Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Spent $100 So My Kid Would Believe in Santa Claus

This past week, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in lines, and have been pleasantly surprised by my fellow humans' chipper attitude this Christmas season.  People have looked at me and said, "Oh honey, you only have one thing.  You go before me!"  What trickery is this?  I thought.  No trickery!  People were just being merry and bright.

At one store, I went through the relatively short line to discover I had forgotten to purchase batteries.  So I bravely went back in, fetched the AAs, and got back into the same line.  As I was checking out, the cashier asked me,

"Would you like to donate to Foodlink today?"

"Oh, I was just in line.  Remember?  I already donated."

She stared at me blankly.

"So, no then?" she said.  I sighed.

"Yes.  Yes.  I'll donate."

This is why we're ridiculously over Christmas budget this year.  That, and the Hot Wheels Car Maker.

The Hot Wheels Car Maker is the bane of my existence.  It is a machine that allows a child to create his or her own hot wheels vehicles.  It looks like this:

The Hot Wheels Car Maker is exclusive to Toys R Us.  Which was just a low, low move on Hot Wheels' part.

Daniel's Christmas list went as follows:

1. Hot Wheels Car Maker
2. Nintendo DS
3. Legos
4. Hot Wheels Car Maker
5.  I really want a Hot Wheels Car Maker

He wrote to Santa about it and everything.  That was before he made this proclamation:

"I don't believe in Santa!"

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, all of the presents I asked Santa for said they came from you.  And also, Santa's wrapping paper is the same as YOUR wrapping paper."

This is because while I enjoy my children believing in the magic of St. Nick, I also want to take most of the credit for the gifts.  It's also because I'm lazy.

Then, Daniel announced that he DID believe, and that Santa would definitely bring him the Hot Wheels Car Maker.  Noah from his class told him so.

Unfortunately, I'd already made several trips to Toys R Us only to be laughed out of the store, because apparently, they ran out of the thing weeks ago.  Did you know there are actually cruel people in this world who go to stores, buy up hot Christmas items, and then sell them for a premium online?  Probably people like Noah from Daniel's classroom. I thought that kind of thing only happened on television shows.

The Hot Wheels Car Maker retails for 34.99 when purchased at Toys R. Us.

Yesterday, I paid 99.99 for it from a seller on Amazon.  When I told the husband, he had a minor stroke and contemplated selling my hair for money.  I said, not until you sell your fancy watch, buster.  And he said, I'm not the one who paid 99.99 for a toy that will probably break within the first twenty four hours.

So now I'm bald.

But the Car Maker is in transit right now.  Santa's reindeer will bring it on Christmas Eve.

And Daniel will believe one year more.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Night John Outed me as an Oxfordian

The Oxfordian Theory

I'm not a conspiracy theorist.

I believe we landed on the moon.  I believe that the attacks on 9/11 were committed by al Qaeda terrorists, and that the towers went down because airplanes crashed into them.  I vaccinate my children. I don't believe that adding flouride to the water supply is actually a way for the government to control our minds.  I believe that Elvis is dead, Paul McCartney is alive, President Barack Obama was born in the United States, and Paul from the Wonder Years is not, in fact, Marilyn Manson.

So I have this one thing.  Just one thing.

I kind of sort of think that maybe William Shakespeare never wrote all those plays.  And sonnets.  Shocking, I know, but as a skeptic, I am in good company.  Liberal Supreme Court Justice Stevens and conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia agree on one thing: that the man from Stratford probably didn't write Shakespeare. Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Malcolm X,  Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, and Keanu Reeves were or are dubious about the true authorship of the Bard.

Keanu Reeves, people.  I don't know about you, but when I'm faced with a tough decision, I ask myself what Keanu Reeves would do.

I believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the probable author of the plays. I am an Oxfordian. There.  It's out.  However, it's not something I often bring up in conversation.  Stratfordians (those who believe Shakespeare to be the true author) are incredibly sensitive about the issue, and write scathing articles with titles like "Only Foolish Snobs Don't Believe in William Shakespeare."  It's pretty hurtful.

I'm not a expert in Shakespearean literature by any means, but I'm not completely ignorant about the subject, either.  I've taken several courses on the guy, and I've written several long and boring papers with titles like "A Winter's Tale and the Pastoral," and "'O sleep!'  The Somnabulent Shakespeare."  I own Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human," which I've actually flipped through on an occasion or two. I've read at least eight Shakespeare biographies.  More like five, actually.  Okay, two.  I've read two.

The fact is, all the information we have about William Shakespeare can be neatly contained in a single paragraph.  There are many pages of information about  de Vere, however, and the evidence that suggests he wrote the plays is pretty compelling.  (A good de Vere primer can be found here.)

Which bring me to the events of last evening at John's annual firm Christmas party.  My husband is afflicted with a condition called extreme extroversion while I suffer from whatever the opposite of that is, so, as you can imagine, I find social events stressful. Not only that, but my only pair of black shoes are slightly too large for my feet, which makes mingling physically uncomfortable.  I was sitting at a table, lamenting my poor choice in footwear, when John introduced me to his attorney friend and his friend's wife, an English professor.  Who went to Harvard.  But whatever.  (Please note that she was not a Shakespeare specialist.)

After a brief introduction, John, trying to form a connection between me and the professor, chose that inopportune moment to bring up my interest in the Shakespeare authorship question. He thinks it's a topic of common interest among literature buffs (it's not) and that he would make me sound erudite by bringing it up. (It didn't.)   The subject is controversial, and coming out as an Oxfordian is a decision an Oxfordian has to make for him or herself.  The husband should never out his wife as an Oxfordian, especially to an academic snob.

The not so smooth transition from introductions to Shakespeare went exactly like this:

John:  This is my wife, Holly.  Holly, this is the professor of English!  Holly believes the Earl of Oxford is really William Shakespeare!"

He might as well have said:  This is my wife, Holly, and she hates impoverished children! And she kicks puppies for fun!  Have at her!

English professors hate Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theorists.  This particular one raised her eyebrows and said, and I quote, "Oh, you're one of those crackpots, huh?"

This is the very first time I have ever been called a crackpot.  It wasn't pleasant.

I forced a grin.

"I am," I said.

"I think I did a little paper about the authorship issue in high school.  I made it pretty clear that Shakespeare was Shakespeare."

"A lot of compelling evidence has come forth in the last few years regarding de Vere," I said.

"Oh really?  Since 1997?"  she said.  I ignored her sarcasm.

"Yes," I said.

She didn't regard me for the rest of the evening, and I had good stuff to say about all of the Harry Pottery imagery in the latest Donna Tartt novel, not crackpot stuff at all.

We stayed at the party for a long time; my extreme extrovert likes to talk.  A lot.  I finally got him to head in the direction of the coat room.

"The crackpot is leaving the building!" I announced.  Then I tripped over my too-large shoes, which really cemented my crackpot image.  Then we went home.

So, now it's out there: that evening, the entire table heard my exchange with the professor and I'm sure the news is spreading.  I wanted to address it before you heard it from someone else.  I am an Oxfordian. I'm not ashamed.  Someday I may even get the courage to walk in the Oxfordian Pride parade.

(I am not a crackpot!)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Forcing Christmas Cheer on your Children: A Holiday Tradition

Those days before Christmas felt like an eternity when I was a kid.  But I didn't mind.  One of the best parts about the Christmas holiday was that cozy feeling I got sitting on the couch, by the tree, reading stories and poems from old Christmas treasuries.

This is a Christmas treasury with bunnies.  The Christmas treasuries we had did not have bunnies on the cover.  

In December, my mom brought out these oversized hardcover books which contained stories like, "A Gift for the Magi,"  poems from John Donne, and classic Christmas carols like "Silent Night."  ("I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" was not in any of the Christmas treasuries I beheld, which would have been a great disappointment to my daughter, Ella, who thinks this is the greatest song ever written in the history of the world.) They included some Dickens, the Christmas story from the book of Luke, and maybe a recipe or two of some kind of complicated Christmas cookie that looks pretty but probably tastes gross.  The treasuries generally hearkened back to Victorian Christmases, when people actually put lit candles in their Christmas trees.  On a related note, there were a lot of house fires in the 1800s during the holiday season.

Naturally, I didn't feel like my children's Christmases would be quite right without Christmas treasuries to leaf through during December. Christmas treasuries, I believe, should be an integral part of the season.

I began browsing local used book stores for Christmas collections.  I started at the bookstore in my own town of Spencerport, which is a magical place that kind of looks like an episode from Hoarders. Organization at the aptly named Book Centre is secondary to massive book accumulation, so one has to commit a certain amount of time for searching through and restacking piles of books that will inevitably tumble.  It's a whole long process.

I did not find a Victorian Christmas Treasury, but I did find a fascinating little book entitled "The Curious World of Christmas."  Did you know that both the debonair Humphrey Bogart and the delightful Annie Lennox were born on Christmas?  Or that February 2 officially marks the end of Christmas according to the Christian Calendar? (The period between Christmas and February 2 is known as "Candlemas" and it commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, evolved from an ancient Jewish belief that women were unclean after the birth of a child.  They were unclean for 40 days after giving birth to a boy, and for 60 days after giving birth to a girl.  I don't know what happened to women who gave birth to boy/girl twins.)

The book also included a recipe for "Stir-Fried Spicy Red Cabbage with Apples" which I will not be making, and "Drunk Christmas Cake" which I might.  The recipe is as follows, and it really bears reading out loud:

1 pint water
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups dried fruit
1 tsp salt
1 cup demerara sugar
3 cups nuts
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 orange rind
1 very large bottle of whiskey


Try the whiskey to check for good quality.  Find a large bowl.  Check the whisky again to make sure it hasn't gone bad in the meantime.  Just to be extra sure, pour a proper glass and drink.  Repeat until absolutely certain.  Turn on the food processor, and beat up the butter in the large bowl.  Add sugar and beat the buffer again.  Check the whisky is still room temperature.  Turn up the volume of the processor.  Lob the five beggs into the board and chuck in the fup of cried druit.  Mix on the whizzy turner thing.  If the fired druit gets stuck in the professor's blades, lisdodge the gunk.  Sample the whiskey to check no one has sneaked in and diluted it.  Next, the salt,.  Or whatever.  Make sure whisky is still smooth to the tongue.  Now shit the lemon juice and strain your nuts.  Add one table of lemon.  Do the sugar or something.  Whatever's to hand.  Wash down the oven.  Turn the cake tin to 450 degrees.  Burn off the food professor.  Drop the bowl on the floor, go to bed taking care to bring whisky bottle with you in case it falls into wrong hands.  Lie down and enjoy a warm glow of satisfaction at a job well done.

I purchased the book specifically for that recipe.

I soon took my search for a more traditional, child-appropriate Christmas anthology to the internet, and ended up purchasing an treasury that was not oversized but had the requisite stories, poems, carols, and recipes included within.  I put the book in a prominent location and waited for the my kids to casually pick it up and become absorbed in its magical renderings of Christmases past.

This didn't happen.

I suggested to Caleb one evening that he look through the book.

"Maybe later," he said, disinterestedly.

And then I learned that forcing your children to sit down on the couch and read from Christmas anthologies does not evoke in them the same warm and cozy feeling I had as a child.  It actually evokes resentment. And sighing and eye rolling and maybe even the words, "this is stupid."

Subsequently, I threw a tantrum and said something along the lines of "FINE!  I will sit here and drink cocoa and read from this book ALL BY MYSELF!" and "Trollope had good things to say about Christmas!" and "I AM NOT BEING MEAN!" And that's how it came to pass that one cold and dreary evening, I sat on the couch, miserable, reading the classic "The Bird's Christmas Carol," which is not a good story to read when one is miserable.  Because it's about a dying child at Christmas.

There is a lesson to be learned here!  You can't force holiday cheer.  It has to come in unexpected moments, like when you find that your daughter has drawn a beautiful Christmas tree with your lipstick on your bathroom door.  Or when, at your kids' Christmas piano recital, you realize that your son has no intention of ever finishing a spirited rendition of "Must Be Santa," and that after the third time through, you must start clapping or else everyone is going to be there all night.  Or when you take your boys to see "A Christmas Carol," and your eight-year old turns to you, confused and slightly devastated to see a future where Tiny Tim has died.

Fortunately for my kids, I hate "life lessons," and tonight they will be listening to a lively performance of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Christmas at Sea" given by yours truly.

It's in the Christmas treasury.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Our Nation is Making this Huge Mistake

A year ago, we learned Ella, then age 5, had a genetic disorder called 22Q11 deletion syndrome.  She had a very rough start to her educational career, but eventually she adjusted, I stopped crying all the time, and we got the support we needed (aids and special ed teachers for Ella; therapist for Holly!) 

Ella’s week is divided into speech classes, OT classes, PT classes, and, of course, learning in her inclusion classroom.  She also takes a dance class once a week and has started piano lessons.  She reads at grade-level.  Writing and expressive communication are difficult for her.  Ella has trouble with abstract concepts.  Math?  Have you seen the way they’re teaching math now?  Ella has trouble with math.

Ben (age 8) has trouble in math as well.  He does not read through word problems carefully, resulting in the right answer to whatever problem he’s imagined in his head.  Unfortunately, that answer rarely matches the intended answer.  When he does understand the question, he often goes about solving the problem in a very unique Ben way, which is not the way he was taught in class, but at least it renders a correct answer. His teacher doesn’t freak out about it.  She says Ben likes to do things his own way.  

“If you look at a deaf child, their language development traditionally lags that of a typical child’s. And you had to adapt. Now, with Common Core, these kids might have to adapt to the standards. Who knows! It’s like a black-hole, and there are no specifics and it’s a huge concern for parents of special-needs kids. How in the world are you going to have common, uniform standards that will address the needs of such a varied population of students.”  Clash Over Common Core

I see Ben struggle with the new and weird way they are teaching math.  And I see his teacher struggle with trying to adapt to the Common Core standards while allowing her students to learn in the way that works for them.  Ben has no learning disabilities.  He is a bright kid: he has a expansive vocabulary, is musically gifted, is very artistic, and is very cute. Unfortunately, he has inherited his mother's complete apathy regarding the subject of math.  He is struggling and comes home with low test scores.  I swear, the government has found the most convoluted way to teach math skills under the pretense of insisting that kids should completely understand WHY sixteen divided by four is four.  Which I understand, to an extent.  Solving a math problem can be a process: giving points for correct procedure while negating points for an ultimate wrong answer seems fair.  It's how I got through those pesky New York State Regents exams.  However, abstract problem solving is a skill that many third graders have not yet developed.  Third grade is the grade where kids are encouraged to move from concrete to abstract thinking.  But the Common Core doesn't include those kids who haven't yet made the leap.

The promo material for Common Core also rubs me the wrong way. A video touts the competitive nature of education and how kids need to learn to the same level so they can go head-to-head with kids across the country and around the world. Gotta beat those whizzes in Shanghai! But kids aren't all members of Team America and they're not factory widgets—they're individuals who learn in different ways and at different paces.  Common Core Leave Out Consideration for the Kids

Parents: Even if your child’s school is following Common Core, reject CCSSI’s approach.  Buy a set of flash cards and drill the times tables into your child’s head over the summer, before she begins the third grade. A Critical Analysis of Common Core Math Standards

I am worried for Ben.  So you can only imagine the anxiety I have for Ella.

The first grade math papers Ella and Daniel bring home are already far more advanced than the ones Caleb brought home just four years ago.  Ella brings home papers that say 100% on them.  These papers are always marked with the words, "with help."  When she does a worksheet on her own, she might get one out of ten answers correct, and it is possible the correct answer was a fluke.  

The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).

The word “standards” gets an approving nod from the public (and from most educators) because it means “performance that meets a standard.” However, the word also means “like everybody else,” and standardizing minds is what the Standards try to do. Common Core Standards fans sell the first meaning; the Standards deliver the second meaning. Standardized minds are about as far out of sync with deep-seated American values as it’s possible to get.  Eight Problems with Common Core Standards
Ella has a diverse classroom.  There are children with various learning disabilities, children from low-income homes, and children who are advanced learners.  And yet they're all striving toward the same common standards.  If they don't meet the common standard? It is likely Ella will be pushed into the second grade anyway, without having mastered first grade math.  I am dreading the third grade move from concrete thinking to abstract thinking.  

Yes, her IEP allows her some flexibility.  But most recent books and articles about the Common Core and kids with learning disabilities discuss aligning a student's IEP with the Common Core.  In an article entitled "Implementing the Common Core Standards for Students with Learning Disabilities," the author states that "the challenges lie in ensuring that students with disabilities will have the supports, services, accommodations, and modifications they need to realize the same educational benefit that all other students receive."  As if there's some magical strategy that will help Ella suddenly understand math and expressive communication.  

If the old adage is true—that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens—then putting the common standards into practice carries the specter of a judgment about educational opportunity in the United States.  A Common-Core Challenge: Learners With Special Needs

Ella's teachers are wonderful, but they are now subject to a national standard.  Who are we, as parents, supposed to appeal to?  Ella is floundering, and she doesn't even realize it yet.  Because her genetic syndrome varies greatly from case to case, I can't know how she will perform academically in the future. Her speech has greatly improved in just a year.  Will her abstract thinking improve?  Will she succumb to psychological problems, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as many with 22Q do?  Will she ever be able to have an actual career?  Get married?  Become a parent?  Live on her own?  Because she has trouble with expressive language, I don't know how much information sinks in when she reads a book or participates in a conversation.  I know that she, currently, cannot meet the standards of the Common Core at this time.  

But that doesn't mean she isn't capable of doing other things really, really well.  She is generous and friendly and sensitive to other people's feelings.  She is creative and artistic, and loves dance and gymnastics.  She has a genuine love of learning: she listens intently as the zookeeper explains why the Rochester zoo penguins don't actually swim in the water they're provided with.  She loves to bake, although she takes a very Amelia Bedelia approach to it.  One cup of flour = any old cup that happens to be around, thank you very much. 

Now I'm not one to run around bragging about my little special snowflakes, but, dammit, my kids are special snowflakes and the government is turning each of them into ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL.

I read a good defense of government-sponsored healthcare.  The individual wrote that Americans have happily partaken in government-sponsored education for decades because we believe so strongly in every child's right to an education.  Why, then, don't we embrace the idea of allowing every child (and adult) access to adequate healthcare?  Life, liberty and happiness, after all.  There's consistency in that logic.

But Obamacare, quite frankly, is this huge disaster.  

I don't have much hope for the Common Core, either.  

There must be a better way.

From around the state and throughout our districts, parents and teachers are raising concerns in regard to the Common Core Standards and children with special needs. In addition to these concerns, some of the requirements of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) also directly impact the ability of teachers to work with children with special needs. These children are often not working at their own grade level, and therefore should be exempted from most testing. A child’s IEP is a plan developed to help them learn outside the standardized methodology and curriculum, consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In that the IDEA is based upon the rights of a child with disabilities to receive an education appropriate to their disabilities and abilities, the application of Common Core Standards is not compatible with many of the provisions of the IDEA.  Common Core Fight Update

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

This Post Rambles or "This is Not a Good Columbus Day"

My piano tuner is about to arrive.  I wish he was one of those introverted, awkward piano tuners who have trouble making eye contact and prefer to get right down to business, banging out Ds incessantly only to finally move on to D#,  but no.  I have the most talkative piano tuner on the face of the planet.  He starts talking the moment he walks in the door and will continue gabbing, even as I grab a laundry basket and make my way up the stairs.  I try to hide out in my bedroom when he arrives. What should be an hour endeavor takes two hours if we chat.  Also, he seems to mistakenly believe I’m an expert on Liszt.  I wonder how I could have possibly given off the impression that I am an expert on anything.  Before his arrival, I not only have to look up facts on Liszt, but I have to brace myself for the inevitable “You need to put a humidifier next to your piano during these dry winter months or else ALL IS LOST” speech.  

Until he gets here, I am writing on the couch while watching the program Extreme RVs on the Travel Channel.  The RV guys are showcasing a 1.2 million dollar RV, which has a really attractive kitchen.  I expect, however, that it guzzles a lot of gas.  That, and I don’t know if I would like to be stuck with my kids in even the most luxurious RV on the market during long road trips.  They are getting to be a handful.  I have an incident that demonstrates what I’m dealing with on a daily basis:

Yesterday was Columbus Day.  (There were a lot of people who took to social media to display their discomfort with celebrating the life of a greedy genocidal megalomaniac.  I see their point.  On the other hand, I enjoy a national holiday.  So I’m torn about it.  I’m not going to say Happy Columbus Day, but I’m not going smack anyone across the face who says it to me, either.)

Yesterday was Columbus Day, and the kids were home from school, so I sent them outside to play, because you can do that, you know.  You can say, “It’s a beautiful day!  Go play outside!”  And then you can lock the doors so they can’t get back in.  Beware of children who insist they are thirsty and must come inside to get a drink.  This is a ruse.  First it’s a drink, then it’s “I drank my water too fast and I feel like I have to throw up,” and then it’s “I can only sit on the floor and play Forza 4 on the Xbox or else I’m gonna puke.”  I speak from experience.  The outside hose is just fine for thirsty elementary-school children. 

Yesterday, I heard howling in the front yard.  Ben burst through the front door (I must have forgotten to lock it) and said:

“Daniel is about to come in here and say that I choked him.  He’s lying!  I didn’t choke him!”  Because I am such an astute parent, I was immediately suspicious of this claim.  Daniel is just not shrewd enough to entrap his brother with a fabricated choking story.

Daniel stumbled into the house.

“Ben ch-choked me!” he blubbered. 

Ella followed him inside.

“I just want a drink,” she said.

“Did you choke Daniel?” I asked Ben.  Ben stared at his feet.

“I didn’t.  I just told you I didn’t.”

“Look at me in the eyes.”  He managed to glance in my general direction, and then stared somewhere just beyond my left ear. 

“I didn’t…” he whispered.

“Ben.  Did. You. Choke. Dan.”  His eyes filled with tears.

“Maybe a little bit.”

“Oh, well, if it was just a little.  Carry on, young soldiers!” I said.

I didn’t say that. I was perplexed, because this was my first “choking” incident.  There have been plenty of “I’m lying to my mom’s face because I think she’s stupid” moments, but no “choking” moments.  I thought back on my life, trying to recall a time I had choked a person just a little bit.  I couldn’t think of one.  Choking is really, really bad news.  I sent Ben to his room. 

“I knew if I told you the truth I'd get in trouble!” he yelled as he stomped up the stairs. "This is NOT A GOOD COLUMBUS DAY!"

“Mom, I’m going to play computer now, ‘kay?”  Ella gave me a sweet smile. 

“I’m not going outside EVER AGAIN.  And I’m not playing with Ben EVER AGAIN.  Can I have a drink?” said Daniel.

Sometimes it feels like all I do all day is get people drinks and extricate them from electronic devices.  

After a long time out and a long discussion about the dangers of choking other people, I sent Ben back outside.  Because you can do that on a sunny federal holiday when you’re not driving across the country in a luxury RV.  Outside is wonderful when your kids are being a handful.

The piano tuner is here.  He came to the door and immediately asked for a drink.  Then he said, “Look at those RVs!  Aren’t they something!” and sat on my couch.

He’s going to be here a while.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Job Hunt

This spring,I decided to go ahead and get one of those permanent-type jobs, one where you show up at an office building in nice shoes every day and don’t have to hound your employer for payment since it automatically comes bi-weekly in check form.  I started the application process two weeks before school started, because I did not want to start a new job in the middle of summer.  I thought getting a job two weeks after sending out resumes was a plausible outcome.

That eager optimism is gone.  It took about six weeks for it to die.  Job leads have fizzled, interviews have led nowhere, and flat-out rejections arrive in my inbox daily.  I now have what you might call a “lack of confidence.”  I stay up late at night worrying about the future and feeling very sorry for myself. Desperate for affirmation, I sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, put my face about two inches from John’s and wait for him to wake up.  If he doesn’t wake up, I pinch his nose so that he can’t breathe. 

“What?  What?” he gasps.

“Do you think I’m smart?”

“Yes.  Let me go to sleep.”

“Do you think I’m pretty?”  By then he’s already dozed off, and I have to pinch his nose again. 

Needless to say, we are both cranky in the morning.

I loathe job hunting.  I’ll find a job advertisement and think to myself, "This suits me to a T!" only to be deterred by an arbitrary specification.  Here’s an example of a promising copywriting position:

·         Must have a minimum 4 years of total, technical writing or copywriting experience with track record of increasing responsibility  (I do!) 
·         Ability to convince and drive receivers of communication to take action (I have four kids.  Got this covered.)
·         Collaboration and team building skills (There is no “I” in teamwork.)
·         Superior English writing skills (I do not split infinitives.)
·         Writing samples required.  (I have those guys!)
·         Must speak fluent Greek.  (What the hell.)

How hard should it be to find a job that pays at least $40,000 for 20 hours a week?  COME ON.

Sometimes, friends will give me helpful suggestions.

“Working in the lunch room is a great way to keep an eye on your kids in school!” they say.

“I almost have a master’s degree,” I want to say.  But I don’t.  I smile graciously and start singing, “sloppy joes, sloppy sloppy joes!”  I would probably make a great lunch lady.

As I contemplate my future career in food preparation at the local elementary school, I begin ruing the day. 

I rue the day I decided to get my degree in Literature and not Marketing or Communications or even Library Science!  I rue the day I let my teaching certificate expire!  For now I am useless.  I rue the day I ignored the little voice in my head that said, “taking Greek language classes will really behoove you in the long run!”

And then, I think the craziest things:

Maybe I should have gone to law school.  Maybe I should get an unpaid internship at the age of 35, like Chandler Bing on Friends. Maybe I should become a doula.  Or an artisan of some kind.  Or a mystery shopper.  Or the person who does overnights with the Girl Scouts at the zoo.  Or a bank robber.  I hear there’s good money in bank robbery.

I spent this morning combing the internet for job possibilities, and then devising plans to launder the money I’m going to rob from banks.  Is it suspicious to pay for a new roof with cash?  Does the IRS pay attention to things like that?  Is the IRS hiring? 

Today, I had to get out of the house.  I went to Wegmans to eat lunch by myself.  I made eye contact with no one, because I was irrationally fearful that someone would blurt out what happened on the series finale of Dexter, and I had worked very hard not to look up any spoilers on the internet. Staying at home without my kids has made me weird and creepy.

At Wegmans,  I grabbed a sub, a diet Pepsi, a copy of ABC Soaps, and found a small, quiet corner where I could read in peace.  Robin is coming back from the dead, and ABC Soaps had the scoop.  Job hunting on the internet and General Hospital-watching go together like peas and carrots.  There’s no reason I can’t tweak my resume while watching Sonny descend into yet another bout of madness. 

Is ABC Soaps hiring?

It's really only been six weeks.  That's not very long.  And I have things to do, like hounding my freelance clients for money, sticking the frozen dinner in the oven, and chasing Kiah off of Mt. Laundry.

Why don't you just fold the laundry?  That way, maybe Kiah wouldn't be compelled to lay on it?

Sheesh.  People are so judgy of the unemployed.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Violence in the Work Place

My children cannot play together without one causing another injury during the course of, say, an hour.  They’ll be sitting there, playing Legos, when one will inexplicably hurl a Lego at the other’s face.  The injured party becomes shocked, betrayed, and out for revenge.  Understandably.  I’m fortunate to have really good friends who don’t accidentally push me down the stairs round in their hurry to get by me.  My kids are not so lucky.  Thankfully, children do will grow out of this compulsive behavior. Otherwise, workplace scenarios like this would be commonplace: 

A corner office.  Mr. Kemp, the boss, is doing something busy and important when his employee, Kurt, bursts through his door.  Highly agitated, Kurt is clutching his right eye and breathing heavily.

Kemp:  Kurt!  What happened?

Kurt:  Brad just punched me!  Hard!  In the face!

Kemp:  Oh no.  Please, sit down!  Sit down.  Let’s have a look.

Kurt:  I don’t want to sit down!  I am very, very upset!

Kemp:  Naturally, naturally.  What happened?

Kurt:  We were just talking about the game last night.  He was getting all excited and he started swinging his arms around and then he punched me in the face!

Kemp:  Yes, but did he do it on purpose?

Kurt:  Does it matter?  He may have broken my nose.  I think I’m bleeding.  Am I bleeding?  I need a bandaid!

Kemp walks to the door and peers out.

Kemp: Brad!  Brad!  I see you, Brad.  Stop hiding behind your cubicle and get over here right now.

Brad walks into the office, his head hanging.

Kemp:  Brad.  Did you punch Kurt in the face?

Brad:  I didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.

Kemp: You know you have to be more careful when you’re talking to people.  Use your words, not your body.

Brad:  Yes sir.  It won’t happen again.  I’m so, so sorry Kurt.

Kemp:  Well, Kurt, it sounds like it was an accident. 

Kurt:  Just like it was an accident when he karate-chopped Katie last week?

Kemp:  As I recall, Katie said some not very nice things to Brad.

Brad:  She called me a poopy head.

Kurt:  But you can’t just go around kicking people!  Mr. Kemp, you need to DO something!

Kemp:  And what would you have me do?

Kurt:  FIRE HIM!

Kemp:  That seems a little drastic, Kurt. I think you should calm down.  Have a seat.  Let’s get some ice for your eye. 

Brad:  I’m really, really sorry Kurt.

Kemp:  Thanks, Brad.  That was a good job telling Kurt you’re sorry.  It takes courage to do that.  You can go back to your desk now.

Kurt:  What?  That’s it? 

Kemp:  Kurt, I’m a little disappointed in you.  Brad feels very badly about the way he acted.  You should have forgiven him.

Kurt:  I can hardly open my eye!  I should not have to tolerate this kind of violence in the workplace!

Kemp:  Hey.  I know what would make you feel better.  (Kemp walks over to a jar on his desk.)  Here.  Have some Skittles.

Kurt:  Skittles?  Really?

Kemp:  Yeah, buddy!  Just for you!  And I’ll tell you what.  You can have Skittles after lunch, too.

Kurt:  I like Skittles.

Kemp:  I know you do.  Feeling better?

Kurt:  Yeah, I guess so.

Kemp:  Think you can go back to work?

Kurt:  Yeah. Yeah I think I can.

Kemp:  Good.  Good.  Let’s give Brad some space today, okay?

Kurt:  Oh, we’re going play squash after work. 

Kemp:  Okay.  Just be careful.

Kurt:  I will, boss.  I will.

I am sure Ben and Caleb, especially Ben, will behave better than this when they are adults.  And if not, may they have a boss who is understanding, and who stocks up on Skittles.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Minivan Days

After the sonogram showed that there were two fetuses swimming like fish in my uterus, I promptly had a panic attack.  I sputtered and breathed in a shallow fashion while John calmly held my hand and whispered that it would be okay.  In many ways it was okay.  In other ways, not so much.  For example, we had to buy a minivan. 

We opted for the Dodge Grand Caravan, which had “stowaway seating” and extra space in the back for double strollers, diaper bags, groceries, and apparently, Ben who “stowed away” on more than one occasion.  Six years and nearly 80,000 miles later, the van has deteriorated considerably.  It is rusting and has a large and unsightly indentation on the side from an unfortunate collision with a light pole.  One of the side doors will not close unless the driver’s door is open.  Last week, the power locks stopped working. The CD player spits out everything I feed it.  A few months ago, Daniel ate raspberry jello and then threw up said raspberry jello in the backseat.  Now much of the upholstery is pink, despite my scrubbing.  There are other stains: dirt, coffee, ketchup, and soda stains. 

The brakes need replacing and the alignment is off.  Other things are on the verge of collapsing.  We are hoping the thing makes it to December 20, which is the day John gets his Christmas bonus and will be purchasing me a new minivan.  I’m hoping we get one with seat warmers.

The other day, John said the silliest thing:

“Maybe next time we don’t have to get a minivan.  Maybe we can get a car.”

“And just how would I transport your children about town in a car?”

“Caleb could sit in the front.”

“And what about when we all go somewhere together?  Weekend excursions?  Family vacations?  Merry jaunts across town to our favorite restaurant?”

“We could… rent,” he said.

John’s disdain for minivans has clouded his rationality. 

Minivans are not cool.  Not only that, but any time a friend or family member has to move a large item, they remember you have the next best thing to a truck.  We have hauled couches and dryers and lawnmowers and Christmas trees.  Mostly, I haul kids.

Lately, I have been hauling kids to Caleb’s baseball games.  He’s on a travel team this year, so we get to visit far-off places like Webster, Fairport, and (shudder) Pittsford.  On a tempestuous Friday, we drove an hour away to Newark only to be immediately sent home because of a thunder storm.  They rescheduled the game for last Saturday, which means I was stuck in an enclosed space with Caleb for four hours over the course of a week. 

Caleb is the most annoyingly curious child ever.  I had two choices:  engage Caleb in a never-ending question and answer session, or listen to the radio, which these days only plays song by Pink or Fun or Pink singing with the guy from Fun.  I succumbed to a litany of questions.

“What hits the ball farther: a metal bat or a wood bat?”

“Why didn’t you play sports when you were little?  Were you that bad?”

“How long would it take to die if you were sucked into a black hole?”

“How exactly would you die if you were sucked into a black hole?”

“Does our galaxy have a black hole?”

“Who do you think would win in a fight?  General Zod or Gandalf?”

I try to answer these questions to the best of my ability.

“A wooden bat?  Isn’t that what the pros use?”

“Yes.  I was that bad.”

“This question is ridiculous.  If you were far enough away to be sucked into a black hole, you’d already be dead.”

“I stand by my previous answer.  But, according to my limited knowledge of black holes, you’d be crushed.”

“I don’t know if our galaxy has a black hole.  I’m going to guess no.”  (I was wrong.)

“General Zod.”  (General Zod, of course, is Superman’s nemesis and fellow Kryptonian who has all of the same superpowers as Superman.  Gandolf is a Middle Earth wizard, friend of hobbits, and speaker of pithy quotes.  Caleb was horrified by my answer and insisted Gandolf would win.  To be fair, I don’t know if General Zod’s powers would be up to par on Middle Earth.  I would assume so, but it is a different planet.  However, I gave this question a lot of thought and I stand by my answer.)

In the minivan, there are debates.  There are burping contests and squabbles over whether we should keep the windows down or turn on the air conditioning.  There are gasps followed by, “Ella DOES NOT HAVE HER SEATBELT ON!”  There are rousing renditions of “This Land is Your Land” and Adele’s “Rumor Has It.”  There are constructive critiques regarding my driving.  (You shouldn’t speed up when you see a yellow light, mom.)  There are deer sightings and ice cream store sightings and educated guesses about what type of bugs are splattered against the windshield.  There is laughing and complaining and gasps followed by, “I FORGOT MY PIANO MUSIC!”  There are days when I choose Pink over the cacophony.  But overall, in ten years, as I am rambling about town around in my Jeep Wrangler, I think I might miss these days.

These minivan days.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine Shenanigans and... Cary Grant's Kisser.

Well, it's Valentine's Day again.  It keeps on coming, every year.  John's in town, but he says Valentine's Day doesn't start until this weekend.  We are getting away.  Last year, we went to Philadelphia;  this year we're going to... wait for it... Syracuse!  Because we have a two night free stay at a nice hotel.  You know what we're going to be doing a lot of, right?  Sleeping.  A lot of sleeping.

Also, John's getting me a new washer/ dryer combo.  The gift is actually contingent upon me selling our old washer/ dryer on Craigslist. I'll bet your chocolate and flowers didn't come with a contingency.  Sheesh.

Yesterday all four of my children wrote out Valentines for their classmates.

"This is a good time to practice letter formation," one letter from a teacher said.  I don't know about that.  I do know that I spent a lot of time yelling "Write smaller!" and "How many different ways are there to spell Micaylah?"  and "Don't put the stickers on the wall!  Those go on the Valentine's!"  I was feeling a little tense because earlier, unbeknownst to me, Ella had commandeered John's Kindle and ordered Shape Magazine, China Daily, and the novel Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks.  I've already thought of a way to punish her.  I'm going to make her read the Nicholas Sparks novel.

I'm running out of Cary Grant kissing videos on YouTube.  I may have to pick a different movie icon next year.  I was thinking Jimmy Stewart, thanks to those great kisses in Rear Window and It's a Wonderful Life, but Jimmy isn't, well... you know.  He's Jimmy Stewart.  And then I thought Clark Gable, but I read somewhere that Vivien Leigh complained of Gable's horrible bad breath during the filming of Gone With the Wind, and that's kind of ruined Clark Gable for me.  I'll think of someone.

In the meantime, here's Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in yet another Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, which has a great soundtrack.  Everyone should watch Hitchcock if only to understand more jokes on The Simpsons.

The set up: Cary Grant is suffering from a severe case of mistaken identity, and Eva Marie Saint is hiding him in her train car.  They do some smooching.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Round Brush

Ella likes to brush my hair, and I let her.  I’d let anyone brush my hair.  If a strange man approached me on the street and offered to brush my hair, I’d seriously consider it. 

I’m really just writing this post as a warning.  I’m full of warnings this week: warnings against Ambien, and now warnings against allowing your child to brush your hair with a round hairbrush.  You probably would NEVER allow your child to brush your hair with a round hairbrush, but I, so delighted by the prospect of getting my hair brushed at all, chose to ignore the cylindrical shape.  Never ignore the cylindrical shape. 

Ella got the brush stuck in my hair, right near the top of my head.  She was initially unconcerned.

“I get it out,” she said, as she yanked on my head.  It really hurt.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it out,”  I said.  I spent a good ten minutes and it wouldn’t budge.  This was especially a problem because Caleb’s very first band concert was in one hour.  I called John.

“Are you on your way home?”

“I’m just leaving.  Why?”

“Well, hurry up.  I need your help.  I have a round brush stuck in my hair.”

“You have a what?”

“A round brush stuck in my hair.  Ella did it.”


“A round.  Brush. Stuck.  In. My.  Hair.  What about this is so hard to understand?”

“Go to the doctor,” Ella suggested.  I called my hairdresser.

“I just wanted to give you the heads up in case you have to surgically remove it,” I said. 

“You have to admit this is sort of comical,” she replied.  I would admit no such thing.

I headed upstairs to get my spray-in conditioner.  I bumped into Caleb.

“Caleb, I have bad news.  I have a brush stuck in my hair.”  I showed him the back of my head.  He looked very upset.

“Are you going to go to my concert like that?”

I promised him I would skip the concert if said brush would not come out of my head.  He seemed relieved.  I sat on my bed and slowly, one strand at a time, extricated the thing from my rather long hair.  I called my hairdresser friend back.  I think she was a tiny bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be getting a new short haircut.

Ella was so relieved.

We all went to the concert, where Caleb and the one other baritone rocked out to “Skip to the Lou.”  It was awesome.

This story has a happy ending; however,  I urge you to never allow your five-year old to brush your hair with a round brush, no matter how relaxing it feels.  Your story may end terribly, like with a buzz cut.  And I assure you, your ten-year old does not want you to attend his very first band concert with a buzz cut.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Little White Pill

I have a rather debilitating case of insomnia.  For the past few years, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time either staring at the sticky glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling or watching Love it or List It on HGTV, which is why I’m somewhat of an expert on Toronto real estate.   After discussing my malady with the doctor, I was prescribed a certain sleeping pill that, for the most part, works like a charm.  Twenty minutes before I want to be asleep, I simply place the pill on my tongue, flush it down the throat with water, and voila!  Sleepy-go-night-night.

The other night I took my pill and continued to read a really interesting political article on the internet that expanded my views on global economics.  (It was some mommy blog.)  I don’t remember what happened after that.  When I opened the computer the next day, it indicated that I had been watching cute puppy videos on YouTube.  Who knows.

My husband says I went upstairs at a reasonable hour, dove headfirst into bed, and then did the craziest thing.  I professed my undying love.  To my husband.  How embarrassing.  Apparently, there was a lot of giggling and cuddling.  At some point, I drifted off to sleep, and not surprisingly, slept like a rock.

I do not remember this, which is disconcerting.  Who knows what else I’ve been doing when I thought I was sleeping?  Raiding the fridge?  Taking the dog for a walk?  Online shopping?  Professing my undying love to Timothy Olyphant on his Facebook page?  If I’m capable of professing my undying love to my husband, well.  Anything’s possible.

The whole incident left me completely unnerved, so this evening, I decreased the dosage by half, which is why it’s 1:00am and I’m sitting here writing this post. 

I may have to give up my little white pill of happiness.  I’m not cool with my giggly subconscious running things.  Next step?  Warm milk and a Benadryl because Ambien, well.  It’s a helluva drug.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lenny Bruce is Not Afraid, and Neither is Ella

This is every conversation between me and any of Ella’s teachers:

Teacher: Hello, Mrs. Jennings!  How-


It’s gotten to the point where they grab the tissue box as soon as they see me.

Yesterday, Ella threw a gigantic temper tantrum five minutes before the bus came. 

“I not like my new classroom!  I NOT LIKE IT!”  It was a very typical tantrum, with the throwing of oneself on the ground and kicking and shrieking.  A lot of shrieking.   The bus came and went, and I carried Ella to the car.  She buried her face into my neck and whimpered.

“You love school,” I said
“I want my old class,” she said.
We pulled into the parking lot and snaked our way through yellow busses and children eager to get to their classrooms.  It is hard to walk with a five-year clinging to your leg.  When we got to her room, she reluctantly showed me her new cubby. I peeled her coat off of her.  Her teacher approached us.

Teacher:  Hello Ella!

Ella: NO!

Teacher:  Hello Mrs. Jennings!


We’re quirky.

Then, inexplicably, Ella decided all was cool and she smiled and pushed me out the door, though not before I could grab her and squeeze her while she squirmed. 

“Bye mama!”  She’s the only one of my kids who still calls me mama. 

When the good people at the Kirch Center told me my daughter had a syndrome, I went to straight to the internet.  Of course I did.  Who wouldn’t?  And within five minutes I found a forum of women who had chosen to abort their babies because of 22Q11.2 Syndrome. 

It was at that moment that I thought, this is serious.  This is not a minor obstacle.  This is life-changing. And I didn’t respond with self-righteousness or arrogance or even a smidgen of confidence. 

I was so afraid.

I was afraid for my daughter, for what her life would turn out to be.  I was afraid I was inadequate for the task of raising her.  I was afraid that I’d never be able to explain to anyone that my daughter has a rare genetic anomaly without crying. 

It’s hard to live in fear.  There’s this darkness I’m trying to run out from under.  Ella, of course, is absolutely oblivious.  She is sunshine and I’m living under a self-made shadow.  It’s a rather horrible irony.

There is no solid ground when one is in a constant state of worry.  The world is inconstant, tremulous, foggy.  Every breath made in a state of anxiety is a breath wasted.  Breath is better spent laughing with my daughter, running with my son, praying, writing.
Writing about Ella.  About how this morning, the wind caught the hood of her jacket and I watched her ash-blonde hair fly out behind her.  How she laughed and turned and waved at me.   How those tiny legs climbed that big bus behind three older brothers who were, that day, angry that she accidentally wrecked their lego creation.  How she has no… fear.
Ella is not afraid.
And if she’s not afraid, then why should I be?
"And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?  Matthew 6:27.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Things I'm Learning in Therapy

“You don’t drink enough water, do you?” she asked.

“Oh no, definitely not,” I replied.

“I can tell by your dry lips.  Also your teeth.”

“My teeth?”

“You have lines on your teeth.

“I have lines on my teeth?”

These are the things I’m learning in therapy.  

I’m in therapy because apparently I have issues that can actually be fixed just by… talking a lot.

I’m also learning to handle my anxiety and my depression, which apparently are polar opposites that exacerbate one another.  I’m not even kidding.  I don’t know how I even get up and walk around during the day, what with the anxiety and the depression.

On the way home from my session, I accidentally cut off a car which did not, I might add, have its headlights on even though it was snowing.  The driver beeped and made some inappropriate hand signals.  I moved lanes to let him pass.  He moved lanes, too.  I got off on Buffalo Road.  He did too.  I got into the right lane; so did he.  I decided to pull into a public place and run for help while dialing 911.  I’m not even kidding.  The anxiety had piqued and I was totally flipping out.  TOTALLY FLIPPING OUT.

I pulled into the Home Depot.  He pulled into the Home Depot.  I pulled into a parking space and waited.  I got out my phone.  An elderly man pulled in beside me.  He smiled at me, unaware that I was having a panic attack and was inwardly screaming for help.

The car that had been following pulled up to the front of the Home Depot, and a man of indeterminate age jumped out of the driver's seat.  He reached into his trunk, I was certain, to get a baseball bat or an AK-47. 

He didn’t.

He pulled out a large Home Depot bag and trotted into the store, probably to return some pipes or something. 


My nerves were shot.  I ripped out of the parking lot and drove straight to Tim Hortons, because one needs a donut when one’s anxiety is completely out of control.

I got home about fifteen minutes before the kids' bus and used the time to try out some breathing exercises (also learned in therapy), and then ate a white cream-filled donut.  I have to say, the white cream-filled donut worked better than the breathing exercises.  Caleb walked in the door with an incredulous look on his face.

“Walruses aren’t German, are they?” he asked.


“Are donkeys actually Japanese?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Connor said… oh never mind.”

A moment later, my therapist called with a reminder for me to do something, and asked how I was doing.

“I was stalked on the way home.  But then I wasn’t.  I imagined the whole thing,” I said.

She paused for several seconds.

“Do we need to schedule another session this week?”

Ay, it’s been a very weird day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sore Loser

Married, over 13 years, and I’d never played Monopoly with my husband.  Now that we’ve spent an evening doing just that, I can tell you this:

My husband is a total a-hole when it comes to Monopoly.

Caleb received the game for his birthday, which was on Sunday.  Caleb was the car, John was the battleship and I, of course, was the top hat.  Because I look good in hats.

John greedily took Park Place and Boardwalk, was spiteful when I got a hold of Marvin Gardens, and had a look of utter glee in his eyes when I landed on his two-housed Indiana Avenue Also, he tried to trade Caleb one utility card for Connecticut Avenue, which would have given him a monopoly.

I quickly put a stop to that. 

The protective instinct is strong in mothers, even during games of Monopoly.  What I don’t understand is why Caleb, despite my allowing him to pay half in rent when he landed on Pennsylvania Avenue, still hooted when his father tried to financially bankrupt me.  After I stopped yet another shady deal between John and Caleb, I looked Caleb squarely in the eye:

“Say you don’t appreciate that, Caleb.”

“I don’t appreciate that, Caleb!” was his response.  He and John howled together.  I felt dumb.

It should come as no surprise to you that I lost. In the end, I had a house on Baltic and two “get out of jail free” cards.  We didn’t exactly finish the game as the board was destroyed by an encroaching Australian Shepherd.  As far as we can tell, Caleb, thanks to landing on the Free Parking spot several times, came in at a close second, and John, thanks to his shrewd business sense and lack of pity, won.

Toward the end, I considered Monopoly divorce just to get half of John's Monopoly cash and real estate.  Unfortunately, there are no “Monopoly divorce” guidelines.  They should probably add that in the next edition.  I bet fewer boards would be thrown across living rooms.

(I get a little emotional during board games, which is why we don’t play Scrabble any more.)

Here is a fuzzy picture of fuzzy Kiah before she went all Napoleon Bonaparte on our board game: