Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Humans,

Please, for the love of all things holy, put down your phones.

This morning, a student came to ask me a question about material covered in class.  She did so while reading her Facebook feed.  Through her phone.  Which she was also using to listen to music through Pandora.  Through her phone.  As I answered her, I realized she was not listening to me.  Or looking at me.

I finished class and went to leave campus - at which point a girl who was texting while driving practically ran head-on into me as she was driving through the parking lot.

I drove two blocks and was nearly hit again by somebody talking on their phone while driving.

I'll be honest:  I love my phone.  I don't have to worry about terrifying payphones and their germs and availability.  My husband can find me.  I can ask quick questions of my friends via text while the baby screams at me (often those questions go something like this: "Why is the baby screaming at me?"). I can contact just about anyone just about any time about just about anything. . . which is cool.

And also not.  Because I didn't need to update my boot order from the doctor's waiting room.  Nor do I need to text a picture of a car to my husband while I'm driving.  Nor do my students need Facebook updates from the classroom.

Here's the thing: My life is important to me.  And yours should be important to you.  So on this little thing, even if you keep texting in the classroom, can we please, please, PLEASE agree to put down the phones while we're driving?

Pretty please?

That post about 9/11. . .

Everybody, it seems, had one on 9/11 and I couldn't manage to wrap my head around what I wanted to say.  I know that 9/11 was this pivotal historical event that changed the face of the United States, or, some might even argue, the world.

But it changed me - truly and deeply.  And not, I guess, in the ways that you might imagine.

The morning of 9/11, I rolled out of bed at my boyfriend's house and got ready to go teach.  He and I were doing well - though if I'm being honest (and hindsight gives me that privilege) we were ignoring a few 800lb gorillas in the room of our relationship. Like everyone, I listened in horror.  I watched Tom Brokaw choke back tears as the towers fell.  Then I crawled into my car, drove past a nuclear plant, and faced a classroom of 23 eighteen-year-olds in what felt, then, like the most agonizingly long 75 minutes of my life.

Because I had nothing for them.  Now, 10 years later, I see that as a watershed moment in my teaching career - standing up in front of 23 students and saying "I don't know" felt like the wrong thing to do that day - but it turns out that not only was it the right thing to do then, it's nearly the right thing for me to do every day.  "I don't know but let's learn more about it" is practically a mantra in my modern classroom.  But that day?  It was hard and it was scary and we watched the vague outlines of smoking rubble through the television fuzz in our classroom and we said very little.

That night, I went back to my boyfriend's house and witnessed something that, to this day, makes me hopeful and happy.  One at a time, our friends - local poets and artists and lovers of poetry and art - they rolled over to my boyfriend's small (and I do mean small!) home with words and song and poetry and a general need to come together and create - to somehow strike a balance for the universe in the face of such dark destruction.  My friend Steve brought his guitar and the lyrics to "This Land is Your Land."  My friend Prudencio brought his djembe.  Eventually there were people making rhythms on tables and pots and pans and notebooks and the backs of guitars, there was clapping, there was a room full of people searching for meaning in the creation of a thing - something - in love, in life, in music, in art.

Since then, when I think of the powerlessness I felt the morning of 9/11, I always reflect on that evening on our response - this impromptu gathering of good people forced by the universe to come together and make something good.  Together.  And while I am not grateful for the events of 9/11 and several decisions our nation made afterward, I will always remember with fondness this circle of friends who coped through creation.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nothing is more memorable than a smell

Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years.  Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once.  A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.  ~Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Yesterday, I chopped garlic and onions in my kitchen while ground beef sizzled on the stove and after a deep breath, I was 12 or 13 in my mother's kitchen talking with my stepfather. When I walk past the smokers on campus, it is, at once, my father (again I am 12 or 13 or so - he quit smoking when I was 14) and my college years.  Lightning (yes, it has a smell, which science has taught me is ozone) is my wedding day.  Pabst Blue Ribbon and cooked cabbage (because that's a combo you encounter often!) is my grandmother - but only with an entire Thanksgiving dinner behind it. Sawdust is my father again.  Baby powder is fairly meaningless, but lavender shampoo and tea tree oil is my children's infancy. 

I leaned over yesterday and sniffed the most sniffable part of my youngests's head and I realized that she is on the precipice of toddlerhood.  To be clear, she's only 9 months old but she's losing her baby smell.  You know the smell. I know the smell, though there's no way to describe it except "the exact smell of every baby when they lay their head on your chest and you sniff the crown of their head."

But at some point between baby and toddler and kid, my kids seem to cast off the baby smell for the smell of sunshine and play, sunscreen and shampoo, and, strangely, at night when they are in their beds, Chinese food. Yesterday when I sniffed Elsa's head, I smelled sunshine and Chinese food masking out the undertones of baby. 

She's growing and it is truly bittersweet.  

I am delighted to watch her bloom - as I watch the other two bloom - but I remain saddened that soon the baby smell in this household will be a memory evoked only by sniffing the heads of other people's children and saying "Do you smell that?  Do you?  It's intoxicating.  It's baby."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Just make 'em. . .

I have a friend who knows exactly how I feel when those words pop up, even though the end of the sentence for me (sleep) and for her (eat) is different.  Before I was a parent to my kids, I was under the impression that infancy was about telling them them how and when to do things and that soon they would control these things on their own.

My children disabused me of that notion. They have taught me that there are a few things parents simply cannot make their children do.  We can encourage, cajole, bribe, and reward, but we cannot control (barring medical intervention, I guess) their physical selves.

You cannot make a child sleep, eat, defecate, or urinate.

The sooner you, as a parent, let go of the idea that you can control this independent little person in those ways - the happier you'll be.  Again, I say, you can encourage, cajole, bribe, and reward, but you cannot control.

This is a secret most parenting books don't share.  The books - from sleep books to cookbooks to potty training books - act as though it is your parental duty to control these things in your child.  Your failure to do so sets them up for any wide variety of disorders and proclivities.

Are you listening to me?  The parenting manuals want you to know that YOU WILL FUCK YOUR KIDS UP if you do not make them bend to your will in terms of eating, sleeping, urinating, and defecating.

I have been a parent for 8 1/2 years now and over the course of the past 9 years I've read more books related to potty training, feeding children, and sleep training than I care to share.  I could probably dedicate an entire post to specific book reviews, outlining for you the very moment I cast the books across the room and cursed at their authors for making me feel like I had the ability - the right - and the duty - to control these things. A few are exempt - and even the ones that aren't have taught me a thing or two, so I don't protest reading.

I simply oppose the guilt that reading these books seems to create in my parenting friends. Instead, I offer this: Our kids are incredible, amazing creatures who often grow up to be incredible amazing adults despite our best parenting efforts.  I do not exempt you from your parenting duties, but there's freedom in that - in knowing that we do our best, we sometimes screw it up, sometimes the kids screw it up, and still, these kids?  My kids? They're full of awesome.

But you can't make 'em sleep.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The baby's mouth and what we've found there:

Baby E (Tenacious E and Honey Badger to those who know her well) is the adventurous sort and thus eating has been quite the ride for all of us in the NLMTYS household.  

There's a movement afoot called Baby Led Weaning which focuses on children being in charge of what they eat from an early age -- before weaning, solids are really more social than nutritive and thus the Baby Led Weaning idea focuses on self-feeding for the children.  Rather than shovel pureed peas and potted meats into the now-adventurous eating baby, you spread some food on their tray and go from there. 

Here in the NLMTYS household, we didn't really focus on BLW so much as ended up there out of necessity.  We have 2 other children, a geriatric cat, a frog, and some fish to take care of - so often sweet Baby E was a bit on her own in the feeding territory.  We started small and she'd rake handfuls of rice krispies into her mouth.  Little actually stuck and she got a few servings of rice cereal, pureed sweet potato, and some winter squash - but she, and we, soon grew tired of the process.  Baby E has MonkeyMoo and The Budge to keep up with and she wanted to eat like they ate.  So, for the most part, we let her - with some chopped up beans here and some banana spears there. 

Overall this has worked out very well for us.  Dinner time is as social as it can be with 3 overly tired and twitchy children.  Baby E barks out her rudimentary language at intermittent intervals, trying to fit in and keep up with the big kids. 

But you have to remember: babies are kind of stupid. 

Well, not stupid so much as inexperienced.  Inexperienced enough not to really know or understand the subtle difference between food and non-food items.  I think that introducing her to a world where SHE is in charge of shoveling things in her mouth (rather than her father, siblings, or me), may have upset the delicate balance that keeps her from eating, you know, trash. 

Or maybe she has pica.  Who am I to say? 

But I just wanted to run you through a brief laundry list of what we've found in Baby E's mouth since she began crawling five weeks ago: 

A button. Cat food, which she picked from cat vomit. An almond. Grass. The graphite powder that lined the track for the back door. Leaves.  Tiny bits of wood. Bigger bits of wood.  Cat hair. Garlic skins. Dog hair. Cat poop. Sand. Pebbles. A fairly large hunk of onion. A small bit of spicy jalapeno. A balloon.  A chunk of stomp rocket.  Herbs. A bit of silver ribbon.  A walnut.  Cords.  The tubes to the fish tank bubbler.  The fish tank bubbler.  A bug. As much of the sofa as was humanly possible.  Flip flops.  Crocs.  Aglets of any shape or size.*

*Incomplete list.  (And there will be no diaper-related addendum.  Nobody needs that.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I'm looking at my statistics and. . .

Google has referred 8 people here using searches related to the term "Sharpie." They have also referred 6 people here in the last month using the terms "Whose boob do I have to suck to get a drink around here." One reader came from the search terms "Apostrophe logo".  Finally, this month I have gotten - as I generally get - at least one person from the line "Life isn't bliss, Life is just this. . . it's living" from Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode.

I am delighted and terrified that people stumble upon me courtesy of my love for office supplies, grammar, and Joss Whedon.

Thanks for visiting, readers.  Good to have you here.

Side note:  Who's coming from Gothis?  I have no clue what that is and I keep getting hits from it, so I am curious. Leave a comment!  Tell me who you are!

Now I wonder how many potential readers these phrases might get:

XXX bikini girl


Chocolate Salted Caramel anything

Okay, okay, I'll stop boring the snot out of you.  Back to my cleaning. . .

Friday, September 2, 2011

And, by the way, just 6 days late:

Holy shit, you're like 9 months already
(a letter to my daughter)

So I know it's trite to say "It seems like just yesterday" and it doesn't seem like just yesterday - but in the blur of 9 months of diapers and sleeplessness, of vomiting and crying and learning to balance your needs with your siblings needs, in a summer of trying to keep quiet enough that your father can work, and those other months with school and schedules and trying to bend your will to the almighty nap, my dear, sweet HoneyBadger, it seems like a dream stuck inside of a moment I glimpsed just a few hours ago. . .  the moment of your birth seems both so close and yet so far away and me, I feel like I'm in some sort of final episode of Star Trek with a space-time continuum issue where you are at once not yet a person and a newborn and this big, opinionated child, ripping up the New Yorker as you chirp at my feet. 

You. are. amazing..  Fun and sweet and saucy.  And trouble.  I'm afraid to blink again and find you two and a whirlwind of determination and spunk. 

You're crawling and standing and cruising.  You're saying "Mama" in the middle of the night when you want my attention (and don't want to be alone!).  You're into everything.  If it's on the floor, it's in your mouth.  If it's in your mouth you swallow it and if you can't, you cast it aside and move on to new adventures with little more than a shrug. 

You are MonkeyMoo and The Budge's biggest fan.  When they walk into the room, you light up.  When they squeal in your face, you light up more.  When they shove you down, sit on you, or somehow topple you so you land on your head, you scream as though you've just encountered the greatest of tragedies.  They've gone back to school and now you crawl around the house during the day - I think you're looking for them. When you wake from your afternoon nap and they are home - you are delighted. 

Sweet girl - you're exactly what we were looking for through that tough journey to you.  Thank you for coming to us.  Thank you for having the tenacity to stick with us.  Here's to awesomeness, my Ninja Gingah. Now let's go cook dinner. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A new old project. . .

Today, I posted this photo on my Facebook page - inspired by Dear Photograph (which is an incredibly charming site full of joy and reflection - things I'd like to have MORE of in my life as I strive to let go of strife and grumbling and conflict and anger).

This is a picture of my mother, stepfather, and sweet Monkeymoo on our first 4th of July in this house. David putzed around in the yard practically all weekend on that trip (in fact, I feel like I should probably apologize for the vines creeping up the stairs, as he pulled them back and lovingly trimmed them on that trip - to help me bring our greenery under control).  We had such an excellent time.

The photo makes me realize how much I miss him - how lucky I am to have had him in my life and how very much I need to get back to something I started during NaNoWriMo of 2007 - a series of essays about him.  I began the project during National Novel Writing Month - not to write a novel but a collection of essays to capture what he meant to me  - to all of us - so that I could give it to his wife and daughters and grandchildren so that they could have something - a mere shadow of what he had been - but something tangible to revisit.  It was hard.  And it hurt.  And you can see that reflected in the essays on the page - which is why I had to carefully pack it away in a file folder and leave it for several years.

But I'm ready to revisit.  I'm ready to imbue it with the hope and light and happiness - the unconquerable spirit that he had.  I'm ready to work on it.  I have a goal in mind for finishing - we'll see if that happens.  But I'd like it to happen. Because I think it's time.

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