Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not Your Father's Puritan

I came to school in a Halloween costume today. I'm dressed as a Puritan. That's right, I'm a lesbian Puritan, pictured here with my pet cat.

Keep your smart-mouthed comments to yourself.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bathtub Freedom

When JT first broke his leg, he gleefully believed that he could go the next two months without a bath. I put the kibosh on such fun, of course. But it must be said that bathing with a cast is below average on the fun-o-meter. For starters, all washing must be supervised. The cast goes in a giant plastic bag and then I use the detachable shower head to wash and rinse the boy. I wouldn’t say that it was enjoyable for anyone involved. And, given the limitations, once he broke his leg we went to washing twice a week.

This was a huge bummer for me because for at least two years now, come daily bath time I’ve been in the habit of tossing JT in the shower with a bar of soap (and instructions to use it) and then doing some chores upstairs while he washes. I could change the sheets, fold and put away laundry, lay out clothes for school….it was a veritable cavalcade of mama-fun. Every so often, I’d be caught up on chores and (god forbid) I could take ten minutes to read a book while the boy washed off the grime he had accumulated.

Now that the boy is in an air cast, he can be bathed more often and more easily. The air cast can be removed and the child can be fully submerged in the bubble-filled tub. And, with his legs now fully submerged, he can play to his heart’s content while I resume my exciting upstairs-at-bath-time life.

We know how to live at Sassafras House.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Angry Mob

The boy and I stopped by the local Halloween store this afternoon to secure some face paint for his cat costume. As we strolled the store, admiring headless ghosts and bloody hand stumps, we came across a devil's pitchfork.

The child was smitten, and held it up, announcing, "I could carry this around and be an angry mob."

Obviously, I bought the pitchfork.

After homework was complete and a snack had been secured, I came downstairs ready to work out only to find that JT was an angry mob of one. The sign on the pitchfork reads, "We Want Candy."

Good thing that Halloween is around the corner.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

The backstory: I’m helping with homework. Phonics is on the agenda and we are reviewing short and long vowel sounds. I’m confused about which words are compound words. It’s a temporary condition, my confusion, but the boy seizes on my weakness.

Mama: Just a minute, honey, I need to think.

JT: Are you saying you don’t know what a compound word is? AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A TEACHER?

Mama: I teach history and government, we don’t really talk about compound words.

JT: Well I hope not, since you don’t know what they are.

Exposed for the fraud that I am.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stink, Stank, Stunk

An update on the journey that began eight weeks ago last night, when JT took his first trip to the Emergency Room at our local hospital.

There are many challenges involved in life when your child has a cast on his leg. But none are as challenging as the incredibly funky smell emanating from that cast. At four weeks of age, the big red cast was stinky. “Stink, stank, stunk,” I would think as I opened the door to JT’s bedroom each morning (thanks Dr. Suess). And driving around in the car with the funky smelling cast riding shotgun was less than enjoyable.

Yesterday, eight weeks out from the original leg break, we headed to the orthopedist to get things checked out. JT was reluctant to participate in the fun because his leg has been immobile for the past four weeks and it’s working fine for him. He saw no reason to change up the arrangement. Removing the cast meant stretching muscles that had been still for days on end. Not fun, as we learned the last time we went through this process.

But removal was in order and though my boy expressly announced his objections (crying and screaming loud enough to startle several of his fellow patients), the cast came off and x-rays were made. The leg was nasty yucky ----- hairy, and covered in an unpleasant coating of boy funk and grime. The smell was other-wordly: like sweat and grime allowed to ripen.

“You’ll want to wash that. Soon,” Dr. T suggested. And then she told us that things are looking good. The x-ray shows all sorts of fuzzy bone growth. Good news. An air cast, rising to just below the knee is our next step (pun intended). He’ll be able to have a much greater range of mobility (which will take some getting used to). And we can see his (very hairy) knee for the first time in 8 weeks.

By the end of the night, he was already starting to appreciate the new range of movement. And the air cast looks cool ----- like he’s the bionic boy. As for me, I’m just happy that the stink is gone.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Real Life Conversations at Prep School: Fighting Back

The backstory: It is college application season here at my school. I’m an advisor to seniors and so my homeroom discussion yesterday was filled with conversations about college applications. The students are at various stages of accomplishment with these applications. Some have submitted already; others are in the process of filling out the paperwork. At least one of my advisees has already signed on the dotted line at his chosen school. And at least one has his head firmly buried in the sand. In most instances, anxiety abounds.

The adults in their world – myself included – look at these young men and women and see in them their many virtues and accomplishments. They are smart, creative, kind, talented in all sorts of things. I am 100% confident that all of them will be admitted to a college where they will thrive. I believe in these kids and I know that they all have the potential to make the world a better place.

But my confidence in them is sometimes lost in the fog of the application process. They are filled with visions of their own inadequacy; worried about rejection letters clogging their in box. This frustrates me because in this, the last year before they head off into the world, I’d prefer to be in the business of celebrating their virtues and repairing their vices, not worrying about what college X thinks about them. Sometimes I want to boldly shout: IF THAT COLLEGE SAYS NO TO YOU, THEN IT’S THEIR LOSS, NOT YOURS. SCREW ‘EM.

But I hold my tongue and diplomatically remind them that there are many colleges out there and many roads to happiness. All of this made yesterday’s real life conversation at prep school that much more rewarding.

Me (speaking to L and J, two of my students): How are things?

J: I finished my application to First Choice College. Now I’ve got to start on the others. I’m tired of writing about myself.

L: I was filling out an application last night. The question was, “why do you want to attend Name Brand University?” and I’d had enough and I just wanted to write. “ You know, you’re not really that special.”

At that we all burst into laughter. These kids are going to be just fine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Singing the Computer Blues

When I was in graduate school I had a professor, a smart man named Professor B, who seemed unfazed by the indignity of life. I always had the feeling that nothing would cause him to freak out. This was a deeply comforting characteristic in a professor. And it very much reminds me of one of the computer guys at my school, a young man named W, who listens to your problem and then solves it with great ease. And then, when you thank him profusely, he nods sagely and solves the next problem in his stack.

I have a Mac laptop computer provided by my school and I love it. I’d call it my second brain if the truth weren’t that the computer is really my first brain. I’d be lost without the little gem. So this weekend, when it engaged in some dubious behavior, I indulged myself in a little panic. Then I dropped the problem in W’s lap on Monday morning.

W did his level best but by Tuesday it was clear that the problem wasn’t easily solved. This morning my computer had to be loaded up and mailed to Apple, where one hopes they have their own W waiting to solve the problem.

W, recognizing that me sans laptop was likely to cause a fiery inferno of weeping woman, quickly hooked me up with a loaner. That means no pictures on the blog (because the picture file is on my real computer) and some other computing adjustments (oh how I miss my bookmarks) until my brain wings its way back from Apple-land. But the loaner is a welcome savior from the insanity of no computer at all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

21st Century Boy

I've been a parent for nearly 8 years. Prior to that, I did a lot of time with the preschool set and if those years taught me one thing, it's that I love children but don't always love children's music.

Though there are some notable exceptions, I generally have found children's music to be tiresome. So I've always introduced the children in my life to adult music that is appropriate for them. No AC/DC singing about the "Highway to Hell" but plenty of other good stuff.

JT and I listen to CDs of music that I make on my computer. Between my own collection and the stuff at iTunes, I've burned plenty of good music into the boy's brain. It's something that we share and enjoy together. This past weekend, I collected a bunch of Eric Clapton songs together onto a CD and this morning we listened to those songs on the way to school. After song four, JT said, "These all sound like the same guy is singing."

"It is the same guy," I answered, "his name is Eric Clapton."

And as Clapton played the guitar in the background an astonished JT said, "Wow. I didn't know you could have a whole CD with the same guy on it."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT: Truth Avoidance Edition

JT and I stopped by Target today so that I could secure a timer for brushing his teeth (don't ask) and a few other things as well. It was my second trip to Target in two days and I was annoyed with myself for having forgotten some things.

But at least JT and I got to share a warm mother-son moment, while he looked at this box of goods that I had thrown in the cart.

JT: Oh.

Mama (warily): Oh what?

JT: I've seen ads for that on TV and I wondered what it was for. But now I know what it's for.

Mama (even more wary): What's it for?

JT: For when you work out. See, there's a girl exercising on the box. It's for girls when they work out.

Mama (relieved): Exactly. That's exactly what it's for.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Life as I Know It

The prompt over at Sunday Scribblings is "My first act as Queen......."

I have no idea what to write. Those of you who know me as a control freak par excellence are now pulling your jaw up off the floor. The notion that I have no idea what to do when given charge of the world is somewhat surprising. World peace; no more hungry sick children; safety and a comfy bed for everyone....these are all laudable goals that come to mind. But I haven't been able to figure out how I would get this done. Then there is the fact that I'm working on not being overwhelmed by the things that I cannot control. So.

In the meantime, things in the tiny fiefdom that is Sassafras House have been changing and I decided to write about that instead.

I haven't written much about this, largely because it seemed whiny to complain about my difficulties when my seven year old is managing a broken leg. And he's managing it incredibly well ---- the boy has been a trooper, rarely complaining, and generally managing his temporary handicap with incredible grace. So to whine about how his broken leg has inconvenienced me seemed like being a jackass.

Since we moved to this house two years ago, the playroom has been JT's haven. That has allowed me to roam the first floor in peace. Sometimes he'd watch TV downstairs, but mostly he'd play upstairs. My living room was free from the detritus of childhood (read: no tiny Playmobil figures under foot) and it was quiet (meaning I listened to NPR) while I went about my cooking, cleaning, reading, and writing. I am a pretty high energy person and I work with high energy teenagers, so the quiet is important to me. It allows me to relax and rejuvenate. On weekend mornings, JT would quietly head to his playroom when he woke up. I would hear him up there and then enjoy a little extra sleep, knowing that he was happily playing. Toys and games arranged in the playroom could stay out for weeks on end, because the door to the room could be shut and I didn't have to see the playroom chaos. It was a happy arrangement. And it helped to facilitate our mutual independence.

But one of the side effects of a broken leg was that JT couldn't get around easily. And he was afraid; preferring to be by my side. I love the boy to distraction but that by my side deal was sometimes overwhelming. At first, he couldn't really get to the attic and I didn't want him two floors away, unable to easily navigate the stairs. And he was also adjusting to his own limited independence ----- needing help to do EVERYTHING. The poor child couldn't even get himself a cup of water to drink. And don't get me started on going to the bathroom.

I realized that our newly circumscribed existence was temporary, but it was sometimes exhausting. From the moment JT woke up in the morning until he went to bed at night, he accompanied me. Running errands with a child on crutches is just not easily managed, so I saved those chores for the Sunday afternoons that he visited my ex. He's a chatty little thing (like his mama) and our constant togetherness could be overwhelming. The quiet in my home at 8:30 pm, after he went to sleep, felt just luxurious. But by then I was often so tired myself that I couldn't stay up long enough to appreciate it.

When JT got the walking cast three weeks ago, he slowly began to expand his world again. It started with the ability to walk around the house and step-by-step, he's become more independent. He can walk short distances at school and at home (and, among other things, that means he can carry his own backpack again). He can get a drink of water and he can once again help with some of the chores around the house. We've been able to go to Target for short trips. We went to the mall on Friday night. And this weekend, he once again reclaimed the playroom as his own zone.

The impetus for his triumphant playroom return was some new toys ----- cowboys and Indians with a great need to engage in a long-term epic battle ----- and he wanted to leave them sitting out. That's playroom approved. So on Saturday morning I headed upstairs to organize the heap and clutter.

It was a giant mess.

A cataclysmic disaster.

But when the Mama cleaning tsunami was done, the chaos was reigned in.

And Sassafras House is peaceful once again.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Real Life Conversations with a Colleague

Note: Sensitive readers should understand that this post sacrifices good taste for humor. You've been warned.

The backstory: We're wrapping up our Friday afternoon here at prep school with a speaker from the Darfur region of the Sudan. It's a serious topic; one that our students deeply care about. But it's a bit of a downer to wrap up a long week and the kids get Monday off (while the teachers have faculty development), so there is a spirited tone in the halls. We're all a little slap-happy. As we got ready to attend the assembly, a colleague and I were talking about the afternoon's program.

X: I'm going to need a cigarette before this thing begins.

Me: I need a drink.

X: In fact, if I don't get a cigarette, by the time I get down there I'll make the janjaweed look like the freakin' welcome wagon.

It's been a long, long time since I laughed that hard at work. I entered the assembly in just the right mood.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More Evidence that I Hit the Kid Jackpot

Every day after school, JT and I follow the same routine. Since he broke his leg, I fetch him from the after school program by 3:30 (so he doesn't have to watch as the other kids play on the playground outside) and we head home. Once home, our first task is to secure a snack and get started on his homework. He usually has a few pages of math, some phonics, math facts to review, and spelling words to practice. It's actually useful stuff (and this is a well-known opponent of homework writing here) but it takes time, the most precious commodity in the life of a single mama.

Thursday is a different pattern for us; the math and phonics pages aren't due until Monday so we save them for JT to complete when he sees his other mom over the weekend. The burden is lighter: just the spelling words and math facts. At his instigation, we did both on the car on the way home, so when we walked in the door, the afternoon stretched luxuriously in front of us.

JT's snack secured, I headed upstairs to change for my workout. Working out before 4:30.......yippee! And then, as I was working up a sweat, my boy strolled by the glass doors of the study (where the magical elliptical trainer is located). He was sweeping the floors. Yes, that's right, sweeping. Unprompted and of his own volition, the child was sweeping the floors.

"I just wanted to help out, mama," he told me.

My kid rocks.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Life in Books

I am a book junkie. From the moment I was pregnant , I was collecting books to read to my baby. Every night since he was born, JT and I have ended our days with a few stories. Back when he had two moms we would take turns reading to him each night. My favorite nights were the evenings we would all curl up together in his bed. I vividly remember the toddler JT who would respond, "No, no, no stories," when the time came to read Good Night Moon. He was looking to avoid sleep those nights. I'll bet that I could still recite every page of his beloved (and appropriately named) The Truck Book. Willoughby the bunny and his little sister Willa gave rise to our family phrase, "That's happy. What else?"

For several years now, we've been into chapter books. There are few pictures in these stories ------ JT says that you make the pictures in your brain. Chapter books have given me the chance to introduce my son to the stories that I loved as a child. We've read most of the Beverly Cleary books (JT loved Ribsy and Henry Huggins) and we've about worked our way through The Great Brain series. We've discovered some new books as well and so I now have additional favorites, including The Indian in the Cupboard and The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs.

I love sharing books with my son. It gives rise to a whole new world of characters and places for us to share. And it's still the very best part of my day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gender Deconstruction in the Second Grade

I am the mother of a boy. I grew up with a sister, but no brothers. I had plenty of experience babysitting and teaching boys before this boy of mine came into being, but it is fair to say that the world of little boys was foreign to me.

In many respects, my son is a great deal like me. In him I recognize my way of thinking, my approach to problem solving, my compulsion for organization. At the same time, I see in him things that are all together different from me: he likes weaponry and destruction; loud noises thrill him; we are never far away from a stick or a rock that must be retained for unnamed future games.

He often attributes these differences to the fact that I am a girl. I can't say that he's wrong. In fact, he's quite interested in the differences between boys and girls and we have interesting conversations about such issues. In his second grade class of 15 children, there are 10 boys and 5 girls. When we discuss his school day each afternoon, reflections on gender nearly always appear. He announced today that the girls all have tidy desks, whereas some of the boys are, in his words "so messy I wonder how they find anything" obviously, my young man isn't in this category). He's not surprised by this difference and in fact seems to expect it.

The teacher uses a number system to encourage good behavior: your first infraction is a 1, then a 2, on 3 you need to take a break from the classroom and sit in the "thinking chair." A few days ago he mentioned that a number of boys earned a 2 that day. "What about the girls?" I asked. He looked at me like I was insane and explained, "Girls don't get on numbers."

I allowed that maybe a girl would get in trouble some day. He paused and asked, "Did you get in trouble in school?"

"No," I answered.

"Exactly," he responded.

Sometimes I worry that he takes such a stark view of gender roles. But then I remember the comfort that structure and set expectations bring to children. I remind myself that I'm a good feminist and surely I'm showing him the multi-faceted world of gender roles.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Math Facts

In pursuit of the rote memory skills one needs to go to the next level of math, JT has been working on his basic math facts. We do this every day, practicing addition and subtraction facts for at least a few minutes. We report the time allocated to the task on a chart provided by Mrs. W, JT's second grade teacher.

It's not always an enjoyable task. The other day, weary of the constant quizzing, JT suggested that I should take a turn in the hot seat while he played quiz master. So while I complained and hemmed and hawed and asked if we were done, he quizzed my math fact knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed my new role in the game, but JT was not amused, eventually employing his mama's favorite line, "This is not fun for me."


Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Observation

Had it been Al Gore who won the presidency in 2000, is there any chance at all that George W. Bush would have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace?

Kind of says it all, don't you think?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Working It

I've had plenty of jobs, though career-wise I've always been a teacher. I actually have my dream job right now; I love what I do and the place where I do it. I'm a history and government teacher and that's a great part of why I love what I do: I get paid to read and talk about the things that I love.

I write about my job and my students every once in a while, so this blog is filled with reflections on my work. But the prompt at Sunday Scribblings got me thinking about why I love my job.

I love the autonomy of my world. The classroom is mine and I guide our discussions. I can be flexible so as to engage the students and myself. I can think about something that interests me and spend the entire day focusing on that. Most recently, thanks to a couple of articles in Newsweek magazine, I was thinking about the idea of women and power. So all of my classes spent a few days talking about that. We talked about women in ancient India in 2nd period; women and income inequality in 3rd period, women and voting and representation in 6th period, and women in colonial history in 8th period. I was excited; the students were engaged. It was a really good couple of days.

The autonomy that I enjoy so much is largely a function of the fact that I teach at an independent college prep school in central New Jersey. No federally-mandated test is going to come along and assess my success. This is not to say that I don't feel any responsibility to my students. I feel a terrific obligation and think a great deal about where my students are headed (college....all of them) and how well what they have learned from me will serve them there. I work methodically to improve their skills and, because my classes are small, I know exactly where the students are in that journey.

I've taught many other places, and while I've always enjoyed that work, it hasn't always been the same. I think that it's a luxury and privilege to teach at my school. And as I look at the bright faces in my classroom I hope that they can find the same level of satisfaction when they enter the world of work.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT, Bargain Hunter Edition

The backstory: JT and I are at the mall. We pass a shop with a sale sign out front.

JT: That sign says you can save 20%.

Me: Yes it does.

JT: You could save even more if you never went into the shop to buy anything in the first place.

There's no arguing with that kind of logic.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Risotto Primavera

Risotto is the go-to dish in my kitchen. Once the weather turns cool, I make it nearly once a week for supper. The secret to good risotto is in the basics: quality arborio rice, good chicken or vegetable broth, and patience. Basic risotto is an always pleasing supper but sometimes I change up the formula, and that brings us to the topic of today's posting: a lesson in the making of risotto primavera.

First, the list of ingredients:
1 cup arborio rice
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, warmed
3 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
1 thread of saffron
1 tablespoon each black pepper, oregano, and basil
½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
splash of white wine (an extra glass for the cook is also advisable)
fresh grated parmesan, to taste

You need a good quality heavy pan for the making of risotto. I use a Calphalon non-stick pan, but non-stick isn't essential.

Over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add mushrooms, pepper, oregano and basil. Saute for 1-2 minutes, just until the mushrooms begin to release their juices.

Remove the mushrooms to a separate bowl, melt another tablespoon of butter, and add the onions. Stir to mix with remnants of the mushrooms; add the saffron thread. The goal here is to coat the onions in the butter, not to brown them, so keep stirring.

After 2-3 minutes, add the third tablespoon of butter and when it melts, stir in the rice. Keep stirring for the next minute. When the rice is coated in the melted butter, set a timer for 25 minutes and pour in some of the chicken broth. Add enough broth to cover the rice and onions, and stir it well. Don't drown the rice.

Stir periodically and when nearly all of the liquid is absorbed (it should look like this), pour in more liquid. Keep stirring and adding liquid; the rice should begin to swell with the liquid you are adding. The pan should be gently simmering; you may need to lower the heat on the burner just slightly.

Add broth as needed, keep stirring and keep an eye on the timer. When you're down to 6 minutes, add in the last of the broth and the carrots and broccoli (I like the veggies slightly crispy ----- it's a California thing ----- if you prefer sofet veggies, add a few minutes earlier). Stir, stir, stir and let the veggies steam in the rice and broth.

When the timer is down to 2 minutes, stir in the reserved mushrooms and liquid and the splash of white wine; keep stirring as the last of the liquid is absorbed. The rice should have a creamy texture.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan to taste. With a salad and bread, this dish will nicely serve 4 people for supper. Or, like me, you could make it for yourself (JT won't touch the stuff) and enjoy the leftovers for in your lunchbox for the next couple of days.

And a final word: you can omit the veggies and spices and make plain risotto with the onion, rice, saffron, and chicken broth. Cheap, easy, and yummy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cruising the Jersey Turnpike

In deference to my Jersey readers (and because I'm not above a cheap joke), let me please note that I do not mean cruising the Jersey Turnpike in the style of former Governor Jim McGreevy.

But I have indeed been cruising the Jersey Turnpike of late, thanks to a couple of field trips at school, both of them to Philadelphia. As the bus passes by the exits of the Turnpike, I am struck in particular by the names on the rest stops. Rest stops on the Jersey Turnpike are a creature unto themselves, featuring acres of parking, rows of gas pumps, and at the center of it all a sprawling large building filled with bathrooms, a travel store, and culinary opportunities. Most look like they were built in the 1970s, which is to say that the architecture is remarkably ugly. Landscaping is virtually non-existent at these locales. But the rest stops serve their purpose and can easily (if not elegantly) meet your traveling needs, whatever those might be..

Perhaps most amusing about them, however, is the fact that they are named after important personages; truly impressive historical figures who happen to come from the Garden State. So as you cruise the Turnpike, you will see signs for the Walt Whitman Rest Stop; the Clara Barton Rest Stop; the Woodrow Wilson Rest Stop. And it is this fact that amuses me so much.

I picture Walt Whitman, holding a double cone of ice cream and standing by the Carvel counter at the rest stop named in his honor. Does Clara Barton treat the wounded at her rest stop? Are people lying about in cots, victims of traffic waiting for a transfusion of blood and the calming balm of her hand on their brow? And I know for a fact that at his own rest stop Woodrow Wilson is horrified at the sheer number of common people taking a leak and failing to wash their hands afterward.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Flower Power

As a result of his broken leg, JT's independence has been severely curtailed. That means that he's underfoot and by my side most the time. And that is sometimes a trying situation. Last week, we went to the mall to give his fabulous new cast a test drive.

The absolute highlight of that outing was an incident in the women's room. We went together because trying to pee with crutches is a real pain in the bootie and my help is needed. So we're in the handicapped stall together. He does his business and then I take a turn. The women in the surrounding stalls got to hear the following conversation:

JT: You have flowers on your panties.

Me (cringing, horrified, giving off every non-verbal cue of the shut the f*&k up variety; speaking low to discourage further chatter): Yes.

JT: Only little girls have flowers on their panties. You are not a little girl.

Me (now defiant because, seriously, I don't need censure from a 7 year old): These are big girl flowers.

This response earned me a doubtful "whatever" look from my son and smothered laughter from the women in the other stalls.

My life is endlessly, admirably glamorous.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Branch of the Sassafras Tree

My parents made a one day appearance yesterday, and JT was terribly excited to have grandma and grandpa in the house. We played games and he showed off his cast.

And the boy talked, and talked, and talked. And then talked some more. Now I'm talkative and apparently was chatty as a child. But when I rolled my eyes at my offspring, my parents just laughed. The message: you had this coming.

Good to know.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

JT (shouting repetitively): I'm King Carnivore and I'm mad with power.

Mama: Honey, could you stop yelling that?

JT: Why?

Mama: Because it's annoying.

JT: Really? I thought it was awesome.

Folks, this is called being gored by your own sarcastic ox. Quite literally, a hell(ion) of my own making.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Adding Insult to Injury

As part of the genetic legacy that I sent JT's way, he has lovely golden skin, dark brown eyes, and thick brown hair. But I wasn't able to pass on my good teeth and so the boy has had an occasional cavity. We're being careful to brush and floss but not having as much success as we'd like. Today when he went to the dentist, he had a cavity.

The last time he had a cavity ---- his first one --- he was bent out of shape for days afterward because of the Novocain used to numb his mouth for the filling. No matter how much I explained that the Novocain was supposed to prevent pain, he didn't believe me. With a mouth still droopy from the Novocain, he complained VOCIFEROUSLY about the discomfort that, naturally, was all my fault.

When we got to the dentist today, everyone made a great fuss about his big red cast. So he was already the center of attention before the dentist found the cavity. When we conferred in the hall, the dentist and I agreed to fix the cavity immediately. The nitrous oxide was rolled out and the cavity was filled.

Though he wasn't at all clear about what had happened, my poor baby knew that HE WASN'T HAPPY. We all knew. Even the nitrous oxide wasn't much of a distraction and when it was all done, he glared at me. Conveniently, his numbed mouth precluded talking, thus saving my tongue lashing for a date to be named later. I loaded my angry, numb, tearful boy into the car and brought him home where he could drool in private.

This is one of those days where it would be really, really nice to have another parent to help out.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Measure of Society

It is an oft-repeated dictum that the measure of a society is in how it treats its most vulnerable members. I couldn't help but think of this idea today when President George W. Bush vetoed a bill to expand SCHIP, the federal program that helps the states to provide healthcare for uninsured children.

This is only President Bush's fourth veto in nearly seven years as president, so it's clear that he feels strongly about the veto. The White House issued a statement in which the president argued that the veto was necessary because the expanded program would cover more children, even those children whose parents can afford to provide health insurance for them.

In fact, the SCHIP bill that Congress sent to the White House would expand the number of children eligible to receive government-paid healthcare. Most of those children live in families at or below the poverty line (just under $20,000 a year for a family of four). Expansion of SCHIP would make more children, especially poor children, eligible for assistance. In my mind, whether or not their parents can afford insurance is not the issue. Fact is, most parents will scrimp and save to provide healthcare for their children. Those who can't must live in total fear. And in a nation of luxuries and millionaires, where the average household owns more than 2 automobiles and we throw away food every day, there is no excuse for ignoring the healthcare needs of our children, no matter what we think of their parents.

When my son broke his leg, I had a lot to think about. From the serious (was the break crippling? would he walk and run again?) to the mundane (how would I wash a child in a full leg cast? could I carry him upstairs?) I had plenty to worry about. But I have health insurance and so I didn't have to worry about medical bills or finding a qualified doctor to attend to his needs. I had the luxury of taking those things for granted.

When you consider that 40% of Americans work for employers who don't provide health insurance and that many of those employees are at the low-end of the pay-scale, it seems clear that we must fully fund SCHIP. Now.

Not a single one of us would refuse to feed, care for and love a needy child who suddenly landed on our doorstep. Many of us would move heaven and earth to care for the children in our lives. Maybe it's because I am an unabashed liberal; maybe it's because I think we should care for children. But no matter the reason, I am utterly convinced that the expansion of SCHIP is a moral imperative.

For now, the battle for SCHIP will return to Congress, where a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate could override the president's veto. The Senate already has the necessary votes. So the focus of the struggle will be on the House, where fifteen votes are needed to save the program's expansion. Please find out of your member of Congress supports SCHIP (the nice folks at can answer that question for you). If they don't, let them know that they should.

Doing right by our children is the measure of our society. Let's pass the test with flying colors.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tag, I'm It

I haven't participated in many of these exercises, but Gill, whose blog I learned about from Sunday Scribblings, tagged me for this meme, and I figured it would be fun to participate. So check out Gill's list over at and here is mine:

1) What I was doing ten years ago:
Ten years ago was 1997. I was living in Nebraska in my first home and I had fallen in love. I was incredibly happy. That seems like it was a long, long time ago.

2.) Five years ago:
So now we're talking 2002, the year that I first moved to New Jersey. I was in my first year teaching prep school and living in my second house with my partner and our two year old. I was adjusting to the many, many differences of living in New Jersey.

3) One year ago:
Still in New Jersey, experiencing my first year as a single working mama ; living in my second house in New Jersey. And this week just one year ago, JT and I adopted our kittens Tiger and Lucy.

4.) Yesterday:
I taught my classes, helped JT with his second grade homework, worked out, made supper, tucked the boy into bed, washed a load of laundry, graded some papers, talked with a friend on the phone, read my book. Just another average day in my life.

5.) 5 snacks I enjoy:
popcorn (homemade on the stove --- no microwave nonsense); chips (guilty pleasure), chocolate; cheese, fruit

6.) 5 Things I would do if I suddenly had $100 million:
pay off mortgages for a whole bunch of people I love; endow a scholarship or two at my alma mater, UCLA; endow a scholarship at my school; give a big chunk to some micro-lending institutions; buy myself a snazzy red Volvo station wagon

7.) 5 locations I would like to run away to:
Charleston, SC; Nashville, TN; Yosemite, CA; San Francisco, CA; Disneyworld

8.) 5 bad habits I have:
doubting myself; fixating on things that have gone wrong; staying up too late to read my book; shopping on-line; not clearing out my mailbox at work

9.) 5 things I like doing:
laughing; staying up late to read my book; working out; reading and writing; cooking

10.) 5 TV shows I like:
Endurance (on Discovery Kids); House, Friday Night Lights, The Daily Show, Grey's Anatomy

11.) 5 things I hate doing:
taking out the trash and recycling; cleaning JT's playroom; dealing with the FI (this last times 3)

12.) 5 Biggest joys of the moment:
my son; books I'm reading; my 8th period class; my cats; fall weather

Finally, I tag:
- Shelley at
- Jaxter at
- Chelle at
- Sister AE at
- Shark Butt at

Monday, October 01, 2007

October 1st

On the 1st of each month, I'm taking a picture of and writing about the tree in my backyard.

Fall comes slowly to a tree this old; he's in no hurry to shed his leaves. The beginning of color is tinting the edges of the leaves. Because the tree is so tall I can best see the beginnings of the change when I turn on to my street half a block away from my house. When the autumn is complete the tree's leaves will have turned a dark gold.

This tree, with its slowly changing coat, is a reminder that slow and steady wins the race. It serves to remind me to take life as it comes, to avoid the chaos and anxiety creating by rushing or wishing for things that cannot be.