Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Real Life Conversations with Freshman

The scene: 6th period, once again working hard to distract me from the topic at hand.

N: The dress code is unfair.

Me: Life is unfair.

N: Girls get away with murder. They can wear whatever they want and not get demerits.

Me: Yeah, I think you're right. But, men make $1.00 for every 80 cents earned by women and that's also unfair. Because life is unfair.

N: But it should be fair.

Me......pausing while I contemplate an appropriate answer, looking thoughtfully at N as I realize that he is wearing sneakers. A dress code violation.

Me: Are you wearing sneakers?

N: Yes (and not bashful either, kind of prideful, really).

Me: Have you gotten a demerit?

N: No.

And now I burst into laughter because it would seem we are not exactly in the presence of a grave injustice.

Me: So why is it that the Roman Empire collapsed?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Bright Spot

It's only Tuesday and my week already seems hectic. In preparation for the upcoming spring break I'm busy and rushed with tests to write and papers to grade. Tension headaches, an old acquaintance of mine from graduate school, have returned to have their way with me. And I'm tired. Always tired.

So I walked down to the Lower School to run an errand, and hoping for a glimpse of my sweet boy to help brighten my day. I didn't see the boy but I did run into the principal, Mrs. R, and she says, "Do you have a minute? I want to talk with you."

My heart sank. For years I've felt that I lead a charmed life but when Lisa departed the charm was broken. I no longer expect good news from any quarter. It's like I'm constantly bracing for the other shoe to drop. So I wondered: was there trouble with my boy? But no ---- she just wanted to tell me what a great kid he is, how bright and happy he is when she sees him in the hall, how polite he is to adults and classmates alike. "He's really come into his own this year," she tells me.

I had such low expectations of this year, our first as a duo instead of a trio. I feel like all I do is tread water, my head barely above the churning below me, always straining to do just a little better. I worry that my little boy feels the stress and sees my fears. I want for him to have a happy childhood, one filled with expectations of laughter and happiness, not with anxiety about his mama's heart.

And Mrs. R sees happiness in his dark shiny eyes so maybe, just maybe, I'm doing okay.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Here at Sassafras House we are getting ready for spring break and a trip to Florida. So JT's other mom ---- the one who suddenly hit the road last summer --- kindly bought him some shorts and t-shirts. At least it seemed kind because it saved me both the time and money of taking JT shopping to pick out new clothes. This weekend, I had him try on the clothes. They are enormous, far too big. Seriously, these aren't shorts, they're gauchos. And the shirts were a size 10 ----- the boy is 7 and a pretty scrawny 7 at that.

I find this all rather puzzling. And it's clear that Lisa, who regularly insists to me that she is just as much a parent as I am, is pretty damn puzzled herself. This afternoon, while JT is seeing her for their weekly visit, I will go out and exchange the giant shorts for the right-sized clothing.

Because that's what parents --- the kind who are the mama every day --- do.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Like pretty much everyone else, I have eagerly followed the Washington Post story about the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, the military's clearinghouse for injured Iraqi war soldiers. They aren't yet veterans, most of them, because many will be called back to serve again, so they are doing time at Walter Reed to heal their wounds. It seems to me that a nation which prides itself on providing top-flight medical care (at least for those of us lucky to have health insurance), should be able to assume that the men and women in our military receive the very best of what we have to offer, medically speaking.

Alas not.

And the thing is that we have long-known that VA medical care is often shoddy and sub-standard. I don't think it's a secret that we haven't exactly done right by our veterans. And yet the problem continues. The Washington Post story seems to have jarred some of our national complacency and a committee has been appointed to start to fix things at Walter Reed. Good, I say. But it's not enough.

And to add some fuel to that fire, it's worth noting that while we have had about 3,000 American deaths in Iraq, we have had 40,000 casualties. 40,000. I'll write it again: 40,000. That means that nearly 1 out of every 4 soldiers serving has been injured. As a nation, we may not be able to decide what to do about the war in Iraq; we may disagree about whether or not we can bring our soldiers home. But surely we can agree to provide good, effective medical care for the soldiers who have come home. In my mind it's a moral imperative.

And I bet that I can find 40,000 people who agree with me.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

February 5

Today the California state legislature approved a plan to hold their 2008 presidential primary on February 8, 2008. The Governor is expected to sign the bill. This will move the Golden State near the front of the pack in presidential primaries, right after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Their reasoning is that the state provides nearly 40% of the money that candidates will raise and they'd like their voters to have an influence on the outcome. Previous California primaries have been held in June and by then the parties have picked their nominees. The Cali move will likely motivate other big money states to go early ---- word is that New Jersey is giving it serious thought ---- and it will result in front-loading in the extreme (I will discuss that in a later post), but that seems pretty inevitable when speaking of primaries these days.

I think that it's also important to point out that the current early states are hardly reflective of the nation, whereas racially and economically diverse California does look like the nation. Iowa and New Hampshire have long-cherished their first status but they are hardly more virtuous than the rest of us and the issues that matter to them often don't matter to the rest of the nation. Case in point on that charge is the whole debate about ethanol, which matters in the Hawkeye state and therefore must matter to candidates. But the issue is the ultimate red herring and I'd rather hear candidates talk about actual issues (healthcare, the war in Iraq, entitlement spending, the poverty gap....just to name a few) than ethanol. Memo to Iowa: the rest of the nation feels that way.

California is tired of paying for the prom and not getting invited to attend. In 2008 they will pay for the prom and be an honored guest. I daresay that they will do an excellent job of vetting and discarding the 2008 presidential pack. And by February 5, 2008 we may know exactly who the major party candidates will be.

Of course, that's another problem.

Back in My Day

Last night JT and I went to the school gym to watch the girls' basketball team play for the state championship in their division. It was a close game in the first half and a good game throughout. Our team won. But most impressive to me was the number of boys who came to cheer on the girls. When I was in high school, the boys just didn't come to the girls' games. The girls played at crummy times and in the least desirable locations. And their fan base wasn't huge.

I went to high school in California in the mid-80s, so we're not talking about the feminist dark ages. But things were different. Last night, the boys basketball team, whose season is already over, sat in the front row and cheered loudly, along with many of their classmates. And I realize that things have truly changed. There's a lot of complaining about Title IX, but if last night was any indication, it has successfully delivered opportunities to girls. And, just as importantly, it's created a generation of boys (my son included), who think that girls sports is just as important as boys sports.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bitter, Party of One

I make homemade cards. I don't make them as often as I would like but I've been doing it for years and when I do make one, it's meant as a special treat, both for the recipient and for me. I make one every year for JT's birthday and I always write a special message and then I save these cards so that one day he can look back and see how much he is loved.

When Lisa and I were raising JT together, she sometimes made fun of my cards. I took the ribbing and kept my mouth shut. But it sometimes hurt me that she didn't see how much these offerings of my heart meant to me.

In the course of cleaning up the things left on my table last night I came across a homemade card that I hadn't made. Turns out that Lisa had made a homemade card for JT and given it to him with his birthday presents. It was a little like a sucker punch to see it. And, honestly, it made me really angry. Making cards is my way of showing my love for my son. And when she was included in it, when I asked her for help in crafting my yearly message to him, she was often dismissive, like my actions were a meaningless gesture. But now that she's gone; now that she is no longer in his world on a daily basis; now that she's demonstrated just what she really cares about, she makes a card for him? Can't she find her own way of being there for him?

Update: Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments. It means a lot.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Some Things That Must Be Said

It's early in the presidential sweepstakes, but in the next few months I plan to write up some assessments of the main contenders for their party's nomination. Here is my first, an evaluation of candidate Rudy Giuliani.

As I write, Rudy Giuliani is currently being hailed as the presidential savior of the Republican Party. The national press corps, perhaps lured by his national polling numbers, seem charmed by Rudy. In a number of recent polls (USA Today/Gallup, Fox News, CBS News) Giuliani is the clear front-runner among Republicans; sometimes he's nearly 20 points ahead of Senator John McCain, the other GOP front-runner. The press seems content to conclude that these polls show that Giuliani has a real shot at the White House. But I say let's not anoint Rudy just yet.

Giuliani is touted as a bridge-building candidate, who will have crossover appeal to independents and some Democrats. But I think that the political reality is that Giuliani is a non-starter. His national polling numbers are really meaningless at this time because they don't reflect any real campaign face-offs. Moreover, they distort some of his very real inadequacies as a candidate. I don't think that he can win the GOP nomination, much less the presidency. And I think that for some very good reasons. So as not to engage in an anti-Rudy rant, I will confine myself to the most important points:

1. He is a pro-choice, pro gay-rights, generally socially moderate Republican. The last time I looked, the GOP was neither pro-choice nor pro-gay and these folks have little patience for socially moderate positions. Even if Rudy has a last minute social conservative epiphany, his credibility on his change of political heart will be low.

2. He is inexperienced. Being the Mayor of NYC may prepare you to be the Governor of New York, but it is not sufficient preparation to be the president of the United States. Hell, being the governor of Texas hasn't proven sufficient, and GWB was actually an executive.

3. And speaking of his time as hizzoner, Giuliani may have lowered crime, but he did it via racial profiling and other Machiavellian methods that won't wash with the moderate independent voters that a Giuliani candidacy is supposed to charm.

4. Giuliani as prosecutor and later as mayor earned himself a reputation for being callous and cold-hearted, toward both his opponents and his political allies. He was seen as mean-spirited even when being nice would cost him nothing. This is a man whose wife learned that he was seeking to divorce her when he made the announcement at a press conference. That's cold and it isn't going to give the American public the warm fuzzy feelings they like to get from their presidential candidates.

5. The day before he was the hero of 9/11, Giuliani was the joke of late-night television. His personal life was in a shambles and his political future was not promising. He did a great job on 9/11 and in the aftermath. But it won't be enough to erase the record he had acquired in the pre-9/11 political world.

6. Does he really have the fire in his belly? He dodged a run against Hilary Clinton in the NY Senate race a few years back, leaving his party without a candidate in a race they might could have own. He's made himself a millionaire in the post 9/11 world, and it seems that he likes to live well. Clearly he likes power, but does he like responsibility?

Let's also remember that he hasn't yet made his official declaration. So for now, I think that I've dispelled the Rudy-mania.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


My first real crush was in high school. I was a senior and A was a friend of my sister (memo to the sister: did you even know this?). She was vibrant and funny and made up her own vocabulary for things. I loved that about her. She was tall ----- taller than me ----- with an angular haircut and a great sense of style. Things were just different when she was around and I liked that.

At the time, I had no idea that I had a crush on her. I just thought that I liked her because she was so funny. I had yet to receive that internal "hey, you're a lesbian memo." And when I went to college and realized that I was gay, it was a slow realization: I just thought that everyone felt like I did.

But ultimately, A was that source of that realization.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 17

JT was born at 12:29 am on February 17, 2000. He was 7 pounds, 9 ounces and 20 and a 1/2 inches long. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He was amazing. He still is.

In the end, I had to have help bringing him into the world. My midwife was joined by an OB/GYN who used something called a vacuum extractor --- it sounds worse than it was. Basically, it pulled while I pushed. Things were exciting at the end, with everybody urging me on. At the time, I just thought births were always like this; I learned later that I was very close to a C-section. But I did it and he was born.

In keeping with the spirit of the enterprise, his first few moments were tense. His first APGAR score was low but soon we heard him cry out and the smiling pediatrician came around to say, "He has 5 and 5 and 5 and 5 and 1 and 2." I laughed. And then I got to hold him for the first time. I cried of course. I had wanted this baby for so long and now he was here. He had enormous dark eyes, my sweet boy, and he was very alert in the middle of the night.

My next goal was to walk back to my room. I had been chained to a bed for nearly 3 days and I wanted to walk. The nurses were hesitant but my midwife knew about my willpower. And so at 2:30 in the morning I walked back to my room. While the baby got the once-over in the nursery, I got a little bit of sleep that night ------- it was so nice to be able to sleep on my belly again.

And as the sun rose, the nurse brought me my son. He and I had matching wristbands to go with our matching dark eyes and the dark hair on our heads. We were a team that morning and we are still a team. We spent the day together, rocking and learning about one another. I talked to him about his world ------- his two mommies, his loyal dog, his home, the many people who loved him already, and the life that we would build for him. I wanted to promise him that he would never ever be sad, but I knew that I couldn't do that. Life does sometimes hurt. But I promised that I would always love him; that I would always be on his side. I looked into his dark shiny eyes and I knew that everything had changed.

And here we are seven years later. My baby is a boy now. Every day he makes me laugh and smile. He has a big heart and a kind smile. His dark eyes still shine like they did on that first day 7 years ago. He's funny and forgiving. When he awakened this morning I could hear him singing, "It's my birthday; it's my birthday." And then he shot downstairs, wearing his pajamas and his birthday crown. He opened his presents ----- and read his cards out loud! ----- and his joy is evident. And 7 years later we are still a brown-eyed team.

Happy Birthday sweet boy. Your mama loves you.

Friday, February 16, 2007

February 16

Understanding the events of this day seven years ago is just a little more meaningful if we consider again my original granola-style birth plan: me and the midwife listening to music and generally keeping me relaxed while I walked around the labor and delivery ward getting ready to dilate to 10 and give birth to my baby. That was the original plan. Reality proved to be a much greater challenge than I had expected.

Reality was me in bed with a mag sulfate IV to keep my blood pressure in check, a baby monitor on my belly, and a blood pressure cuff around my arm at all times. Reality was pretty uncomfortable and on my third day in the maternity ward, I would grow tired of it all.

I woke up that morning at 6:30 am, when the nurse flipped on the light in my darkened room to announce that the baby was showing some distress after each mild contraction. Though the pitocin wasn't causing much in the way of contractions, the midwife was on her way to get the show on the road. At 8 am, the midwife arrived to break my water. And she had a new plan: they would crank up the pitocin to get the contractions going and at around 10 am I would receive an epidural. That would allow them to take me off the mag sulfate, because the epidural would take away the pain and help to lower my blood pressure. We'd have a baby today, she said.

The combination of breaking my water and increasing the pitocin had the desired effect and I started to feel some real contractions. At 10 am they wheeled me to the labor room to wait for the nurse anesthetist to start the epidural. I was contracting pretty regularly at this point and though I was tired, I was also excited. The anesthetist numbed my back with lidocaine and tried to put in the epidural. The trick with an epidural is that you have to hold still ----- even through a contraction ----- so that the block can be inserted. It's tricky. So tricky that she tried 4 times without success. At this point, I politely asked if we could take a break. It was 11:30. I was still on the mag sulfate, the drug that makes you feel like you've just swallowed a six-pack, so it took all my powers of self-control to keep my self-control. The anesthetist left. We were all pretty frustrated.

A new anesthetist was summoned and she did the job on her first try (my fifth!). However, in the excitement, as the epidural was turned up and the mag sulfate was turned down, the mag sulfate wasn't turned downed fast enough and my blood pressure plummeted as did the baby's heart rate. The last thing I remember is my midwife saying that the baby's heart rate was down to 40. Normal is 180. I passed out and the next few hours were a blur.

When I next joined the party, it was nearly 4 pm. The sun was setting and a snowstorm was coming in. The midwife explained what had happened and said that the epidural was still in but had been turned off. I was still on the pitocin. They wanted me to dilate to 5 and then they would slowly turn up the epidural, while lowering the mag sulfate. No one wanted a repeat of the afternoon's events. And to keep track of the babine, they had inserted a monitor in his head. I was more chained to the bed than ever.

Let's just say that getting dilated to 5 wasn't the best time that I've ever had in bed, but I managed and by 7:30 the epidural was working it's magic. But I was too tired to stay awake, so I slept on and off that evening. By 10 pm, I was dilated to 9 and getting close to being ready to push. The problem was that I was so physically exhausted that I wasn't sure I could deliver the goods. Literally. The midwife kept reminding me to stay awake.

By 11 pm, I was dilated to 10 and ready to push. At that point, it seemed that dozens of people joined me in the room, all of them trying to keep me awake and pushing. And push I did. But guess who was having none of it? Stubborn and willful from the start, my boy.

By midnight there was still no baby was on the scene.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

February 15

The story of JT's birth, continued.

The morphine the night before did actually help me to rest and so I awakened on February 15 in a pretty good state. That was the good news. The bad news was that I didn't seem to be having any contractions of any merit. I was on a uterine monitor and nothing was happening. The midwife said that if there was no action by noon, they would turn off the pitocin to give my body a rest. And I negotiated with her: if the pitocin was off, could I have a shower? The answer was yes.

I spent the morning waiting for a sign that this baby might be willing to join us outside his uterine condo. But the answer was no. At noon, the pitocin was turned off and I had a shower. I was allowed to eat ------- Coke and a McDonald's cheeseburger. Plus, it was a warm day, so I got to sit outside for a bit. I'm sure that I looked like a scary wraith, there in my wheelchair (no walking permitted) with my IV bag by my side. Plus, the mag sulfate was still coursing through my veins and I still felt slightly tipsy from the effects of the drug. And I wouldn't shut up. This was particularly a problem as I weighed in with my opinions on the 2000 New Hampshire presidential primary. At one point I announced that the Republicans were damned fools. I said this in rural Nebraska, the most Republican place in America. I'm lucky they didn't shoot me right then.

And, as it turns out, the mag sulfate wasn't just a problem because it made me run my mouth. It's a great drug to lower blood pressure in pregnant women but it also can be used to stop early delivery. So the drugs in my system were working at cross purposes and I was getting nowhere.

As the time to turn the pitocin back on neared, I made a pitch for letting nature take its course and waiting until this baby was ready to play ball. But my idea was rejected. At 5 pm, the pitocin was cranking through my veins again and now I was on a baby monitor, to make sure that the babine was not in any distress.

Night number two saw me saying yes to yet another morphine shot to induce sleep. Surely, tomorrow would bring a baby my way.


Overheard in Class

F: "Did you see the president talking yesterday? He took up the whole hour. I was trying to watch The Price is Right."

Me: "Glad to hear that you were using your snow day so wisely."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

February 14

JT's 7th birthday is later this week and in previous years, Lisa and I have shared the story of his birth with him. And because we shared the experience of those sometimes harrowing days, we'd share it with one another as well. We're no longer sharing anything anymore, and so it seemed like a good time to write these stories down to share them with JT now and in the future. So in the next few days, I'm going to write about the birth of my sweet baby boy.

Seven years ago on this day, I headed to a hospital 35 miles from my house to see if I could get my baby to vacate the premises. Due to pregnancy-induced hypertension, I'd been on bed rest for the three weeks prior. But my midwife had decided that it was time and with my original due date still 9 days away, I headed to the hospital to induce labor.

I got to the maternity ward late that afternoon, having stopped at the bookstore to get a few books to read during delivery. This was perhaps a first sign that I had no idea what was coming. The midwife was amused. By 5 pm the pitocin was dripping and I was waiting for my baby boy to arrive. By 9 pm, my blood pressure had shot even further through the roof. The nurses kept asking if I had a headache or felt disoriented. But I felt fine and I was reading my book; wanting to be left alone. However, if full-scale labor ensued with my blood pressure at 220/160, bad things could happen. So they started some more medicine to lower my blood pressure. It was magnesium sulfate and it had two immediate effects: I felt like I'd just drank a 6-pack of beer (and I had the mouth to prove it) and other risk of the medicine (respiratory depression, which is as bad as it sounds) demanded that my blood be drawn every 6 hours, to check that all was well. My veins are not easy to find, one of many reasons I did not choose a life as an IV drug user, so the blood test requirement was not a happy thing.

So what had started as a pretty good day had gone rather rapidly downhill. I could no longer get out of bed (because with blood pressure that high, any exertion is not cool), I had IVs running all over, and my unrestrained mouth meant that everyone had to hear how cranky I was with this arrangement. After the 3 am blood draw went badly and I burst a vein (surprisingly messy and rather painful), the nurse urged me to have a shot of morphine to put me to sleep (perhaps to preserve her own sanity?). By morning, she said, I'd be having contractions and I'd want to be well-rested to deliver my baby the next day.

Just 3 weeks prior to this, my midwife and I had worked out a birth plan for natural labor. I'd envisioned walking through the halls as the contractions increased in intensity, listening to music, maybe standing in a hot shower. Now I wasn't going anywhere. And, as it turns out, neither was the babine.

Tomorrow: Did you know that pitocin sometimes doesn't work? Neither did I.

And So it Begins....

We have a snow day today......or more accurately an ice day, as there isn't much white stuff. We slept in and had warm chocolate muffins for breakfast and by 9:15, JT was jonesing to get outside and slide around in the ice. It's just 20 degrees and the wind is blowing so it's cold. But this boy was born in a snowstorm and he is not deterred. So long underwear was pulled on, the snow pants and snow boots were found and the mittens, scarf and hat were located. A warm red coat covered it all.

We're pretty efficient at suiting up for winter, and he was out the door by 9:25. He'll be back in for a hot chocolate warm-up within the hour. I'll toss the snow clothes in the dryer then, so that they are warm and toasty for round II.

And all day long, we'll repeat this routine. The excited boy chatter, the big smile and the pink cheeks make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Six Weird Things About Me

So Amalah over at posted a meme challenge ------ identify 6 weird things about yourself. This was barely a challenge, by the way. I could go on for days. Now weird is relative and I have no desire to post ideas that would make my mother blush, so we're sticking to things about me that I find weird. Some of you know at least some of these things, I think. And you may not think it's weird. But seriously, I'm a little weird.

1. I have an unusual indifference to physical pain. I don't really physically hurt in the way that other people do. I'm still afraid of pain, but I know that it just doesn't effect me like other people. My son seems to be the same way.

2. From the time that I was 11 years old until I was 33 years old I always had bangs in my hair. Now I don't have bangs and no one who has met me since I moved to New Jersey nearly 5 years ago has ever seen me with bangs.

3. From childhood onward, I have always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, I was a little obsessed as a child and often hoped to travel back in time so that I could be like Laura. Each year I re-read all of the books and I have a Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook that I read and cooked from. Often.

4. I got my first Newsweek subscription when I was 14 years old. I have been a loyal reader of the magazine ever since and I never miss a week. That's 25 years of reading Newsweek. They should give me a free year or something.

5. I like to wear matching bras and panties. I especially like it if my bra and panties match what I'm wearing. I know this is weird but I just can't help myself.

6. I've liked every place that I've ever lived but I simply love the South.
Everything about it makes me happy and I feel most at peace when I am there. It feels like home to me, in a way that no other place ever has. I wish that my son had been born in Tennessee and my fondest daydream is about moving back there.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Time Out of My Head

One of the dangers of being me is that I think way too much about nearly everything. When it comes to just being and living in the moment, I am so not your girl. Need advance planning which requires the thinking through of every single freakin' possibility? Call me. I am so there for you.

The problem with being this way is well.....that I am this way. There are times when I become mentally exhausted by something that I just need to let go. But letting go is not me and instead I take one more opportunity to turn the compost heap in my mind, looking for a solution that I haven't yet imagined. It's not good.

But today I spent 6 hours in a class about the origin of human rights. It was a tasty combination of history, politics, law, and philosophy. The stuff that is right up my alley. And for the whole of the time, I was out of my head and thinking about other things; problems far greater than my own. And as I walked back to my car at the end of the day, I felt really free.

Let's hope that it lasts.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ode to Grilled Cheese

Is there anything finer than a grilled cheese sandwich? I ask merely as a rhetorical question because the answer, of course, is "no." It's a lovely quick supper on a night when a warm fast meal is called for. It's always a tasty lunch. And, with a glass of juice in the morning, hey, it's "cheese toast" (thanks Dad) and a most yummy breakfast. In my humble opinion, it is the world's most perfect food. It certainly is doing its part to contribute to world peace. Okay, that might be overstating the case. But you get the idea.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Winter Fun

So we headed out to the frozen Lake Carnegie in Princeton this afternoon to enjoy a little sliding around on the ice. The lake was plenty frozen ---- an almost 5 inch slab of ice could be seen at the edge ---- and the town had come out to play. There were folks in ice skates with hockey pucks and a plan, busily playing a pickup game. There were lots of people like us ---- sliding about in their sneakers and laughing ---- and then there were the funny sights: people in dress shoes, sliding about; folks on their cell phones, talking in the middle of the lake (I imagine that these conversations went like this: "I'm on the ice; talking on the phone"); and one dude (out-of-towner?) smoking a cigarette there in the middle of the frozen lake.

But mostly it was good old-fashioned fun. We haven't had a big snow so far this winter but the ice was pretty terrific.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Hard Part

JT was sick last week – an ear infection and what turned out to be bronchitus. Despite one round of antibiotics, he woke up at 3 am last night complaining that his ear hurt. I got him a warm compress and some tylenol and today we headed off to the doctor again. The school nurse had a look at his ear before we set out, so I knew it was probably an ear infection.

But still I worry. As we drove to the doctor, I watched in the rearview mirror as my sweet boy slipped off to sleep, peaked and feeling puny. I worried about the dark circles around his eyes. I worried about whether or not he can go to school tomorrow. The visit to the doctor didn't take long ---- the lungs sounded clean but the ear remains inflamed. A new antibiotic was prescribed.

The thing about being a single mom isn't the work. Moms do a lot of work, single or not. And we're a tough crowd so doing all the laundry, packing all the lunches and getting all the suppers on the table won't slow us down. But being on your own means that there is no one to share the worry, to help you give voice to your fears, to remind you that sometimes an ear infection is just an ear infection. And of course that means that there's no one to share the joy either. When your boy reads well ---- out loud and strong with confidence and excitement in his voice, there's no one else in the house to share your pride in this accomplishment.

And that is really the hardest part of doing this on my own. Joy shared really does multiple. Sorrows shared really do become lessened. I loved to share my joy in this miracle who is my son. I loved that there was someone else who took pride in him like I do. And I miss that part of being his mama. The part where I shared him with someone else who loved him as much as I do.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Who Needs Subtle?

I made some cookies tonight – chocolate chip – the favorite of a certain brown-eyed boy who lives in the house. He helped himself to 3 warm cookies and then said to Tiger the cat, "whose mama makes the best cookies ever?" When Tiger did not offer the immediate – and obvious – reply, JT told him how it is, "my mama makes the best cookies ever!"

It would seem that the boy has figured out how to keep the cookies coming.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Top 5 Signs That it's Freakin' Cold

5. JT readily consents to wearing his winter coat and his mittens.
4. I turned on the furnace in my house.
3. Flannel toilet paper.
2. Female students' skirts actually larger than a postage stamp.
1. The window in my classroom is not open.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Real Life Conversations at Prep School

The scene: U.S. History class at the beginning of the period.

Me: "Hand in your homeworks. J, I forgot to give you the assignment; here it is, you can turn it in on Wednesday."

J: "Oh I just handed mine in."

Me: "Okay?"

J: "Yeah, over the weekend when everyone in the class was talking about the homework that was due, I just figured that you gave it to me and I must have forgotten and so I called E and he sent it to me on e-mail. But he added a name to the list - Curtis Jackson – and I couldn't find him in the book, so I tried Wikipedia."

Me: "And just who is Curtis Jackson?"

J: "50 Cent."

The class bursts into laughter. Yet another reason to love my job.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Preparing for the Their Future

I see this pattern every year as my senior students approach graduation – they begin to reminisce about their past. It starts with memories of the 9th and 10th grade but then the conversation quickly shifts and they begin to talk about the 6th grade. The 2nd grade. Kindergarten and even earlier. The students who have been here from preschool onward call themselves "lifers."

In fact, for the lifers it may be that the faces in their classrooms have been the faces they've been seeing since they were 4 years old. This builds a remarkable community of young men and women and by the time I see them, at the age of 17, they've come to appreciate the patterns and the pleasures of that kind of continuity.

But it also means that as they prepare to graduate and leave their parents' homes for college, they are also preparing to say goodbye to another place where they have grown up, a school and classmates that some of them have known for nearly all of their lives. They are all eager to move on and yet there is a wistfulness as they begin to look around this familiar place with new eyes. They are preparing for their future by remembering their past.

On Friday, they brought in a video of the 1st grade play from 1996. More than a dozen members of the class of 2007 were featured players in that video. As we watched it, they laughed and laughed, recalling memories from that show. And I could see in their sweet first grade faces the young men and women they are today. The poised young woman with the terrific star power and wonderful singing voice? She was there, a little girl with a sunflower around her face, poised even then. The tall, kind young man so eager to please at the age of 18? He was there as well, with shining blond hair and a shy smile, performing his part perfectly. Their little 1st grade faces had a hint of the young adults they have become. One little girl walked across the stage and I knew right then that it was the tall young woman I see in 3rd period each day.

I know that this review of their personal history is a natural part of preparing to say goodbye to their childhood. College life beckons, with the promise of new faces and new classrooms. They don't all know it quite yet, but they are ready. First, however, they need to say goodbye to this school, a place that looms so large in the memories of their lives.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Good for My Heart

I am the world's most frenetic multi-tasker and since I became a single mama, that problem has grown worse. So when I work out on the eliptical trainer, I don't just enjoy the ipod tunes and the sweat rolling down my back. Oh no, I work out and read. And not crappy People magazine, either. I read the New York Times magazine and Newsweek. I'll not lie: this combination makes me feel extra virtuous. Hey world, look at me: developing my mind and keeping the blood pressure low. Ha. Take that.

So today finds me 10 minutes into my workout, ipod blasting embarrassing songs from the 1970s, and on track to run my 5 miles with Newsweek by my side (okay, technically, on the handy magazine holder just in front of me, but poetic license seemed in order). I turn to the cover story (brief aside: I read the Newsweek cover-to-cover, in the order the lovely editors have chosen to place the stories. No skipping around. Now you see why I need to keep that blood pressure low).

The February 5 cover story is entitled "Black Hawk Down" and it's about the 12 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash on Saturday, January 20 in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. Look it up on a map and think about it. As the story points out, "...the most remarkable thing about the crash might be how quickly the deaths of a dozen soldiers can pass into and out of the public's consciousness these days." You should read this story.

In fact, you must read this story.

The story is about the lives of 12 soldiers, 11 men and 1 woman. 10 of them were serving in Iraq as part of the National Guard. They left behind 34 children, some of whom are pictured in the magazine. That's what got me, really, these ordinary people pictured with their children, doing ordinary things. Hugging their toddler. Standing with their tall teenage children. Hiking with their 11 year old. I looked at those pictures and lost my breath. I stopped running and I just stood there sobbing.

I'm a parent and while I usually refrain from drawing conclusions about how other people feel about being a parent, I think I know what these people feared the most. They didn't worry about being by their child's side as they won the big game, or graduated high school, or got married. Of course, they wanted to be there for those moments. They'd have moved heaven and earth to do so. That's what parents do. But they also worried about being there when the small moments that make up a life happen. Just one more story at bedtime. A last cuddle from a sleepy ragamuffin. A hike through the woods. A trip to the park. A card game. Or listening to your kid tell the same knock-knock joke that you told when you were 6 (it wasn't funny back then either). It is those moments, the ones you don't plan, the everyday moments that are too countless to chronicle, that make up a life.

And now, suddenly, for 12 people there will be no more of those moments. Thousands of potential moments, gone in an instant.

The 12 people who died left behind many people who loved them and will mourn for them. They don't need you and I to mourn anymore. But they, and the thousands of other soldiers in Iraq, and the millions of people who make their homes in Iraq, need us to pay attention. Now. We must fix this unholy mess that we have created.

You can start by reading this article. Now.