Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bring Back the Lethal Weapons!

Back in the good old 70's, our moms packed our pb and grape jelly sandwich, bag of fritos, three Chips A'Hoy cookies and a thermos of milk in this:

A metal lunch box and coordinating thermos embossed with the television heroes of our times. These lunch boxes rocked because they had pictures on all sides. Some of them featured characters who were slightly raised so that in moments of boredom, you could trace their figures with your fingers.
In those days, the best part of back-to-school shopping included standing before the lunchbox aisle in the five and dime and carefully weighing the pros and cons of each and every lunch box. Your mother stood there telling you to hurry up and just pick one for goodness sake, but you made sure to examine each one, looking at all the pictures on the sides, tops and bottoms and checking out the thermos inside. It was an agonizing decision, but finally, finally, you selected the one you were sure was the coolest lunch box there.
Your lunch box was a source of pride and entertainment. In the cafeteria during lunchtime, you would take your place at the long brown table with the attached round orange seats, open your lunchbox and prop it up in front of you so that it was on display for everyone to see. You would take out your thermos and pour your milk into the little cap that conveniently turned into a cup. Then you and your friends would entertain yourselves for the next 25 minutes by looking at everyone else's rig. You compared them. You envied them. You judged others by their lunchbox.
The sweetest and nicest girls in the class carried this:
The kid that loved to cream everyone in dodge ball carried this:
The girl who chased the boys around the playground, wrestled them to the ground and kissed them carried this (on account Bo and his hotness):

The cute blond boy carried this:

The cool girl whose parents let her watch adult TV shows while the rest of us were restricted to Zoom and Sesame Street had this one:
Some time during the early 80's a group of parents started an uproar about the danger of metal lunch boxes and they fell out of fashion. Seems they could be a "lethal weapon."
So manufacturers turned to plastic and vinyl and lunch boxes began their descent into boredom.
The hard plastic ones were still marginally cool. This was one of mine. I have a longstanding love affair with Star Wars. I had Star Wars bedsheets. I believed I was in love with Luke. When my mother got us lost while driving to my uncle's house I told her, "The stars will guide us."

I also had a vinyl Wonder Woman box. The only drawback was that it got a very funky smell after a while. Seems that sour milk permeated the plastic. Yuck.

Nowadays, kids carry nondescript thermal bags.

I can't help but think their lunch hours are less interesting for it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Come On, You Know You Want One Too

Some guys have tasteful armbands.

Others have cool monochromatic celtic or tribal shit.

Some dudes prefer crazy-assed skulls.

Others wear their religion on their back.

Some unleash their inner animal.

Others are just plain freaky.

And beyond freaky.

My guy, he rocks a Happy Meal tatt.

That's why I love him.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Maybe I Should Run Away and Join the Circus

Just the other day, I read another one of those ubiquitous articles by a stay-at-home mom re-entering the workforce. You know the article, you read them all the time and may have even lived it yourself. Mom decides to go back to work and embarks on the difficult and treacherous journey to finding a job. In interviews, she is asked how devoted she will be to her job. Will the career or the children win out in the battle of deadlines versus 105. degree fevers? Will she be willing to stay late or does she need to be home to read Goodnight Moon to her lonely toddler? She is questioned on her ability to contribute to the workplace after a long absence. Has she kept current on trends and developments? Does she know the latest software or has her mind gone to mush watching too many hours of Sesame Street?

We all know the story.

Today, as I was driving home from the Sisyphian battle of carting my always sick daughter to the pediatrician, wrestling her flailing arms and limbs for yet another ear exam and throat check, putting her in a headlock for a breathing treatment and then running from pharmacy to pharmacy to find one who keeps small nebulizer masks in stock all while trying to keep she and my son separated so they won't kill each other and my son's greedy hands off of everything he sees in the store, my mind floated away to the near future when I will be employed and transported from all this madness, at least for a few short hours a day.

I contemplated my choosen profession of teaching and realized that motherhood is probably going to make me a better teacher. In fact, there are probably quite a few professions which would benefit from some mothering skills. Hmm, I thought to myself. In which professions would a mother really excel?

And then it struck me.

Circus Freak.

Our lives definitely resemble Barnum and Bailey's finest. And if pressed, I think we mothers could easily fill a pair of over-sized goofy looking clown shoes or, in the right outfit, be mistaken for a juggler.

Here are some of the positions tailor-made for us.

Ringleader: Because we all know it is us who make the trains run on time in our homes.

Lion Tamer: Because anyone who has stared down a little boy at the moment right before he flings his spoon of cereal at his sister's head or tried to change the diaper of He-man cleverly disguised as a toddler can face down a little ole lion with no problem.

Juggler: Try holding a squirming child on one hip, the hand of a three year old, one back-pack, one over-sized purse that is necessary because you must take everything but the kitchen sink with you where ever you go, two sippy cups, one half-eaten lollipop, one free Kroger cookie, one discarded jacket, all while talking on the phone and trying to check out at the grocery store. Three bowling pins? Piece of cake.

The bearded lady: Let's face it. Who has time for meticulous grooming? We've all had those days when we've looked in the mirror to find a inch and half of roots, wrinkles the size of the Grand Canyon, and a mustache rivaling our husband's sprouting on our upper lip.

Trapeze Artist: Hell, I fly by the seat of my pants everyday.

Man, er,Woman who can turn her head half-way around her body: How else would we know that child A is sneaking pop shots at child B in the back seat, or that the unintelligible whimpers coming from the rear seat are demands for the dropped lovey?

The 800 lb. lady: What pregnant woman has not felt this way at 9 months? Or post-partum, for that matter.

Speed eater: I haven't enjoyed a leisurely meal in 4 years. There is always something that is too hot or too cold, a dropped fork, spilled milk, screaming child, child who needs my lap, child who wants to run around the restaurant, requests for more, etc. etc. You very quickly learn to inhale your food.

Contortionist: I put these great skills to use this morning trying to get my daughter to hold still for her breathing treatment. One harm around head, one wrapped around her arms, both legs up and wrapped around her body Indian-style, squeezing with all my might, while perched on the edge of the seat and leaning back on the exam table. My inner thighs are still burning.

Poop cleaner-upper: People poop, dog poop, cat poop. I am a poop expert.

And last but not least, clown: Because we have an endless bank of stupid-human tricks we can perform at any given moment to prevent our children from freaking out in line, in the restaurant, in the doctor's office, on the plane, etc. etc.

So, in the event that my teaching gig falls through, I'm calling Barnum and Bailey. I am sure they have a spot for me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stop the Insanity

I have an odd habit for a lefty liberal; I sometimes listen to conservative talk radio. Not every day, but fairly often. I usually listen to it in the car on the way to and from my son's preschool or on one of our practically daily trips to Kroger or the library. Some might call me a glutton for punishment. I think I just like to marvel at the stupidity so evident in the discussions and also get a peek into the conservative mind.

Today, I caught about 10 minutes of the master of right-wing rants, Rush Limbaugh. Now, I really, really dislike this guy. Occasionally one of the other talk jockeys will make a point that I can see at least a shard of truth in, but never Rush. He just spews irresponsible lies and divisiveness. I usually just switch the station because he gets me so hot and bothered.

Today, though, distracted by traffic, I kept the drivel on. I have read and heard about Rush's appeals to conservative voters to vote for Hillary in an attempt to throw the Democratic primary. Today I got to hear the man himself proselytize about this "Operation Chaos," which he says is his attempt to create chaos in the Democratic party.

Some in the media have speculated that Rush's sermons and call to action actually did have an effect on the Texas and Ohio elections. Rush's listeners are the kind of folks who actually show up to vote, so he very well may have had a hand in Clinton's victories. Just the other day, I heard on another station that someone has filed a complaint with the FCC over Rush's crusade.

I hate what Rush is doing. However, in the US, we have a little thing called the free press. This is a good thing. However, journalists should also act within ethical standards and perhaps Rush has overstepped that line. He's not really a journalist, but he is a media personality and shouldn't he be held to some standards? Hasn't he in fact, encouraged voter fraud?

Some folks in Ohio, seem to think so. The Election Board in Cleveland is investigating voter fraud by the thousands of voters previously registered Republicans who switched to the Democratic party prior to the primary in order to vote for Hillary. This fraud is a fifth-degree felony.

It is one thing for media to cover actual news events and to commentate on people and events. It is another for a media outlet or personality to encourage untruthful and fraudulent behavior in citizens. I think someone needs to pull the plug on him for this.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Talk Talk

Do you have a secret language with your friends and family? Terms that you and they alone understand? I think it would be entirely possible for my college friends and I to have a conversation that is unintelligible to an outsider. We have just that much lingo. My friend Bob Frawg has compiled an entire lexicon. If we had all put as much energy into academic pursuits as we did flapping our jaws, we could all be Noble prize winners today.

My family is also guilty of having our own little dialect. Here are some examples:

My sisters and I all refer to my mother as "The Mom." As in, "So, I talked to The Mom the other day and she said she adopted a seventh cat." This came about one summer vacation long, long ago when my sisters were out on the balcony waiting for my mom to return from the bakery with croissants for breakfast and my sister, C. shouted, "There's the Mom!" She has been "The Mom" ever since.

Oh me Lordy---As one collapses on the couch after an evening of toddler-wrangling, one sighs and exclaims, "Oh me Lordy."

Car Car--"Let's get in the car, car."

Terrible Bad-- When something is truly awful, it's "terrible bad."

Too much Santy--When everything is overwhelming or just too much, you say "Too much Santy." This expression is most suited for Christmas, as it means too much Santa Claus, but it is used year-round.

Alligator Sandwiches--ice cream sandwiches. We always got a stare from people in the grocery store when we asked for alligator sandwiches. I have no idea where this came from.

Happy Fatso--self-explanatory

Our betters-- Anyone that has more money than us

Out amongst'um--Whenever my sisters and I were going out for the night, we were going "out amongst'um."


Tortillars-Tortilla-- based on the time way back in the 60's when my Texas-born grandmother moved to SC and had to special order tortillas from the local grocer and he referred to them as "tortillars."

Koogo-Kroger as coined by my son.

All elephants are Dumbos at my house.

If something is tastes bad, it is "not much good." This one was contributed by my husband's grandfather.

My family also has odd names for grandparents. My great-grandmother was called "Tookie," and my son has named my mom, "My," for no apparent reason at all.

So, what are your odd expressions?

August Can't Come Soon Enough

In four months, I will be going back to work. I agonized over the decision for a long time. Back when I was in therapy for postpartum psychosis, my therapist tried very hard to get me to plan to go back to work that fall. I wasn't sure that it was the right decision at the time and didn't do it. Then, last October, I finally decided that this would be my last year at home. I just can't do it anymore. It was a hard decision, but the right one. Sometimes I still have moments of doubt, but I have noticed that the universe often gives me little reminders of why I want and NEED to go back to work.

Two such reminders occurred this weekend. On Saturday afternoon, we were all driving home from the library, my husband at the wheel of my car. He was playing around and accelerated quickly to entertain my son. I jokingly asked him to please be careful with my car. He replied, also laughing, "Well I paid for it."

Now I know that this was all in fun at the time, but that comment really irritates me. There have been other occasions when he has said it in a completely serious manner, so he does really mean it to a certain extent. It bugs me because first of all, it is not true. The car was paid for in part with a trade in from my old car bought before I even met him. And for the first year we had the car, I was working.

Second of all, we made the decision for me to stay home jointly. He knows I don't love being at home, but it was important to him for me to stay home at least while the kids were very young. He knows that I do a lot of work at home, taking care of the kids and the house. When a married couple makes this decision, it seems to me that the income coming in still belongs to both of them. And to hold it over my head that he makes the money makes me feel like I am beholden to him and that I am somehow less of a partner in the marriage. It implies that I am dependent on him, just as the children are. That I should be grateful to him for providing a car for me. That he ultimately controls things. So I will be very happy when I go back to work and he can no longer say nonsense like this.

The second incident happened yesterday morning while I was trying to get ready for church. The problem was that I really have nothing to wear to church. We have not gone much since Ladybug was born and I lost a lot of weight postpartum. I am thinner than I have been in years and my old clothes don't even come close to fitting. I can get away with some of the tops, but the pants, skirts and dresses are impossible for me to wear now. Even if I could wear them, they are all 5-10 years old and some are noticeably out of style and pretty worn because I really haven't bought much since I quit working.

Because money is tight now, I have not been able to buy replacement clothes. My parents and in-laws generously gave me some money for Christmas and my birthday and part of that went to new clothes, but there were others things we needed first. Our double stroller had to be replaced, we needed a new vacuum and we had to pay a large deposit on the condo we are vacationing in with friends this summer. I also needed a couple of pairs of new shoes. So, the money leftover didn't go too far, especially with clothes prices as high as they are now. And I know that my husband worries all the time about money and he makes it known he is not happy when he thinks I spend too much on stuff for the kids or groceries or whatever, so I have not felt that I should spend any money on new clothes. I don't want to cause even more worry for him.
So, yesterday, trying to find something to wear on Easter, I got upset and we got in a huge fight that pretty much put a damper on the whole day.

It's not like I will make a ton of money teaching, but it really is becoming clearer to me that we can't make the sacrifices anymore. We simply need the money and I need the independence. I think we will all be happier for it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Go forth and gorge yourselves on Cadbury Cream Eggs. I have a secret stash calling my name.

Friday, March 21, 2008

For Those Having Problems With Jeremiah Wright...

For an enlightening examination of one of Jeremiah Wright's sermons, go read CNN's Roland Martin's blog.

Too bad stations and news reports did not carry the full statements. They seem a lot less radical and a lot more Christian given their context in the sermon.

The Veil Has Been Lifted From My Eyes

If you are a frequent reader, you know by now that I love me some politics. Always have and I thought I always would. Not so much anymore.

I am becoming increasingly disappointed and disillusioned with this presidential primary, the media, and the lack of vision and willingness to understand that I have recently seen in the American people.

I started out this primary season full of excitement and hope. It appeared that the Democratic party had not one, but several well-qualified, sharp, and capable contestants. I have always liked Barack Obama, but a year ago, I could also see myself voting for Hillary, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, or John Edwards. In fact, I waffled between Edwards and Obama for a couple of weeks. While I made the decision to support and in fact campaign for Obama, I was satisfied that no matter who was nominated, the Democrats would surely win the election in November.

This excitement and hope has turned somewhat sour as I have watched the Democratic party disintegrate into warring factions and have seen race and gender bias rear its head. I am disgusted with several things.

First of all, I am disgusted with Hillary Clinton. A year ago, I would have voted for her if she won the nomination. Now, I don't think I will. I am disgusted with her tactics and her willingness to do anything, even circumvent the rules, to win. I am disgusted that she agreed to a set of rules regarding Michigan and Florida, but now wants to throw them out the window for her benefit. I am disgusted that she has been so ugly and vehement in her attacks on another Democratic, aligning herself with John McCain against a member of her own party. I am disgusted with the fact that she would over-rule the popular vote to see herself elected. I am disgusted that she would alienate an entire generation of young voters and African Americans to steal an election. I am disgusted with her subtle insinuations about race and religion and Obama. I pretty much am disgusted with her.

Secondly, I am increasingly disgusted with the national media. I am disappointed with the lack of real, substantive examination of issues in favor of sensationalist sound bites and endless pundit spin. I am disgusted that a radio host apparently has the power to sway an election, as Rush Limbaugh has been able to do according to exit polls in Texas.

I am beginning, in fact, to think that it may be impossible for the nation to elect a worthwhile candidate in a constant 24 hour news cycle. Who among us would ever stand up to the constant scrutiny and digging in our past? Who among us has no outspoken or opinionated friends with whom we disagree?

Who can live up to the standards that our media sets? A candidate now must look and sound good on TV, have no disagreeable persons in his or her sphere, have no skeletons in the closet, no matter how minor, never misspeak or inadvertently use an incorrect term or name, must have a spouse who never says anything of substance or too revealing of personality, must make sure to not have an ethnic sounding name, must be affiliated with a religion or religious organization that is acceptable to every voter, must wear one's patriotism on one's chest, literally, must employ no one who speaks his or her own mind, and must be neither too white, too black, too masculine, or too feminine.

Does such a candidate exist? I think not. And how many brilliant people do we never even get a chance to see because they would not subject themselves to such scrutiny?

Finally, I am deeply saddened by the lack of vision and understanding that we the people have shown in the past couple of months. I am disappointed that people will circulate hateful and false emails about a person's religion. I am disappointed that you can hear the sexism leaking from some news commentators' mouths when discussing Hillary Clinton. I am disappointed that this race has turned into a race about race. I am sad that one in five Ohio Clinton voters said race was a factor in their decision to vote for Clinton. I am sad that we have not come as far as we thought we had.

I am sad, also, that people and the media are not taking time to understand Jeremiah Wright and his comments. Wright's comments do no bother me in the least because I know that some African Americans harbor feelings of anger and resentment. And because I believe they are entitled to harbor that anger because they live in a society in which racism exists, no matter how well concealed. I don't believe that I, a white woman, can tell an African American that he or she should not be angry.

I also know that Wright is a theologian in the Black Liberation theology and that his words and work are aimed at helping African Americans reclaim their self-worth and dignity and rebuild an urban community that is disintegrating. This theology is meant to empower African Americans so that they can lift themselves up, out of the impoverished neighborhoods, out of gangs, out of drug and alcohol addition. This is a good and worthwhile thing.

I also am not bothered by Wright's comments because I happen to agree with the thoughts behind some of them. For instance, I agree that 9/11 was in part a result of American foreign policy.

I think that the white reaction to Wright is based on fear and an unwillingness to acknowledge and face reality. No one wants to hear that another person dislikes them or is questioning them. Whites do not want to hear that African Americans are angry. It scares them and threatens them. They also don't want to acknowledge a racist society because that would mean shouldering some of the blame.

I wish that we could have an open dialogue about race. I wish that the media was capable of conducting such a dialogue in an honest and thoughtful way. I wish that people would take the time to listen to one another and really hear what people are saying. I wish that we could open our hearts to one another.

I am so disappointed because I really think that this election is a unique opportunity, and it is being squandered. I hope that we can find a way to rise above all of this and to see the commonality in us all and to join together to work for a common and higher purpose. I fear though, that there may be too much hurt and anger now on all sides for that to be possible.
I am worried that the longer the fighting goes on, the more and more people will become disillusioned and opt out of the whole process. I am worried that if Clinton gets the nomination, an entire subset of Democrats will leave the party. I am worried that such a nomination will cause us to lose a generation of voters. Can we afford this?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Oh No, Honey, I Have No Idea Who Ate All Your Cookies

It is never a good sign when your husband asks, "What's with all the binge eating?"

Here is a list of all the delicious and not-so-delicious sweets I have consumed in the past 48 hours.

Three bowls of Cinnamon Life cereal--I had forgotten how yummy it is
75% of a box of Tagalongs (damn those girl scouts)
50% of a box of Samoas (damn them to hell)
20-odd Coconut Cream Hershey Kisses and a Vanilla Cream Russel Stover egg (damn the Easter Bunny too)
5-6 handfuls of apple-flavored fruit loop type cereal that I bought my self son as a special treat
1 apple fritter from the donut bar at Kroger
2 rock hard mini Babe Ruth bars that were totally not worth the calories
1 bowl of Pumpkin Spice pudding I found in the depths of my pantry, apparently leftover from Thanksgiving
Half a pan of homemade date bars--must save that recipe

The dimple factories in my thighs are working on overdrive. You would think that with all the medical know-how we have today, they could invent a pill that would miraculously eradicate those premenstrual cravings.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy Anniversary?

Today is the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq and to commemorate the occasion, I am participating in Blogswarm, joining with bloggers all over the world in voicing my opposition to the war.

I am opposed to the war for many reasons.

I am opposed to the war because it was waged unjustly.

I am opposed to the war because it was entered recklessly and unnecessarily.

I am opposed the war because I suspect it was premeditate long before George W. ever sat in the Oval Office.

I am opposed to the war because it has diverted our attention from real terror threats.

I am opposed to the war because it hijacked trillions of dollars that could have been spent here at home, rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, shoring up our infrastructure, educating our children, providing health care for millions of uninsured, funding scientific and medical research, funding alternative fuels, alleviating poverty, building low-income housing, funding job-training programs, the list could go on and on.

I am opposed to the war because the US only seems to intervene in foreign affairs when it benefits our pocketbook. Why no war in Darfur? Why no action against Saudi Arabia?

I am opposed to the war because it has sucked our military families dry and yet our government will not adequately support the soldiers when they return home broken and in need of long-term medical and psychiatric care.

I am opposed to the war because thousands of American children are growing up without a parent at home and thousands more will never know that parent because he or she died in Iraq.

I am opposed to the war because it has only encouraged and emboldened our enemies. It has served as fuel for radical factions to spread their message of hate against the US. We are now more hated than ever.

I am opposed to the war because the US never does what it promises in these countries. We never fulfilled our promises of civilian aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan, in part because we were diverted by this war.

I am opposed the war because it's constant coverage has made us and our children immune to horrific violence.

I am opposed to the war because it has weakened our image abroad.

I am opposed to the war because it has killed countless innocent women and children.

I am opposed to the war because it has destroyed hundreds of archaeological sites and treasures.

I am opposed to the war because it lines the pocketbooks of defense contractors who are arm in arm in with the administration.

I am opposed to the war because it is increasing evident that a military solution is not the answer. We need to intervene with aid and education, not bombs.

I am opposed to the war for all these reasons and more. How about you?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Go Read This Book!

If you are looking for a good read, go buy Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. I just finished it last night and it is such an amazing story.

Greg Mortenson is an American mountain climber who spent time in a remote village Pakistan after an attempt to climb K2. He befriended the people there and wanted to do something to return their hospitality to him. Mortenson noticed that they had no school building. The students met outside, shared a teacher with other villages, and attempted to learn arithmetic and writing by scratching numbers and letters in the dirt with sticks. He resolved to find a way to build them a school. He returned home to the US, raised money, and launched what soon became a career of philanthropic work building and staffing schools, especially schools for girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The story is incredibly inspirational because of the extraordinary obstacles that Mortenson has overcome and because of the unwavering dedication he has to his work. He lived out of his car for months, just to save money to get him back to Pakistan to build that first school. In that first village, he first had to figure out how to build a bridge to the village to even get the supplies to them to build the school. He has had to coordinate building efforts in places that have no phones or electricity and whose roads are out for months due to weather. He has had to win over hostile forces and religious groups and learn to function in a culture that is so very different from his own. He now is a loved and revered man, in a part of the world where few Americans can feel safe.

What is also so compelling about the story is that it is stunningly clear in reading this account that the only real way that the US can fight terror and Islamic fundamentalism is through education and economic aid. I learned something I had never read before about the state of education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Back in 90's, Saudi Arabian fundamentalist groups sent money and men to Pakistan and Afghanistan to set up madrassas. Madrassas are the fundamentalist Islamic schools that train terrorists. The Saudis choose Pakistan and Afghanistan to do this in, in part because they knew that both these countries have no real national school system. Their governments are so poor that they can not afford to build schools everywhere they are needed. Furthermore, the majority of the populations can not afford to send their children to distant private schools and they are desperate that their children recieve some type of formal education. So, the Saudis swept in, established these cheap madrassa schools and people flocked to them because it was the only way their children could go to school. The teachers at the madrassas are often barely literate themselves. The schools are simply a front for fundamentalist training.

To make all this even worse, the schools chose the best and brightest of their pupils and send them back to Saudi Arabi or on for further "training", indoctrinating them in hate even further and then order them to return to their homeland and marry four wives and have as many children as possible to carry on the teachings. It is terrifying. This would have never been possible if these countries had vigorous educational systems in place.

And the people do truely want education. The men of the first village where he built the school actually carried roof beams and building supplies on their backs for 18 miles because a road was out. They walked 18 miles overnight just to get to the supplies, strapped them to their backs, and then walked 18 miles back home, carrying the supplies, a lucky few in tennis shoes, but many barefoot or with shoes made from animal hides. They weren't paid for this. They did it because it was the only way to get a school building for their children. These people want the schools.

One of Mortenson's agency's programs is Pennies for Peace and is suitable for schools to use to help raise money for his work. American children like it because they know they are helping raise money to help other children, just like them. I think I may start it up in my classroom next year.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dear God, There Has Been A Mistake

To cap of the oh-so-delightful weekend, last night I found my first gray hair. Followed by ten, count'em ten, of its siblings.

I'm only 35!

And, I'm a redhead! We're not supposed to really go gray. We just kind of fade into a yucky color.

This should not be happening to me!

Needless to say, this morning I bought a box of haircolor and plan a dye job later today. Good thing I am going back to work in the fall. We'll need the extra money to pay for my salon visits from now on!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Yucky Weekend

I do not have much to say and here's why.

Friday: Spend exhausted and nursing a sinus infection, stressing over big Middle School Praxis Test on Saturday morning.

Saturday: Drive across town in the rain to spend 3 hours taking a standardized test in a room full of coughing, sneezing equally-sick people. Test went well. Time spent studying math definitely helped. Did better on Math than Social Studies--a first and probable last. Now kicking self for not brushing up on Math before the GRE. Could have done so much better if I had studied and not gone out drinking the night before.

Come home, brain-fried, hope to take Sweet Pea to see Horton Hears a Who, but Sweet Pea does not want to go. What??? Bummer.

Spent rest of day putting Ladybug in and out of timeout for pinching and hitting. Sweet Pea goes to bed with no stories after rudueness, defiance and refusal to pick up his toys. He screams for 20 minutes. Head hurts.

Sunday: Go to a new church. Liked it. Bright spot of day.

Get home, recieve a phone call to let me know that an immediate family member with a history of heart disease has experienced serious chest pains and dizziness over the weekend. Can't say more at this time. Don't want to face it.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll feel like a real post.

Friday, March 14, 2008

You're Going to Eat That???

Just the other day, the lovely Rima wrote a post wherein she mentioned her unabashed love for radish sandwichs. Radish sandwiches?? What is that, I asked myself? Ever considerate of her reader, Rima described the delicacy: Wonder bread, butter, sliced radishes.

No offense, Rima, but that sounds kind of yucky. However, who am I to judge? After all, my favorite sandwich is a tid unusual too.

For years I have been teased about my adoration of peanut butter and tomato sandwiches. They are scrumtious. My entire family eats them. We also have been known to enjoy pb and apple, pb and banana, pb and raisin, & pb and honey. You could probably put peanut butter on anything and we'd eat it with relish (not pickle relish, happy relish, though pickles and peanut butter is said to be quite tasty too).

I wonder what other wierdo sandwich recipes are out there? What's your favorite sounds-disgusting-but-is-delicious sandwich? Come on, play along.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Elephants

It's amazing how as mother, you can experience the highest highs and the lowest lows just in the span of a few short hours.

Today started out beautifully. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, it is warm. The perfect day to spend outside.

We had to get up a little early this morning to make it downtown for Ladybug's ear tube check. I was actually showered. Kids were dressed and at least one of them was fed. Traffic was fairly light. No problems.

Even the appointment went well, which was a nice surpirse. Ladybug has had several health problems in her short life of 18 months and has a resulting strong aversion to doctor's offices. She has an even stronger aversion to having her ears checked. I can't blame her. She had an ear infection for 6 months continuously and of course she associates ear checks with pain. This time though, she only cried at half her usual volume and for about half as long. She didn't even kick the doctor while he looked at her. And Sweet Pea did a great job of helping me and entertaining Ladybug.

Since the weather was so wonderful and since we were downtown and thus already halfway there, I decided to take the kids to the zoo. Sweet Pea loves, loves, loves the zoo. Of course all kids love the zoo, but his love for it is a little above average. Ever since he was very young, he has been entranced by animals. His favorite books are animal encyclopedias and he has an amazing bank of animal knowledge for his 3 and a half years. He can identify animals I have never heard of, such as echnidas and aye ayes. He knows which animals live where and is quick to point out any discrepancies in puzzles and games, like when the puzzle pictures a black bear next to a lion. He knows what they eat and how they use camoflogue. It will not surprise me at all if this turns out to be a lifelong love and he becomes a zoologist or vet.

We haven't been to the zoo in several weeks because of winter, so Sweet Pea was thrilled to be going. We arrived a little early, but the kids entertained themselves while waiting. Once the gates opened, we headed in and began our usual route. I had forgotten the stroller so I alternated between carrying Ladybug and letting her walk and she did a surprisingly well job of staying with me.

Sweet Pea's favorite animal is the elephant and so we had to go see them first. He had brought one of his stuffed elephants along to show the real elephants and was excited to see their reaction. Some workers were doing clean-up in the elephant habitat and we had to go into the elephant house to see the animals.

Inside the elephant house is a glass wall that looks in on the large elephant holding area. It is a cement-floored space with huge metal barred walls and doors. There were two elephants in the enclosures. One was standing in the back swinging his trunk back and forth. The other was pacing and periodically rubbing his trunk against the wall. We stood there a good 10 minutes watching them. After a few minutes, Sweet Pea said in a very sad voice, "Mommy, those elephants want to go outside." Then he told me he thought they were bored. It was such a precious moment. It was so affirming and heartwarming to hear my son's empathy for these animals and his sweet yearning for them to be happy. I was so proud of him in that moment. My sensitive and loving boy.

Just as we were leaving, the zoo keepers let the elephants outside and we stopped to have a snack and watch. The two giants literally ran out of the building into the open air and one let out a huge bellow with his trunk held high in the air. You could see how excited and happy the creatures were to be outdoors. Sweet Pea felt better now that the elephants seemed pleased and he enjoyed his snack while watching them.

We continued on through the zoo and at each exhibit, Sweet Pea lingered much longer than usual. He has always sped through everything, wanting to see and acknowledge each animal, but not spend too much time with each one. This time though, he really wanted to study them. He noted to me where each animal lived (grassland, jungle, etc) and asked detailed questions about them. He was so intent on each one. What a difference a couple of months makes. The visit was so wonderful and I was reminded of how much I enjoy these moments with my children and how I will miss them when I go back to work next year.

Around 11:45, both kids started to crash and we headed home for lunch. Sweet Pea doesn't like to eat breakfast and he had had several snacks throughout the morning, but he was starving. When we got home, I made their lunches, but it was too late. He had already reached the point of no return. He got very upset because his pizza was different from his sister's and threw a huge screaming tantrum. He threw himself on the floor, wailing, and rolled around for a good 15 minutes. I tried to pick him up and show him that his pizza was the same as Ladybug's, but he was too far gone. He caterwauled for the next 30 minutes and it was all I could do to get him calmed down enough for nap time. What a different boy he was from just an hour earlier, though it really was my fault for not having packed more snacks or leaving earlier than we did.

So, this morning was a study in contrasts, but that's OK. You have to take the good with the bad and in this case, the good certainly won out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Daughter, the Crab-turtle

Do they make muzzles for children?

If so, I need one. And some type of straight jacket thing where the child's hands are restrained would be helpful too.

You see, my daughter, Ladybug, thinks she is a snapping turtle/crab hybrid. Instead of a rosy, smiling mouth, she sports razor sharp teeth which she wields with great accuracy. Instead of hands, she has pinchers and she is not afraid to use them.
Every time Ladybug gets mad or frustrated or is told no, she lashes out either by pinching or, now, biting.

The pinching has been going on for several months. She gets upset about something and whips those little fingers out and gives whoever is closest a good pinch. If no one is close to her, she will pinch a toy or the wall (which is pretty darned funny).

Yesterday, she added biting to her repertoire. Three different times during the day, she got mad at her brother and bit him. Bit him hard too.

Obviously this has to stop. We have been using time outs and diversion, but are getting nowhere fast. I know this is normal behavior to a certain extent and I know it stems from frustration and will likely resolve itself when she is more vocal, but I am not comfortable ignoring it. I am especially eager to nip the biting in the bud since she will be in daycare in August and I don't want her to get kicked out for biting.

Ladybug is very high-strung and always has been. She was angry from the get-go and has always had a temper. We used to think she would grow out of it, but I am beginning to think it is just her personality. She will have to learn to control herself at some point.

Nothign we have done has worked. Timeouts and stern no's have had no effect. Diversions don't work. Short of a muzzle/straight-jacket combo, I am at a loss. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Just plain tuckered out

I am pooped. Our house smells like paint fumes and my hands have blisters from a pruning saw.
In an insane flurry of home improvement, hereto unknown in these parts, my mom and husband painted our kitchen over the weekend and I stripped, sanded and painted a kitchen island. Then, my mom and I pruned our three humongous holly trees to half their size They used to reach the second story windows. They were full and bushy. They are now crazy looking skeleton trees that barely reach the middle of the first story windows. Then, as if that weren't enough, we pruned the crepe myrtle, cut down four bushes entirely and took out an entire mystery tree in the front yard. To finish things up, I took off the screens and washed our kitchen windows and shutters inside and out.

I am exhausted. And since today I have to make a batch of Easter bunny cupcakes with coconut fur, marshmallow ears, and jellybean eyes and nose and clean up the house for an afternoon playdate, I just don't have time for an involved post. Though this seems to be getting there.

In the spirit of taking it easy, I am stealing a meme from lord knows where.

Name one thing you do every day: Teeter on the brink of insanity. The only thing aside of pharmaceuticals that keeps me from going batty is reading and so, in an effort to stave off a straight jacket, I read. Right now I am reading Three Cups of Tea. More on this in a day or so.

Name 5 things/people that make you feel good: Chocolate, good conversation,warm sunshine and a blue sky, my children when they are not screaming like banshees, an evening curled up on the couch with my husband and Lost.

Name 4 things you love to eat but rarely do: Well, I love diet soda but can't drink it anymore because I have Interstitial Cystitis. Sometimes I have one but I usually pay the price later. I am not supposed to eat chocolate either, but that's just damned impossible. Ice cream I love but rarely eat. Pizza. Cookies. German chocolate cake or just about any flavor cake. Donuts. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?

Name 3 things that remind you of childhood: El Chico, Old Spice deodorant, motel swimming pools.

Name two things you wish you could learn: I would like to learn to play the banjo. That would be cool. I would like to learn to make yeast breads--I just never get them right and they are always hard as rocks.

Tag, you're it: Missy from The House of Flying Monkeys, Rima from Rimarama Mama Drama, Jennifer from Thursday Drive and Marge at Marge in Real Life.

That took way too long.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Molly's La Casita

When I graduated from college in 1995, I was a little, OK a lot, directionless. My parents were going through a divorce after 20+ years of marriage. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend of five years, the one I was supposed to marry after graduation. I had no real idea of what I wanted to do and I had not applied to graduate school, which would at least have given me some buffer time. I went home to
Nashville that summer, spent a couple of miserable months, and promptly moved back to Memphis where I could bide some time hanging out with friends and getting my groove on.

I initially got a job waiting tables at a hoity-toity French restaurant. They never should have hired me in the first place. I was way out of my league and quit almost immediately. Several doors down the street was and still is a small, independently owned Mexican restaurant, Molly's La Casita. The food is OK, some dishes better than others, and the margaritas are strong. I walked in one afternoon, sat at the bar, and asked for an application.

As I filled out the application, I tried to scope out the place. I noticed the waitstaff had on shorts and t-shirts. That was a plus. One was smoking a cigarette and talking with a customer. They all seemed happy. Everything was very laid back. There would be no pretentious winelist nonsense here and no starched white aprons. I I thought it looked like a good place for me.

After I handed over the application, the owner, Robert Chapman, came out to speak to me. He was warm and friendly and made a joke about my being a graduate of the high falutin' college a few blocks away. I liked him immediately. He hired me on the spot and I started work the next day.

I worked at Molly's for about five years, a long time in the restaurant business. Of all my non-teaching jobs, it was the best job I have ever had, much in spite of itself. I didn't make a ton of money; I could have made much more elsewhere. Waiting tables itself is hard, sometimes demoralizing work and there were quite a few nights when I thought I couldn't wait to throw in my apron. I went home every night half covered in salsa and smelling like an enchilada. I suffered rude customers and an occasional lousy tip or walk-out. Once night a drag queen almost hit me. By closing, I was always exhausted and would sometimes go home and have nightmares about being in the weeds. Despite all this, it really was a great job.

What made Molly's so special was that it became a family to me when my own family was in so much turmoil. The owner, Robert, and manager, Kelly, were half-friend, half-parent figures to me, always ready to give advice or offer help if needed. The staff was a small, close-knit group who spent most of their free time together and with other area restaurant staff. We had a core group of regular customers who were as much a part of our life as we were of theirs. We were invited to their parties and they to ours. People cared about one another.

Even the kitchen staff, often a totally separate entity in a restaurant, were friends with everyone. One of the cooks was nicknamed Pig. I used to make little pig figures out of the chip basket and frill picks and set it on the line for him. He'd just laugh and keep slinging tacos. I used to drive Prentis home some nights and he'd have me drop him off just before the railroad tracks, just on the edge of his hood because he didn't want to put me in danger.

Another of my favorite employees, Traveler, was mentally retarded but had been taken in by Molly's and given a job which could have been done better by someone else, but remained his out of love for him. Kelly even helped him find housing and manage his money. The kindness with which Traveler was treated is indicative of the type of place Molly's was and I am sure, still is.

I have not been to Molly's in years, but if I close my eyes, I can still conjure up the smell of the chips, the sound of the dishroom door banging as Traveler barreled through it, a bin of dishes in his hands, and the feel of the hot and humid Memphis air blowing through the open front door. I can hear Kelly calling someone a nimrod and Pig, barking out orders in the kitchen, tickets piling up on the line, his gold-rimmed glasses perched on his nose and his face shining with sweat. The down ramp to the lower level dining room made a certain sound every time you walked on it and the tile floors were impossible to sweep clean. I can taste my favorite shrimp quesadilla or the burger, which, oddly, was one of the best in town. I can feel the icy headache from a maragrita downed too quicky and Butch, the bartender's slightly diabolical laugh as he posted his latest top 10 list. The old computers were the type where you had to enter a numerical code to modify an order and I can still remember some of the PLU's. I can tell you the table numbers and recite most of the menu. I still have my tray that I had marked my own with a lizard and which, when I left, was signed by everyone and given to me as a gift.

My time at Molly's will always remain one of the best times of my life. The other day, I was reading a Memphis blog and read that Robert, the owner, had a stroke some time ago. He survived, but I don't think he is actively a part of the restaurant's day to day life anymore. This makes me very sad. I know Molly's is still open, and I hope it remains as it was, a welcoming and oddly nuturing way station for those who need it. It is much loved.

Friday, March 7, 2008


I posted a previous version of this a little while ago and it was not a complete version. That's what happens when you try to write a meaningful blog with a toddler around.

Moving from micro to macro here....

One of the blogs I read every day is The Field Negro. A few days ago, Field posted a rebuttal and link to another blogger who had posted her thoughts on the existence (or lack thereof, really) of racism and what she, as a white woman, views as the problem with black people.

I checked out the woman's site and she has what I would call some angry views about the world. She's angry at blacks, Muslims, liberals, communists, socialists, etc. etc. I didn't see any posts about illegal immigrants, but I am sure they receive her wrath too. If you go look at it, make sure to read the comments and her responses to them. They are more telling, really, than the original post.

I don't want to try to repeat her beliefs here, because it would take awhile and they seem more hate-filled than well-reasoned. Let's just say she doesn't understand why African Americans harbor any feelings of oppression and doesn't get why they might be upset with American society. She also proclaims a hatred for the Muslim religion and its adherents. ALL Muslims, not just radical fundamental groups.

She has the two issues on the same page and in looking at her blog, I was reminded of the work of New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman. Friedman has studied and written extensively on terrorism and America's relationship with the Middle East. A few years ago, his work was featured in a news program documentary. I can't remember the specifics. I have a recording of it somewhere, but it is in one of my gazillion school boxes. In it, Friedman interviews young people in the Middle East and asks them what they think about America. It was riveting.

What you hear especially in the young men's replies and what Friedman also writes about in his essays on the subject, is that these young Muslim men feel oppressed. They feel shut out of economic opportunity and trapped in third world poverty. They feel they have no future. They are aware of the wealth we all enjoy in the US and they resent that they may never have the opportunity to enjoy such wealth because of the economic structure of their countries and lack of opportunities.

What struck me especially hard was that these young men feel emasculated by the U.S. and Western culture. The Arabian empire was once one of the greatest empires on earth. Our earliest civilizations sprung up in the Middle East. These young know the long and important history of their land and people and they resent that they no longer hold the power they once did.

When you combine these feelings of inferiority and oppression, you get rage and rebellion, hence the violence we know see being played out on the world stage.

I suggested to this blogger that perhaps she should read Friedman's work as it might inform her views of race in the US. Friedman's explanation for terrorism also holds true for the young male African American population in the US, albeit on a smaller scale. Thankfully, these feelings have not resulted in the horrific violence they have in Middle East, but they fall on the same spectrum.

I am a white female, but I think I can say without a doubt that African American men have also felt oppression and lack of economic opportunity. They also feel emasculated by white society. Isn't it the same basic feelings that Friedman asserts drive young Muslim terrorists?

This whole line of thought is not new theory. Anyone who has studied race and class knows that they are intertwined and in fact, inseparable. The ruling, monied class has always used racism as a way to control others and ensure their power and control over the economy. One of the most stark examples can be found in the history of the Belgian occupation of Rwanda. When the Belgians colonized Rwanda, they systematically and deliberately stoked tribal differences between Hutu and Tutsi, deeming one tribe superior over the other in part on the basis of skin tone and skull size, helping to ensure the Belgian control over the region. This social engineering resulted in a massacre fueled by those racial tensions. The portrayal of Africans as being beneath whites, dumb and savage helped justify slavery. Some would argue that the media's portrayal of "dangerous and armed" black men serve to keep African American men in their place today. And the reason for the tension between the African American community and the Hispanic community is based on economics but plays out as racism. The Hispanics compete with the African Americans for jobs. This is threatening, of course, to both sides and results in both communities exhibiting fear and dislike of the other.

And how about the example of all examples--the Holocaust? The German people resented the wealth of their Jewish compatriots in a time of economic crisis. If the economic crisis had not occured after WWI, the people may not have been as easy to convince of that the Jews were the "scourge of the earth."

Is radical Islam really that different from other race and class rebellions? Yes, it is nominally based on a religion, but isn't what really fuels it the economic and class issue? And yes, it is horrifically violent and many would say inhumane, but when you get down to the causes how is it really that different from revolutions in Cuba and Central America, the Black Panther movement, and, dare I say it, the American Revolution?

Obviously there are other factors at play in the Middle East, but I think it is interesting to compare the two. Don't we, the US, have reasons to attempt to control economics in the Middle East, just as we have had in the past in attempting to control slave labor? Aren't the results the same?


And please know that I am in NO way defending radical Islam. I find their tatics reprehensible and grotesque. I think their actions are evil. There is NO excuse for the violence and extreme hatred toward the west and Israel.
I am just looking, very detachedly, at the reasons behind it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Choosing the Tools

First of all, thanks to everyone who weighed in on my last post. I have a lot to consider! Everyone who pointed out that needy kids are in every school are exactly right and I am sure that if I take the job in the rural school, that I will have plenty of kids to love. And really, I probably ought to take that job simply because it would be easier than an inner-city school and I will probably need easy my first year back. I can always transfer when my own kids and family life is less demanding. And it would be kind of a challenge for me to take the rural job. I've never taught in a school like this one, so it would be interesting to see the differences and the similarities. Kids are kids after all. It's just not the demographic that I most want to work with, but it might broaden my horizons too. Hmmm. Much to consider.

Now, to fill you in on a related worry...

I am worried about putting my money or kids, rather, where my mouth is.

We currently live in Knoxville. Conservative, very religious, 86% white Knoxville. The school my kids are zoned for is one of the best elementary schools in town. It is something like 98% white and upper middle class. Our neighborhood is almost all white. I can go days without seeing one African American or Hispanic person. We live in the land of soccer and SUV's.

And I don't like it. I do not want my kids to grow up in a bubble. I don't want them to think that this place is reflective of the larger world. I want them to have friends who are different from them. I want them to experience other cultures and ways of life. This is so, so important to me.

I think in order to be prepared for the larger world, children need to know things different from themselves. They need to learn tolerance and acceptance of people and ideas who are at odds with them and this is hard to do when you are only surrounded with folks like yourself.

Plus, people from other cultures and backgrounds have so much to offer you. You can learn so much from them. I want my kids to have this experience.

Someday in the next few years, we will move back to Nashville, in part because of the diversity issue. When we do, we will not be able to afford to live in such a great school zone. My kids will go to a school that has more problems then the one here and it worries us.

The questions is, how do you choose what is best for your kids? What is more important; that they got to a diverse school or that they go to the best school academically? It's a tough call. We all want the best for our kids and we want to give them the tools to succeed. But what do you do when you have to choose which tools to give them?

This issue is also a test of my dedication and belief in the value of public education and it is a test that can directly impact the quality of that education for us all. If all the upper-middle class, highly educated parents took their kids out of the public schools, those schools are all but doomed for failure. Indeed, this has happened in other larger urban districts such as Los Angeles.

The upper middle class and educated parents are the ones who know how to work the system and demand excellence for their kids. They are the ones who call their school board, who are in the office talking to the administration, who are attending conferences. They are the ones organizing the PTO's, giving money and helping fundraise. Schools depend on the funds and support that these parents give and it improves the school for everyone.

In my old school, we had a group of parents who all fit into the upper middle class, educated bracket. They had the option of moving out of the county to wealthier areas with excellent schools, but they chose not to and it was a deliberate, reasoned choice. These parents decided as a group to stay in their neighborhood schools. They planned it together, in fact. They were committed to the neighborhood school, kept their kids in, and worked together to improve the school for all the students. They served on the PTO, organized fundraisers, volunteered in the classroom. They met regularly to discuss ideas and ways to improve the school. It was a noble decision and I really think their kids were the better for it. I know the school was.

Without these parents and their children, the schools become institutions that serve only the urban poor and immigrant children. Children whose parents are too busy making ends meet to attend after-school functions. Children whose parents do not have much of an education themselves and are often fearful of schools and teachers. Children whose parents do not speak enough English to communicate with the school. Children who live in single-parent households where they are expected to work themselves to contribute to the household income.

In addition, when the upper-middle class pulls their kids out, the remaining children are not left with many peers who raise the bar for everyone. They have no peer role models and the level of discourse in the classroom lowers a little. This is the argument folks make against academic magnet schools and it has some degree of merit.

And let's not even talk about the message it sends to kids when you tell them you don't want them in "that school" with "those kids."

What it all comes down to is that public education only works to its full potential when we all buy into it.

So, do I buy into it enough to put my kids in a school that needs help and then work as hard as I can to change things? Yes, I think I do, but it sure is a hard choice.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No More Ms. Funny--At Least for Now

Foreword: I am having a blog personality crisis. I know that a lot of what I have written has been mommy oriented and most of my regular readers are other moms. However, I am just not feeling very inspired these days by typical mommy blog issues. More serious issues have been on my mind lately and I am going to go with them. I may lose some of you readers out there, I know, but I really started blogging for me, and therefore, I am going with my writing muse.

One issue that has been at the forefront for me recently is race and class. It is something that I have been thinking a lot about in both the macro and micro. It is a topic in which I have always been deeply interested, more interested in, really than anything else. If everyone has one central issue that is key to who they are, race and class issues are it for me. The subject of racism and class has informed every serious academic and professional choice I have made. I have studied in/lived in/worked in the African American community for almost all of my adult life. I feel more comfortable in the company of African Americans than I do with some groups of my fellow whites.

I don't like having to prove my beliefs by saying things like, "My best friend was black." That's is not at all what I am trying to do with this. But since many readers don't know me at all, I have to give a little background. I apologize if it seems like I am white-girl-trying-to-prove-how-down-she-is.

One thing that I have really been struggling with in my own life is my choice to go back to work in the fall.

I made the decision after college to pursue teaching because it is one way that I can directly impact the future of society. It allows me to immediately effect the lives of children, especially those at a disadvantage because of the color of their skin or their economic situation. Of course I love learning and kids and all that, but the real core reason I got into teaching is to work in those inner-city, African American schools. I want to do something to improve the lives of those kids.

My favorite students have been African American boys and in the urban, big city school I taught in, those boys were all poor. When I look at their faces, I see children who desperately want to succeed, but have already been beaten down by the world. They have been born into poverty, born into single parent or grandparent households. They have few role models and are immersed in a culture that has given up on education. It is so easy for these children to opt out. It is so easy for them to react to their situations with anger and rage. It is easy for them to give up, believing that they will never win the prize anyway. One of the few things that save some of these children is a caring adult who believes in them.

One of my favorite students was a 13 year old boy, Ronteze. He was a sad and angry young man, but underneath you could see a happy, funny kid who was holding on, just barely.

Ronteze lived with his mother, older sister and a assortment of "uncles." He often slept on the front porch of his house because there was no place for him inside. He had ready access to drugs and guns due to his mother's habits. He had learned violence at a young age at the hands of various family members and "uncles". He was not a bad kid, he just lived in a horrible situation and had not been given a real chance by anyone.

Ronteze was one of those students who the other teacher warned about. He was the one who the 5th grade teachers told us would make our lives miserable when he got to us. He was in and out of the office and suspensions.

Ronteze was first placed in another 6th grade team of teachers. I did not have him in any classes, but I saw him in the hall between classes. Since I gravitate towards kids like Ronteze, I made the decision to try to get to know him. I would speak to him in the hall between classes, smiling at him and maybe teasing him about something. Within a week, Ronteze was stopping by my room everyday just to say hi. I could have well been the only smiling face he saw each day and he craved the attention.

A few weeks into the school year, Ronteze was giving his teachers quite a hard time. One was a male teacher and Ronteze and he butted horns every day. The principal convened a meeting to discuss what to do with Ronteze. No one wanted him in their class. When I found out about the situation, I immediatly went to the principal and asked her to give me Ronteze. I told her that I had a good rapport with him and could handle him. At first she was reluctant. This was her first year at our school and I was a second year teacher, young and white. I knew she thought there was no way I could handle Ronteze, but she gave me the chance.

I went and got Ronteze out of his class and explained to him that he was joining my homeroom. I was affectionally stern with him and told him he would have to abide by the rules. I also told him that I expected the absolute best from him and that I would not tolerate anything but. Ronteze smiled and hung his head, embarrassed and happy.

The other students knew his history and were wary of him, but I was his fiercest defender. When he got into an altercation with another student, I backed him. The other student, a white boy who was involved in an Aryan gang, called him a nigger and shoved him up against a locker shouting racial slurs for no apparent reason and with no provocation, Ronteze somehow managed to restrain from punching him. He was fuming, fists clinched and eyes blazing, but he held back. The white boy's father wanted Ronteze suspended along with his child, but another teacher who witnessed the situation and I backed Ronteze and kept him out of trouble with the office. Secretly, the other teachers on the hall and I decided that if the white boy started anything else with Ronteze and called him nigger again and if Ronteze punched back, we were going to let them go at it for a little while because we knew Ronteze would kick the boy's ass.

Ronteze never gave me a minute's problem. I worked individually with him on his schoolwork and helped get him up to grade level. When he got in trouble in other classes, I was in the office talking to him about the choices he had made. I made him accountable for his actions, but let him know that I cared about him and wanted him to succeed.

After Ronteze, the principal put several other similar students in my room and like Ronteze, they became some of my favorites. These are the kids I want to teach.

My problem is that I have been offered a job here (we moved since I last taught) and the school is rural, upper-middle class and 96% white. It is an excellent school with a fantastic principal. I am struggling with the decision on whether I should take this job or whether I should try to get a position in one of the inner-city schools. I would rather teach in a poor, inner city school. My husband gets irritated with me for saying this because he says all kids need a teacher and that is correct. However, my whole reason for getting into teaching was to help those kids who need it the absolute most. My heart says I should go with what I love and hold out for another school. My head tells me that since I will be a novice at juggling work and children and that since this school seems really great, I should go with it and see what happens. I'm very torn.

By the way, I know some people would accuse me of suffering from white guilt. I'm not and I could explain why but this would get too long and too deep, but if it was, would it really matter? So what? If white guilt makes me work to improve the world, how is that a bad thing?


All Politics, All the Time

Just in case you don't get enough political and social commentary in your life, I happened across some interesting sites last week:

The Field Negro. I warn you that it is not for the faint of heart, but I love it.

Stuff White People Like. Pretty darned funny.

Momocrats. Mothers' commentary on the Democratic party and politics.

Newscoma. Current event commentary from a journalist in northwest Tennessee.

The Soccer Mom Vote Political and Social Commentary from both sides of the aisle, all from mothers' and families' perspectives.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sex, Drugs, and Parenthood

Over at Marge in Real Life Marge wrote a post about this whole kids wearing mohawks issue and she raises the issue of how honest and open parents should be in answering difficult questions about sex and drugs.

Since my kids are young, I have not had to deal with this yet, but I know it is coming. Of course how we deal with these issues will depend on who our kids are at the time, their maturity level and their personalities. But in general, I think I know how we will respond.

I am not squeamish discussing sex as an act or the biological function of it. So far, I have been very open with Sweet Pea. We use the correct name for body parts. We have had a very basic where-babies-some-from discussion. Just last week, Sweet Pea observed me inserting a tampon and we had a bare-bones menstruation conversation.

When the kids are teenagers, I know we will have to deal with the question of if and when they should have sex. I do not believe it is responsible or rational to just tell them to wait until they are married. The vast majority of kids have sex before marriage and I don't think that it is reasonable to expect them not to. I also do not want anyone to get pregnant and would like to make sure they birth control options if they have made the decision to have sex. And of course I would want them to practice safe sex. I suppose I will tell them that sex has an emotional consequence and they should think very hard about their decision and make sure they have sex only with a partner they love and only in a monogamous relationship. And I will probably help them obtain birth control and make sure they know how to practice safe sex.

If they ask me about my sexual history, I will probably be very open with them, especially with Ladybug. There is so much pressure on young women to be sexual and I want to try to head that off. I would tell her that I have had sex with more men than just my husband, and that I deeply regret some of those encounters. I will explain to her that sometimes women have sex in order to make them feel loved and that this never works. I will tell her that having sex with someone who you are not in a relationship with almost never ends well and makes you feel worse in the end. I hope that she will never go looking for love in one night stands or casual relationships and I hope that my being honest with her about the consequences of my past actions will help prevent that.

I also am not worried about discussing alcohol use. It is a topic that we will have to address very seriously as alcoholism appears in both our families and I went through a period of alcohol abuse myself. I know that we will be bluntly honest about this topic.

What I do struggle with is drug use. I am not concerned about discussing my limited drug use since drugs have never held any appeal to me. My experimentation was brief and restricted to fairly benign drugs. I do question how far my husband should go in discussing his past. His drug exposure was much more involved than mine and involved more serious drugs. I am not sure how honest he should be in this because he never had any real problems resulting from drug use. It would be easy for a teenager to think well, Dad did it and he turned out fine. Or some teens might see Dad's drug use as a challenge and something they should try to live up to. I just don't know how in depth we should go with this.

What are your feelings on honesty in discussions on sex and drugs?

Would You Let Your Child Wear a Mohawk to School?

Here's something to far would you let your child go in expressing his/her individuality through clothing or hairstyle?

Just asking because last week, a kindergartner was suspended for wearing a mohawk hairstyle to school. Now, obviously this child was expressing his parents' unique personalities more than his own, as he is a kindergartner. But if your teenage child wanted a mohawk or primary colored hair, would you permit it?

Kelly over at Don Mills Diva wrote a great post about this last week.

On one hand, I sympathize with a teen's desire to stand out or wear wacky things. In my sophomore year of high school, I wore black every single day. I had a lovely pair of skeleton earrings to complete my ensemble. And many of my friends wore out of the ordinary stuff.

I went to a small academic magnet school in downtown Nashville. Everyone at the school was smart. You had to qualify for admission. Our motto was "just a bunch of nerds having fun." This resulted in a student body of the kids who might ordinarily be outcasts in a large public high school. Instead of being ostracized, kids thrived in this environment and it was cool to be different. Some were punk. Some were more granola and dressed in hippie tie dyes. Many guys had long hair. The expression of individuality was appreciated and was never a problem for the school administration because of the nature of the school.

As a teacher though, I can very much understand why, in many school situations, this type of expression might be distracting, particularly in the younger grades. When I was teaching sixth grade before my children were born, I had a boy who got his tongue pierced mid-year. His brother was in the 5th grade at the same school and also had his tongue pierced. Both enjoyed sticking their tongues out and scandalizing their peers, often in the middle of a math or reading lesson. It became a problem. Written into the school system dress code is a provision that distracting clothing, hairstyles, etc. might be prohibited if they were problematic. The boys' father raised hell about the issue, even going to the news stations. Eventually he backed down and the kids took the jewelery out.

I also had a girl who wore provocative clothing to school, with the backing of her mother. Her skirts and shorts were too short, her tops revealed too much. Some of her pants had inappropriate words on the rear. We had to speak to this child and her mother on almost a weekly basis. The mother totally backed the clothing choices, saying that the problem was not with her daughter, but with the boys who looked at her. It became a feminist issue for the woman. She felt that we ought to focus on the boys and teach them not to look at girls and that a girl should be able to wear anything she wants to school. I agree that boys need to be taught to respect women and girls for attributes other than a nice bustline, but girls also need to know what is appropriate clothing for school or work.

I found it ironically amusing when I intercepted a note written from this girl to her boyfriend about what pleasures she was going to give to him the next time they had sex. I turned the note over to her mother who was shocked that her baby girl had any type of romantic contact with boys.

When my kids are much older, I would not have a problem with hairstyles, make-up and dress (as long as it was not sexually provocative). I would actually be overjoyed if my kids bucked the over-riding style and went their own way. I would rather them be individuals than follow the herd. Granola, skater, punk, goth, all that is fine with me. In allowing them do so, however, I would make sure they knew that they might be wrongly judged on the basis of their apprearance and that their style would not be appropriate in a work situation.

I would draw the line at permanent body art, though, before 18 and even then, I would discourage it until they are older. I have a medium sized tattoo on my back and a belly ring. The tattoo I have never regretted except perhaps on my wedding day, where it was very visible through my veil. Other than that, I am happy to have it. On a couple of occasions, people have said judgmental things about it but I chalk that up to their own uncomfortableness with anyone different from themselves. The belly ring I do regret because it hurt like hell and took months and months to heal. I don't wear anything in it anymore and I think it is almost closed up anyway.

If the school contacted me, though, and asked me to restrict something, I would with no hesitation. The moment that my child's style affects the ability of other students to pay attention in class or effects the ability of the teacher to teach, I would pull the plug on it.

So what do you think? Where do you stand? What would you allow and what would you restrict?