Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blogger's Block

I haven’t been able to post in the last couple of weeks because I’ve had so many things swirling around in my head, but none of them has held still long enough for me to pin it down.

One of my issues, of course, as usual, has been time…not having enough of it, or wanting more. I seem to have these periods throughout the year when too many things happen at once. September started out well, with us getting back on a schedule, me getting to work on time--and even doing yoga in the mornings--thanks to the 7:30 a.m. school bus arrival. Then homework started coming in, and soccer practice and games, and class projects, open house night, PTA meetings (yes I joined the PTA…White House here I come!) Our weekends have been packed--both with self-inflicted activities like fairs and spending time with friends and with kid-centered stuff like soccer games, birthday parties and Bug Maine-ia (which caused M to have nightmares about giant ants).

The Solar Home Tour and Green Building Open House is coming up next weekend, which is a wonderful event for showcasing homes that use different forms of alternative energy and “environmentally friendly” building materials and techniques. It’s also great for C’s business. However it fills me with anxiety and resentment every year because of the amount of preparation involved (when you are showing off your house, it kind of can’t be in its usual state of sh*t-holeyness) and because after seven years I’m kind of tired of people poking around in my personal space.

I spent the weekend with my stomach in knots…due I think to a vague sense that I had a lot to do and was somehow unable to do anything (think ladybug stranded on its back). I hoped to get a jump on cleaning Friday morning before friends arrived for the afternoon, but after several interruptions, I had only managed to clean one bathroom while in the meantime E and Z took out pretty much every toy they own in the living room. I tried catching up on two weeks’ worth of laundry, but Hurricane Kyle showed up at noon, after I had already hung out three loads and had one more in the washer.

Even as I write this I cringe at the whineyness and insignificance of it all. C and I watched City of God last weekend, about the drug gangs of Rio de Janiero. It was incredibly well-done, but after I ended I said to C, “that was a terrible movie.” I've felt heartsick ever since with sadness and guilt and powerlessness. Even though it was a fictionalized account, it was based on real-life events and it broke my heart to watch babies not much older than my own being shot and killed, shooting and killing.

A hurricane destroys lives in the tropics; it interrupts my laundry schedule. Children die of malnutrition, contaminated water and violence every day; I worry about whether our Thomas trains have lead paint. I wrote recently about how much I was loving reading “The Maternal is Political.” After I read more of the book, however, I started thinking, “middle-class hand wringing…” (Someone help me out here…was Rebecca Walker’s essay a satire?) Of course education, health care, consumption, the environment, reproductive choice and war are absolutely vital political issues. But I felt something was missing. Where were the voices of women and mothers who were actually suffering as a result of our political system (other than Cindy Sheehan’s wonderful essay resigning as the face of the American peace movement, and rightfully calling the Dem’s to task)? Then I ask myself, do we invalidate these women’s experiences because they drive minivans? Belong to the PTA? Have the ability to choose public school over private (as opposed to having no choice)? Do I invalidate my own experience because I’m not forced to live in fear of my husband, boyfriend, pimp, landlord? Because I’m not a sex-worker or a squatter or a migrant farm-worker? Certainly not…we all have stories, and our experiences are what they are. I’m just disappointed that a book about the crux between motherhood and politics didn’t have any stories by moms who struggle to raise children on a convenience store salary, from the millions of women whose kindergarten children have no childcare after school, from those who have lost their homes in the recent foreclosure crisis. Maybe they’re too busy and tired and overwhelmed to put two sentences together.

And finally…Sarah Palin. I’m glad the conversation has finally moved on from her children to her frightening record and lack of knowledge and experience. But I stumbled upon a blog that had a picture of her face imposed on Rosie the Riveter, with the “We Can Do It” slogan and the blogger wrote how empowered she was feeling, like she can do anything (with Christ behind her), and I realized that there is a whole contingent of people who do feel inspired by her--women who have been oppressed by their fathers, husbands and churches for so long and now they see a woman just like them on her way to the White House. She’s kind of their answer to feminism. They will vote against their own economic self-interest and their children’s education and health because of their religious beliefs, but now they can vote for a woman who’s against their self-interest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Recent conversations:

M: Can you believe I'm the only one in my class that doesn't hate math?

Well, yes, actually I can believe that because I always hated math (except geometry...I loved geometry!). Of course I don't say this.

M: Math is fun...it's like a detective story.

Exactly, only without the dead bodies, the suspense, the ambiguous threats to the protagonist's life and the resolution with a happy ending.

I don't know where I got this kid (actually I do...from his dad, who used to be called C. Computer and loved math until he hit calculus, and almost became an engineer....horrors!) but I'm sending him to MIT!


M (who at seven and a third is on the verge of losing his second tooth): Papa, I have a suspicion that my mom is the tooth fairy. Because last time she said the tooth fairy might bring me a gold dollar and the tooth fairy did.

I'm just glad he didn't get suspicious because I ran in and hugged him first thing in the morning, sliding both hands under the pillow to switch tooth for gold dollar.

They have concocted a plan to find out whether or not I am the tooth fairy by not telling me the next time he loses a tooth and seeing if any money appears. If it doesn't does that mean I'm off the hook for the next 18 teeth?

Speaking of teeth, have you heard of this trend for $5, $10 or even $20 for a tooth??? Sorry kid, but your pearly whites aren't worth $400.

New post up at Capital Walks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Books and Bread

A couple of weeks ago I hit the downslope to 40 and to celebrate, I ordered myself four books I’ve been wanting to read, but couldn’t get through interlibrary load. Unbelievably, I was able to find them all used, so I didn’t have to break any Buy Nothing rules (I did feel a twinge of guilt at the authors not getting my contribution to their royalties).

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’ve been experimenting with Mark Bitman’s no-knead bread, with mixed success. This book takes a similar principle, but simplifies the process even further.

In the first weekend I had the book, I made three boules, two baguettes, a ciabatta and two pizzas--all delicious and easy (although the baguettes did come out slightly flat). Next I am going to try the whole wheat sandwich bread, because there’s only so much white bread a person can eat in one weekend (groan).

The Maternal is Political. I am only partway through this book, but I have loved every essay I’ve read so far--I feel so jazzed, so fired up, so “Right on Sistah!” when I read it. Not only is it really good writing by a variety of women--both writers and politicians--but it’s so varied in what constitutes politics and the political, in how these moms got involved or how they express it. Go read it now. And then go vote.

The Creative Family. I admit it, I’m something of a Soulemama addict. I go to her sight like some women turn to fashion magazines--to fuel my sense of inadequacy…so of course I was dying to read this book. I’m only partway through and while I agree with most of what she says about parenting and creativity, the way she says it rubs me the wrong way. The writing style is kind of condescending (it reminds me of when we write for the public at work-- “if you use the word ’we’ instead of ’you’ people won’t feel like you’re preaching.”) Still, it has a lot of neat project ideas in it (some of which I have already borrowed from her website), and I’m looking forward to trying the homemade glue (we’re almost out of Elmer’s and I’m slightly disturbed by that cow on the label--is that what the glue is made out of??). Also, even though reading Soulemama’s blog has promoted my inferiority complex, it’s pushed me to try harder to be creative and try more projects both with and for my kids and for myself.

Road Map to Holland. I first encountered Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s writing on Mamazine, and later found my way to her blog and Parent Dish Column. I was drawn to her writing by her beautiful prose and her unassuming honesty. I was especially interested in reading this book because her life parellel mine in some ways--three boys, one set of twins, four years between the older boy and his brothers--but diverges in that her twins were born prematurely and one of them has Down syndrome. But I also wanted to read it because of Jennifer’s lovely writing style, because I always enjoy a good motherhood memoir, because her casual references to the light in the cottonwoods or the change in the aspen leaves near her Montana home always give me a twinge of homesickness for my own native Colorado (a twinge I relish like a tongue probing a toothache), and because I was curious…curious to know if life with a baby with Down syndrome was that different from my own life, and if so how and why?

I devoured Roadmap to Holland in the first three days after it arrived, staying up too late at night. Jennifer’s writing has the power to bring her reader directly into the moment with her. I was in agony when, at the end of Chapter 3 the twins were still in the NICU (they are home by Chapter 5), and even though I did not have the complications of premature birth or an earth-shifting diagnosis, the book took me right back into those early months of bone-aching exhaustion, the confusion, the sense of being overwhelmed, that filling out a form or making a phone call was almost a Herculean feat.
I appreciate her stark honesty about her own emotions--shock, confusion, anger, guilt, sadness and how these emotions evolved over time, doubling back on each other (at one point the physical therapist says that development doesn’t take place in a straight line, but in circles with overlap; it’s almost as if emotions progress in the same fashion)--and how the story ends on a note of forgiveness. I also appreciate knowing more about Down syndrome and the challenges--and joys--the families of children with Down syndrome experience.


P.S. New post up at Capital Walks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The School Volcano Goes off Again

Sandras Tsing Loh has a new book out, which I haven’t read yet, but am very much looking forward to, based on this interview. I’ve become something of a public school fanatic, to the point where I “erupt” at town meetings when people suggest that eliminating a teacher, or returning to half-day kindergarten would be acceptable options for our school.

When M started preschool at a small Montessori school, a co-worker asked if I was going to send him there for elementary school and I said, “No. I believe in public school.” Which is true—I believe that one of the most populist things we can do is provide all of our children (and by that I mean everyone’s children, even the poor ones and the immigrant ones and by “we” I mean all of us, even if we don’t have children or our own kids have already finished school) with a sound education and that any school is only going to be as good as the kids and families involved in it. Which is why I get really irritated when the people who have the most to offer in terms of time, energy and creativity end up homeschooling or sending their kids to private school…when instead of just benefiting their one or two kids, they can put forth half the effort and benefit 20 or 30 or 180 kids.

Only here’s why I’m the biggest hypocrite—I secretly hoped we would really love that Montessori school and that we’d fall into a big fat pot of money so we could send M there right up through 8th grade. As it turned out, neither M nor I loved it as much as I wanted us to and the pot of money never materialized (actually it shrank immensely when his two brothers were born), so he started kindergarten at the local public school. And guess what? He loved it! And so did I. Not in the way I imagined loving the perfect combination Woldorf/Montessori/Nature Camp school in my head, with its wooly-wooden materials, hands-on math and frog-catching, but I love it because M has had really caring, committed teachers, because when we miss the bus and I walk him into the school, the big, tall 7th and 8th-graders say, “Hi M!” as we pass them in the hall, with genuine enthusiasm. I love the PE and music teachers and the art teacher I want to take home and eat for dessert, she’s so sweet (and the things she teaches these kids are forking amazing!)

I don’t love that the cafeteria serves deep-fried processed chicken three days out of five, alternating with some ground beef nightmare or frozen, pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don’t love that it took us most of last year to get him into a math program that met his needs. I don’t love that M told me one day last week that B pummeled him all recess because he wanted to “wrestle” when they were playing cops & robbers and that both he and C looked at me horror-stricken when I suggested he play with the girls instead. Sure I wish he was learning a foreign language and went on more field trips. I wish music and art and PE were every day, not twice a week. I wish they spent more time outside at recess and studying nature.

But these are all things we can work around—I can do a better job communicating with M’s teachers to make sure he stays challenged, I can figure out a sack lunch he’ll eat and let him choose which hot lunches he wants to partake of, he can work on problem-solving and interpersonal skills. We can do our own field trips and make the most of our at-home time to go outside. I can volunteer in his classroom and join the PTA.

We have the advantage that ours is a small school and probably a lot more flexible and easy to work with than a big city school. And while M’s smart, he’s not a super-genius so I only have to push to get him into third grade math, not pre-calculus. And as big as I talk, there’s nothing to say that if the Magical Waldossori Nature School opened up down the street I wouldn’t jump the ship of my ideals and swim to their wooly, wooden, froggy shore.

I raised some hackles with my recent post about kindergarten. My point was not to say that parents who hold their kids back a year are bad, but that school (and state and federal) policies that dial up the academic and social rigor of kindergarten while at the same time dialing back the start age are doing a disservice to society...especially to kids whose parents don't have a choice. Apparently I didn't make that point very well. I probably didn't make my point in today's post very well...whatever it is...you'll have to read Sandra's book to find out.

P.S. New post today at Capital Walks.

Edited: I can't get the book link to work for some reason...go to Amazon and search "Mother on Fire."
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