Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Daily Menu

One of the most interesting elements of teaching is the way that a class develops a personality. It takes a few weeks at the start of each school year and you never really know what combination of events will make the group gel, but once it happens, then we become something of a family, with inside jokes and mutual affection for one another.

Pretty much every day my second period U.S. History class begins with a class review of the contents of Mike's lunch bag. Though it's only 9:15, Mike usually eats a portion of his lunch during class. His classmates often try to get a share and this once resulted in Mike licking his string cheese to protect against theft ----- a disgusting but effective preventative.

Today's lunch was the usual combination of tasty treats. We took a photo and then had a class vote ---- we agreed that Mike could eat his egg salad but we made him sit in the corner by an open window so that the funky smell wouldn't linger.

Once that was settled, we had a nice discussion on the origins of the Vietnam War. School ends in a few weeks and I won't see second period every day. But they will linger in my mind. I'll remember some of the jokes that we made, the day we listened to 70s music for the whole period, the class's horror the day Kellen called me M-Dawg (though it made me laugh), and the way this unlikely group could sustain a thoughtful and challenging discussion.

And, of course, I'll remember Mike's lunch bag.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It Boils Down to This

On a recent trip to Target, I was drawn to the cleaning supplies section. Having used up my can of Ajax, I was in the market for a new one. I'm not ashamed to say that cleaning supplies are an important part of life these days. Dreadful as it is, someone has to clean the toilet each week and that someone is me.

I tend to be of the old school when it comes to cleaning. I think that there is no substitute for a rag and some elbow grease and though I am often lured in by television ads suggesting that I can magically clean my home with just a few choice products and little effort, I try to remain skeptical.

But I caved in at Target and bought a toilet cleaner which promises to prevent stain and build-up through the use of Teflon. This is a Chlorox product and I have great faith in the restorative powers of bleach so I tossed the bottle in my cart. I plan to use the new cleaner this afternoon. I have great hopes that it will be the highlight of the day.

Though, on second thought, if it does prove the highlight of my day, I may need to get a life.

Update: I tried out the new cleaner. The toilet doesn't sparkle like diamonds or anything, but it is clean. We'll see if the Teflon delivers on its promise.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

You Can't Take Me Anywhere

On Sunday afternoon, JT and I headed off to the woods of Princeton to watch my school's girl's lacrosse team play in their state championship game. We got directions to the site off my school's website, which turned out to be a colossal mistake.

Our journey started out happily enough. Mama bought a large iced coffee from the local Dunkin Donuts and JT scored a free donut. We turned up the Pat Green cd and set off on our adventure. All was well. 45 minutes later, three things were clear: 1) the directions were wrong; 2) we were about to be late for the game; and 3) Mama had to pee. Badly.

Once I figured out the street I should actually be on (and this was thanks to Lisa, the handy direction-checker back home), I had solved problem number 1 and was on my way to correcting problem number 2. But problem number 3 was becoming increasingly pressing. And though I was on the right road to find the lacrosse field, I had no idea how much further I would have to go. Plus I was in Princeton, the only town in New Jersey that doesn't feature a zippy mart on every corner. So while many posh estates were in sight, I didn't see a potty in my immediate future. I was in great pain and my ability to think clearly was being adversely affected. Desperate, I happened upon a school with the name "sacred heart" in the title. I had no idea where I was, though I knew it wasn't the school I sought. Happily, it was deep in the woods and offered help for problem number 3. I turned in to the school, looked around to see that no actual people were present, and then I pulled the car over by the woods, rushed out of the car, squatted, and answered nature's call. Sweet relief. JT served as my loyal lookout, though he spent the entire time laughing uproariously.

We hopped back into the car and got ready to turn around and leave the school. Seconds later a white school maintenance pick-up cruised by with three men in the front seat. They looked at me as I adopted my very best haughty suburban-mom-just-taking-a-drive-in-the-family-SUV look and we sped away.

I'm pretty sure that they saw me. But given my desperation in that moment, I don't even care. I do worry that JT will repeat this story to the entire kindergarten class but I think that they will understand.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Perfect Night for a Carnival

Because I am not native to New Jersey, there are certain features of local life that I find a bit exotic. JT came to Jersey when he was two years old and so many of the things that are foreign to his California Mama seem perfectly normal to him. I like that ---- that my exotic is his average. The neighborhood carnival is one of those things.

Around here, a local carnival is a fairly common event. Though different at the margins, they mostly feature the usual assortment of carnival delights: ferris wheels, carousels, super slides and bumper cars for those who like their thrills in the mild version. The less cautious can enjoy different sorts of rides --- with names like Gravitron --- the kind that challenge everyone to scream louder than they ever thought possible. There is cotton candy and other sorts of treats that will violate the norms of the nutrition pyramid or rot out your teeth or both. There are games of chance and 50-50 raffles. For a kid, a carnival has the touch of enchantment.

I'm always sucked in by the magic of a carnival. I feel that I am escaping from the mundane realities of every day life. A carnival promises a little mid-week excitement. I think that the best time to see things is twilight, when the sun is beginning to set and the light is just right. Last night was a perfect night for a carnival and so JT and I set off for the St. Mathias carnival just after 6 pm. It had rained earlier in the afternoon but the sky was clearing and the air still had some spring warmth.

JT is just the right age for a small town carnival. At six, he's still young enough to be thrilled by the lights and the rides but he's also old enough to be a patient and flexible companion. He held my hand as we walked across the field where we parked and I could tell it was going to be a good night --- just a Mama and her boy out for adventure. Once we entered the carnival, we surveyed our options. We bought some tickets for rides and scoped out the snacking options and then we agreed that we'd try a few rides before we sat down to our corn dog and cotton candy supper.

The St. Mathias carnival was the sight of JT's first ferris wheel ride. I've been on many ferris wheels and I always like the thrilling feeling as the wheel brings you around. JT wasn't sure how he would feel about being so high but he put on his game face and climbed into the seat to give it a try. He loved it. The view from above was complete. The darkening cloudy sky looked soft and lush, with pink at the edges where the sun was setting. The freshly bloomed green trees in the field were the perfect frame for the twinkling lights of the carnival. Life was sweet and good as the wheel circled us round.

JT rode a few more rides and slid down the super slide with a big grin on his face. It was a night to indulge and so we had an ice cream cone after our corn dog supper ----- chocolate twist with sprinkles for JT. His grimy six-year-old boy hand felt warm and sticky in mine as we left the carnival.

It was a perfect night.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Supper Test

My personal political guru is a man named Charlie Cook. Among other things, Cook is the editor of the Cook Political Report, and he is a political scientist's political scientist, a guy whose judgment is solid and whose instincts are sound. He calls things as he sees them, and never confuses his own political preferences with political reality. I like that. Cook writes a weekly column for the National Journal and this week it's about John McCain.

Cook writes about McCain's track record and presidential ambitions in 2008. The gist of this week's column is that McCain seems to be pulling away from the Republican presidential pack, both in the eyes of regular joe (and josephine) voter and in the eyes of Washington insiders. I agree that McCain seems to be on his way to the Republican nomination and I have honestly mixed feelings about that, mostly because though John McCain and I disagree on a number of issues (gay marriage and abortion to name just a few), I think that his political story is compelling. And I loved the Straight Talk Express in 2000. I have a theory that successful presidential candidates are the folks whom you feel would be welcome to eat supper at your house ---- not fancy supper on Sunday afternoon ----- but just a regular meal. McCain passes my supper test with flying colors. I think that he's thoughtful and engaged and is a genuine and sincere public servant. If he were the Republican nominee for president in 2008, I would give serious thought to giving him my political support and my vote.

This is no small matter for me, as I am a serious liberal. Under normal circumstances, my presidential candidate is whomever the Democratic party offers up. In 1984, while I was a senior in high school, I did so much volunteer work for the Mondale/Ferraro campaign that I was interviewed in a New York Times article about the campaign. I was 16 years old at the time. I turned 17 on election day but my birthday was a sad affair as I watched my country vote overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan. I was crushed. My dad, in an effort to by sympathetic, told me that only Walter Mondale and I thought he would win in '84. Dad was probably right.

Maybe I was deeply scarred by the Mondale fracas of '84 because over the years I have become politically practical. Studying politics for 9 years and teaching it for more than that has certainly affirmed my streak of practicality. I've always known that my personal politics are far too left of the national electorate and though I admire people who are idealistic enough to pick their ideal candidate and stick with it, that has never been my way. Don't get me wrong, I like the candidate who seems to genuinely care about the future of the nation; a candidate with a compelling personal story and the ability to understand the lives of average Americans. But in the end, I most like the candidate on the left who reads the electorate well and who treads the middle ground. To me, this describes the candidate who can pass the supper test. I liked Bill Clinton in '92 and actually worked for the campaign. He didn't share my views on all issues, but he passed the supper test with flying colors. Heading into the 2000 election, I supported Al Gore but I had fears that he didn't pass the supper test. The close election seemed to confirm my fears. In 2000, I did see Bush as the sort of guy who could pass the supper test. That made me nervous because I didn't like his politics and I felt that he was shifty and unaccomplished. He didn't have a chance for my vote but I feared that he could pass the supper test.

2004 was the worst sort of debacle in my view because the only Democratic candidate who passed the supper test was John Edwards. Kerry, Dean, Clark, Gephardt, and Lieberman didn't even come near to passing the supper test. The idealist in me liked Dean but the practical side of me was okay with Kerry, though I was very nervous about his chances. And we all know how that turned out.

So in 2008 I believe more than ever in the supper test. And as Hilary Clinton increasingly lines up the support to be the Democratic front-runner, I get nervous. She's more moderate than the Rush Limbaugh crowd would have you believe and I like a lot of what she has to say. But she is a lightening-rod for the right-wing and there is just no way that she passes the supper test. So now I'm on the look-out for the Democratic contender for 2008 who can compete with John McCain and pass the supper test.

The Democrat in me wonders who that candidate is and the political scientist in me is starting to worry.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

That's Mama to You

When I first was trying to get pregnant, I was set on Stacy-junior calling me Mama. From the time I was a little girl with dozens of doll-babies in my care I wanted to be called Mama. My sister once told me that Mama is a white trash name (I have no idea why she shared this view with me), but I don't care what anyone thinks of my name.

To me, a Mama is soft and warm with a cool hand when you need it and a ready laugh. On a bad day, Mama makes your favorite foods for supper. On a good day, Mama is the person you can't wait to share the happy news with. Mama drops everything to make cookies on a rainy day or ride bikes on a warm day. Mama lets you stay at the park as long as you like. Mama lets you have play dates that go all day long. Mama packs hot chocolate in a thermos when she takes you and your buddy to go sledding. Mama reads an extra chapter in the book at night because she also can't wait to see what happens next. Mama lets you wear your Indian costume to Target. Mama isn't perfect but she apologizes when she screws up. Mama means what she says.

The idea of Mama was crystallized for me in a 1994 documentary about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency called The War Room. Political disclosure here: I like and respect Bill Clinton. I think he was a good man and a terrific president. I think he truly cared about what happened to the average Joe and Josephine Citizen. I get that not everyone feels this way, but I don't care what everyone thinks. I like and trust the guy. But I digress......Late in the film, after the general election season has begun, Clinton debates George Bush and Ross Perot. The debate is a decisive victory for Clinton and afterward he walks into a room of cheering supporters. He looks a bit dazed by the excitement in the room. He's going to win the election and seems to really know it for the first time. Everyone in the room knows it. The room is energized and they all want a piece of Clinton. But he looks around until he sees one woman in the corner. His whole face lights up and the first thing out of his mouth is, "Hi, Mama."

I want to be that kind of Mama.

Friday, May 12, 2006

E-lec-tricity, E-lec-tricity

Last night, there was a terrific electrical storm in central Jersey. When I went to bed, it was raining but when I woke to a long, loud rumble of thunder at 2 am the sky had just opened up and we were in the midst of a big spring storm. Naturally, my dog was barking with fright and I feared that would wake up JT. I got up to check on the boy, but he was burrowed under his blankies and hadn't heard a thing. As I went downstairs to reassure the cowardly pup, I heard that sighing sound that tells you that you are now electricity-free. So now I am awake and taking a tour of my house. A quick look outside demonstrates that the neighbors are also electricity free. Within an hour, power was back on, though half of my house had blown a circuit. Since it was the half that included the fridge, this required immediate attention. I flipped the switches on the breaker box and then came upstairs to hear the steady hum of the fridge. I reset the clocks and checked over the house once more before I headed back up to bed.

All is well this morning and in hindsight, the whole experience was pretty empowering for me. Lisa's out of town and this is the sort of thing she would have handled while I sat in the living room watching her frenzy of activity. But I did it all my self this time and that felt good.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The mc-essence of 3rd period

- a dirty penny
- the middle school choir
- lint-covered mint from our pocket
- stretched rubber band
- 5 day old circus peanut in back seat of car
- Gray's Anatomy

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Children and Whores

Once, my friend EC was in the faculty lounge when another teacher told her that only children and whores could wear red shoes and get away with it. EC, who is neither a child nor a whore, was wearing red shoes at the time.

I have three pairs of red shoes and so I could sympathize with EC. Today, I took it one step further and wore glitter eyeliner to work. In my defense, it's a big day: my students have their AP test this morning and I had a guest observer in my 3rd period class. It is the type of day that begs for glitter so I went for it. My feet, not to be outdone by the eyes, are adorned with shoes that JT calls my Hawaiian shoes.

For those keeping track, it's a tasteful glitter. And the flowers on the shoes are as tasteful as flowers on shoes can be.

Sometimes a girl must cave in to the demands of her inner princess. Today is one of those days.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The L Words

JT needs to practice his 'L' words and so we often practice pronouncing these words in the correct fashion --- lid, list, letter, the lion had lettuce for lunch, etc. This grows tiresome, of course, so JT has taken to calling his mommy by her first name, Lisa, because that's also an 'L' word that he can practice. And at age six it still seems slightly forbidden to say your mommy's first name. But Mommy is not cool with that and so we've been teaching him alternative 'L' words, including:

- licentious
- lugubrious
- litigious
- listeria
- leprosy
- lithium
- libido
- lascivious

I wanted to teach him to say labia as well, but it was suggested that this was inappropriate and so I refrained. We didn't teach him lesbian either but not because of some self-loathing or denial. I don't like the way the word lesbian sounds. It sounds so clinical and dour and flannel-y to me. It's a word with a mullet haircut and wearing birkenstocks.

Of course we think that our L-word game is great fun, though JT has grown tired of it, perhaps because he senses that his talents are being exploited for the mommies' evening entertainment. A few nights ago, he up and announced, "I'm done with L words for today."

Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More Evidence

In an effort to provide more evidence in my on-going campaign to be Mama of the year, may I submit this photo of my son eating breakfast (Frosted Flakes!) while lying down and watching television?

That's right, we're talking a triple parent sin: eating sugar-coated cereal while lying down and watching tv.

Unclear on the Concept

Me: "Have a look at the new blog entry with JT and his Western get up."

Lisa: "That's cute. But you should fix a line in your 'about me': people in red states also like to cook, garden, and read.

Me: "They cook, garden, and read different things."

Lisa: "Maybe. But you should fix it."

Me: Silence. But I am thinking...... Dude, that section is called "about me" so it pretty much is exactly what I think about me. And, crazy as it sounds, I am actually the world-expert about me. There are no other contenders for this position. I am the go-to girl for about me.

Lisa: Gaining momentum and continuing to press her point.

Me: More fuming silence and then....."Get your own frigging blog."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us

I am sure that there will come a day when JT regrets that I ever got a digital camera. But when that happens, I will have all the photo evidence I need to make him do my bidding. Until then, I am ridiculously proud of my boy's wild imagination.

And the cattle rustlers in our town had better be darned careful.