Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ummm, well what would you have me say?

Last weekend, my ex suggested to me that I never say anything nice about her on my blog. Actually I started the blog before she hit the road and I did have some nice things to say about her then. Including the fact that I considered her the love of my life.

But it's certainly true that there haven't been loads of blog entries about how great it is that she walked out on my son and me or how happy I was to hear her tell me that she never loved me. And then there was the absolute delight I took in the discovery that she left my son and I for a woman she met at work. Because that felt great. To clear it up for those of you who were confused.....those things: not happy.

I'm saying this merely to note that this is my blog, and though I am hard-pressed to admit it, sometimes I am wrong. Not about my feelings, because if years of therapy have taught me anything, it's that my feelings are okay. But I do imagine there is another side to the break-up with the ex.

Maybe she'll get her own blog and write about it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Real-Life Conversations: Sign of My Advanced Age

The backstory: I'm on the phone with the dee-jay for the Prom, confirming that they will be there and discussing the music playlist I had earlier sent to them.

DJ: Do you want the radio edits of the songs?

Me: Radio edits?

DJ (speaking in the patient tone used for the simple-minded): Yes, the downloadable versions of songs are sometimes different than what can be played on the radio.

Me (suddenly snapping to attention and joining the modern era): Oh yeah....yeah (envisioning the sound of the f-bomb being dropped on the Prom in surround sound) the radio edits.

So much for my liberal, free-speech ways.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Younger Men

Last weekend, in a fit of temporary insanity, I organized an end-of-school celebration for J.T. and 5 of his 1st grade classmates. We invited Krystalle to join the fun and she made the party a hit ------ helping to distribute pizza to the hungry masses, helping to quiet the shouting when we played the Pirates game, organizing the video show down, coordinating the arrangement of the sleeping bags, and generally ensuring that my last nerve didn't fly out the window.

And now that everyone in the first grade knows about JT's friend the college student, he's feeling like quite the Big Man on Campus.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Unclear on the Concept

In the U.K., there is talk of new security measures to be taken to prevent terrorists from getting organized and terrorizing. Prime Minister Tony Blair (who apparently doesn't understand the phrase "lame duck") has proposed to allow the police to stop people suspected of being up to no good and ask those potential bad guys who they are, where they've been and where they are going.

It could just be me, late in the school year and exhausted by life, but I'm no terrorist and I have no idea how in the hell I would answer these questions.

I'm just saying.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

'Tis the Season

The weather has turned suddenly warm here in Jersey and the last days of school are in sight. All of this can only mean one very happy thing: flip flop season is upon us. The blue ones were called "prep school plaid." Duh. The red ones are just my style and they fell into my hands at a fabulous price. Had to have them both.

Bring on the summer fun.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


There is an old Shaker hymn that sings "'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free. 'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be." I learned the hymn when I sang in my elementary school choir and I've never forgotten that line. It has often provided comfort to me in rough moments of life, reminding me what's truly important. When the Sunday Scribblings prompt this week was "simple" I thought about that hymn and the simple things that I most enjoy. And so I've made a list of my very favorite simple pleasures:

- the sound of my boy laughing
- sitting on my back deck drinking a warm cup of coffee on a cool morning
- the sound of the rain when it just starts to fall
- the smile on my boy's face when he does something well
- an ice cold glass of Coke
- the smell and feel of the dark woods
- my kittens curled up and peaceful at the foot of my bed
- holding hands with someone you love
- the sight of my son, freshly washed, in clean pajamas and asleep in his bed
- a new, soft cardigan sweater
- the dark, deep, green depth of the twilight in the spring

Friday, May 25, 2007

Surrender Monkeys?

A brand-spanking new CBS/New York Times poll is reporting that 63% of Americans want a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq for 2008. An even greater of percentage of folks (76%) believe that the war is going badly.

But amidst this, the Democrats in Congress have decided to send President Bush a Fiscal Year 2007 military budget addendum that gives him the war money he wants without a timetable or benchmarks for American withdrawal in Iraq. This bill will fund Bush's war until September 2007. The FY 2008 budget, which must be approved by October 1 of this year is a battle yet to be fought.

I hope that when the time comes for that political showdown the Democrats are organized and ready to cut Bush off. I'm not convinced that a timetable is the way to go; I prefer benchmarks for withdrawal. At the same time, I fear that without a timetable this war will drag endlessly on and more lives --- American and Iraqi --- will be lost. There is no question in my mind that we created the nightmare that is present-day Iraq. And I am equally convinced that our continued presence only exacerbates the crisis. I understand that the Democrats cannot get a veto-proof vote right now and that a budget must be fixed so that the Congress can move on to other pressing business. I understand that the larger budget battle, the one for FY 08, is yet to come. I hope that when that battle arrives, veto-proof or not, the Democrats and their leadership hold their ground and force President Bush to accept a bill that demands a winding-down of the American presence in Iraq. Otherwise, the Democrats risk being yet another cog in Bush's war machine. We must do better than that.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

This Test is Worth Points

Because my students are sometimes obsessed with the number of points they might potentially earn for their assignments, their tests, or just breathing, I try to make it a point to note on every assignment just how many points it's worth.

But every once in a while I write "this test is worth points" on the instructions, intending to fill in the actual number of points before I print and copy the whole thing, and then I forget to fill in the number. The students are exasperated by this and they don't think it's funny. But I am amused when it happens.

Why does this matter? My frosh are taking a test today, their last one before their final exam, and I am so tempted to write "this test is worth points" and deliberately not fill in the number.

It will torture them.

But it will amuse me.

It's a fine line here. And I'm probably going to cross it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Senior Prank

Today is the last day of Senior classes at my school and the Senior prank was to lock all the lockers in the school (excepting their own of course) with those plastic tags that electricians carry around (my sister, a prankster herself, says they are called zip ties). We're all waiting now to see how the Frosh, Sophomores, and Juniors handle the news that they can't get into their lockers after 2nd period.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Things I Can't Explain to My Students

My school is racially diverse. I wouldn't say that I take it for granted, exactly, but after five years it's just one of the daily facts of life in my world. And because the students are so comfortable with themselves and one another, it's easy to forget their cultural backgrounds.

Then I show them "Journeys with George," the documentary about the 2000 primary election. The film documents the fact that the Republican candidates all make the requisite appearance at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. And I have to explain why BJU is controversial. But I gamely try, only to look out at 14 faces who are utterly incredulous to hear that there are still places which oppose interracial dating. In states that still fly the Confederate flag (or at least did in 2000).

And in that moment, I feel two things. The first is a feeling that we've failed them. How can it be that the adults have delivered them a world that still has such backward, foolish ideas about race? But then I feel comforted about the future. Because these kids won't stand for such nonsense. They won't have it and we'll all be better off because of that.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Scribblings – Masks

My friend Shelley has quoted to me her dad's idea that you "fake it 'til you make it." That has basically been my operating principle for the last 11 months. Faking happiness. Pretending that my life hasn't fallen apart. Making plans for a future I didn't give a damn about. Working my backside off to make a home and a life for my son, to make up to him what his other mommy has done.

For the first few months, the mask cracked on a daily basis as I struggled to pretend. My sadness would seep in, often at moments when I least expected or wanted it. I wasn't always patient with myself.

My life changed. My body changed. My expectations of the future changed. Everywhere I looked I saw change. And I rolled with the punches, getting up each Monday to face another week. Sometimes afraid of what it would bring; sometimes just tired of it. But always trying.

It's better now and time has helped. My mask doesn't crack quite as often. Sometimes an entire day will pass and I won't think of how hard I am trying.

The other night, as I read a book while my boy slumbered next to me, it was a nearly perfect moment and I felt content. It's a different kind of happiness, one tempered by a whole new reality. It's a life less vivid and less exciting but strangely, it feels more safe.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Family Day

Every spring my school has Family Day for children in the lower school. This is J.T.'s 4th year in the school and we've been to Family Day twice before; two years ago we skipped because we were moving into a new home. Twice before when Lisa joined us for Family Day, she was cranky and unpleasant, as if being part of a family was a burden. As if she had someplace else to be.

So this year I did Family Day on my own because it turns out that Lisa did have someplace else to be. And the funny part was not that I felt lonely (I didn't really) but that I realized how much of my time in my old life had been taken up by Lisa's anger and unhappiness.

She would have me believe that her anger and her unhappiness were caused by me, but the truth is something beyond that. She never enjoyed being a parent and was forever impatient with JT. It was easier for her to walk out on a child and pretend that I forced her into it than it is to admit the sad truth that a child loves her with all of his heart but she doesn't love him back, not in the way that she must have known a parent should.

So I watched the show and we had our picnic and cotton candy. JT took his turn on the big puffy slide. It was loud and there was plenty of crazy laughter. And JT and I were happy to be a family all on our own today.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Since the weather warmed, I have been sleeping with the windows open. I love the sound of the day awakening, the birds chirping to one another and the woodpecker in the tree next door getting to work each day.

But those sounds seem like a bit of torture for Lucy the kitten. She sleeps at the foot of my bed each night and as the morning breaks, she goes to the windowsill to have a look. And then she tries to bust out. This morning I awoke to the sound of her clawing at the screen. I put a stop to her efforts because somehow the morning would be far less enjoyable if Lucy caught herself a snack.

But the neighborhood wildlife should consider itself warned.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In Praise of Krystalle and Allie J

I had a crummy day at work yesterday and then had to take JT to his seven year check-up, where he got a shot. JT was appropriately indignant about the shot, though he didn't cry. On the way home, I stopped and bought us a bottle of sparkly lemonade, one of my favorite treats. I thought that I'd pour us each a fancy glass and then we'd sit on the back deck to toast my growing boy and his bravery. Instead, the bottle fell out of the bag in the driveway and lemonade (and glass) spread all over.

As I cleaned up the glass in the driveway, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. And frustrated. And annoyed. I was trying to have a stiff upper lip and the universe seemed intent on punching me anyway.

But just as I was finishing my workout, Krystalle and Allie J pulled up in front of the house for a surprise visit. In they came, with cheese and a box of cereal (don't ask) and the energy and laughter that I badly needed. It was a wonderful surprise and an excellent way to call a halt to my pity party.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mother's Day

I spent this past weekend at a camp with my friend S and her son D and a whole lot of wonderful, kind, funny and caring people in the lovely green woods of northern New Jersey. On Sunday morning, we took a walk to a nice big rock and then we all sat in the quiet. For me, that was occasion to think about my very first Mother's Day.

JT was just short of two months and I felt that we had settled into a parenting routine. It was a beautiful Sunday and we gave him a bath in the afternoon. Then, as he lay on our bed in the warm sunshine and wearing just his diaper, he smiled and laughed for the first time. It was a perfect moment and the best Mother's Day gift a child could give his mama.

I've had occasion to hear my boy laugh many, many times since that day 7 years ago. I never tire of the sound. But I still think of that day and his first laugh, a sound filled with the promise of untold moments of laughter yet to come.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Real Life Conversations at School: No Privileges

First, the backstory: In my school, if you misbehave or earn a grade below a C- in any class, you lose your privileges. This means that you cannot go out to lunch or sign out of study halls. Your name is on a list and the entire faculty has a copy of it.

So I'm teaching U.S. History on Friday and we've been talking about the Cold War and nuclear weapons. A student in the class asks which countries have nuclear weapons. I began to identify the countries with nucs and the following conversation unfolds

T: Does Germany have nuclear weapons?

Me: Well no.

T: Why?

J-P: Because they lost their privileges.

Laughter ensues.

I love these kids.

Sunday Scribblings ---- Second Chance

Last night my son saw my ex, a woman whom he calls mommy. He loves her but she doesn't live with us anymore and so he misses her as well. He came back home after the visit and supper with her and her new girlfriend, and he told me that he wishes Mommy would just come home.

So I gently explained, as I have done on many occasions, that Mommy doesn't want to live in our home anymore. And I say that it wasn't his fault that she left and I remind him that she still loves him very much.

And I can tell that my answers and explanations fall short of the mark. But I don't know what else to do or to say. I feel our failure to make the relationship work most acutely at these moments, when I am trying to explain the unthinkable to the little boy who must live with it.

So if I had just one second chance, I'd make sure that his family stayed together. It seems like such a simple wish, but it isn't simple at all. And I fear that it will complicate my life --- and his --- forever.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Renaissance Woman, 21st century style

In the last 24 hours, I have:
- baked cookies
- packed the lunches
- made supper
- cleaned the kitchen (at least 3 times)
- burned 650 calories on the lovely eliptical trainer
- cut the grass
- planted some flowers and watered the garden
- washed 3 loads of laundry
- watched my son go off to supper with my ex......and wondered why she wears yellow and keeps getting the same dreadful haircut
- taught lessons on Charlemagne, the Cold War, and the American media and elections
- sat in on 3 student meetings
- read my happy book about Thrush Green
- tried on a skirt so large that it feel right off my hips (kudos to the eliptical)
- read my Newsweek and thought about presidential courage, leading me to read again the story of JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis as told by Graham Allison
- graded some papers
- dreamt up this compelling blog entry

And still I am so behind. There are lessons to write, papers to grade, memos to polish, and the list goes on and on. I'm going camping for the weekend and I still need to pack for that trip.

But as behind as I am, it's a lovely evening and so I am taking a glass of iced tea outside to sit on the porch and smell the lilacs.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Listen Up

During the school day, from 8:15 until 3:05 pm, we don't permit our students to listen to headphones. The purpose is to ensure that we are connecting with one another during the day. No doubt a few of the students see this as a tiresome rule ----- some of them would rather listen to music. But the idea is to keep them plugged in to the school world and communicating with both their peers and the adults around them. I've always appreciated the policy and lately have come to appreciate it more.

Every morning as JT and I wait in traffic at the final jug handle turn, I see other cars filled with parents and their kids. Often the kids have little earphones in their ears. The parents and their children are together in their cars but separated into their own spheres by those tiny ear buds. I imagine lost conversations and connections between parents and kids, kids who still very much need their parents.

I enjoy my morning ride with JT. We practice his spelling words and visit about the day ahead. The drive home is the same routine ----- a review of our day and discussion of the evening before us. Should we water the garden? What's the homework load looking like? We laugh and share with one another. The time in between is filled with music that JT and I both like. Lately, as we talk and sing together I feel that we are building a bond that I hope will get us over the rough spots of adolescence and beyond.

This is a routine that I learned from my own mom. When she was driving my sister and I to school, we'd listen to the radio and talk. I still remember the day that she insisted that the Journey song was called "Velvet Arms" not "Open Arms" and how my sister and I laughed. I remember jokes and laughter and a forging a bond with one another. That's what I hope to do for my son. Someday, I'd like to wait for those cars at the traffic light each morning and collect the headphones from the families who have them. Talk with one another; laugh with one another, I'd say. Because this time will pass all too quickly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spring Planting

JT helped with the spring planting both last night and tonight. He's an enthusiastic work crew........though chatty. I imagine that this is exactly the kind of revenge my parent's would wish upon me.

I enjoy his enthusiasm for the project. And I imagine us admiring the products of our labors as the summer unfolds. It's a happy vision for our future and one more reason to look forward to the summer.

Monday, May 07, 2007


All year long, the teachers at my school have been noting that the AP tests start later this than usual this year. So, knowing that my test is always on the Wednesday of week 2, I've been thinking that I have nothing but time on my hands. Around February, as I adjusted my teaching schedule to account for the fact that the class was behind, I realized that my test date is now the 1st day.

That's today.

I was behind because this is the most inquisitive and thoughtful set of students I have ever taught in AP American Government. I've been teaching this subject for 15 years so it's a pretty terrific complement to this group. There are 14 students in the class and they have been amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better group, especially in a year when I needed the distraction of such a challenge. I always joke that I teach for my own entertainment, but that's not entirely true. However, if it were it true then this year's 2nd period class has more than fulfilled my expectations. They have never been content to simply know things. This class wants to know why and how. They're smart and confident and at the same time they are modest about their remarkable abilities. They hunger for their turn to rule the world.

And I know that in their hands, the world will be safe. I know this because they ran my world every day this year from 9:15 until 10 am. And for those 45 minutes each day, I was engaged and happy. You can't really ask for much more than that.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Last week brought warm days in the 70s and nights that were still cool, though not really cold. It was lovely spring weather and the perfect time for a carnival.
After his usual Friday afternoon date with his reading tutor, JT and I headed over to the Middlesex Carnival. The plan was to score some supper and ride some rides as twilight swept over the newly green trees.

Years ago at the Fresno County Fair my sister and I rode the ferris wheel and were lucky enough to get an extra long ride. As JT and I took a spin Friday night, I heard his excited chatter in my ear and remembered that ride. I love ferris wheels and that feel of rising up to see the world at your feet and then coming back around for another turn.

We took our ride and then sought out a nutritionally balanced supper of french fries and zeppoles (there were no corn dogs ------ the only blemish on the evening). JT filled the nutritional gaps with some cotton candy.

It was a nice end to an exhausting week. As we walked back to the car, holding hands and planning the rest of our weekend, I thought about the life that I am building for JT, and the way that I can never hear enough of his laugh and his chatter. I thought about how complete his life makes my own, and how his love and faith in me sometimes take my breath away with their power. I thought about the circle of the ferris wheel, the way that it always comes around, the highs balancing the lows. I thought about where my life has gone in the last year and where I'd like it to head in the next year. And I thought again that I'd really like to be done grieving for the past.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

All Hail the Pizza Rat

I met J and her son B when I first started work at my school. Our boys are the same age and have been in school together for 4 years. They met at a play date nearly 4 years ago and both boys still talk about that day. We went to a park and when there was a bit of a rainstorm we let the boys play in the mud, washing them off in an outdoor pump before we got in our cars to go home. This is the equivalent of 3 year old nirvana and even now, at the jaded age of 7, they talk about that day.

Yesterday, we went to the Pizza Rat together. J had revealed her secret Pizza Rat strategy last summer: go at 4 pm on a weekday and it's quiet. The boys can run around and play for a couple of hours while the grown ups can visit and relax. It's actually quite lovely. I took this picture of our boys when they stopped just long enough for a photo to be snapped. They have been friends for more than half of their lives and I love that idea. That, some good company, and the laughter of two happy boys made for a nice mid-week break.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


All over the nation yesterday, there were rallies on behalf of immigrants and immigrant rights. It's not nearly the level of attention that was paid to the issue last year on May 1st, but people are still talking. And what they are saying often bothers me. A lot.

Locally, the town of Morristown, New Jersey, has announced a plan to ask the federal government to authorize the town's police officers to arrest illegal aliens. A town of 20,000 with a train station that attracts day laborers, the town and now its mayor, have been outspoken opponents of illegal immigration. But the very idea of making people prove their citizenship to report a crime means that an already exploited underclass will face more problems, not less. Morristown will not get rid of its day laborer, but the town will attract an underclass confident that they can commit crimes with impunity. Nice.

The fact is that Morristown is not alone ----- many cities feel that that the federal government has dropped the ball on immigration. Strictly speaking, more than 10 years out from the last federal effort to deal with immigration, these towns aren't wrong. But the problems that they attribute to immigrants (crime, lower property values, and the so-called "costs" of immigration in terms of public services) are a form of barely veiled racism, with very little evidence to back up the claims. The facts demonstrate that in the United States illegal immigrants work the jobs no one else will take. In the form of rent and sales tax, they pay their fair share of the tax burden in the nation. Morristown is just another example of the white middle class looking to blame town troubles on the non-whites. It's shameful and it's wrong.

In the meantime, no one on the federal level is taking on this issue. So states and localities will continue to offer the sort of half-baked solution that Morristown has placed on the table. And thousand of people who work hard and only want to live the American dream will once again be excluded from the opportunities that the rest of us take for granted.

This is a problem in need of a solution. But no one seems to be listening.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ex Marks the Spot

My ex and I had our monthly shouting match last night. It would seem she feels that I must tell my son ----- he's 7 ---- that I am partially to blame for our break up. According to her, when I cry or grieve about what happened to our family, I am acting "like a martyr" and making her the enemy. She offered up her usual mantra ---- "I left you, not him" ----- with her usual failure to understand the principle that when you are a little boy actions speak louder than words.

Then she told me that my friends are "sycophants" who only see things from my point of view. And all I can think is that she left with little warning. And when I asked her why we couldn't see a counselor and work things out her answer was that "it wouldn't work." I remember that she moved in with a new girlfriend the night that she walked out. I see her standing in front of my home, just minutes after she forced me to help her tell my son that our family was dissolved, waiting for her girlfriend to pick her up while I went back inside, now a single mama. That night I began to reconstruct the heart of a 6 year old and make the hurt manageable. Because I could never make it go away.

I'm not perfect and there is no doubt that I have made mistakes. My son sees that I am human. He certainly understands that things are hard for me since Lisa left. He knows that I am sometimes sad and sometimes angry. But I am trying and he knows that I will never leave. I can't figure out just how she expects me to incorporate her into the new life that she forced JT and I to construct. I think that when this happens to a family, there is no easy way to unwind the ties that once held us together, let alone re-build some kind of relationship.

And in the end, I just don't know what to do. I love my son and I wouldn't trade being his parent for an easy new life. Maybe I don't know how to share. Some days are easy; some are a struggle. But most days just are. And right now, that has to be enough.