Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fading Winter Light

For most of February, I've been enjoying the light in the sky.  From the glorious morning sunrises I watch from the kitchen window as I sip my first cup of coffee to the evening sunsets, the light absorbs and cheers me.  That the daylight is lasting longer each day certainly contributes to my good cheer.  Last night, the sun slipped below the horizon just before 6 pm and my neighborhood was infused in a gentle light.  Even the air seemed easier, as if winter is finally losing its chilly hold.
I'm ready for warmer soil and time in the garden; for cardigan sweaters in the morning instead of mittens, tights, heavy coats, and scarves.  I long for chirping birds in the mornings and sunlight past 6 o'clock.  I want some twilight sun to warm an hour spent on the front porch.
See 'ya later, winter.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Just One of the Guys

When I cared for little kids, especially in pre-school settings, the highest complement to be paid by a child under two was to have them call me Mama (or Mommy).  Typically, that meant that they felt safe and well-cared for; so comfortable that they forgot I wasn't their Mama.

In a new teaching accomplishment, I seem to have reached the teenaged version of that status with my all-male U.S. History class.  On Monday, after the bell rang and as class began, I looked up from the papers on my desk to see one young man in the back row pulling up his shirt to apply deodorant.  When I raised my eyebrow, his response was revealing, "Its an after-lunch thing, Ms. M, I figured you'd know."

He wasn't being disrespectful, he was just stating the facts.  Upper Schoolers have gym in the middle of the day and afterward a little deodorant doesn't come amiss.  Student A figured that I would understand and that I wouldn't mind.

I do and I didn't.

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Blessings

Late Sunday afternoon, after a blissful weekend of relaxation, I was back to the real world, at the grocery store navigating my cart through busy aisles.  As I checked items off my list, I thought about the week ahead.  In addition to my regular classes, there's a meeting after school on Monday, an evening obligation at school on Tuesday and a middle-of-the-day meeting on Thursday.  There are workouts to schedule, clothes to wash, bathrooms to clean, beds to make, papers to grade and student comments to write.  There's the boy and his moods to navigate.

It's enough to make a mama throw up her hands and retreat back to the woods with T.  But I soldiered on, feeling a bit weighted by all my obligations.  Then, in the aisle just ahead of me, I watched a mother push her son in his wheelchair.  She paused to place an item in her bag, to kiss her boy on his forehead and smile into his eyes.  As she pushed past me, I smiled at her and her son.

And then I stopped in the aisle, thrust back to memories of the 7th grade and a girl named Kathleen.  That year, my family moved.  The family who lived next door to us had a daughter who was my age.  We were friends, Kathleen and I, though not in the traditional sense that 7th grade girls are friends.  But I can honestly say of her that she taught me more about life and being grateful for blessings large and small than anyone else I have known.

Kathleen was profoundly disabled, confined to a wheelchair, not close to fully grown (nor would she ever be), and unable to speak.  She could communicate, mostly by the emotions on her face, sounds she could make, and her amazing, expressive eyes.  The first day that I met her, I am not proud to admit that I was a bit taken aback by her appearance, which made some people want to ignore her.  By the time that she died, her appearance and her differences weren't at all how I thought of Kathleen.  

As our families became friends, I would sometimes help Kathleen's parents to look after her.  I don't recall that I did very much significant.  I do recall that the time I spent with her forever altered my sense of how we find meaning in our world, of how we add to the sum total of happiness that is present in our lives.  Kathleen, for all her challenges and differences, made people happy.  She was well-loved and she brought value to the world of those who knew her.  

Kathleen died the year I was in the 8th grade.  It was a death both expected and sudden, as the deaths of such children often can be.  She had never spoken a word to me and yet I mourned her passing as one mourns a friend.  Over the years, I have come to appreciate more and more the lessons that Kathleen taught me.

Chief among them is the realization that burdens are less burdensome when faced with an awareness of blessings large and small.  Certainly, my 13 year old son is sometimes a handful, but he's healthy and happy.  Yes, I have tiresome meetings and extra obligations this week, but they are at a job I love.  Chores are a pain but they are easy enough to complete with modern conveniences to help.  Our house is safe and warm with food enough to eat.

We are blessed and I am lucky.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Round and Round

My wonky hip discomfort in January was diagnosed as bursitis and resulted in two weeks of no work outs followed by two more weeks of physical therapy.  Only then was I authorized to get back on the elliptical at the gym.  Consultations with the orthopedist and the physical therapist sent me back to the gym with a new workout plan. Pro-tip:  running up hill with a high resistance on the elliptical is quite a strain on aging hips.  Also, according to my doctor, "nuts."  That's a clinical diagnosis, folks.

I weathered the period of less activity much better than I expected and still (mostly) have my sanity, which is likely pleasing to those who are forced to deal with me on a daily basis.   On the day I was able to get back on the elliptical, I was practically giddy as I stretched out my achilles (a remnant of the last elliptical injury), fired up my favorite workout playlist, and got ready to run.  

I started slow and enjoyed the sensation of my muscles warming up to that familiar rhythm.  Within a mile, I settled into a comfortable pace.  By mile two, I felt peace descend over me. I had so missed the build up and attendant release on the other side of a good run.  That night, I went to bed pleasantly tired.  I woke up the next morning and stepped gingerly out of bed only to find that my hip felt just fine.

So I'm back in business, albeit well-aware of the need to look after myself and heed the warnings of sore or strained muscles.  That is serious progress for me.   It would seem that an old dog can be taught a few new tricks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Real Life Conversations at School: Sodomy edition

The backstory:  In my American Government classes, we study a couple of textbook chapters that cover civil liberties and civil rights.  They cover Supreme Court cases on a number of controversial issues, including the separation of church and state, criminal rights, and the death penalty.  It also includes the right to privacy and ultimately lands us in a discussion of abortion and sodomy laws.  It's not every woman who can look forward to going to school to talk sodomy with teenagers.  Over the years I've come to realize that a fact-based discussion of sodomy laws is the only way to play this lesson.  I've done it for so long, that I thought nothing would surprise me.  And then along came Student D.

Student D:  You know, Ms. M, until you told me, I had no idea what sodomy was.

Me:  Well, D, I confess, I'm not really sure how to respond to this revelation.

Student D:  Yeah, I went home and told my mom.  I don't think that she knew either.

Me:  Let the record reflect that I just passed up the best lead ever for a "your mama" joke.  I'm bigger than that, D.

Upon reflection, I'm wondering just what this mom thought when her boy came home to discuss sodomy and other things he's learned at school.  I'm hopful it didn't happen at the supper table.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Concussion Junction

The pictures in this post were all made on day twelve after JT's concussion.  I know that it was day 12 because it was the first day he was permitted to engage in any sort of physical activity.  This is a kid who runs everywhere and regards gym class as the only legitimate reason to attend school.  
Suffice it to say that he was very happy to return to a life of running up the hill, down the hill, and all around the hill.
We were on a school ceramics trip for the weekend and though the temps lingered in the 20s all day, that didn't stop JT.  He put on his hat and gloves and ran and ran and ran, pausing only to jump on the swing and fly about.  His cheeks were pink and warm and his smile lit his happy face.
I'm glad to see that his confidence in his strength and the power of his body hasn't wavered.  The way he ran and jumped and otherwise let out the energy he'd been storing up for the last 12 days made me so very glad.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mama's Boy

For most of the last 6 months, T and I have been making jokes about JT being 12-teen.  We are referring to the arrival of adolescence with its attendant mood swings and hormonal surges.  Today, JT turns 13 and is "officially" a teenager.  This is both a cause for celebration and a moment to pause and prepare for the roller coaster ahead.

In the last year, he has grown more than 3 inches and he's now taller than me.  Kid and boy-sized clothes are out of the question.  I swear that if I watch closely enough, I can see his gangly legs stretching before my eyes.  I sometimes call him Baby Hulk because he is at times completely unaware of his size and strength.  He clatters through our wood-floored house and it sounds like a herd of elephants are on the stairs.  He swings his arms and legs around and my instinct is to duck and get out of the way.  I know he doesn't intend any harm, but wow he is big and strong.

I was once a 13 year old and so some of what he is feeling is familiar to me.  But I wasn't ever a 13 year old boy and though it seems like a silly cliche to say it:  boys are different.  In the aftermath of his concussion, an injury that happened when he was taking on a physical challenge,  I've realized that as he grows taller he's also becoming stronger.  This newfound strength and power is truly a wonder to him.  Sometimes, he quite literally doesn't know what to make of his ever-changing body.  At other times, he's only too eager to leap on a physical challenge.  For a mama, this is both exciting and terrifying to see.  I've a feeling I've not made my last trip to the ER.

If 13 is anything like the last few months of 12, it will feature strong opinions joined with strong emotions.  But lately, just when I despair that he will ever see the big picture, he says or does something that reveals a startling self-awareness and ability to sympathize with the world that makes my heart swell with pride.  And so I keep at the job of being JT's mama and I love him with a joy and a power that has only grown since the day this baby first came into my world.  He's a well-loved young man, this child of mine.  And no matter how tall and powerful he grows, he'll always be his mama's boy.

Though seriously, kid, why so tall?

Saturday, February 16, 2013


In fits and starts, spring is making its way toward us.  In just the last week, we've had some mornings in which the cold feels less biting, as if winter has begun to lose its frigid grip.  In the coldest flower bed in my garden, last week's snow has receded enough for me to detect the green tips of spring bulbs inching their way to the sunlight.
I am eager to embrace the spring, with its lush growing, longer days and warmer air.  
There is a promise in the air and it feels lovely.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


A few weeks ago, I scored supplies to make homemade Valentines.  I love these sorts of projects but as Valentine's Day neared I despaired of finding the time to make cards.  Last Friday's snow day solved that problem and I spent a happy hour making a half-dozen cards to give away.  They turned out quite lovely and it was nice to find time for the project.

That's happy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Live Blogging the State of the Union

I plan to live blog the SOTU but less than 10 minutes before the big event, it would seem that the national news media is much more interested in a play-by-play of the whole Christopher Dorner mess.  I've turned on the telly to a picture of a burning cabin near Big Bear.  Meanwhile, the House of Reps is filling up with members of Congress, who may or may not be less useless than Dorner....the jury is out on that question.

10:16 pm
That's a wrap.  Time for me to go to bed.  In this way, I can avoid the talking heads on TV.  That's a win.

10:14 pm
Ending on a hopeful note.  I'm still crying about the guns.  And realizing that Biden and Boehner are wearing lilac and coral ties, respectively.  Weird.

10:08 pm
Here comes the guns.

Me: I was so hopeful that Newtown would lead to something.  And it so has not......every day that passes without serious action on background checks and ammo limits, the NRA is winning, America.  And children are dying.  It's a tragedy of our own making.

Obama: 1,000 shootings since Newtown.

Me:  Seriously?  That is messed up.  I am truly ashamed of my nation.

Obama:  "They deserve a vote."

Powerful to hear that line being called in the chamber.  Pretty awesome, actually.  But doesn't change the fact that the NRA holds too many Senators by the short hairs.

10:06 pm
It's a chock-ful of policy speech, ain't it?  Commission for voting......we can fix this.  We can, but will the GOP let us?  I direct your attention to the voter registration bullshit that went on in Republican-controlled states last year.

9:59 pm
Cyber defense.  Good idea.  Maybe even bipartisan?

9:55 pm
Afghanistan draw-down continues.  There's a plan.  Is anyone really hopeful about it?

9:50 pm
Violence Against Women Act.....looking at you, House of Representatives.  I predict: It ain't going anywhere.  Neither is Paycheck Fairness, by the way.  Minimum wage is also a non-starter, though yeah, $9 is a worthy goal.

9:47 pm
Comprehensive immigration reform.  Let's hear it for the Dream Act.  Just so we're clear, the reduction in illegal crossing probably has as much to do with our crap-tastic economy as it does your enforcement at the border, Mr. President.

9:45 pm
"Hey, Mr. President, Science, technology, and math aren't worth a dime if they don't come with creativity and good writing skills," says this high school history teacher.

9:42 pm
High quality pre-school is such a good idea.  So long-term, so helpful to working families.  And so not going to happen in this nation.  We can't keep our kids from getting shot or give new parents decent maternity and paternity leave.  You know we'll keep dropping the ball on pre-school.

9:39 pm
Infrastructure, which is something I have been yammering about for years.  Years.  Bridges, roads, energy grid, nationwide wireless.  NOW.

9:34 pm
Climate change.  Lots of clapping, though Boehner still looks like he just sucked a lemon.  Obama linking progress on climate change to strong economic growth.  Name calls McCain, who looks confused since he no longer believes in the climate change that he believed in circa 2008.

9:32 pm
This would be more fun if there were thought-bubbles over the heads of members of Congress.  Someone tell Tim Cook to get on that.

9:28 pm
I like the "manufactured crisis" line.  That's a money quote.  "Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan." Cha-ching.

9:25 pm
JT thought the Supremes were old.  Good thing he didn't see that trifecta shot of Sanders, Mikulski, and Levin.

9:22 pm
And sequestration, here we go. I so long for him to say, "screw it, no cuts."  Because we don't actually have a spending problem, America.  We have a grow-the-economy problem and budget cuts and fiscal austerity will make that worse.  Just ask Europe.

9:17 pm
The president invokes JFK and the idea that Congress is jointly responsible for progress.  Okay, but I suspect you and Boehner don't agree on what that progress means.  Just saw Paul Ryan and you can be damned sure he doesn't agree.  Blah, blah, compromise, blah. Mitch McConnell looks like a cranky Eeyore.

9:14 pm
JT just caught sight of the Supreme Court and announced, "Damn, they are old." Indeed.

9:10 pm
POTUS! Cantor is right behind him.  I cannot like that man.  I mean Cantor, of course. I want to shove him and smash his glasses.

9:06 pm
And now JT is here to watch. Which is good because I can't live blog and scoop ice cream at the same time.

8:59 pm
FLOTUS in the House.  Cabinet is also here.  White guys. Gah.

8:57 pm
When my hand is forced, I watch MSNBC.  But tonight they have Michael Steele on board. Heading over to CBS.


One of the things that T and I have on common is the fact that we both lived in the Midwest.  Among other things, that means we both have some experience with the Village Inn.  Having a stock of quality Village Inn stories is an advantage when it comes to winning my affections.  And being able to produce Bucky Cakes doesn't hurt either.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some Helpful Advice

I've written before about Playtex Sport tampons and their advice-giving wrappers. Quite frankly, I find their cheerful enthusiasm distinctly odd and I attribute it to a marketing committee that no longer meets in reality.  I can't be the only woman who prefers a more realistic set of aphorisms to help each month and so I offer these to Playtex free of charge.

"There's no shame if you need to go to the Quickie Mart and buy tampons, ice cream and chocolate."

"Word of caution: this is gonna be a Carrie at the Prom day.  Be prepared."

"Warning: go ahead and find those period underwear at the bottom of your drawer."

"Sure, this is an inconvenience, but it's nothing compared to 7 days of screaming infant."

"Put those white pants away, my friend, those tampon ads lie."

Obviously, this is a less optimistic approach.  However, it does offer the advantage of being reality-based.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

For The Badgers

Some friends of mine, the B family, make their home in Northern Wisconsin.  Earlier this month, when I posted pictures of the start of spring bulbs peeking through the cold soil in my yard, J noted that his flower beds were still under 8 inches of snow.  He confessed surprise to discover that our growing region was so different from his.

In truth, the recently updated USDA plant hardiness map did place New Jersey in a warmer zone than we had been before, and so J wasn't wrong to think we had harsher winters than we do.  In the nearly eleven years that I have been here, I have seen the effects of climate change at work.  Precipitation has become more extreme and temps are generally a bit warmer.

Even so, we still get nor'easter snowstorms and we got one this weekend.  Snow totals north of here are being measured in feet, but in my corner of New Jersey we received a thin layer of ice followed by about 8 inches of heavy, wet snow.  So my front yard flowerbed is a little more consistent with old man winter this weekend.  The flower bulbs are nowhere to be seen.
Now that the hard work of shoveling is done, the snow is quite lovely to admire.  Happy winter, y'all.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The New Normal

Despite the relative cold of the past two months, we haven't had any measurable snow this winter.  I awakened to a dusting of snow on Tuesday and Wednesday, enough to require sweeping the front walk, but not enough to grab the shovel.  Those mornings, I eyeballed the forecast for today's storm and concluded it would be a problem for folks north and east of us.

Yesterday, the forecast models began to look menacing for a larger swath of the northeast and now New Jersey is forecast to get anywhere from 4 inches to a foot of snow.  The bulk of the snow was forecast to start this afternoon, making for an unpleasant Friday afternoon commute.   Early Thursday evening, the headmaster at my school called a snow day for today.  So I went to the grocery store to stock up.  There was moderate panic at the local market, with the bread and milk supplies looking slim.

When I got up this morning, a light snow had just started to fall.  The National Weather service is warning of a blizzard when the Nor'easter comes together this afternoon.  When I turned on NPR this morning, I learned that the state of New Jersey has already opened it's weather emergency office for the weekend.  For most of the late morning and early afternoon, we've been getting sleet that is accumulating to an unpleasant icy sheen.

Understandably, we're all a little gun shy about weather these days.  I've got my supplies at the ready in the event that we lose power.  Usually, snow days are cause for sleeping in and then enjoyment of a relaxed day under the blankets.  To be sure, there has been plenty of that.  But it's also clear that none of us are yet ready to take normal for granted.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Head Strong

Later this month, JT will turn 13.  Being the mama of a soon-to-be 13 year old has been a real challenge and so I imagine that being the mama of an actual 13 year old will be a nightmare test.

Case in point is the current state of the boy's head: concussed.  Monday, while he was in gym class, JT fell and received a concussion for his troubles.  He had been on the gym monkey bars in the amazing workout space and, determined to take on a physical challenge, he swung to skip a bar and missed.  The result was a crash 8 feet downward broken only by his left hand and his head hitting the forgiving surface.  Quite frankly, I'm grateful that all he got was a concussion.  

As a woman whose girlhood physical confidence hovered around zero, I find JT's physical confidence amazing.  He runs and jumps and climbs and tries most any physical challenge.  He's not generally reckless, though he is an adolescent boy and so a certain amount of reckless swagger does go with the territory.  Just one day after the big spill, he's eager to jump on the monkey bars again, which I respect, even if it scares the daylights out of me.

That boy of mine is going to wear me out.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Real Life Conversations at School: Laughter edition

The backstory:  My daily job entails spending time with 9 through 12th graders. In the  flow of those days, I'm working with students who are approaching adulthood.  My 11th and 12th grade classes are enjoyable (at least I find them enjoyable), but they are also a serious business, because they are about complicated ideas and the preparation of students for the demands of college and the world beyond.  And mine is not the only class making demands on their time and intellect.  There's english, math, science, foreign language, art, music, and the extra-curricular activities that allow them to prove to colleges that they are good time-managers and well-rounded students.  Among these sometimes exhausting obligations, it's far too easy to lose sight of laughter and joy in learning.  So I turn to the 2nd grade for a reminder.  For the last 5 years, each week, I walk over to the Lower School and read a book to the 2nd grade.  This year, I choose to read two books from Beverly Cleary's Ramona series.

On Friday afternoon, as I wrapped up the 2nd grade's weekly Ramona, I told my 2nd grade buddies that I had to walk back up the hill and teach my 12th graders.  

2nd grader:  Will you read them the Ramona book?  I think they would like it.

Me:  No, I won't be able to read about Ramona.  We are studying the Supreme Court, so I will tell them some stories about the Supreme Court.

2nd grader (in a tone of solemn knowledge):   I know about that.  It's the BIG building.

I said good bye and walked back to my classroom and the last class of the week, where I promptly repeated the conversation.  We all laughed, and though the 12th grade made an unsuccessful bid for Ramona, we returned our attention to the matter of free speech in the big building with smiles on our faces.  Not a bad way to end the week.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Longing for a Snow Day

When my school decided that we would make up 8 of the 9 days we lost to Hurricane Sandy, the headmaster affirmed that we would still take snow days as normal.  I found this a consolation because snow days are an unexpected and always happy day off.  Sure, I have to shovel snow on such a day but I also get to sleep in.  That's called a win in my book.

For the last few days, it's looked as if there was a sound prospect for snow tonight, meaning a snow day tomorrow, the day after the Superbowl.  Perfect timing, Mother Nature, I thought.  We haven't had a snow day yet this season (because we really haven't had any significant snow) and I figured that a Monday snow day was a ringer.

Well, a ringer if we got snow.  But the forecast looked promising and I allowed myself to begin to count on it.  This morning, I eagerly checked tonight's forecast……what had earlier been a forecast for two to three inches is now a forecast for less than a half inch of snow.  Enough to be a hassle tomorrow morning, but not enough to earn me a day in my pajamas.

Mother Nature, I don't mind saying that you let me down.  I'm prepared to be forgiving, but is one snow day too much to ask?

Saturday, February 02, 2013

On the Edge

Thirteen years ago today, I went to the hospital to try and induce my baby to join us outside the womb.  In a display of the strong-will that I see in him today, he refused to vacate the premises.  I was sent home to wait a bit longer.  Fifteen days later, I was able to hold my 7 1/2 pound dark-eyed baby boy.  That first weekend that I was a mama, I marveled at my baby's perfection and happily imagined the future with him in my world.

I thought about all kinds of moments that we would enjoy together, most of them of the everyday sort of magic that mamas long for: learning the sound of his laughter, watching him crawl, hearing his first words, walking to the park with his hand in mine.  I think of these hopes with a bit of longing these days.

On the cusp of 13, my baby is taller than me, has the start of a mustache, and expresses the world view of a 13 year old.  That view can be easily summed up: I'm wrong (and perhaps stupid), he's right (and likely brilliant), events are either awesome or horrible (with little space in between, as far as I can tell).  Communication on the most mundane of matters sometimes feel fraught in a way I could have never predicted for such an innocuous phrase as "good morning."  The dramatic swings of adolescence can wear a mama out.

The good news is that there are moments of charm in this roller coaster ride.  He's strong as an ox and will carry anything that you ask him to move.  He's helpful around the house and at times displays some extraordinary kind- heartedness .  He's capable of understanding sophisticated ideas and we sometimes have thoughtful conversations about sports, politics, and history that I actually enjoy.  He's becoming self-aware and has realized that yoga on Friday afternoons really helps him to feel calm and relaxed (he used the word centered!).

The trick here is that you never know which JT you will draw in a given moment.  Of course, I still love him with all my heart.   But I sometimes feel as if I am suddenly on the edge of a cliff with no earthly idea how I got there.  And so I step back, take one more deep breath, and face the precipice once more.   

Friday, February 01, 2013

February 1: Front Yard Flowerbed

In 1989, when I moved to Tennessee, I had my first real experience with deeper awareness of seasons and the foliage that accompanies seasonal change.  When I first arrived in Nashville, it was August and the green trees and forests were lush and abundant.  The splendor of that first fall among the woods is still a picture in my mind.  I spent hours walking the trails in the woods that surround Radnor Lake ( and enjoying the glory of the changing leaves.  Winter brought bare trees and cold so significant that I bought my first wool coat.  Spring began to announce its arrival in mid-February, with crocus blooms.  Daffodils came at the end of the month, bright patches of yellow and white on a largely black and white landscape.  Soon after that, spring quite literally sprung into glorious, full-color view.  I loved the freshness of it all.

Around the mid-Atlantic region where I now make my home, February is often quite cold.  Snow is still common in this month, though February is also the very start of winter's end.  Sunsets are growing later and evening light finally begins to linger past 5:30.  By the end of the month, crocus blooms are almost ready to peak through the cold soil.  Daffodils will shortly follow.  Some mornings, the air feels cleaner and I can smell spring in the offing.  That's what lies ahead, and I am eager to see it unfold.  But for now, anyway, winter is still with us.
 I know that the front yard flowerbed will look different by the end of this month.  There are some crocus bulbs hidden here, and they will be my first sign of spring.  This flower bed receives western light and sun; that warmth brings blooms a little earlier than the flower bed on the other side of the house.  The beginnings of spring can already be detected in a few spots.
The rhododendron that frames the front steps will no longer bowed under in the cold and will perk up  by the end of the month.
This has been a cold winter, though with very little snow and ice.  I like all the seasons and the beauty of winter's starkness is not lost on me.  Even so, I appreciate the fact that winter's hold is decreasing and that February's brevity will soon enough lend itself to a new beauty.