first found. Weird, huh?)I was intrigued: I’d never even HEARD of such a thing (and I’ll bet most of you haven’t, either). What fascinating life was this? Let me say now that though I may sound disparraging, I really do think parents should do what feels most right when it comes to raising their babies, most of the time, and that includes EC. Just as a side note.

So I found this whole idea totally FASCINATING! How did I get to be 32 having never heard of this concept? At this time, Tenessa and Dan’s son Linus was about 8 months old, and I was about 5 months pregnant. Tenessa quickly assured me that Elimination Communication was not going to be my way: “That way lies madness,” she said, over and over. And thank goodness: my house is enough of a mess without having my infant daughter pee in the sink.

I tell you that story so I can tell you this story: it’s happened again. I’ve fallen in with a crowd of people I accidentally found online. I was searching “Frugality,” because, you know, we don’t wanna run out of milk money around here, and I found a seedy underbelly of coupon-clipping, obsessive clearance shopping maniacs. Dave Ramsey seems to be their king, and a lot of them have websites with lots of ads and e-books on how to save money that I can buy for $9.95 or less.

Clearly, this way lies madness, too.

Now I know the basics of economics: if you spend more than you earn, you’re screwed. There’s no way around that, and I have a good grasp of what we make (I see the paystubs) and what we spend. I also know that nearly every American is about 2 zillion dollars in debt (or so it seems) and if you don’t have at least 2 maxed out credit cards, you’re probably doing something wrong. I also know (mostly from watching people struggle, like my mom's struggles after my dad’s stroke) that not having a handle on money, even if you have good intentions, can be disastrous and take years to repair.

We have no credit card debt, except one interest-free jobbie we found at the dentist-who-will-eventually-own-my-first-born-child. We will pay that off this shortly with our recent tax return, and then our only debt will be student loans and the house mortgage. So we’re better off than a lot of folks, obviously. Most of that comes from my white-knuckled terror of high-interest debt, but some of it comes from the fact that I make pretty good money pushing back the walls of ignorance. It is not really due to stellar money management skill on our parts, though.

Cue the internet: I want to know how to do more with what we have. Shaun and I have worked on an allowance system for years: we each get a set amount each month to do as we like (usually it’s been $150, sometimes only $100, and on rare occasions below that), with the other not allowed to criticize however we spend that amount. It’s how I buy fabric without him muttering about it under his breath, and he buys yet another handheld video game. It also needs to cover any fast food we chose to eat, or vending machine snacks, or any new shoes for me. And it worked pretty well, overall. But in recent months (the last year? Maybe more…) we’ve gotten lax, and as my income increased slightly, our leftover cash did not. Turns out we were both overstepping our allowances/being more frivolous in other areas, and that quickly ate up what we were supposed to have leftover each month.

My research turned up some really interesting sites with helpful if repetitive information. Let me sum up: “if you don’t control your money, it controls you. If you’re not sure who’s in control, it’s not you. Now go pay off your debt.” Most of it is aimed at people with several credit cards, but still I’ve found helpful things. We’re starting a savings account this month at each of our banks…but you don’t care about the details. It’s really amazing, frankly, that you’re still reading after all this time. My point is, I found a lot of stuff that we can think about all from a mundane online search. And I’m utilizing sites like Hot Coupon World (sexy name, eh?), where crazy people sit around all day and look at ads and coupons and match them up for me so I can just go “Oh, look, tuna’s on sale this week and I got those tuna coupons in January, so they’d be free.” I don’t have to think too much. I get my mom to bring me her spare coupons, and I keep them in a binder like a dorky 3rd grader with a baseball card obsession. Why, just last week I got 6 free boxes of Pasta Roni.

Now, who wants to come over for supper? Pasta Roni’s pretty tasty, and I promise none of us are peeing in the sink. If you have any coupons laying around, why don’tcha bring them along?